by James L. Secor
David Longshanks was an entrepreneur, a self-made man. Not that he began poor or on the dole. He was the son of an undertaker, Dunns Longshanks. Dunns had made a single horse town concern into a thriving business, for people must die and they must be buried, appropriately or not. As civilization bloated the town into a city, there was little call for the inappropriate sort; however, there was the Green Pastures out on the far Northeastern edge of the city where the poor and penurious and unknown (usually street people) were buried with no to-do and little in the way of respect, respect being costly, even just moderately so. Dunns served anybody who had any money.
David, before taking over the business, expanded its purview to taxidermy, for he was a hunter who liked to display his trophies. As were his friends. People in the surrounding countryside heard of David Longshanks and his superior taxidermy skills and this end of the Dunns Family Mortuary grew in distinction as the hunting seasons became glutted with guns and displaced animals. Civilization with its unlimited development and expansion led to animals losing their habitat and food source and, thus, becoming easy targets for both the city slickers and the preying country folk.
Dunns Family Mortuary.
David’s next entrepreneurial endeavor arose out of the immediate needs of the Mortuary business. The business had to expand, so more land had to be bought. Empty lots and old houses alongside the Mortuary were bought up. The lots were easy to acquire; the houses, more often than not, had to be condemned. The families were forced to relocate and David then waited to buy the property at auction. The houses came down. Some of the acquired land, what was not used for renovation and expansion of the undertaking business buildings, was turned into parking lot. As the winter wind could be icy and the summer sun blazing, David made sure the parking areas were dotted with trees. This also made the business more aesthetic and caring-appearing.
Which led to David’s landscaping business. There were no shade trees in any of the parking lots around the city and the city streets needed sprucing up. David made sure that both city and businesses saw the advantages of having trees, if for nothing else than the aesthetics of the place. From trees, general landscaping grew, as did a gardening and florist business in several locations around the city to forestall too much competition. Two of any kind of business in the same area was not good for either business, so David made sure he was on site first. On site and large.
Emma’s Exquisite Floral Shop. Emma was Mrs. David Longshanks. Emma Sue Denniker Longshanks.
Fortune Realty naturally grew into speculation which naturally led to the founding of a consortium focused on developing and building lucrative ventures. It did not matter if the venture was productive or not. The Ivy League Consortium owned the land and the buildings and managed to rent out the properties if, indeed, the original idea tanked. As happened with a couple shopping centres. They were interested in high end development. Of course, The Ivy League Consortium had nothing at all to do with the East Coast Ivy League colleges and universities. But it was suggestive.
Through it all, David Longshanks’ most engaging business was the Mortuary and the Taxidermy business. David loved embalming.
Despite his drive for neverending development and the furthering of civilization, David was also socially responsible. Socially active. Because of the fight to save his father’s life, David Longshanks became involved in organ donorship. His father had needed a liver. There were too few to go around or any liver available was too far away to make it a viable replacement. Thus, his father died a painful, wasting away death. David worked assiduously to make organ donorship a socially edifying behavior, albeit to begin with the religious battled against such heresy, until one of their own died in need. David made donorship a voluntary additive to licensing: if you joined the donor program and you were involved in a fatal accident, your organs could be harvested in order that another should live. Without advertising, David always gave the families of the organ donor program a discount on their casket and in-house services, if they were in the area.
So, David and Emma Longshanks became upstanding social citizens. They were asked to donate to this or that charity. They were asked to serve on this or that board of directors. They were sought out for this or that sponsorship. Life was good.
The first sign of a chink in the Longshanks well-tempered and lustrous armor was rather innocuous. Even a tad humorous. Sometime during prohibition, a notable area resident involved in rum running was shot and killed. Briskin Swipes, AKA Sousee. Not shot by the police, though they claimed the prize, but by a rival running crew. New Brummagem was not big enough for two such lines of transport. As New Brummagemens enjoyed viewing the unrepentant dead in proof that crime never pays, Briskin Swipes was exposed in a pinewood coffin, as per tradition, and photos were taken and displayed in various shop windows and church signboards around town. Before putrification set in, Briskin Swipes was turned over to David Longshanks for burial. But David wished to preserve, for posterity and example, the body. Briskin was not the most handsome of men and in death was downright gruesome looking. He was a modern day outlaw, revered by some, reviled by others. Face was important in this time of ignominy and David wanted to save this face. So, instead of embalming the man, pickling him, you might say, David decided to stuff him, taking especial care of the external taxidermy details. Perhaps, stuffed, Briskin Swipes appeared more real than real. Not surreal, super-real, über-real. Later, David began exhibiting his stuffed man in order to showcase his skills. Taxidermy was, after all, about preservation.
There was, however, a more offing aspect to the taxidermy: inside the stuffing was the real skeleton of Briskin Swipes. David did not tell anyone this. He found it, in fact, quite humorous and often giggled at his joke, assuming someone discovered the skeleton. How shocking! How ludicrous!
Dreams have a way of coming true in the most unimaginable ways.
