Lazarus Russell died all alone on outskirts of Concord, a small, judgmental town full of people who often carved their presumptions out of stone, yet had a hard time scratching the surface of the obvious. Lazarus had lived there so long that he had become to seem of no more substance or meaning than a barely noticed tree, or a warning sign posted on a certain corner that no one ever heeded.
It was cold and bitter the night he died lying on a dirt embankment beneath the railroad bridge along State Route 23. He looked up at the slight, blurry, sliver of silver hanging in a dark black sky then lowered his gaze toward the brackish water pooled below the railroad bridge and saw the same slivered moon undulating lightly on its surface. He then closed his eyes, mumbled something toward the shadows, exhaled and surrendered.
Three days later a pudgy little boy named Juan and his half sister Maria were out looking for aluminum cans while riding double on his red Schwinn birthday bike. They smelled something that made them both want to puke and discovered what appeared to be a man's body covered from the neck down with a dirty piece of black plastic.
They didn't know at first if the man was dead or just sleeping. So, Juan decided to pick up a stick to poke him. The smell was too much for him to get that close, so Maria took the stick away and handed him a dirt clod. Juan tossed it gently hitting the wool cap on the man's head, and it didn't move. They quickly ran back to the house where they lived with their mom and her scary boyfriend.
Their mom thought they were playing a trick, so she went back with them, and they had only gotten half way there before a slight breeze told her there was no trick. She signed the cross and rushed back to call the police.
It was Roman Ramirez and his co-worker and friend George Martin who were sent out from the Coroner's office in Hartford with orders to pick up the body. They almost couldn't do the job and were only able to avoid the embarrassment of failure after soaking cotton swabs with alcohol and stuffing them into their noses. Roman kept his sunglasses on throughout to blur the image of what he was seeing. That night though, he eagerly recounted the scene at his brother-in-law Cruz's weekly poker game.
"D'you know Lazarus Russell?"
"That old, crazy fucker that rides that three wheel bike."
"He used to ride that bike, but somebody stole it from him. That's the dude though. It don't need that bike no more anyway. They found him dead under that old railroad bridge that crosses the Hayes Canal."
"Someone kill him?"
"Naw. Looked to me like he just got tired of living. A couple of kids found him out there. I swear, man, we could smell that dude a half mile away. We had to go bag him up and, let me tell you, that dude was in bad shape, the worst one ever. You can ask George."
"How long he been out there?"
"Doc said at least three days."
"That's too bad. My Uncle Roy told me that Laz used to be a warrior. Said he had a good record as a welterweight then went down South and got his ass kicked pretty good by a Mexican kid."
"You know, I ain't never heard that guy say a fucking thing in all the years I lived here."
"Me neither, used to be hell of a fighter though from what I heard."
"Well, I guess you only get one shot for something like that. You fuck it up, you fuck it up."
Most people in Concord had never paid any attention to Lazerus Russell as he rode his bike up and down Concord's main drag digging in trash for cans to recycle. People either just ignored the old man or averted their eyes like he was a bad omen.
Cruz got a haircut the next day at Ernie's Barbershop on Main Street. He always went to Ernie's because he liked the cigar store Indian that silently stood guard at the door. He knew he would've got a better cut and a cheaper one if he went down to Jerry's a block over on Jackson Avenue, but he had always felt a deep sense abiding loyalty to the wooden chief with his solemn eyes.
"Like usual, Ernie, around the ears and square in the back."
"You got it, Kiddo. What's been happening?"
"Hey, did you know that crazy dude Laz Russell who used to ride that bike all over town?
"Yeah, man. I went to school with him at Cherrywood School. Why?"
"He dead. They found him under a railroad bridge south of town. My brother-in-law Roman had to bag the body."
"Oh, man, that's a shame. You know, I knew Lazarus before he went all crazy. He was a pretty good dude back then, had a way with the women. I used to be envious of him and how all the girls buzzed all around him. That dude was major playa back then.
"When did he start acting all crazy?"
"He was in over Korea. Got himself a big medal too. When he came home he found out his old lady was shacked up with his best friend. Of all his girlfriend's, he married the worst damned one. Get this. She used to call Lazarus up at work while she was screwing the dude. One day, Laz got sick of it and left work and went and killed them both."
