I'd just sat down to my General Tsao's chicken when the phone rang. Isn't that always the way? By the time I'd come back to my dinner, it would look worse than whomever I was picking up. I followed a big gulp of Bud with a long, operatic belch.
"Jensen and Son's Funeral Home," I answered, "How may I be of service?" My tone was business-like yet comforting, meant to evoke a favorite uncle who'd briefly studied for the priesthood.
"Is dis the undertaker?"
Right away I knew not to waste my breath on the understated elegance of burnished bronze. "This is Will Jensen, the funeral director."
"Whatever. I need you to come to 545 Waterside in Happy Harbour Estates. Know where dat is?"
Did I? In Happy Harbour, the master bathrooms were the size of my apartment and practically wall-papered with Benjamins. Maybe I'd suggest the Venetian velvet to complement the burnished bronze.
"Yes, I know the place. To whom am I speaking?"
"Um, all right then, Mr. Carlo, I need to -- "
"Carlo's my first name. I thought undertakers were s'posed to be good with details."
"Yes . . . well, has the deceased been pronounced, Carlo?"
"No, he ain't sayin' much, he's dead. You know, I'm startin' to worry about you. Why dontcha just get over here already. And no flashing lights or sirens, O.K?"
"Hearses don't hav -- " Click.
I turned off the TV -- my beloved Bosox were clobbering the Yankees -- downed the last of my beer, combed my hair and popped a breath mint. In the doorway, I looked back at the General Tsao's chicken, said "Don't wait up," and shut the door behind me.
Technically, the last time I drove a hearse was when my Dad was alive. Those were the good Oldsmobile days when our vehicles had engines like Indy racers and shone like the family car. And nothing was too good for the dearly departed.
But tonight, as I headed down the dark, slick highway in a blocky black van that bucked around curves, I was competing with outfits that offered "corrugated composite caskets." Can you imagine burying your Aunt Sophie in a cardboard box? Dad would've blown a gasket, except that he already had back in '96. Since his death the business had suffered, and so had I.
But I was still paying the rent, the Sox were hot and the beer was cold, and some poor family, living in a sprawling mansion with a view of Boston Harbor, needed me.
I pulled up to the security gate at Happy Harbour Estates, "Luxury Beyond The Pale," and noticed a giant of a man standing outside the booth, beads of rain glistening on his gray Fedora and trench coat. In a blink, the gate had swung open and the giant was sitting beside me. As I started to protest, he said, "Drive to de end and hang a right. Last house in the cul-de-sac, numba 545."
"Y-you must be Carlo," I said.
He rolled his heavy-lidded eyes. "Ya t'ink?"
I drove with one eye on the road and the other on one of Carlo's bear claws resting on the dash. His fingers were like links of pork sausage, the knuckles heavily-calloused, probably from connecting with people's faces.
Working in the presence of the Reaper, I was usually the soul of composure -- but not tonight. I saw where one of the pork sausages was pointing and nervously drove up a long driveway towards the most palatial house in the neighborhood. A bronze plaque by the front walk said The Smiths.
As I rolled to a stop, the front door opened and two bull-necked men wearing suits lumbered out and stood at attention on either side of the door. They looked like they were wearing shoulder pads under their jackets.
The rain had died down to a drizzle as I pulled the gurney out of the van and opened it to its full height, about bed level. Most home calls, the body was in the bed.
I wondered why the EMT's hadn't waited for me; they usually do, but maybe they'd been uneasy in the land of the giants and decided there was a doughnut somewhere that needed their urgent attention.
I put a Sani-pak and a body bag on the gurney and was dragging it up the sidewalk when Carlo decided to help, almost lifting the back end off the ground. One of the nose-tackles on the front steps motioned for me to follow him, while the other looked past me, head on a swivel. No one spoke.
