Everybody Dies Page 43

Ahead of me, Mick stopped dead in his tracks. I wondered why, and then I heard it myself, faint but unmistakable. Dead ahead of us, soft music was playing.

He moved on, cautiously, and I kept apace. The music's volume increased as we got closer to it Then Mick held up a hand to stop me, and brought a finger to his lips. He reached into his pocket with one hand and drew the gun from his belt with the other, and I could tell he was fitting the suppressor to the weapon.

Then he moved ahead, and deeper into the shadows, and I couldn't see him clearly. I drew the revolver from my shoulder holster and held on to it. I listened carefully and all I heard was the radio, playing a country and western song. It sounded familiar but I couldn't make out the words.

I caught a whiff of something and sniffed the air. It was smoke I smelled, cigarette smoke.

Then I heard what must have been gunshots. I wouldn't have heard them if I hadn't been listening for them, wouldn't have recognized them if I hadn't known what to expect. They were soft popping sounds, the kind you get when you break a bubble from a piece of bubble wrap.

Mick stepped out of the shadows, motioned me forward. I walked without making noise, although we'd gone far enough from the house that they wouldn't be able to hear footsteps. Still, there was no point in making unnecessary noise.

At the side of the drive, a man lay sprawled in a canvas sling chair. He was wearing a Chicago Bulls warm-up jacket and a pair of Levi's, and on his feet he wore black Dr. Martens and white athletic socks. There was a gun in his lap, one of those 9mm's that come with an oversized clip holding ten or a dozen rounds. He'd never get to use them, though, because his days as a gunman were over. He'd been shot twice, once in the center of the chest and once in the middle of the forehead, and if Danny Boy knew the son of a bitch he could put his name on the list.

There was a little portable radio playing on the ground alongside, and next to the radio was a half gallon jug of wine about two-thirds full. There was a cell phone on the ground, also, and a few feet away was the cigarette he'd been smoking. Mick stuck out a foot and stepped on it, hesitated, then stepped on the cell phone, too.

He had Andy's Zippo in his hand, and he spun the wheel and held the flame in front of the man's face. I took a good look and shook my head. He was nobody I'd ever seen before.

"I suppose he could have been one of the muggers," I whispered. "Not Scalzo but the one I never got a good look at. Of course he was wearing soft shoes that night, not Dr. Martens."

"Mayhaps he learned his lesson."

"You taught him a better lesson than I did. Flick the light again, will you? Once in the heart and once in the head, and they're big wounds with hardly any blood from either of them. Whichever shot hit him first, it must have been instantly fatal."

"Jesus," he said, "you needn't investigate the fucking case. We know who killed this one." He closed the lighter, put it away, took the suppressor from the gun, put it in a pocket, then removed the clip from the gun and replaced the two bullets he'd fired. He picked up the casings his gun had ejected, started to pocket them, changed his mind and wiped them on his shirttail, then tossed them on the dead man's lap.

We left him there, the gun and the casings on his lap, the radio playing.

I stood at the rear of the house. There was a big metal box mounted on it, its door hanging open now. I had a grip on the handle of the main circuit breaker, and I leaned as far as I could to my left, looking around the corner of the house to where Mick was standing. He was wearing his father's apron. I'd tried to talk him out of it, it would make him too visible a target, but he wouldn't hear it. Now his hand moved in signal, and I thrust the handle down and cut off all electrical power to the farmhouse.

The house went instantly dark, of course, and silent. The silence only lasted for a second or two, but Mick was already in motion. Lighting the wick of one of his bottles, heaving it, racing a dozen years to his right to light another wick and hurl another bottle.

Within the house, noise erupted. Men shouted, called to each other, pushed back chairs, bumped into walls and tables in the darkness. I ran back a few yards to where I'd left my stash of jars and bottles, scratched a match, lit the scrap of cloth that served as a wick, and threw it at a ground-floor window. Glass broke and the bottle disappeared inside, and then there was an explosion and I could see flames leaping behind what was left of the window.

There were other explosions in the front of the house. Inside, men were screaming at each other. I lit and tossed my two remaining jars of gasoline, lofting one at a second-floor window, heaving the other at the back door just as someone struggled to open it. It burst on impact and flames blossomed in the doorway.

I got down on the ground. I heard gunfire from the front of the house, and now a shape appeared at a window in the back. I fired at it, and the person I shot at snapped off a couple of rounds in my direction, then drew back from the window.

I got up into a crouch and ran to a position where I could see what was going on in front while still keeping the back door covered. A bullet whined overhead and I hit the dirt, then swung around and returned fire. I didn't hit anything, unless you want to count the house itself.

It was burning briskly now, with flames visible on both floors and at all corners. There was a great explosion. Or implosion, as a side window burst on the second floor. A man ran out onto the porch, and I hurried around the side of the house, and fired at him. He fired back at me and vaulted over the porch railing and hit the ground running. He was favoring one leg, and I wondered if he and not the dead sentry had been one of the two who'd mugged me. Or had he hurt his leg just now leaping from the porch?

