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The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Call Me A Fool: Chapter 3


WHERE IS MIGUEL RIVERA?
from Guess Who?, October 2027
Composer Miguel Rivera seem to have pulled a vanishing act! After his musical,
La Niñera, closed after a (planned) short run in Vienna, all signs pointed to a new and exciting European project. There was talk of Paris and Madrid. He had a new semester planned at the Mozarteum, with the possibility of teaching a seminar on the history of ranchera music, and was in talks to record a new album. There were even rumors of another streamed concert.

But this morning, his Salzburg apartment was empty, the drawers rifled, and boxes left half full. There is no evidence of foul play, but local acquaintances say he’d given no indication that he planned to leave, and in fact had plans in town this weekend.

So where is Miguel Rivera? Let’s hope the mystery is solved soon…


**********

Anja Huttmacher
@anjatanzer
I certainly hope that Miguel Rivera (@miguelzapatero) is all right. Nothing for two days, and he’s been upset. Call me if you’re fine, I don’t care about the drama you made. I worry, Knuddelbärchen. You have too much stress in your poor head. I hope you haven’t done anything foolish.


**********

Ximena Maravilla
@ratedximena
@miguelzapatero Call right away. I know you’re fine but don’t drop off the world. Some overdramatic people will jump to stupid conclusions. I’d keep it between us instead of putting here, but you’re not answering texts or calls. I told Duardo to take your call if I’m on stage.


“I have to ask,” a voice said outside Miguel’s window. “Is this… you know… the Miguel Rivera?” From his bed, Miguel could see the back of a delivery man’s head. He was pushing a dolly stacked with five boxes, all of them badly packed, mostly with the projects Miguel was working on, though one held clothes and another had his smaller instruments. He’d have to see if one of his friends in Salzburg could finish packing up the apartment. Or he’d have to go back. He didn’t want to go back. It would be too easy to find a dozen things he really should finish up and close out.

“Sure,” Abel said. “My cousin from Chiapas. He’s a plumber. He orders things from Austria all the time. I guess they make good pipes there. He must be headed up here to pick them up.”

“I meant… you know…”

“Eeegh, we have a dozen Miguels in the family. Not like it’s a weird name. Probably a thousand in Oaxaca alone. I can sign for that.”

Miguel smiled faintly and stretched out one arm. His hand brushed something soft and warm on the pillow. Pepita had come in. He scratched behind her ears, and she purred. He decided not to disturb her, at least until the truck had moved on to its next stop.

“I… um… sorry. Guess you get that a lot. Being… well, you know.”

Abel grunted something unintelligible. There was some shuffling, and Miguel heard the boxes as they were shoved up against the wall. A minute later, the truck rumbled away.

There was a knock at the door. “If you’re up,” Abel said, “you can come out now.”

“Thanks,” Miguel called.

“No problem.”

Miguel picked Pepita up and gave her a hearty cuddle, then set her down on the blanket and pulled himself out of bed. His legs were cramped and aching, his arms so tight that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play today. It had been a while since he’d done six hours on a motorcycle, and that had been after lugging his bags around airports. He was still dressed in his traveling clothes—a white tee shirt and a pair of old jeans. He’d managed to kick off his boots before falling asleep, but that was as far as it had gotten.

He bent and looked into the crooked mirror on the back of his door. He hadn’t shaved for two days—he would do that before he was hounded into it—and the stubble was threatening to become a beard. His hair, which he’d let get nearly down to his shoulders, was a tangled birds’ nest against his neck, puffed out under the line of his helmet.

He probably could have accepted the boxes himself and said it was sure funny that anyone would think he was some kind of celebrity, and the delivery man would have laughed along with it. He checked the clock.

It was afternoon.

Deep into the afternoon.

He ran a comb through his hair as well as he could, put on whatever came out of his bag first, and stuffed his phone into his pocket without thinking about it. Habit. He headed across to the workshop.

“Look who’s up,” Rosa said, lifting her foot from the treadle of the sewing machine. “I was starting to think you were just going to sleep through until tomorrow.”

Abuelita tutted. “I’m sure he’s tired.”

