Some bloke in Queensland makes ten thousand a time for doing this.
I did it because a client asked me too.
My client was also a friend, but it would take too long to explain that friendship and I’m not sure my heart could go there at the moment.
I’d worked for William Armstrong on several occasions since the first time I met him.
We were both at a wedding with women we would not stay with for long — the story of my life until I met Scarlett.
My ‘plus one’ was prettier than his.
We got talking when we worked out that we both preferred whisky — Scotch, single malt. The open bar at this wedding didn’t stretch that far, but basic Scotch was better than the lolly water the girls were ordering.
William was about to take over his father’s business after having worked in the company since he left his expensive private school in year twelve. He skipped university and jumped right in.
“I disliked school with a passion. I wanted to be out in the world, doing stuff,” he said between sips of whisky. The whisky didn’t deserve to be sipped, but good habits die hard.
“I felt the same way you did, but I didn’t want to disappoint my mentor, so I finished uni,” I said, and my heart hesitated at the thought of ‘Nelly’ Touraville. I miss him so much.
“What are you going to do when you are running the show?” I said.
“Pretty much what my father has done, but I’ll put my own spin on it when the time is right.”
If you are wondering what tasks I performed for William over the years, there was a bit of industrial espionage — finding out what his competitors knew. A bit of tidying up when things went wrong. Dealing with an employee who believed that he could get rich quickly by selling back proprietary secrets that he had ‘light fingered’.
As with all business owners, William was surrounded by people who were out for what they could get — nothing surprising about that.
When he got his terminal diagnosis, he rang me and asked for a meeting.
I sat in Young and Jackson’s on a dreamy Thursday afternoon after getting off the train at Flinders Street Station — I hate parking the Jag in the city.
A few early finishing workers had wandered in and were chatting away, waiting for the beer to wash away the day’s worries. I watched them with interest.
William approached my table, looking drawn.
I waved at the barman and pointed at my beer and made the ‘two beers’ sign recognised by barmen all over the civilised world.
The beers arrived, and I asked William how he was and what he wanted to talk about.
“I’m buggered and I want you to do something important for me.”
“You know I will,” I said.
“The cancer is back and there’s no hope.”
“Bloody hell. What do you mean no hope. There’s always hope. You’ve got enough money to start your own country. Someone, somewhere…..?”
“No,” he said, and he meant it.
We sat quietly for a few moments, and I let it sink in. Now I understood why he looked so haggard.
“When they bury me, I want you to speak for me,” he said.
“What? Like a eulogy?”
“No. Someone else will do that. I want you to speak for me. I want you to say all the things I couldn’t say when I was alive.”
“You aren’t dead yet, mate. Plenty of time to tell people what you want them to hear.”
“Even if there was time, and there isn’t, I don’t have the strength. I’ve never been good at confrontation. You aren’t frightened of anyone. You speak with a clear heart and I need that.”
“Beer isn’t going to do it. Can I get you a whisky. They do a Lagavulin 16 here?”
When the whisky arrived, I gave a toast, “To life, what there is left of it.”
William laughed, “To life.”
The beer had given us a good head start, and the whisky was moving us along.
“So, what do you want me to do?” I said.
William reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. Handwritten, in tiny script, were his wishes for his funeral service.
After I read through the document, I said, “Bloody hell!”
I made him sign it and date it, and we got the barman to witness our signatures, then we had several more whiskies, and I caught the train home.
Fortunately, the walk from the station is a long one, and I’d sobered up a bit before I took to my bed.
Sleep wasn’t on the agenda. Too much to think about.
I stared at the ceiling and thought, once again, that I should give it a coat of paint.
The moon was almost full, and the light seeped around the edges of the blind.
I’d been in a few tight spots where I might have lost my life, but until now, I had not seriously thought about my own, inevitable death.
William and I were about the same age — still very much, young men.
I wondered what it would look like — my day of death. Would I be merrily rolling along, oblivious to my impending doom? Or would I be alone in a hospital bed, waiting for the room to go dim?
