76. Undertaker to the Stars

One thing about money.

To quote: It can’t buy everything, it’s true. But it doesn’t have to buy anything at all.

Knowing that it was there, that it was mine, that I had earned it, that was enough.

I did earn it, despite all the accusations I heard later. A confessor, a grief counselor, a sounding board for the venal, the sociopathic, the understandably weary, the selflessly loving, the insane: that was me.

Me as an elegant version of Death itself, knocking on the door, on time to the minute, dripping with gravitas.

On Duke’s advice, I dressed like an undertaker to the stars. Zegna suit, sumptuous wool, hand stitched, silk lined. Shoes concocted by Duke’s mad Italian cobbler, rescued from his closet before Doris cast us back into the wilderness. Shirts that could have been spun from clouds, so bright did they appear, so soft against the skin.

Not that many men would have known the difference. However, my customers were for the most part women. They’d run a hand over my shoulder, slide two fingers down my lapel, sizing me up in a manner that became, soon enough, familiar, expected even. Were they not to lay a hand upon me, feel for whatever it was they needed to confirm, I would have been surprised, suspicious even.

Next their circling around the question, the predictable indirection. I never intervened. I had all the time in the world. An interview a day, never more. However long it took was how long it took.

The stories, oh, they broke my heart, they made me want to run for the door. The world is an engine that will run on baby’s tears or gobs of shit and lose no steam regardless.

I heard, again and again, tales of love that would make you think we are all the product of a generous god who is not happy unless his children wallow in love. The courtships, the long march through child-rearing, those years — golden! yes! — when the children have gone, work is over, the house is quiet, when you enjoy the luxury of looking back over a life together, free of so much, at last, except for the final question. When? Too soon or not soon enough? The answer arriving too often with demented howling in the background, with the hum of an oxygen machine, or with that falsely cheerful chattering of a home health aide in the next room.

And I heard, again and again, the story of abuses large and small. The casual diminishment, the studied insults, the knife slipped so artfully between the ribs. The hand raised, the blow landed. And now, the question: was there not something that could be done? Had she not heard from a friend who knew a friend who knew, well, Jen, that there were steps that could be taken? There were possibilities, weren’t there? Scores could be settled. Upon a finally-powerless crock stuck in a wheelchair, to name one example, or upon a still-inflated titan of industry, bellowing in his Armani suit, hurling directives this way and that. Could I not arrange to… what was the word exactly, they wondered… silence him, in a permanent sense?

I became a significant figure. Money, so often, was no object. And when it was, I was not particularly concerned. There was enough. There was more than enough. The Bitcoins, ephemeral as they might be, imaginary even for all I knew, were a Midas-worthy pile in Duke’s telling.

The idea was enough.

Enough to restore my swagger, domestically speaking. I squeezed those episodes with Jen out of my mind, pretended they didn’t happen. Though it may be true that they were another part of rebuilding what had fallen.

“You’re bouncing, baby,” Doris observed. “I told you.”

“Told me what?”

“We don’t need Duke’s loot. We’re happier without it.”

She stepped on my toes, grabbed my belt, leaned back and laughed. “We’re happy,” she declared.

Which, as I mentioned, was true until it wasn’t.

Monday: More impossible than keeping a secret?

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