Thursday, March 26, 2015

Murphy's Wake

It was the last time I would go to Finn, I swore to myself as I searched for him in the Elmdale Tavern. He was around one of the regular spots. I needed to see him fast. At the Carleton Tavern I found Finn with a quart and money coming out of every pocket. I sat down with him, ordered a pint. It was still early in the day. I hit Finn up for fifty bucks to pay Murphy. Finn charged a fee for even handing you the loan. It cost sixty to borrow fifty for a week, but it would be worth it. Finn copied phone numbers and odds as he readied himself for a busy day ahead. Sunday, of course, was his big day because of the NFL betting. This was Saturday when college football and pro baseball took most gamblers’ attention. I finished my pint, said goodbye to Finn, caught Murphy at the Prescott Tavern, gave him a lift to Mary’s. Murphy and Mary had been engaged for twenty years. He still visited her little flower shop every morning. We stopped so he could pick a bouquet of flowers for her in a city park. Murphy didn’t believe in paying for flowers. When they were in season, he helped himself. It was a bone of contention between them. Murphy believed that flowers were given to man by the good Lord, shouldn’t be bought and sold. Mary believed that people gladly paid for the little ray of sunshine they purchased with a nice bouquet of flowers. Murphy had a friend named Calhoun in Montreal who could, for a price, buy a block of tickets in a provincial lottery which would produce winners. All I had to do was give fifty dollars to Murphy. I didn’t follow the whole scam back to the actual score, but I questioned Murphy enough to know that it felt like a winner. He assured me that fifty dollars would produce five thousand for me. Added to some others and passed through the right hands, it would yield twice as much, for him. This guy, Calhoun, had an in, was sharing the wealth. Murphy did it for me out of the kindness of his heart and good business sense. He didn’t have to include me, but he saw me as a good luck charm. I dropped Murphy off, went home to a weekend of sports on t.v. and too much beer. It didn’t cheer me up, to hear, on Monday morning, that Murphy had died on the weekend from a heart attack. I drove to Mary’s which was above her flower shop. It isn’t decent and polite to speak ill of the deceased, but getting lottery tickets was another matter. He always wore the same suit, his best, for giving and taking payments, more taking than giving, it always seemed with Murphy as he did his weekend rounds, careful not to exceed his booze limit. The lottery tickets had to be in his suit. Mary was in her shop with a short, dark, Scottish lawyer named Jack Scullion. She introduced us without mentioning if the man even knew Murphy. I listened with polite sadness, shook my head regretfully. Mary described Murphy’s last moments. It seemed that he died in her arms. Just after they had named a date. They had been engaged now for twenty years, so they were celebrating the twentieth year by marriage. She was as good as his wife anyway, Mary said. I agreed and inquired about Murphy’s “effects” as diplomatically as possible. Perhaps it was a little too vaguely phrased. Mary didn’t respond. Jack Scullion walked around the shop like he was looking for something suspicious. He kept an ear cocked in our direction though. He was trying to figure out who I was, where I fit in. Margaret, Murphy’s sister, appeared with her husband, Ralph, a used car lot owner. It was safe to say that the vultures were circling. I managed to find out that Murphy would be dressed in his best suit tomorrow at Ralph’s showroom. They were having the wake there. Ralph told me, in confidence, that it was his idea. It seemed a bit greedy for Ralph to take advantage of the crowd of potential customers which would gather to send Murphy off, but I wasn’t one to judge. There didn’t seem to be much of a chance of getting at Murphy’s suit pockets until the next day so I drove home and waited. I joined the line of people entering Ralph’s showroom. The place had a western theme, the staff were dressed as cowboys and cowgirls. They wore black armbands while Ralph himself was resplendent in a black western suit with tie and boots to match. He had probably considered wearing his black, ten gallon Stetson, but decided against it in case of misinterpretation by the mourners. There was a good mixture at Murphy’s wake. A crowd of children were the offspring of Murphy’s family. The older ones were Murphy’s cousins, uncles and aunts. When Murphy had mentioned his family at poker games or at the end of late night pub crawls, he gave the impression that he was the black sheep. His own opinion was that the family disliked him because they were jealous of his money and freedom. The people grew noisier as the booze flowed freely. Their presence was welcome. I needed as much attention diverted as possible while I sought the tickets. Most of the sniffling and crying came from Mary and Margaret. As I shuffled along toward them in the line, I could hear Margaret declaring that Murphy looked like himself. Mary’s voice rose over Margaret’s, in grief stricken tones, to tell someone that her brother had called to extend his condolences. He added that it was nice to think about old Murphy finally laying quiet with his big yap shut. People in the line who heard it at first looked puzzled, then made clucking noises. They agreed that it was a down to earth, honest assessment of the deceased, rest his soul. I eyed the coffin, snuck a peek at Murphy within. He did look like himself, I will say that. The dark, pinstriped suit, Murphy’s best, with the vest done up, decorated his body. His face was pinker than normal, but I only saw him in bars or restaurants so maybe this was what he really looked like. He had his hands folded peacefully over his pot belly and, all in all, looked like he had just exhaled and forgotten to inhale. There was no doubt about it, the life had gone out of Murphy. I could smell the gin on Margaret when she hugged me and the rye on Mary’s breath as she looked at me with red rimmed eyes and running mascara I managed to nod sadly and escape her while giving Murphy another quick, visual