Good Night, Sweet Prince: Part Two

Submitted by C B Wright on
Curveball, by Christopher Wright
Park Slope United Methodist Church, Brooklyn

“This is sick,” Jenny mutters.

The sidewalks are so full of people CB can’t imagine how anyone is able to breathe in those crowds, let alone move. Lined up along the curb are the paparazzi, jostling with each other and with the occasional aggressive tourist in an attempt to get a money-making shot. Police are everywhere, trying to keep the crowd on the curb so that cars can continue down the street unimpeded. This is met with only mixed success: as often as not a car is mobbed by photographers, and the streets are gridlocked until the police can wade in and force open a path.

This is for a wake, CB thinks.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “Pretty sick.”

“I hope Mom and Dad made it through,” Jenny says. She grips the steering wheel so tightly CB can see the veins in the backs of her hands rise up.

“They’ll be fine,” CB says. “And so will we.”

They inch their way up 4th Avenue. CB keeps his eyes forward, pretending not to notice the chaos on the sidewalks. He thinks he sees a street vendor selling merchandise that he’s positive Alex’s estate never licensed or authorized. He resists the urge to get out of the car and make a scene.

A piece of the crowd behind them swells, and a mass of photographers break free, rushing to surround the car behind them. The car ahead of them turns left and there’s a gap in the road. Jenny sighs in relief and accelerates, leaving the crowd behind as a new group of police dressed in riot gear descends on the mob of photographers, trying to force them back on to the curb.

“It’s a nightmare,” Jenny adds. “And it’s not right. A funeral shouldn’t be treated like a Hollywood premier.”

“This isn’t the funeral,” CB points out. “It’s a viewing. And the public isn’t allowed in, so there’s a lot of interest in it. The funeral itself won’t be an issue. We’ll all be traveling together and the route’s already set. This is nuts because we’re all arriving separately.”

A few seconds later he adds “though it’s times like this I wish I could fly.”

Jenny snorts. “You’d abandon me?”

“In a heartbeat.”

CB tugs at his collar. It feels about half a size too small. He unbuttons the top button and tightens his tie a bit.

“That never works,” Jenny says.

“What never works?”

“The whole ‘I’ll tighten my tie so no one will notice I unbuttoned my collar’ thing. Everyone knows.”

“Good to know,” CB says. He loosens his tie. “This is the first time I’ve worn a suit in… a long time.”

“Oh? When was the last time?” Jenny’s voice turns playful. “Mom and Dad’s wedding?”

CB shakes his head. “It was another funeral.”

They fall silent.

The traffic and the crowds thin a bit as they near the police checkpoint. 8th Street is blocked off with police cars and glow-paint sawhorses. CB sees Pete Travers talking to one of the police officers. He looks tired.

Jenny drives up to the blocked off road and rolls down her window. An officer leans down to look in the car.

“We’re family,” Jenny says.

The officer looks up at Travers questioningly. The officer he’s talking to nudges him, who glances over quickly, recognizes the car and its occupants, and nods once. The officer at the car waves at some of the other men who pick up the sawhorse and move it aside.

“Up two blocks on the left,” the officer says. “You’ll see all the cars lined up on 6th Avenue. Someone will show you where to park.”

“Thank you officer,” Jenny says, and they turn onto 8th Street. She sighs in relief as the crowd drops away.

Normally 8th Street is a one way street going the other direction. It’s a pleasant drive. Charming row houses line one side of the street, the other side looks like something is being either built up or torn down… it’s a mix of concrete buildings and empty, dirt-filled lots. Cars line the side of the street along the residential areas.

CB winces. “I feel sorry for the folks who actually live here,” he says.

“I’m trying not to think about it,” Jenny agrees. “Great-grandfather loved this church, and the neighborhood. And they get locked down because of it.”

“And there’s… I guess there’s a school next to it?”

“Across the street,” Jenny says. “Yeah. They shut it down today. Because schoolkids are a threat to national security.”

“Well,” CB says, “I was.”