Miguel smiled and rubbed his face. “I’ll… go shave this. And I’ll cut…” He made a gesture at his hair.

“Do as you like,” Abuelita said. “It’s your head, Miguelito.”

“Yeah,” he muttered. “I… well…”

“You can clean yourself up before supper,” Mamá said.

“Okay.”

Papá frowned. “Let it wait, Miguel. Have a seat. Talk.”

“Okay.” Miguel sat down on a rickety old stool behind Rosa’s workspace. Beside her, Alejo was cutting the vamp for a pair of wingtips. She was looking over his shoulder every now and then. “He’s an apprentice!” Miguel guessed. “Right?” He smiled at Alejo. “You’re apprenticing.”

“Yes. Picking up a useful and marketable skill. But I don’t think I’ll be using it to move on anymore.”

“You better not,” Rosa joked, poking him in the ribs.

“But that was the original plan? He was an apprentice first?”

Rosa blinked, confused, then said. “Oh! That’s right! I… Sorry, I thought I told you.”

Miguel shook his head. “One minute, you were going to be single for the next twenty years, then the next, I hear you’re engaged.”

“Oops.” She smiled. “You remember Denny Calles?”

“Vaguely,” Miguel said dryly. Calles was a detective that he and Papá had hired to find Papá Héctor, and Miguel had remained in close touch with him ever since. He’d had dinner at Denny’s place at least once a month while he was at the Conservatory.

“Well, this woman up in the capital—a Salvadoran woman—said she thought her sister got mixed up with a coyote, and she sent Denny down to get her out. Turns out she was right. This guy had thirty people packed into the back of a truck with no water and barely any air and he was headed for the border. Denny… well, he’s not known for restraint.”

“Yanked him out of the driver’s seat and threw him ten feet,” Alejo said. “And grabbed a gun to keep him down while he got us all out.”

“Alejo was trying to get his little cousins out of the trouble zone,” Rosa explained. “And there was nothing to go back to. And it’s a lot easier to come up into Mexico if you have a marketable skill. Denny noticed that Alejo had made bags out of an old leather coat with nothing but a knife and some handmade lacing, and they were holding up, so he called us. Asked if we needed an apprentice. I came down to get one. Came back minus one heart.” She fluttered her hand over her heart. “Of course it took him three months to notice.”

“I noticed, but I couldn’t dare to believe.” He made an exaggerated gesture of obeisance.

“Anyway, they’re staying.”

“My primos are in school now,” Alejo said. “They should be home with Teto and Coco.”

“You live here, then?” Miguel guessed.

“Of course not!” Abuelita said.

Rosa grinned. “This is still the Rivera house, Miguel. Living here waits for weddings. Alejo and the kids live in an apartment down the block.”

“Oh. How old are—”

To his utter annoyance, his phone rang. It was his agent’s ringtone.

Miguel picked it up, saw about a hundred text messages (they looked too exhausting to read) and thirty-six missed calls. He rejected the call. It rang again.

“Get it,” Mamá said.

He stalked out of the workshop. “What is it, Hugo?”

“Where in the hell are you?” Hugo bellowed. “I’ve been getting calls from Austria all day. It’s in the damned paper. Miguel Rivera disappears without a trace.”

“I came home. I told you I was going to after La Niñera closed.”

“You’ve been telling me that for months. A little heads up on when it’s actually happening would be good. Do you know Anja’s been online speculating that you’ve jumped in the river or something?”

“Anja will probably think this is worse.”

“No doubt.” He made a hissing sound, and Miguel heard him shoving things around, probably clearing the space by his computer. “Tell me something to put on your media. Anything.”

“What’s to tell? I came home.”

“Why?”

“I missed my family. Why is this news?”

“Maybe it wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t vanished into thin air two days ago.”

“A crowded airplane isn’t thin air. It’s pretty thick air. I was wandering de Gaulle for three hours waiting for my flight. I left a paper trail, and I promise that someone somewhere took a picture, or auctioned off the toothpick from my sandwich.”

“Because that’s going to be more interesting than what your exes are speculating about.”

