Bio:  Fawzy Zablah

Fawzy Zablah was born in El Salvador and raised in Miami. “Liberty City” is his fourth short story to appear at The Acentos Review. His debut novel, Rarity of the Century, is forthcoming this fall via Tiny TOE Press ( in Austin. He blogs at 

MAY 2013

Alvarado Valdivia         Arias        Cerda        Chatelain        Desimone        Ferro    gomez        Hernandez Diaz        Huizar        Ibarra        Martinez Serrano        Molina        Muñoz        Najarro        Olivarez        Ponce-Melendez        Ramirez        Reyna        Rosales        Salazar        Villagarcia        Zablah


Liberty City

My cousin Phillip killed a lot of people. He showed me the Polaroids. There were real dead people in those photos. Some of them he killed and others he tortured. He did most of these things when he was in Vietnam. He returned in 1974, having “killed his way back to the states,” as he liked to say. He eventually made his way to Miami’s most  notorious ghetto,  Liberty City, and the riots of 1980. We didn’t really start hanging out until 1982. By then I was 13, and he was 28.

My cousin lived part of the time with my aunt three houses away from ours. He usually stayed there when he was fighting with his girlfriend Anna. She lived about three miles South from us in a small pink house that once belonged to an ex husband of hers. Phillip and Anna used to fight all the time. Most of their fights were because my cousin was very jealous of Anna. She'd always threaten to leave him but she never did. She loved him too much. My mother didn’t want me hanging out with Phillip but what was she gonna do? She was never home. She was always at the damn grocery story working. So whenever I got home from school, and especially if he was on the outs with Anna, Phillip would pass by in his gray Ford Granada with the red top. I’d jump in  and we’d be off joy riding, looking for all kinds of trouble.

One Saturday I hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks, and I  called my aunt to find out where he was but she said she didn’t know. I wasn’t surprised. It was his favorite thing to do, to go missing without telling anyone anything. My mother had left early for work and I had woken up about eleven and was in the middle of eating Frosted Flakes when I heard the horn. I jumped to the window, saw my cousin behind the wheel of the Granada, and ran to my room to put on a pair of jeans and a shirt,  ran out of the house and got in his car.

“Light it for me, primito,” he said.

I lit the cigarette with his favorite chrome lighter while he drove. He looked so cool with the cigarette hanging from his mouth, like he was the Salvadorian Marlon Brando. Phillip was a big man. He had snake tattoos all over his neck and he owned a gun. In those days nobody messed with us. There used to be a tall kid named Roy in the neighborhood who was always trying to start trouble with me, but when Phillip came into the picture, everything changed. I just had to be seen with my cousin once and no one messed with me. I felt like I had power and respect in my life. And when he started telling me the stories about Vietnam and how he stuck machetes in people’s stomachs and sneaking around in the jungle shooting VIETCONG in the back of the head - when he talked about those things - real things, that’s when I knew that he was for real, and I wanted to be for real too.

“Here,” he said, giving me a sugar cube. “Today is a very special day, and we gonna have us some fun.”

“What is it?”

“Just some acid I got from a buddy of mine.”

I put it in my mouth and closed my eyes. When I opened them, Phillip was starting one of his philosophical monologues. That was another reason why he was my favorite cousin -  because we talked about adult things like life and death. But mostly, we just talked about death.

“That’s the thing, I don’t give a fuck what anybody say, you ain’t a real man until you’ve killed somebody. That’s the way the world is. That’s the way it works.”

“What's it like the first time?” I asked.

“The first time you do it, you get real scared. But if you control your nerves and go through with it, it changes you. You know? When you kill a man your mind splits open like a melon because you can do anything now, because you’ve just done the ultimate thing. But you can’t forget it’s all a game. Cause war is a game too, primo. It’s the game of the rich and the poor are the pawns that they use to play it.”

He pulled into the parking lot of a strip club called Pink Lipz off 95. The club was closed, but there was still, like, four cars in the parking lot. He looked at me.

“Open the glove compartment.”

I opened it and there was a revolver which he asked me to hand him.

He checked to see if there were any bullets in it. It was silver and heavy. When he saw that it was loaded, he put it under his belt and stepped out of the car. He looked at me through the window.

“Stay here. I’ll be back in 20 minutes. Don’t go nowhere, okay?”


