By O. Lucio d’Arc

THE STORY SO FAR

Chapter 5

SHE WAKES UP thinking she’s in a room at the Hotel Bethlehem, a swank crib downtown on top of a hill. She rings for room service, but instead of some waiter with a cart, it’s Diz with a joint.

“Wake and bake,” she says.

Carole does. I need to cremate Dad, she thinks, the only thing on her to-do list today.

“Later,” Diz says, reading her mind.

Diz is wearing this Japanese kimono thing.

“Gift from Silver Boy,” she says. “Don’t even go there.”

Carole doesn’t.

Instead she goes to the funeral home with Scott Free and, of all people, the well-manicured Thom Fole.

“I know about this stuff. Buried my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother, my father , one brother and two sisters,” says Thom Fole.

He may be a serial killer but, hey, he has a car.

With the smoke last night and this morning, Carole feels like she is in some mental wax museum.

The funeral home is in the Black-cum-Puerto Rican section of Bethlehem.

Raul, all decked out in pressed suit and thin tie, greets them. He runs through all the arguments for a big burial, an expensive coffin, an open casket, a big funeral, an even bigger reception, the biggest graveside service ever and a 40-gun salute. He’ll arrange for everything. “He was a veteran, after all,” Raul tacks on at the end.

“We’re toasting him,” says Thom Fole.

“But …”

“We’re toasting him,” says Carole.

“But …”

“We want to see him,” says Scott Free. “And then we’re toasting him.”

Raul lets them into the cold storage room in the back, slides out a gurney and pulls back the sheet. Her dad looks old, wasted, gaunt and, most of all, dead.

“OK,” she says, but Scott Free wants to take a closer look.

“You must take after your mother,” he says after a long look. “Slide him back in.”

Thom Fole stands in the background, looking and listening.

Back in Raul’s office, Thom Fole and Scott Free give him his orders: No wake, no ceremony, no clergy, no open casket. Burn him, and we hope you don’t have to embalm him first.

And put a cigarette in his mouth before he goes in, Carole tells Raul.

Raul moans through his smile, cursing his sister. He will arrange the cremation. And send over the ashes. Carole tells him she will pay him when the will is read, not telling him there is no will she knows of. He sneers. Scott Free gives him a check. And asks him if he can Tweet him sometime.

On the way home they stop for Chinese take-out at The Pearl, which used to be Carole’s favorite chink-food joint in Bethlehem. Late at night after an evening of boozing, you could watch the cook whipping up the noodles and pork fried rice and lobster with shrimp sauce, an old, old man with a gray Fu Manchu, adept at making food without even seeming to move.

The eatery is The Pearl, but they have their own name for it: Dead Man Woking.

But the old cook doesn’t know that.

At home, after dinner, Carole envisions a long night of snatching pennies held on their elbows, to playing a few rounds of chopstick Jenga and, then, to bed. Not.

TO BE CONTINUED FRIDAY

Oreste P. D’Arconte, who writes fiction under the name O. Lucio d’Arc, is a retired newspaper publisher and a weekly newspaper columnist. His short stories have appeared in the Murder Inc. trilogy of anthologies and he has had his poetry published in several literary magazines. A resident of Attleboro, Mass., he also wrote a hardback history of the Attleboro YMCA in 2017.