Marla groaned when the sound of her phone ringing woke her. It was past midnight. She’d been assigned to be on-call for the night. It wasn’t too often in the small town of Wallsberg that she had to transfer a body in the middle of the night. But, when she did, it sucked.
“Hello, Oswald Funeral Home, this is Marla James speaking,” she answered, trying not to yawn.
The man who responded introduced himself as a policeman. “Ms. James, I’m afraid there’s been a murder,” he said.
Marla’s heart skipped a beat. There hadn’t been a murder in Wallsberg since she was eighteen years old, almost ten years ago. The event had been a tragic one, and it had happened inside the apartment neighboring the one where she’d used to live. The memory of witnessing the body still haunted Marla. It had both disturbed and fascinated Marla − enough for her to become interested in funeral services.
For most people, this experience perhaps would have called them to practicing medicine or working in a field where saving people’s lives is the incentive. What had caused Marla to choose funeral services was her fascination with death, and her desire to help the people who’d been affected as a result of a loved one’s death.
“Ms. James? Are you still there?” the officer said.
“Uh, yes,” Marla responded. She’d been so shocked by the news of the murder she’d almost forgotten she was still on the phone. “Are you sure this person was killed? I mean, could they have died from an accident?”
“Yes, Ms. James, this man’s death was brought on by someone. His neck was slit from ear to ear.”
Marla gasped. She almost dropped her phone. How could this be happening again?!
Years ago, when Marla had the misfortune of discovering a corpse in her neighbor’s apartment, the man had been killed in the same manner. Blood had been everywhere. Marla remembered her mind being unable to process what she’d seen. The man’s body had been draped on the couch, as though he’d been killed in his sleep. One thing was for sure, that man had been taken by surprise.
For a moment she was transported back into her young adult body. She’d climbed her way to the third story of the stout building where she’d lived, her arms loaded down with grocery bags. Panting, Marla remembered dropping the bags at the front of her door before she’d noticed her neighbor’s door ajar. Finding this odd, she’d gone to investigate. That’s when she’d seen the murdered man. At first glance, the sight hadn’t registered in Marla’s brain. It was so horrible her brain didn’t want to accept it as real. She’d witnessed the body at an angle. It’d looked as though the man had been lounging on the couch watching television. Had it not been for the mess of gore spattered all over his shirt and the gaping wound carved into his neck, he’d almost have looked natural.
“Where is this body resting right now?” Marla inquired. Despite the flashback she was experiencing, she knew she needed to keep her composure to complete the removal.
“62 Pillar Drive.”
“What?!” Now Marla was beyond flabbergasted.
62 Pillar Drive was an address she knew all too well. After all, she’d lived there for almost two years.
“Is something wrong, Ms. James?” the officer asked.
The question was somewhat ironic given the fact that a man had been murdered.
“Sorry. It’s just… that’s the address of a house where I once lived,” Marla explained.
“Unfortunately, the landlord has been killed,” the officer stated.
“Reggie is dead?!”
“Yes. Given that you knew the man, we might have some questions for you.”
“Sure. I didn’t know him well, but I’d be happy to help out in any way that I can,” Marla replied.
After hanging up the phone, Marla climbed into her funeral director’s suit and entered the transfer van she’d parked in her designated spot for the night. Because of her job, she was required to be dressed formally for body removals. In the July heat, it certainly wasn’t comfortable to be covered head to toe in black, but this was a sacrifice Marla had to make to show respect.
It was hard for Marla to compute the officer’s words. The man she’d once rented from was now dead in the same manner as the man she’d discovered all those years ago. Oddly enough, the murderer had been caught and imprisoned for life. So, whoever had killed Reggie couldn’t have been the same guy.
He died in the apartment numbered 32, Marla recalled. I’d spent eighty-three dollars and fifty-two cents on my groceries and had been struggling to carry all the bags down the hall to my apartment.