"What did they do to him?"
"He did some serious time on it. He was a decorated veteran though and his lawyer made a slick case of temporary insanity, so they cut him some slack at the sentencing."
Later, Ernie closed up his shop and decided, as usual, to stop for a drink at the Four Queens two doors down. The evening sun was sinking slowly in the west, and there were just enough shadows that the town was beginning to flatten out against a pastel sky. It took Ernie's breath away for a moment as he remembered the myths of his youth.
Melvin Lewis, the proprietor of the Four Queens, was talking to a tall, young stranger in a brown suit. Melvin looked up and nodded when Ernie entered.
"Give me a Pabst, Mel." The bartender sauntered over to the taps and filled a tall glass and slid it toward Ernie who took a big drink, wiped the foam from his lips, "Hey, did you hear about Lazlo Russell?"
"The Chief was in here earlier. He said something about finding a body south of town. Was that Laz?"
"Sure the shit was. Remember when we were at Cherrywood?"
Mel nodded sadly, "I remember one day Greg Avalos and his cousin Teo jumped me at recess and Laz jumped in to help me. We used to be good buddies back then. You know, I always tried talking to him when he rode by; I figured I owed him that much, but he wouldn't ever stop and talk to me. I do know that he was a father too; he had a girl. She's lived in Concord her whole damned life, but someone told me that she's never knew that Laz was her daddy."
"Damn, no one ever told her? That's kind of hard hard to believe in this gossipy assed town. Hell, my old lady usually makes sure that everybody knows everybody's else's business.
"I bet you Alice didn't know though. Remember, she came here after Laz got out of prison. I'd also bet that most people round here don't know the story, don't remember, or don't care. I do know that it was said at the time that the girl's granny, her mom's mom, raised her and hated Laz. It was old Felix Miranda who told me she hired someone to put a curse on Laz, a witch doctor or someone like that. Hey, did you hear about that medal he got in Korea?"
"I kinda remember something about it."
"It was a big deal, man. He saved a bunch of people's life over there. Killed a whole bunch of them fuckers too. Doc Jones told me he was over in Korea and heard about it over there. He was kind of laughing when he told me that in the space of an hour, Laz set a record for the most enemy combatants ever killed by a citizen of Concord. I remember that shit because he also told me that Mr. Munoz our old PE teacher killed five German soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge."
"No shit! Munoz was mean old fucker. I hated that dude. You know Laz's daughter's name?"
"Yeah. In matter of fact, I do. It's Carol, Carol Ramos. She works down at the Best Deal Market, that tall, thin check out lady."
The man in the suit was listening in. "Hey, guys. I couldn't help overhearing. I'm sorry about butting in on your conversation, but you want to hear something strange?"
The stranger extended his hand to Ernie, "My name is Dale Young by the way. You guys are talking about that guy that rode around this town on the red three wheeled bike? I first saw him other day. I thought he was just homeless dude looking for recycles. You see, I've been doing some long term subbing in the fifth grade at Cherrywood Elementary. I got a girl named Felicity Ramos in the class. That's Carol Ramos's daughter. I saw Mrs. Ramos talking to a woman in front of the school, and she wasn't really paying attention to Felicity, and the girl ran out in the street and almost got hit by a car. That Laz guy you talking about was across the street digging in a trash can, and he ran out there and grabbed that girl right before the car hit her."
"Damn, that is crazy!"
"Pretty fucking weird!"
"That ain't what's crazy though. The mother ran out and started beating on that dude with her purse and calling him every name in the damned book. Everybody out in front of that school heard her call him a smelly, assed bum and a piece of shit."
"What happened then?"
"Well, the principal and the custodian ran out there and pulled her off of him and gave the old guy a chance to leave. He got on his bike and rolled out there and never looked back. It took them a full ten minutes to get the woman calmed down.
"Damn that's screwed up man. She doesn't even know that dude was her dad."
"Prolly not. That's just the way that shit is though."
"God. I hope fucking not. You guys ready for another?"
Roman Ramirez shut off the backhoe, jumped down and walked over to where George Martin was removing the form. After they placed it on the trailer, they both walked over and looked down into the grave.
"Easy money, George. Easy fucking money."