once over. Jack Scullion hovered in the background, watching everyone, especially me. There was plenty of drink and some sandwiches which the ladies had made. I helped myself to the food, found the coffee. It would take a clear head, whatever I did. Ralph was giving a sales pitch to a couple beside a beat up old clunker which looked like it had recently been retired from delivering pizza. He made the mistake of leaning a little too hard on the front bumper when he pushed it to demonstrate the shocks. The bumper fell off, barely missing his cowboy boots. Ralph never lost a beat. He made a note to see the mechanic about “bodywork problems”, kicked the offending bumper under the car. The pile of sawdust beneath it was turning black, absorbing oil. Jack Scullion approached me with a beer in one hand and a smoke in the other. He had jet black hair, scars on his nose and around his eyes. He bore all the signs of a fighter feeling no pain. He stood spread legged in front of me and asked if I was in Murphy’s will. When I told him I didn’t think so, he seemed to relax. As much as a short, Glaswegian lawyer can relax. His shifty eyes wondered how I could benefit from Murphy’s death. He turned and stood by my side with a wide stance. He gestured alternately with the beer and the smoke while he surveyed the room. “Ach, it’s a right shower here, just noo, Jimmy” I nodded, but I didn’t really know what he meant. He didn’t notice, went on with his monologue, sometimes addressing the room, sometimes confiding to me. “Aye, they’re aw here noo. The vultures’re here. Look at em circlin, look at yersels, ach. See em? They’re after his money. The poor old boy isn’t even cauld yet. See em? They’re a right shower a bastards” No doubt, like most of his race, the Scottish lawyer was a little crazy and extremely violent. Rather than point out that he, too, was in attendance for strictly financial reasons, I managed to escape back to Margaret and Mary. I was getting desperate. Mary and Margaret had been absorbing the alcohol at a rapid rate. They had run out of tears. Their mutual hostility emerged with each drink. I addressed them with an eye on the coffin. “Well, ladies, it must be tense waiting for the will to be read. To see who gets what of Murphy’s. I understand that Mary here was just about to tie the knot with poor Murphy” Margaret frowned and produced many heretofore unseen lines in her face. “Hah” She blurted out with a laugh. “Tie the knot. He’s been engaged to her for twenty years” Mary reacted with bug eyed indignation. Her truthfulness about Murphy’s last moments was being questioned. “We were like man and wife. He didn’t spend time with his other family” she said before she found another glass of rye. Ralph had finished his pitch, but had no takers. He threw regretful glances at the bumper as he approached us, beer in hand. “Anyone got a few words to say?” he asked with a kindly smile. “Ha. Family’s family. It’s his blood in my veins” Margaret asserted. Jack Scullion had joined us. He had a fresh beer, stood spread legged with shoulders back. It was as though he was bracing himself on a heaving deck. “The will overrides everything” said Mary pugnaciously in Margaret’s direction. This hostility caught Jack’s attention, it was right up his alley. He looked around for an opponent, saw Ralph about to speak. I sidled toward the casket as Ralph began what he thought was sort of a eulogy for Murphy, but which he never finished. He never really got it started. Mary took offence at the look which Margaret gave her, hit the dead man’s sister with her purse. Jack saw his opportunity, gave Ralph a Glaswegian handshake which could be heard all over the showroom. There was evidence of Jack’s nutting ability the next day in the taverns; quite a few black eyes and bandaids sported by the mourners who clashed with him He made up for his lack of height by jumping straight at the other man’s face, applying the head, around the hairline, into whatever features were available. With Ralph sitting in a pool of the blood which was spouting from his nose, the women shrieking as they rolled around in front of him, I made it to the casket. Jack was taking on all comers. He seemed to be enjoying himself. I searched Murphy’s vest and trouser pockets with one hand, the other still holding my coffee cup. I was about to try his jacket when the lights went out. It wasn’t dark, but it turned everything in the showroom shadowy. The struggling figures in the brawl were being joined by others, the children shooed to the office. Maybe it was one of them who was responsible for the half light. I checked one side of Murphy’s jacket pockets and found nothing. The noise of fighting and breaking glass became louder. I tried the other pocket, felt cardboard. I pulled the lottery tickets out of Murphy’s pocket, squinted at them. They were the right ones. I was saying a prayer of thanks to my dead chum and the good Lord when I dropped the tickets. They slid down on the other side of Murphy. I panicked for a moment. Placing my cup between Murphy’s folded hands, I used one of my hands to shift his weight, the other to feel for the tickets. I grasped them just as a bottle crashed against the casket and a sliding body took my feet out from under me. Ralph had provided a fold out table from the lunch room upon which to place Murphy’s casket. As my weight shifted, the casket slid off the table. Murphy sat up with my coffee cup in his hands. Crawling toward the door, tickets in my hand, I glanced back. Murphy’s sudden rise from the prone to the sitting position, had caused a pause in the fighting. I heard various opinions of this phenomenon. “It’s a sign” The words “miracle” and “resurrection”were mentioned several times.. When I joined Finn, the next day, at the Carleton Tavern and paid him back, cheerfully, he gave me a curious look. He was totalling up the weekend’s action over a quart, asked me if I’d been to Murphy’s funeral after the donnybrook at his wake. I confirmed that I’d attended the burial. It was a sad and solemn affair for all involved including Murphy’s family and everyone’s legal representatives. We drank a memorial toast to Murphy that day before I bought everyone a round and placed a few bets.