I held the gun in both hands and squeezed the trigger, but the hammer clicked on an empty cartridge. I dropped the gun and yanked Andy's niner from behind my back. He saw me now and fired twice, and one bullet struck me on the right side just below the collarbone. The vest stopped it but the impact knocked me off-balance. I righted myself and aimed and squeezed the trigger, and nothing happened, and I found the safety with my thumb and cleared it and aimed and fired, and he clutched his chest and took a step and fell to the ground. I waited a moment, and when he didn't move I ran up to him and shot him in the head.

I'd left the revolver where it lay. I went back and found it, broke it open, spilled out the empty cartridges and fumbled others from my jacket pocket. I jammed them into the chambers and snapped the cylinder back in place, and the back door of the house flew open and a man burst out of the flame-shrouded doorway.

Donnie Scalzo. He had some kind of automatic weapon in his hands and he triggered off a burst, but he didn't see me and the bullets didn't come anywhere close. I aimed at him, fired, missed. He let out a yell and swung the gun around toward me. He fired and missed high, and I steadied the gun and shot him in the shoulder. He cried out and turned as if to run back into the house, but the doorway was a sheet of flame now. He spun around again, one arm hanging, clutching the gun awkwardly in his left hand now, and I fired and missed, and fired again and got him in the gut, halfway between the navel and the groin. He roared and fell and clutched himself, and I remembered how I'd left him alive the last time. I ran over to him and he looked at me and I shot him twice and he died.

* * *

There was no point covering the rear of the house because there was no way anybody would be coming through the back door. I circled around to the right and looked around for Mick. The white butcher's apron made him easy to spot. We were both in front of the burning farmhouse now, but at opposite ends of it.

Gunfire came from a window, and he fired back at its source. There was a loud noise that seemed to come from the second floor, a roof beam giving way, a part of the ceiling falling, something like that. Then there was a brief silence, and then two men appeared on the porch within seconds of each other. One burst through the front door while the other smashed out what remained of the window and stepped nimbly over the sill.

One was a man I'd never seen before. He had a pompadour like an old-fashioned country singer and a mustache like a riverboat gambler, and he held a pistol in each hand and was firing them in turn. I don't know what he was shooting at and I'm not even sure his eyes were open. He stood there flat-footed, blasting away with his two guns. I shot at him and missed, and Mick shot him twice and hit him and he fell back through the window into the burning house.

The other man was Moon Gafter.

I'd never seen him before, but that didn't keep me from recognizing him. He was tall, at least six-five, with a rawboned frame and that big white moon face. With his long wiry arms and that oversized head he looked like a creature from another planet, or a giant praying mantis.

He looked right at me but I don't think he saw me. He saw Mick, and swung his gun toward the stained white apron. I took aim and got off a shot at him, and the bullet struck him on the left side of the rib cage. He didn't seem to notice it, and I thought he must be wearing a vest himself, but then I saw blood flowing, streaming over his belt and down his trouser leg. But he was still standing, paying no attention to the wound, and he began firing at Mick.

I steadied the gun, aiming for his heart, but when I fired I hit him high on the shoulder. This wound bled, too, but if he felt it he gave no sign. He was shooting at Mick, and now he dashed down the porch steps and ran toward Mick, firing as he ran.

Mick shot back at him and hit him in the chest, and that slowed him down a little, but he kept on coming. I ran toward the two of them and trained the big automatic on Gafter and squeezed off three shots as I ran, and one missed but two struck home, one at the belt line and the other in the small of the back, but they didn't seem to have any effect on him.

Then Mick took a step toward him and fired, and Gafter stopped in his tracks and the gun fell from his fingers. And Mick ran up and stuck the gun in the man's wide open mouth and blew the back of his head off.

"Jesus," he said. "By God, he takes a fucking lot of killing."

I stood there, trying to catch my breath, and there was a burst of gunfire behind me and I threw myself to the ground. I spun around and there stood Dowling himself, the bastard son of Paddy Farrelly, silhouetted against the burning house. He had an automatic rifle like the one Nguyen Tran Bao had used to shoot up Grogan's, and he looked at me, and our eyes locked for an instant just as they had that first night at the bar. Then I fired and missed, and he fired at me just as I threw myself to the ground. That burst was high. Then he overcorrected and the next burst dug up the lawn in front of me.

I looked up. Mick was on his feet facing Dowling, aiming his pistol. He fired twice and missed. Dowling triggered a burst, but it was a short one because the clip was empty. He'd used up too many rounds on pigs and chickens.

I fired at him and missed, and Mick aimed and shot and missed, and Dowling threw his gun aside and vaulted the porch rail and took off, running flat out toward the hogpen and the chicken yard and the orchard beyond.

Mick shot at him and missed, and tried again. There was a click and he threw down the empty gun. Then he was up and moving, running hard, running after Dowling. My revolver was empty. I thought I might have a round or two left in the automatic, but I couldn't get a clear shot. I don't think I could have hit a moving target at that range anyway, but with Mick between me and Dowling I didn't dare try.

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