“Exes? Plural? Ximena’s in on this, too?”

“Only to post that she hopes you’re okay, and how she hadn’t known how upset you were. Her husband offered to start a search party.”

Miguel briefly wondered if they’d found their way all the way to Bridget Shaughnessy yet—she was the only other ex with any longevity—but decided they probably wouldn’t have. A pop star and a socialite ballerina (of minor nobility) were news. An FBI trainee he’d dated in high school was no one. Too bad. She’d have thought to check flight records and customs. “Please tell me they don’t have the police on it.”

“Not that I see. I’d guess the police would have taken one look at the apartment and guessed you did a runner all on your own. That hasn’t stopped people from coming up with crazy theories.”

“Okay, fine. Proof of life.” He held the phone up and snapped a picture to send. “Just have Antonella post it and apologize to people for worrying them.”

“Oh, hell, no. You think they can’t tell when it’s not really you posting? You made this mess. You post about it. Or at least send a real, actual post to Toni to put up, if you don’t want to log in. She can handle the replies. They’ll probably want an int—”

“No. I’m on vacation.”

“You’re supposed to go to Milan for a new suit.”

“I don’t need a new suit.”

“And you were going to pitch another show.”

“It’s not done, anyway. And I think I’d rather launch it here if I really do it.”

He sighed. “How long?”

“Indefinite. Maybe retirement.”

Hugo was quiet for a long time. Finally he said, “Don’t joke. You’re giving me a heart attack. I have a mortgage, and it needs my fifteen percent.”

Miguel put a hand on his head. “Okay. I don’t know how long, though. I need to be here.”

“I could say you’re in rehab. It’s much more glamorous, and with that picture, people will believe it.”

“Hugo.”

“All right. Fine. But someone’s going to say that, anyway. Do you want Toni to clap back when they do?”

“No. Leave it be. There’s no arguing with the gnats.”

“What did you say?”

Miguel held his hair back away from his face with one hand, and closed his eyes. “I don’t know. Gnats. Rumors. I don’t know what I mean. I just don’t want to engage, okay? I just want to be—”

“Left alone?”

“Not alone. With my family.”

“Is everything okay there?”

“Everything’s fine. Can I hang up?”

“Okay. But you’re killing me here.”

Hugo cut off the call. Miguel took a deep breath and opened his eyes.

Ángel was standing a few feet away, sucking his thumb.

Miguel smiled. “Hey, Ángelito, I—”

Ángel screamed and ran into the workshop. A moment later, Miguel heard Alejo say, “Oh, pobrecito, what’s wrong?”

Ángel just kept crying.

Miguel stood in the shadows, breathing shallowly.

Don’t be dramatic. Of course Ángel doesn’t remember you. He wasn’t even two when you left. All you’ve been is someone on a screen that everyone else rushed to talk to. It’s not… you can’t…

He squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to cry. This was his own fault. He didn’t deserve tears. He didn’t know how long he stayed that way.

There was a rattle of keys in the gate by the well, and he opened his eyes to find Coco, Teto, the twins, and two children he’d never seen before running in, all in school uniforms and carrying books. Coco had a guitar strapped over her back and Benny was carrying a trumpet. Manny rushed the little ones through and slammed the gate… but not before Miguel noticed about twenty people outside, most with their phones pointed in his direction as they yelled, “MIGUEL!!!!”

Coco made a gesture at the closed gate that Miguel was fairly sure Mamá wouldn’t approve of, then grabbed Teto and pulled him over. “See? Told you it wasn’t a dream.” She flung herself into Miguel’s arms again, and he hugged her, then reached for Teto, afraid that he’d be met with another scream (Teto had only been four when he’d left). Instead, he got a huge grin, and an even huger hug. Teto was missing a tooth (to Miguel’s amusement, it was the same one Papá Héctor had been missing), and his hands were sticky from the candy he’d undoubtedly picked up from Papá Isidro at the church.

“Good day at school?” Miguel asked.

“It’s the same as always,” Coco said. “I wanted to stay home, but Mamá said you’d probably sleep all day anyway.”

“I just got up.”

She wrinkled her nose.

