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Petit Morts #8: One Less Stiff at the Funeral

One Less Stiff cover

One Less Stiff at the Funeral by Sean Kennedy

Series: Petit Morts #8
Length: Novelette - 12,680 words - 47 page PDF
Cover artist: Jordan Castillo Price - see larger cover
ISBN: 978-1-935540-17-5


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Buy the Bundle and Save • Petit Morts Dozen

Hue Tint & Shade, Moolah and Moonshine, Spanish Fly Guy, Pretty Ugly, One Less Stiff at the Funeral, Wishink Well, Happily Neverafter, London Eye, Spirits and Second Chances, Loose Change, Media Naranja, Immortal Coil

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Summary

When he hung his brand new psychology degree on the wall, Jason Harvey had imagined working at one of the many hospitals or clinics in Melbourne. The want ads, however, hadn’t cooperated. Now Jason finds himself facing the newly bereaved across the counselor’s desk of the Newlin Funeral Parlour.

Certainly all people deserve sympathy and patience in their time of loss, but Jason’s current client has him at wit’s end. What’s worse, the deceased has included a bizarre request in her final wishes: that her passing be commemorated…with chocolate.

Things start looking up for Jason when amicable young Fred takes over the funeral coordination duties from his sour aunt, but despite their best efforts to honor the departed in the manner she’s requested, they find the memorial service sliding inexorably out of control….

Excerpt

Jason tried to stifle the yawn that threatened to burst from him without any deference to social or professional etiquette at all. He attempted to cover it up further by taking a sip from his lukewarm coffee, but he almost ended up choking. He set the mug down with an unintentionally heavy blow, making the woman sitting across from him jump.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

Adele Conway was a strange fish. Most people would have asked Are you okay? but she was too formal for that. She sat rigidly on the chair with a perfectly ironed handkerchief held in one hand. One perfectly ironed, perfectly dry handkerchief. Jason had seen many people sitting across from him in what passed as his poor excuse of an office, and none of them were this composed. Usually he was exposed to raw emotional displays every day, but Adele was sizing him up instead, and obviously waiting for him to say something.

“Please continue, Ms. Conway,” Jason managed to choke out. His face was burning from trying to suppress the cough. He wondered how red he looked.

“Miss,” she corrected him. “I never married.”

She didn’t look old enough to be from that generation that cared about such precise gender pronouns, as if using Ms was the equivalent of burning your boyfriend’s draft card along with your bra, but Jason decided not to fight it.  “Miss Conway, sorry.”

“We were talking about Mother’s chocolates.”

“Of course.” And that was weird as well. Mother. Not Mum. Or Ma. Or anything that could be seen as even remotely affectionate. But Adele was no different from any of the other Conways; at least those that Jason had met so far. It was a strange mix of disdain and reserve that seemed to hold them upright. “You want some kind of display?”

“I’m not certain I would say I want it particularly,” Adele said. “But appearances must be maintained. And people always seem to appreciate spectacle. I’m sure that’s probably why she had it written into the will, as just one more thing to have people running around doing for her!”

Jason wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, but he nodded, hoping he had his suitably concerned mask on. Adele was the kind of person who seemed to want you to know exactly how busy she was, how much of her time she spent on other people, and how she never got any thanks for it in the end.

Adele gave a hearty sniff, and wiped at her eyes with her handkerchief. Jason couldn’t help but notice yet again that the eyes and the handkerchief remained entirely dry. Yet he couldn’t silently accuse her of crocodile tears; it just didn’t seem to be her way. He had been waiting throughout their whole appointment for the dam to break, but there must have been some hardy beavers keeping watch over it in her brain. “Mother always liked her chocolates.”

“Don’t we all?” was what he said, and immediately regretted it. It was so easy to overstep the mark with some clients, even with the lightest tone. Most of them wanted you to be as sombre as they were in their darkest moment, and that was what Jason often had trouble with. In fact, he had had trouble with it ever since he started with the Newlin Funeral Parlour.

