“Crap,” Holly muttered, staring down at the sheaf of papers she’d just stepped on. The small disc stapled to the top corner told her that it was the paperwork for one of their clients. It included the burial permit, the coroner’s certificate, the application for cremation and the coversheet with the client’s name and info . . . and it should have been given to John Byron when he arrived to start his shift at 4:30 that afternoon. Obviously, it hadn’t. This bundle must have fallen off her desk at some point that day.
Holly continued to stand there for several seconds, simply staring at the bundle. She didn’t even remove her foot, because once she did, she’d have to do something about it . . . like take it to the crematorium . . . and she really didn’t want to go down there. Not at this hour. Making the trek during the day was one thing, but it was just past midnight now. She’d have to make her way through the graveyard to get to the building that housed the chapel; the columbarium, where the urns rested; and the crematorium, where the bodies were stored and waiting for their turn at the retort.
Retorts is what the owner of Sunnyside Cemetery, Max, had called them when he’d given her the tour the day she’d started. He could call them what he liked, but retort was just a fancy word for the oven where they burned the bodies.
Shuddering at the thought of the coffins shelved in the cooler, Holly closed her eyes briefly. A popular game here seemed to be to freak out the new worker with tales of the “ovens.” Jerry, the day technician, and John, who took the evening shift, as well as her boss, Max, and even Sheila, the receptionist, had all told her one horrific tale or another. But the most memorable was John telling her how the coffins burned away first and the corpses sometimes sat up inside the oven, muscles contracting in the heat and mouths agape as if screaming in horror at their doom. That image had stuck with her, convincing Holly she really didn’t want to be cremated. In fact, she’d decided dying was to be avoided at all costs if possible.
Sighing, she opened her eyes and peered at the papers, wishing she could pretend she hadn’t seen them. After all, in the normal course of events, she wouldn’t have found them until morning. She shouldn’t be here now except she’d got home after work, made dinner and looked for her purse to get her blood tester to check her sugar levels, but hadn’t been able to find it. Thinking she’d probably left her purse in the car and not wanting dinner to get cold, she’d decided the blood test could wait. Of course, by the time dinner was finished, she’d forgotten all about it . . . until she was brushing her teeth before bed. She’d been halfway done when she’d remembered.
Pulling on her trench coat over her pajamas, Holly had hustled out to the car in her slippers to retrieve her purse . . . only it hadn’t been there either. That had stymied her briefly, and she’d stood in the cold garage for several moments, trying to think where it might be. She’d had it at work when she’d paid Sheila for lunch, Holly recalled. She then tried to bring up a memory of slinging it over her shoulder as she left work, but instead remembered that her hands had been full of tax forms and receipts . . . no purse. Holly hadn’t noticed at the time because her car keys had been in her coat pocket.
After wasting another few minutes debating whether she could just skip testing that night, she’d slouched with resignation and got in the car to drive back to work. Missing one test once in a while wasn’t that bad, but skipping two in a row wasn’t good. Besides, the cemetery was only a ten-minute drive from her home. It simply wasn’t worth risking a diabetic coma.
Of course, Holly thought now, if she’d realized that coming back would mean having to make a trek through the graveyard—in her pajamas no less—she might have risked the coma.
Grimacing, she bent and snatched up the papers. There was nothing for it, she would have to drop them off before heading home. Otherwise, the cremation wouldn’t happen until tomorrow or the next day, which could be a problem depending on when his service was scheduled to take place.
Clasping the papers firmly in one hand, Holly slung her purse over her shoulder with the other. But as she headed out of the office, she couldn’t help thinking that life would be a lot easier if she were a little less conscientious. Being a responsible type person was really a pain in the ass at times, she thought as she stepped outside and dug her keys out of her pocket.
The funeral home key was easy to find despite the dark night; it was on its own ring. It was also shiny and new, though that was hard to tell in this light. She’d only received it last Friday. It was now Monday. Why did a brand-new and temporary employee have a key to the company? The answer to that was simple enough: because her coworkers weren’t as conscientious and responsible as she was. During her first week there, Max hadn’t shown up much before noon even once, and Sheila, the receptionist who also happened to be Max’s daughter, had been late three times. The apple really hadn’t fallen far from the tree with those two.
On Friday, after twiddling her thumbs in the funeral home parking lot for over an hour and a half for the third morning that week, Holly had let some of her irritation show when Sheila finally arrived. She’d also suggested that perhaps she should start later in the day rather than waste her time and their money sitting in the parking lot waiting. Sheila had what she considered to be a better solution—she’d gone out and had a key made for her. Now Holly could get in on time.
She’d like to believe that it was her conscientiousness and responsible nature that had led Sheila to give her the key, but knew the truth was it was pure laziness and convenience. So long as Holly had a key and could open the office on time, Sheila could be as late as she liked. The other woman had proven that today, when she hadn’t shown up until lunchtime, and then it was with lunch for them both that Holly hadn’t wanted but had paid her back for her half anyway.