Frank was busy giving all of Sammy’s young blond mourners a once over. I jabbed him in the ribs and nodded toward the front of the church. After a quick glance Frank said, “Yeah, nice singing.” He immediately went back to his review.
I jabbed him again and whispered harshly, “Not the singing you dunce – the singers!”
Frank looked hard and said, “I’ve heard Sheriff Timmy sing before. Didn’t you know he had pipes?”
“I’m not talking about Sheriff Timmy. Look who is singing with him.”
Frank stared hard trying to recognize the second singer. “Damn!” Remembering he was in church, Frank looked around to see if anyone had heard him. No one seemed to notice. “What the hell is he doing singing at Sammy’s funeral. I thought he was the reason we were having a funeral in the first place.”
My voice was loaded with anger as I tried to remain at a whisper. “As soon as we can get out of this pew, I’m going to go up there and beat the shit out of that bastard.”
Frank growled, “You’ll have to stand in line, I’ve got dibs on him first.” Frank gave a careful glance around the church and added, “I don’t see that nasty little hired hand of his lurking anywhere to protect him. So maybe we can take turns. We’ll have to wait for Mr. Prissy Pants, Sherriff Timmy to step away first.” It was surprising to hear Frank actually thinking ahead for a change. Normally he just dove into something and thought about it later.
As the hymn went into the final verse, the ushers were finally getting to our row to release us. As I stepped out to push pass the usher, he reached out and put a hand on my chest. The usher said, “This one?” into a miniature speaker with a microphone clipped around his ear. “Okay, I’ll let him know.”
I was not paying attention to the usher until he grabbed my arm. I tried shaking his grip loose and barked quietly at him, “Let go. I’ve got to get to the front of the church. I’m not going out the back.”
The usher leaned toward me as I drug him along. “Mr. Tobin? You are Mr. Tobin aren’t you?” I slowed down on my charge to the front of the altar and tried to listen to him. “Mr. Tobin, the family has relayed a request for you to say a few words at the internment. You need to go to the graveside directly.”
It took a few seconds for the request to sink in. My immediate reaction was first I needed to pound the shit out of Art Kennedy. Anger was bubbling through me. The nerve of Art Kennedy to come to Sammy’s funeral let alone sing a special vocal was burning up inside of me. The bastard may have not been the one that used a knife on Sammy but he was the one who was responsible. How could the asshole even think of doing something like this? I kept moving to the front with my eyes burning into Kennedy.
The closer I got to him my brain started to process what the usher had said. I realized this was a serious request from Sammy’s parents. I was brought up to help any of our family’s friends at times like this. But then the thought of having to speak in front of the family and the others gathered to say their last respects gave me the chills. I hate speaking in front of groups and to do that at a funeral was worse than usual. The usher was hanging on my arm waiting for an answer. All of this was swirling though my brain and whipping up my emotions as I stopped a few feet short of Sherriff Timmy and Art Kennedy.
My eyes were burning a hole in Art, glaring at him with hatred. Art gave a small laugh and said, “Were we that bad?”
I shook off my anger and spun around without saying anything pushing Frank ahead of me. I turned to the usher and said, “Let them know I’ll do it.” Immediately after agreeing, I started panicking about what I might say.
During the short procession to the cemetery, I wracked my brain for things to say about Sammy. Because we were near the back of the church and were about the last of the released congregation, the family and others were already gathered beside Sammy’s grave. As the minister intoned the grave side rights, the funeral director sidled up beside me and whispered. “The family really want more eulogy than the earlier – er, attempt in church. They thought if you could say something here at the grave side we may be able to avoid the earlier histrionics. The minister is clued in and will introduce you when he is done.”
The minister was done way too soon for my scrambling brain to assemble any kind of practiced speech. I heard, “Now Mr. Tobin, a good friend of Samuel’s, will say a few words.”
A way opened to the grave side as the crowd waited expectantly for me to come forward. As I stumbled slowly forward, I heard the continuing weeping and grief stricken sighs coming from the crowd of Sammy girlfriends. I didn’t want to do this. What the hell was I going to say? I was ready to back out feigning dizziness or something. Then I looked up and saw Sammy’s parents waiting for me. They deserved something better than the eulogy from the first wife. They had lost more than a friend as I had, they had lost their only son. I gathered myself and walked slowly forward.
Standing at the foot of the grave with a silent crowd waiting for me to start. I looked at the faces, some grief stricken like Sammy’s parents, some faces their more for the event, and a few of the girlfriends trying to figure out how to break in on the stage.
I cleared my throat several times waiting for inspiration. Not receiving any divine assistance, I stumbled forward anyway. “As you may or may not know, Sammy was a friend of mine. We met at college. He was on the football team with me.” I stopped and looked at Sammy’s mother. She gave me a small smile of encouragement. I bucked up and said, “Even though I have lost a friend, many here feel the same way. The greatest loss though is for his parents. They lost their only son. He left them too early and unnecessarily. Sammy was kind and honest and a great friend to many. His parents should be comforted like I am by the many fond memories of Sammy. My memories should consist of Sammy and me in football games and parties after the game, or the rodeos we attended competing against each other.
But, no, the memories that surface most readily are of Sammy leaving a party, or a football game, or a bar winking at me while I jealously watched him leave with the prettiest girl at the event. It was never the second prettiest or the third prettiest, it was always the best looking woman in attendance.” I looked up and saw some smiling faces from all the ladies that were past girlfriends of Sammy. If any of you ever walked out on the arm of Samuel, you know that at that game, rodeo or dance; you were the prettiest woman there.”
