Everybody dies, p.42
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       Everybody Dies, p.42

         Part #14 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 42

 

  "You remembered his name. "

  "Theres hope for me yet. After he heard you out, was that the end of it? He didnt absolve you of your sins. Did he at least give you any penance? Any Aves to say? Any Our Fathers?"

  "No. "

  "He just left it at that?"

  "The rest was up to me. The way we do it, we have to forgive ourselves. "

  "How, for Gods sake?"

  "Well, there are other steps. Its not penance, exactly, but maybe it works the same way. Making amends for the harm youve done. "

  "However would a man know where to begin?"

  "And self-acceptance," I said. "Thats a big part of it, and dont ask me how you do it. Its not exactly my own area of expertise. "

  He thought about it and nodded slowly. The corners of his mouth turned up the slightest bit. "So you wont grant me absolution," he said.

  "I would if I could. "

  "Ah, what kind of a priest are you? The wrong kind entirely. Knowing you, youd probably change wine into water. "

  "The miracle of Insubstantiation," I said.

  "Wine into Perrier," he said. "With all the tiny bubbles. "

  We were on his land from the moment wed forded the little stream, and we had another five minutes in the woods before we came to a cleared patch of ground. At the high ground on the other side of the clearing was the orchard, to the side of which wed buried Kenny and McCartney. Beyond the orchard were the gardens and the hogpen and the hen coop, and a ways past that was the old farmhouse.

  "Now wed best be quiet," he murmured, "for voices carry. Theyd never hear us this far off, but the animals might. In fact twill be the devils own trick getting past the hog lot without the beasts knowing it. Even if were dead quiet theyll catch our scent, though how they can smell anything at all beyond their own raw stench is a great puzzle to me. "

  And there were a few guinea fowl penned in with his hens, he said. Pretty creatures, that roosted in the trees and made a racket when you went near them. OGara liked having them, liked the way they looked, and assured him they were a delicacy and much prized on the fanciest table, but he found them stringier than chicken and not as tasty. They were splendid for raising an alarm, though, true watchdogs with wings, and thered be a little noise from them, a little grunting from the hogs, no matter how carefully we got by them. But these were city boys we were coming after, and what would they make of a bit of cawing and oinking from the livestock?

  We switched off our flashlights. There was enough moonlight for us to make our way over cleared ground. We walked slowly, picked up our feet deliberately and set them down softly. When we cleared the orchard I could see lights on in the farmhouse. The only sound I could hear was my own breathing.

  We walked on. There was a graveled path but we kept to the side of it, where the grass and weeds made a quieter surface underfoot than the loose gravel. A lighted window in the farmhouse kept drawing my eyes. I could picture them in there, sitting around a table, eating and drinking things from the big old refrigerator, opening Ball jars and spooning out preserves that Mrs. OGara had put up. I didnt want to imagine all this, I wanted to concentrate on what I was doing, but the images filled my head anyway.

  He stopped in his tracks, caught my arm.

  "Listen," he whispered.

  "To what?"

  "Thats it," he said. "As close as we are, we should hear them. "

  "In the house?"

  "The animals," he said. "They can hear us. They should be stirring, and we should be hearing them. "

  "I cant hear them," I whispered back, "but I can certainly smell them. "

  He nodded and sniffed the air, sniffed it again. "I dont care of it," he said.

  "Would anybody?"

  He frowned. He was picking up something on the night air that I couldnt make out. I guess he was used to smelling his hogs and chickens, and knew when something didnt smell as it should.

  He touched a finger to his lips, then led the way. The smell got stronger as we neared the fenced hogpen. He went right up next to the fence, leaned his forearms on the topmost rail. Not a sound came from within, and now I smelled it, too, a stale top note to the usual reek of the animals waste.

  He switched on his flashlight, played it around the pen, stopped the beam when it lit up a dead hog. The animal lay on its side in its own blood, its great white flank stitched with bullet holes. He moved the light here and there, and I could make out others.

  He switched off the light, nodded to himself, and started walking to the hen coop. It was the same story there, but a little more vivid, with blood and feathers everywhere. He stood there and looked at the carnage and breathed deeply, in and out, in and out. Then he switched off his light and turned on his heel and began walking back the way wed come.

  My first thought was that he was going to walk away from it, from all of it, that wed go back across the stream and through the woods to where wed left the Chevy. But I knew that couldnt be, and realized he was heading for the little toolshed, the one that looked like an outhouse. I knew there was a shovel in there, and another inane thought came unbidden, that he was going to bury the slain animals. But that couldnt be, either.

  He said, "When a mink or a weasel gets into a henhouse, why, it will kill like that. Youll find every hen dead and none of them eaten. Wanton savagery youd call it, but, dont you see, the weasel has a reason. It wants the blood. It drinks the blood from each of them, and leaves the flesh. So if you said it was bloodthirsty, why, youd only be saying the simple truth. Its thirsty for the blood. "

  He turned to me. "What they wanted," he said, "was target practice. A chance to test their guns and show off for each other. And the job of shooting the animal and watching it stagger around, blood spouting from it, and then shooting it again. And again. "

  I thought about what hed said. I nodded.

