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Coco-verse challenges #4 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Coco-verse challenges #4
I'm adding a couple of questions people asked at AO3, since I didn't get ten requests here.
how about further exploration of Odiados for FFR

The Cubano’s spells never worked, and everyone knew it, but almost everyone tried it eventually anyway. Ernesto thought his chances were better than most. He was not a lunatic, after all, and had never been deliberately cruel. If Héctor had just sold his songs, like a sane man, he might not have had to kill at all. (Well, there would still be his father, but God Himself couldn’t blame Ernesto for killing that bastard, and if Héctor hadn’t pushed it past a socially acceptable limit, then Papá wouldn’t have had anything other than a few stray cats to threaten Ernesto with, anyway. The only other death had been an accident. No one could blame him for an accident.) So if there was any power to cauldron, surely, it would work better for him than for those putas who’d beaten their own employees to death and robbed their customers. Or the narcos who killed their customers and cut off body parts. He wasn’t like them. He was an artist.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” the man in the conquistador’s helmet said. He was waiting on the couch beside Ernesto, watching a couple of street criminals fighting over a place in line on the balcony while a policeman called them names. “He says it’s because the bones of people who are already dead don’t have the kind of power that a fresh sacrifice would give it. And there’s no blood to be had.” He thought about it. “Too bad you let that living boy go. If he were still here, that might be enough juice.”

“If he were still here,” Ernesto said, “then I wouldn’t be here looking for a path out of this place, back to my home.”

The conquistador snorted. “That’s not your home any more, pendejo. In case you didn’t notice.”

“It is my home. I earned every square foot of it.”

“True. No one appreciates how much work a good murder is.”

“I didn’t have it because of killing Héctor!”

“Oh, really? Because I read the papers.”

“That’s their side. I killed Héctor because he was getting in the way of what I already earned.”

Another snort. “You were nothing when you did that. Just another grubby musician scrounging in the gutter and selling himself to rich people. Tell me, did you just seduce the wives, or did you let their husbands have a go at you, too?” The conquistador grinned. “Or maybe you liked that part. I read those articles pretty closely, amigo. Cramming a chorizo down someone’s throat hard enough to do damage isn’t exactly subtle.”

Ernesto got up and walked away toward the balcony rail, having heard enough about the damned chorizo from his neighbors here to last a lifetime. All he’d been thinking of at the time he did that was making it look like Héctor had picked up bad street food, the same kind that had started the whole sequence of event in the first place. It had to go down far enough that it would look like he swallowed it. The symbolism hadn’t occurred to him until the articles started showing up here. Not everyone’s mind was in the gutter when it came to killing. Sometimes, it was just done because it had to be.

“Oh, look,” one of the street thugs said. The markings on his skull were a tattoo of twisted horns, surrounding dripping knives. “It’s the celebridad. My abuela thought you were hot stuff.” He pantomimed playing a guitar. “Ay, ay, ay, ay… Look how far I’ve fallen! Abuelas once loved me, but now I’m just nothing, an empty skull, not even pretty…”

“You have something to say to me?”

“Look the old man can still talk. Or is he going to sing at us?” He laughed.

“No, he likes playing with poison,” the other one said. “Women’s weapon.”

Ernesto grabbed him and, without giving it much thought, tossed him over the railing. His bones crashed far enough below that they could barely hear him cursing as he put himself back together. “Was there anything else you wanted to say?” he asked the first, then looked over at the policeman. “How about you?”

“Good riddance,” he said, shrugging. “I got sent here for something similar. Only I did it on the other side of the bridge. The girlfriend shot me for it. Don’t know why anyone would care. One less useless piece of trash.” He thought about it. “I should have done the girl first. She was always smarter than he was. Oh, well.”

Ernesto sat down on the railing. Down on the street, the boy was looking for some ribs that had scattered. He shouted up, “You broke my shoulder, cabron!”

“Well, that won’t mend,” the cop said. “What are you looking for from the Cubano?”

“Just need the way out. I can get my place back. There’s always a way.”

The cop pulled out a pack of smokes and offered one over. “You killed someone’s papá for a power ballad. I don’t think you’re getting your audience back.”

Ernesto took the cigarette and lit it. “You just have to figure out how to sell it. It’s probably too late to go with an accident, but maybe I could still play it for sympathy. Héctor wants me to apologize. He followed me in here to try and get me to do it. I could probably make big show of it, and…” He shrugged. “Give it a month, he’ll come around. The bruja he married won’t like it, but I know how to get around her. Always did.”


