“I really appreciate you doing this, padre.”
Father Pryce still looked a bit skeptical. He shook the offered hand, for certain, and the money Timothy had given him was a welcome contribution to the church. Still, it was something Pryce had never done before. Tim handed the priest a case containing a syringe, shrugging out of his coat once Pryce took it. As the priest lifted the device, the man in the casket rolled up his left sleeve and turned his arm over. Shaking his head, Pryce watched as Timothy prodded the inner surface of his arm, up by his elbow, and his finger stopped on a prominent vein.
“You know I’m not a doctor or a nurse, Timothy.”
“I’ve had training, and I can walk you through it. Just place the tip of the needle just under my finger.”
Pryce obeyed. “Like this?”
Timothy nodded. “Good. Now, tell me there will be a slight pinch, and gently apply pressure with the needle, without pressing the plunger.”
“Um. There will be a slight pinch.”
Timothy chuckled. “Great bedside manner, Father.” He didn’t wince when the needle pierced his skin, but nodded after a moment. “Okay. It’s in. Push the plunger.”
The translucent, green fluid disappeared down the needle as Pryce pressed the plunger. Once it was gone, Timothy talked him through removing the needle and applying a bandage. He rolled his sleeve back down and put his jacket back on. He relaxed, laying back in the casket, his eyelids already heavy. Pryce gently closed the casket, turned to his pulpit, and went over his notes and words.
Family walked in, paying the respects. Friends kept towards the back. Finally, three men entered. Two were very tall and broad, not removing their sunglasses as they flanked the shorter, older man in the middle. The old man smiled beatifically at Father Pryce.
“I understand that the deceased met with a very violent end,” the newcomer said.
“That’s right,” Father Pryce replied.
“May I see him?”
The priest blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“Got a hearin’ problem, padre?” This came from one of the older man’s… well, “goons” was the word that came to Father Pryce’s mind.
“Do you know who this is?” The other one took a step towards him. The old man held up his hand.
“I’m Antonio Firenze. This man was one of my employees. He also was endebted to me. I have encountered situations where people in Timothy’s position have done elaborate things to avoid my ire. I can make a significant donation to your church if you just open the casket for a moment. I would rather not make things uncomfortable on the off chance you make the other choice.”
Father Pryce swallowed. He did, indeed, know who Antonio Firenze happened to be. He looked out over the family and friends in the pews, mostly talking to one another and listening to the organist, then turned towards the casket, blocking the view from the pews to the sanctuary. He gently lifted the lid of the casket, turning slightly to let Antonio approach.
“Ah. There you are, Timmy.”
Timothy was completely still, and unnaturally pale. There was an odd, jagged wound on his forehead, over his left eye, stitched shut with what looked to be a fair degree of difficulty. Father Pryce swallowed.
“The undertaker tried to make him presentable. When I showed his mother, she asked for a closed casket.”
“Hmm. I can see why.” Antonio leaned down and pushed on Timothy’s shoulder. When there was no response, he did it again. Finally, after a moment, he reached back and slapped Timothy across the face. Timothy didn’t move, but revealed some blood and gore spattered on the pillow holding his head. The goons stepped back.
“So. He does seem dead.” Pryce lowered the lid as Antonio reached into his suit coat for his handkerchief and wiped his hands. “I apologize, Father. Thank you for indulging me.”
The men retreated from the altar, and Father Pryce got the service going in short order after that. The pallbearers took the casket out of the church and into the hearse. The procession to the graveyard was slow, often interrupted by cross traffic, and it was late afternoon by the time Father Pryce supervised the lowering of the casket into Timothy’s grave, with Antonio Firenze and his goons looking on.
Following the service, Pryce retired to his rooms in the rectory. It was the dead of night, half past midnight, when he took Timothy’s cellular phone out of his desk and used an application to summon a car. He wasn’t entirely sure how it worked, only that there would be no record of his phone or the land line from the rectory calling a taxi service.
From the back of the car, Pryce kept glancing over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t being followed before the car left him at the gate. The grave was far back from the road, and the earth was fresh. Pryce left the car, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and picked up one of the shovels the groundskeeper had left behind. It was long, grueling work, and he still was on the lookout for anyone approaching. But, knowing what was at stake, he persevered, until his shovel hit wood.
He placed the shove out of the grave and opened it. Timothy removed his oxygen mask and smiled, taking the hand offered to help him out of the casket. He removed the makeup from his head and tossed it into the casket. Pryce did the same with Timothy’s phone. Together, they re-filled the grave.
“Will you be all right?”
Timothy walked with Pryce towards the gate. “Yeah. I have a locker at the train station with a change of clothes, some cash, and documentation. The Feds will be contacted once I’m safely away. What about you?”
Pryce shrugged. “Public transit. I don’t mind riding the bus home.”
They shook hands, and Timothy walked away into the night.