Inside, the Smith house was like a museum, heavy drapes and shades, runners on the carpets, clear plastic on the furniture. There was a musty stench of garlic, cigar smoke, and Murphy's lemon oil in the air, and as we neared the stairs, I heard muffled weeping from above. With Carlo at the rear, the gurney flew up the steps -- too bad I can't afford full-time help, I thought.
Upstairs, the silent nose-tackle motioned me into the master bedroom and . . . there she was, kneeling by the bed and staring up at me with tear-streaked cheeks. The young woman had luxurious platinum tresses that could only come from a bottle and eyes so big and dark a man could drown in them, although her breasts might serve as life-preservers, floating proudly as they were in her Angora sweater. It occurred to me I was ignoring the person I'd come for.
I tore my eyes away from Blondie and examined the body lying in the bed. A sixty-something Caucasian male, he had a neat, dyed comb-over and an avian beak that bisected his face like a sundial.
He was certainly dead, his eyes were closed and sunken, his skin as pale as if he'd already been ex-sanguinated. Vinny was embroidered in red on the pocket of his silk pajamas. Vinny Smith?
Oh well, enough of him -- I turned back to the young woman.
"I'm very sorry about your father's passing, ma'am. I'm Will Jensen from Jensen and Son's Funeral Home."
"He vuz my husband," she sniffed.
"Um, yes, of course . . . and he must have loved you very much."
What? Where the hell did that come from?
The woman stood up, revealing hips that had more curves than the coastal highway I'd taken here.
"My name is Tanya," she said, "Tanya Sonovavich. I keep my maiden name for biz-nuss purposes."
I sandwiched her dainty, extended hand in both of mine.
"You're an actress then, or a model?" I said.
"No. A dent-tull hygienist."
"Oh . . . kay. Did the doctor fill out the death certificate?"
"Da, he did." She handed me a folded paper. "He said my Vinny had heart at-tack."
I looked at the death certificate which was in order but looked like it had been filled out by a palsied chimpanzee using his feet. Definitely a doctor's handwriting. I suggested that everyone might want to leave the room while I worked, but Tanya shook her head no and Carlo simply ignored me.
After donning my gown, gloves, and mask, I pulled back the covers and saw big splotches of blood where the pajamas covered the deceased's midsection. Unbuttoning the pajama top, I gasped at the bullet holes riddling Mr. Smith's torso.
"My God, this man's been shot to death!" I said.
A bear claw clamped down on my shoulder.
"No, it wuz natural causes," said Carlo. "He had a heart attack after he wuz shot."
I looked deep into Carlo's eyes and saw my leg being broken. Slowly. "Um . . . I see. Um, this is going to make embalming very difficult, all this . . . er, damage. We'll have to have a closed casket."
"No!" barked Tanya, stomping her foot. "For sake of family, must be open cazz-ket. Vinny must look like heem-self." I looked deep into Tanya's eyes and saw my heart being broken. Slowly.
Flustered, I dispensed with the normal protocol and bagged the corpse as fast as I could while Tanya rounded up some photos of her husband and a favorite outfit. After the body was securely strapped to the gurney, I gave Tanya my card and asked her to come by tomorrow to discuss details of the viewing and interment.
She sighed deeply, causing her boobs to bob on an unseen sea.
"Thank you, Vill," she said.
I tried not to smile too enthusiastically, and asked Carlo to go first on the trip downstairs.
He walked to the front of the gurney, got a grip and said, "You know, you're not as dumb as you look."
Then we rolled out of the room, leaving the widow alone with her thoughts.
* * *
I was sipping coffee and standing in a puddle of embalming fluid when my free-lance cosmetician, Blanche, showed up the next morning.
"Pee-yoo!" she said, looking at the mess and wrinkling her nose. "I believe you're losin' your touch there, Will."
Blanche was a Georgia peach, just as sweet as a peach and nearly as big as Georgia. She gazed wide-eyed at Vinny Smith's corpse, like it was the first one she'd ever seen.