“Of course. Tell her that she’s an awful wife. Falls for it every time, and ends up screaming at him for listening to me.”

“You don’t think it’ll make a difference that he knows you killed him now?”

“He thinks it does. But I know Héctor Rivera. He’ll think he’s being properly cynical if he doesn’t eat or drink anything I give him. I could have him playing the plaza with me in two weeks. And if my supposed victim forgives me, why wouldn’t anyone else?”

“Supposed? I thought that was a given.”

Adopting a contrite pose, Ernesto said, “Oh, Officer. I never wanted to kill Héctor. Never. He was my friend. I just felt cornered, and in a moment of bad judgment—”

“—that lasted for the several weeks you poisoned him a little at a time?”

“Never in a way that would have been fatal. You can tell, because he didn’t die, that I knew how far I could go, and I regret that so much now. But that last night… I was afraid that he’d realize what was making him sick, and I… I just panicked, and oh, how I wish I could take it back.”

“For an actor, you’re not making that very convincing.”

“It would take some rehearsal,” Ernest admitted. “What are you looking for?”

“Bastard I threw off the roof lives next door now. I want something to dissolve him once and for all.”


“People like us shouldn’t be living with scum like that.”

“Of course not.”

The cop took a deep drag. The smoke billowed out from his ribs. “This place is an insult. I got rid of trash. How did I end up here? They should build me my own personal ofrenda.”

“I have a thousand of them. Which reminds me… can I use them? I never bothered before, but a change of scenery might be nice.”

“Yeah. They can’t stop you visiting whoever remembers you. But I’ll warn you—if you’re here, you’re not going to like the people who remember you very much.” He looked shrewdly at Ernesto. “And I wouldn’t count on a thousand of them. Probably just some senile abuelas and crazy people now. Your movies were already pretty much for them.”

“My movies were immortal, or I wouldn’t still be here.”

“If that helps you sleep at night…”

They finished smoking in silence, then Ernesto said, “So what happens when we get in to see the Cubano?”

“You have to give him some bones.”

“I need my bones.”

“Not yours.” The cop sized him up. “You should have kept that kid up here instead of tossing him. Maybe you can still get the other one.”

“Whose have you got?”

“None.” He smiled, and reached out, grabbing Ernesto’s lowest rib. “Yet.”

I still would love to see a dream conversation between Héctor and Enrique at some point for AtarahDerekh at AO3

Héctor had no idea where he was.

He’d followed the path of the marigolds to the hacienda, as usual, but he hadn’t seen Miguel anywhere. Miguel, as a general rule, was front and center. His sister Coco, now eight years old, was playing the guitar and asking why they couldn’t at least have him on the telephone, but Enrique said, “He’s not up yet.”

This had been puzzling, but Héctor and Imelda had waited, hoping for some explanation. When the family talked, they said that Miguel was “away” for school, but he’d come home for the past two years, and it wasn’t entirely clear why he wasn’t here now.

“It had to happen some year,” Coco—Héctor’s Coco—said, unconcerned. “He’s fine. He’s away. Young men spend time away, Papá; he’s not leaving you behind. And you still have little Héctor to play with.”

Miguel’s six-year-old brother, who looked a good deal like him and sang like a little angel, had indeed been the life and soul of the party until he went to bed. And Héctor loved him, and loved that they shared a name, but he looked forward to seeing Miguel every year, and couldn’t hide his disappointment.

So when the adults had all drifted off to bed, he’d looked for a sign, and sure enough, behind the ofrenda, he’d found another path of marigold petals. Not sure what to expect, he’d followed them. There’d been a disorienting kind of twist and then it was morning. Bright, high morning, and he was walking along a path in a city he’d never seen before. The path was only a few petals, hard to find, and they led into a building that looked like a palace, with signs in what looked like German, all with headings that said he was at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg. He followed the path through a double white door into a small theater with padded seats. The walls were eggshell white with ornate gold trim and the stage sat under crystal chandeliers. On the stage was a grand piano.

Somewhere in Héctor’s mind, every year, he knew that Miguel was growing up, but was still surprised by it. The stubborn little boy whose face he’d painted under the bridge was in there somewhere, but the person at the piano was, by any measure, a man. A young one, of course, but still, a man. He looked a good deal like Enrique now, though he was clean shaven. He was playing a wildly complicated piece of classical music, his hands flying over the keyboard, while a severe-looking gray-haired woman sat nearby with a clipboard. The petals led all the way to the stage, and Héctor followed them up. Miguel had set a notebook on the bench beside him. On the open page, written in large letters (and in Spanish) was “Piano Examination, 9:00 a.m.” Under that, in letters just as big, was “Siesta, 11:00 a.m./4.am. Talk can be short.”

