Authors: Stephen King
Billy would like to get back to his story (it seems premature to call it a book, and maybe unlucky as well), but there's more to do.
When the banks open on Tuesday, he goes to SouthernTrust and withdraws some of the walking-around money that has been deposited in a David Lockridge account. He goes to three different chain stores and buys three more laptop computers, all for cash, all cheap off-brands like the AllTech. He also buys a cheap table model TV. That he pays for with a Dalton Smith credit card.
Next on his list is leasing a car. He stashes his Toyota in a garage on the other side of town from the one he uses as David Lockridge, not wanting to chance anyone from his building seeing him in his Dalton Smith rig. That would be a small chance, at this time of day all the worker bees should be in the hive, but taking even small chances is stupid. It's how people get nailed.
When he's put on the wig, glasses, mustache, and big belly, he calls an Uber and asks to be driven to McCoy Ford, on the western edge of the city. There he leases a Ford Fusion for thirty-six months. The dealer reminds him that if Billy drives it over 10,500 miles per year, he'll pay a pretty hefty overcharge. Billy doubts if he'll even put three hundred miles on the Fusion. The important thing is that Billy has wheels Nick knows about, and Dalton Smith now has wheels Nick
know about. It's a precaution in case Nick should be planning something hinky, but it's more. It's keeping Dalton Curtis Smith separate from what's going to happen on those courthouse steps. Keeping him clean.
Billy parks his new ride next to his old ride (different garage, same upper-level blind spot) long enough to transfer the TV and new laptops to the Fusion. Also the cheap suitcases he stashed in the Toyota's trunk late last night. They are filled with the cheap Walmart clothes. He drives the Fusion to 658 Pearson Street and parks in the driveway, which is your basic asphalt stub with grass growing up the middle. He hopes Mrs. Jensen will see him moving in, and he's not disappointed.
Does Dalton Smith see her looking down from her second-story window? Billy decides he doesn't. Dalton is a computer nerd, lost
in his own world. He struggles and puffs two of the suitcases up to the door and uses his new key to unlock it. Nine steps down take him to the door of Dalton Smith's new apartment, where he uses another key. The door opens directly onto the living room. He drops the bags on the industrial carpet and walks around, checking out the four roomsâfive, if you count the bathroom.
The furnishings are quite nice
, Richter said. That's not true, but they're not terrible, either. The word
comes to mind. The bed's a double, and when Billy lies down on it there are creaks but no springs poking at him, so that's a win. There's an easy chair in front of a table obviously meant to hold a small TV like the one he bought at Discount Electronics. The chair is comfortable enough, but the zebra-striping is almost the stuff of nightmares. He'll want to cover it with something.
On the whole, he likes the place. He goes to the one narrow window, which is set at lawn-level. It's almost like looking out through a periscope, Billy thinks. He digs the perspective. It feels cozy, somehow. He likes his Midwood neighbors, especially the Ackermans next door, but he thinks he likes this place better. It has a sense of safety. There's an old couch that also looks comfortable, and he decides he'll move it to where the zebra-striped chair is now, so he can sit on it and look out at the street. People passing on the sidewalk might look at the house, but most won't glance down at these basement windows and see him looking back. It's a den, he thinks. If I have to go to ground, this is where I should do it, not some safe house in Wisconsin. Because this place is actually
There's a light knock from behind him, actually more of a rattle. He turns and sees Mrs. Jensen standing in the door he left open, twiddling her fingernails on the jamb.
“Hello, Mr. Smith.”
“Oh, hi.” His Dalton Smith voice is slightly higher than the one he uses as Billy Summers and David Lockridge. A little breathy,
maybe a touch of asthma. “You caught me moving in, Mrs. Jensen.” He gestures to the suitcases.
“Since we're going to be neighbors, why don't you call me Beverly?”
“Okay, thanks. And I'm Dalton. Sorry I can't offer you coffee or anything, no supplies yetâ”
“I totally understand. Moving in's crazy, isn't it?”
