Chapter 13

As he crested a small hill that was landscaped with a brilliant array of seasonal flowers and bordered by a retaining wall which hadn’t collapsed, Dustin saw the building that housed the funeral homes offices.  Steve was standing out front smoking a joint as one of the grounds crew swept up a pile of broken glass.  It appeared that the large front window of the receiving foyer had shattered but beyond that no other damage was visible.

“Seriously?”  Dustin asked as he approached the steps.  “You’re really going to get stoned when we’ve got people out front that you’re about to start letting in?”

Steve gave a half-hearted shrug.  “Hey man.”  He said lazily.  “I’m not the one that’s going to have to be dealing with them.”

Dustin shook his head moving past him and through the door.  “At least wait until the smell dies down before you open the gates.”  He admonished the man before walking inside.

Furniture was scattered all over the entrance to the sanctuary.  The podium where the sign in book normally sat had toppled.  The book lay open on the floor turned to a random page of written condolences from the wake that they’d conducted the night before.  Vases containing flowers and cards had spilled and shattered.

Dustin took in the chaotic scene with a tight, anxious expression on his face.  Peeking around into one of the rooms where services were normally held he saw that a coffin containing the body of Mrs. Peterson had fallen from its stand.  Thankfully the lid had closed when it had tipped over hiding her and trapping her corpse inside.  He wondered if her family were some of the ones who were waiting out front now.  She was to be buried at 2:00 pm today.

Spinning around, Dustin walked back to the broken window and called out front to Steve.  “Where are you planning on telling these people to go?”  He asked angrily.

Steve pushed aside the blinds looking inside to face him.  “I figured they could walk back and see you in your office.”  He replied sounding as if it was the most peculiar question he’d ever heard.  “Where do you want them to meet with you?”

“I want them to meet with me in my office Steve but how are they going to get there without having to walk past all of this?”  Dustin spat sweeping his arm around the room.  “This place looks like it’s been hit by a tornado.”

Steve took one last drag off his joint before tossing it aside.  “We had an earthquake.”  He said sounding confused.  “I mean, this is California man!  People will understand.”

“Yes!”  Dustin shot back.  “This is California and we had an earthquake but now Mrs. Peterson is lying in the middle of the chapel!  Did you maybe once stop to think about how that might look to her family?  Do you think that they’ll understand that just because we live in California and we have earthquakes that we are entitled to let her body sit in the middle of the damned floor all day long?”

Steve’s eyes were already narrow from the pot but they narrowed even further as he stood regarding Dustin through the broken window.  “We can’t bury her today man.”  He argued.  “Shoot, if you don’t want to tell them that I will!  We’re short staffed and we’ve got the problem of that crack that we have to deal with.  We’re not burying anyone today!”

“Get this place straightened out!”  Dustin shouted.  “I don’t care if you have to do it yourself just get it picked up and get Mrs. Peterson back on her stand before you let one single person in!  Do you understand?”

Steve smiled.  “Don’t get all stressed out on me man!”  He said.  “You ain’t no use to anyone when you go all dark and get in one of your moods.”

“What’s the embalming room look like?”  Dustin asked ignoring his suggestion.  “If we’ve got formaldehyde leaking all over the damned building then we can’t let people in.”

“Whoa man!”  Steve said suddenly turning serious and putting a hand out in front to stop Dustin from saying anything further.  “You know I don’t never go back there.”

“Well is Leon here?”  Dustin asked.  Leon was their embalmer.  He was a short pudgy man with dark skin and greasy hair.  Rarely seen outside of the cold stark confines of the preparation room he could have already been at work and none of them would have ever known it.

“I told you I don’t go back there!”  Steve replied angrily.  “Look dude, check for yourself if you’re so damned curious!”

Dustin turned and headed back through the building making his way towards the mortuary.  The whole place was a disaster.  Almost all of the coffins had fallen from their shelving in the showroom and the cremation urns were either broken or crushed beneath them.  The second sanctuary, which was currently empty, held no toppled bodies but the large stained glass window that sat behind the eulogy platform had shattered inward.  The entire room was covered in small slivers of multi-colored glass which glinted in the sunlight that was now streaming into the normally darkened chamber.

Making a stop along the way at his office, Dustin unlocked the door and stepped inside.  Amazingly the room was clean.  His books were stacked out of order but neatly along the shelves running next to his desk and his blinds had been opened to show the tranquil garden behind them. 

