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Edward Ahern
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ember.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2014

Embers

 

Edward Ahern

 

 

          The church smelled of old wood and incense. About ninety people were bunched around a casket at the front of the church.

          They were twenty rows back from the mourners. Jack had spotted her, hesitated, then walked over and sat down next to her. Carole winced, then shrugged.

“We shouldn’t be sitting together, Jack.”

“The gossip won’t be much worse than if we were separated by the aisle.”

          They were noticed—faint murmur ripples, then graying heads atop dark clothing pivoted to reveal pale faces that quickly glanced backwards into the pews at them.

          “I noticed we weren’t mentioned in the obit.”

          “No we weren’t. Janice made sure of that.”

          He smiled. “Weren’t invited to their wedding either.”

          “As the ex wife who cheated with the ex best friend we went from A list to exclusion.”

          “Yeah. You look good in black. You probably still look good in anything.”

          Her mouth twisted. “Looking good wasn’t our problem, Jack.”

          “It’s been a long time. Pete married Janice, what, twelve years ago? About the time we broke up.”

          “Jack, you moved out of state and didn’t take me with you.”

          “You didn’t want to go.”

          “No I didn’t.”

          The priest recited with due gravity, but the responses were patchy.

          “When did you go from receding to bald?”

          “After we separated.”

          The funeral service had reached the point of eulogies. Relatives and friends, most of whom Jack knew, described the portions of Pete’s life that had floated above the surface. Pete was described as cherished and having no enemies or vices. Jack wanted to raise his hand and object.

          “Remember Pete’s 30th birthday party, when we all got drunk and Pete picked a fight with a bouncer? Pete and I got beat on pretty good before they tossed us out.”

          “You were an idiot to step in and take on another bouncer when Pete got wrestled down.”

          “He was losing. Thought I should help.”

          “Like I said, an idiot.”

          “Did you go to the wake, Carole?”

          “No, I would have just upset the family.”

          “Neither did I.  I wanted to try and talk with some of the friends Pete and I had shared, but it wasn’t the place to laugh about old times.”

          “So why are you here, Jack?”

          “Pete hated me right to the end, but he was as close as I ever had to a best friend. I needed to acknowledge his passing. Besides, I was hoping to see you.”

          “Don’t go there. It’s been way too long since our overwhelming lust dissipated.”

          “But we were awfully good together weren’t we? It’s never been as intense with anyone else. You admitted it was never as good with you and Pete.”

          “It was just different. Pete was comfortable and predictable. You and I were crazy.”

          “But we loved it. Look what we gave up to stay together.”

          “For a while. But we didn’t last very long after the divorce, did we? You still have a waist. How painful is it to hang onto?”

          “Not painful, just boring. I don’t eat or drink what I want to, and I drag myself into the gym three times a week. You ever think about Provincetown?”

          She encored her twisted smile. Provincetown had been the hormonal high point of their relationship, just before they’d told Pete.

          “I always thought that our being a heterosexual minority sauced up the sex.  We were never quite that wanton again.”

          He paused. “I do miss Pete. I miss his nasty sense of humor, the way he would always take my side in an argument, even when he knew I was being an ass.”

          “And I envied what you had with him and resented that he was never like that with me.”

          “Jesus Carole, how wrong I was about Pete. I figured he’d eventually scar over and we’d be able to talk again.”

          “There was nothing temporary about his hatred of us, was there?”

          The organist started off into a hymn. Nobody seemed to know the words. The singing rose and fell in ragged, off keyed voices. Jack was afraid to start whispering more loudly in case the organist stopped while he was in mid comment. He silently reached out and wrapped her hand. She twitched but didn’t pull her hand away. The hymn limped to its Amen.

          Carole tugged her hand loose. “I can’t deal with this. I don’t want to see you again.”

          “I’ve moved back here.”

          “When?”

          “About three months ago. I’ve wanted to get in touch,”

          “Didn’t want to be rash?”

          Announcements were being made about the drive to the cemetery and the usual gathering with drinks to follow the burial.

          He leaned in and whispered. “We have a choice of facing the mourners as they file out or slipping out the back door now.”

          “Back door.”

          They stood together in a side garden featuring the Stations of the Cross and watched mourners and casket bobble down the steps and onto the church drive. They’d lost their gossip novelty with the other mourners and were being carefully ignored. Once released from church the attendees become chatty. Janice seemed almost strident.

They sidled up behind one of the obelisks, shielding them from the crowd’s sight. It read “Jesus Falls the First Time.”

          “So Jack, how significant is your other?”

          “I wish. There’s never really been anyone else. Not for more than a few months. How about you?”

          “Not really. It seems twice bitten was enough.”

          They stood close together. Closer than strangers, not so close as lovers.

          “Carole, would you like to come with me next week to visit the grave? I’m sure by then we’d be the only two people there.”

          “That’s such a bad idea in so many ways.”

 Pete’s casket was dolly rolled to the back of the hearse and loaded in.

She faced him more directly. “But I should visit his grave. When would you want to do it?”

 

end





Murphy’s Law

 

Edward Ahern

 

 

 

Murph the Mooch had attained senility after decades of racketeering, contract murders, and spousal abuse. Worse, he was cheap.  Murph had required underlings to pay for their meals together, occasionally having them offed later that day.