The bullets, and there'd been lots of them, had made small entry holes in the deceased's abdomen, ricocheted from trachea to testicles within, and exited the back leaving wounds the size of sunflowers. No amount of suturing or plugging would keep the embalming fluid from leaking out. Worse yet, Vinny's belly, a considerable convexity in life, now dropped away from his ribs like a sand trap at Augusta.
This was clearly a case for the D.A. but I realized how much I enjoyed walking on two legs, and how much I wished to continue doing so. And no matter how he died, his wife, Tanya, wanted him looking good at the wake. And I was ready to swim in embalming fluid for her.
Blanche inspected the photos of Vinny I'd thumb-tacked to an easel and stared at his lifeless face.
"Face ain't bad," she said. "I kin fix that just fine. But that deflated-body look -- that ain't gonna fly. Hmm." She picked up a picture of Vinny standing proudly, all sunburn and smile, next to a hapless swordfish. "Ya know," she said, "he had one-a those really round guts, not the saggy kind. Kinda like he swallowed a basketball."
We stared at each other as the idea took shape, then I gave Blanche a high five.
Thirty minutes later, I'd inserted a deflated Wilson "All-Star 3000" basketball into the deceased's abdominal cavity through a small incision, then sutured the wound tight, leaving the inflation pin sticking out of his belly button. I attached the compressed-air hose to the pin and we watched as Vinny rapidly returned to his formerly-robust self, Blanche giggling the whole time.
"I'd stop right there, Will, we don't want 'im to explode!"
"You're never gonna let me forget Mrs. Grubner, are you?" I said. That day had been so horrible that I'd briefly considered law school.
I removed the air hose and was taping over the inflation pin when a loud buzz announced someone was at the front door.
"I'll leave you to do your thing now, Blanche. Put him in a vinyl body stocking to seal the leaks but don't cover up the inflation pin, just in case." I started to walk away, then added, "And don't leave your Big Gulp next to the gluteraldehyde."
Blanche's soft laughter followed me up the stairs like happy butterflies. Upstairs, I quickly washed my hands, slipped into my suit jacket and slapped a little aftershave on my cheeks. Hustling to the front door, I put on my best funeral face and opened it.
It was Tanya. She wore a tight black dress that said "sex" or "success," I wasn't sure which.
"Good mor-nink, Vill," she said. "May I come in?"
Before I could open my mouth, which was unnecessary since it was already hanging open, she strutted into the foyer and s-l-o-w-l-y peeled off her long black gloves. Watching her, I almost bit my hand until I remembered where it'd been.
"Please, Ms. Sonovavich -- Tanya -- let's sit in my private office." I pointed to an open door and tried to inhale her fragrance as she passed by, but all I caught was the cloying scent of lilies, in vases all over the place. I followed her into my office and offered her a seat.
"My Vinny," she said, "he's look-ink good?"
"Yes, he is," I said proudly, "although it's required a great deal of work."
"Don't vorry, Vill, you'll be vell-paid." She slowly licked her full, red-lipsticked lips. "Put Vinny in your finest coffin for vake, perhaps some-think in burnished bronze. His mother is leaving the nursing home just for to-night -- he must look good."
Tanya uncrossed her legs, then languidly re-crossed them, not that I was staring, hoping for a glimpse of the Promised Land.
"After vake is done," she said, "burn heem."
"Of course," I said dreamily, "anything you sa -- What?!"
"Ven the old bitch leaves, trow Vinny in the oven and bring me the ashes." Tanya smiled and for the first time I noticed how sharp her canines were. And yellow too, which had to be a turn-off for her patients.
She stood, said, "La-ter, Vill," and strode out the door in a way that reminded me how female spiders eat their mates after sex. We all have to go sometime, I mused. Then I headed downstairs to see how Blanche was doing.
When I entered the Prep Room, Blanche was sipping on her Big Gulp and admiring her handiwork. Vinny looked well-rested and tanned with the tiniest hint of a smile, as if he were having a sweet dream. His comb-over had been perfectly re-created: a tarantula straddling an egg.
