Everybody Dies Page 44

I thought Dowling would run away from him. He had twenty-five years on Mick and he must have been fifty pounds lighter, but Mick ran him down and launched himself through the air at the younger man. Then they were both down and I couldn't see what was going on. I saw Mick's arm raised high overhead, and moonlight glinted off something in his hand. The arm descended, and there was a scream, shrill and piercing in the night Mick's arm rose and fell, and the scream died abruptly. And again the arm rose and fell, rose and fell.

I was on my feet, my breathing ragged, a useless gun in each hand. For a long moment all was still except the sounds of the fire behind me. Then Mick got to his feet. He kicked at something, then walked toward me, pausing long enough to give whatever it was another hearty kick. He kicked it a third time, and of course by now I knew what it was.

It rolled on in front of him like a misshapen soccer ball, and this time when he reached it he bent over and snatched it up, carrying it out in front of him at arm's length. He walked right up to me, gripping Dowling's severed head by the hair. The eyes were wide open.

"Look at the fucker!" he cried. "And isn't he spit and image of his father now, eh? Have ye a leather bag, man? And shall we take young Paddy here round the bars, so all can admire him and stand him a drink?"

I didn't say anything. The only answer came from the house, where a roof beam gave way with a great crack. I turned at the noise and saw the roof sag and sparks erupt outward.

"Ah, Christ!" Mick roared. And he drew his arm back, and, like a basketball player winging one from half court at the buzzer, he hurled the head in a great high arc. It sailed in through a wide-open window and disappeared in the flames.

He stared after it, and then he drew his silver flask from his hip pocket. He uncapped it and tilted his head back and drank until the flask was empty. It was the first drink he'd taken since we found the bodies at Tom Heaney's house.

He screwed the cap back on the empty flask, and for a moment I had the sense that he was going to throw it where he'd thrown Dowling's head. But all he did was put it back in his pocket.

We threw our guns into the burning house, and the gas can, and the cloth sack of extra guns and bullets. We turned, then, and walked back the way we'd come, up the long drive, past the slaughtered hogs and chickens, past the toolshed, and into the orchard.

"Back through the woods," he said. "It's shorter than taking the road, though slower going. But we wouldn't want to meet anybody now, would we?"


"Not that there'll be many on the road this late. I doubt the firemen will come at all. The nearest neighbor's half a mile away, and it's good odds no one's even caught sight of the fire yet. By the time anybody gets here 'twill have long since burned to the foundation."

"It was a nice house," I said.

"A sound one. 'Twas built before the Civil War, or at least that's what they told me. The central portion of the house, that is. The porch was a later addition, and the one-story section on the left-hand side."

"I guess that was the best way to get them out. Burning the house."

"I'd say it was," he said, "but if I could have clapped my hands, and if that would have brought them all out in a row, their hands folded in front of them, just waiting to be shot, well, I'd still have had the chore of burning the house down afterward."

"You wanted it to burn."

"I did. I'm only regretful that I didn't hold back a bit of gasoline for the hog house and the hen coop. I'd see them in flames as well if I could. You think it strange of me?"

"I don't know what's strange anymore."

"How could I ever go there again? How could I ever look at the fucking place again? All I'd ever see would be the great corpses of the hogs raked with bullets, and the hens blown apart, and bloody feathers all over everything. And the O'Garas dead as well, and thank God I didn't have to see their bodies. Let the fire have them, eh?" He shook his head. "'Twas O'Gara's farm, you know. 'Twas his name on the deed. Well, let someone else figure out what to do with it. Let the state sort it out, and take it for back taxes in a couple of years. They can add it onto the adjoining lot, and it can all be state land then. And the hell with it, the hell with all of it."

We'd lost the flashlight from Andy's glove compartment, but he'd kept the better one, the black rubber flash I'd taken from the utility vehicle. He switched it on and lighted the way, and we made our way to the stream and crossed it, but this time we didn't bother finding rocks to step on. We just waded right through it.

He was still wearing his father's apron, and he'd taken the flashlight from one of its pockets. The other pocket was weighed down with his father's old cleaver, evidently sharp enough still for the work he'd put it to.

There was a lot of fresh blood on the apron.

The car was where we'd left it, in the clearing across from the little cabin. The 4WD vehicle was still parked in the same spot, too, and Mick watched in amusement as I took a moment to put the flashlight back where I'd found it. We got into the Caprice and the engine turned over as soon. as he keyed the ignition.

We rode in silence all the way to the chain with the restricted access sign, winch I lowered and replaced as before. As we turned onto the road he said, "There were more of them than we thought."

