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My Dead-End Job
About the Author: Mark Thielman is a two-time Black Orchid Award-winning novella author, Mark’s short fiction has been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mystery Magazine, and various anthologies.

Today, I consider myself the second unluckiest man at Headstone Haven.

Yeah, I know that’s a total rip-off from Lou Gehrig. I paraphrased the line he used at home plate of Yankee Stadium in 1939. That’s the power of a good computer. It lets a guy like me dig up a fact like that.

But I digress.

Today, I consider myself the second unluckiest man at Headstone Haven. Charles W. Tillsbury nailed first prize.

Charlie died Thursday in the parking lot of "Banana Hammocks," one of those clubs where oiled-up men strip off their clothes and allow bachelorette parties to line their waistbands with dollar bills while the “dancers” gyrate their pelvises to 70’s disco music. Banana Hammocks is like Xquisite, that club in the Magic Mike movie, only with flabbier abs.

Shortly after closing, the club’s bouncer found Charlie behind the wheel of his Range Rover. He didn't spend his last few minutes chasing trends, snorting Fentanyl, or some such. Instead, Charlie died old school with a line of Colombian blow across the dashboard and a syringe in his arm that tested positive for heroin. His heart, unable to decide whether to speed up or to slow down, simply elected to stop right there in the parking lot. For obvious reasons, Banana Hammocks does not have a video camera system monitoring the parking lot. But I could guess that Charlie had been in a hurry to party. The plastic tiara he wore sat at a jaunty angle upon his expensive banker’s haircut. He tied his arm off with his Hermes tie and pushed the needle right through the sleeve of his Tom Ford shirt. I got the details straight from the police report.

Like I said, Charles W. Tillsbury coffin-nailed first prize.

I got assigned the job of making Tillsbury’s death sound elegiac.

The second unluckiest man at Headstone Haven.

Headstone Haven is the nation’s fourth-largest producer of grave markers. We carry a comprehensive catalog of monuments, available in metal, natural stone, and synthetic materials. Our sophisticated engraving software can carve religious symbols, sporting scenes, or portraits. The deceased’s passions may be displayed for eternity.

A while back, the surviving relatives of Jimmy Benton, a landscaper from Pineview, Texas, contracted with Headstone Haven. Jimmy, tragically, shuffled off this mortal coil when he slipped and fell into his woodchipper at a job site. His sisters and brother decided upon a simple but elegant red granite monument to commemorate their departed Jimmy.

Headstone Haven happily prepared the marker to their modest specifications and promptly shipped the stone in time for the family funeral at the Restland Cemetery. Every member of Jimmy’s high school graduating class, not currently incarcerated, turned up for the funeral. All in attendance sang Amazing Grace and watched as the marker was revealed.

Looking back, most attendees agreed that it was Alison Smithson, voted “Snarkiest Senior” by the Pineview graduating class, who first snort-laughed when the linen shroud was ceremoniously removed from the headstone. Quick-witted Alison found post-mortem humor that a man who died in a woodchipper would be remembered with the epitaph, “Rest in Piece.” The rest of graduating class and even Reverend Benjamin J. Feelberry of the Loaves and Fishes, Greater Covenant Independent Baptist Church, quickly followed suit.

Headstone Haven settled the subsequent lawsuit brought by the surviving family of Jimmy Benton for an undisclosed amount. The trade journals noted, however, that prior to the legal proceedings, Headstone Haven had been the nation's third-largest producer of grave markers.

But I digress.

A few changes in procedures occurred at the corporate offices following what became known as “The Whopper with the Chopper.”

Headstone Haven Headquarters, Triple H as it’s known inside the main office, dropped an online job posting seeking an English major with first-rate proofreading skills. They got positively giddy when they received my resume showing that not only did I have a Master’s in English composition, but also had edited the college newspaper. They offered me the job after the first interview.

This story appears in our JUL 2022 Issue
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