Blanche and I dressed him in a tan suit with a black shirt, open at the neck to display several gold chains, a diamond-encrusted cross, and a forest of gray chest hair. Vinny Smith, indeed!
I rolled in a solid-bronze coffin with maroon velvet interior and gold-plated hinges and handles, and together, Blanche and I transferred Mr. Smith to the coffin. I placed the manual air pump that came with the basketball down by his feet and closed the lower half of the lid. It seemed only right that the pump should travel with the ball and the pin.
"You did a wonderful job, Blanche, but I'm worried about the wake tonight. Any chance you could stop by?"
"Well I was s'posed to appear on Dancin' With The Stars, but I guess I could be here instead," she said, packing up her supplies.
"Thatta girl!" I said. "There just might be some Mal-O-Mars in this for you."
Blanche picked up a staple gun used for closing wounds or orifices. "How'd ya like your anus stapled shut?" she said, smiling sweetly. "Maybe then you wouldn't be such an asshole."
I was still laughing as she waddled up the stairs, her cosmetic cases banging against the walls.
* * *
I drove back to my apartment and took a nap so I'd be fresh for the Smith wake. In this business you've got to sleep when you can and be ready to hit the ground running. In my dream, I was inflating Tanya's breasts with the basketball pump and they kept getting bigger and bigger -- they were already wider than her shoulders and starting to obscure her face -- when a loud Pop! woke me up.
It was Carlo. He was a one-man eclipse, blocking out the afternoon sun and cracking his knuckles, pop, pop, pop, like a string of firecrackers.
"Hey Jensen, you awake?" he said.
"No, are you?" I snapped, almost immediately regretting my reply as my self-preservation circuits came back online.
Carlo gave me the kind of smile I'd once seen on a poor soul who stepped on 110 kilo-volts in a storm.
"A stiff-hugger and a comedian," he said. "How 'bout dat?"
He reached inside his jacket and I recoiled against the headboard.
"Relax," he said, handing me an envelope bulging with green. "You know, you're kinda jumpy for dis line of work. Maybe you shoulda studied for the priesthood. You got that kinda voice."
I stared at the envelope which contained more cash than I'd ever seen outside a bank. "Why are you giving me this?" I asked.
"I didn't give you dat."
"Yes you did," I said, "I just saw you."
"No you didn't," he said, flashing that 110 kilo-volt smile, "Cause I wuz never here."
I was ready to argue but my kneecaps told me to shut up. Now I could add the IRS to my worry queue, right after the FBI and just before the NBA.
"See ya tonight," said Carlo, heading for the door, "and don' forget: Silence is golden." He stared directly at my right leg, I swear to God, about mid-femur, then he disappeared.
After stashing the cash under some frozen spinach, I popped a Zanax, set my alarm and lay down to sleep. While waiting for the sandman, I imagined life as a missionary priest, living among the cannibals deep in the rain forest. It sounded pretty good.
* * *
After my nap, I was shaving in the shower and wondering about Tanya and Vinny's mother. Why was Tanya covering up Vinny's murder? Unless she shot her husband herself, she would stand to inherit everything anyway. And why was it so important that his corpse look good for Momma Smith? She was living in a nursing home -- how sharp could she be?
Whatever was afoot, I felt safe at this point with a most presentable corpse and lots of cold cash -- unless something happened at the wake, unless Momma Smith became suspicious and made a squawk, unless the authorities dropped by before Vinny could be cremated.
There was too much "unless" to relax as I dressed. I'd be glad when I finally delivered Vinny's ashes, and I smiled imagining all the ways Tanya might express her gratitude. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?
I arrived at Jensen and Son's an hour before the wake was to commence, my gut churning from stress and leftover General Tsao's. Blanche, Savannah sweetheart that she is, had already moved Vinny to the southwest Viewing Room and was touching up his tan.
