Marlow ran the only funeral parlor in town. He wasn’t very good at it.
He hated everything about the dead. The way they groaned jerked and farted, brazenly releasing the gases trapped inside them.
Worst of all was the constant reminder that one day it would be him on the cold slab.
So when Marlow turned up on the slab, Dead-Marlow was hardly surprised. The town, however, was shocked.
Dead-Marlow surveyed his corpse and thought, Well, damn. Didn’t expect to be here quite so soon.
He was attended to by his second in command, Doris, a dour woman who ran the funeral parlor far better than Marlow ever had. If he’d sold out to her years ago, he likely wouldn’t be in this predicament. Still, it had been his father’s business, a ready-made job that came without hefty student loans. He hadn’t really wanted a career in funeral services, but he also didn’t want to bail on the family craft.
The detective who came to investigate Marlow’s untimely demise was young. Too young in Dead-Marlow’s opinion. Not only was he dead, they’d sent a child to investigate. Surely his sudden shuffling off of his mortal coil deserved someone with more experience.
Detective Lisa Jonson was thirty-two. She’d risen rapidly through the ranks, much to the chagrin of her older counterparts. She was determined to make the most of her promotion. When she got the call to investigate the death of the funeral parlor’s owner, at first she thought her coworkers were playing a joke on her.
Lisa surveyed the corpse on the slab. Well, the funeral owner was definitely dead. It was her first suspicious death investigation and she’d been dreading that moment. Her imagination had conjured up all the different kinds of nasty ends a person could get up to. She was relieved that Marlow’s corpse didn’t look so bad—aside from the coroner’s V-shaped incision. She was only mildly regretting the egg salad sandwich she wolfed down for lunch.
Marlow seemed ancient, forty-seven to her thirty-two years, but when she considered further, he didn’t seem quite so old. Not really ancient enough to have expired from natural causes.
The coroner hadn’t yet completed his report. Since Marlow had been in reasonably good health and his body showed no outward signs of trauma, he wanted to run more tests. But that didn’t mean Lisa couldn’t start formulating her own theories. She’d asked around. It didn’t appear that old Marlow had made any mortal enemies. Consensus was that he was a decent sort, kind and compassionate. It was said he’d done a barely adequate and lackluster job. There were other funeral parlors in neighboring towns, but people kept coming to Marlow out of loyalty to his late father.
His death certainly seemed suspicious. But who would want to do in the local funeral director? Didn’t he provide an essential service in town?
One would think that a spirit would remember the time of his death, Dead-Marlow mused. But the whole event was a void. Most of the day he could recall in vivid detail. He remembered getting up and making a strong pot of coffee, resigned to a long day at work. Doris was going to handle most of the normal running of the funeral home while he caught up on paperwork in the back office.
The accounts were months overdue. He was certain people owed him money, but until he straightened things out, he wouldn’t know. He’d never been good at multi-tasking, Dead-Marlow thought. He’d taken a few hours to get things in order before his accountant arrived. Maybe then he’d be able to skip the usual lecture to get more organized.
Dour Doris arrived as usual with a metaphorical cloud over her head. He’d given her a run-down of the tasks that needed doing. She’d accepted them all with a grunt. At his offer of freshly-brewed coffee, she merely raised her own travel mug and set to work, head down, ignoring him. With a shrug, Marlow returned to his office.
One glance at the piles of paperwork awaiting him almost made him want to join Dour Doris. Instead, he’d closed the door, poured himself another cup of the shunned coffee and gotten to work.
The morning had passed quickly, more swiftly than he could have imagined when he’d first spied that huge stack of paperwork. Maybe he’d take a walk and get some fresh air. The place was safe in Doris’s hands. Briefly he’d debated grabbing a pastry from the local bakery, but with all his food allergies that was certain to upset his stomach. His gut was already churning at the thought of his upcoming meeting.