  "In a way," he said, "it makes it easier. "

  "How do you mean?"

  "I was trying to think how to get the OGaras out of there. On the small chance that they were still alive. But I know now theres no chance at all. Was it OGara answered the phone when you called?"

  "I couldnt swear to it. But I think it probably was, yes. "

  "Thats what they kept him alive for," he said. "Not for you to call, for theyd never have thought that might happen. But in case I called. I might have called before I came out, and theyd have had him there to answer, with a gun to his head and a gun to his wifes, and no way for him to do anything but whatever they told him to do. "

  "Couldnt they still be alive?"

  "No," he said, "and you can blame me for that, if youve a mind to. Twas Andys call that killed them. If Id stopped him from going back to his house, hed have had no chance to make that call. And theyd have kept OGara alive, him and his wife both, and theyd still be alive now. I thought of that, you see, but I thought of it too late. I thought of it when I called Andys number and got the busy signal. Now theyll know were on our way, I thought, and then it struck me what the immediate consequences of knowing would be, and I saw my mistake. "

  "You cant blame yourself for that. "

  "I could," he said, "but I wont waste a great lot of feeling on it. Call or no call, they might have killed them anyway by now. Out of boredom, for lack of anything else to kill. And even if they were alive now theres little enough chance theyd still be breathing an hour from now. Weve a hard enough task ahead of us without having to get two people out of that house alive. " He sighed. "Its a blameless life they led, both of them. They got to heaven a few hours early, thats all. Theyre up there now, wouldnt you say? While were down here in hell. "

  "Weve another great advantage," he said. "Theyre stupid. "

  He was half in and half out of the little toolshed, making his preparations, filling jars and bottles from a five-gallon can, stuffing rages into their mouths as stoppers. I squatted nearby, holding the light for him. The toolshed was way in back near the orchard, not far from where wed dug the two
-man grave. The ground had settled some since we mounded the earth over it, but you could still see the convexity of it.

  The farmhouse was a couple of hundred yards away. They couldnt possibly hear us from that distance, but even so he kept his voice down.

  "Stupid," he said again. "Twas worse than stupidity that led to the slaughter of the hogs and chickens, but it was stupid all the same. Supposed we drove straight back there. Suppose Id insisted to Andy that he drive all the way back, because I wanted to inspect the grave site, or have a look at the animals, or for any damn reason at all? Hed have done it, and Id have seen the carnage, and their great surprise would have been no surprise at all. Its a good sign, that stupidity. If theyre stupid in one thing they may well be stupid in another. Give me a hand with these, but take no more than you know you can carry. You dont want to be dropping them, or making any noise with them at all. Better to make two trips. "

  We made three in all, carrying the stoppered jars and bottles, carrying the can itself, half empty now, carrying the cloth sack of guns and extra ammunition. We stashed everything in the high grass at the edge of the chicken yard. When we were done Mick leaned back against a fence post and caught his breath, then reached for the silver flask in his hip pocket. He took it out and looked at it, then put it back in his pocket unopened.

  He brought his head close to mine, spoke in a soft whisper. "As stupid as they are," he said, "they might not have posted a sentry. But weve got to make sure, and I almost hope they have. We can take him out and shorten the odds. "

  We left our flashlights with the bottles and jars and extra guns. Mick reached into the cloth sack and came out with a suppressor. He made sure it fit his pistol, then took it off and put it in his pocket and the pistol back in his waistband.

  We approached the house, picking our feet up and setting them down soundlessly, keeping in the deep shadows, taking a few steps, then waiting and listening, then taking a few steps more. When we drew even with the house I could hear sounds coming through an open window. What I was hearing was a conversation, and one of the speakers had the higher voice of a woman. I thought for an instant that it was Mrs. OGara, and then an instant later I realized that it was a television program. Theyd taken possession of the farm, theyd killed all the people and animals, theyd set their trap, and now they were watching TV.

  Once we were twenty yards or so past the house, I let out a breath and realized Id been half holding it for a long time, limiting myself to very shallow breaths, as if for fear of disturbing the air. I took a deep breath now. We were past the stretch where they were most likely to hear a stray sound from us, but the task right ahead of us was trickier. We had to look for a sentry without knowing where hed be posted, or if he was even there at all.

  Mick led the way, keeping just to the left of the graveled driveway, and I stayed on the right side, and five yards or so behind. I advanced when he did, stopped when he stopped. It was a long driveway, curving gently to the left as we made our way down it, and following the downward slope of the land itself. It was well shaded, too, by trees and brush, and I had to put my feet down without seeing exactly where I was placing them. My progress was quiet, but not as dead silent as I would have liked it to be.

 
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