Dad was dead by the time I pulled into Kansas City. He moaned prayers and curses all the way from St. Louis, but there was nothing I could do. Even though it was midnight, I couldn't even take a chance with speeding. There were just too many cops out looking for us.
"Hang on, old man," I yelled over my shoulder. "Just hang on."
The old man cussed and prayed all the way to Independence. "Fuckin' shit, please Jesus," he cried. "Please help me. Please God." I don't know how that went over with the Almighty, but there's no doubt it was sincere.
I'd called ahead to an old abortionist named Rose Flowers. She said she'd meet us at her place, a run down kennel that sat at the edge of a Wal-Mart parking lot.
But the old man was dead by the time I got there. Somewhere outside Independence, he spit out one more profane prayer and went silent.
Not knowing what else to do, I drove on to Rose's place and pulled around back. I climbed out of the van and just stood there.
The yard light flipped on. The backdoor screen creaked, and out walked a small, stooped shouldered woman with a rope of gray-blonde hair hanging down her back. Rose was a legend in our circles. She'd been a back alley abortionist in the late sixties, but she'd gone to jail after she botched a job and killed a girl. While she was in the joint she got friendly with one of the old Cavanaugh sisters, and once she got out, she started up a kennel taking in stray dogs during the day and patching up wounded criminals at night.
"Back of the van?" she asked. She wore a doctor's smock over jeans and a t-shirt, and she slipped on some latex gloves while she walked.
I nodded. "Dead, I think."
She looked at my face and jerked her head to the backdoor. "Some booze on the counter. Thought you might need it. Have a drink while I look at him."
I walked up to the door and went inside. The place smelled like dog piss and chemical cleaners. A plastic jug of rum sat on the counter next to a small glass.
I filled up the glass-probably three or four shots worth-and choked it down.
Coughing, I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.
The old man was dead. Long live the old man. He had a good run.
I picked up the bottle to pour another drink, but I plunked it back down. I couldn't get shitty. I needed to move.
Rose came in with blood on her gloves. She peeled them off in a deep industrial sink and washed her hands.
I stared at her. She nodded.
"So now what?" I asked.
She shrugged. "Gotta get rid of him."
"You got any way to do that?"
"It'll cost you."
"I got it."
"Cost a lot in this town if you want it done right."
She dried her hands. "I know a guy. Cost you twenty-five."
I stared at her. "Are you joking?"
"Seems high to me."
She shrugged. "Do what you want, kid. We're not talking about burying him in the woods. You want to do that, go up to Wal-Mart and buy yourself a shovel."
"Can your guy get here soon?"
"Can you afford it?"
She nodded and pulled a cell phone from her jeans. Flipping it open, she kept nodding. She texted a short message and said, "He'll be here in a couple of minutes."
"You have him on call? Or did you give him the heads up?"
"I thought there was a possibility you might want his help, so I made sure he was ready if we needed him."
I leaned against the counter.
"What happened?" she asked.
I rubbed my face and shook my head. "I don't want to talk about it."
She dragged a stool from underneath the counter and sat down.
I crossed my arms. "It was how the old man would have wanted to go out," I said. "In a hail of bullets. His biggest fear in life was dying in bed."
An old mutt wandered in and walked up to Rose and nuzzled her hand. She rubbed his head. She said, "Most people don't get to decide."
"I guess not."
"His biggest fear was dying in bed?"
"What he always said."
She grinned. "Well, he was a piece of work. Glad he got what he wanted."
I thought about the old man begging God not to let him die, and suddenly I felt the need to move. To move fast. "I gotta go," I said.
She frowned. "When the guy gets here."
"They're out looking for me."
"So I gotta get the hell out of here."
"What do you want to do, dump your old man on my fucking lawn?"
"No," I said. "I'll leave the van. You can keep it."
Rose took a ragged breath. "I can keep a blood-soaked van that every cop in Missouri is looking for?"
"How much to do what?"
"Disposal. Dad, the van. All of it."
I stared at her. "That's the whole goddamn take from the job."
She rubbed the dog's head. "Fifty." It was like she was saying it to the dog.
I pulled the bottle over and had another shot. "Christ."
She sat there like she didn't have a care in the world. The dead man outside, the cops god knows where, and Rose just sat there rubbing that dog's ears. The dog looked happy.
"I'll give you thirty," I said.
"Look, kid, this isn't a negotiation. No one needs your business. Fine by me if you want to leave. Go out there and get in your daddy's hearse and drive off down the road."
"That's a big help."
She looked up at me over the top of her glasses and shook her head. "I'm gonna tell you something, son, something somebody should have told you a long time ago: You ain't man enough to be in this line of work. I never understood why your father brought you into his business in the first place. Now that he's gone you don't have the slightest clue what you're doing. Be better for me if you just got the hell out of here before you bring the whole state police force crashing down on my front lawn. Still, here I am, offering to help. Think about it, kid. Do you have a choice?"
What was there to say to that? I never had a choice.
Without saying a word to her, I walked outside to get the cash out of the van, but I wasn't five steps across her lawn before I saw a caravan of cop cars tearing down her road. I just stared at their lights for a moment. Then I walked back inside. I picked up the bottle and took a pull from it that made me cough.
When she heard the cars, she turned pale.
She looked at me.
I said, "I guess neither of us has a choice."