The open casket was set in front of many rows of folded chairs. As the mourners entered the room, they passed directly in front of Topaz, who looked so lifelike that most expected the former used car salesman to sit up and tell them about a 95 Civic he just bought at auction. “That motor just purrs,” he would have said. “Sure, it’s got some miles on it, but this is a Honda. They run forever. And look at that interior. None of that sticky leather that burns your legs in the summertime. Two cup holders. Radio with AM and FM and a tape deck. Turn signal, windshield wipers. And you can tell the previous owner really cared. Come on inside. You tell me what you think this car’s worth. And, listen, if we can’t make a deal today, I’m not going to hound you day and night ringing your phone off the hook. I’m not that kind of guy. No pressure at all. We’ll just sit here and play with some numbers and see if we can’t come to some sort of agreement. Need some coffee? Some water?”
The visitors found their seats while a loop of “Amazing Grace” played over the intercom system. Topaz’s two ex-wives and his two adult children, one son named Emeraldo and one daughter from his first marriage, sat in the front row. The women dressed in black with veils, the lone male in a black off-the-rack suit. The second row was reserved for his mistresses. They, too, dressed in black but forewent the veils.
Once the visitors found their seats and conversation quieted down to a murmur, the reverend approached the pulpit. He was a tall, older man, rather distinguished, and he signaled the start of the ceremony by clearing his throat numerous times. After saying a few words about how the fate of Jesus affected the fate of Topaz’s soul he looked out over the people and asked, “Would anyone here today like to say a few words about the departed?”
After a few seconds, Topaz’s son raised his hand.
“Go ahead, son,” the reverend said.
Emeraldo stood up. Turned halfway, so he was facing the audience and the reverend equally, he said, “My dad’s the dead guy. He promised me a car for my sixteenth birthday, but he got me a hermit crab instead.” Then he sat down.
“Typical Topaz,” someone in the back said and this was met with numerous nods of agreement.
An older gentleman raised his hand and stood. “Topaz dipped my chocolate bunny I got for Easter in battery acid and then let me eat it when we were kids.”
Another person raised their hand. After getting the go ahead, he stood up and said, “Topaz sold me a car once. It wouldn’t start after a week. I went and told him and he said, ‘Looks like you’re in the market for a vehicle,’ and he tried to sell me an 88 Oldsmobile. I told him I wanted my money back for the car I just bought or at least get it fixed and he said, ‘I sell cars. I don’t fix ‘em.’”
“No good bastard,” an elderly woman in the back row shouted out.
“Now, now,” said the reverend. “We are here to celebrate Topaz’s life and pay our respects. Surely these petty disagreements are- ”
“Bullshit. These aren’t petty disagreements. That fucking car cost me four grand.”
A young woman in the back stood up without being called upon. “Topaz fathered my baby. He said he didn’t want nothing to do with it. Little Roy Rogers ain’t never had a daddy.”
The reverend tried to get things under control. He said, “Now, I’d like to play a song that I was told Topaz always said he wanted played at his funeral.”
Everyone remained silent in respect to “Free Bird.” Once the song was over, nine minutes later, a woman stood up and said, “Why don’t we just split up all the money Topaz had when he died and we call it even?”
Topaz’s son was angry. “What about my car? I ain’t sharing no money until I get my car.”
“What about Roy Rogers?” the young woman asked.
“What about my broken down Ford Tempo?”
It turned out everyone there had a stake in Topaz’s fortune. From the people he swindled with used cars, to babies he had fathered, to the guy who lent him 20 bucks that Topaz surely spent on “hookers and cocaine,” there were 27 people that wanted payback.
“I’ve been named the executor of Topaz’s estate,” Bob Friendly said. “As his best friend in the whole wide world, Topaz wanted me to make sure his money went where he wanted it to. Topaz stated to me, and he was of sound mind and body at this time I assure you, that he wanted his money to go to the strippers and they are to ‘make it rain’ and these are his words, not mine, ‘one more time in my name and my name is Topaz, make it rain for Topaz.’ But it turns out, he ain’t got no money anyway except for what he had in his pocket when he died. And that was 8 dollars. Now, Emeraldo, are you willing to split this here 8 dollars amongst you and the other fine people here today?”
“I am,” Emeraldo said.
“And are you of sound mind and body at this very instance, Emeraldo?”
“Well, let me walk next door to the laundromat and I’ll make some change and everyone here can get their 29 cents. Just sit tight right here.”
And then Bob left. He didn’t go to the laundromat. He went to the strip club and it was sprinkling.