The corpse was going to move. Tom was sure of it. He was taking the corner too fast and the dead body in the back was going to slide around, or worse, roll over. His shoulders rose up defensively and his knuckles were white on the steering wheel, but the thump he was expecting never came.
Dead people don’t roll around much. Mr. Giovanni had told him that.
He straightened up and glanced in his rear vision mirror. The sour-faced man in the passenger seat tapped the dashboard impatiently with a stubby finger and shifted his weight. The leather seat let out a strangled gasp.
They rolled up to a set of traffic lights and Tom eased off on the accelerator. He exhaled slowly as the car came to gentle stop, extended a finger to put the window down then withdrew it without touching the button. He checked his mirrors carefully, looked up at the lights.
A police car crawled into view behind him, flicked on an indicator and pulled up alongside. The police officer inside was a young woman, quite pretty, not much older than Tom. She glanced over and smiled at him. Tom swallowed hard and tried to get his face to remember what a casual smile looked like.
The cop car started moving and the stern presence in the passenger seat cleared his throat. The light was green. Tom rolled through the intersection, thankful for the smooth pickup of the automatic transmission. The Giovanni family kept their vehicles in top condition, for obvious reasons.
“Go left up there, at the roundabout,” the man beside him said. “Pull in over there.”
Tom’s eyes flicked from the road to the man’s pointing finger to his mirrors. His boss, Mr. Giovanni, had told him to stay quiet and follow instructions, and call him when it was done. If it went well Tom was to drive straight back. If not, arrangements would be made.
Tom didn’t want to force Mr. Giovanni to make any arrangements.
Tom flicked on the indicator and reversed into the driveway. He kept his eyes fixed outside of the vehicle, staring through the rear window intently without dropping his gaze.
“Okay, kill the engine.”
Tom was relieved that the driving was over, though he was equally nervous about what was to come.
“Mr. Giovanni is an old friend, Tom. He told me this was your first time, to watch you closely. He’s proud of you.”
“Uh, thanks?” Tom mumbled.
“I know you were nervous about having a body back there,” the man said. “I would have been too. But you did great. Perfect.”
Tom breathed a heavy sigh and slumped in his chair slightly.
The man smiled, his worn face wrinkling. “And Mr. Giovanni wanted me to tell you — the coffin’s empty.”
“What? But he said…” Tom sat bolt upright.
“Kid, he just wanted you to drive carefully. It’s one thing for an undertaker to lend an employee a hearse for his driving test; it’s quite another to let him take a dead body along for the ride.”
Matt Cowens is a writer and high school English and Media Studies teacher living on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand. He has taught English in Japan, designed and produced card games, written and illustrated comics and is an enthusiastic amateur video maker.