I watched him say ‘hi’ to a guy at the door and then he disappeared inside the club. I sat in the car and looked in the glove compartment. There was a bag of cocaine. I held it and tried to smell it through the plastic without opening it. It smelled like detergent;white as snow. When I stared hard at it, I could almost see tiny rich white people skiing downhill. When I saw other cars coming into the parking lot, I tossed it back in the glove compartment.

The building seemed to sparkle in a crystal kind-of shine that became more intense the more I looked at it. Then all of a sudden, the front door of the club burst open, and my cousin came out dragging a black guy by his dread locks. He was yelling at him. Then three tall bearded men in green military fatigues and wearing berets came out of nowhere and grabbed the black guy. As the three bearded soldiers held him, my cousin knocked him down to the pavement with one quick punch and then everyone started stomping on him. And the more the three men hit the victim, the more their eyes sparkled  like stars or diamonds. Then my cousin and the three men with beards dragged the black guy to the back and I heard one single shot that echoed through-out that whole neighborhood. 

My cousin returned alone as a black Lincoln sped away from behind the building. His face was red as he turned the ignition.

“Who were those soldiers?”

“What soldiers?”

“Those guys with the beards?”

“What are you talking about? There was nobody. Hijo de la gran puta that shit must be hitting you hard chico.”

He handed me the gun without looking at me, ordering me to put it back in the glove compartment. The gun was still warm, it smelled like gun powder. I was scared so I just kept my mouth shut. As he sped out of the parking lot, he announced we were heading to his friend Bobby’s place to get a rifle and then to the Everglades for the shooting lessons he had been promising me for about a year now. He was really gun ho about teaching me to defend myself and learning how to shoot a gun and all that. He always said that he was not going to be around forever, and us brown people need to know how to defend ourselves.

Bobby lived in a small cottage in Coconut Grove. He worked at the meat department in Winn Dixie. He fought in Vietnam too with my cousin, but they hardly ever talked about it in my presence. He was a hippie and his house always smelled like weed and burnt bread.

The door was open and we let ourselves in. Bobby was sitting in his couch watching Erik Estrada arrest a prostitute on CHiPs.

“Hey Bobby.”

“Hey Phil. Hey little primo. How did it go?”

“He won’t be coming around my chick no more. I should be feeling better.  But I don’t.”

“Well. Of course man.  Once you get the mental picture, it never leaves you.”

“Roll me a fat joint please. I need to relax and think.”

Bobby carefully rolled a thick joint and lit it.

We smoked and watched CHiPs.

Bobby looked at Phillip.

"So what you gonna do about your girl?"

"I'm gonna cut her throat."

"You're funny man."

“I hate Florida,” Phillip said. “I should be in LA. My boy Rigoberto is there. And I wouldn’t be dealing with any of this bullshit. Salvadorian’s are an army on the West Coast. It ain’t like here, with all these fucking Cubans.”

“My mother is Cuban, man, please, don’t insult me,” said Bobby

“You’re a bitch ass hoe. That’s what you are.”

We all laughed.

My cousin looked around the house.

“You got the rifle?”

“Yeah man, it’s in that closet right behind you.”

“Grab it primito,” he said to me.

I got up off the couch and went to the closet. It was jam packed with books and shoe boxes. The rifle was high up, wrapped in an old, ragged sweater. As I reached for it on my tip toes, a huge black photo album came down on my head, making a loud thump when it hit the ground.

“Don’t destroy my closet, primo.”

“What the fuck are you doing?” Phillip said.

I grabbed the rifle and looked at the photo album that hit my head; it had yellow skull stickers all over. I handed the rifle to Phillip while rubbing my head.

“That big ass book hit me on the head.”

“What book,” said Bobby.

“That black album.”

I went over to the closet and picked up the album and brought it to the couch. Bobby looked at it, as Phillip checked the rifle.

“That’s the book of death and destruction,” Bobby said.

“The what,” I said.

“Don’t you remember those Polaroids I showed you primo,” said Phillip, and then putting down the rifle.


“That’s where the photos come from. They all come from that album. We SF always had to have mementos. Bring it over here.”

I handed it to him and he opened it and the first photo was of a group of soldiers posing next to the body of a dead woman with a rice bowl next to her. She wasn’t wearing any pants. And the soldiers posed with smiles, as if they had just killed a deer or a moose.

“Did they kill her?”

“Yes,” Phillip said laughing and looking at Bobby. “They killed her because she was   VC. They all were.”