This would have made no sense to anyone else, so Héctor know it was for him—they could talk later, presuming Miguel could get to sleep at eleven o’clock in the morning, but that it would be short, since Héctor’s visit would be limited by sunrise in Oaxaca. Héctor listened to the music for a long while—Miguel had taken to the piano amazingly well—until the instructor stopped it and started giving what seemed like detailed feedback in German… which Miguel seemed to understand and respond in. Héctor did not understand it, and slipped back along the marigold path, coming out into the ofrenda room at the hacienda to find Coco and Imelda looking at the year’s crop of family pictures, including the baptism of Abel’s new daughter, Héctor and Imelda’s first great-great-great-grandchild. “We’re down to one-thirty-second each of this one,” Imelda had joked earlier. “I think we need to meet the other thirty.”

“Where were you?” she asked when she noticed him.

“I was… in tomorrow, actually.” He shook his head. “Tomorrow in Austria, to be more specific.”

“What’s going on?” Coco asked.

“I’m not sure. But I think I’ll see if I can ask Enrique. As long as there’s some time. But get me out of there by four. Miguel’s going to take a nap, and I still want to catch him if I can.”

They agreed. Héctor made his way back to the family’s rooms. He wasn’t sure which room belonged to Luisa and Enrique (and truly hoped that it was late enough that everyone in the house was just sleeping at this hour), but he guessed right on his second try. The first try had put him in little Héctor and Angel’s room, where the older boy wasn’t asleep. He was playing with an army of action figures, watched over by a picture of him with his big brother, to whom he seemed to be talking. Héctor could sympathize, and decided to remind Miguel to call home later.

Enrique and Luisa were in the next room, and, to Héctor’s great relief, they were both asleep, and both wearing pajamas. He’d never tried this with anyone but Miguel before, and he wasn’t sure it would work until he actually touched Enrique’s head.

The connection wasn’t as good. He found himself in the workshop, but he couldn’t see out the windows, and even the edges of the room seemed a little fuzzy. Enrique was younger, sitting at the workbench, teaching Miguel (who seemed about five) how to shine a shoe.

“That’s right, mijo, just give it a good, solid brush. Get all the extra off. You’re good at this…”

Héctor cleared his throat a few times.

Enrique looked up. Miguel, not really being here, continued polishing his own boots, taking no notice.

“Papá Héctor?” Enrique asked.

“That’s right, mijo,” Héctor said. “What’s with Salzburg and piano examinations?”

Enrique sighed and aged, and the workshop disappeared, little Miguel along with it. Now, they were sitting in, of all places, the cemetery, on a bench beside Héctor’s grave. “There was a whole argument about Miguel’s music,” he said. “Someone told him he’d never learn proper classical music, and someone else said he shouldn’t and someone else entirely decided that piano wasn’t his proper instrument and someone else said—”

“Who are all these ‘someones’?” Héctor asked.

“That was exactly what Miguel asked.” Enrique sighed. “My son is stubborn, in case you’ve forgotten. He didn’t like complete strangers arguing about what kind of music he’d be able to play. So he put his nose to the grindstone and is doing a term in Salzburg to prove that he’s capable of playing whatever he decides to play and that no one has the right to tell him not to.”

“And he learned German.”

“It’s offered at the Conservatory, for the classical opera students. Italian, too.”

“He speaks Italian?”

Enrique nodded and smiled with weary love. “He picked up Zapoteco, too, at least enough to get by in San Pedro. It’s like when he stopped hiding what he really wanted, he… he could do almost anything he set his mind to. We thought he was over-promising. But he has a good ear. German. My son speaks German and plays Mozart.”

Héctor sighed. “I remember when I did the math and realized that Coco was forty. Probably with her own children. Maybe grandchildren if she’d started as early as Imelda and I did, though, to my immense relief, that wasn’t the case. Berto was still a solid decade away.”

“And Glorita and I were another six and eight years from there.” Enrique looked at the grave. “Not that I’m not glad you and Mamá Imelda had Mamá Coco. But I’m also glad that Miguel’s idolization didn’t… you know, lead him to…”

“Throw everything away at seventeen?”

“Not throw away. I’m sure he’d have been able to have a happy life, but…”

“But it’s a different world than it was, and Miguel has had opportunities that never would have been there for Imelda and me.”


“Don’t worry. I’m on your side there.”

“He’s actually thinking about a doctorate in historical musicology. I don’t even know what it means.”