“It sure is. The good part is that I travel a lot, so I don't have a lot. Seen more motels than I ever wanted to. Spending the rest of this week in Lincoln, Nebraska, then Omaha.” Billy has found that if you lie about business travel to cities of secondary size and importance in the economic scheme of things, people believe you. “I've got a few more things to bring in, so if you'll excuse meâ¦”
“Do you need help?”
“No, I'm fine.” Then, as if reconsidering: “Wellâ¦”
They go out to the Fusion. Billy gives her the three off-brand computers. With the boxes in her arms, she looks like a woman who delivers for Domino's. “Gosh, I better not drop these, they're brand new. And probably worth a fortune.”
They're only worth about nine hundred dollars, but Billy doesn't contradict her. He asks if they're too heavy.
“Pooh. Less than a laundry basket of wetwash. Are you going to set all of these up?”
“As soon as I get the power on, yes,” Billy says. “It's how I do my business. Some of it, anyway. Most I outsource.”
is one of those impressive-sounding words that might mean anything. He hefts out the carton containing the TV. They go up the walk, through the open front door, down the stairs.
“Come on up once you're a little bit settled,” Beverly Jensen says. “I'll put on the coffee pot. And I can give you a doughnut, if you don't mind day-old.”
“I never say no to a doughnut. Thank you, Mrs. Jensen.”
He smiles. “Beverly, right. One more suitcase to bring in and then I'll be with you.”
Bucky has sent Billy's box, the one marked
. Dalton Smith's iPhone is in it, and once he's unloaded the Fusion, Billy uses it to make some Dalton Smith calls. By the time he's drunk a cup of coffee and eaten a doughnut in the Jensens' second-floor apartment, listening with apparent fascination as Beverly tells him all about her husband's problems with the boss at the company where he works, the power is on in his new place.
His below-ground den.
He's at 658 until mid-afternoon, unpacking the cheap clothes, booting up the cheap computers, and shopping at the Brookshire's a mile away. Except for a dozen eggs and some butter, he steers clear of perishables. Most of what he buys is stuff that will keep when he's not here: canned goods and frozen dinners. At three o'clock he drives the leased Fusion back to the fourth level of Parking Garage #2, and after making sure he's unobserved, removes the glasses and fake facial hair. Getting rid of the fake belly is an incredible relief, and he sees he'll need to get some baby powder if he wants to avoid a rash.
He drives the Toyota back to Parking Garage #1, then returns to the fifth floor of the Gerard Tower. He doesn't work on his story, and he doesn't play games on the computer, either. He just sits and thinks. No rifle in the office, nothing more lethal than a paring knife in one of the kitchenette's drawers, and that's okay. It may be weeks or even months before Billy needs a gun. The assassination might not even happen at all, and would that be so bad? In monetary terms, yes. He'd lose one-point-five mill. As for the five hundred thousand he's already been paid, would the person who ordered
the assassinationâthe one Nick is go-betweening forâwant the money back?
“Good luck with that,” Billy says. And laughs.
As he walks,
, back to the parking garage, Billy is thinking about bigamy.
He's never been married once, let alone to two different women at the same time, but now he knows how that must feel. In a word, exhausting. He's getting his feet set in not just two different lives but three. To Nick and Giorgio (also to Ken Hoff, which he hates), he's a gun for hire named Billy Summers. To the inhabitants of the Gerard Tower, he's a wannabe writer named David Lockridge. Ditto the residents of Evergreen Street in Midwood. And now, on Pearson Streetânine blocks from Gerard Tower and four safe miles from Midwoodâhe is an overweight computer geek named Dalton Smith.
Come to think of it, there's even a fourth life: that of Benjy Compson, who is just enough not-Billy so Billy can look at painful memories he usually avoids.
He started writing Benjy's story on a laptop he's pretty sure (no, positive) has been cloned because it was a challenge, and because it's that fabled
, but he now understands there was a deeper, truer reason: he wants to be read. By anyone, even a couple of Vegas hardballs like Nick Majarian and Giorgio Piglielli. Now he understandsâhe never did before, never even considered itâthat any writer who goes public with his work is courting danger. It's part of the allure.
Look at me. I'm showing you what I am. My clothes are off. I'm exposing myself
As he approaches the entrance to the parking garage, deep in these thoughts, there's a tap on his shoulder that makes him jump.
