Family Town, Part 2

Posted on August 5, 2010

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And now for the conclusion. If you’d like to read from the beginning, here’s Part 1.

* * *

Weston stood just inside the slaughterhouse door, puzzling over Mrs. Gundy’s matter-of-fact attitude concerning her son Harvey’s death. She must still be in shock, he thought. She won’t be so angry when she sees the body laid out. Once she sees he’s at peace, she’ll be able to grieve her only son properly.

That’s what mortuary work was all about: assisting the grieving process for those left behind. It was a big responsibility, and Weston took it on as his calling to serve others. A respectful goodbye to the dead was important for those surviving, no matter what their relationships were like in life.

Weston had already heard some gossip about Harvey Gundy. He was Gundy’s mayor. He was in the prime of his life, obscenely healthy and handsome and a little wild. The shadier elements of Gundy loved him, as did the women. The police aided and abetted whatever he did. The older folks and the churchgoers shook their heads at him, remembering stricter, more proper days.

And now he was gone, most likely as a result of his fast living. His death hadn’t even made the papers yet. The body call hadn’t come from a doctor, the hospital, or the coroner, but from Mrs. Gundy herself.

Weston made his way to the meat locker, noticing that mortuary equipment was already set up, just as Mrs. Gundy had said. That’s convenient, he thought, to have your own embalming station right in your slaughterhouse. Excessive, maybe, but convenient.

There was an expensive mahogany casket waiting next to the embalming station. Mrs. Gundy couldn’t have bought it since Weston came to town. He would have remembered that sale. You had to hand it to her for being so prepared for everything.

He opened the meat locker, and the refrigerated air turned his sweat to frost. The dressed carcasses of pigs and cows hung from hooks along the walls. At the back, Havey Gundy’s body lay strapped on a gurney.

Now that’s a bit odd, Weston thought as he rolled the gurney out to the equipment.

Harvey was too cold at the moment to have his fluids drained. Weston inspected the body first, knowing he’d have to make a report to the coroner.

Aside from a swollen bruise on the side of Harvey’s head, there was no trace of any outward injury. The bruise might be the result of a brawl, but he also could have fallen and banged his head. Either way, there was no skull fracture, so this wasn’t the cause of death. Unless he’d been poisoned or had drowned in his own drunken vomit, Weston had no idea what did him in.

The body spasmed, jerking against its restraints. Weston jumped backward and almost fell, his heart pounding. Spasms like that are normal, he reminded himself. It’s just the body coming back to room temperature, the muscles relaxing. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves and approached Harvey again.

Harvey’s eyes were open, staring at the ceiling. His jaw was slack, his mouth hanging open.

Harvey blinked his eyes and licked his lips. He groaned. He cursed. He looked at Weston, who saw little flashes of light and black dots dancing before his eyes.

“Don’t you dare faint, Nancy,” Harvey bellowed. “Get me the hell out of these straps.”

Weston stared helplessly at Harvey. Harvey’s eyes narrowed. His grin made him look just like his mother.

“Oh, I see,” Harvey said. “You’re the new Mortician. If the old biddie’s satisfied with the way you get rid of me, you’ll be my replacement eventually.”

“Replacement?”

“Didn’t anybody tell you how it works in Gundy?” Harvey laughed. “You’re the Mortician, Nancy, Mama’s enforcer. You clean up disagreements and make problems go away. You do it right and you might be mayor one day, the rubber stamp on whatever she does. That’s why I’m here, waiting to be cleaned up. I took things in a direction she didn’t like– my way.”

He struggled against the straps. Weston flinched.

“I’ll make you a deal,” Harvey went on. “Mama’s old. She can’t run this town forever. You let me go, and while you’re here, you take care of Mama instead. Make it look like a stroke or something, and we’ll say nature just took its course. Then I’ll own the town, and I’ll make you the mayor. That is, as soon as we can scrounge up a new Mortician. What do you say, Nancy?”

Weston heard someone coming. Harvey craned his neck to look at the door.

“That’s Collins bringing you lunch,” he said. “He’ll fall in with whatever I tell him. Unstrap me, Nancy.”

Weston let Harvey loose. He went to the door while Harvey sat up, rubbing his numb limbs.

“What happened to the Mortician before me?”

“Oh, he had an accident,” Harvey chuckled. “Mama had to get rid of him because he was in my pocket. She wouldn’t have got to me, either, if he’d still been around.”

The key turned in the lock and the door opened. As Collins carried his tray of food into the slaughterhouse, Weston slipped past him out into the sweltering heat. He looked over his shoulder at Harvey.

“I make it a point never to get involved in family politics,” Weston said. “And I’m really not a good fit for this position, after all. I quit.”

He turned and ran, ignoring the clatter as Collins dropped his tray to wrestle a struggling, shouting Harvey back into his straps. Weston sprinted all the way to his car, too afraid to check if anyone was chasing him, and drove off with a squeal of tires, leaving a yellow cloud of dust in his wake.

He drove straight through to his hometown, Houston, and didn’t look back.

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