Authors: Stephen King
The short answer is no.
Summer rolls along. Hot and humid days of blaring sunshine are punctuated by sudden thunderstorms, some of them vicious with throats full of hail. A couple of tornados strike, but on the outskirts, none downtown or in Midwood. When the storms blow out, they leave streets that steam and dry quickly. Most of the apartments on the upper floors of the Gerard Tower are empty, either unoccupied or deserted by their residents for cooler climes. Most of the businesses remain fully staffed, because most of them are young firms still struggling to find their footing. Some, like the law firm down the hall from Billy's office, are start-ups that didn't even exist two years ago.
Billy and Phil Stanhope go for that drink, in a pleasant wood-paneled bar adjacent to what Billy guesses is one of the Bluff's better restaurants, where steaks are the specialty of the house. She has a whiskey and soda (“My dad's tipple,” she says). Billy has an Arnold Palmer, explaining he's off alcohol, even beer, while working on his book.
“I don't know if I'm actually an alcoholic, the jury's out on that,” he says, “but I've had trouble with the booze.” He gives her the backstory he's been given by Nick and Giorgio: too much drinking back home in New Hampshire with too many party animal friends.
They spend a pleasant enough half-hour, but he senses her interest in himâas anything more than a friend, that isâis not as strong as he maybe had hoped it would be. He thinks it's the gulf
between what's in their glasses. Drinking whiskey with a man who's drinking an iced teaâlemonade mix is like drinking alone, and maybe (the quick color that dashes into her cheeks as she takes down what's in hers suggests it might be so) Phil has a booze problem herself. Or will, in the coming years. It's too bad things are as they are because he wouldn't mind taking her to bed, but keeping it friendly does lessen the chance of complications. He won't fade entirely into the background with herâthere is that liking, on both their partsâbut no forensic unit will ever find his fingerprints in her bedroom. That's good. For both of them. Yet even getting this close, exchanging life summaries (hers real, his bogus) is too close, and he knows it.
Dalton Smith has a backstory that doesn't include problems with booze, so he can have a beer on the back stoop of 658 Pearson with Beverly's husband. Don Jensen works for a landscaping company called Growing Concern. He's totally down with that other Don, the one who sits in much grander digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He especially agrees with the other Don when it comes to the issue of immigration (“Don't want to see America painted brown,” he says), even though a large part of Growing Concern's workforce consists of undocumented aliens who don't speak English (“Although they
speak food stamps,” he says). When Billy points out the contradiction, Don Jensen waves it away (“Movie stars come and go, but wetbacks are forever,” he says). He asks Billy where he's off to next and Billy says a couple of weeks in Iowa City. Then on to Des Moines and Ames.
“You sure don't spend much time here,” Don says. “Seems like a waste of rent money.”
“Summer's always my busy time. And I need a place to hang my hat. You may see more of me this fall.”
“I'll drink to that. Want another beer?”
“No thanks,” Billy says, getting up, “I've got some work to do.”
“Nerd,” Don says, and gives him an affectionate clap on the back.
“Guilty as charged,” Billy says.
On Evergreen Street, the RaglandsâPaul and Deniseâinvite him over for barbecued chicken from Big Clucks. For dessert, Denise serves strawberry shortcake made in her own kitchen. It's delicious. Billy has seconds. The FaziosâPete and Dianeâinvite him over for Friday pizza, which they eat in the downstairs rumpus room, watching
Raiders of the Lost Ark
along with Danny Fazio and the Ackerman kids from across the street. The movie works as well for them as it did for Billy and Cathy when they went to see it at a third-run showing at the old Bijou. Jamal and Corinne Ackerman have him over for tacos and chocolate silk pie. It's delicious. Billy has seconds. He's put on five pounds. Not wanting to look like the neighborhood freeloader, he buys a grill at Walmart, using one of his David Lockridge credit cards, and invites all three families, plus Jane Kellogg, the widow who lives at the far end of the block, over for burgers and hotdogs in his backyard. Which, like the front one, is enjoying a nice revival under his supervision.
