The snow had conspired against them. The winter had come in so quickly that it had caught everything unawares, including Liam Flowers.
They had come a long way in the Hearse and for much of the journey they had managed to stay on the main roads. The motorways were too dangerous as Liam knew that they would be guarded by those who sought his scalp. Throughout the journey, they kept a silence between them. The company of his dead companion was a relief after the months of making decisions and getting fat.
The boy had changed in many ways, his physical form being only a minor part of his metamorphosis. What had not changed was his love for the Leatherman. If only people were the same as him, if only the living were as constant. They were not and they had all gone; rats from a sinking ship. At the end, with the city being torn apart from the internal fighting between factions, he too had slipped into the darkness, relieved to be gone, grateful to be free. The open country was before him and the chance to cleanse himself was his prize. He headed as close to north as the roads would take him. There was a little matter of the ‘good doctor’.
The roads were empty, not a soul could be seen. By chance, they followed the route that a certain Joel Podrall had mapped out some time earlier. If Liam had known this, he would have found some humour to be had. Following in his footsteps, he remembered Podrall, a good follower whose lack of intellect added to his fidelity to the cause. Podrall had overstepped the mark and had failed to deal with the one in the hostel. That one had gotten away and that proved to be the breaking point for the faith he had placed in good old Podders. In those days, what The Piper said went. Those days were gone, as was The Piper. Alone at last.
The chosen mode of transport had served them well in the first weeks after they had left the city. The Leatherman had found it particularly comfortable and chose to sleep in the back space in which the coffins would have been transported. Flowers did not find this in the least unnerving or even amusing. He accepted his companion’s predilections without question. He, on the other hand chose the comfort of the various hotel beds that they came across. In many ways, it was good to have the leather out front or back as an added security against any who may have an unwanted curiosity. His enemies were still out there and the probability was that they were on the lookout for that particular black sheep. As it was, Flowers and friend had disappeared into the wilderness.
The Daimler DS20 was not the absolute last word in the world of funeral cars but it was, without doubt, a car stuffed with luxury. “Last mile in style” was the way that its manufacturers described it. With a 2.8 V6 engine that smoothly accelerated through its automatic gear change, the DS20 was, for its customers, the last word in fine driving. Very few ever came back to complain. With leather upholstery and air conditioning, the Daimler brought back memories of home for the corpse that had been James Harrison. “Last mile in style!” All had been well until the snows decided to descend on that afternoon in December.
Handling was never a point of sale for the hearse. Nobody wanted a white knuckle ride to the final resting place, least of all the grieving groups who still had sandwiches and sherry to despatch. A sedate trip akin to riding upon a heavenly cloud was the order of the day. Usually driven within a range of fifteen to thirty miles per hour, the vehicle was always well within the control of the driver. Flowers, however, did not drive the DS20 in the same manner as one would expect of someone leading a traditional funeral cortege. The coffin that his friend chose to sleep in had to be securely fastened to its plinth whenever they took to the highways. Given the rapid flurry of snow that was being deposited on the roads, it was sooner rather than later that the dead man’s Daimler lost its grip.
Flowers had been taking it all for granted. Not being an experienced driver, he disregarded the conditions. For him, the old bus was steady, heavy, long and had good brakes. It could nip to sixty in an acceptable fashion and never troubled him with the need to change gear manually. Snow, the stuff that was falling in the path of his unplanned direction, was nothing more or less than a mere distraction. It was only when he attempted a tight bend, without reducing his speed until the very last moment, that he found out just what snow could do to the unsuspecting.
“Shit,” he exhaled as the first signs of disobedience showed themselves the car’s refusal to take the curve.
Another expletive hit he late afternoon air as the initial refusal translated itself into outright mutiny. Flowers hit the brakes hard and the vehicle lost all sense of logic and spun manically into the corner, the back end seemingly intent on overtaking the front.
It was at this point that the leather, who was safely strapped into the coffin in the rear, opened his eyes just as the DS20 veered violently into a clump of trees that waited with bated breath for the imminent collision. One more half mouthed curse and the impact exploded like a bomb amongst the gathering gloom and intensity of the approaching blizzard.
Only a fate with a sense of humour could have mimicked the accident that had befallen Michael and his mother. Unfortunately for the funeral car, Flowers did not enjoy, amongst his many attributes, the powers of telekinesis that had been bestowed upon his nemesis. Fortunately, Daimlers were made to exacting specifications that produced automobiles that had more in common with tanks than most other things on the road. Nevertheless, a delinquent driver still had the ability to bring about an impressive amount of damage.
As Liam’s head smashed against the windscreen of the car, instantly breaking his nose and opening up a sizeable gash in his forehead, the emotion he felt most was excitement. The adrenalin rush was still to fully explode, but the surprising joy of the event, the spontaneous spurt of blood and the reassuring pain, reminded him, for the first time in many, weeks that he was still alive. The same could not be said for his companion whose peaceful repose had rudely interrupted by the crash and whose current position was a halfway house between being in and out of his satin lined bed. The coffin had broken free of its fastenings and was protruding from the long side window. Flowers whooped with joy and planted both of his hands firmly upon the horn.
“Now that’s more like it,” he screamed. “That’s what I call a crash. That’s,…” he went to add but never got there as the tree that they hit chose that moment to crash down and onto the roof of the hearse.