Marla’s photographic memory was both a gift and a curse. A keen memory came in handy for remembering phone numbers, addresses, names, and other important details, but it also meant she couldn’t forget. Sometimes Marla wished she could forgo her negative experiences in life.
The house was more or less how it had looked when Marla had lived there. The only difference in its appearance was a new gate separating the front entrance from the side entrance she’d once used. There had been a flimsy latch on the old gate − one that flew open every time a strong gust of wind passed through.
Police cars were scattered along the side of the road. Marla wondered how much commotion the murder had caused. Additionally, she wondered who’d called the police.
Marla backed the van in front of the old red Mazda she recognized as having belonged to Reggie.
The lights of the house’s upper portion were on. Several people were gathered by the side entrance of the house in front of the gate.
Marla approached the group. It consisted of several officers and a young traumatized-looking woman who was standing off to the side of them. Marla could hear them discussing Reggie’s death in hushed voices.
“This looks like the work of Slasher Saul,” one of the men said.
“He’s been imprisoned for years. It can’t be him,” another officer stated.
“Maybe it’s a copycat murderer,” someone suggested.
Upon Marla’s arrival, all but two of the officers scattered.
“Can we get an outside light on so we can see what we’re doing?” a man called out. He seemed to be in control of the other officers. He was likely the lead detective on the case. In the dark, all Marla could see was his tall, broad stature. Moments later, the front of the house was flooded with light.
“That’s better,” the detective grumbled. Now that Marla could make out his features, she could see his face was heavily lined. “How are we supposed to get this body out of here if we can’t see?” he said in frustration. His eyes were weary and his demeanor was tense. He looked and sounded like the sort of man who’d witnessed too much depravity in his lifetime.
Without introducing himself he addressed Marla. “The removal might be tricky since the body has to travel down a set of stairs. It doesn’t matter which exit you choose, the stairs can’t be avoided,” he explained. He then stared away, with an exhausted look on his face. “You’re the professional, so I’ll leave you to assess the situation. Excuse me.”
The detective left Marla alone with the younger man and the girl. Judging by the girl’s scared demeanor, Marla assumed she’d been the one to discover Reggie’s body.
“I used to live here once, you know,” she said to the girl. “You found Reggie, didn’t you?”
The girl nodded. She said nothing. Marla wanted to comfort her, but she didn’t know how. One of her faults as a funeral director was her social awkwardness. Despite her years of training and experience, she still struggled to display warmth when she spoke with bereaved families. It wasn’t that Marla didn’t experience empathy for others, it was that she didn’t know how to show it. For this reason, some people misunderstood her as being cold-hearted, which wasn’t a positive trait for a funeral director to have.
“This might sound crazy, but I once discovered a murdered body too,” Marla continued. “He’d died in the same way as Reggie. His throat had been slit, resulting in death by exsanguination.”
The girl raised her eyebrows in confusion.
“Exsanguination means bleeding out,” Marla explained.
The girl whimpered and wandered over to the edge of the property. She sat with her arms firmly wrapped around her legs.
“I just should have kept my mouth shut,” Marla muttered to herself.
It was then that the younger officer spoke. “Don’t worry about her. She’ll be okay,” he said. “She was quite composed when answering our questions. Though, that could be because the reality of what had happened hadn’t settled in yet. She discovered the body after returning here from a café where she worked the late shift. I guess the door separating the upstairs from the basement was open. She looked in and spotted Reggie covered in blood and sitting in his armchair. By the way, that man who just left is my superior, Detective Wallobe Wiggins. He’s the leader on this case.”
The man then introduced himself as Dane Read. In the light, Marla could see that he was quite attractive. He had dark hair, a slim build, and gorgeous gray-green eyes. Since the failure of her last relationship, Marla hadn’t been interested in finding a new boyfriend, but Dane was undeniably sexy.