Park Slope United Methodist Church is a small community church located on the corner of 8th Street and 6th Avenue. It looks vaguely old to CB, with an a-framed roof, arched windows (complete with stained glass), and something that looks like battlements atop the bell tower. It’s the church Alex attended for the last twenty years, but it’s not used to the amount of attention it’s receiving. Law enforcement is everywhere: local, Federal, even the Secret Service. There are police posted outside each of the red doors leading into the church. There are police keeping watch over the church’s garden, enclosed in a wrought-iron gate sitting to the right of the church.

In front of the church is a long line of cars, starting with the hearse. Behind it they see a black car with government plates.

“That’d be Uncle Toby,” Jenny says. Her voice is studied neutrality.

“What’d you expect?” CB says. “He’s a Senator. I see your Dad’s car. And Andy’s. And it looks like we’re going to get valet parking.”

A man in a dark suit wearing dark sunglasses runs up to them, waving his arms. Julie stops the car and unrolls the window.

“I’m Agent Fredericks,” the man says. “If you don’t mind, we’d like to go ahead and get you inside as soon as possible. You’re Mr. Forrest’s daughter?”

Julie nods.

“Well, just go on in. I’ll get your car in the line.”

“Thanks,” Jenny says. They get out of the car, the agent hops in and her car pulls away as they go into the church.

It’s a private affair, but it’s a large family and an even larger extended family. The narthex is full of people standing around in small groups, talking in low voices. They’re greeted at the entrance by a harried-looking man wearing a long black robe and a purple sash.

“Welcome,” he says. His voice is tired, but kind. “He is in the sanctuary, if you would like to pay your last respects.”

“Thank you,” Jenny says. CB shifts his weight uncomfortably and looks away.

The double doors separating the narthex from the sanctuary are open. The sanctuary is softly lit, the pews are dark and mostly empty. The coffin sits in front of the podium, positioned lengthwise down the aisle. A lone figure, his back to the sanctuary door, stands beside the body.

Julie grabs CB’s arm and tugs urgently. “They brought grandfather.” Her voice is strained. CB looks at her, then looks to where she’s pointing.

Off in a corner of the room is an old man with thick, white hair. He sits in a wheelchair, and a young, pretty nurse stands next to him trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. The man stares around him with a blank, slightly bewildered expression on his face.

“Why is he here?” Jenny asks.

“How could he not be here?” CB says. “It’s his dad’s funeral.”

“He doesn’t know that!” she says fiercely.

“How do you know?” CB says. “How does anyone know? I can’t think of a single reason to keep him away.”

“It’s just…” Jenny sighs, frustrated. “It’s going to hurt mom. Again. And if he’s not going to understand what’s going on, I just don’t see any reason for him to—”

At that moment a side door opens, and men in dark suits enter the room. They’re with the Secret Service, and a moment later a distinguished looking man with dark, gray-tinged hair enters, followed by a camera crew.

CB suppresses a scowl. “There’s your uncle,” he murmurs to Jenny. “And he brought his own press.”

The room quiets down. People awkwardly move aside to let the Junior Senator from New York through. He sees his father, hesitates a moment, then spies Martin and Juliet standing at the other side of the room. He flashes a brilliant, practiced smile and walks over to them.

“I guess I should say hello.” Jenny's voice is flat.

“I think your mom and dad would appreciate the assist,” CB says. “I’m… going to pay my last respects.”

Jenny mutters something that sounds like lucky bastard and reluctantly walks over to her parents. CB walks into the Sanctuary.

He doesn’t want to be there, but he doesn’t want to be there less than he doesn’t want to be in the other room, where the most self-serving politician CB has ever met is making sure his re-election campaign gets plenty of images of him commiserating with his family over the loss of the man whose name he spent his entire career profiting off of. The coffin is open, so he has to move around the right side to look in. The man standing at the coffin is at the head, blocking off CB’s view.

“Excuse me,” CB says.

The man steps down the aisle immediately, turning as he does so he can continue to regard the body. He’s an older man, in his mid-sixties. He’s a refined, elegant man, a little shorter than average, with sharp, bright eyes. His snow white hair is thinning but not gone. There’s something vaguely familiar about him.

