Lily bashed the top of her husband’s coffin with her fist as she passed, muttering viciously:
“You bastard, may you rot in hell for ever!”
(This story was told to me by Betty, an old friend who’s had a lot of trouble in her life. )
Lily paused for a moment, backing off a bit and putting her hands on the timber lid and leaning forwards, as if she was contemplating wrenching off the top of the coffin and dragging his body out of it so she could attack it. Then a younger woman, presumably her daughter, came up beside her and led her away.
I wholeheartedly agreed with Lily’s sentiments as I looked upon the boxed-up earthly remains of Harold Sebastian Snowplate. Harold had been my husband too, but apparently I was Mrs Snowplate in name only. A few days ago I’d discovered that my marriage was bigamous, and therefore invalid.
I’d discussed it with Lily last week, after I’d heard he’d been killed and she had made contact with me out of the blue, when we’d both been approached by Harold’s very confused solicitor. I tried to explain to our teenage children that the man they’d known as Dad, wasn’t really their dad at all, but a kind of ridiculous impostor, even though they shared his rotten genes. When we got married, Harold had told me that he worked as an accountant for a huge multinational company, and that he could spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in London with me, his family, but on Thursday to Sunday he had to work in their Huddersfield office, where he claimed to live a lonely monastic life in a company flat. The sacrifice was worth it, he explained, for it was only a temporary situation, and soon he could live full time with us when there was a full-time vacancy in the London office. A situation that went on for fifteen years.
Of course Lily had been told exactly the same story in reverse.
Now all those Christmases that he’d had to ‘Spend abroad’ at the mythical Bekker Corporation’s Lichtenstein office, made sense. As did the sudden cancellation of plans, the eternal spectre of the evil bosses of the Bekker Corporation making his life a misery by hijacking his time as they did. “It’s not for long,” he had always said, altering the proposed job change scenario once again. “In a year or two I can retire early and then we’ll have enough money to live out our dreams. . .”
Lily had two children, as I had. One of hers, and coincidentally one of mine too, had the unmistakeable ‘Snowplate Nose’ something that Harold had shown me in his family photos: a large bump along the middle, not large enough to look ugly or peculiar, but nevertheless distinctive to those who know about it. Various Snowplates throughout the centuries had apparently had this peculiarity, some of their noses being far more afflicted than others. Indeed Algernon Snowplate had a whopper of a bump, like a large pea was skulking there, concealed just below the skin.
The Reverend Derek Harbottle took the service. He had apparently been at school with Harold and seemed to know him better than either Lily, me, or indeed any of his four children did.
The other mystery of course was, who had Harold really worked for?
“He told me he was an accountant, working for the Bekker Corporation,” I had explained to Lily when we had met for the first time a week ago.
“He told me he was a stock controller for the Flecker Corporation,” she had told me. “There always seemed to be plenty of money, we have nice house, car, no problem with the bills.”
“Same with us,” I said to her. “So what job could he possibly have done to earn enough to keep two families in relative style?”
The answer was in Reverend Harbottle’s eulogy – the only eulogy of the service, for perhaps not surprisingly none of his relatives had anything good to say about him. In fact it turned out to be anything but a eulogy.
“When Harold Snowplate fell from the roof of the Holiday Inn hotel in Newport Pagnell, the police were satisfied that it was an accident,” Revd Derek began. “But for a man who had been involved in smuggling drugs for a number of years and who also was up to his neck in criminal racketeering, it’s not surprising that he must have had a number of enemies. We’ll probably never know who did it.”
A drug dealer.
“It has to be said that Harold was not without sin. I’d even go so far as to say that he was a wicked man who had no redeeming features whatsoever. Rumour has it that he dealt in drugs at the highest levels, he operated fraudulent online operations that preyed on the elderly, he handled stolen goods and was involved in racketeering and under-age prostitution. At one time I believe he even acted as a contract killer for several organisations, and was known as a ‘gun for hire’ in the Newport Pagnell and Watford areas.
“What’s more, Harold was a profligate womaniser. He had plenty of charm, which he used to get what he wanted, and this surface charm concealed his true character to many people who knew him. Indeed from some of the people who thought they knew him best. He had at least two families that neither knew about, and he also had a number of illegitimate children born to various other women – a good many of whom I see are here.”
As I looked around the congregation, sure enough I could pick out several people there, who had the noticeable ‘Snowplate nose’. Young men and women, all of whom, were looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“No, we certainly cannot say that Harold was a good man, or that he was a good husband or father. In fact to be perfectly honest, he was a wicked evil, lying, treacherous scumbag, who used his charm to trick people. I would sum him up as. . .”
There was a long pause.
“I’d describe Harold as a complete and utter shit, whose entire life was lived as a lie.”
There was a shocked pause at these words.
“But God forgives our sins, and that is something we must all bear in mind before any of us can pass judgement. All of us are sinners, it’s just that Harold’s sins were perhaps more noticeable than most of ours. The prodigal son springs to mind, the difference being that the prodigal son must have had a vestige of decency.”
Afterwards, at the wake, the Reverend Derek opened up to me a bit. He was becoming slightly inebriated on the free-flowing wine, and he clearly felt sorry for me. “I was at school with Harold, though I hadn’t kept in touch with him,” he explained. “About fifteen years ago I ran into him at a dinner, and I could clearly see he was a lost soul in need of spiritual support. In fact my wife Alice met him there too, the two of them seemed to get on very well, and when he told her he was very keen to learn about Christianity, with a view to changing his ways, she travelled down to see him, in fact she spent several days with him, trying to explain that it’s never too late for a sinner to change your ways and accept God into your life.” He fell silent for a few moments, seemingly lost in thought.
“And did he?” I asked.
“Change his ways?”
“Goodness no, he never intended to.”
Just then his teenage daughter Abigail appeared and smiled at us. And then I saw it:
She had the Snowplate nose. That unmistakeable bump in the middle.
Reverend Harbottle saw me looking at her. His eyes narrowed slightly as he went on. “A couple of weeks ago, Abigail had one of those DNA tests done, where they find out your ethnicity, and they can also pair you up with cousins you never knew you had,” he explained to me. “It turned out that she had a first cousin she knew nothing about. The only person that this cousin was also related to—”
“—Was Harold?” I completed for him.
“How did you guess?” he went on distractedly. “When I found out I could hardly control my anger. The times and dates matched up, you see, plus the unlikely coincidence that the tablets I was taking to boost my low sperm-count had finally done their job. Or so I thought. . .” He paused for a few moments, staring at the floor. “So then I went up to the hotel in Newport Pagnell, where I knew he was staying and . . .”
“God forgives our sins,” he said after a long time. “At least I hope he does. If he doesn’t I’m stuffed.”