The reason Marla’s relationship with her previous boyfriend had ended was she hadn’t been able to provide him with the attention and care he needed. His name was Harry. He’d been a nice enough guy, but he’d often misunderstood Marla as being careless. Marla wasn’t the sentimental type, meaning she didn’t keep things like birthday cards or drawings people had given her.
Harry once had discovered a poem he’d written for Marla in her trash. Marla hadn’t discarded the poem because she hadn’t appreciated it, but because she had no reason to hang onto it. Harry always assumed Marla had thrown away little poems and drawings he’d done for her because she didn’t love him. No matter how many times Marla had tried explaining this wasn’t true, he hadn’t understood. Eventually, he’d broken up with her. True, Harry had been insecure. Perhaps there would have been nothing Marla could have done differently to save the relationship. Still, she couldn’t help but feel that she could have done better communicating her feelings for him.
“I’d be happy to lend you a hand if you need help transporting the body,” Dane offered.
You could lend me a hand for more than just that, Marla thought.
“I’d appreciate that. Thanks,” she answered.
Because Reggie’s body needed to go down several stairs to be taken out of the house, Marla went to the van for some supplies. She returned to Dane with a tarp, a stretcher, and some gloves.
“Although more stairs are leading down to this side entrance, I think it would be the better option since the front entrance leads out onto the lawn,” Marla said. She handed a pair of gloves to Dane. “It’s not easy to wheel a stretcher over the uneven ground, especially with the added weight of a body on it. The other option leads out behind the gate onto the paved driveway. That will make it much easier for me to steer the stretcher. Besides, my van already is parked on the driveway.”
Dane nodded in understanding. Marla positioned her stretcher by the side door. She left the door open as the two of them entered the house.
They found Reggie’s body caked with blood and lying on a recliner. His complexion was gray. The way the blood stained his plaid button-up shirt reminded Marla of a bib. It looked as though he was wearing a bloody bib. Even more gruesome was the gash across his neck. The cut was so deep Marla could see his trachea poking through.
Despite all the horrific sights she’d seen during her career as a funeral director, it never got easier. Not wanting to dwell on the garish scene, Marla jumped into action.
“I’m going to lay the tarp down at the foot of the chair,” she explained. “I’ll then need you to take his arms. I’ll take his feet and the two of us will slide him onto the tarp so he’s lying horizontally.”
Before Marla could begin the process, she was approached by Detective Wiggins. He started by apologizing for not introducing himself before. “I’m sure you’re familiar with the protocols of coroner’s cases, but just in case, I need you to transfer Reggie to the lab in the city. Do you have their number?”
Marla nodded. Whenever a body was found with no known cause of death, the protocol was for it to be shipped to a forensic lab where forensic pathologists could perform an autopsy to ascertain a cause of death.
“I’ll give them a call first thing tomorrow before I transfer him there,” she told Detective Wiggins.
“Good. Thank you,” he said. “I see you’ve met Detective Dane Read. Nice of you to offer your help, Read,” he said to Dane. He then left them alone to complete the removal.
Marla smoothed the tarp over the carpet at Reggie’s feet. It occurred to her that she’d never once seen the top floor of the house, even while she’d lived in the bottom half. Now that it had been raided by forensic personnel in search of clues, it looked as though Reggie had been robbed.
Dane noticed Marla’s hesitation and said, “If you’re wondering, he wasn’t killed by someone trying to steal from him. The place only looks that way because −“
“You were searching for clues that could explain his death. I know,” Martha interrupted him.
She took Reggie by his ankles. Dane grabbed his wrists. Luckily, Reggie wasn’t an overweight man, but he still was heavy.
“Okay,” Martha said, groaning, “now pull downward and slide him off of the chair onto the tarp.”
The movement of Reggie’s body caused more blood to dribble from his wound. Dane heaved a sigh once they’d managed to position his body onto the tarp.
