I wheeled my patient from the cooler in to my "work room."She was a 74 year old female who had died of natural causes. I had three days to prepare her so that the family could have a viewing before committing her to a plot next to her predeceased husband.
She was joining him after a separation of almost 10 years.
I had plenty of time to do my usual excellent job. I am a very skilled undertaker. I, Thomas Steel, didn't start out life wanting to embalm corpses. I graduated from my high school, third in my class. I wanted to be a rich and famous doctor.
So, I went on to college and studied all the courses I needed to attend medical school. After graduating from college, with a 3.7, I took my MCATS and was accepted in a better than average medical school.
It was in my fourth year there that life bit me on the ass. My parents were killed in an automobile accident. It was the typical type caused by a drunk, only in this case the drunk was my father and the innocent victim was my mother. I was an only child as were my mother and father. All of a sudden I was all alone in the world.
Having been raised a spoiled kid, I was devastated. I had no idea how to proceed with my life. My parents always made all the decisions for me. And I always went along.
For my first decision on my own, I dropped out of Medical School. Yeah, I know, that was really stupid seeing as I had only 7 months to go before receiving my degree. But like I said, it was the first decision I had made on my own.
My next questionable decision was to leave after the burial service and turn into the first bar I came across.
About a year later I sobered up one night. I found myself in an alley, behind a bar, in a questionable part of a city that I didn't recognize. In other words, I didn't know where the fuck I was. I sat there in a filthy alley, leaning up against an old brick wall.
I was trying to get myself together when the door in the wall opened and out came a very large gentleman. He looked up and down the alley and then turned back to speak into the building,
"That asshole Tony is not back with the car yet, Boss."
My foggy brain realized that he was not a gentleman. Actually he sounded like a thug. To my dismay, he saw me sitting there.
"Who the fuck are you Asshole?" he not so politely asked.
Before I could formulate an answer, a voice called out the door, "Angelo, what did you find? Is he dangerous?"
"No Boss, just some drunken loser laying here in his own piss and puke."
I started to protest, "I'm a medical student!" Now I really don't know why I said that. It just sort of came out.
Angelo reached down as if to hit me when that commanding voice said, "Leave him alone. When Tony gets the car here, put him in the trunk. I might have use for this 'doctor'"
And that's how I met Gino DiTucci, local crime boss and his lieutenant Angelo Pulmere.
I snapped out of my reverie and got back to work. The first thing I needed to do was finish undressing my patient. The nursing home had her dressed in a nice nightgown, appropriate for little old ladies to sleep in. I really don't know who they were trying to impress. I worked on my patients in the nude. Not me ... Them.
She looked peaceful in her sleep, except that her eyes were staring sightlessly at the ceiling tiles.
"Well," I thought, "I hope no one expects to get her PJs back," as I picked up a pair scissors.
As soon as she was naked, I'd give her one last sponge bath. The cleaning served a couple of purposes, the first is cleanliness, the second is odor control, and lastly to add a moisturizing cream to prevent the skin from drying out and decomposing too soon.
The object of embalming is to slow the deceased's decomposition, not prevent it. Only in Hollywood Zombie movies can decay prevention happen.
While I was washing and drying her, I examined her for any areas that might present problems while I was embalming her. Her body was in good shape from an undertaker's point of view...
I could use the single point procedure. One line in to her via the carotid artery and the line out attached to her jugular vein.
The exchange process would take about two hours if I didn't run into any problems. I would need to massage her body repeatedly to prevent clots from forming and interfering with the flow of the embalming fluid, and to keep rigor mortis from setting in too soon.
I walked over to my stereo system and inserted a classical music CD. I looked at her toe tag, "Mrs. Williams, I hope you like my selection of music. If you don't, just mention it, I'll be glad to play something else." Although I always asked, I had never had any objections.
Talking to your patients is something they drilled into us in med school. I just carried forward the same logic here,
I was about an hour into exchange when I heard my double doors open. I looked up and saw Angelo pushing a casket on a trolley into my work room. He stopped and looked around the room.
Even the really tough guys didn't like "my" work room, and his nervousness showed.
I couldn't resist the temptation, I lifted Mrs. William's hand and waved it while saying, "Hi Angelo, want to play gin while Tommy works?"
"You asshole!" he exclaimed, "Gino wants you to use this coffin to bury her in."
I looked at him. This was not an unusual request. They used my services once or twice a year to dispose of embarrassing leftovers. Only this time there was a problem. Mrs. Williams was not being cremated.
"Angelo, does Gino know that this is a burial?"
"Yeah, he knows. But there is a rush on this one. He says, 'Do it.'"
"OK, but this is an open casket. There might be an odor problem."
"There have been special steps taken so that the extra cargo will not smell."
"What about the added weight? Won't the pall bearers notice?"
"Naw the extra is a small one. No one will notice."
I knew better than to ask, "How small?"
"Ok Angelo. Put the box in the cooler. It will be at least another few hours before I'm ready to put her into it."
As I watched his back as he walked through the refrigerator door, I thought back to how this all began.
A black limo pulled into the alley. The driver stopped so that the rear door aligned opposite the open hallway entry. Tony hopped out and started to open the car's rear door.
"Hold it!" shouted Angelo, "Open the trunk first, and then give me a hand."
Tony reached in the car and I heard the lock on the trunk lid click. The next thing I knew two men were tossing me into the trunk and closing the lid. I remember being tossed around by the car's motion until I hit my head, hard. The next thing I remember, I was being hosed down with cold water and my clothes were being cut off.
It must have been a month before I rejoined the land of the living. I wasn't unconscious the entire time; I was drying out and was one very sick guy. I vomited out most of my insides, suffered through the DTs, and fought off a few pink elephants along the way.
When I was finally dried out, I knew I'd never touch alcohol again. Mr. DiTucci visited me a few times. While he had a few encouraging words for me, his eyes were never what might be called friendly and caring. Actually they were damn scary.
In the back of my mind I formed the feeling, "Paying him back is going to be a bitch".
My next few months were spent eating "healthy" food, exercising, and generally regaining my health. They were tough months, but I started to feel human again. I was never a "jock" type of guy. My claim to fame was academic not via sports. On the plus side I never had to go to those 12 step AA meetings. I never had to say my name is Thomas Steel and I'm a drunk.
My trainers worked on my mental acuity. My mind was exercised. They had me working all types of puzzles. There were card games, Sudoku puzzles, spelling quizzes, and good old cross word puzzles. They also played logic games with me.
When they were starting to make progress, I innocently asked if I could continue my education and start my application for a residency. My head rang from the hit they put on it. I had to learn to keep my mouth shut.
That night after my evening meal in my room, Mr. DiTucci paid me a visit.
"You belong to me. My plans for you do not include completing your medical education. I already have all the 'doctors' I need in my organization. You are destined for greater things. But first you will complete your training and apprenticeship under a master."
"You will be our mortician."
"Shit! I didn't like anatomy in med school. And those corpses wanted to be there." was my first thought.
"But before we expand on 'our' plans, you need to complete your training."
"And get my, license." was my comeback.
"We can get you a license, but first you need to learn the trade, and be evaluated."
Somehow from the way he spoke I knew that the license presented no problem getting. I had the feeling I would never take the tests.
Mr. DiTucci was watching my face much closer than I realized when he said, "The right funeral director/embalmer makes more per year than the average doctor. And they don't need Malpractice Insurance."
Then he grinned. It was a truly evil grin.
He continued, "I will provide everything you need to start the business. You will not need to pay me back any of the monies I place into your business. All you will need to do is provide me an occasional favor and some crematorium time."
I began to wake up.
.... There is more of this story ...