I unbuttoned his jacket and shirt and checked that the inflation pin was still in place and the decedent fully inflated. Further inspection of the casket revealed no fluid leaks, thank God, and I tucked the manual air pump as far down to the foot of the coffin as it would go.
I put on a Patsy and the Polka Kings CD to lighten the mood and while Blanche applied a coat of varnish to Vinny's comb-over, I went to get the floral arrangements from the fridge. There were far fewer than I would have expected leading me to believe that only the inner circle of family had been notified. Just as well, I thought, there'd be no fights over parking spaces.
As I set out the bouquets and wreaths, I noticed nearly all of them had green, white, and red flowers, and one arrangement closely resembled the Italian flag. I made a mental note to play some Boccelli during the service.
Stan, my right hand man, had arrived and was straightening the chairs and placing prayer books on them. He was neat and clean but his ill-fitting black suit made him look like Abraham Lincoln in a school play. At five minutes before the hour, we canned the polka, lowered the lights, lit the candles and propped open the doors. Play ball!
There were already a few folks signing the register in the foyer and Blanche, Stan, and I took turns escorting them to the Viewing Room. Eyes downcast, I mumbled my deepest and most sincere sympathies to complete strangers, trying hard not to breathe in the heavy perfume and cologne. Why do people do that at wakes, I wondered. Aren't the damn lilies overpowering enough?
I returned to the foyer and . . . there she was.
Tanya's silvery hair was coiled tight in a bun, her pale face veiled, her slender elbow engulfed in one of Carlo's bear claws. Although her generous bosom was hidden from sight, her gorgeous gams were displayed from the kneecap down.
Speaking of kneecaps, I noticed Carlo staring at mine. Instantly re-focused, I took the widow's hand.
"Ms. Sonovavich -- Tanya -- I want you to know, during this most difficult time, that my staff and I are here for you. If there's anything we can do to help, anything at all, please feel free to -- "
"How 'bout you shut-tup and take me in," she said.
I saw Carlo smirking from the corner of my eye.
"Why, yes . . . of course," I said.
Carlo stayed behind as I escorted Tanya into the Viewing Room and directly to the casket. She gazed at her late husband for a full minute without speaking, and I watched a solitary tear trickle down her porcelain cheek. She was either completely innocent or a fabulous actress. Or allergic to lilies, I saw that from time to time.
"Vill," she said, her ample chest heaving as if she were smuggling puppies in her bra, "you did vell. He looks like man who died in sleep."
Tanya's satin glove whispered against my cheek, causing a considerable stirring down below. In another minute, Mr. Friendly was going to be as stiff as Mr. Smith. But then I heard a long, low fart, the kind of thing that never happens in the movies.
I figured the grieving widow had been hitting the vodka but she hissed, "You dirty svine!" then stalked away and plopped herself down in the front row. I started to protest but realized I was here to run a wake, not argue over fart ownership. Meanwhile, Blanche had escorted Carlo to the casket and they were deep in conversation.
"How'd you get de eyes to look normal?" said Carlo.
"Oh, that's nothin'," said Blanche modestly. "You put these cups on the eyeballs with little hooks on the outside, and then press the eyelids onto the hooks."
"I did that to a guy once," said Carlo. "Course he wasn't dead."
A loud, staccato fart rang out and both Blanche and Carlo glared at me, shaking their heads in disapproval. "Don't make me staple your anus," threatened Blanche in a low voice.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but the verdict quickly swung towards "cry" when I looked at the deceased and saw that his midsection had flattened out considerably. That, of course, is when Momma Smith made her entrance.
"I-yi-yi, my little Vincenzo," wailed a four-foot mummy wrapped in black as she tottered down the aisle. Her massive schnoz supported thick, round glasses and confirmed her maternity. She clutched a wad of tissues in one hand and strangled rosary beads with the other. Behind her walked two blocks of granite, their suits straining at the seams.
