“You know friend, I make coffins, can’t seem to sell any though, people aren’t dying fast enough.” On a February 2020 morning, Cappy Bates, a struggling coffin maker, was telling a potential customer his business was bad. More of a craftsman than a salesman, Cappy didn’t like small talk. Yet, here he was, instead of trying to sell a coffin; crabbing that he couldn’t. He didn’t bother to ask the potential customer his name; neither was one offered.
“I want something to happen that will juice up business. Look around you; my coffins are special, high quality, top notch, not just some pine box. It should be easy to get people to buy them if they’d just start dying. If only I could get more people to die.” Cappy said.
The tall, gaunt figure in a black suit and overcoat standing among the coffins on display said nothing, just listened. His hands, cold and bony, ran across the shiny surface of an oak coffin. Then he said, “Caskets are usually better quality workmanship than coffins but your product is good and cheaper.” With a piercing stare, he scanned the shop. His eyes locked on to the smiling faces in a family portrait on the wall. “That’s a nice picture, your family?”
“Yep, that’s my wife and the twins. They’re my whole world. I’d do anything for them.” The man nodded, opening his mouth slightly and showing his teeth. Cappy thought he was trying to smile; although it didn’t look like it. Not being sure, but wanting to be polite, he smiled back.
“I can drive more business your way. Of course, there will be a fee.”
“Yeah, right, nobody’s dying and nobody’s buying. What are you, some sort of killer? I doubt you can help.” Cappy said.
“Leave it to me. I’ll take care of everything.”
“Look, I like the idea of more business. I guess I don’t care how you’d get more people to die. I don’t even care who they are. I need something to happen, fast. I’ll make any amount of coffins you want but why pick me and my shop for extra business? I don’t know you.” Cappy said.
“The reason doesn’t matter, does it, as long as your business increases? You will have to agree to the terms of payment which I’ll make clear at end of one year. I can’t reveal them until then but the price will be fair.”
Still not certain if this guy was serious or some nut off the street; but wanting him gone, Cappy said, “Sure, I’ll pay your price one year from now.” Opening the shop door to leave, the man said, “Then we’re agreed, more business. I’ll be back for my fee in one year.”
Starting in March 2020, Covid-19 started killing the townspeople, at first, only a few, then, in greater numbers with alarming speed. Cappy was busier than he had been in his whole life. The money piled up, he couldn’t spend it fast enough. Cappy was even able to finagle a forgivable PPP loan he didn’t need depriving businesses that needed that money to survive. As the Covid death count grew, Cappy got richer.
A year passed. In February 2021 the strange man returned. “Good morning, sir. We have some accounts to square.” Cappy hardly remembered their conversation. The man recollected every word and reminded Cappy of his obligation. At first, Cappy tried to brush him off. “Look, we never signed nothing and you can’t prove no deal. Hell, I don’t even know your name.”
In a voice that sounded like his own, the man reminded Cappy of his words, “‘Look, I like the idea of more business. I guess I don’t care how you’d get more people to die. I don’t even care who they are. I need something to happen, fast. . . . I’ll pay your price one year from now.’ Continuing, the man said, “You profited off the death of others. I made that possible. Now you have to pay my fee. The bill is due. Delaying payment will result in an increased fee.”
“Are you telling me you caused all these deaths? That’s crap.” Cappy said.
Without answering the question, the man said, “Also, you’ll need to make, at least, one more coffin.”
“Who’s it for?” Cappy said.
Gesturing to the family picture on the wall, “Why, one of them, of course. That’s the fee. Others have paid more and gotten less. Pointing again to the portrait, “It’s one of them or I’ll take them all, make your choice. I have other fees to collect, so hurry up.”
“I don’t know who you are and I’m not choosing nothing.” Cappy said.
“My name’s Connor Vidd, most people call me ‘Covid’ and a deal’s a deal. Can’t decide, huh? Neither can most people, I’ll choose for you.”
Before Cappy could respond, his phone rang. It was his wife’s voice sounded teary and weak. She said, “Both the girls just got fevers. They’re really sick. I don’t feel good either.” Cappy turned to the man, who nodded while opening his mouth slightly, showing his teeth. This time Cappy was sure it wasn’t a smile.
–Edward N. McConnell
Edward N. McConnell is a happily retired trial lawyer, a former adjunct professor of trial advocacy and a former State Archivist of Iowa. He started writing flash fiction and short stories in 2020. He enjoys a good story with a twist and tries to write one every once in a while. His flash fiction and short stories have appeared in Literally Stories, Terror House Magazine, Refugeonlinejournal.org, MasticadoresIndia, Mad Swirl and, soon, in Rural Fiction Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, and Down in the Dirt. He lives in West Des Moines, Iowa with his wife.
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