The Hearse Case Scenario
By Tim Cockey
Published by Hyperion 
February 2002; 0-7868-6711-6; 384 pages

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Hearse Case Scenerio by Tim CockeyChapter One

Apparently I was the first person Shrimp Martin called after Lucy Taylor shot him. It was a Saturday afternoon. Early June. The sun was high and I was low. I had a wicked toothache and I had just gotten off the phone with a guy named Roger, who was taking my regular dentist’s calls while my regular dentist was away at his vacation house in Jackson Hole, poor guy. Roger sounded gung-ho to see me. He was going to fit me in that afternoon, between a root canal and an extraction. Well, good for Roger. Me, I had no gung-ho at all, just the sore tooth. Just before we hung up, Roger had asked me quite earnestly how my gums were. I didn’t know how to answer that question. I was still pondering it when the phone rang.

"Sewell and Sons."

The voice on the other end was raspy and hoarse. Like someone whispering and gargling with glass at the same time. "Who’s this?" it rasped.

"Excuse me?"

The voice croaked again. "Who’s . . . this?"

"You called me," I pointed out. "Sewell and Sons Family Funeral Home. Now. Your turn."

There was a pause. I leaned back even farther in my chair and recrossed my legs, which were up on my desk. Lately, that’s where they had been spending a lot of their time. Up on my desk. Not a lot of people were dying these days. My aunt and I were suffering a beginning-of-summer drought. Currently we had only one customer on ice, down in the basement. Mrs. Rittenhouse, from around the corner. Shakespeare Street. Her next-of-kin was due by any minute to drop off a dress for the viewing. A fact that was about to make this phone call all the more interesting.

 

A hissing sound was coming over the phone, like air going out of a balloon. I asked again. "Who is this?"

"Ssssssssss. . . . Shrimp Martin."

Shrimp Martin. Nightclub owner. Blatant self-promoter. Borderline sleaze. A legend in his own mind.

"Shrimp? This is Hitchcock Sewell. What’s up? What’s wrong with your voice?"

"Lucy," he croaked.

"Lucy?" My heart iced. Nine out of ten people who call me at work are calling to talk about a corpse.

"Lucy."

"Lucy. I got that part. What about Lucy?"

"She’s . . . not . . . here."

I switched ears and glanced out the window. Sam and some kids from the neighborhood were hosing down the hearse. Actually, the kids appeared to be hosing down Sam. Who didn’t appear to be minding much. Sam’s just a big kid anyway. Two hundred and ninety pounds worth.

"Shrimp, why don’t we start this whole conversation over? I’m not looking for Lucy. I didn’t call you, okay? You called me. So what’s up?"

Shrimp sighed again. He sounded irritated. "Who’s this?"

Now I was getting irritated. "I told you. It’s Hitchcock Sewell, Shrimp. What the hell is going on?"

"Lucy," Shrimp said again. "She’s gone. She . . . left me. She --" He interrupted his own sentence with another groan. This one stretched out in sort of a singsong fashion, almost a humming. It sounded as if Shrimp was channeling a tone-deaf drunk. Which was the conclusion I was beginning to reach. Not that Shrimp was channeling, but that he was definitely coming to us from the Land of Liquor.

"What do you mean, she’s gone?"

Aunt Billie had just stepped into my office. She was holding a rat by the tail, at arm’s length. Presumably dead. If not, then faking it nicely. Billie asked, "Who’s gone?"

I palmed the mouthpiece. "Shrimp Martin says that Lucy Taylor has left him."

Billie sniffed. "Lucy Taylor has a brain." Billie leaned sideways and dropped the dead rat into my brass spittoon. I don’t spit. I use it to keep the door propped open. And, apparently, for storing dead rats. I didn’t ask.

"Mrs. Rittenhouse is all done," Billie announced. "Pretty as a picture. I’m just waiting on her dress."

At that precise instant, the front door opened. I could see a pair of arms wrapped around a blue chiffon number. Well, I call it chiffon. I don’t really know these things. It was blue. I made the "voilà" gesture (one-handed version) and Billie floated out to the lobby to do her thing. Shrimp was still gurgling into the phone.

"I’m sorry, Shrimp. I missed that. What were you saying?"

He sounded strained and defeated. "Lucy," he mumbled again. For a man who was refusing to come to a point, he was driving one home nonetheless.

"Yes. Lucy. You just said that she left you. When, Shrimp? When did Lucy leave you?" I was beginning to overenunciate, the way you do when you’re trying to get through to a foreigner. Or a child.

"Half . . . hour."

"A half hour ago? Jesus, Shrimp, come on. A half hour isn’t really an awfully long time."

Billie was coming back into the office. She showed the dead woman’s granddaughter to the chair in front of my desk. The young woman plopped down into the chair, the blue dress bunched in her arms like a bag of groceries. I held up a hand to indicate that I’d be right with her. Shrimp finally got to his point.

"She shot . . . me."

"She what?" I don’t even remember it happening, but my feet were suddenly on the floor and I was standing at my desk. The phone felt tiny in my hand, like it was a child’s toy. My sore tooth exploded with pain. "What are you talking about?"

Shrimp wheezed, "Lucy. . . ." I sank slowly back to my chair as Shrimp struggled to locate enough air to conclude his short sentence. ". . . shot me."

"When, Shrimp?" I said, cocking an eyebrow at my guest. I noticed that there was a smudge mark on her cheek, the ripening of a fresh bruise. "When did she shoot you?"

Shrimp’s answer was depressingly deadpan. "Right before . . . she left."

There was a pause, then he added. "I think I’ve lost a lot of blood."

And the line went dead.

Bad sign.

"Shrimp? Shrimp, are you still there?" I did what they do in the movies. Rattled my finger up and down on the little jiggywazzits where you hang up the phone, then I hung up the phone. The young woman in front of me was shifting the dress in her lap. Her hand emerged from underneath it and she set something blue and ugly on my desk.

"How’s he doing?" she asked.

I steepled my fingers and lighted my chin on the tippy top. Undertakers have a knack for being able to draw their faces into a blank. That’s what I did. Then I reached down with my index finger and swiveled the barrel of the little pistol so that it wasn’t aiming directly at me. We’re also not idiots. Then I resteepled.

"Well Lucy, I wouldn’t say he’s sounding terribly chipper. If that’s what you’re asking."

Copyright © 2002 Tim Cockey
Reprinted with permission.

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Synopsis

It’s no wonder that Publishers Weekly raved about Tim Cockey’s second novel, Hearse of a Different Color, calling it "highly entertaining and well written" in a starred review. Or that Janet Evanovich called his first book, The Hearse You Came In On, "a fun and frantic ride." Cockey’s irresistible hero, Hitchcock Sewell, is fast establishing himself as the most charming -- and good-looking -- undertaker ever to solve a mystery and get beat up in the process.

Cockey’s new novel finds Hitch up to his ears in murders, and the latest clues point to a Baltimore nightclub. Following his nose, Hitch uncovers a host of nefarious goings-on as well as some downright strange characters, including a felonious artist, a Miles Davis wanna-be, an Ida Lupino look-alike, and one very irritated dance instructor. Put them all together, throw in a bag full of cash and an incriminating Polaroid, and you have another surefire, humor-laced hit from one of the freshest voices writing in the mystery world today.

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Author

Tim CockeyTim Cockey has served as a story analyst for such companies as American Playhouse, ABC-TV and Hallmark Entertainment. He also promoted professional opera productions, helped run a farmer's market and edited books about how to get other people to give you money. He grew up in Baltimore and now lives in New York City.

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