Department of First Stories

The Father of the Corpse

by Cecilia Fulton

It took me awhile to make the connection. He’s just not a guy you would recognize easily. Probably because you wouldn’t really be drawn to him in the first place. He looks like a crumpled paper bag—the rough texture of his skin blurs his features, so you can’t really register what his eyes look like or what color they are or the size of his nose or the length of his eyebrows. Also, I’d only ever seen him looking grim in washed-out dark suits, so at first, this guy in the cream-colored suit with the big smile on his face, I had no idea who he was—except that he was familiar in some way. I probably wouldn’t have noticed him at all, except it was snowing heavily outside and it seemed brazen for a man to wear ivory on a snowy day. Especially, as I noticed, with yeti-sized snow boots that were still as wet as a soaked dog.

Fascinating, I thought. I agonized for hours over my outfit—in fact, I’m still agonizing over it—and here’s this guy, chatting up the bride’s mother with total insouciance, seemingly unburdened by any second-guessing over weather-appropriate textiles, season-appropriate hues, or the need to take off the dripping fur appendages before launching himself into a fancy party. How had he even gotten so far into posh Waveny Castle, past the coat check and into the mingling rooms with Connecticut royalty, without changing out of those boots?

It was only as I saw the guy lean in and speak right into the proud mother’s ear—getting up on his toes to get a bit of height then bending a little to angle his words right into the ear canal—that I realized, hey, I know him. I’d seen him talk to people that way before. At work. It was someone from work. And then it came to me—I knew him from court—actually, yes, that was it—I’d watched him talk to defendants that way, up on his tiptoes, then bending in and leaning toward the ear and whispering in that targeted manner, to make sure no one else could hear his wise counsel. With that came the name. I poked my husband. “I know that guy,” I told him. “It’s Fred, it’s Fred Krantz, hey Matt, honey, look, I know this guy, it’s a defense attorney from work, Fred Krantz.”

Matt followed my lead and took a quick look, but then turned his attention back to the passing hors d’oeuvres. “Oh really, that’s great,” he said.

Matt couldn’t understand. Fred was my salvation. It was Matt’s second cousin’s wedding, and I was all out of juice. It’s one thing to invest yourself in social conversation with first-degree marital relations, knowing you’re building a long-term relationship, but we weren’t expecting to see many of these people again. Some would die soon, some lived too far away to be seen again, and the rest were just—well, not my kind of people. Let’s just say that, as a prosecutor specializing in prescription-drug trafficking, I wasn’t thrilled to be the guest of a family whose wealth was directly related to the sales of highly addictive pharmaceutical substances. I’d started thinking about how many pills the bride’s father must have sold to pay for each artisanal pig-in-a-blanket, but concluded that my abstinence from the hors d’oeuvres would hardly be an effective protest. Besides, no one ever really cared until it touched their own family.

We figured that guests who were just arriving would feel the need to find the bride and groom’s parents as soon as possible, and would accordingly keep any intervening conversations short. As a result, we had positioned ourselves strategically near the door to get all of our obligatory greetings out of the way—and grab hors d’oeuvres from the welcoming waiters at the same time. It was a smart move—the guests fumbled through the coat check, dusted snow off their hair, and ran right into us. If we didn’t know them, we smiled politely and let them pass—but with the ones we knew, we launched right in. All I had to do was shake hands, kiss-kiss, smile big, confirm the information they’d received about me, and count down thirty seconds until they’d start looking for their next target. Yes, I’m pregnant, and we’re so excited. Yes, I’m due very soon, but hopefully not tonight, ha ha ha. Yes, winter pregnancies are such a pain, I couldn’t even put on my boots without help this morning. Yes, isn’t this place stunning? The view from the hill must be just beautiful when it’s not snowing. Yes, lunchtime weddings are so original. So original and so creative. Yes, I work at the district attorney’s office, it’s interesting but also exhausting. Yes, I plan to keep working after I give birth. Yes, of course, please go ahead, the bride’s parents are just over there, we’ll talk to you later, absolutely! Boom. Done. Next!

I was prepared for it all, from the questions about my labor and delivery plans, to the eyes darting away in search of a better option. And I was bored as hell.

Fred Krantz wasn’t a friend, by any stretch, nor was he even a casual acquaintance, but he and I had topics to discuss other than my stretch marks.