"Six," I said. "Dowling and Scalzo and Gafter. And the sentry, and that one with the mop of hair like Jerry Lee Lewis. Hard to guess how he fit in with that crowd."

"Hard to say how any of them did."

"And another one. He jumped off the side of the porch, and either he hurt his leg doing it or he was still limping from when I stomped on his foot. I don't know which one it was, him or the sentry because neither of them looked familiar."

"And you shot him."

"We shot each other," I said. "His bullet glanced off the vest."

"God, did it save you again? You'll be wearing it to bed after all this."

"I'm getting fond of it," I admitted. "You were the perfect target, with that big white apron"

"Less white now."

"I noticed. They couldn't hit you, could they?"

"It wasn't for lack of trying. They were bad shots, the lot of them. Six of the fuckers, though, good shots or not, and we killed them all."

"And got off without a scratch," I said. "Second sight notwithstanding."

"Ah," he said. "I was waiting for you to bring that up."

"I held off as long as I could."

"'Twas my mother said I had the second sight, and it's not the only thing she was ever wrong about. She never in her life had a decent word for the English, and didn't I tell you how nice they were to me the time I was over there?"

"That's a point."

"I'll give you the straight of it, though. I honestly thought I was going to die."

"I know you did."

"And a damned good thing I was mistaken, with no better priest than yourself to hear my confession. By Jesus, didn't I find a rare lot of bad old things to tell you!"

"You went on for a while."

"I have to say I don't regret it. Oh, there's more than a few of the deeds I regret. A man would have to. But I don't regret telling them all to you.

"I'm glad to hear it."

"And you still stood with me and saw the night through, even after all I said."

"To tell you the truth," I said, "I don't remember very much of what you told me."

"What, were you not paying attention?"

"Close attention. I hung on every word. But they didn't stay with me. They passed through me and I don't know where they went. Wherever such things go, I guess."

"In one ear and out the other."

"Something like that," I agreed. "All I really remember is the first thing you mentioned. About taking out the man's eye and showing it to him."

"Ah," he said. 'Well, that would be a difficult one to forget, wouldn't it?"

Later he said, "I've been thinking of what I might do next."

"I was wondering about that."

"You know, we had a good laugh about the feeling I had."

"The premonition."

He nodded. "It may not have been altogether wrong. There are different ways of dying, and of being reborn. I'm unscratched, but hasn't my whole life gone and died around me? Grogan's in ruins, and the farm in ashes. Kenny and McCartney gone, and Burke and Peter Rooney. And Tom Heaney. And Andy.

"Gone, all of them. And O'Gara and his wife. And the pigs and the chickens, all gone." He smacked the steering wheel. "Gone," he said.

I didn't say anything.

"I was thinking," he said, "that I've no place to go. But it's not true. I have a place to go."

"Where's that?"

"Staten Island."

"The monastery," I said.

"The Thessalonian Brothers. They'll take me in. They do that, you see. You go there and they take you in."

"How long will you stay?"

"As long as they'll have me."

"Do they allow that? Can people stay for a long time?"

"For a lifetime, if you want."

"Oh," I said. "You mean to stay there."

"Isn't that what I said?"

"What'll you do, exactly? Will you become a monk?"

"I don't know that I could do that. I'd be a lay brother, most likely. But 'twill be for them to tell me what I ought to do and when I ought to do it. The first step is to go there, and the second is to get one of them to hear my confession." He smiled. "Now that I've tried it out on you," he said. "Now that I've learned it won't kill me."

"Brother Mick," I said.

As we were crossing the George Washington Bridge I said, "There's something we're forgetting."

"And what would that be?"

"Well, I'm not sure I should mention this to a future servant of God," I said, "but we've got a dead body in the trunk."

"I've been thinking of it," he said, "ever since we got in the car."

"Well, I haven't. It slipped my mind entirely. What the hell are we going to do with him?"

"It would have been best to leave him on the farm. To bury him there. He'd not have lacked for company. Or even to lay him out there on the lawn with the other dead. He threw in with them, he could lie with them, in the bed he made."

"It's too late for that now."

"Ah, it was too late throughout, for how could we carry him through two or three miles of woods? And I didn't want to leave him where we parked the car, and even if we'd found a shovel and buried him there somebody could have come upon the grave. I'll tell you, the man's as difficult to contend with dead as he was alive."

"We have to do something," I said. "We can't just leave him in the trunk."

"Now I was wondering about that. Isn't it his car? And who has more right to be in its trunk than the man himself?"

"I suppose you've got a point."

"I thought of leaving it on the street," he said, "in his beloved Bronx, with the doors unlocked and the key in the ignition. How long do you think it would take before somebody took it for a ride?"

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