The local New Brummagem film studio, Cantery Studio, borrowed the stuffed bootlegger for some independent science fiction film, The Forelanders by name. Briskin Swipes was a prop, a re-occurring prop. It so happened that during one removal and repositioning of Briskin, the arm fell off. The cast and crew were accordingly astounded and horrified.
The police were notified and the State Bureau of Investigation was called in to uncover the identity of the skeleton. They had a top forensic anthropologist, Necessity Bluffing—Nessy to her friends—who returned the diagnosis of Briskin Swipes. And so the history of the man rose up in the news. This could not be tolerated in the filming, so another dummy was found and the stuffed man—with skeleton—was disposed of. Apparently, a carny bought it, sewed the arm back on and displayed it in his Wonders of the World exhibit until the skin began to scale off and the joints to fall apart. By then, everyone had forgotten all about Briskin Swipes, except, perhaps, myth and legend.
In the meantime, David’s skill with a knife and needle did not go unnoticed. Even to David’s entrepreneurship. How could he make good use of these skills to enhance his businesses? Wealth, like development, was limitless. And his desire was unslaking. Emma did not know what he was doing but enjoyed no end the benison that accrued from it.
Now that organ transplanting had gained respectability and more and more people required new organs in order to continue living, cheating death, you might say, it was discovered that there were not enough organs to go around. The sick and dying were not being saved. People had to die in horrible pain, faces and bodies distorted. Organs could not be grown but could be harvested. David Longshanks was in a privileged position in this respect, as the newly accident dead came his way for embalming and assigned donation. But who was to know that a kidney or lung or liver or, less likely, heart was removed sans visé and sent on its way to someone in need. A secret social conscience is a self-satisfying thing. It is, too, delusional.
Fresher organs were needed even though David Longshanks had insinuated himself into the legion of organ rescuers. David beat his breast over the loss of life due to the shortage of good organs, as much by less death as by those who selfishly, in his eyes, kept their organs for themselves in death. Many still believed it was sacrilege to give away organs and for others to live with these second hand vestiges of humanity. Someone here was playing God, it was thought by these people. It was of little consequence that people died in the face of their superstitious intransigence.
And so David Longshanks got involved in illegal harvesting. It is true he would not kill the unwitting donor but, still, the donor was none the wiser until after the fact. The first inklings of this new business came via grisly newspaper and TV reports of bodies found in bath tubs full of ice water. The surgical-quality scars were, of course, suspicious and, while the recovering person was hospitalized, scrutinized and medicated into a stupor, the discovery of the missing organs was revealed.
This was worse than stories of Frankenstein monsters and mad scientist experiments. The grizzly details and gruesomeness, the inhumanity of the illegal harvesting was splashed everywhere. Investigations were initiated but never elicited findings. No notice was taken of the life saved somewhere in the land. David Longshanks was not, after all, after publicity. That kind of adulation was not soulful.
Stories began emerging of the sort of a person who meets someone at a bar and they have a few drinks, a few laughs. The unsuspecting tipster becomes inebriated. Together they go to a hotel room and the person passes out. Not solely from the alcohol. Knock out drugs were casually added to the drinks. The person wakes up in the morning in a bathtub filled with ice and an abdominal incision that was not theirs. Tales of injured construction or oil or mine workers waking up days later lying on a cold metal table without certain of their organs and writhing in pain. These latter unfortunates usually died. Though the two harvesting techniques were not related, they were conflated, adding to the inhumanity of the black market organ salesmen. Organ pushers.
The organ pusher is a monster. He’s not a natural man. The organ pusher will ruin someone’s body and leave its mind to scream, all in the name of goodness and right but truly for greed. God damn the organ pusher man.
As with criminals, organ harvesters—and David Longshanks—leaned toward repetitive behavior. Humanity is both blessed and cursed with such repetitiveness. It is comfortable.
It is in such wise that David Longshanks’ shenanigans were brought to light. This was, of course, the end of his entrepreneurship. The end of unending expansion and resource development. There is a limit to the things of life. A balance, the median way, must be found for continuance to be assured. David Longshanks was over-stepping his—society’s—bounds. Exposure and punishment was inevitable, though not by the outlaw. Was not David Longshanks a Robin Hood?
The fallout from David Longshanks’ greed, his delusion of social goodness, the lie he needed to tell himself in order to make life tolerable—the fallout was immediate and long lasting. Emma Longshanks became hysterical and would not wear any of the finery she had acquired secondary to her husband’s nefarious dealings. The mortuary and taxidermy businesses deteriorated and were, eventually, sold at great loss. Emma was attentive enough, however, to dispose of the landscaping, gardening and flower businesses before they became tainted beyond repair. She retired to a ghost town out in the middle of the plains along an abandoned railway line and lived out her life in seclusion. It was a miserable life. The David Longshanks family dispersed around the country, changing their name in order to escape censure and ostracization. The Ivy League Consortium dissolved in a hole-and-corner way, the assets being divided between the owners and then new venturisms begun.
New Brummagem faded away, turning into a historical village. A tourist trap.
And, then, there was nothing.
(c) 2015, James L. Secor