An ObservationSeptember 10, 2017
Sunday, April 12, 1959
onec erard Poulin is a native Vermonter and U.S. Navy veteran, graduating from Spaulding High School and Castleton State University. He worked for a Big Four accounting firm (PricewaterhouseCoopers) before becoming the owner of Great Bay Athletic Club. After selling his interest, he went on the manage Winthrop Group. He is a financial statement consultant in the Central Vermont area.
SAT IN HIS CAR with the engine off at the far end of the funeral home parking lot. From this dark vantage point, Bob Faith could see the mortuary's well-lit entrance and Tom Farrell's pickup truck near the canopy. He exhaled sharply, watching his cloudy breath hang in the air on the cold early April night. His eyes shifted between the colonial structure and vehicle as his mind turned.
Time to put up or shut up, Bob thought. I can still forget this.
His quasi-handsome face and tall, slight frame hadn't changed much since high school. But his mind was another story altogether. The twenty-eight-year-old banker opened his 1957 Chevy's door cautiously, with a just-sharpened Bowie knife and flashlight in hand. Getting out, he eased the door closed and walked toward the old Ford truck wearing mechanics' coveralls.
As he walked, snowflakes fell. Perfect. Forecast is right for a change. He watched the white stuff cling to the ground. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
He'd seen Farrell go into Whitfield's Funeral Home in Bethel, Vermont, minutes before and gambled that he had plenty of time to do his work, given the nature of Farrell's business with old Norm Whitfield, who owned the establishment.
Bob shook his head while he eyed Tom's dented and rusty 1942 pickup truck. How'd this piece of crap ever make it through a state inspection?
Reaching the passenger side door, Bob dropped to a knee and turned on the flashlight. Knife in hand, he got down on his belly and squirmed under the truck's chassis.
His work was there, and Bob understood it would be dark and cold.
He would feel right at home.
Tom Farrell took a deep breath in the basement of Whitfield Funeral Home. It stunk of formaldehyde, musk and mold. All of which, the young schoolteacher supposed, made for a more motivated buyer.
This part of the funeral home was dimly lit by a string of sixty-watt light bulbs hanging along two overhead beams. Coffins, arranged by price and material, were displayed oblong on wooden pallets against the wall on the cement floor. Infant and smaller coffins hung by piano wire. Tom now understood the demands of the dead placed upon the living for those left unprepared. Only, I should've been prepared. This should've been done six months ago. He willed himself not to cry.
"Take your time," old Norm Whitfield said, sitting atop the basement's bottom step. "Box of tissues over there." He gestured to a box of Kleenex on top of a nearby shelf, his Vermont twang unmistakable.
Tom looked at the first casket on the left-hand row, a lovely brass capsule that someone in a mausoleum could appreciate. Or afford. He walked to the next coffin and looked at the placard, wondering how he would pay for any of these. He continued down the row quickly, barely glancing at the display cards.
He strolled down the right-hand row, back towards the basement stairs. Casket prices dropped substantially upon reaching the wooded variety, and Tom wished now that he'd shopped this row first. He stopped at a cherry-finished coffin and looked at the placard quizzically.
"This one here, Mr. Whitfield, is that a mistake?"
Whitfield grunted as he stood. Slowly, he made his way toward Tom.
"No mistake," he said, right hand rubbing the white stubble on his chin. "Got damaged. Big dingah in the back."
Tom sidestepped the coffin and strained his neck to look. He saw an area the size of a silver dollar; puttied and stained to match.
"It's in the back. Who's gonna notice?"
"Folks is funny about what they bury relatives in," Whitfield shrugged. "Tell you what, I'll mark it down another quarter. Your father was a friend to this town."
Tom stepped back, not sure he'd heard Whitfield correctly. "Really?" He must've heard the rumors. I'm sure everyone in town knows I'm insolvent.
Whitfield nodded and headed back toward the stairs. "Don't have to pay it all at once, ya know. Ten a month 'till she's paid for oughta do it. I'll bill ya."
"Thank you," Tom said, unsure if his voice would carry to Whitfield, who was already climbing the stairs to record the sale in his journal.
With this problem solved, that left only the Veteran's Administration to contact. But the casket was a load off, and Tom tried to bask in the moment of having accomplished something, especially now.
So many times he remembered disappointing his father. The best he could hope for was that this wouldn't be another of those times.