“Ah,” the man says. “Curveball. I apologize, that was thoughtless of me. I was… lost in memory.”

An alarm goes off in the back of CB’s head. He stares at the old man, hard, trying to figure out why. “Have we met?”

“Oh yes,” the man says, “many times I daresay. Of course, we were much younger. Well. I was much younger. That’s terribly unfair of you, I must say.”

“That seems to be the general consensus,” CB says. “And you are…?”

The man raises an eyebrow. “Ah, yes, well. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m… out of uniform. Artemis LaFleur. A pleasure as always.”

CB tenses. “LaFleur.”

The old man raises his hands in a placating fashion. “I come in peace,” he says. “I genuinely mean no ill will to anyone here in this place. I have come to pay my respects to the greatest man I have ever met.”

CB studies the old man for a moment, then shrugs. “I thought you were taller.”

“I might be,” LaFleur says.

CB snorts, then looks down. His retort is abandoned the moment he sees the body.

He’s familiar with the cliche “he looks like he’s sleeping” but he’s never actually seen a body that looks like it was sleeping. It wasn’t true the last time he was at a funeral of a good friend, and it isn’t true now. Nonetheless, he’s astonished. There’s no question that he’s looking at a corpse, but even in death he can see Alex. His jaw is still set the way it was when he was about to go into a tough fight, with one corner of his mouth turned up ever so slightly, as if he were tempted to mock his enemy but was too polite to actually do it. And although CB knew that Alex had been shot in the head, he could find no trace of the wound anywhere.

“I don’t know who prepared the body,” LaFleur says quietly, “but whoever it was did an outstanding job.”

CB nods wordlessly.

A moment later LaFleur sighs. “It seems the Senator has decided to view his grandfather’s body. I suggest taking one of the side doors out into the narthex so you can avoid his… entourage.”

“I don’t have any beef with the Secret Service,” CB says.

“I was referring to his ego,” LaFleur says.

CB smirks. He doesn’t want to, but he can’t help it.

“Curveball.”

CB looks up to see LaFleur studying him, hand outstretched, holding a business card.

“I don’t need to be who I am to know what you’re planning to do,” LaFleur says. “I can tell you that none of my associates are involved. I’ve looked into it personally. I don’t expect you to… trust me, not yet, but the deeper you look into it the more you will, I think. Over time. In this matter at least.”

CB reaches out to take the card from LaFleur’s hand. It’s a business card, but completely blank. A phone number is written at the bottom in clean, sharp lines.

“My inability to learn anything at all carries certain implications that don’t sit well with me,” LaFleur continues. “With that in mind, and out of my deepest respect and regard for the man who lies before us, should you need… assistance, and find you lack resources from the traditional quarters, please do use this number.”

CB stares at the number, frowns, and puts it in his shirt pocket. “I’m gonna hope it doesn’t come to that,” he says. “No offense.”

“None taken,” LaFleur replies, then disappears into thin air.

CB hates that trick. He takes the side door out.

Comments

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Missing "at"

the last time he was at a funeral

This is a seriously awesome

This is a seriously awesome story. I rarely make it through web serials, even good ones, because I have trouble reading from the screen, but you've got me totally hooked here. Fantastic stuff.

But I also have to mention (because I'd want someone to tell me if I did it) -- you switch from calling the great-granddaughter "Jenny" to "Julie" about midway through. Look for the line "Julie stops the car and unrolls the window."

Ack!

Well, I'll need to fix that. :) I got the mother and daughter's names confused.

Thanks for reading! Glad you're enjoying it.

UPDATE: Fixed the name problem.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Just discovered this story

Just discovered this story yesterday (via Legion of Nothing) and have to say I'm loving it so far! One minor nitpick though: " There are police keeping watch over the church’s garden, enclosed in a wrought-iron gate sitting to the right of the church." Should it be fence rather than gate? I don't think a gate can enclose anything.

Yeah... you're right. Should

Yeah... you're right. Should be fence. Now I have to decide whether or not to update it, or have it be one of those "things that are wrong but it's too late to do anything about it" things. (You'll find a few more of those if you read on, heh.)

Thanks for reading!

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.