William Fitzgerald Attends A Funeral

There was no body; in its place was an unadorned block of bronze with a name laser-etched into the side. William Fitzgerald passed in front of it without seeing. Dead people held no interest for him except as the living gave them value. Whatever secrets and old shames the name represented, they weren’t to be found in this collection of ashes and bones fragments. He had known the man as a hypocrite and a murderer, but he passed no judgments; the man had paid fully and punctually until he died, and in his blackmailer’s soul, that was the only virtue that mattered.

No one spoke to him, of course. Here, as at all gatherings, he was a human nullity, one more mourner unremarkable in his ugliness. Half the family were clients of his in one manner or another, not that any of them recognized him outside the familiar squalor of his office. These big families, these big old families, they were his bread and butter. There was always something they wanted, always some further degradation, and William Fitzgerald was a born pander.

In his own way he mourned the corpse. It may have been a monster made human only through unassailable wealth, but there had been blood there. The survivors, for all they paid him the tribute that vice owed to virtue, were alien in their cold and abstracted cruelty. They saw people as he saw people — resources to be mined down to the bedrock and abandoned — and William Fitzgerald looked on the world of which he was the true inheritor and mourned.