I was tempted to tell her that it hadn't, but I remained silent. She gave me a humorless smile then stepped over to join the daughter who hated her. The son was just arriving. I could see him in the front hallway, shrugging out of his parka.
As expected, the storm did keep the turnout somewhat small, though not as small as I had thought. What with Hopkins being so close, a fair number of the doctor's colleagues did manage to pop in to pay their respects. From what I could tell, the widow was not requesting polite indifference from anyone but me, and was receiving the sympathies of her guests with apparent authenticity. Her smile was weary and sincere; her occasional laugh was tinged with effort. The daughter, on the other hand, was a slobbering mess. Her husband was dutifully feeding tissues to her from a stash in his jacket pocket.
The son was a little more difficult to read. He was in his late twenties, slender, pale, sandy-haired. He wore a pair of wire-rim glasses. I observed that he looked even more like his mother in real life than he did in the ski-vacation photograph, right down to the thinly disguised look of scorn that he was wearing. His indifference to his sniffling sister was remarkable. After ten minutes or so of meeting and greeting, he broke away from his family and wandered over to take a look at his father. As he reached the coffin he pulled his hands out of his pockets, as if suddenly ordered to-for the umpteenth time-by the imperious old man. His eyes narrowed as he gazed down at his father. I tensed. If a person is going to do something loud and embarrassing at a wake, this is where it will usually happen. At the coffin. I had positioned myself against the wall, trying my best to look like a potted plant. Just as the son's face was collapsing into tears, I was distracted by a commotion coming from the front hallway. I glanced toward the parlor doors, and when I looked back, the son was reaching his hand into the coffin. The commotion from the front was spilling into the room. I took one step toward the coffin, then the scream rang out. High and shattering.
Our dead waitress had arrived.
She was folded unceremoniously on the top step. A bloodstain about the circumference of a drink coaster covered her left breast. The scream had come from the dead doctor's secretary, who had been on her way out. "I just pulled open the door and . . . there she was," the woman said to no one in particular as we all gathered around the open doorway.
Assessments came swiftly.
"She's been shot."
"She might be alive."
As if by an invisible signal, a half dozen doctors suddenly surrounded the woman and confirmed, with a check of her neck and her wrists, that there was indeed no pulse. One of them said, "Let's get her inside," and over the protests of a few who cautioned that we should wait for the police, the woman was lifted by four of the medical professionals and carried inside and laid out on the couch in the front hallway. I went back over to the front door. Before I closed it I peered into the darkness. The various sets of footprints in the slush and snow were-to my eyes-indistinguishable. I saw none that bore the peculiar imprint that said: MURDERER. Maybe if Alcatraz were there he could have put his nose to some use. But I sure as hell wasn't going to get down on my knees and start sniffing. I glanced across the street at St. Teresa's. Their Nativity scene was looking out of place, all those folks dressed for desert climes standing around in snow. A yellow North Star on a pole behind the manger had a bad electrical connection and was flickering erratically. Like Morse code: S-E-N-D M-Y-R-H-H-!
The wake was a bust. Everybody was crowded into the front hall, leaving the dead doctor to his own devices. One of his colleagues was kneeling in front of the couch, gingerly lifting the bloodstained front of the dress and peering inside. He meant well, but it was a perverse sight.
Reprinted from Hearse of A Different Color by Tim Cockey by permission of Hyperion Books. Copyright © 2001 by Tim Cockey. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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