"P1 to P2. Bag lady on Fifth and Elm. Over."
"P2 to P1. Got it. Over."
"P1 to P2. Caution. Armed and dangerous. Got a purse and she's not afraid to swing it."
"P2 to P1. I know the type. What's she wearing?"
"P1 to P2. Head to toe black. Shoes, dress, hose, hat, veil, hair, lips, eye shadow."
"P2 to P1. Are you for real?"
"P1 to P2. She's a walking morgue. What can I say?"
"P2 to P1. Anything else?"
"Don't let her low profile fool you. Her eyes can kill. So can her breath. This gal eats wimps for lunch. Get my drift?"
"Point well taken. And once she's sighted?"
"You know what to do."
"And what's that?"
"Take her down."
"Copy." The pallbearer repinned the yellow carnation mike to his purple zoot suit, which matched his violet hat. He adjusted his bright yellow tie with the blue forget-me-not design, looked out the parlor window, and smiled. Today was a glorious day for a sting.
Henry Smith stood at the front door of the Church On a Hill dressed in bright blue pants and coat, Hawaiian shirt, and pink polka-dot penny loafers. Did he ever stick out against this bright white canvas, framed by forest green and scented lilac! A crisp wind blew about the tiny mount, bringing to his nose the smell of fresh mown grass - a sign of seeds long dormant come to life. That and a little horse manure. Yes, sir! Spring was in full swing, as anyone could see. And boy did he feel stupid!
"It's what she would have wanted," he told himself. "No matter how wild, I must do it." As if somehow it would atone for the stink-a-mink ordeal he'd put her through.
He turned the handle, walked inside, then tiptoed down the mushroom carpet leading to the front of the sanctuary. Pad, pad, pad, ever so softly toward the open casket where his wife knelt in prayer, clothed in a red and white candy-striped blouse with a blue hoola-hoop skirt and a long, frilly hat. Looking almost as clownish as himself.
Well, at least they were in this thing together. Two fools for the Lord, as crazed as crazed could be. Empowered by this new cool attitude, Henry bounced forward, adding a sprig to his step. Halfway up the aisle his shoe snagged the carpet, landing him flat on his face.
The nose took the brunt of the blow. And made him madder than a wet rooster.
"Someone get a doctor! Call an ambulance! Hire a lawyer! Fetch a carpenter to take up this nasty rug! Rrrr, why do these things always happen to me? "
"Shhh!" His beloved Mabel held a finger to her lips. "This is the house of God. Someone might - ..." She turned her head to face her husband.
Whoa! Who put that big red cherry on his nose? Mabel didn't mean to, but she couldn't help rolling.
"That's right!" roared Henry. "Go ahead and laugh. It's starting in an hour and I'm nervous as a seagull on a tightrope. I've got the strangest feeling, as if someone sinister was plotting to blow this place up or something."
"That's just your nerves," replied Mabel. "The villain in question never got an invitation, and unless we have a traitor in our midst there's no possible way she could have found out about this little get together. Besides, the pastor here has a good head on his shoulders. He knows all about our situation. I'm sure he's got it covered."
"Yes, but - "
"Besides, we must respect Faith's wishes. She's with the Lord now. And what would He say if he saw that sour look on your face? Besides, our oldest son Tom will soon arrive with the rest of our brood. Do you want them to see you acting like Mister Grumpy Pants?"
"Oh, all right. Since you put it that way, I'll behave." He put on his best plastic smile. "Happy?"
"Oh, stop it, or I'll put curlers in your hair."
Henry sighed. Even universal health care had its limitations. Especially at times like this.
The pews were packed with first time visitors, most of whom avoided church like the plague. Except when it came to funerals. Then they came swooping in like vultures, ready to sing the praises of the very dead whose lives meant nothing to them while they were living.
Most of them respected Faith's desire to treat her death as a celebration of new life. To make her funeral a regular costume ball. An adventure reminiscent of Cinderella, symbolic of the bride of Christ, eagerly waiting to meet her long-awaited prince for the first time. Needless to say the women liked that idea better than the men.
Except for Bag Lady with the killer purse, who slunk into the back of the sanctuary just as the service was beginning, secret weapon armed and loaded. Just in case the minister tried anything funny.
Behind her skulked a man known as the Hunchback, draped in gray and looking like a turtle trying to duck into its shell.
After a time of worship, which Bag Lady and Hunchback grumbled their way through, Pastor Harold Faintnot took the podium, addressing the crowd like friends, not mourners. After a word of prayer, he opened his Bible and began.
"Our text today comes from the eleventh chapter of the gospel of John. Many of you may know the story. It begins with two sisters, Mary and Martha, who were good friends of Jesus. As for Martha, she was the entertainer of the two. And Mary, she was the perfumer. Imagine that. It was a happening family. A family that liked to party. To have fun. Just like we're doing today -and at a funeral of all occasions."
Bag Lady gnashed her teeth in Hunchback's ear, mumbling, "I don't like where this is headed." She clutched her purse and smiled, feeling the brick press through the fabric. "That minister had better behave himself or else."
"Or else what?"
"Or else he'll pay."
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