The weekend Monopoly games continue. Now they draw kids from all over the neighborhood, not just Evergreen Street, everyone vying to dethrone the champ. Billy takes them all to the cleaners. One Saturday, Jamal Ackerman takes a seat at the board, claiming the racecar as his token (“Come on, White America,” he says to Billy with a grin). He's a little tougher than the kids, but not much. After seventy minutes he's broke and Billy is gloating. It's Corinne who finally takes him down, on the last Saturday before school reconvenes. All the kids who've been kibitzing applaud when Billy declares bankruptcy. So does Billy. Corinne bows, then takes a picture of the board that Billy is careful not to be in. Not that it matters much. This is the age of the cell phone camera, and he's sure he's on Derek's. Probably on Danny Fazio's, too. The Ackerman kids are looking at Billy with shining eyes as they applaud. These games have become important to Derek and Shanice. To all the kids, but especially to them, because they were there when the
Saturday games started.
has become important to them, and he's going to let them down. He doesn't believe (or can't, or refuses to) that he is actually going to break their hearts when he kills Joel Allen, but he knows they will be shocked and shaken. Disillusioned. Dutched. He can tell himself, if not by me then by someone else (and does), but it won't wash. This is not how a good person behaves. But the situation is inflexible. He more and more hopes Allen will avoid extradition, or be killed in lockup, or even escape, rendering the whole thing moot.
Weekdays he eats on the plaza of the Gerard Tower, if it's not too hot. He makes it his business to strike up an acquaintance with Colin White, the flashy dresser. White comes across not as a stereotypical gay man but as an actual caricature, a figure of fun out of a 1980s sitcom. He's all breathy voice and exaggerated gestures and great big ohmygod eyerolls. He calls Billy
. Once Billy gets past that, he discovers a man of great wit.
wit. And when the eyeballs aren't rolling, they are sharply observant. Later, after the deed is done, there will be many descriptions of David Lockridge. Some, including Phyllis Stanhope's, will be good, but Billy thinks that this man's will be the most accurate. He intends to use Colin White, but in the meantime he needs to be careful of him. Billy has the
; he thinks Colin White has a
silly fucker self
. It takes one to know one.
One day while they're sitting on a bench in the plaza's scant noontime shade, Billy asks Colin how he can do his job of cozening people out of a few bucks when he's basically, face it, a pretty nice guy, not to mention as gay as Aunt Maudie's Easter hat. Colin puts a hand to the side of his face, gives Billy a wide-eyed ingenue's stare, and says, “Wellâ¦ I sort ofâ¦
.” The hand drops. The pleasant smile (enhanced by just the barest touch of lip gloss) disappears. So does the lilting delivery. The voice that comes out of wispy Colin White, today dressed in his gold parachute pants and high-collared paisley shirt, is that of a pissed-off lawyer.
“Ma'am, I don't know who you've been soft-soaping, but I am immune. You're all out of time. You want to keep your car? Because if I hang up on you without getting something,
and I mean more than a promise
, my next call is going to be to the repo company we use. Cry all you want, I'm immune to that, too.” He sounds it. “I need sixty bucks on my screen in the next ten minutes. Fifty at the very least, and only because I got up on the right side of the bed this morning.”
He stops, looking at Billy with wide eyes (enhanced by just a trace of liner). “Does that help you understand?”
It does. What it doesn't help Billy to understand is whether Colin White is a good person or a bad one. Perhaps he's both. Billy has always found this a troubling concept.
He gets texts from his “agent” on his David Lockridge phone that summer, sometimes once a week, sometimes twice.
GRusso: Your editor hasn't had a chance to read your latest pages yet.
GRusso: I called your editor but he was out of the office.
GRusso: Your editor is still in California.
And so on. The one he's waiting for, the one meaning that a California judge has approved Allen's extradition, will be
Your editor wants to publish
. When Billy gets that, he'll begin his final preparations.
Giorgio's final text will read
The check is on the way.
Nick returns from Vegas in mid-August. He calls Billy and tells him to arrive at the McMansion after dark, an instruction Billy
hardly needs. They sit down to a late dinner at nine-thirty. There's no helpâNick cooks himself, veal parmigiana, not great but the Pinot Noir is good. Billy takes only a single glass, mindful of the drive back.