Mamá came out of the workshop, carrying Ángel on her hip. “See, Ángelito? It’s just your big brother. You know Miguel. You talk to him.”

Ángel buried his face in Mamá’s neck. She gave Miguel a pained smile. “I’m sorry. He’ll remember. Or he’ll get to know—”

“It’s my fault,” Miguel said.

“He thinks you live in the computer,” Teto said. I told him you were real.”

Manny snorted. “He probably figures if you came out of the computer, La Chupacabra is next.”

“It’s a stupid cartoon that Teto watches,” Coco explained. “He’s not supposed to watch it with the baby, because he’s scared of it. And Ángelito doesn’t think Miguel is a chupacabra.”

“I don’t know,” Benny said. “The look is…” He waved at Miguel’s head. “And the smell isn’t much better, primo.”

Miguel looked at Coco, who wrinkled her nose and nodded.

“Okay. I’m offending my nearest and dearest. I’ll clean up.”

“You should keep the beard, though,” Manny suggested. “It looks cool.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah. Just, you know… your hair looks like a colibrí nest.”

Miguel gave Coco a kiss, ruffled Teto’s hair, and made an effort to smile at Ángel (at least it wasn’t met with a heartfelt scream this time), then went to the bathroom to actually clean up. The shower got rid of some of the aches and pains as it washed the last of Europe off his skin. It took a while to really get his hair in order, but he finally managed it. He could cut it later. For now, he found an old leather clip and pulled it back at the nape of his neck like Papá Isidro did. After some consideration of the stubble, he decided that Manny was right. And besides, since he was usually clean-shaven, it might help him blend in outside the walls. He cleaned it as well as he could with soap and water, and patted it dry. His eyes still looked a little sunken and he was still a little sore, but he decided this would do for now. He could at least pass for the Miguel he was supposed to be in this house.

When he came back to the courtyard, they’d pushed a second table out, and everyone was sitting down to snacks, which—depending on how busy the workshop was—would probably phase into an early dinner. It looked like Alejo and his little cousins (at least that’s who Miguel guessed the unknown children were) had gone home. Two cribs had been set in the shade of the kitchen, and Miguel supposed that they held Abel’s children, though he could only see one pudgy hand grasping a blanket from here.

Miguel sat down between Coco and Rosa. Across the table, Benny gave him a once-over, then a nod of approval. Tío Berto was scanning the news on his tablet.

“You made quite a mess in Austria,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“Though I can’t tell if they’re looking for you or the menu from a cheap restaurant.”

“Oh, what am I today? Churro? Tamale? Jalapeño?”

“Mushy pile of refritos,” Manny suggested. “Looks like caquitas and gives you gas.”

Miguel flicked a grape at him.

“They never say chocolate,” Serafina griped. “You’d think they’d get to chocolate.”

“You’ve been in Austria so long, maybe you should be Weiner schnitzel,” Tía Gloria suggested.

“Did anyone ever call Elvis Presley a donut?” Rosa asked. “Or a peanut butter sandwich? And was Paul McCartney a yummy bread pudding?”

“Never name someone you like after English food,” Miguel said.

This got a laugh, but it wasn’t the most comfortable one he’d ever heard. He knew what they were getting at: Outside of Mexico, he couldn’t escape people making every Mexican reference they knew… which was mostly food, maracas, sombreros, and serapes. And mariachis, but at least that was fair; Miguel was a mariachi, and he wasn’t ashamed of it. They didn’t mean any harm (exactly), but it was annoying. In Mexico City, he’d found himself treated as a Oaxacan yokel. At home, he hoped he could just be Miguel.

Whoever that was these days.

Teto reached across Coco’s plate and grabbed a fistful of grapes. “I’d be grapes,” he decided. “If I were a food.”

“I wouldn’t,” Abel said.

“Apples?” Teto considered it. “Once, Miguel and I had a fight with a monster, and we threw golden apples at it.”

Rosa opened her mouth to explain, but Miguel didn’t need it. He’d been an only child, and his imaginary friend had been a character on a television screen. At least he could do better than de la Cruz. “You know, Teto,” he said. “I ran into a witch in Austria. She took a lot of my memories and wrapped them up in lace and threw them in a spider web. You may have to tell me about some of our adventures.”