“Poor guy,” he said. “When we got here the television was on. He’d been watching it when he was murdered. At least that’s what it looked like. Whoever killed him must have snuck up behind him while he was focused on the TV and slit his throat. Again, that’s just what it looked like.”
“The rigor hasn’t set in either,” Marla said. She knelt by Reggie’s body, inspecting the look on his face, which was surprisingly peaceful.
“Unless he was sleeping when his throat was cut, I doubt he would have died with his eyes closed. Someone closed his eyelids after he died. A lot of people die with their eyes open. Because of the chemical change that occurs in the body after it dies, the muscles stiffen, making it difficult to close the eyelids and keep them closed,” Marla explained. “I use something called eye caps to keep the eyelids from coming open.”
Dane blinked at her. There was a moment of awkward silence. Marla wondered if she’d gone too far with her explanation.
“No one from the police department closed the eyes,” Dane said. “That’s interesting. Maybe it was the murderer. I’ll be sure to bring this up to my superiors.” He shivered violently, apologizing immediately afterward. “The idea of a murderer closing the eyes of their victim gives me the creeps,” he said.
“It is creepy,” Marla agreed.
She was trying to hide the pride that was bubbling within her. She ducked her head as she felt her cheeks flush. She’d managed to impress Dane with her knowledge. Perhaps she’d also be able to make Dane laugh. So far, he’d remained stoic and professional. Marla wanted to find out who he was, personally.
“When I was a kid,” she continued, “I just assumed people died with their eyes closed. It freaked me out, later on, to learn that this is not the case. I’ve seen lots of dead people with their eyes wide open. It’s almost as if they’re surprised to be dead.”
“I see,” Dane responded. “That’s, erm, interesting,” he said, although he didn’t sound as though he actually was interested.
I think I’ve just creeped him out, Marla concluded. She swore at herself. Somehow she’d managed to unsettle a homicide detective in the presence of a brutally murdered body.
The tarp that held Reggie had a cloth handles on either side. Marla grabbed one while Dane grabbed the other. Together, they slid him through his living room to the set of stairs that led down to the exit. It was when they reached the top of the stairs that Marla thought of a joke she’d been told by another funeral director she’d previously worked with. She had no idea whether Dane was the sort of person who’d appreciate it, but she decided she’d find out.
“Do you know the term used to describe transporting a dead man on a tarp down the stairs?” Marla asked Dane.
He looked at her curiously. “No.”
“It’s called the luge,” she answered, with a coy smile.
To her embarrassment, Dane did not respond to the joke with laughter. Instead, he continued staring at her as though she’d just committed a social faux pas, which she had.
“You know, because when you do the luge you’re lying flat on your back and riding down…” Marla abandoned her attempt at explaining the joke when she saw the unamused look on Dane’s face. “Never mind.”
Marla swore at herself. I screwed that up! Now he probably thinks I’mthe biggest freak in town!
Often funeral directors made dark jokes to cope with all the grief that surrounded the job. Many other people in her industry would have found the luge joke funny. Dane, however, wasn’t a funeral director. Marla often forgot that most people didn’t have to deal with the dead or bereaved. Therefore, dark jokes weren’t part of their everyday life. Any sort of discussion about what was seen in an embalming room was out of the question for people who weren’t in that industry. Marla often had trouble getting this information through her head.
When it came to dealing with families who just had lost a loved one, Marla’s colleague and friend, Jackie Conrad, was the best. Marla mostly dealt with the embalming side of things at the funeral home, though she wanted to be able to do arrangements. The only thing stopping her was her social awkwardness. She hoped, with a bit of schooling from Jackie, she’d be able to not only deal with the dead, but the living too.
Dane cleared his throat, awkwardly. “I’m going to find a few other people to help us with this,” he announced.
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Marla said. “It would be good to have at least two others to assist on either side of the body.”