“I’m gonna go say hi, okay?” I said to Matt, placing my hand on his arm. He smiled, nodded, and reached for a mini Provençal quiche. I steered my heavy body around to approach Fred. The bride’s mother was moving away from him with a laugh, her hand still outstretched toward him although she was already locking eyes with another guest. Fred stood alone for a moment, stroking his face with a distant look in his eye and one corner of his mouth upturned. Admiring his last comment or thinking of his next conversation? Wondering whether he should now shed the snow boots? Enjoying the weight of the wet fur around his feet and counting snowflakes in the distance? Thinking of his clients, who might not even be able to see the snow through the secured windows of their cells? I interrupted his reverie.

“Mr. Krantz, hello.”

“Hello.” We shook hands. His palm was dry, and his hold on my hand was neutral. Clearly, I had not sparked any lights in the Krantz memory bank.

“Lise Achorn, from the Manhattan D.A.’s office. We’ve had cases together.”

His mouth became an “O” and his eyebrows lifted, creating waves of wrinkles on his forehead. “Of course, A.D.A. Achorn, what a surprise. So, who do you know?”

“My husband—” I gestured. “—Matt Barrett. Janey is his cousin. Second cousin. Matt’s mother and Jack are first cousins.”

“Great, great. My wife, she’s close friends with the mother. Very close. Known her for years.”

Would he consent to a chat about work, the war on drugs, the challenges of his job? I wasn’t sure he was interested. His eyes checked the room as we paused—he was done talking before we had begun. He must be disappointed to see me, I realized. He must have been so happy to engage in conversation outside of a cell, with people who didn’t remind him of his sordid clients. This wedding was an escape for him, just as he had appeared to be an escape for me. So I was the last person he’d be interested in chatting up. Well, it might be for the best. You never knew what could come up. I opened my mouth to say something polite and close out the encounter.

His eyes locked back onto mine.

“Wait a minute.” He wagged his finger in the air, as if to conjure up information. “There was that article about you.”

Oh. I decided to wait, so that I wouldn’t look too eager to hear the rest. I lifted my eyebrows to signal that I was listening.

He pointed his finger toward me. “In the Law Journal. Didn’t you get some award?”

“Are you one of those people who read the entire Law Journal? Because it was really buried in there.”

Fred shrugged. “Paper copy. Every day. All the way. What can I say, I’m old-fashioned. So, congratulations.”

“Thank you. You have to wonder, with those kinds of awards, you know, the ‘Best Under forty’ category, I mean, will I still be special when I’m over forty?”

Fred looked at me with a squint. “I don’t follow.”

He wasn’t in the mood for my musings. I reached out and patted his arm. “I’m not making sense, sorry. Must be the hormones. Anyway, thank you.”

“It was an interesting article, actually. What you said about your work.”

I couldn’t remember what I’d said about my work. There was a silence. “Well,” he said, turning abruptly, “good seeing you, enjoy, see you inside!”

We were already inside, I could have clarified, but I couldn’t hold this slippery fish. Maybe he meant inside the ceremony room. I waved and returned to my husband’s side, where a lively chat was underway. Jack Normand, the bride’s father, had gotten caught in a familial cluster and everyone was giving their all.

“Thank you, thank you,” he was saying to my in-laws, turning smoothly on the heels of his perfect caramel-colored leather shoes to gather well-wishes and bestow elegant smiles. Matt turned to me and whispered, “Jack’s company’s new drug was approved by the FDA. It’s great news, apparently.”

Funny topic to be discussing at his daughter’s wedding, I thought, but we all knew we had Big Pharma profit margins to thank for the venue, the food—and, most likely, the groom’s interest in the bride. Though it was possible that, given how much the bride loved pills, and how many of them she consumed on a regular basis, she was as much responsible for the company’s success as her executive-level father.

Matt’s mother swooped to my side and propelled me toward Jack. “Actually—Jack, this is our daughter-in-law, Lise—she’s a D.A. in New York—”

“Just an A.D.A., actually, meaning an assistant district attorney,” I clarified, not that I run the risk of being confused with the famous older white male who currently serves as the elected district attorney of Manhattan, but inaccuracy kills me.