He grinned. “I think she got me, too. I don’t remember any of the things we did in Australia. Could you tell me about Australia and Mozart?”

Tía Gloria started to correct him.

Miguel winked at her. “Well,” he said. “Do you remember when we met Wolfgang?”

“No. That’s in the spider web.”

“Well, we were… we were in a jeep and we were in the Outback, going to see my friend Ximena and her friend Eduardo. And we met a kangaroo named Köchel…”

The story went in fits and starts at first, and Rosa got a bad case of the belly laughs, falling forward onto the table. At last, Köchel led them to a cave where Mozart was trying to write a concerto for the Spanish guitar, and then Teto “found” his memories in a lace bag under the table, and took over, spinning a story about how the four of them had to go and defeat the witch, so Miguel could have his memories of all their adventures back. During the course of it, Miguel learned that he had super strength, could teleport around the world, and, when he played Papá Héctor’s guitar, he could conjure whatever they needed out of thin air. Coco joined them sometimes, and when she played the guitar, she could make bad guys go away. She could also fly. Teto himself could jump like a kangaroo, and make grown-ups listen to him. He could also learn every instrument, even the ones Miguel didn’t know, and he could sing to make the sun come out and tap dance to make it rain.

“And what can Ángel do?” Miguel asked.

“Nothing. Ángel’s a baby. Babies are boring.”

“Boring would be nice,” Abel said, as little Julio announced that his afternoon nap was over with a hearty wail that woke up his sister. Abel and Serafina ran off to quiet the duet.

Miguel was just settling in when he heard someone call, “Who’s the baby?”

Rosa ground her teeth and stared at the closed gate between the workshop and the old house. Miguel followed her gaze. Someone had an arm stuck underneath, and was snapping pictures on the phone.

“Hey!” Abel shouted. “You! Out! And if pictures of my kids show up on line, you’ll be lucky if I just call the police!”

The workshop door opened and Papá came out with the longest awl he could get easily grab, and Mamá swept Ángel behind her skirts.

Miguel sighed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t… this was… Is this why you changed the locks?” he asked Tío Berto.

“One of them broke in a few months ago. Took pictures all over before we noticed her—busy day in the shop—and shared them before the police could come and confiscate the phone.”

“Someone else tried to cut my hair,” Coco said. “Just grabbed my braid and went for scissors.”

What? Where was this?”

“In the square. I was shining shoes, and they figured out who I was. Now, Papá doesn’t let me shine shoes and I have to have a grown-up when I play the guitar. It’s stupid.”

“Why would they cut your hair?”

“To sell online,” Rosa explained.

“And no one thought to tell me this?”

“We didn’t want you to worry,” Mamá said. “You had enough on your plate.”

“I could have… I don’t know… I could have told Toni to post that I didn’t want people doing that. I could have at least done that.” Miguel sighed. “Are they always there, or is it…?”

“There are more today than usual,” Tía Gloria said.

Miguel squashed the grape in his hand. “I shouldn’t be here. I should stay somewhere else. I shouldn’t… this isn’t…”

“You promised to stay!” Coco said. “You promised, Miguel. You said you’d come home. Everyone else said you wouldn’t, but I said you would, because you promised me, and—”

He took her hand, which was starting to gesticulate broadly, and he squeezed her fingers. “Okay, Coco. I won’t leave. Not right now. I… I’m just sorry. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Mamá said, sitting down beside him. She set Ángel on her far side, and he looked at Miguel with guarded curiosity. “And we’re so happy to have you back.”

“Exactly,” Rosa said. “Don’t worry about those”—she glanced at the workshop door, where Abuelita was hobbling out—“about those fans. They’ll get over it and move on.”

Miguel nodded, but the easy familiarity was gone. He was an alien now—one that had brought an invading horde of aliens to the gates of the hacienda. He waited for the conversation to shift, so it wouldn’t be entirely obvious, then excused himself. He wasn’t sure where he meant to go until he found himself at Mamá Coco’s door—the door to what had become the children’s music room.