Marla had been in many situations where she had been alone when she had to transfer a heavy dead body. She wasn’t at all a weak person. Athletic and lean, Marla was capable of lifting heavy loads. But, realistically, there was no way a woman of her stature could lift a three-hundred-pound man on her own. For this reason, Marla made use of whoever she could find who was willing and able to help. This usually meant security guards and hospital workers.
Dane returned with two other male officers. Both men appeared quite strong, so Marla instructed them to take hold of the handles on the tarp’s upper section, where the bulk of Reggie’s body was. She then told Dane to join her at the lower end. Slowly, they moved Reggie’s body down the stairs.
At the bottom, Marla lowered the stretcher so it was parallel with the ground. The officers helped her lift the body onto the stretcher before assisting her with raising it to its regular height. She thanked them for their help before dismissing them.
“Would you like me to help guide the stretcher to the van?” Dane asked.
“Yes. Thank you.”
Marla was glad Dane had decided to stay by her side. She took his willingness to help her as a sign that her poorly timed joke hadn’t completely turned him off toward her.
“You know,” she said as they wheeled the stretcher down the driveway, “I once walked in on a body that was murdered in the same way as Reggie was.”
“Really?” Dane appeared interested. “It didn’t happen to be the body of −-“
Marla nodded her head. “It was Jared Hopkins, yeah. He was killed by Slasher Saul. I noticed his body because I lived in the apartment next to his girlfriend, Jessica.”
Dane was agape. “I keep hearing about this Slasher Saul from the other detectives. I’m new to this town so I’m not familiar with the case. I only just moved here at the start of the summer to take up a rookie detective position. We arrived here a couple of hours before you did to study the crime scene. We found no signs of a murder weapon or a break-in. I’ve been told this scene bears a similarity to the scene where Jared was found. ”
“That’s right,” Marla said.
She was happy to fill in Dane on the details. She told him that Slasher Saul was a troubled young man who’d killed Jared out of jealousy. Saul was once Jessica’s boyfriend. He’d discovered where Jessica had moved with her new boyfriend and had snuck into the building. Jessica had been out of the apartment for work and had left the door unlocked. Wallsberg never had been known to be a dangerous place, and so people had often left their doors unlocked. Naturally, that all had changed once people learned about Slasher Saul.
“Honestly, if I hadn’t stumbled upon Jared’s murdered body and called the police, I never would have become interested in funeral services,” Marla said to Dane. “At the time I was only eighteen and didn’t know what I’d wanted to do with my life. I did a lot of research about the Slasher Saul case, as well as death and the funeral process. I’d found it fascinating.”
Dane hummed in thought. “I find it intriguing that you coincidentally were summoned to remove a body that was murdered the same way as a body you’d witnessed years ago. Not only that, but it’s also a hell of a coincidence that you used to live here.”
Dane studied Marla for a moment, his hand stroking his chin. She wasn’t sure how she felt about the way he was looking at her. It was almost as if he was suspicious of her. Either that, or he was checking her out. Marla preferred the latter.
“The universe works in strange and mysterious ways,” she said.
The two of them had reached the back of the van. Marla locked the wheels of the stretcher and opened the back doors. The van had a driver’s seat and a passenger’s seat but no back seats. This allowed room for a body. Dane made a move to help her.
“I can take it from here,” she told him. She unlocked the wheels and pushed the stretcher head in until the wheels made contact with the back of the van. She then pushed a lever to collapse the wheels, allowing her to push the stretcher into the van.
“Thanks for your help,” Marla said.
Dane nodded. “You’re welcome.” He reached into the pocket of the police-issued jacket he was wearing, removing a card. “This is the number of the police station, with my extension. If you think of anything that could be helpful to our case, feel free to give me a call.”
Marla accepted the card. She felt hot all over, though it wasn’t a particularly hot night. She watched as Dane walked away. The back of him looked just as good as the front of him.
She sighed dreamily as she closed the trunk and entered the van.
Don’t you worry, Dane, I’ll find some reason to see you again!
