The next person to walk through his door was a man about Dustin’s own age. He wore a grey cardigan and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. His face and hair were impeccable. His slacks were freshly pressed and his loafers polished.
“Mr. Perez.” Dustin said greeting him at the door and shaking his hand. “I assume that you’ve come to talk about your mother.”
“Oh please call me Terry.” The man replied as he gave Dustin’s paw a half-hearted pump. “My father’s name is Mr. Perez and he’s a total dick. I’d rather not be associated with the guy if I can help it.”
“I see.” Dustin laughed. “Please have a seat Terry and tell me what’s on your mind.”
Rather than sitting down the man stood there looking up at the ceiling. “To be honest with you I’d rather not.” He said with an uncertain kind of hesitation.
Dustin cocked his head questioningly.
“Look, I’ll just cut right to the chase since none of you seem to realize what you’re doing around here.” The man continued. “I work as an architect downtown and I’m sort of worried about aftershocks right now. If we have one, then this fabulous old building could come down right on top of us.”
Now it was Dustin’s turn to look up. “I hadn’t thought of that.” He said as he regarded the rooftop above them with a barely suppressed feeling of trepidation. The image of the apartment building collapsing across the street from his own was still very fresh in his mind. He didn’t want to be buried beneath a pile of rubble while conducting business in his office. He could think of many more ways that he’d rather die.
“People don’t think of things like that!” The man said sounding flabbergasted. “I don’t know why but everyone just runs back inside after an earthquake all willy-nilly like they think everything’s going to be okay then!”
“That’s a good point.” Dustin agreed.
“Oh my God!” The man continued throwing his hands up to his face. “It’s horrible! Do you know how many people die that way every time that we have one of these?”
Dustin shook his head.
“A lot of people!” Terry answered almost shrieking the words.
“Well,” Dustin said quickly walking back to his desk. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll move our meeting outside.”
Terry Perez stood in the doorway watching him with his hands on his hips.
Dustin grabbed the radio that was sitting on the surface of his desk lifting it to his lips. “Steve.” he spat into the mic.
Steve’s reply was almost immediate. “Yo buddy!”
“I need you to get the guys to roll out one of the burial canopies to the front parking lot.” Dustin said using his free hand to fold his computer closed. “We should have two of them already assembled around back.”
“Why?” Steve asked.
“Aftershocks.” Dustin replied simply. “Our guest, Mr. Perez-“
“Terry.” The man corrected him.
“Terry,” Dustin continued giving Mr. Perez an apologetic smile as he did so. “Terry, our guest has just pointed out to me that there’s still the chance of aftershocks and that we shouldn’t be inside.”
There was a long pause. “That building’s fine man.” Steve said sounding confused. “It’s been through about forty quakes. It’s not coming down.”
Dustin shook his head in frustration. “We need to think about the safety of our clients Steve.” Dustin argued. “Just get one of the canopies and set a table and chairs beneath it for me will you?”
“Suit yourself.” Steve quipped.
Dustin turned to the man standing in his doorway. “Just give me a moment to collect my computer and files and I’ll join you out in the parking lot.” He said as he awkwardly scooped up the enormous pile of paperwork that he’d pulled over the course of the morning. Every file contained information about the people who were buried in the area of the crack. The one for Mr. Perez’s mother was somewhere in them all.
“What about those lovely birds?” Terry said pointing to the cage behind him. “Please tell me that you’re not thinking of leaving them in here.”
Dustin turned, looking back in the direction of the canaries. “Of course not!” He lied. “Would you mind helping me out with them?”
“Not at all.” The man replied. Strolling over to look at the cage he asked, “Why’s it all dented up?”
“They’re actually from a neighbor’s.” Dustin answered. “His apartment collapsed. I’m just keeping them for him until I get a chance to give them back.”
“Poor birds.” The man cooed sticking a finger through the bars.
“They’ve had a rough morning like all of us.” Dustin said.
“At least they’re okay.” The man replied turning his head in Dustin’s direction. “You see how the bars shielded them from being crushed?” He asked.
“Yes.” Dustin replied glancing back at the cage.
“If we built all buildings in California on a cage design then no one would ever get killed.”
“That’s true.” Dustin said gathering his computer and power cord, setting them both on top of the files.
“I’ve been saying for years that bars and supporting struts are always the safest way to live when you’re constructing a home on unstable ground.” The architect continued.
“I hadn’t thought of that.” Dustin muttered.
“People don’t like them but you can hide them inside the walls of the structure so that they don’t know that they’re in a cage.” The architect said. “Everything should be designed that way!”
“That sounds like a good idea.” Dustin called as he began making his way towards the doorway.
“It’s the best idea!” Terry said excitedly. “Unfortunately, people don’t see the benefit of building their homes like a cage.”
Gently the architect unhooked the birds and followed Dustin through the building. With every door closed and most of the power turned off the funeral home seemed unnaturally dark. Dustin wondered if the reason that the fabulous old building had survived forty quakes was because it had always been designed like a cage. If the walls hid the bars, as the architect said that they should, then he would never know.