Saturday 11 – Friday 17 June 2011
‘Check the body,’ Edwin Edwards spoke tersely. As the top mortician in London, he could afford to be as abrupt as he pleased, and he was. His assistant, Henry Darrow, was not the sort of young man who was easily offended by the brusque ways of his boss. In fact, Henry quite liked Edwin’s directness.
Henry approached the table and leaned over to check the toe tag.
‘A mister Old Bailey,’ Henry began to snicker. ‘His parents actually named him Oldham Bailey? What in God’s name were they thinking? Didn’t they think that people would shorten it to Old, and he’d be known as Old Bailey?’
Edwin did not reply. Instead, he flipped through the paperwork on his clipboard, and stopped at Oldham Bailey’s forms. A wry smile spread across his lips.
‘What’s funnier, Henry, is that your mister Old Bailey worked as a barrister.’
Both men broke into laughter.
‘A barrister,’ said Henry, ‘named Old Bailey, who’d have to go to the Old Bailey and try cases. That is beyond hilarious.’
It took Henry a few minutes to settle down, and carry on with the routine of checking the body before the embalming process could begin. He tested for a pulse, and found none; pulled back the eyelids and saw cloudy corneas; noted lividity, and rigor mortis. Oldham Bailey, barrister and subject of a mortician’s jokes, was undeniably dead.
While Henry was carrying out the routine, Edwin was watching him – very closely. The young man would take over the main duties of the head mortician at some point, and Edwin wanted to make sure that he would be the absolute best that he could be. Henry was thorough, that was certain. However, he lacked speed, and to some extent he lacked confidence, always seeking approval before doing anything. Edwin knew he’d have to intensively train the boy, and set upon the idea to begin training Henry the way Edwin’s boss had trained him.
‘Henry, I’d like you to come in early tomorrow morning. Five thirty instead of eight,’ Edwin demanded.
Only to happy to please, Henry agreed, not lifting his eyes from the cadaver in front of him. Still, Edwin could see the spark that lit up in the boy.
‘There is . . . extra study, that I wish you to undertake. Ha, undertake! Get it? Morticians. Undertakers. Undertake study,’ Edwin said, amusing himself. Henry joined in the laughter, always wanting to impress his boss.
Some hours after he’d first begun the embalming and grooming procedures, Henry had finished with Oldham Bailey’s corpse. The body was ready for showing. Edwin looked it over, and was happy with what he saw.
‘Henry, you may go home now. You have an early start tomorrow, so I shall release you early today. Good job, boy, on this one.’ Edwin slapped Henry on the back and ushered him out of the room. ‘Get your things and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow.’
Henry knew better than to argue with his employer. Edwin Edwards was not a man to be trifled, or argued with. Henry took the cue, collected his coat and wallet, and headed home. His employer waited patiently for Henry to leave, waited an hour beyond closing time to ensure that no unexpected corpses arrived, and then headed out into the night, carry bag in hand.
End of part 1.