Being in the funeral home alone at night was an eerie experience. After years of working in the industry, one would think she’d get used to the feeling, but she hadn’t. As she entered the dark elevator that led to the embalming room, she felt a shiver go up her spine.
The elevator was an industrial one designed to hold heavy loads. Marla and the workers at Oswald Funeral Home used it to transport the deceased, caskets, and other things to different floors of the building. It also was more fun to take the elevator than climb the stairs, in the light of the day that is.
The minute she stepped out of the elevator she flicked on the lights, making the atmosphere much less ominous.
The embalming room where she spent the majority of her time working was a white-walled space with several stainless steel tables. Outside of the embalming room was a room called the holding room. This was where embalmed bodies would remain wrapped in sheets and resting on tables patiently awaiting their time to be dressed and placed in a casket for their service.
Whenever a body was removed, it was protocol for the funeral director who performed the removal to transfer the body onto a table. Seeing as Marla was planning on driving the body to the forensic lab first thing in the morning, she simply wheeled the stretcher into the embalming room and left it. Because she’d taken the van to her place for the night, she could have left the body in the back and gone directly to her place, but there was something about having a dead body in her driveway that made her uncomfortable. That, plus the van being unable to keep the body cool, convinced her the embalming room was the best place for Reggie to rest.
Good thing Speckleman didn’t remove this body! Marla thought as she returned to the van.
David Speckleman was another of Marla’s coworkers. He embalmed quite often with Marla, and she hated it. Speckleman was a lazy worker and he wasn’t particularly bright. If he’d been the one to remove Reggie’s body, he’d have driven directly back to his place with the man’s body still in the van. By the time the morning came, the body would be in advanced stages of decomposition due to the summer heat. Marla knew two environmental factors sped up decay: moisture and heat. If he had done that and the boss had found out, there was no doubt he’d be fired. The only reason Speckleman hadn’t been fired yet was he was good at keeping his devastating short-cuts a secret.
The worst thing about Speckleman was he was able to sit down with families and arrange funerals when Marla wasn’t. He never let Marla hear the end of that. While it was true that Marla was much younger than Speckleman and much less experienced in the field, she knew she could interact respectfully with others. She just needed to practice.
One would think she’d have received the necessary training to interact with families during her internship. Sadly, this had not been the case. One of the requirements to become a funeral director was to complete a year’s internship at a funeral home. During her internship, Marla had been bounced around different places, never able to settle into one before having to switch to another. This had been due to her superiors having a lack of interest in helping her grow. Instead of teaching Marla the right way to do something after making a mistake, she either would be fired for the mistake or forced to quit. Her journey from intern to the licensed funeral director she was now had been a stressful one. She was beyond thankful she’d landed a position with Oswald’s.
Perhaps the best way to perfect her social skills was to sit down with Jackie during a slow day at the funeral home and do a mock arrangement. Jackie would act as the client and Marla the funeral director, guiding her through the service options. All Marla had to do was prove to her employer, Mr. Oswald, that she was ready for more responsibilities besides embalming and removals.
Just don’t make any morbid jokes while discussing options, Marla told herself.
She’d sat in on arrangements before, as well as acted as an assistant during the meetings. Never had she spoken alone with a family. It was discouraging to Marla to think that she was now more than five years into her career and never had been permitted to conduct an arrangement. It made her feel as though she was a social pariah − the kind of person who lived all bent over at the top of a creepy clock tower.
Quit fussing about it! Marla thought.
She now was curled up in her bed trying to fall asleep before she had to get up again. Once Marla was up, she found it difficult to get back to sleep. When she finally did manage to fall asleep, she felt as though she’d only just closed her eyes when she heard her alarm blaring.
With a hefty groan, she rolled out of bed. The beginning of her workday started at nine. It was now twenty minutes after eight.
So much for breakfast.
