Paulie leaned over in the brown leather chair, its surface worn dull, some of its brass studs missing. He wore a white undershirt, spotted with old marinara stains, tiny holes worn through with age and washing. His elbows rested on his knees, his hands dangling between them. His head nodded a little, his eyes puffy with sleep and drink.
“I can’t believe dad’s been gone almost ten years now.”
Ann Marie acquiesced to sitting down, after pacing for about a half hour, looking around the small sitting area, touching this and that, straightening pictures, running her fingers through the layers of dust. Their mother had paid for his place; she’d apparently drawn the line at maid service.
“What’s up with you tonight?” He pushed a green glass bottle at her, scraping its way through the dust. “Here. Be social. Have a drink and relax. Or did you just come over to bust my balls?”
She looked down at the bottle, wondering how he managed to afford booze when he didn’t work. Pocket money from mommy, probably; he’d long ago run out of their father’s things to pawn.
“How can I relax? Paulie, there’s at least an inch of dust everywhere, and you just moved in. It’s like a dead person lived here.”
“Appropriate.” He looked around. “I don’t usually have guests. And you’re my sister, so…”
“…No, I’m not cleaning it for you.”
“Do what you want.” He half shrugged, half waved the concept away.
She shifted in the uncomfortable chair, hearing the wood that held it together squeak as she did so.
“Has mom been here yet?”
“Yup.” He took a swig of the amber liquid from a small snifter.
“I’m sure that was an interesting visit.”
“You know it.” He smacked his lips a little as he released the glass. “Her with her ‘poor me, look at my failure of a son’ shtick.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Talking about how she’s dying.”
He shrugged, making an “I don’t know” sound.
“If she’s going, she’d better go soon.” He chuckled mirthlessly, turning to gaze out of a filthy window.
“Who’d pay your rent? You’d get kicked out.”
“What, and leave all this?” He gestured grandly to his living room. “Hell, I’d just go live in her place, then. No rent. Probably get her pension, too. I’ve seen the will; I’d be good for a while. No need for work, then, and this hovel.”
He stared at her, pointedly, bushy eyebrows meeting in mock concern.
“She wrote you out, you know.”
He shook his head.
“Soon as he died. You were his favorite. He thought I was a fuckup, but I was his only son, for what it’s worth. Carrying on the family name.” He took a big swallow of whiskey then, to ease that thought. She watched his Adam’s apple negotiate it down into his undoubtedly scarred gullet.
Ann Marie’s eyes followed the glass back to the wet ring it had left on the table.
“I got nothing from him, when he died.”
“Except his love, and his respect, neither of which he ever gave me any hope of having.”
Paulie swirled the Jameson around in the snifter, its edges sticky, the sweat of his hands leaving uneven fingerprints on the crystal.
“I always wondered what happened to dad’s watch.” He measured the remaining whisky, peering at it.
Ann Marie studied him with some disgust.
“We had him buried with it, remember?” She leaned back against the overstuffed chair, weary of his company.
He sighed dramatically, shaking his head, lips forming the word “no” without actually speaking it. The sweat of drink had caused his thinning hair to stick to his reddened face, and his mannerisms reminded her of their mother. She hated when he drank this much.
Ann Marie leaned forward.
“I’m the one who had to switch the eyeglasses in the coffin, because mom gave the funeral home hers by mistake. I saw the watch then, on his wrist.” She could see it, in her mind’s eye, a Timex that showed time and date, with hands that would glow in the dark. Real gold plate. She’d wanted it for herself, of course, as his favorite, but it had stopped when he died. Uncanny. A death watch. She’d left it with the funeral director.
“You had it, don’t you remember? We were in the funeral director’s office, putting together the obituary.” He pointed to her, his hand shaking slightly, fingers stubby.
“I was giving them things, not taking things. The gray suit, the tie with the acorns, the white striped shirt…”
Paulie took another swallow.
“But you kept the watch.” He set the glass down, now empty, and reached for the bottle of Jameson’s.
“Mom said you did.” The metal cap made a scraping sound as he unscrewed it, lifting the bottle and pouring with shaking hands. “Said she saw you slipping it into your purse.”
“She gave the funeral director her glasses instead of his, even though I warned her not to. That’s the state of mind she was in. She was angry, she was spiteful, it was so sudden.”
“But why would she lie?”
Her eyes rolled so hard she could feel pain in the sockets.
“She lies to create drama. You know this. And you just eat it up.”
He shook his head, swirling the amber liquid in the crystal at the same time.
“I never could figure out why you were his favorite.”
“I was the functional one.” She looked at the clock. What time could she possible leave without seeming rude?
