He walked into my mortuary without an appointment, without the customary tears and anxiety that most people display. I folded my hands and hurried to greet the man. Truth-be-told, I simply failed to the lock door and had more work than normal to perform. But who says “no” to a customer?
Tall, over six feet, and very thin, he met me with a cold hand and colder eyes. A thin wisp of blonde hair graced his pate, and his clothing (while old in style) appeared new and professionally pressed.
“I am here to look at your caskets.”
I nodded and offered my conciliatory tone. “Of course, sir. The gentleman will find our selection ranges from the modest to the magnificent. We can meet the needs of your loved one no matter your finances.”
“Please, show me your most exquisite design.”
My heart leapt. In the 1970s, when my father owned the business, extravagance in all things seemed the norm. One coffin–The Statesman–remained from those days, a monstrosity in ebony.
I opened the back room and offered an apology. “Most people seldom see our stockroom, but you did ask for our best.”
“Your most exquisite.”
“Most exquisite. Right.”
The Statesman rested in a far corner and I pulled boxes out of the way to allow him a better look. “The Statesman–our most exquisite casket. Ebony body with gold fittings.”
“Bring it out here. Let me see it properly.”
I grabbed a hand truck and carefully slid it under the casket. As I pulled the coffin free, the man walked out of the room and waited for me in the central corridor of the funeral home.
“Please, the lighting is better here,” he said.
He stood there waiting as I grunted and pulled on the casket, forced it through the narrow doorway, and carefully lowered it to the floor of the hallway.
“As you can see,” I panted. “The finish is superb and the fixtures are original.”
He slid a hand along the surface, closed his eyes, and moaned.
“Not to the gentleman’s liking?”
“Quite the contrary,” he said. “Open it, please.”
“The interior is lined in blue watered silk. The padding is pure eiderdown.”
The man glanced inside, then lay down in the casket.
“The fit is fine,” he said. “Sound proof?”
I shook my head. “I–I don’t know. Nobody has ever asked for a sound proof coffin before.”
He rolled to one side, then the next. “It fits well. I’ll take it.”
I swallowed hard. “The–uh–price may frighten you.”
He rose from the coffin, gave me a wan smile, and arched an eyebrow.
I ran to find the price list.
Upon my return, I found him motionless in the casket. I shook his shoulder, thinking he’d simply nodded off, and noticed that he wasn’t breathing.
For someone to die in a mortuary, in a casket, would end any mortician’s career. I held a mirror to his nostrils and observed no breath. Panic gripped me, then a mad plan.
Silently I closed the casket, wheeled it out to the graveyard behind the building and–under the moonless sky–set about the gruesome task of burying the stranger.
Two weeks later the hurried grave sat open, the contents–corpse and coffin–gone.
To this day I never leave home without a vial of holy water. If I ever find the son-of-a-bitch who stole my most exquisite design, I’ll make him pay for it–one way or another.