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Mr. Goodman's Hand
The funeral director was well known and established in the town. He had been in the local family business for over 35 years and was known as a soft spoken affable man in his line of work. He was welcoming with the townsfolk and reasonable with payment plans, always willing to accommodate grieving family members during their time of mourning.
The economy changed, as did the weather, but death was a constant. There was always business for a caretaker, his services were unaffected by the housing market or the economy.
Goodman Funeral Home was located in a converted 19th century house in the historical district of the town. Ornate markers decorated the streets outside, reminding the few who read them of confederate soldiers' feats and hardships. The neatly landscaped entrance lent a comforting view for those who had the unfortunate task of entering.
Mr. Francis Goodman was 54 and spent most of his days at his shop. His Grandfather, Charles Goodman, had started the business in the basement of his home in the 1920’s. His father, Edward Goodman, had followed in this line of work, as he expanded and converted the rest of the house over the years.
Presently, Mr. Goodman’s business had two hearses, three viewing rooms, and a small chapel. There was also a showroom with the selection of caskets ranging from basic to the top of the line.
Pictures of Charles and Edward adorned the walls of his office downstairs, which was just near the preparation room. It was here that countless bodies had been embalmed, cleaned, dressed and made to look presentable for their big day.
There were a total of 4 full-time and 3 part-time employees at the funeral home. The eldest, Sam Atkins, drove the hearse and had been there for as long as anyone could remember. A tall, rail-thin man, his age was as mysterious as his eyes. It was rumored that Sam drove the hearse with the casket of hometown hero and former baseball legend, Harley Gifford to his final resting place at Old Towne Cemetery.
Gladys Maynard was the receptionist and the homemaker of the building. There was always an aroma of hot coffee and freshly baked croissants when Mrs. Maynard was on the clock. She kept the flowers arranged and gave the home a woman's touch.
Together, they had seen many strange requests in this line of work. There was the widow that had asked for the gold fillings out of her husband’s mouth. After being told by Mr. Goodman this was not an option at his place of business she had promised to come back with her lawyer, and a dentist.
On another occasion, Sam had been forced to pull the hearse over on the way to the cemetery, as the police had pulled over the son of the deceased for a DUI in the procession. Over the years they had seen it all, nothing would surprise them.
They had seen family members accept phones calls during a service, more than one fist fight, and countless squabbles over money just hours after the dearly departed had passed. More times than once, Mr. Goodman had thought how lucky the deceased actually was after meeting the family.
He had spent his whole life among the dead, it was his trade. He was the first to arrive each day and the last to leave each night. Barring a trip out of town, or an illness at home, Francis Goodman could always be found at the shop, tending to the cadavers.
Vicki, his wife of 30 years had grown accustomed to his odd hours at the shop. She knew that he sometimes played cards with a few of the guys on the weekends. He often came home with stories from the day, or the card games played that night. He would give her a kiss on the forehead as he climbed into bed, sometimes saying things such as, “Good old Burt, always trying to cheat his way out of a losing hand!” The relationship was solid but colorless, both of them had their own lives and were content with the present arrangement.
Mr. Goodman locked up sharply at 6 Saturday evening and began preparing for that night's game. He whistled as he cleaned up the shop, wiping down the gurneys and cleaning the counters. As he swept the same black and white floor tiles he had swept as a child, he thought about that night's players. Pulling out the card table from the storage closet, he began setting up the chairs as the morbid workplace transformed into a makeshift poker room.
The place came alive as the players arrived, each making a grand entrance. The atmosphere was festive and lively, saloon music accompanied the cigar smoke that filled the room as play was underway. Mr. Goodman was off to a rough start; he just wasn't getting the cards. He felt the eyes of the others watching him as he studied the table.
Just as he was ready to raise the stakes and change his luck, he heard the faint sound of the doorbell; he jumped up from his chair.
“If you will excuse me I will go take care of that.” The other players held their places silently.
He darted up the old stairs and to the front door. It was Andy Conners, one of his part-time guys.
“Andy, what are you doing?”
“I left my phone today, I saw your car out front, do you mind if I grab it?”
Mr. Goodman looked back at the open door leading to the basement. “Uh, sure, of course.”
Andy walked towards the back, and then cocked his head hearing the music downstairs. Looking back at Mr. Goodman, he asked. “What’s going on down there?”
“Oh nothing really, just work” He smiled, leaving the question unanswered.
Andy grabbed his phone, and then shrugged. “Okay, thanks, see you Monday?"
“Yes, Andy, I’ll see you then.” Shutting the door tightly, he waited until Andy drove off before locking up and making his way back to the cellar.
Returning to the game, he looked around the room. The players were still in their places. He motioned for the barmaid and refilled his gin and tonic. He noticed her lovely features, her silky blonde hair was brushed to perfection; she wore an elegant gown and was angelic in appearance.
“Why thank you my love, you look stunning this evening.”
Sitting down, Mr. Goodman apologized to the other players; Thomas Lancaster was scowling at this infraction in the game.
“Oh give it a rest Thomas; you’re such a stickler for the rules.”
The other mannequin-like players stoically held their cards, their faces revealing nothing. Mr. Cecil Howard, wearing a traditional, dark three button suit patiently waited for Mr. Goodman’s play.
Mr. Goodman looked around at the players for effect, and then placed the chips on the green felt table.
“I see your ante and I will double it, your call Mr. Howell.”
Mr. Howell stared at his hand in silence, his glass still full and his cigar unlit. No one spoke as the soft piano sounds played in the background. The normally reserved Mr. Goodman felt alive among the other players, he couldn't suppress a grin as he looked at his hand, his luck was about to change.
Copyright 2012 Pete Fanning