And Adele Conway was one of those clients. She straightened up, if it was even possible for her to get any straighter, and looked down at her dry handkerchief. Sighing, she closed it away in her handbag, obviously deciding it was going to remain that way and its presence was therefore useless.

“Of course, what I meant to say—”

She waved him off. “May I be blunt with you, Mr. Harvey?”

Jason had been Mr. Harvey to her from the very first moment they had met, even though he had stressed he would prefer to be called by his first name. That had been ignored immediately. “Go ahead.”

“The Conways are not known for their...I guess it would be...emotional displays?”

Jason nodded, even though he had to bite his tongue rather viciously.

“Frankly, when they said it was part of the service here at Newlin’s to deal with a counsellor when making the arrangements for my mother’s funeral, I almost decided to go elsewhere. If I wanted to see a therapist, I would most certainly pay for one who possessed comfortable furniture and didn’t look as if he just graduated from high school.”

Feeling as if he was withering beneath her steady, unflinching gaze, Jason didn’t even really feel like he could argue the point—after all, didn’t he think exactly the same thing himself? He felt like a fraud every time he met with a grieving family member. This hadn’t turned out to be exactly the job he envisioned when he stepped off the stage at graduation with his psychology degree in hand. Jobs were hard to get at a clinic in Melbourne at that point of time, so the advert in the paper calling for a combined counsellor/funeral arrangement assistant had seemed pretty grim, and he’d been sure that the competition wouldn’t be that fierce given the work involved. After all, who really wanted to work in a funeral parlour? It wasn't exactly every kid's dream job. At the very least it would be good enough to tide him over until he decided what it was he actually wanted to do with his life, and then figured out exactly how he was going to achieve it.

Hell, he had even gotten used to the bodies, once he started seeing them as bizarrely life-like wax dummies that smelled a bit too much of cleaning chemicals.

“I may look young—”

“You look fifteen. I don’t know what on earth they’re thinking putting a child in such a position—”

A child? “Ms. Conway—”

Miss!”

Miss Conway, I assure you my age has nothing to do with my ability to plan your mother’s wedding—”

Funeral!” she barked.

Jason could feel his face burning again. “That’s what I meant.” He wished the recent sinkhole in Guatemala had a cousin that would open up beneath his feet and swallow him whole. “Anyway, this is my job, Miss Conway, and I aim to do it satisfactorily—”

Her eyes were lasers that could have destroyed planets.

Beyond satisfactorily. I will do an exemplary job with your mother’s wed—funeral. I promise you that. Now, let’s get back to the chocolates.” Oh, please, God, or whatever god may be out there listening to me, let’s get back to the chocolates!

Adele sighed again. “Chocolate. Mother loved it. And even though she wasn't prone to emotional displays in life, she specified in her will that she would like us to have some at the service to share around. Personally, I think it's a bit bizarre, and I'm not sure if everyone at the service will even participate. Perhaps those people can just take some home—I suppose with your obsession with weddings you would probably think of them as bonbonniere, Mr. Harvey?”

Jason smiled weakly, and accepted his public flogging. “It’s a nice idea.”

“So you think you’ll be able to arrange this?”

Pick up some chocolates? Yeah, I think I’m capable of that. But Jason would have laid money on the fact that Adele would think he wasn’t. She probably had visions of him turning up at the service with a couple of Freddo Frogs and a carton of Cadbury Favourites.

The thought of chocolate made his stomach start to rumble. He hoped Adele couldn’t hear it; it would be another black mark against him. His lunch break wasn’t that far away, and he was looking forward to getting out of the office. Now he was dreaming of Caramello Koalas, and the crispness of the chocolate shell breaking beneath his teeth and the smooth caramel flowing out onto his tongue.

Not right now, though. He could never eat at work. He knew it was stupid, but the proximity of the bodies always made food seem tainted. Some mornings he could swear he tasted embalming fluid in his coffee.

Thankfully, Adele was now on her feet—she had decided their meeting was at an end.

“I’ll investigate the chocolates,” Jason said, “and present you with some options tomorrow.”

She shook his hand. Her grip was firm and unrelenting. “Until tomorrow.”

Jason resisted locking the door behind her.

