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Me Tanner, You Jane
I have never liked funerals. I can appreciate the advantages of conventionalizing one's relationship with Death, but this appreciation has never advanced beyond the level of pure theory. I do not like to view the televised funerals of assassinees, nor do I enjoy attending the last rites of friends and relatives. When I am introduced to an undertaker I categorize him at once as a sanctimonious money-grubbing necrophiliac. I realize this is an unfair generalization. I don't care.
As far as I was concerned, this particular funeral was the worst of a bad lot. And this for purely subjective reasons: I had to get to the funeral parlor early and stay until the bitter end. I was going to miss the party afterward. And on top of everything else, the poor son of a bitch in the rosewood casket was the one person on earth I cared most for. All of this, added to my personal distaste for such ceremonies, made me sincerely wish I was miles from there.
But that was out of the question. They couldn't have the show without me, because that was me, see, in that box there. We were gathered together in Klaus Hammacher's funeral home in Griggstown, the capital city of Modonoland, for the last rites and burial of Evan Michael Tanner. And I'm him, or he's me. Or what you will.
"We will bury you," Armand Karp had said. Armand was a wrinkled Belgian Jew who had transplanted himself in Griggstown soil thirty years ago. Since then he had both flourished and withered, growing ever fatter in the trunk and ever thinner in the arms and legs and neck. "We will bury you," he had said, eyes twinkling in hiswizened face, and the phrase was neither as menacing nor as metaphorical as it had been when Nikita said it.
"There are things to be considerated," he explained. He was speaking English, and had this sort of trouble with suffixes. He was fluent in French and Flemish and Yiddish and German, and better than good in Dutch and Hebrew, and we could have talked in any of these, but there were others in that basement room and English was the one language common to us all. Thus there were things to be considerated. "To continue. You are under house arrest. You are identificated with the Movement for Moderation in Modonoland. You are suspected for agitatement and making trouble. And you must removalize yourself from this house, which is my house—"
"Which is that our house is your house, Evan," Karp's wife said.
"This goes without statement, Evan. You know this. But facts must be faced. You must removalize yourself from here, you must get out of Griggstown altogether, and from there you have activation of your own to be done upon. So what is to be done upon? We will bury you, obviously, and then we will dig you up again, and then you will go on your merriment way."
"Uh," I said.
"We might announce the death this evening," Dawson Dowling said. He was very tall and very black and either an industrial chemist or a chemical industrialist. Armand had told me, the title coming out something like chemistical industrialization, so there was no way to be certain. "The burial might take place on Friday."
"Uh," I said.
"Of course Hammacher would do the service," Eyck said. He was Dutch and did something with diamonds.
"He overcharges," someone observed.
"But he can be trusted. And what is to charge? The coffin will be returned to him, and there is to be no embalming, no plastic surgery, no—"
"Uh," I said. "I just thought of something."
They looked at me and I at them. There were about twenty of them gathered in that damp basement room, sitting on card chairs and orange crates, smoking large fat pipes and thin black cigars. Half of them were black and half of them were white and one of them was Plum, and they represented the hard core of the MMM, which in Griggstown had nothing to do with Scotch tape and everything to do with revolution, and they wanted to bury me.
"The something I thought of," I told them, "is that we could do all of this more directly. By skipping the whole burial process, that is. I could just removalize myself from here"—Karp's affliction was contagious—"and, uh, get out of town. Just like that."
"But you are under house arrest, Evan."
"We're all under house arrest," I said. "All but what? Two or three of us? Yet you all managed to sneak out and come here tonight. For me, house arrest means that there's a clown out front leaning up against a palm tree and looking at the front door every few hours. But nobody's watching the back door, and—"
I broke off. No one was saying anything, but they were all looking at me very sadly.
Plum said, "You do not understand, Evan."
"What don't I understand?"
"About house arrest." Plum was fifteen years old, slim-hipped and wide-eyed and the color of blond motel furniture. Her father had been a Welsh soldier of fortune and her mother had been, and still was, a native of Griggstown, and Pelham "Plum" Jenkins was a product of their ephemeral alliance. This sort of thing didn't happen in Modonoland, where everything was black and white and there were no shades of yellow. Plum was nevertheless about as sane as anyone in the MMM.
I asked her to explain.
"We are all under house arrest," she said, "and we all snuck out. But we can all sneak back in again and no one will know the difference, or if they do they won't be too shirty about it. But if you snuck out, you wouldn't come back and they would all know about it. And also you are a foreigner and there is talk about you being a spy and a secret agent and all sorts of things, and this would bother them. It would be all right for you, but we would be in trouble." Me Tanner, You Jane. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.