"I knew this would happen if he married that Commie," Momma Smith shouted to no one in particular as she slowly made her way to the front of the room. I waited for her by the casket, Blanche and Carlo having taken a seat.
"Whadda you want?" she said when she finally arrived at the coffin.
"Me? Why, I don't want any -- "
"Are you the undertaker?"
"Um, yes . . . I mean, no, I'm the funeral di -- "
"Y'don't know who you are?" she interrupted. "I-yi-yi, I thought undertakers were s'posed to be smart." She rolled her eyes then turned her attention to her son.
"How'd he die?" she asked.
"The doctor said he had a massive heart attack," I answered, my left eye beginning to twitch, always a great look when you're lying.
"I no ask what the doctor said." Momma Smith glared at me, then stroked her son's cheek. "Ah, Vincenzo, why you had to eat-a so much?" She patted his belly producing a distinct farting sound.
"He always a-farts when he sleeps," she said confidentially. Then she tapped him a little harder causing a Brrepp! that could be heard in the hallway. She whacked him again, and with each farting noise his midsection sank like a failed souffle.
"He's a-sleeping!" she cried out. "My boy, he's just a-sleeping. He always a-farts when he's sleeping!"
I grabbed the grieving mother's hand before she could hit Vinny again, causing one of her bodyguards to pick me up by the neck. Carlo was reaching inside his jacket when Blanche yelled, "Settle down, people, now settle down! Please."
"You," she told the goon constricting my airway, "let go of him -- thank you -- now seat Momma Smith and get her calmed down." When the old lady had been seated, Blanche addressed the room.
"Embalming is not an exact science, folks, and we have a little problem here. How 'bout everyone relax and say a few prayers while Mr. Jensen and I take a moment to fix things."
Oxygen was gradually returning to my grateful brain and I noticed that Vinny now looked like the "after" in a Weight Watcher's commercial. I hastily closed the top half of the coffin lid and when we'd wheeled the coffin into the hall, I rasped, "Blanche, you are worth every single Mal-O-Mar!"
We ducked into an empty Viewing Room, locked the door, and after unbuttoning Vinny's jacket and shirt, hooked up the manual air pump. I began pumping furiously and Vinny gradually rounded into shape.
I couldn't stop pumping I was so scared, of Carlo, of Tanya, of Momma Smith's bodyguards -- heck, I was afraid of Momma Smith.
"Will, stop!" cried Blanche, who'd been refreshing Vinny's lipstick. I stopped, but Vinny now looked like he was pregnant with twin hippos.
I detached the air pump, duct-taped the pin, and pushed on Vinny's belly. There wasn't a peep but I could've sworn I felt one of the babies move. In a jiffy we had the deceased dressed and returned to the main Viewing Room, none the worse for wear.
Thank God the priest had finally arrived. He was reciting the rosary with Momma Smith as the old bat fingered her beads. Carlo and Momma Smith's bodyguards were giving each other the malocchio while Tanya simply looked stunned, perhaps by her husband's surprise pregnancy.
I peeked at my watch -- ten minutes, fifteen tops, of prayer service and the wake would be over. By the time the parking lot had emptied, Vinny Smith would be toast. Literally.
The priest now stood and addressed the gathering.
"We are gathered here today to remember our brother, Vincent. Although we shall miss his loving presence on Earth, we can take solace knowing he's now in a better place. Earth to earth . . . ashes to ashes . . . blah, blah, blah . . . and yada, yada, yada."
At the conclusion of the priest's remarks -- which revealed how little he knew of Vinny, at one point calling him Anthony -- he began reading from the Book of Luke.
There were less than five minutes to go and the clock was ticking. I began to think we were going to make it, I really did.
The priest was on auto-pilot, his low nasal drone inducing thoughts of hibernation, and with less than two minutes remaining in the service, the entire room was this close to comatose -- all except Momma Smith. She seemed to be studying Vinny for the tiniest twitch and listening for the faintest of farts, all the while hanging on the priest's every word. She was a coiled, albeit rusty, spring.