He turns and sees Phyllis Stanhope, the woman from the accounting firm.
“I'm sorry,” she says, taking a step back. “I didn't mean to startle you.”
Has she seen something in that unguarded moment? A flash of who he really is? Is that what the backward step was about? Maybe. If so, he tries to dismiss it with an easy smile and the absolute truth. “It's fine. I was just a million miles away.”
“Thinking about your story?”
About bigamy. “That's right.”
Phyllis falls in step beside him. Her handbag is slung over one shoulder. She's also wearing a child's backpack with SpongeBob on it and has exchanged her click-clack shoes for white socks and sneakers. “I didn't see you at lunch today. Did you eat at your desk?”
“I was out and about. Still trying to get settled in. Plus I had a long talk with my agent.”
He did in fact speak with Giorgio, although it wasn't a long talk. Nick has returned to Vegas, but Giorgio is in residence at the McMansion, and he brought the two new guysâReggie and Dana are their namesâwith him. Billy doesn't think Nick and Georgie Pigs are tag-teaming him, exactly, but this is a very big deal for them and Billy would be surprised if they were careless. Shocked, really. The one they may actually be keeping an eye on is Ken Hoff. The patsy in waiting.
“Besides, even when a writer's not at his desk, he's working.” He taps his temple.
She returns his smile. It's a good one. “I bet that's what they all say.”
“In truth, I seem to have hit a little bit of a roadblock.”
“Maybe it's the change of scene.”
He doesn't think there actually is a roadblock. He hasn't written anything beyond that first episode, but the rest is right there. Waiting.
He wants to get to it. It means something to him. It's not like journaling, it's not an effort to make peace with a life that has in many ways been unhappy and traumatic, it's not confessional even though it may amount to a confession. It's about power. He's finally tapped into power that doesn't come from the barrel of a gun. Like the view from his new apartment's ground-level windows, he likes it.
“In any case,” he says as they reach the entrance to the parking garage, “I plan to buckle down. Starting tomorrow.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Jam yesterday, jam tomorrowâ”
He chimes in and they finish together. “But never jam today!”
“In any case, I can't wait to read it.” They start up the ramp. It's deliciously cool after the hammerstroke sun on the street. She stops halfway to the first turn. “This is me.” She beeps her keyfob. The taillights of a little blue Prius respond. Two bumper stickers flank her license plate: OUR BODIES, OUR CHOICES and BELIEVE THE WOMEN.
“You're apt to get keyed with those,” Billy says. “This is a deep red state.”
She lifts her purse in front of her and gives a smile unlike the one she greeted him with. This is more of a Dirty Harry smile. “It's also a concealed carry state, so if anyone tries to key off my bumper stickers, they better do it while I'm not around.”
Is that more show than go? The little accountant lady putting on a badass front for a man she might be interested in? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, he admires her for being out front about what she believes. For being brave. This is how a good person acts. At least it is when they're being their best selves.
“Well, I'll see you around the campus,” Billy says. “I'm up a few levels.”
“Couldn't find anything closer? Really?”
He could say it's because he came in late today, but that might come back to bite him, because he always parks on Four. He hoists a thumb. “Less chance of a bump-and-run up there.”
“Or getting your bumper stickers keyed off?”
“I don't have any,” Billy says, and adds the absolute truth: “I like to fly under the radar.” Then, on impulse (and he is rarely an impulsive man), he says what he's promised himself he would not. “Come for a drink with me sometime. Want to?”
“Yes.” With no hesitation, as if she's just been waiting for him to pop the question. “What about Friday? There's a nice place two blocks over. We can go dutch. I always go dutch when I have a drink with a man.” She pauses. “At least the first time.”
“Probably a good policy. Drive safe, Phyllis.”
“Phil. Call me Phil.”
He gives her taillights a wave before walking the rest of the way up to the fourth level. There's an elevator, but he wants the walk. He wants to ask himself why the fuck he did what he just did. Or what about playing Monopoly with Derek and Shanice Ackerman, especially when he knows they'll want a return engagement the coming weekend, and he'll probably oblige? What happened to getting friendly, but not too close? Can you be part of the scenery when you're in the foreground?