“Maybe you were the functional one because you were his favorite? Who knows?”
She watched him swig, wondering why he bothered buying anything but swill, as he’d surely stopped tasting it by now.
“What even makes you think he’d have wanted you to have the watch?”
“Man has a watch, man has a son, son gets the watch.”
“You’d have pawned it. I think he knew this. But there was nothing about it in the will.”
He sighed, mocking a grin.
“It was mine. I want it.” He stared at her then, his eyes watery and bloodshot. The room wasn’t warm, but sweat soaked his black arm hair, and sweat made his undershirt cling.
She stared back, unblinking.
“Do you really want the watch that badly?”
He released a short puff of air through his nostrils.
“Yeah.” His lips parted in a smile, revealing a cracked front tooth.
“All right.” Ann Marie stood. “Let’s go.”
There was a slight breeze in the silence, rustling the dried leaves in the surrounding maples. Paulie stared out of the foggy windshield.
“Why are we here?”
“Because I’m tired of listening to your bullshit.”
He turned to look at her, liquor fog moving his head in slow motion.
“So you wanted the watch.”
His mouth hung open a little as he looked at the gate, ROSE HILL CEMETERY crafted in wrought iron letters in an arc overhead.
“This is sooo illegal.”
“Do you even know what you’re doing?”
“Not really. But we gotta start somewhere.”
She opened the car door and stepped out into the dusk. The sky was fading from orange to purple, and the silhouettes of brown bats darted after mosquitoes in the shadows.
“Do you know where the grave is?”
“Sort of.” It was strange in the darkness; all of the headstones were flat. She knew more or less, based on the location of the trees and the number of the site, where his grave was.
“It’s grave robbing, what you’re thinking.”
She walked on, pretending she hadn’t heard him. He huffed a little, catching up to her. The air was cool, and probably felt good to him now, as he sweated.
“Ten years? Ten thousand dollars?”
“If we’re caught.” She paused, looking over at him.
“You’re well informed.”
“I used to work here, remember?”
“Then I’m surprised you even got out of the car.” She stepped off the path, on to the grass. A few of the graves had flags or flowers, which gave at least a bit of a reference as to their location.
“When the hell did you even visit here last anyway, Paulie?”
“Last Christmas.” Sullen, imperious.
One of the stones looked familiar. She turned on her cell phone light to make sure.
“Don’t!” Paulie hiss-shouted.
“Paulie, there’s nobody here.”
Ann Marie watched the light dance over the name LOCASCIO, and turned it off.
A car’s engine rumbled in the distance, clearly approaching.
“Someone’s coming.” Even in the fading light, he was a little more sober. “Ann Marie, we gotta go…this is crazy…”
She looked past the yellow security lights reflected in his balding pate. There were headlights in the distance.
“You should have called Sal, at least. He still works here.”
“I did.” She turned. “What, you thought I’d be out there with a shovel, by myself? Doesn’t it make sense to call someone who works here?”
“I didn’t hear you call…”
“I texted. It’s not the kind of thing you voice call somebody for.”
“Like a big hole in the ground isn’t evidence.”
Sal’s Samurai pulled up the long paved pathway, jolting a bit before it came to a stop.
“I hope you appreciate this,” he grumbled, hopping down and slamming the door. “Good thing for you we’re like family. My boss is gonna kick my ass.”
“Your dad is your boss.”
“Yeah, whatever.” He threw a cigarette butt to the ground. “You really wanna do this?”
Ann Marie gestured grandly at Paulie.
“He wants dad’s watch. Sorry, HIS watch.”
“Dude.” Sal sheltered the flame of his lighter from a slight breeze as he lit another cigarette. “Just buy a new one.”
“I don’t know why you’re doing this, Sal. You know Ann Marie has the watch.”
He took a drag of the cigarette, a Marlboro with menthol. “I buried it on the old man. But if you wanna see for yourself…” He dug in the pockets of his down vest for a set of keys, “we can do this. Hasn’t been too long, he’s probably still in good shape.”
“Don’t you need a permit or something?”
Sal stopped short, chuckling a little.
“Look at you, knowing everything and shit.”
He unlocked the door to a large shed, and flipped on the overhead light.
“You’re really gonna make me do this, ya dickhead.” His voice echoed off the metal walls, sounding vaguely inhuman.
Paulie leaned over to peer into the dimly lit garage at Sal.
“You’re joking, right? You’re not really doing this?”
An engine revved and out rolled a large yellow and black backhoe. Paulie danced out of the way, looking from the advancing machine to Ann Marie.
Ann Marie pulled her coat more tightly around her. The backhoe roared into the night, grinding over the asphalt and the chilly ground to the grave site.
