The Elm Ridge Funeral Home is the grandest building in the county. It looks like a miniature plantation house, dazzling white with a shallow colonnade across the front, strategically positioned at the corner of Washington Blvd. and Main Street — dead center of the tiny eastern Indiana town where the deLaughter family has presided over the prosperous dead for three generations.
At 8:17 on an unseasonably cold day in May, Assistant Mortician Sally McGuire is standing on the porch, struggling to unlock the massive double doors. At least today she has the key. Twice, she’s locked herself out and had to call Mr. deLaughter III from the payphone across the street, interrupting his breakfast. And this is the third time in the last two weeks she’s been late to work. But she’s lucky today — she’s the first one in. Everyone’s late!
It’s pouring rain, threatening snow. When the old wooden door finally gives way, Sally is enveloped in a welcome whoosh of warm air. Now inside the spacious foyer, she takes off her wet shoes and carries them with her as she passes through the carpeted parlor rooms, past upholstered chairs arranged in pairs along the wide hall, past bouquets of silk lilies filling bronze vases on polished end tables, beyond the entrance to the chapel where the smell of extinguished candles hangs in the heavy drapes and the morning light through the non-denominational stained glass drenches the floor with color. When she reaches the basement door, she has almost made it to her workstation, her tardiness undiscovered by Mr. deLaughter III’s secretary Ms. Parker. Only then does she breathe a sigh of relief. […]