The closed world of a funeral director is rarely glimpsed owing to the strictures of confidentiality scrupulously maintained by industry professionals. In SCOOTER NATION, the second novel in A.B. Funkhauser’s Unapologetic Lives Series, confidentiality, or more keenly the silence naturalized by a desire to protect the privacy of others, leads to inflated misunderstandings underpinned by a culture of myth and lore. What follows are a chain of events both comic and chilling.
E X C E R P T
Krause looked like she was going to cry: “Don’t you knobs get it? We’ve been sold to the Flexor Group. I just know it.”
Carla stiffened. “What did you see? Who did you see?”
The death business was a small, closed community with few strangers. Everybody knew everyone else and their business too.
“I only saw their feet,” Enid replied. “Black shoes. Square toes.” Her face whitened. “Loafers!”
Scooter Creighton dropped his lighter. “Are you sure? No mistake?”
“No mistake. I was wearing my bifocals. There can only be one person behind this.”
The ancient intercom on the garage wall crackled to life. Jocasta Binns had found them: “Put the damned cigarettes out. Meeting starts NOW.”
Scooter Creighton nodded meaningfully at his companions. The rude bitch was clearly on a roll. Like most funeral homes that hadn’t caught up to the twenty-first century, Weibigand’s had a front door equipped with a tinny doorbell that sounded whenever the door swung open. More modern establishments employed greeters or hostesses that manned large semi-circular hotel-lobby like desks for a more personal touch. But Weibigand’s, experiencing a steady decline in business year over year, lacked funds to pay for such a person. So the bell, on duty since the 1930s, was the only way to know that someone had come in. It had not sounded.
“Jocasta turned the bell off!” Enid shouted. “Why the hell would she turn the bell off?”
There were only two possible explanations: Either some non-staffer had been assigned to stand watch at the door and had shut the bell off, or the doors were being locked and the bell wasn’t needed.
“My god,” Carla gasped, thinking of the square-toed, black leather shoes that, beyond any doubt, now stalked the hall above. Though there were many, only a single pair held any relevance.
Every profession had its own share of false gods and banal superstitions. Those, carried forth on a wave of feverish gossip backed by assertions that everything said was ‘true’, gave rise to fantastic mythologies that made a chosen few more significant than they actually were. Graeham Grissom of B.H. Hoage, for example, was the undisputed embalming god of their age while “Count Floyd” Aiken could ‘will’ new business into being with a stroke of a pen. That old age, arthritis, early-onset dementia and the public’s annoying preference for cremation over medieval embalming procedures decreased the field of competitors, and so guaranteed Graeham’s mantle in the first instance, had nothing to do with the stories spread: he made esoteric concoctions in the old Hoage basement that rendered his people ‘pliable’ ‘natural-like’ ‘soft to the touch’ and even ‘warmer’ without the slightest sign of decay, even after a fifty-four day hold. The same held for Count Floyd. No one could turn a prearranged funeral into an ‘at need’ simply by sending a get better card, yet Floyd’s people did die suddenly whenever he did, whether sick or not. That the deceased had crossed the century mark in every case had little to do with a great tale.
But there were other stories out there: stories not so benign and infinitely more sinister. Some, it was said, enriched themselves through the weak willed. These were the mendacious pocket-liners who evaded the law and curried favor with popular opinion regardless of talk.
These were the ones to watch…
The little group assembled in the Weibigand garage knew that fear and felt it now because it was right on top of their heads. Scooter Creighton, jaws clenched, ground the words out first, like a metal vise in need of oil: “It’s Clayton. He is in the building.”
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