When the priest read, "Jesus entered the room and said, 'Don't cry, the child is not dead -- he is only sleeping,'" Momma Smith sprang to her feet, yelled, "He's just a-sleeping!" and dove on top of her son.
The wildly over-inflated basketball went off like a bomb, blowing Momma Smith back into her seat. I, and most of those present, hit the deck but Carlo and the bodyguards whipped out automatic weapons and returned fire, round after round ripping through the casket until their ammo was exhausted.
When everything was quiet, save for the ringing in my ears, I looked up through the smoke at the front of the room. The casket and the carrier had overturned, and the wall of black bunting had been transformed into a Jackson Pollack canvas. Strewn across the black background were strips of maroon velvet, tufts of tan wool, and glutinous streaks of flesh and gristle. And glittering amongst the splatter patterns of red, white, and green carnations were shards of burnished bronze. In the upper left corner, a ruptured basketball looked down on the frazzled scene, like some post-Apocalyptic sun.
Under the circumstances, I decided that the best thing to do was pass out. So I did.
* * *
I awoke in a hospital room to the sound of someone chewing.
"Want one?" asked Blanche, extending a box of Mal-O-Mars.
"No, thanks," I croaked. "How 'bout some water instead."
Blanche held a straw to my lips and as I sipped the wonderfully cold water, she brought me up to speed. Momma Smith had somehow escaped injury and been returned to Shady Acres, her nursing home. Carlo, the bodyguards, and the priest had all been arrested, Carlo and the goons for illegally discharging firearms, the priest for violating parole.
"And Tanya?" I said.
Blanche looked down and brushed some crumbs from her lap. "The coroner said it was a million-to-one fluke," she said. "A single bullet ricocheted off the casket, pierced one of Tanya's saline breast implants, and she drowned."
Damn it, I thought. They sure looked real.
"Say, Blanche," I said, brightening, "who's gonna prepare Tanya's body?"
"Not you, lover boy," she said. "You got a concussion and they're gonna keep you here for a day or two. I'm gonna head back to the funeral home now, there's a Haz-Mat team gatherin' up bits of Mr. Smith. I'll make sure he's properly cremated and the urn delivered to his Momma."
Blanche stood up, enormous in her paisley muu-muu and with a heart to match.
"Kin I bring you back somethin'?" she said.
"Yeah, some General Tsao's chicken, a six of Bud, and my Red Sox cap."
"Will do, boss," she said and headed for the hallway.
Shortly afterward, there was a brisk knock on the door and a tall man wearing a bad suit and a badge breezed in.
"Mr. Jensen, I'm Detective Stone," he announced, glancing around the room. "I know you're not feeling well so I won't stay long." He came around to the side of the bed where Blanche had been parked.
"Do you mind?" he said, pointing to the open box of Mal-O-Mars.
"Help yourself," I said.
"I just love these things," he said, talking with his mouth full. He polished off a second one, and a third, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Mr. Jensen, by all accounts you did a good job with the embalming and all the paperwork checks out, although we can't seem to find Dr. D'Onofrio, the doctor who filled out the death certificate. There was no way you could've known Mr. Smith was in the Witness Protection Program and besides, your background check came up squeaky-clean. It appears that the incident at the funeral home was simply a tragic accident."
Detective Stone eyed the box of Mal-O-Mars but apparently decided against having another one. He leaned down close to me.
"But Will -- may I call you Will? -- there's just one thing I can't figure out," he said, trying to bore a hole through my head with his steely-gray eyes. "Where exactly was the basketball when this whole thing went down?"
I had a brief vision of Carlo swinging a baseball bat like he was batting clean-up for the Sox, and my left eye started twitching.
"Damned if I know," I said.
Originally published in Down In The Dirt magazine.