• • •

Free for an hour—sixty glorious minutes on his own. Jason took a deep breath as he headed outdoors. Sure, he was sucking in a huge lungful of exhaust fumes from the passing traffic and the smell of burning rubber from the nearby tyre factory, but it still seemed better than the chemical-with-an-undertone-of-rotting-flesh that permeated his workspace. Locating a funeral parlour in the 'industrial' part of Moonee Ponds should have affected business, but as the saying went, people always wanted alcohol, and people always died. Pubs and funeral homes were the only businesses that would never go out of business.

Perhaps he was exaggerating about the smell, as he knew it was more of a psychological force than a physical one, but he was always relieved when he got to escape it.

Jason diced with death to get to the other side of the road, lunch weighing heavily on his mind (but not in his stomach) when he tripped over the metal A-frame sign in the street. He threw out a hand, slamming it against the store window to balance himself. The glass shuddered beneath the force of his touch; for one brief moment he had a vision of it shattering and was already figuring out what the cost of replacing it could be, but it calmed itself like a ripple on the water that spreads outward and is seen no more.

Breathing heavily, embarrassed, and just a tad angry, Jason stared at the sign that had almost caused him to crash through plate glass.

It read Sweets to the Sweet, and before Jason could even guess the obvious, the sweet, rich and familiar aroma of chocolate wafted out of the door.

He was still hanging on to the window when a face loomed out of the darkness on the other side and stared at him. Jason jumped back, his heart racing. His heart raced even harder when he took in the finely chiselled features and dark hair of the man looking at him, but this time for another reason entirely. The guy was hot. The face disappeared, and Jason watched it move towards the door.

No longer obscured by glass, it was even handsomer than it first seemed.

“Are you okay?” the young man asked. He was dressed in a red and black chef’s apron with a nametag pinned to his chest, but Jason couldn’t make it out.

Jason could only gape, though finally he remembered to nod. This was not your run-of-the-mill chocolatier. It wasn’t even Willy Wonka, unless it was Willy Wonka by way of the annual Rugby League nude calendar.

“Thanks for not breaking my window. It would be annoying and time-consuming to have to get it replaced. Not to mention expensive.”

Indignation replaced the fire of attraction in Jason’s belly. “I only almost broke it because I tripped over your shitty sign!”

Unperturbed, the chocolatier looked down at the offending article. “It’s in plain sight. Were you daydreaming?”

Jason continued to sputter, but was unable to form coherent sentences.

“Come inside,” the other man said, although he seemed less than happy about it. “The least I can do is buy you a drink.”

That scent of chocolate hit Jason again, and that made it impossible to refuse despite the clerk’s demeanour. “I guess it’s the least you can do,” he grumbled.

The smell of the shop was even better once he was inside. Jason found himself feeling envious, reminded of the reason why he often fled his own workplace. You would never go home at the end of the day from here thinking that you smelled like death. It just increased his resentment of the spunky chocolatier. In any romantic possibility, who would choose the undertaker over the Adonis with the chocolate shop?

“I’m Chance, by the way,” said the chocolatier over his shoulder as he moved behind the counter and set the fold back down into place.

“Jason,” he replied, his attention now captured by the symmetrical rows of chocolate lined up behind the cool glass beneath the counter.

“Is coffee, tea or chocolate your poison of choice?” Chance asked, busying himself behind a coffee machine, which looked slightly outdated in comparison to the modern trappings throughout the store itself. Before Jason could even answer, Chance frowned as he looked him over and nodded to himself. “Scratch that, I have just the thing. Sit down.”

Jason did so, and just as his butt hit the seat his mobile rang. He groaned when he saw Adele’s name flash up. “Jason Harvey,” he said wearily.

“I’ve been thinking about the service,” Adele said, without any pleasantries. “Quite frankly, I think it would be better if you worked with another member of the family. One who is perhaps more amenable to your suggestions.”

From the way she had started, Jason was expecting to be fired. So it was a surprise to discover Adele was actually firing herself.

“Mr. Harvey, are you there?”