Looking around, Dustin was shocked to see that his partner had already unpacked his bags and laid them neatly in the corner.  Even the birds in their cage had been hung from a hook on the ceiling that normally held a potted plant.  A small dark stain in the carpet beneath them belied the plants fate.  Despite everything Steve had managed to clean it up and straighten things out for him in here.  He felt slightly ashamed at having chastised him about the condition of Mrs. Peterson’s casket.

“See the crack?”  A gravely voice spoke from behind him causing Dustin to jump slightly.  It was Leon.  Turning to face the man Dustin could see that he was already wearing his white lab coat and carrying a cup of coffee.

“I’m not sure how I could have missed it.”  Dustin answered dismissively.  “How long have you been here?”

“Oh I just walked past.”  Leon replied.  “I just needed a little caffeine from the break room.  I’m headed back to the meat locker right now.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” Dustin said.  “When did you come in this morning?”

“Oh I never left!”  The mortician answered matter of factly.  “I had a zombie crawl up on the docks late last night so I was prepping them when the earthquake hit.  I just rode it out and finished him up.”

“Look,” Dustin said looking down at the man.  “Don’t call it a meat locker when you’re out in the office and don’t talk about the deceased as zombies please.  I’ve told you before you’re going to freak out the families with that kind of language.”

“No problem.”  Leon said pushing up his glasses from where they’d slipped down on his stubby little nose.  “That’s why I don’t come up here often.  I lack people skills.  I wouldn’t have even thought of something like that.”

Dustin nodded.

“Hey!”  Leon said excitedly.  “Did you check out all those beautiful works of art that are laying around the crack.  Not a trace of decomposition on almost any one of them!  Damn I’m good!”

“I noticed that.”  Dustin replied.  Then, trying to change the subject he asked:  “Why haven’t you gone home anyway?  Don’t you need to check on your things?”

“Oh I’m not concerned.”  The mortician answered bobbing his head up and down and taking a quick sip from his cup.  “I figure that we’re going to be busy as hell today so I’d rather stick around and get things done.  Last thing I want is a bunch of stiffs piling up on my dock getting all blue and rotten.”

“You do realize that we’re probably not going to be accepting admissions today?”  Dustin asked.  “We’ve got a lot of other things going on without having to worry about all of that.”

“Then you probably shouldn’t have been handing out your cards all morning long.”  Leon laughed as he motioned in Dustin’s direction with his coffee cup.  “We’ve got one body on the way that the city wants us to hold for them.  They need to find next of kin and all they had to go on was your card in his hand.  The local hospitals are overrun with injured and most are running on generated power.  They can’t take him.”

“How did you find out about that?”  Dustin asked.  “Are the phones working?”

“No!”  Leon answered with a snort.  “With things being the way they are, the ambulance drivers out there are so desperate to find a place to dump the people that they can’t treat that they’re just asking me over my cell phone.  Every EMT in the Bay Area knows our cemetery and they know that I’m its kick ass embalmer.”

“Jesus!”  Dustin said, surprised Leon had enough interaction with ambulance drivers to maintain a list of contacts who knew him.  “How many people are you telling them to drop off over here?”

“Three so far!”  The embalmer answered proudly.  “You should know this!  All of them were carrying your card.  Some old man apparently filled out some paperwork from you and then blew his brains out in the middle of the street.  Apparently he was all broken up about his wife passing.  In addition to that other guy that I just told you about they’re both on their way as well.”

“He killed himself?”  Dustin asked in shock.

“I don’t know.”  Leon answered with a shrug.  “That’s just what the EMT’s said.  The police would probably be doing an investigation if they didn’t already have their hands full with everything else this morning.”

In a daze, Dustin stumbled over to his desk and sat down in the chair behind it hard.  “He killed himself?”  He asked the mortician again, rubbing his temples as he did so.

“Yeah.”  Leon answered casually.  “Since he already filled out a contract I’ll start draining him and his old lady as soon as they arrive.  If the police don’t have some sort of a thing against that, and I don’t think they will, I see no reason to put them on ice.  It’s always so frustrating waiting for them to thaw out once they’ve been in the cooler for more than a day.”

“He killed himself.”  Dustin repeated again, unable to hide the feeling of total distress which washed over him.  “I can’t believe that he killed himself.”

“Hey don’t get so crazy over it.”  The mortician responded leaning his pudgy body against the doorframe.  “People kill themselves all the time.  I get about one self-destruct case in a month.  Usually, if they’ve shot themselves in the head as I was told that this guy did, I just slap a little putty on the hole and you can’t tell anything.”

“I just spoke to him.”  Dustin said rubbing his eye where the man had punched him.

“Well that’s even better.”  The mortician said with glee.  “You can look at him when I’m done and tell me if I rocked at getting his face put back together or not.” 

The End

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