He went in. The window shutters were closed, so he flipped on a light.

Pepita was waiting for him there, sitting on Mamá Coco’s end table with her tail tucked neatly around her, beside a picture from Mamá Coco’s wedding, showing her with Papá Julio, Mamá Imelda, and the uncles. Unless Miguel was mistaken, there was a little black and white cat on a windowsill in the background. Pepita never seemed to age. Apparently, every time she went back to the Land of the Dead, she reset herself somehow. Now, she watched him sternly. Miguel could almost feel Mamá Imelda’s eyes looking out from the cat’s face.

“Are you here for this?” he asked. “To tell me to take care of this?”

She just continued to stare.

“There’s more?”

Very deliberately, Pepita raised a paw and knocked the wedding picture over. It tottered on the edge of the table, and Miguel had a moment of total recollection—the ofrenda room, the family picture falling, and falling, and…

The wedding picture tottered off the side, and the glass shattered.

Miguel looked at it dully.

“There, too,” he guessed. “I’m costing them, too.”

Pepita jumped over to the windowsill and looked over her shoulder pointedly, then gave him an almost human tilt of the head. He went to her, and she butted her head against his arm and licked his hand. It’s okay, the gesture seemed to say. But fix it.

He nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll… do what I can. I don’t know—this one’s not quite as easy. But I’ll try. Can you tell them I’ll try.”

Pepita pulled her head back, as if to say, I can’t talk, you idiot.

“You know what I mean,” Miguel said.

Pepita rubbed against him again, then turned to the shuttered window.

Miguel peered between the slats into the alleyway that ran on this side of the house. No crazed fans with cameras.

He pushed the shutter open, and Pepita jumped down. She sauntered a few feet down the alley, sniffed here and there, then fixed her eyes on the shadow beneath an old garbage can.

She walked into it, tail held high, and disappeared.
8 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 3rd, 2019 11:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I’m really enjoying being back with Miguel in Santa Cecilia. Can’t see how he can fix these problems though...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 5th, 2019 06:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't, either, which is sort of a problem...
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: May 5th, 2019 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
....Well, that's one way to add to the suspense.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 7th, 2019 05:09 am (UTC) (Link)
!!!
Ooh this is cool to have such a story set pretty far in the future. Though there's perspective in the fact that, with only a decade, there really not that much aging with his family.
But it's nice to see Miguel not only finding success but also proving Ernesto wrong that he'd corrupt himself.

Speakng of which...
So it seems that Ernesto's idea of visiting his loony fans' ofrendas and smearing Imelda from Odiados is actually bearing fruit?

That was a good point about how there were layers to the stereotypes. Ie that not only Mexican stereotypes from abroad but southerner stereotypes from within.

Bridget, the FBI agent? Is it weird that I'd like to see a crossover between her and Ruthless?
I assume she's a bit less reckless than her cousin.

Awesome seeing you get back into this and looking forward to more.

---FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2019 07:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I think Miguel feels a little corrupted, more than he admits, but on the whole, he really has escaped the worst of it.

Ernesto's definitely shit-stirring, but he's had more luck in the LotD so far. I'm sure wheels are starting to turn, though.

Agent Shaughnessy and Auror Scrimgeour... Hmm. :D Though honestly, Bridget's doing more forensic psych, so she's more likely to crossover with Teddy's DoM stuff. Less reckless than Denny may not be a high bar to set. (A Denny and Ruthless crossover would be frankly dangerous.)

From: (Anonymous) Date: May 8th, 2019 11:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Yes pls to a crossover!
Aylat
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 24th, 2019 10:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

minor spelling mistake

I so love your writing. Thank you for sharing!
a little german-spelling nitpicking: It's a "Wiener Schnitzel" and Anja would probably use "anjataenzer" as she is a dancer (= Tänzer)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 25th, 2019 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: minor spelling mistake

Ah, thanks. Spell-check doesn't help when it's underlining everything. ;p I saw the umlauted and stuck in a twitter handle as a regular a, but ae would definitely be better.
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