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  • The Man from the Zoo
  • Dariel Suarez (bio)

Stealing the giraffe wasn't the problem. Transporting it from the city to the countryside—even at two a.m. on a Wednesday with a few bribed cops clearing the path—was another story. Arquímedes couldn't help worrying about the defecation. He was no expert on the precise frequency of a giraffe's bowel movements, but based on the data he'd accrued from watching horses and cows during visits to cooperatives, the amount had to be in the range of considerable to impressive. And if this particular giraffe—endearingly named Hansel by the zookeeper—was induced to relieve himself in his confusion and fear, the birds would have a much harder time consuming such a massive trail of crumbs.

Orlando seemed unfazed. He was Arquímedes's partner in crime, an eternal optimist who believed, encouraged by tarot card readings from his clairvoyant mother, that he was destined to find fortune abroad, no matter the obstacles. He'd seen the giraffe heist as his final ticket to get on a speedboat. They had conducted a few jobs together, proving their loyalty to each other—an unbreakable trust born out of sheer necessity, inherent communist principles, and the fact that Orlando had at one point dated Arquímedes's pregnant sister and survived to tell no one about it. They mostly broke into tobacco warehouses with help from Gustavo Mesa Godinez, the ex-Minister of Domestic Trade. Mesa owned a secluded ranch in Pinar del Río and happened to be Orlando's uncle.

"More of a distant relative," Orlando often clarified.

During their previous robbery, they'd spent an entire night searching graves—a good twenty of them—for a bag of jewels. The week before, sitting in the living room of an eighty-nine-year-old neighbor whose furniture they'd just moved, the lady had enriched her deliciously sweet lemonade with an intriguing tale.

"I've never told anyone this," she began. Judging by her earnest tone, Arquímedes suspected she had either gone senile or they were about to hear something special.

Her father had been a diplomat prior to the Revolution, when, according to the lady, he'd made friends in the American mafia. "Like in the Godfather movie," she explained. He refused to leave the country once [End Page 118] Castro started calling the shots. While coming home one day to discover his properties were about to be seized, he suffered a heart attack. He dictated his will at the hospital, imploring his daughters to bury the jewels with him, otherwise the heirlooms would end up around the necks of Fidel's lovers.

Arquímedes and Orlando finished their lemonade, then asked the lady her father's name. "For curiosity's sake," Arquímedes said. She volunteered it, and though she didn't remember the exact location of his tomb—she hadn't been to the site in over thirty years—she gave them an approximation. She was certain, however, that the gems were there. What persuaded Arquímedes was how, as she recalled the story, the mournful expression advanced age had bestowed upon her turned into a prideful gleam of victory. An aura of unburdening, bordering on catharsis, gently settled in her stare: those jewels were not around the neck of Fidel's lovers.

"Are you sure no one else knew about them?" Arquímedes asked. "Someone who might've been involved in the burial?" A thief, if he's to thrive long-term, must cover all angles even in the face of certainty.

The lady showed a melancholy smile. "Maybe the worms."

Despite his mother's direct line of communication with the dead, Orlando was terrified of cemeteries. Arquímedes promised him sixty percent of the profits if he sucked it up. "Tell your mom to put in a good word for you," he told his friend, aware that Orlando wouldn't pass up a bigger cut. Despite the hospital gloves and masks they'd procured, rummaging through bones felt like stepping over a line neither confession nor repentance could undo. Arquímedes did most of the fishing while Orlando served...


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pp. 118-132
Launched on MUSE
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