The part that's fascinating for me in this one is how my brain takes me to places I don't expect. When I originally thought about the story for this, I envisioned it as an over-the-top crime comedy. Where it ended up is about as far from that as you can get.
The last thing Father Lynch wanted was for any mourners to show up, but there she was. The priest took a quick inventory as she walked in. Average height, hispanic, shoulder length hair in a messy side bun, dressed in black pants topped with a woven teal green shirt, a small black purse dangling from her hand. Overall, a clean, but uninspired look.
The photographer looked up from his camera and stared. They’d been through this routine more than a dozen times and this was the first time anyone had been here other than the priest and the body.
“Excuse me, is this where you’ve got my brother?” The woman walked through the maze of folding chairs that had been shoved aside to make room for two reflective umbrellas.
The priest looked at her, his mouth moving, but it was a full 3 seconds before words came out. “No, ma’am, you’ve got the wrong place. This is a private viewing.” He added a sympathetic look to his face as he moved to intercept her. While not a large man, Lynch easily filled the narrow aisle between the pews.
She stopped in front of him and looked into his eyes. “You’re saying that’s not my brother Ron?” she said. “I saw the notice in the paper. He disappeared almost 5 years ago and, to be honest, I figured he died a long time ago.”
Father Lynch was about to respond, then stopped himself and turned to the photographer. “You can go now. We’ve got enough pictures.”
“You sure? We don’t have as many as you usually need.”
Lynch turned back, locking onto the woman’s brown eyes. They stared at each other silently, as the photographer collapsed the towers of his lighting equipment. It was a small set-up, but still took him a bit of fumbling to carry it all in a single trip. The priest let her slip past as he went to hold the front door open.
The lock clicked as the woman called to him from the casket. “Hmm… I’ll give you credit. He looks a lot like Winston. Not exact, but close enough.”
“Who are you, really? Nothing was in the paper.”
“Sure it was. It was in the paper that showed up on my desk with a big ‘Fraudulent Claim Likely’ note on it.” She reached into the front pocket of her pants and pulled out a business card that she handed to him.
“I’ve been digging for a couple of weeks and the only thing I haven’t figured out is how you find bodies that look so much like the people in the fake policies. The real people’ve always been buried for months, so where do the fresh corpses come from?”
A hint of a smile broke through her anger as she looked into her purse and pulled out her phone. While turning back to the casket, she unlocked the device and activated the camera app.
“Los Angeles is full of actors, Miss Alvarez." Lynch spoke in a calm voice, while loosening the cincture around his waist. "No matter what type of person you’re looking for, an ad in the Pennysaver does the trick.”
Staring intently at the small screen, she zoomed in on the unidentified body in the casket and pressed the shutter button. The flash of the camera was followed by the flash of a satin belt crossing in front of her face.
The pressure on her neck was immediate and tremendous, restricting her airway so much she couldn't even choke out a sound. No matter how hard she tried, it was impossible to get her fingers around the belt or the man holding it as he forced her to the ground. “Every homeless person who dies on the street has at least one doppleganger who will jump at the chance to be in a film shoot. And in this town, no one misses either one them.”
As the investigator’s struggles ended, Lynch dropped her body to the floor and again applauded his own foresight in covering the viewing room with vinyl runners. They were so much easier to clean and replace than carpeting that refuses to let go of all that stray hair.
He stood up and looked at the two bodies.
“It’s going to be a lot harder to do this in reverse, but I’m sure I've got an obituary in my files for someone who can fit the part.”