Frankie, Paulie, and the new guys, Reggie and Dana, are in attendance. They praise the meal extravagantly, including the dessert, which is a supermarket poundcake garnished with either Cool Whip or Dream Whip. Billy knows the taste. He ate his share as a kid on Friday nights at the Stepenek house, which he and Robin and Gadâplus other assorted inmatesâcalled the House of Everlasting Paint.
That place is on his mind a lot these days. Robin, too. He was crazy for that girl. Soon he will be writing about her, although he'll change her name to something similar. Rikki, or maybe Ronnie. He'll change all the names, except maybe for the one-eyed girl.
Most of Nick's crew, the guys Billy thinks of as the Vegas hardballs, have names ending in -
, like characters in a Coppola or Scorsese movie. Dana Edison is different. He's a redhead with a tight little manbun in back to make up for what he's lost in frontâhis forehead looks more like a runway. Frankie Elvis, Paulie, and Reggie are muscular boys. Dana is slight, and looks out at the world through rimless spectacles. At first glance you might take him to be inoffensive, a Mr. Milquetoast, but the eyes behind the specs are blue and cold. Shooter's eyes.
“No word on Allen yet?” Billy asks when the meal is finished.
“As a matter of fact, there is.” Then, to Paulie: “Don't you light that fuckin stinkbomb in here, there's a no-smoking clause in the lease. Violation is cause for immediate termination plus a thousand-dollar fine.”
Paulie Logan looks at the cheroot he's taken from the pocket of his pink Paul Stuart shirt like he doesn't know where it came from and puts it back with a muttered apology. Nick turns back to Billy.
“Allen is gonna be in court the Tuesday after Labor Day. His law
yer will try for another continuance. Will he get it?” Nick lifts his hands, palms up. “Maybe, but what I'm hearing from my friends in LA is this judge is a grumpy old cunt.”
Frank Macintosh laughs, then stops and crosses his arms over his chest when Nick frowns at him. Nick has been in a shitty mood most of the night. Billy thinks he wants to be back in Vegas, listening to some oldtimerâFrankie Avalon, maybe Bobby Rydellâsing “Volare.”
“They tell me this has been a rainy summer here, Billy. That true?”
“It comes and goes,” Billy says, thinking of his lawn in Midwood. It's as green as the felt on a new pool table. Even the grass in front of 658 Pearson looks better, and the brick jaw of the train station across the street is hidden by high-sprouting weeds.
“When it comes, it comes hard,” Reggie says. “Not much like Vegas, boss.”
“Can you make the shot in the rain?” Nick asks. “That's what I want to know. And I want the truth, not some optimistic bullshit.”
“Unless it's pouring cats and dogs, sure.”
“Good. Good. We'll hope the cats and dogs stay home. Come in the library with me, Billy. Want to talk to you a little more. Then you can go home and get your beauty rest. You guys find something to do. Paulie, if you smoke that thing outside, don't let me find the butt on the lawn tomorrow.”
“Because I'll look.”
Paul Logan and the three Vegas imports troop out. Nick takes Billy into a room lined floor to ceiling with books. Cunning little spotlights shine down sprays of light on leatherbound sets. Billy would love to browse those shelvesâhe's pretty sure he sees the complete works of both Kipling and Dickensâbut that's not the sort of thing the Billy Nick knows would do. The Billy Nick knows sits in a wingback chair and gives Nick his best wide-eyed receptive look.
“Have you seen Reggie and Dana around?”
“Yes. Once in awhile.” They drive a DPW panel truck. Once they were parked at the curb in front of the Gerard Tower, where the food trucks roost at lunchtime. They were fiddling with a manhole cover. Another time he saw them on Holland Street, kneeling down and shining their lights into a sewer grate. They were wearing gray coveralls, city gimme caps, work boots.
“You'll see them more. They look okay?”
Nick returns it with an impatient look. “What does that mean?”
“They looked okay.”
“Not attracting any special attention?”
“Not that I saw.”
“Good. Good. The truck's in the carriage house here. They don't take it out every day, at least not yet, but I want people to get used to seeing them cruising around.”
“Blending into the scenery,” Billy says with his best