“You want to know the really perverse thing about The White City Devil?” Donnelly asked, the glee in his voice as he discussed his favorite serial killer almost palpable.
Vince shrugged as he shuffled to the other side of his kitchen to grab a mug for the loudmouthed undertaker’s coffee. Vince always kept some beans on hand for Donnelly’s occasional visits, but he never drank anything more powerful than tea himself. High-test upset his stomach, and he had enough trouble sleeping nights with the arthritis and everything else.
“The only thing that got him off was the sound of women screaming. That’s why he kept doing it. Imagine putting all that time and effort and money into making a jack shack for yourself because of a weird kink. Eh, but it was the 1800s, after all.”
Donnelly shrugged. Vince nodded and sat down across from his…well, he hesitated to use the word “friend,” even in his own mind, as he didn’t particularly care for the other man. “Acquaintance” seemed too remote, considering he knew more about Donnelly than almost any man alive. (Certainly, he spilled his guts to Vince often enough.) “Visitor,” perhaps was a fair splitting of the difference.
Donnelly continued describing the exploits of mass murderer H.H. Holmes for more than an hour before finally asking Vince a question about himself. In previous visits he had gone much, much longer.
“But, my God, Catapali, I have to say, I sort of get it. After all, the work I do, the work you do. Well, you’re so much closer to the metal, so to speak, than I am, digging all those damn graves. I can’t even get to sleep without a fifth of Amaretto in me. How do you sleep at night, anyway?”
Vince didn’t rush to answer. Usually if he waited long enough, Donnelly continued on with whatever he had been blathering about. This time, though, he was silent just long enough for it to seem rude if Vince didn’t respond.
Vince pointed at the little box with the speaker in his bedroom. It was visible from where they were sitting. Donnelly nodded.
“Yeah, that makes sense. That’s a good…I’ll have to try that.”
It was almost dark before the chatterbox mortician finally left, but Vince didn’t really mind. He couldn’t do any more work before dark, anyway. Not his real work, anyway. He clambered into his pickup truck and was greeted with a thump from the pine crate in the bed.
“Easy now,” he said, putting his hand through the back window and stroking the crate, as though its inhabitant could feel his soothing touch.
The thumping didn’t stop as he drove out to the gravesite. With the pulley system he had rigged up for his truck it was no trouble at all to dump the pine crate into the open grave. Getting the expensive cherry coffin from Donnelly’s funeral home up into the bed was slightly trickier, but he had done it nightly for years now and was used to it.
When Vince had first started his job, he had done the grueling work of digging a three by eight foot hole six feet deep by hand. 144 cubic feet of soil. 1100 gallons. Every speck hauled out of the ground at the end of a spade. Hours of work. Now, with his backhoe, it took him forty-five minutes, tops. Ten to cover it back up.
It was only half an hour to the abandoned dump. Using the old car compactor, Vince squished what was left of the dearly departed Mr. Squillante into a fine red paste, strewn with splintered wood and bone. Vince had occasionally considered selling Donnelly’s expensive coffins, but he had no idea what the market was for those, and, really, he didn’t need the money. He led a simple life.
Afterward, he swung by all his usual haunts: the docks, a few crack dens, the bus station. It seemed like slim pickings tonight, but he finally tracked down a skinny runaway peeing in the bushes outside of the homeless tent city downtown in Memorial Park. He brought the boy back to his caretaker’s shack before nailing him into a fresh pine box for tomorrow. By three in the morning he had finished digging all the graves for tomorrow.
Vince trudged into his bedroom, feeling every second of his sixty-seven years on this Earth. It seemed like all he ever did anymore was work his fingers to the bone, and yet no matter how tired he was he could never sleep a wink at night without his noise machine. It wasn’t a store-bought device with a pre-recorded track, though, as he had let Donnelly assume. The transmission had to be live. Always live.
He flicked it on. Instantly, his bedroom was filled with the soothing sounds of nails scratching against wood, panicked low-oxygen screams, and profanity-laden threats. Good. The prostitute he’d buried in Squillante’s stead was just reaching that point of pitch-perfect desperation. Vince yawned and felt his eyes grow heavy. Better sleep while he could. Tomorrow he’d have to do it all over again.