A man stepped off the airway ramp, wearing a rumpled suit, a Rolex, and a disgruntled expression. He was tall, and slouching; slightly: his long limbs still looked to be unfolding himself from the cramped helicopter space. He had the general appearance of having been stuffed in the luggage compartment, rather than the luxury lounger he had been dozing on and off in for the past two hours. The blades of the chopper hummed and beat the air behind him in a frenzy, buffeting dark hair over hardened eyes.
“Glad you could make it,” shouted a portly man over the roar of the engine.
“Nearly didn’t,” sneered the tall man. His mouth continued to move, thin lips pursing and turned down at the corners; but the wind swept away what more he said, and swallowed it. The smaller man nodded anyway, rubbed a hand over his shining bald head, and gestured towards a squat building perched on the manicured lawn.
“Let’s have a drink,” he hollered. “Then we can get down to business.”
“Good, I could use a stiff one.”
The two walked from the small concrete airstrip as the helicopter lifted and buzzed off like an angry bee. The stout man was puffing and reddening quickly as he tried to keep up with the long strides of his companion. He let them in and led the tall man to a sunny room with pinstriped armchairs and a rolling trolley bar. He gestured with a shoulder towards one of the chairs, then busied himself pouring three fingers of his finest liquor for each of them. Taking the bottle and the two glasses, he returned to the tall man; handed him the tumbler and sat; fidgeting with the trim on the edge of the upholstery. The dour, suited man set an immaculate black briefcase next to his chair, then lowered himself to sit.
“So,” he said, as he folded himself into an armchair. His long legs stretched in front of him, the fine material of his creased trousers drawing upwards, revealing brown argyle socks encasing knobby ankles. “I hear you have a funeral approaching. Not to worry, we at Soffe and Co. are here to help you every step of the way. During this trying time,” he added, almost as an afterthought. His companion swallowed and fingered the buttons on his shirt nervously.
“Yes,” said the balding man. “I appreciate the help. Especially the quick response. I’ve never done this before.” He chuckled, looking slightly panicked. A heavy, thin hand came to rest heavily on his shoulder. The stout man gulped at the long arm stretched to him, and the gaunt face attached to it.
“I understand. I’m here to help. And with such a generous fore-payment, you can rest assured that we will do everything we can to make this go smoothly.” His eyes glittered. “My colleagues and I at Soffe and Co. are well-used to these types of requests. We handle the funeral, obituary, announcement, any and all regulations regarding coffins, stones, and ashes– should you decide upon cremation.” He spread his hands mildly.
“No,” the ruddy man coughed after wetting his mouth his tongue. “No, that won’t be necessary. I know she would want an– an open casket. Gotta look her best, even on her last day, you know.” He laughed uncomfortably, then swallowed. “It’s what she would want.”
“Of course.” Long fingers held the sweating glass, but never lifted it to drink. “I understand. Let me assure you we will take the best of care with your wife.” He set the glass on a small table, then lifted the briefcase to his lap, balancing it on bony knees and withdrawing some papers. Shuffling the pages and tapping briskly to align them, he shut the case with a click and laid the papers on top, reaching into his rumpled suit to reveal a pen.
“Just a few formalities,” he assured the pudgy man, who had a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead and a nervous, pained look. “Some information for the death certificate. Name?”
“Location of death?”
The ruddy man’s’ face drained of color underneath the rosy glow of alcohol, leaving a strange ashy hue everywhere but the bright cheeks.
“Nevermind,” said the other man; almost kindly: “We’ll worry about that later.” He filled out a few more lines, mumbling under his breath as he ticked off boxes and wrote in information. This went on for several minutes, with the occasional audible mumblings. “Cause of death, a knife wound…” Meanwhile, some color had returned to the large man’s face, and he fidgeted uncomfortably in the near silence. Finally, the pen stopped scribbling.
“Time of death… we’ll fill that in later.” the tall man hummed, checking over the files for any last information. He looked up. “Any last requests?”
The short man winced.
“For your wife’s funeral,” the thin man amended.
“I want this to be a nice funeral.” His eyes darted up to his companion’s, then just as quickly averted. He downed the rest of his glass. “Nothing too gaudy or gloomy. It’s not what she would want.”
“No no no,” agreed the tall man. “Everything will be just as you specify. It will be a lovely event.”
“And flowers, and everything,” the stout man continued, getting more ruddy. He had poured more liquor into his tumbler and had tossed it back just as quickly. “I want this to be elegant, classy. Only the best for my sweetheart.”
“Of course,” the stern man soothed. “We take care of everything. Nothing to worry about.”
“Good,” said the shorter man. He paused, furrowing his brow until the blood rushed from the squeezed forehead, leaving white lines slashed in the red face. “I guess that’s it.”
“Excellent,” said the dour man. “Then I can get to work.” He ran his large hands over the lid of the case on his knees, popping the tabs on his briefcase open with his thumbs. He stroked over the seams of the case as he opened the lid slowly, his cruel mouth baring teeth. On anyone else it might have been considered a smile. The portly man shuddered in his seat, suddenly sweating profusely. Withdrawing a gleaming knife, the tall man tested the blade’s edge with a thumbnail. “I’ll make sure the guest of honor will be properly prepared for her funeral.” Setting the briefcase next to the chair again, he stood, suddenly seeming terrifyingly tall. “Pleasure working with you,” he grinned. Clutching the knife in one bony hand, he stalked towards the door, turning to glance back to his portly companion.
“Her room’s in the left wing,” the short man managed weakly. “Up the staircase, third door to the right. Can’t miss it.” As the tall man prowled away, the stout man collapsed deeper into the pinstriped armchair.
Shaking, his face devoid of color and lips crushed into bloodless tension, he poured the last of the liquor into his glass and and raised the tumbler, beaded with condensation, towards the left wing. “To my dearly departed,” he mumbled, then drained it in one gulp.