"One way to look at it."
"Only way, Dude. I hope Ignacio stays on vacation another week, so you and I could make some dough for Christmas."
"It don't creep you out digging holes out here in this potter's field?"
"Hell naw. No reason that it should. Way I figure, it's the same as over there in the real world, not a damn bit of difference if ya ask me."
"I don't know, Roman. I think you might be on wrong side of the fence on this one, world of difference, dude, a whole world and just think about it, according to your uncle, this dude was a war hero too."
"You put it that way, I guess it might. Imagine if he'd died in over in Korea."
"Hell, then they'd buried him over there by that big fucking tree."
"That big one over there where that tall, skinny lady with the two little kids is putting down flowers."
"Oh. Hell, that's this dude's daughter! That's Carol Ramos. the one I was telling you about. Unbelievable."
"Putting flowers on her mama's grave most likely. She probably don't even know we're burying her dad today.
"That's seriously fucked up, Bro."
"No shit, Man. Hey, we got time to smoke a joint?"
"They said ten o'clock. It's nine. We got time. You weirded out by this or what?"
"Naw, man. You know me. I just wanna put this shit in the proper perspective."
Wow, man. That shit's strong, where did you get it.
Kaghh! Kaghh! Cwfh! (exhales) "F-u-c-k. Give me a drink of your sodie pop. (takes drink) I got this shit from Rufus, man. He didn't say nuthin about it peeling the mucus membrane offa your throat."
"Now we got a buzz, we just gonna sit and wait here. We can't leave to do that other thing because we got a close shit up when they done."
"You wait here. I'm gonna go talk to Carol Ramos. Tell her about her daddy."
"W-WHAT! Are you fucking crazy. That shit aint none of our business. Why you want to go sticking your nose in somebody else's shit for? That's how you always getting yourself in trouble, Rome, and you fucking know it."
"Fuck you, I know it. The thing is we know the truth. You might be willing to just sit back, not do nuthin, and let shit happen, but not me. It was me and you that bagged the dude, and me telling my cousin about it that set this shit in motion. Way I figure, the universe just reached out and laid the burden on us to tell her. Why else would she be here this morning?"
"Give me back my soda! She just got the urge to put some flowers on her mama's grave."
"Yeah. On the day they are burying her dad within earshot. Hell, I could just yell the info to her from here."
"My old grandpa always told me not to go looking for trouble and if it came my way to just get the fuck out of the area."
"Your old grandpa always pissed on hisself whenever he got drunk, and you know it. Seems to me, I rather take my cues from the universe when its damned near jumping up and down pointing out what we oughta be doing than your crazy ass grandpa."
"Pointing out what you oughta be doing! I'm just sit right here and watch you make a fool outta yourself."
George was eating pickle out of his lunch pail when Roman returned. He finished it off, wiped his hands on the ground, and belched.
"What'd she say?"
"Pretty much to mine my own fucking business. I could tell though that she didn't know the whole story. She told me that her dad was dead already, and that he died in prison a long time ago."
"Well are you satisfied with yourself?"
Roman looked at his friend without saying anything. It was a full minute later before he finally answered. "Yeah, yeah, yes I am."
The funeral of Lazarus Russell took place at exactly ten o'clock. In the meantime, a miracle of sorts happened. Melvin Lewis's ancient dinosaur of a station wagon pulled up and parked on the road that represented the border between the world of the moneyed and the poor. Him, Ernie the barber, Dale Young, and Misty Dawes, the waitress at the Four Queens got out and walked over to where Roman and George were arguing. They were shortly followed by Cruz Mendez, his uncle Roy, Doc Jones, and old Felix Miranda. A small, earnest looking woman named Martha and her two kids Juan and Maria walked all the way out to the gravesite from the other side of town. Then to top it off, a rifle crew from the army base came right before Rev. Moore showed up with his Bible and his wife Gypsy.
It was, to Roman's mind at least, the best funeral ever preached on the Old Testament side of the cemetery, and probably the best one ever preached on the green side too. The only thing that marred it was the thought that if they'd had a few more days, they could raised the money to have buried Lazarus on the other side of the fence, closer to the big trees, and at a place where his only daughter would not have had to have made the choice of watching the ceremony from the other side of the fence.