Marla dressed in her suit, brushed her teeth, and hurried out the door. Every job had its drawbacks. One of those for Marla was having to dress in the same drab attire every day. When she’d graduated middle school and been in search of a high school to attend, she’d purposefully gone with one that didn’t force her to wear an ugly uniform. On the plus side, Marla didn’t have to put any thought into what she was going to wear every day.
She pulled into the funeral home parking lot at the same time as Jackie.
Jackie peered through the back windows of the van. She pulled her sunglasses over her head as she did so.
“Hey, you did a removal last night,” she remarked after noticing the absence of the stretcher.
“You bet I did,” Marla said. “Wait until I tell you about it.”
Jackie took a key out from the pocket in her suit jacket and unlocked the side entrance of the funeral home.
“Looks like we’re the first ones here,” she stated.
The first order of business when coming into work at Oswald Funeral Home was to make coffee. Without a fresh pot ready for the staff to consume, there would be little productivity. Next in the morning routine was turning the phones over to the funeral home, as opposed to Marla’s cell.
Marla always liked to do this to the sound of coffee pattering out from the filter into the coffee pot.
In densely populated areas, such as cities, funeral homes used removal services to do all the night transfers. But, in small towns like Wallsberg, there was no point for a funeral home to pay a transfer service, as night removals didn’t tend to happen quite so regularly. Instead, the staff rotated being on call for the week.
Jackie tied up her frizzy blonde hair and tossed her jacket onto her office chair outside the lounge. Although she was much older than Marla, the two of them got along splendidly.
“Is it just me, or am I having a hot flash?” Jackie said. She grabbed a brochure from a cabinet containing all the spares and began to fan herself with it. “I don’t know how you can wear a pantsuit in this heat,” she said to Marla. “As annoying as it is to wear a skirt, it’s much cooler.”
“You’re forgetting I cut the sleeves off of my dress shirts,” Marla said. She was busy loading the coffee machine with coffee grounds.
“Oh, that’s right,” Jackie said. “I suppose I ought to do that to some of mine. Wearing long sleeves underneath a suit jacket is brutal in the summer. Besides, it’s not like we have to pay for the shirts. Mr. Oswald takes care of that.”
“At least we’re not forced to wear heels,” Marla said. “Loafers and flats are far more practical for everyday wear.”
“Not to mention comfortable,” Jackie added. “I remember when every female funeral director needed to wear skirts and heels every day. It was awful! I rolled my heel all the time. I was also a podiatrist’s worst nightmare. Thanks to those sexist days, I now have to wear orthopedic inserts in all my shoes.”
Marla watched as the steam rose from the coffee machine. After a brief moment of humming, the coffee began to trickle into the pot. Jackie chuckled when she saw Marla staring mesmerized into the depths of the coffee pot.
“I take it last night was a late one?” she said.
“Yes, it was,” Marla replied. “Not only that, but it was also a coroner’s case.”
“While you’re filling your mug, do me a favor and pour me some. Then you can join me at the table and tell me all about it. I take it we’ll be going on a trip to the forensic lab?”
Marla nodded. She presented Jackie with the coffee and took a seat next to her at the table. She then relayed the events of the previous night to her friend. Marla mentioned the time she’d spent as Reggie’s tenant as well.
“I can’t believe what an insane coincidence the whole thing was,” Marla said. “Not only was this man killed in the same way as Jared Hopkins, but it’s also Reggie, my previous landlord!”
“Jesus, Marla!” Jackie exclaimed. “Are you cursed or what?!”
She’d almost choked on her coffee when Marla had told her the man had been murdered with a slash to the neck.
“He was murdered, eh?” Jackie shook her head in disbelief before taking a swig of her coffee. “There’s only ever been one other murder in the history of Wallsberg, and you’ve also been around for that one.”
She wiped the back of her hand across her glistening forehead and huffed. “As much as I love this drink, it sure does make me sweat!” she declared.
“At least it doesn’t make you have to violently release your bowels like Speckleman,” Marla said.