Chance was watching him from across the store. Jason expected him to look away, but his gaze remained fixed upon Jason as he continued frothing milk at the counter. “Yes, I’m here. Have I done something wrong, Miss Conway?”

“We just think it might be easier on everybody if Frederick deals with this.

“Frederick?”

Chance grinned as he began pouring from a metal jug, using a spoon to keep the froth at bay. Jason wondered if he should take his call outside, but stayed put.

“My nephew. I’ve given him your cell number, and you can expect a call from him presently. Goodbye, Mr. Harvey.”

She disconnected the call before he could even reply. Formal to the end, Miss Adele Conway.

Jason stuck his mobile back in his jacket pocket. Chance was now carrying a glass on an elegant silver tray to his table. He placed the glass before Jason, who took an appreciative sniff and was calmed by the rich chocolate perfume that managed to overpower even the rest of the fragrances within the store.

“Xocolatl,” Chance announced. “Although it’s a bastardised version of the original drink that was consumed in the time of Montezuma. ¡Ese sí era un hombre!

Jason was about to ask him what he had just said, but Chance didn’t even seem to realise he had lapsed into another language. He opened a small silver box on the tray and sprinkled a pinch of blood-red powder over the top of the beverage. “Chilli flakes,” he continued. “They give it the hit you need. Probably the best kick you can get out of a non-alcoholic drink. You looked like you needed it, especially after that call.”

“Difficult client,” Jason murmured, while wondering how on Earth chilli and chocolate would taste combined.

“I get a few of those,” Chance said.

“Here?” Jason asked, his eyebrow raised.

“My customers often aren’t as sweet as my wares.” Chance lifted the tray and disappeared back behind the counter.

Try working in a funeral home, Jason thought. Your clients are either dead, or you wish they were.

He knew that was harsh. It was just that Adele was getting to him. He took a sip of the Mexican hot chocolate. It was rich and velvety, but tasted just like an exceptionally good cocoa.

Then the chilli hit. He felt it on his lips first, and it spread from there throughout his body, coursing through his veins, warming him from within. If Jason could have looked at himself in a mirror, he would have expected to see his body glow from the diffused heat. A contented sigh escaped him.

“Good?” Chance asked. He had poured himself a cup, and sipped it while standing by the register. Jason thought Chance was undoubtedly experiencing the same burning-lip sensation, but he remained cool and collected. He was obviously used to it; Jason couldn’t even formulate a response, other than a nod.

“Good,” Chance said. “I can tell you’re impressed.”

After his second mouthful, Jason found he could speak again. “I don’t know why this place isn’t filled with customers, if your chocolates are as good as this.”

Chance shrugged. “I haven’t been open that long. Besides, you could say I deal with a specialised clientele.”

Jason had no idea what he meant, and couldn’t press him any further as his mobile rang again. The number was unfamiliar. “Excuse me,” he said to Chance, and hit the screen to answer it. “Hello?”

“Hi,” came a light, breezy voice. “Is this Jason Harvey?”

“Speaking.”

“My aunt Adele gave me your number. I’m Frederick Conway.

Great. He couldn’t even have a Mexican hot chocolate in peace without a damn Conway spoiling the moment. However, Jason turned on his best dealing-with-Adele tone. “Hello, Mr. Conway.”

“Oh God, don’t. Call me Fred.

Jason almost replied with Your aunt wouldn’t like that, but he stopped himself in time. This Fred person was a Conway. He would probably report back to Adele, and then Jason would really be in trouble. In fact, the whole of Newlin Funeral Parlour would be fired this time. And good old Grace Conway would never get her arse in the ground. “Uh, okay, Fred. I take it your aunt told you about our...” he faltered for an appropriate word, “...difficulties?”

Fred laughed, so loud that Jason was sure even Chance would be able to hear it. “I’m surprised you lasted so long with the old chook. The only difficulty in that equation would be her.”

It wouldn’t be right for Jason to join in the laughter, so he gave a sort of uneasy chuckle. “Your aunt suggested that she would like some chocolates to be distributed at the service.”