The next two pages had a series of Polaroids of dead Vietnamese soldiers. They were head shots of dead people. Most of them had their eyes closed.  They were all real dead people and some of them had holes in their heads. When Phillip turned the pages, there were photos of  girls that couldn’t have been much older that fifteen or sixteen. On one side they were naked and alive, and most of them were crying, their faces filled with a kind of absurd anguish. The page next to them had the same girls, but they were all dead. An individual photo for each girl, and then one group photo at the end with all their bodies mounted on each other.

“What happened to them?”

“That was a village that we had to clear out. It was full of VC.”

Phillip stood up with joint in hand, laughing.

“They were crying and screaming kinh dị! kinh dị! kinh dị”

“What's that mean?”

“kinh dị! kinh dị! It was hilarious”

Bobby looked at me with a half smile like if embarrassed of my cousin.

“Kinh dị means, 'Horror.'”

I didn’t want to look at any more photos, but I continued, because I didn’t want Phillip to think that I was afraid.

On the next page, there were  Polaroids of soldiers posing with dead bodies and body parts like limbs and human heads. The first photo was of a young soldier who didn’t look much older than I holding a man’s arm. As I looked at the photo closely, I noticed that the soldier didn’t seem fazed by the arm and that he was even smiling. The photo next to it was of three bearded guys in fatigues and berets - they looked exactly like the same guys I saw at the strip club, who had helped my cousin beat up the black guy. I didn’t say anything, because I thought my cousin would say I was crazy or maybe those guys were working on a secret mission as Soldiers of Fortune like the A-Team and he couldn’t divulge any information because of spy protocol.

“Who are they,” I asked, pointing at the photo.

That’s when Bobby took more of an interest  and sat up to look at the photo.

“Those are the Brothers Rublyov.”


“ Those guys were Russian.”

“They were Russians? They were communists fighting on our side?”

“No, they weren’t communists. They were born in Russia and came to the US as teenagers. They were fucking insane man.”

“They were the first ones to start raping girls,” said Phillip blowing smoke.

“They were the first to cross every line,” said Bobby.

“What else did they do?”

“You name it,” said Bobby. “They did it.”

“It was some lovely shit they used to do,” said Phillip, while smoking more weed.

“Yeah,” said Bobby. “At first they stabbed girls with their dicks. By the end, they were stabbing them with knives. With the arrival of those guys, it was everything goes.”

“Nobody cared,” said Phillip, looking at me. “I remember they was always lighting matches and disposing of bodies, trying to get rid of our trail. They were fucking scientific about it too. Every time anyone went nuts on a civilian, they were there to help you drag the bodies away.”

“Whatever happened to them? Did they make it through the war?”

“No, all three of them are dead. I think the one in the middle there, he was shot by a girl he was trying to have his way with. The funny thing was that it only took one shot in the stomach and he was dead. By the time we got to the scene, the two other brothers were stabbing the little girl that killed their beloved brother. And I will never forget that as long as I live.”

Phillip started laughing hysterically and coughing. “I remember that shit. They tore her up!”

“Three days later as we moved onto another village, the two other brothers went missing and we sent a search party. They found them dead by some cliff. They shot themselves in the mouth. I guess they really loved their dead brother.”

I stared at the photo of the Brothers Rublyov and all three of them winked at me. When I saw that, I got up and went to sit next to the TV to watch Ponch arrest a vagrant. I was kind of scared. I was almost positive it was the Brothers Rublyov that I saw helping my cousin beat the black guy to a pulp.

My cousin looked at Bobby.

“Little primo and I are heading to the Everglades for a little target practice. You interested?”

“Nah, I'm good right here on the couch. I think I’ll just  relax, get high and watch some Tele.”

“Suit yourself pal, we gonna go live you fat piece of shit.”

“Don’t forget we live on a rock floating in space,” yelled out Bobby, as we stepped out the door.

By the time we arrived at the Everglades, it was already afternoon. We had passed by a gas station and bought some sandwiches and beer. We ate our food and drank our beer as the tall grass shone florescent green in the sun and danced with the wind. The wind was strong and it curved through the trees screaming and whistling like the victims in the photo album. I remember thinking how happy I was sitting there with him. I remember that I would have done anything he’d asked me to do.

After finishing our sandwiches we started shooting beer bottles. Phillip would show me how to hold and point the rifle and then move far out of the way.

