Crisp and Burns
Dave Burns and Shane Crisp worked in the local crematorium. Dave was the superintendent and Shane his second in command. They were responsible for ensuring that when the hearse arrived the transition from shoulder to catafalque to cremator was seamless. You may not know what a catafalque is, so let me explain; it is from the Italian ‘catafalco’, meaning scaffold, so basically the platform upon which the coffin sits in the chapel before it goes through the doors. Dave and Shane were of a mind that rules were made to be broken and were running a tidy business in the sale of second-hand jewellery and gold teeth routinely melted by the cremator into little nuggets. It was forbidden to open a coffin once committed, but Dave and Shane couldn’t understand any family’s desire to melt good gold or destroy good diamonds when there was a market for them over the Harrow Road in the form of Hymie Mordechai the pawnshop owner. He would buy almost anything dodgy for the right price.
The cremator melted the gold from teeth, wedding rings and pendants and once enough was accumulated Dave would put it all into his bar mould, then run it all through a cremation process on its own, resulting in a perfectly formed twenty-four-carat gold bar weighing exactly five ounces. Their last visit to Hymie resulted in a rather nice bundle of cash amounting to twelve thousand pounds. This was quarterly and Dave and Shane loved the pure ease of it all. Diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones had netted the two more than one and a half million in the last two years. Their lives were good and they could see no reason this would ever change.
The cremation process involves temperatures of between 700°C and 2,000°C. This turns most of the human remains to dust. The larger bones are still visible, but collapse when put through the cremulator, a crushing machine that makes total ash of the remains. The Cremation Law 1947 Paragraph 4 Subsection 3a stated that ashes should always be separated and kept individually contained. They are to be put into separate urns awaiting collection by family or for scattering.
Dave and Shane never separated the ashes.
Everything they cremated went into a yellow Wickes plastic dustbin from which Shane would pour ash into the family’s chosen urn using a plastic dustpan. Most families were scattering the ashes of dozens of people, but they didn’t know and in Dave’s mind what the eye didn’t see the heart didn’t grieve over. Furthermore after such high temperatures there was no DNA so they could never be found out.
Pacemakers had to be removed from bodies prior to being cremated, as the ion batteries inside would explode under the intense heat and potentially demolish the cremator. Word was that the zinc mercuric oxide units gave off a hefty bang due to the rapid formation of hydrogen gas that would split the casing of the pacemakers. Doug routinely removed the pacemakers from bodies for a small fee using a Stanley knife and a pair of pliers, yanking out the heart connectors when there were new funeral recruits around. He liked to see if they would ‘grow or throw’… most threw.
Shane and Dave paid Doug £5 for each pacemaker he was prepared to sell. Ramshit Patel paid Shane and Dave £50 for each one they sold him. He cleaned them up, put them in convincing medical boxes and then sold them to a Hineishen heart surgeon near the Punjab for £300 each. Ramshit was a very happy minicab driver and was soon to retire to his home where his new house was almost built on Moorbi Island.
The editor of the Moorabi Medical Enquirer, Tachit Lonk, threatened to run a piece on the near hundred per cent mortality rate of the recipients of the special low-priced UK pacemakers, but a healthy donation to the editor’s pension fund soon made all attention go away.
It never occurred to the two cremation meisters that their salaries could never support the lifestyle they currently displayed. The Porsche and Range Rover in the car park with personalised number plates ST1 FF and D3 AD screamed of something not being right but so far nobody appeared to have twigged. “We are essentially recycling,” Dave said to Doug, who’d arrived with the 2.30pm cremation on the hearse.
“Bollocks.” Doug laughed as he pocketed the £50 bung Dave paid him as ‘quiet money’.
Shane had even bigger ideas and had been onto an independent undertaker in Newcastle upon Tyne, who was happy to take receipt of used coffins at £100 each.
Wholesale costs of coffins were ever increasing due to rising timber costs, with undertakers’ margins being squeezed from every angle. An average pine coffin retailed at £400, with hardwood prices increasing to sometimes more than £3,000.
Shane wanted to get started right away. Dave was more reticent, but understood that, as he burnt more than sixty coffins a week, this was a tidy sum if he only flogged that many to Newcastle every month.
It meant opening the boxes and cremating only the bodies, then loading the emptied coffins onto a van in the middle of the night, heading north, and Bob’s yer uncle. It was simple.
There was an even more sinister side to the cremation business in which Dave and Shane had immersed themselves. They signed up to a deal with the local crime lord, Mitch ‘the Stripe’ Carter, to do what became known as ‘doubling’. It was quite simple. He would ‘off’, or as he liked to put it, ‘remove the deadwood from the forest’ and deliver the murdered carcass to the boys after 9pm. They would, for £500 cash, cremate the corpse along with any other legal ones they were cremating that night. No trace, no DNA and no worries. Shane and Dave had so much cash in bundles in their Big Yellow rented space that they’d had to hire more. No thought had gone into how they were going to launder it; they were just riding the crest of a huge cash wave and they couldn’t see how it could ever end.
Mitch ‘the Stripe’ Carter dealt in drugs, guns and protection rackets. He hated everyone, even his mother, who was every bit as ugly as he was. He considered the money very well spent and knew that those two wankers at the crem would never dare say a word, and now that they had started doing this for him, well, they were fucked. No saying no now. More than twenty unexplained disappearances could be credited to Mitch in the past year, but the police were too busy to investigate missing losers, so they didn’t bother. All in all, Dave and Shane were in the money and the sky was the limit.
Mitch had a stammer when he got nervous, which often resulted in even more people getting hurt. He hated having the piss taken out of him and a stammer was the first thing wags would have a pop at. His greatest regret was when he was introduced to his sister, Kylie’s, new boyfriend, Tyrees. It went a bit like this.
“This is my brother, Mitch; Mitch, this is Tyrees.” “Ppppleased to meet you, TTTyrees,” Mitch said. “Yyyyou tttttooo,” Tyrees had replied.
Mitch afterwards reasoned how was he to have known Tyrees also had a stammer? He’d hit him so hard with the fire extinguisher that the paramedics thought Tyrees was dead. He was, in fact, in a deep coma and being fed through a straw. Mitch had felt quite guilty for about ten seconds and then moved on. He never admitted he was wrong on principle.
Kylie said some months later that he’d be better off dead. “He has no life because of you, you evil bastard.”
Mitch had thought on this and that evening had donned a white coat, walked into Pillesden Hospital unchallenged, strolled into Tyrees’s room and turned off his ventilator. He walked away thinking how pleased his sister would be that he’d finally sorted out things and fulfilled her wishes.
Unfortunately, when he told her she collapsed and later in the pub when he wasn’t looking she’d hit him on the side of the head with a half brick, rupturing his inner eardrum. He mused later that there really, really was no pleasing women, but it had cured his stammer.