He debated for a moment not answering the call. He’d been determined never to speak with his partner again. He’d made that decision when he’d driven out of the cemetery an hour ago and up until now he intended on sticking to it. Still, something inside Dustin made it impossible for him to ignore the ringing. He keyed the answer button and brought the phone to his ear.
“What?” Dustin barked.
“Oh man.” Steve said, sounding worried. “I need you dude. Things have done got bad.”
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“It’s Marcus.” Steve replied. “He called the police to come and get that guy out of the hole. They just arrived and they want to speak to someone in charge.”
“I’m not in charge anymore.” Dustin answered. “You are.”
“I can’t explain anything to them.” He said apprehensively. “I don’t know why that dude ran and sat in that hole.”
“You do too know.” Dustin chastised. “He wanted to be by his mother. I heard him crying about it while you were over there and I even told you that’s what he was doing.”
“Yeah.” Steve grumbled. “Still, you were the one who last spoke to him before he ran out that way.”
“So what?” Dustin replied.
“So, maybe you should have said something that would have kept him from doing that.” His partner contended, a defiant tone was now creeping into his voice. “Why is it that you’re such a dick all the time anyway? I heard that you made that old man in the morgue kill himself this morning?”
“I’m not even going to try to justify the stupidity of what you just said Steve.” Dustin growled.
“Where are you anyhow?” Steve asked. “I can’t figure out how to work this GPS.”
“I don’t know.” Dustin said honestly. “We had to make a detour on our way out of town and now we’re somewhere out by the coast.”
“Well the only way that you could get there that fast would be taking the shortcut!” His partner shot back in excitement. “It’s a pretty well kept secret but it’ll shave off at least an hour out of taking the freeway route. I used to use it a lot back when I was surfing all the time.”
Dustin threw up his free hand in exasperation. “You’ve been surfing all the time since I met you Steve.” He said with noted frustration. “You go at least one day out of every week. Do you think I don’t notice these things?”
“That’s not all the time dude.” Steve argued. “That’s just taking a mental health day every once in a while. Shoot man, I don’t know why you don’t ditch work more often. It’d definitely make you less of an uptight dick.”
“I’m ditching work now.” Dustin reminded him.
“Yeah.” Steve replied sheepishly. “Well, I guess I need you to come back for a little while. At least until we can get all this straightened out.”
“Go to hell.” Dustin spat turning off the phone.
James was still holding the birdcage and smiling. “Everything okay?” He asked.
“Sure.” Dustin said, dropping the phone back into his pants pocket. He would be happy when he was able to just throw it away. He wanted to do that now, but there was the matter of the hearse. He didn’t want to be accused of stealing it and besides he’d promised the people at the funeral home that he’d call and let them know where to pick it up when he got to where he was going.
“If you could just take us about a mile down this road we’ll be at our land.” The artist continued. “I know that you’re busy but we’ve got some friends who live nearby and they should be able to put us up for the night. Alexis has been trying to call them off and on all day. We have a key to their home for when they’re gone so no matter what we should be okay.”
“Fine.” Dustin said turning to walk back. He slid behind the steering wheel and shut the door.
James got in on the passenger’s side favoring the cage with some difficulty. “It’s just straight down here and then one small turn up a dirt road.” The artist grinned positioning the birds on his lap and slamming his door.
Dustin pawed the car into gear and began easing forward. Suddenly, the hearse went dead. The wheel locked up and the ignition shut itself off. In the silence, a metallic sounding voice came over the speakers.
“The is an Activa representative informing you that the vehicle that you are now driving has been reported as stolen. Please give me your unlock code in order to proceed.”
Kitten Kennedy was the first to speak. “What the hell is that?” She asked sounding angry and bitter.
Dustin gently applied the brakes, putting the car back into park. “It’s the navigational service that we contracted out when we first bought the hearse.” He answered. “My partner’s trying to make me go back to the cemetery.”
“Is this more of your administrative stuff that needs taking care of?” The woman scoffed.
“Yeah.” Dustin muttered reaching over them all and digging through the glove compartment. “I set these codes so we should be on our way in no time. They’re written in the manual.”
Flipping open the booklet that came with the car, Dustin thumbed to the last page where a ten-digit string of numbers had been written in ballpoint pen by his hand. “Are you ready?” He asked the faceless voice.
Slowly he read them off, one by one.
After a moment the voice responded. “That code doesn’t work sir.”
“What do you mean that the code doesn’t work?” Dustin asked tossing the book back into the glove box with annoyance.
“I’m sorry sir but the code that you gave us doesn’t correspond to the one that we have in our system.”
“Well, when was it changed?”
“I can’t divulge that information to you sir.” The voice replied. “Now, please wait by the vehicle while I contact the police.”
“Oh hell.” Dustin snapped.
All of them practically leapt from the hearse. They threw open the doors and scattered out onto the roadway as if the vehicle were on fire. James and Alexis were still smiling.
Kitten Kennedy came out on the driver’s side. “Damn it!” She spat, punching Dustin hard on the shoulder. “You’re going to get us all arrested!”
“Hold on!” Dustin said putting a hand up to stop her and pulling his cell phone back out of his pocket. “Let me call my partner.”
“This is so screwed up.” The woman fumed punching at him again but failing to make contact. Instead she kicked a stone setting on the asphalt and wandered to the side of the road. There, she sat down and buried her face in her hands.