A lot of preening went on around me. Women with self-assured smiles were patting their hair into place and tucking their skirts straight. I looked right into the eyes of Sammy’s parents and added, “If I live to be a hundred I will receive only a micro percentage of the love that Sammy shared and received. You need to take comfort from the fact that your son was loved by more people (I wanted to say woman but I think everyone knew what I meant) than anyone else I know.” I felt much better about my effort on the eulogy as I saw the smiles ease on the faces of Sammy’s mom and dad.
I was at a loss for words to go on but felt like I may not have talked long enough. Some of the crowd was looking at me expectantly. My success at pleasing his family was starting to be short lived as I panicked trying to think of something to add.
Looking around at the closest faces I saw them all turning to the back of the crowd. My panic soon was replaced by surprise and curiosity. I turned with the rest of the crowd to see who was riding up on the white horse.
Whoever it was, they had the longest hair I had ever seen and appeared to be naked except for the hair. The lady had been moving toward the funeral group at a gallop and started to slow the horse to a trot. The trot revealed a significant amount of very interesting movement about chest high under the hair. Unfortunately as she got to the edge of the crowd the horse slowed to a walk.
The crowd parted as the horse and rider moved to the casket suspended over the grave. Upon closer inspection the hair appeared to be a wig and I did glimpse a pair of panty briefs as my eyes traveled up the long athletic legs. When I finally looked into her face, I thought I recognized her but couldn’t place where I had seen her before.
The rider stopped beside the casket and leaned forward laying a single red rose on the lid. The long blond wig fell away from her body as she leaned forward. There were a large number of the men present that almost fell over as they leaned forward for a better viewing angle. The minister had moved to the side of the coffin as the horse came up and was one of those men leaning the most. The minister lost his footing and started wind milling his arms in an effort to retain his balance. Since I was already leaning over so far, it was easy to grab the minister’s frock and pull him back to safety.
Having made her gesture, the surprising Lady Godiva, spun her horse and started away. The whole crowd was stunned into frozen silence. Everyone was too shocked to move except a lone tall red haired galoot at the far edge of the crowd. As the mystery rider approached Frank, he reached out with one of his long arms and plucked the rider’s wig off. She spun her horse into Frank and grabbed trying to get her wig back. Frank obligingly held it out to her and slowly pulled it back to him as she reached out. Frank finally let her take it from his hand as she almost fell off the horse leaning out to retrieve it. The rider quickly adjusted her wig and shook a warning finger in Frank’s face before riding off.
The crowd started buzzing with the retreat of the rider. Several of the ladies present appeared angry at being upstaged. I heard some under the breath muttering that included words like ‘bitch’ and ‘floosy cowgirl’. The minister had recovered his poise and said, “Well I think that is the end of the grave side rights. Please join us in the church dining hall for some light lunch and a chance to express your sympathy to the family.”
With that, the funeral for Sammy was over. I joined Frank on the walk back toward the church. He smiled the whole way back to the dining room. “You know something. We’ve met that little horse rider before. She was the lady Sammy was with the last night we saw him at Custer. She sure was some looker.” And his smile grew larger as he walked along remembering. That was the first time I had seen Frank smile since he threw those beer cans out on his driveway and quit drinking. At that time his smile was strange. His current smile was one of pure fantasy.
By the time we returned to the church, Art Kennedy was gone. It was a good thing because I don’t know what I would have done to him, but it surely would have gotten me into trouble. I was still having a difficult time believing Art had the gall to sing at Sammy’s funeral. I prowled around the church to make sure he wasn’t there. I really wanted a piece of his hide.
When I returned to the hall, Frank’s smile was back in place. Lady Godiva had appeared and was visiting with him. I stopped a little ways from Frank and didn’t hear the conversation. But it was obvious she was taken with Frank. I think Frank was surprised and then pleased with the attention. Before we left, Frank had a phone number. That might be just the thing to take his mind off Laurie.
On the way home Frank was sitting back with a bemused look on his face. “She said she was going to the rodeo at St. Onge.” I didn’t have to guess what ‘she’ he was talking about. “You said you’re going to the rodeo, right?”
“That’s right, Frank. TT is supposed to be riding a damn bull. I still have to talk him out of that.”
Frank gave me a sideways look. “So you can take me along.” He didn’t give me a chance to respond. “Thanks, Mitch.” He went back to a dreamy look on his face until he snapped forward. “Will Laurie be there?”
I was a little exasperated answering him. “You’ve been married to her for years. In all that time, how many times has she missed the St. Onge rodeo? She doesn’t spend all that time training her horse so she can stay home and not compete. Hell, the lady must have half a dozen championship saddles and about a hundred belt buckles that she has won over the years.”
Frank wasn’t tracking too well. “Oh, right.” Then he sat back and appeared to think hard. “Is it wrong to have a date when you are separated?” I didn’t bother trying to answer. Frank kept talking, not waiting for an answer. “Maybe if I don’t go on the date with the idea of having sex. Maybe it would be okay then.”
“Frank, you are not looking at that little filly without thinking about sex. You can fool yourself, but not me.”
Frank gave me his stubborn look and said, “Thinking about it is not the same as planning on it. There is a difference, Mitch.” He gave me a look of disgust for being so stupid and went back to silent thoughts. It was best for me not to know what he was contemplating.
Many of the vehicles traveling with us on the highway were heading back to Spearfish. I recognized the two in front of us and the first one in back of us. They were all neighbors and friends. I was paranoid from the phone calls of people spying on me and from what happened to Judy. So when the second vehicle behind me was strangely familiar but not readily identifiable it made me a little nervous. I waited for the next curve in the road to get a better look. It appeared to be the Kennedy Rodeo Stock pickup.