“Don’t ask me, I never spent a day in school. Unless you count the forensics lab where they had my body. I spent long enough there that maybe I should have a medical degree.”

Enrique looked up sharply. “I wouldn’t imagine you saying that.” He shook his head. “I mean, you’re really you. You’re here.”

“I think so.”

“Wow. I guess I always wondered how Miguel could be so sure when he said he talked to you every year. That it wasn’t just a dream. But I’m definitely talking to someone who’s not in my head.”

“Well, technically, I’m in your head.” Héctor looked down at the grave. “Why here?”

“I talk to you here sometimes about Miguel. It’s during the year. I guess you don’t hear.”

“Not really. But keep talking. I’m glad to… well, listen. I may even still have ears, after the mummy business.” He grinned.

“You can laugh at that?”

“Only with family. And especially with the one who got me out of there and brought me home. I never really said thank you, mijo. You’re good great-grandson. I’m grateful for you. And to you.”

“I’m glad we found you. Things have been so much better with you back where you belong. It’s not just the music. Everything is better.”

“I don’t have much to do with that.”

“You do, though. It’s hard to explain. But…” He thought about it. “I grew up thinking I was descended from a man who would run away. That I was always just one bad decision away from losing everything. But when I found out you were a good man who wanted to come home… it made everything different. I can’t explain why it mattered so much. But it mattered.”

“You were already a good father. I can tell because you were worried about being a bad one. Bad fathers tend not to worry too much about the subject. Besides, you already had one pretty terrific son.”

“He was unhappy.”

“Sometimes, children are unhappy. And he didn’t tell you why, so…”

“So, I still feel like I should have known. You gave him what made him happy.”

Héctor shrugged. “The first thing I told him was that I hated musicians and we were all self-centered jerks. Luckily, Miguel picked up a stubborn streak.”

“Yes. Luckily. And now, he’s in Austria. And I don’t know where he’ll be next.”

“You know where he’ll always be,” Héctor said, and pointed to Enrique’s chest.

“Yes. There’s that. But I sort of miss him in the workshop. I knew I would. I didn’t know how much.”

“I sometimes miss little Coco even when I’m sitting across the table from the final version. She was so cute. You have no idea.”

“And to me, she’s Abuelita.”

“And Mamá to Elena and Victoria.” Héctor shrugged. “That’s life. We’re all different things to different people. But all of those things are real. Someday, Miguel will be someone’s papa and abuelo and bisabuelo. But he’ll still be the little shoeshine boy in the workshop, too.”

Enrique smiled. “Don’t mind me. Luisa says I have a maudlin streak.”

“I’m a musician. We live on maudlin streaks.” Héctor smiled. “But don’t worry about Miguel. He’ll be okay.” There was a tap on his shoulder. “And I need to go talk to him now. I’ll remind him to give you a call later.”

With one last look, Héctor stood up from the bench, and then he was back in the ofrenda room. The petals leading through the bend in space to Miguel were still there. He followed them.

4 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 9th, 2018 07:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know what amuses me more, the thought that Hector had to put his head through the door to find out whether E & L were clothed or not, or that Imelda or Coco had to follow him later...

And the De-Ernesto process has begun!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 10th, 2018 04:39 am (UTC) (Link)
That's my thought on ghosts in general, and benevolent invisible watchers. OMG, can they see me in the shower? It's probably not the desired reaction...

From: (Anonymous) Date: October 10th, 2018 05:46 am (UTC) (Link)
"Not my fault. Never my fault."
That seems to be the common mantra there. The Spaniards seem pretty accepting of their fate. Though that's probably because they are on top there.
As for the last scene... on one hand, the cop may have experience getting physical; on the other, Ernesto's infamy must mean that he still has considerable strength there.

Assuming Miguel picked up English as well, he'll be an awesome polyglot if he keeps that up. Especially if he doubles back to look at endangered traditions.
With the number of descendents they have, abd Miguel's insistence in instilling values (a mind visit could help), there are so many globe-trekking opportunities for the deceased Riveras. And a chance to see living-world sunlight.
And of course Hector continues to baffle folks with mummy jokes.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 11th, 2018 03:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I don't think the cop is going to actually get that rib. I think that, in the rules of the Coco-verse, Ernesto is remembered more and is therefore more than capable of ripping the skull off the backbone and tossing it over the edge before the other guy manages to get a solid grip.

Miguel has probably picked up enough English after cycling through the US and Canada (not to mention his ongoing friendship with Bridget), so yeah, he's definitely a polyglot, which you almost have to be to do music seriously. Hector just has to joke about it. What else can you do, really?
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