"No moving that equipment," Ramirez said. "We both know you're not ready for that." He laughed at the thought of Cruz driving the little excavator.
"Soon as I'm done squaring it off I'll lift the bucket and set the frame. We have that other plot to dig the double by the lake? I promised Alonso I'd get the installer on this one and get the drapes done tonight. He'll move the digger over there early and we'll start on that double as soon as the mourners are gone."
Ramirez didn't reply.
The boss's silence caused Cruz's anxiety to rustle. "Alonso wasn't sure you wanted a canopy up for the family. Sun'll be low when the service starts. No weather coming, but we've had that wind the past couple of mornings." Cruz thought Ramirez was leaning forward, examining the grave. "If you want a canopy, Mr. R., just say the word. I'll throw it on the trailer and bring it out with the chairs."
Ramirez took his hands from his pockets. He spit. "Almost done?"
"Five minutes. Clean up the hole a little. Line up the placer, check the rollers, tighten the straps. Drape it just the way you like."
Ramirez spit again. "Want a hand?"
Ramirez didn't much like labor. He viewed himself as a supervisor, even if the only one he supervised was Alonso, who didn't need any watching. Alonso did all the real herding of the crew of kids who cut the grass, plowed the snow, placed the headstones, and did the shovel work on the deep caverns in the bluegrass. Had Cruz asked for actual help Ramirez would have pretended that his pager went off and he had someplace important to be.
Like his "office" in the equipment shed.
"No, Mr. R. I'm cool. Square corners, level base, perfect depth."
Ramirez took two steps toward the grave. Two more and he'd be able to see the bottom of the hole without any trouble, and he'd be able to make his own judgment about how level that base was and how square those corners were. "You like the Hepburn?"
Ramirez was asking about the new casket placer they'd been using since the beginning of the month. The contraption cost a fortune. He liked to show it off whenever he could like he was displaying a new car on his driveway to make his neighbor envious.
Cruz nodded, "Sets up much faster than the old one, Mr. R. Much smoother, too. The bearings on the rollers on that old one were"
The boss didn't like the word "shit" so he completed the sentence himself. "I know. Shouldn't be no squealing around funerals. Finish up then."
The lights danced again as Ramirez walked back toward the truck. He stopped for a moment in a position that left his shadow covering the black rectangle of the grave. "I get wind you moved that digger, I'll fire your ass. Understand?"
"Mark it right where it's at. That's where it'll be in the morning. All I'm going to do is lift the bucket."
Ramirez pulled himself into his truck. Behind him the profile of the Front Range marked a jagged break between the darkening sky and the frantic lights of Boulder at rush hour.
Cruz knelt down and tested the rollers, just for show. The new equipment was working fine.
The taillights of Ramirez's Ford disappeared down the access road.
Only one more thing to finish before installing the Hepburn and hanging the drapes. Cruz hopped onto the bucket, dropped back down into the grave, and said, "Bingo."
I thought I spotted a rosy glimmer in the water sluicing through the fountain.
My next patient was sitting calmly ten feet away, covered in blood.
I thought, I don't need this.
Diane Estevez, my long time partner and friend, had recently decided to renovate the waiting room of the old house that held our clinical psychology offices. She thought the time had come for the parlor's evolution into a transitional space, like the quiet stone and bamboo anterooms she loved to visit prior to being welcomed into a favorite spa.
Excerpted from Dry Ice by Stephen White, Copyright © 2007 by Stephen White. Excerpted by permission of Dutton, a division of Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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