And I needed to make Murph my best buddy.

I’d been approached by Dave Walters, with whom I’d worked undercover. “We need you on an assignment, Liam.”

“Bad joke. I’m seventy-two years old, and you’re not much younger. I can barely get it up, let alone get it on. Why are you really here?”

“For this job we need decrepit Irish. We need you to drug and interrogate a retired mob boss who’s been consigned to an elder care facility.”

“What a bad idea, Dave. If his goons don’t kill me when I make the play his associates find and kill me later.”

“Hear me out. He’s senile and has short term memory loss. Even if he remembered your talk nobody would believe it wasn’t another delusion. And there’s benefits.”

Dave looked around my run-down condo. “It’d be three or four weeks staying at one of the most expensive nursing compounds in the country.”

“How expensive?”

“The cheapest unit is three quarters of a million dollars, and maintenance fees are seven large a month.”

I was trying to live on forty thousand a year. “What the hell costs that much?”

“Snob appeal and amenities. A golf course where the caddies are health professionals, a fully equipped and staffed rehabilitation gym, two gourmet restaurants and dine in ordering, masseurs and masseuses who fondle to taste, you get the idea.”

I stared at him. “You can’t afford those kinds of operating expenses.”

“No, we can’t but fortunately the resort president has large tax problems we’re willing to overlook in return for installing you and covering your expenses.”

“And?”

Dave looked pained. “Isn’t that enough?”

“And?”

“Okay, we pay you two month’s salary.”

“Chump change. Two months for the attempt, the rest of a year’s salary if I succeed.”

Dave looked even more pained.

“Where’s your esprit de corps?”

“You cored it out with your crappy retirement package. Yes or no.”

“Okay, yes.”

“Who do I play?”

“Murph the Mooch.”

I winced. “I want more money.”

Dave smiled. He never could smile sincerely. “Too late.”

 

                                      ###

 

Some people age into craggy distinction. Murph had the complexion and consistency of rice pudding. His short-term memory was a window screen with holes in it, but his long-term memory had held up. He had enough chemically enhanced virility to keep a dowager resident named Danielle occupied.

Getting chummy proved easy. No one other than the well-endowed Danielle could stand him, so Murph’s only other companion when I got there was an orderly named Steve who was built up and bulged out like the armed bodyguard he was.

Murph liked to play gin rummy. When functional he cheated and I pretended not to notice.

“That’s twenty-four dollars I owe you. Cash or on the tab?’ I asked.

“Cash, you shanty Mick, you could be dead before I can collect.”

Murph wore Depends, and figured he could let fly when it pleased him. I wondered if Steve tended to his cleaning, a chore about as kinky as having sex with a woman atop her just-murdered husband.

“No problem, Murph. Here’s twenty-five. You got a single?”

He didn’t check his wallet. “Nah. I’ll owe you.”

“Another game?”

“Nah, Steve and I got something to take care of. Besides, yah bog-trotter, I’d just kick your ass.”

Murph stood up using his silver-handled cane as I forced a smile.

“I’ve got a bottle of Middleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey at my villa, Murph. You want to come by later for a snort?”

A look of suspicion and anger hit Murph’s face, subsiding into his usual sneer. “Middleton hah? The good stuff?”

“Three hundred a bottle.”

“Tell you what, bring it over to my place around six and we’ll have a pop.”

“Done. See you then.”

Steve had been hovering upwind, and moved in to help Murph into his golf cart. I showed up on Murph’s ornate porch at five after six. Steve let me in and then went out to the pool. Murph didn’t like him inside the villa, either because he didn’t trust him or because he didn’t want to have to give Steve food and drink.

Murph stayed in his easy chair and asked to see the bottle. “Looks Kosher,” he grunted. All right, pour. Neat.”

The stick of butter sloshed in my gut as I walked over to the bar and got our drinks. Murph guzzled while I sipped.

The chemicals kicked in quickly and I began recording Murph on my phone. We started with Louis Falcone.

“Oh yeah,” Murph said, “Lingerie Louie ordered Sam the Chef to cleaver Pimples Artie.” I got fifteen minutes before things went to hell.

Murph came to cursing, grabbed his cane, twisted the handle and pulled out a three-foot blade. He lurched up and at me, sword pointed.

I jumped up grabbed a green sofa cushion, and swung it at the blade. The cushion got skewered as its swing carried the point back toward Murph. Murph’s feet slipped out from under him and he flopped forward onto the floor, the point ramming into his chest. Murph the Mooch had fallen on his sword.

He thrashed, squealed and flopped over onto his back before expiring. He looked like a mound of pudding with an olive stuck on top.

I pocketed the recorder, rinsed the glasses, and called out to Steve.

Steve ran in, gun out, and looked down at Murph. “About time, ya rank bastard!”

“He tripped, Steve, it was a terrible accident.”

Steve shrugged. “Just tell the cops that. No way an old fart like you could ram that sticker through him.”

Dave called two days later. “You can leave tomorrow.”

“Yeah, thanks but I think I’m going to stay the week.”

“Hah?”

“There’s a woman named Danielle who assures me she needs consoling.”

 

end




“Murphy’s Law” originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Havok.


Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty-odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over two hundred fifty stories and poems published so far, and six books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of six review editors.

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