Two of Pops's crew were playing checkers, kneeling on the grass with a faded checkerboard between them while the third, a fellow we called Tommy Haircut, was leaning against the mausoleum James Dean style, chewing gum and blowing a gargantuan bubble.
"You're back on," I said to Pops. "He's changed his mind."
Pops sent a missile of brown juice into the clover. "Good. I didn't like it."
I knew that already. Pops had told me ten times that he didn't like it and I had patiently told him eleven times that he didn't have to like it, and that it was what the customer was requesting.
"It was a bad idea," Pops said, running his thumb and forefinger along his white walrus mustache.
"It was a fine idea," I said. "The man just decided against it."
Pops smirked then turned to his crew. "We're on. Look alive."
Tommy Haircut popped his bubble and shoulder-shoved himself off the mausoleum wall. His blond pompadour wobbled on his head. The checker players folded their board. One of the two let out a sigh of relief.
I went back over to the canopy where the dozen folding chairs were set and gave a nod to the widower to let him know that everything was fine. He gave a grim acknowledgment. His plan had been to climb up into the cemetery's John Deere at the conclusion of the service and begin the process of filling in his wife's grave himself. The thought had come to him the night before, during her wake. He discussed it with his sons, who had all gone along with the idea. Apparently something had changed. I suspected the twelve-year-old.
The service played out and each boy stepped forward to set a rose onto his mother's casket. White casket with silver handles. Very feminine. The twelve-year-old paused after placing his rose and worked something out of his rear pants pocket. It was a scrunched-up Orioles cap. He glanced at his father - who nodded - set the cap on top of the casket then stepped back over to his brothers, accepting a grim low-five from each of them. The widower gathered them in like a mother hen - or father hen- and that pretty much concluded the affair.
I gave a nod to Tony Marino. Tony had been standing in his full Scottish regalia some thirty feet off, as stock-still as a stature. Despite the unique air conditioning afforded by his kilt, Tony was seating like a frozen beer mug under his furry headpiece. The widower had made a particular request and Tony - God love him - had stayed up half the night working out a passable arrangement on the bagpipes. Tony carries the gold medal for lovelorn; there's not a thing he wouldn't do in the service of a severed romance.
Tony puffed up his chest. He checked the position of his fingers, then commenced to squeeze and wheeze.
That's a song. It was recorded years ago by a group calling itself Bread. It had nothing to do with the Kipling poem. It's what the backhoe operator wanted. On bagpipes it was bloody god-awful. Sounded like a herd of little lambies being slaughtered. Tony worked it bravely, his face going as red as blood-filled tomato.
The backhoe operator collapsed into tears.
Ray Ghost had drifted over to Pops's crew and was jawing quietly with Tommy Haircut, whose insane pompadour was wobbling on his head like Jell-O in an earthquake. I signaled to Ray and he shuffled over.
"Okay. So what's this about Libby?"
From Murder In The Hearse Degree by Tim Cockey. Copyright 2003 by Tim Cockey. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Hyperion Publishing.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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