“Yes, a D.A.,” my mother-in-law continued. “Lise, this might interest you, Jack’s company has just won FDA approval for a new drug, and they think it’s going to solve this whole opioid crisis!”

“Well,” Jack jumped in, “I wish that were the case, but let’s just say it’s harder to abuse. It’s what’s called a tamper-resistant opioid, though addicts often figure out ways to abuse them anyway. And unfortunately, we can’t control what people do after they legitimately obtain it from a doctor. We’re just trying to make it that much harder for people to get hurt. We just felt it was the right thing to do.”

After having made a bajillion dollars from their earlier product, I added on his behalf in the privacy of my mind. It had been one of the drivers of the opioid epidemic, thanks to its easily abused formulation and aggressive marketing. But who says that out loud, especially at a wedding, and to the bride’s father? Not me.

Meanwhile, Jack caught Matt’s eye, pointed to my stomach, and made a thumbs-up sign, apparently congratulating my husband on a successful knock-up job. I took a deep breath.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law was not done with the topic of prescription meds. She gripped my upper arm, using me as a human hostage for Jack’s attention. “Lise works on a lot of cases involving those drugs, don’t you, Lise?”

“Yes,” I said, my earlier desire to be comforted by work talk suddenly obliterated by the concern that I might end up telling off Jack Normand at his daughter’s wedding. I’d remembered what I’d heard about this new drug—it was supposed to be harder to abuse, but it was also a stronger and more potent formulation. My contacts at the DEA had also told me that its tamper-resistant feature was a crock, and would be defeated easily by anyone determined to get a high. In my opinion, it was a cheap attempt at public redemption. Once again, all I needed to do was keep the mouth shut. Lips together. Mouth shut.

Jack put his arm around my mother-in-law and tugged her in closer, completely ignoring the opioid angle. “Wonderful, wonderful,” he cooed. “I hope you didn’t have too much trouble getting here. I’m so touched that everyone came out for my little girl.” His eyes glistened. “You know, it’s been a tough road with her—I mean, for her.”

My mother-in-law’s eyes lit up. Could Jack be giving her permission to discuss Janey’s rocky past? I could tell she was busy formulating a response, when my husband busted into the conversation.

“Well,” Matt said, “we were a bit nervous about the weather forecast, I have to admit. But what the hell, I figured, we’ve sure waited long enough for Janey to get married!” He laughed, then looked around, wondering why no one was laughing with him.

“Oh, good heavens, Matt,” his mother muttered.

I slipped my arm through Matt’s and spoke up. “He just means, we all knew this guy was the right one for her, and we were the first ones to meet him, weren’t we, Matt, so we knew this was coming a long time ago.”

“Well,” said Jack, and paused—

Matt’s mother and I braced ourselves—one never knew how normals would react to Matt’s unique brand of wit. Jack looked at my belly again and smiled. “Well,” he continued, “we’re very touched that you made it, under the circumstances. And don’t worry about covering up for your husband.” He looked kindly toward Matt. “I’ve known him since he was a little boy. Always said just what he thought, unvarnished, and that’s a good thing. Fact is, it’s true, we’re all thrilled she’s finally getting married, I’d given up hope that any of them would stick around, and I just hope it’s not too late to get a grandkid out of them, if I may be permitted to be blunt myself, before someone changes their mind. I’m also just thrilled that she’s finally sober.”

Matt’s mother gasped, then broke out into exaggerated expressions of compassionate congratulations.

“She’s sober?” I asked. “Sober, like how?”

I looked at Jack—he hadn’t heard me. I looked at Matt. He was busy talking.

“So,” he was telling Jack, “since we’re all okay with me being honest and unvarnished, just to be safe, in case the weather gets worse, you’re okay with us crashing here or at your place, right, Jack? This place must have some extra rooms, and otherwise you guys live nearby, don’t you?”

Jack smacked Matt’s shoulder and laughed. “Yes, of course. Of course.”
In the waning seconds of Jack’s attention, my mother-in-law grappled to retain him with talk of the snow, and the romance of the storm. I watched as Jack slowly dragged himself away, with the determination and desperation of a man caught in a bog. There was no way to hold him back.

Matt and I found ourselves standing blissfully alone. “Having fun yet?” he asked.

 

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Copyright © 2018. The Father of the Corpse by Cecilia Fulton

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