Jackie rolled her eyes. “Oh, God! He won’t be in until the afternoon today. He’s on the late shift with Mr. Oswald.”
“Good!” Marla blurted out.
Her comment made Jackie smile. She was glad to have changed the topic of conversation to something less upsetting than murder. Neither of them particularly appreciated Speckleman. Not only was he lazy and obnoxious, but he also was devoid of manners. Neither of them understood why he was the manager of the personal care center, otherwise known as the embalming room.
“Remember that time Charlotte yelled at him for trimming his nails at his desk?” Jackie said, giggling.
Charlotte was the funeral home’s receptionist. She was an elderly lady who, although retired, had decided to be a receptionist to keep herself from getting bored. As sweet as she was over the phone, in person, she could be crotchety. She also wore far too much foundation on her face. Up close, one could see it caked in all the lines and crevices of her face. Eyeliner and mascara also seemed to be favorites of hers. Not a day had gone by where Marla hadn’t seen Charlotte’s eyelashes looking like the legs of dead spiders. The heavy black lines around her eyes made her appear like a retired member of a goth band. Marla and Jackie speculated that Mr. Oswald let her get away with her appearance because he figured she probably couldn’t see well enough to understand just how poorly she was doing her makeup.
“Where is Charlotte anyway?” Marla asked.
“Late, as usual, I would imagine,” Jackie said.
“Do you think she’s late because of how long it takes her to load on her makeup?” Marla joked.
As if on cue, the two of them heard the opening and closing of the side door downstairs.
“Hello?” Charlotte hollered up the stairs. “Is the coffee on?”
Jackie and Marla shouted ‘Yes!’ simultaneously.
“Finally, someone other than me managed to lift a damn finger around here,” Charlotte grumbled as she climbed up the stairs. She always was mumbling and swearing about something under her breath.
The moment Charlotte entered the lounge, Jackie and Marla took their coffees to go. Neither of them was interested in listening to the old woman drone on about some spot in the funeral home that had hadn’t been cleaned properly.
“Marla and I are off to the forensic lab, Charlotte,” Jackie announced as the two of them passed her. “If we’re not back by the time Mr. Oswald or Speckleman gets here, be sure to let them know where we are.”
Charlotte grunted in understanding.
“The Murder Next Door” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When Marla James discovered a dead body in the apartment next to hers years ago by coincidence, her life was tremendously affected. More specifically, it is after this chilling encounter, that she decides to become a funeral director, a job that she surprisingly still enjoys. Given her peculiar personality and her difficulty in understanding and following the social cues, this role has been a great fit for her. This is exactly why a seemingly ordinary phone call in the middle of the night, wasn’t enough of a warning for the nightmare that was about to unfold before her eyes…
Oddly enough, not only is the crime scene located where she once lived, but she also recognizes the victim, who to Marla’s horror, is her old landlord. To make matters more complicated, she realizes that she has already seen one eerily similar murder in this exact house, a few years ago. Both victims died from a slash to the throat, the killing trademark of a murderer who is already behind bars. Shocked by the gruesome turn of events and the overwhelming memories, she tries to recollect herself and do her duty. However, not long after speaking with Dane Read, the handsome detective investigating the case, Marla is declared a suspect by the police. Out of nowhere, more and more damning evidence is planted against her, giving her only one option…
Inevitably, she will be forced to take justice in her own hands, struggling to eliminate the possible killers herself. However, the more suspects she interviews, the more dreadful secrets she uncovers. As the case’s clock is reaching its final strike, Marla’s chances for exculpation are tragically reduced. Will the dashing Detective fall for Marla’s quirky charm and intelligence and help her find the real culprit, or will he stand by idly, watching her go down for a crime she didn’t commit? Will she manage to get to the bottom of this mystery, swimming through the dangerous obstacles that lurk in every corner?
“The Murder Next Door” is an intriguing cozy mystery novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, just pure captivating mystery.