“Yeah, they’re telling each other some sort of fairytale about my grandmother being a chocolate fiend. If she was, she never let any of us grandkids get a glimpse of her secret stash. The only biscuits she ever had on hand were Milk Arrowroots, and she never even let us butter them because we would enjoy them too much.”

Biting at his nail, Jason could only imagine. Something had to make Adele turn out the way she did. And it obviously skipped a generation, at least judging by the limited interaction he had with Fred so far. “Are you available to come in for a meeting after you finish work tomorrow?”

“I’m actually on bereavement leave, so I’m entirely at your disposal.”

He did not sound like Adele at all—where her voice was crisp and officious, his was honeyed and languorous. Maybe he was adopted. “Is ten o’clock too early?”

“I’ll be there with bells on.”

Distracted by Chance moving behind the counter, Jason closed his eyes with pleasure as another wave of chocolate scent washed over him. “About the chocolate, I may already have something in mind.”

“That’ll make it easier, then.”

“Actually, maybe you should meet me there. It’s a shop called Sweets to the Sweet, and it’s just around the corner from the funeral home.”

“I’ll Googlemap it. See you at ten, Jason.

Jason said his goodbyes, and pocketed his mobile again just as Chance came up to him with a small plate on which a perfectly formed chocolate lay on a square of shiny black paper. “Try this,” he said.

“I couldn’t,” Jason said. “You already gave me a drink, and really, it was my fault with the sign.”

“Just try it.”

Jason did as he was told. The thin shell of chocolate broke easily upon his tongue, and rich cherry and coconut spilled across each and every tastebud. He moaned, unable to stop himself. He had often heard people joke that chocolate was better than sex, and truth be told it had been some time since Jason had gotten laid—but right now, he could believe it. He would pass up an offer of sex for a box of these gastronomic orgasms.

“So good,” he said, pretty sure that Chance could only make out half of it as it was so muffled.

But Chance seemed pretty pleased with himself. “I know they’re good. And it seems your new client sounds much easier to deal with than Adele.”

It was only as he was walking back to the funeral home, that Jason remembered Chance had called Adele by her name. And Jason was sure that he had never once said it in his presence.

But he must have, surely. There could be no other explanation. Jason shrugged it off, and had forgotten about it by the time he sat back down at his desk.

The Whole Shebang

The Petit Morts Series

#1: Hue, Tint and Shade by Jordan Castillo Price
Yellow is as yellow does.

#2: Slings and Arrows by Josh Lanyon
It's a fine line between "secret admirer" and "stalker".

#3: Moolah and Moonshine by Jordan Castillo Price
If you ever go to France, watch out for those ticklers.

#4: Other People's Weddings by Josh Lanyon
Pulling off the perfect wedding can be murder.

#5: Spanish Fly Guy by Jordan Castillo Price
A new twist on liquid courage.

#6: Pretty Ugly by Jordan Castillo Price
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...usually.

#7: Sort of Stranger Than Fiction by Josh Lanyon
They always say to write what you know.

#8: One Less Stiff at the Funeral by Sean Kennedy
Chocolate makes everything better. Even a eulogy.

#9: Critic's Choice by Josh Lanyon
It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was.

#10: Wishink Well by Jordan Castillo Price
You can't get something for nothing.

#11: Happily Neverafterby Jordan Castillo Price
All's well that ends well.

#12: London Eye by Clare London
Give credit where credit is due.

#13: Spirits and Second Chances by Sean Kennedy
The past can come back to haunt you.

#14: Just Desserts by Josh Lanyon
Pick your poison.

#15: Loose Change by Sean Kennedy
If there's one thing you can always count on, it's change.

#16: Media Naranja (Other Half) by Clare London and Jordan Castillo Price
There's someone for everyone.

#17: Immortal Coil by Jordan Castillo Price
Love is more than skin deep.


 

Reviews

I’ll say this about One Less Stiff at the Funeral, you have never been to a funeral where the guests and relatives of the dearly departed had such a rollicking good time. How much fun was it? I’m still chuckling (two days after reading it) at some of the lines and the antics. - Reviews by Jessewave

 

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