“Shoot, primo. Concentrate.”

I’d shoot and missed, perhaps cause I was too high. I hit the target with the second shot.

“Nice, primo. Oh shit, did you see that?”


“I think it was a raccoon. Give me that.”

I handed him the rifle and he pointed it to the top of a tree. He aimed for at least 1 whole minute standing like the statue of a rifle man. When he fired, the raccoon dropped, hitting the ground loudly. When we got close to it, it was squirming. My cousin gave me the rifle as we walked to it.

“See that? That’s how it’s done.”

He looked at it. He then took out a big Bowie knife and handed it to me.

"Cut it, primo," he said, “ Like I showed you."

He guided me with his hand, plunging the blade into the racoon’s stomach and I started gutting it, taking out all the organs. My hands were getting messy with dark raccoon blood. We removed all the innards and dumped them by its side. When he showed me the heart, it seemed as if it was still beating in his hand. I had gotten used to the dead animals we slaughtered. It was like playing doctor or something.

As we walked away from the slaughtered body of the raccoon, I looked back to catch the Brothers Rublyov dragging the body by the tail. They dragged it behind a tree and stood over it, eating whatever was left like if they were dogs or hyenas. I remember thinking that they were true scavengers and I wasn’t scared of them anymore.

Sometimes my cousin would shoot at something in some bushes or by some trees. He claimed it was a deer, but I never saw it.

When we left the everglades, it was night time. The ride back to Liberty City was quiet.  All us psychos, we fall in love with silence too deeply and by the time we realize this it’s too late. My mother always used to say that Phillip was lost because he was always thinking too much. To me, my cousin was like a monk that had seen it all, and he was free of everyone in the world and everything in it. Nothing you ever did after reaching the edge of experience could be blamed on you. But the truth was that Phillip was not a monk. He was a destroyer of civilization.

He drove to his girlfriend’s house and parked next to her white Beetle. We went inside and there was nobody in the living room. I sat on the couch and turned on the television. He went to the bedroom and came out.

“Where the fuck is she?” he said.

“Bathroom,” I said while switching the channels.

As he went to the bathroom, she came out of the back door.

“Where were you?”

“I was in the back doing the laundry. What's wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with you Anna?”

“I don’t need this shit from you right now.”

He then grabbed her by the hair and put the knife to her throat. It happened so fast, that I didn’t notice until I heard her scream.

“Why did you fuck him?”

“No,”she said, softly.

“Did you like it?”

She didn’t say anything. My heart was pounding inside my chest so hard I thought it was going to pop out. At that very moment, I pictured the racoon’s heart pounding away like mine.

When he pressed the blade against her neck, the Brothers Rublyov entered through the front door in single file and went to stand behind Phillip.

I looked at them, but they didn’t look at me. They just looked at Anna and they were waiting.

“Did you like it?”


“That’s not what I heard puta.”

“No,” she said.

“Say no again, and I will cut your throat.”

Her face turned white like a vampire . She was crying and trembling. The more she cried, the more the Brothers Rublyov got excited. My cousin didn’t look at me. I didn’t know what to do . My legs were trembling and there were tears in my eyes. I wanted to wipe them but I couldn’t because he would see. So the tears just rolled down my face.

“Say ‘no’ again Anna. Was he good?”

She didn’t say anything.

“I dare you to say no. Please say no and make it easy for me.”

“No,” she said.

“What?” he said, grabbing her neck tighter.

“Yes,” she said.

And before she could say anything else he found a zipper slider in the back of her head and ran it down her neck, to her shoulder and all the way down to her butt unzipping her from her skin like if it was a dress. Then he pulled at the skin, stretching it like if it was latex, tearing it off her body and letting it drop on the floor like a wetsuit.  She was red like the planet Mars underneath. He then put down the knife and grabbed his gun.

The Brothers Rublyov were almost over his shoulders.

He still didn't acknowledge them.

Then the bearded bastards dragged the body to a back room and closed the door.

I didn't move.

When my cousin stopped fidgeting with the gun he finally looked at me. His eyes were burning.

“You better go,” he said. “Anna’s mother should be home soon.”

I  stood up. I couldn't avoid his gaze. As soon as I got to the front door, I started running down the street and I didn’t stop until I reached my house. Once inside, I locked myself in my bedroom. By the time my mother got home from work, the police had all of Liberty City on lock down.