A ‘blaze of glory’ seemed like a good choice, and as sleep finally caught up with me, I imagined leading the charge up some heroic hill.
I didn’t get an invitation to the funeral, but then again, it wasn’t a private affair.
Open-air. Beautiful day. All the trimmings. Silver spade to sprinkle some dirt on the coffin. Flowers by the carload. Mourners dressed in their finery.
Despite William’s instructions, a minister was running the proceedings.
“We all know why we are gathered here today,” said the minister dressed in full regalia. “William was a wonderful man.”
“Did you know him personally,” I said.
I was seated in the second row, and no-one had asked me how I’d know the deceased.
I unbuttoned my coat as I got to my feet.
The gesture meant that I was at work.
Ready to work.
“Not personally,” said the minister adjusting his cassock.
“Then sit down and shut it. William didn’t want this,” I said as I edged along the row and stepped in front of the assembled gathering. I half expected someone to tackle me.
“That’s right. He didn’t want this,” said the attractive woman in the third row.
A couple of other people agreed.
William’s wife was seated, head down, next to her brother, who looked like he was waking from a dream. He started to stand up — staring at me.
“Don’t even think about it, Michael. Oh, and by the way, William said to tell you to pay back the loan he gave you. I’m sure your sister would be happy to have the money.
“What loan?” said William’s wife.
Michael sank back into his seat.
“Well it wasn’t actually a loan, was it Michael. More like a payoff. Hush money, I think they call it.”
Michael sat quietly as William’s wife bored a hole in his head with her eyes.
“William was concerned that this might happen so he asked me to speak for him.”
I scanned the gathering and found the three people I was looking for.
“You, you and you. Out!” I pointed at the road leading out of the cemetery.
“William did not want you here. And if you don’t leave, now, I’ll tell everyone why.”
The three people I pointed to stood up and shuffled off down the road.
All eyes and ears were on me.
“William wanted you to know that he knew you weren’t faithful but he didn’t know how to deal with you when he was alive. He didn’t blame you, he was less than the husband you deserved.”
There were tears in her eyes, and I hated this part of my job, but a promise was a promise.
“As for you,” I said, staring at the bloke sitting behind her, “William thought you were a snake but he lacked the courage to punch you on the nose. He hopes that you make his wife happy, but don’t expect her to inherit everything, far from it.”
There was an audible gasp from the assembled multitude.
Where William’s money would end up was the prime concern for most of them.
I rattled off a heap of names and just as many final messages, and most of them were not well received.
“One last thing to finish up,” I said, “which one of you is Phillis?”
A young woman at the back raised a gloved hand.
“William said to say thank you. You brightened his day and always gave more of yourself than was asked for. There is a glowing reference in his desk with your name on it if you decide to look elsewhere for a job. There’s a bonus in that envelope as well. Enough for you to take an all expenses holiday, if you so wish.”
The young woman who had looked after William as his secretary for the previous three years smiled and put her hand to her face.
“Well that’s about it from me, and from William. I begged him to say all these things before he left us, but I guess he wasn’t able to, so that’s where I came in.”
I did up my coat and walked down the same road that the ejected mourners had walked.
Bloody big cemetery, so it took a long time to get back to where I’d parked the Jag.
I needed a drink, and the Big Cat took me to my favourite bar.
I lifted a glass to my old friend and pondered my own mortality before heading for home.
I slept very well that night and went into the office just before noon.
My secretary asked me why I was so late.
“You are dead a long time Janice. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself to a sleep in.”
“Okay,” said Janice.
“By the way. Have I ever told you how much I appreciate you?”
“Yes. Once or twice,” she said.
“Good. I wouldn’t want to pass away suddenly and not have told you.”
“Have you been drinking, Sam?” said Janice.
“Not today, but I plan on having a few a bit later in the day. You are welcome to join me?” I said, and Janice shook her head.