Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Fiction - Part X*

Parts One through Nine can be found in the sidebar at my place, for those who haven't been playing along and are interested.

So, the deal is that you readers submit comments and I weave them into a story (The submitted snippets are shown in bold). Below is this week's result.


It was raining sideways that morning.

Which, arguably, is the perfect weather for a funeral. So it was a fairly small crowd that gathered at the cemetery on the hill for Dirk's funeral. We stood there, overcoats whipping in the wind, umbrellas all but useless. There couldn't have been more than 20 mourners; half a dozen of his fellow private investigators, friends from his club, and some cousins I was sure he hadn't seen in years.

The cousins had predatory looks in their eyes, and one of them kept looking over at me. I suppose they knew I was the executor for Dirk's estate. Some estate, I mused as the priest droned on. An office full of old magazines, some furniture in a small apartment, and a 1949 Plymouth Woody station wagon. That was it, as far as I knew, but we'd all find out together later at the reading of the will.

The ceremony finally finished, and we trudged through the rain back to the waiting vehicles. I ended up in the car with a couple from the Whole-ism Club, where Dirk had been a member for many years. Marge and Anthony Geklis had known Dirk since he had moved to the city in the mountains some ten years earlier. I knew them by sight, but that was about it.

We rode in silence for a bit, then Marge turned to me and spoke. "Bear in mind," she said, "You have far more going for you than you think."

"I'm sorry?" I answered, more than a bit confused.

"You seem to be somewhat morose, is all. Which is understandable, since you just lost a good friend - and in such a strange way..." her voice faded off as she turned and looked out the window at the dreary day.

Anthony took up the topic, saying, "Yes. To survive being shot in the stomach only to go from such an odd thing."

"What was it, again?" Marge asked, still watching the rain hit the windows.

"It was very strange," I answered, reciting for what seemed like the hundredth time, "'I am afraid', said the doctor, 'that you have a terminal case of Epidermophyton floccosum. I would suggest you get your affairs in order.'"

Tears rolled down Marge's cheeks as she said, "To die from athlete's foot." The rest of the ride passed in silence, except for the rain hitting the car.

We arrived at the Five Spot, where the wake was to be held, and hurried through the rain to the open door. There were many more of Dirk's friends here, which was not really that surprising. Most people would rather have a drink in a cozy pub than stand at a graveside in the driving rain.

The avaricious cousins had already arrived, one of them carrying a little dog. Like many little dogs, it barked. And barked. And barked. The incessant barking was enough to drive me to tears.

Eloise Black, whom I had assisted on a case several weeks earlier, was also at the wake, and when she saw me she came over to speak with me. "I can't believe someone would bring a yippy dog like that to a wake! Isn't it illegal or something to have a dog in a pub anyway?"

My motto had always been - An apple pie is better than an angry swarm of hornets, so I didn't really want to get involved in this, but Eloise looked at me with such a look that I couldn't resist. I walked over to the owner of the dog and introduced myself, and then mentioned that having a dog in a pub - and at a wake - was probably not the best course to take, and that the dog might feel more comfortable waiting somewhere else.

The cousin, whose name I still did not know, must have had more to drink than I thought, because he reacted quite angrily. "How dare you tell me what to do with Chesterton! He has just as much right to be here as any of these... Neanderthal!" he bellowed, glaring around in disgust at the crowd.

"Percy, calm down," one of the other cousins said.

"I will not calm down, James! And if this ... disheveled excuse of a person does not remove himself from my presence immediately, I shall--"

"Look, Bub," I said, drawing myself to my full height, "This pub is full of Dirk's friends, and we're here to celebrate his life, not listen to some useless little bit of fur yap its fool head off. I knew Dirk for 20 years, and never once did he mention any of you, and you certainly never visited him. Now, I suggest you take that dog and leave."

I wasn't sure why I was reacting this way, as I am normally a peaceable man, but something about this guy just raised my hackles.

"This is a public place!" Percy shouted. "I will not have you telling me what I can and can't do!! I'll call the police!! I'll report you to the ---" Suddenly, he clutched at his chest and started to fall forward.

His brothers caught him and gently lowered him to the floor as Jimmy the bartender grabbed the phone and dialed 911. James handed the dog to his other brother. "Edward," he said, "Take this dog to Mr. Paulson's house. He'll know what to do." He then turned his attention to his fallen brother.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" I asked.

Wearing a face as serious as a heart attack, he said in a matter-of-fact tone, "My daddy did that to me once. Once!"

I looked at my drink in consternation, confused by the non sequitur, and then stood back. Within a couple of minutes, we could hear the wail of a siren as the EMTs arrived. They went to work on the fallen man, and soon had him on a gurney and out the door, James trailing along behind him, talking on his cell phone.

The rest of the wake went surprisingly well.

When I staggered back to the office a few hours later, there was a message on my machine from Dirk's lawyer. The reading of the will was to be postponed until Percy's condition was determined, and I was to call the lawyer back the next day to discuss matters.

I turned off the lights, collapsed on the couch, and was asleep almost instantly.

I awoke the next morning, feeling like a coal train was rumbling through my head. I stumbled into the bathroom and washed my face, then started a pot of coffee. Once I felt almost human again, I tried to call the lawyer - no answer. I tried repeatedly throughout the day to contact him, to no avail. I went to the Five Spot for lunch, and found out that Percy was going to be okay. Jimmy had been concerned, since the man had had an attack there in the pub, after all, and had called the hospital.

Once I got back to the office I began trying again to get through to the lawyer. After trying to reach him for over ten hours, the line finally rang through! The reading was to be two days later, at three in the afternoon.

Back in the early days of my junior detective apprenticeship I had gotten into the habit of logging the outcome of each case. Although I hadn't had to investigate anything with Dirk's situation, I reached for my book and made a mark in the appropriate column.

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