“Are you out of your mind, Ann Marie?”
“Don’t you want your watch, Paulie?”
“Ann, just give me the fucking watch! We’re all gonna get arrested! You need permits, and…approvals…”
“We have next of kin, and the owner of the grounds…” shouted Sal over the roar of the backhoe. “We don’t need much else to exhume a body.”
“Your dad knows?”
“He will.” The shovel made a chinking sound as it bit into the earth. There were scraping, clicking, roaring reports, as if a dragon were devouring a large game animal. It hadn’t been cold enough to freeze, and the ground, often dug up and re-packed, came away easily in smooth curls.
She was watching, still and silent, her hands shoved deep into the pockets of her coat, her face inscrutable.
The roar of the backhoe became background noise, rhythmic and somehow soothing. Dirt and grass piled up on the roadside as Sal alternately swore and puffed at his cigarette, rocking the great machine forward and back.
Paulie walked over to her, brushing the stringy hair from his face, usually swept back to cover his bald spot.
“It’s not funny. Make him to stop.”
“Nobody’s laughing.” Her head snapped over to look at him, eerie in the light. “You wanted the watch. We’ll get you the watch, and you’ll finally shut up, right?”
The last of the sun disappeared below the horizon and the moon loomed above, large and full and slightly orange-yellow. The metal of the shovel thunked dully, stopping.
“Bingo. About fucking time.”
Sal hopped down out of the cab of the backhoe, and grabbed something from under the seat.
“Here you go, big guy.”
Sal shoved a crowbar into Paulie’s hands.
“Hop on down and take a look.”
Paulie stared at the crowbar.
“The…what? The casket…it’s…it’s in concrete, isn’t it?”
Sal shook his head.
“Nope. You didn’t go for the big money burial.” He motioned with his head. “You need a light, or…?”
Paulie’s hands shook holding the crowbar, visible in the dusk.
“Don’t you want the watch, Paulie?”
Ann Marie’s face was eerily shadowed in the headlights on the backhoe.
“C’mon.” Sal waved Paulie over, shining the light of his cell on the edge of the freshly dug pit. “It’s just a body, man. Your dad’s not there anymore. Crack the casket, and take the watch. He doesn’t need it. Might be a little corroded, but…”
Paulie stood frozen, silent.
Sal stood back, looking him up and down.
“Don’t tell me I just spent my off time, and missed my dinner, for you to just flake the f…”
Paulie was stone cold sober now, in his faux leather jacket and undershirt, clothing clinging to his pale flesh, shivering, the crowbar shaking.
Sal pointed a long finger at the grave.
“Go. Get the watch. You don’t want me to go down there for you, trust me on that.”
Paulie moved closer to the edge, peering down.
Sal held out a hand.
“Here. Gimme the crowbar. Hop down on top of the casket. It’s pretty solid. It won’t break. I’ll hand this down to you.”
“How do I get out?”
“Let me worry about that. Ten years you’ve wanted this watch. Go for it. I did the hard work. As usual.”
Ann Marie allowed a mirthless laugh.
“I’m certainly not going down there for you.”
“What, are you going to tell mom on me? Go get the watch, Paulie. Just go. Dad would be so proud of you.”
Paulie handed off the crowbar and crouched, low and shaking, at the edge of the hole, holding out his cellphone light to see the casket. He leaned over, and half jumped, half fell, landing with a hollow thud. Sal crouched at the edge, leaning down to hand him to the crowbar.
“Need more light?”
Sal’s voice echoed dully into the hole.
Paulie coughed, still alive.
“He’s here, too.” Sal lit another cigarette.
Paulie’s voice floated weakly from the hole.
Sal shone the cell light into the hole.
There was a creaking, cracking, struggling noise deep within the ground as Paulie fought with the casket until it gave way.
“You get it open?” Sal looked over at Ann Marie, who hadn’t moved.
There was a retching noise.
“He opened it.” The smoke from Sal’s cigarette made odd shapes in the lights of the backhoe.
Finally, Ann Marie moved soundlessly to the edge of the hole.
“Is the watch there, Paulie?”
“Will you shut the hell up now?”
The wind was starting to pick up, dulling noises around them. Finally, from the depths of the pit:
Ann Marie and Sal looked at each other.
Sal exhaled a long stream of smoke.
“I’ll go grab a ladder.”
He turned back toward the shed. Ann Marie watched him go. As he disappeared down the path, she leaned over the hole.
“Are you taking the watch, Paulie?”
There was a quiet chuckle.
“Just get me the fuck out of here.”
The lid of the casket slammed shut.