The preacher stood just beyond the casket, ready to offer condolence and solace; he had already shown Toby the bobble-head Jesus suction-cupped to his dashboard in the hopes of allaying the young man’s stoic expression.
It didn’t work.
The line was short: Gerald, Jerry, Margie, Olivia. Toby stood behind his mother. He listened to each of “The Gang” bid their farewells to his grandfather: though he couldn’t quite make out the details, the three of them were convinced that Ollie would have been the last to go, and they made sure to let him know that. Toby watched each of them place something into the casket and wondered how they remembered his grandfather and if anything he remembered would match their rememberances.
The preacher extended an arm to Gerald; to Jerry; to Margie. Gerald complained about “that damn fountain” and asked the preacher where the bathroom was. The preacher pointed to the right and patted Gerald on the shoulder. Gerald, with Jerry in tow, rushed in the direction of the finger.
Olivia approached the casket. She looked down. She whispered. Toby wasn’t sure what she said, but whatever it was, it was the most she had said to Ollie in the year since she kicked him out of the house; in spite of the chasm opened by Ollie’s betrayal of trust, Olivia made sure that his last wishes were honored, including getting rid of “the asshole.”
The minister extended his arm to Olivia. She nodded and thanked him. They both turned to watch Toby.
Toby stepped up to the casket and looked down at his grandfather: the sunflower tie; the rumpled suit; the chips and cards from “The Gang”; the rusted and dinged decoder ring on Ollie’s pinky, turned to the last coded message they had sent through the laundry chute during their partnership. Toby leaned over the casket and pulled back, tiptoes. He reached inside his new suitcoat with the gold buttons that he hated and pulled out sheets of paper: a perfect reproduction of the Sentinel’s first appearance; every nuance of gritty line work, of action, of color; the stories of heroics and adventure that had been the light of his grandfather’s life, right there, reproduced exactly, in Toby’s hand. He wanted to make sure Billy wouldn’t kick Private Ollie’s ass; he made the pages exactly as his grandfather had wanted. They were partners, after all, and partners finish things. Toby placed the pages on his grandfather’s chest, kissed him on the forehead and whispered, whizbampow.