Authors: Stephen King
Around four o'clock she wakes up, stretches, then gasps. She's looking through the windshield with wide eyes. “My sainted hat!”
Billy laughs. “Never heard that one before.”
“It's the Rockies! Oh my God,
“They're something, all right.”
“I've seen pictures, but it's not the same. I mean, they just
It's true. They have driven through hundreds of miles of flatlands and then all at once there they are.
“I thought we might get to Bucky's today, and I guess we still could, but I don't want to drive Route 19 into the mountains after dark. It's probably twisty.” What he doesn't tell her is that he wouldn't want Bucky seeing headlights pulling into his driveway between ten and midnight. Not after Bucky was so careful about giving out his location. “See if you can find us an off-brand motel east of Denver.”
She uses his Dalton phone with the dexterity of the very young. “There's a place called the Pronghorn Motor Rest. That sound off-brand enough for you?”
“It does. How far?”
“Looks like about thirty miles.” She does some more typing and swiping. “It's in a town called Byers. They have a turkey shoot with a big dance after, but it's not until November. Guess we'll miss it.”
“Well,” she says, “shit happens. Life is a party, and parties weren't meant to last.”
He looks sideways at her, a little startled. “Is that F. Scott Fitzgerald?”
“Prince,” she says. “I can't get over how gorgeous those mountains are. When the sun goes down I don't think I'll look. My heart might break. And the only reason I'm here is because those men raped me and threw me out in the rain. I guess everything happens for a reason.”
Billy has heard the saying many times before and it always makes him mad. “I don't believe that. I
“Okay. I'm sorry.” She sounds a little scared. “I didn't mean toâ”
“Believing that would mean believing that someone or something up the line was more important than my sister. Same with Albie Stark. Taco. Johnny Capps, who'll never walk again. There's nothing
about any of that.”
She doesn't answer. When he looks at her she's looking down at her tightly clasped hands and there are tears on her cheeks.
“Jesus, Alice, I didn't mean to make you cry.”
“You didn't,” she says, brushing away the evidence on her cheeks.
“It's just that if there's a God, he's doing a piss poor job.”
Alice points ahead, at the blue teeth of the Rockies. “If there's a God, He made those.”
Well, Billy thinks, girl's got a point.
There's no problem getting adjoining rooms at the Pronghorn Motor Rest; based on the number of cars in the parking lot, Billy thinks they could've had every room on the hallway to themselves. They eat at a nearby Burger Barn. Back at the motel, Billy plugs in the thumb drive with his story on it. He opens the document and goes to where he left off: Taco handing Fareed their GOOD MORNING VIETNAM bullhorn. Then he closes it again. He's not afraid to write about what happened in the Funhouse, exactly, but he doesn't want to do it in installments, either. He wants to be in a quiet place where he can pour it out like poison from a bottle. He doesn't think it will take long, but those hours will be
He goes to the window and looks out. There are a couple of cheap lawn chairs in front of each unit. Alice is sitting in one of them, staring up at the stars. He looks at her looking for a long time. He doesn't need a psychiatrist to tell him what she means to him; she's a version of Cathy only grown up. A psychiatrist might try to argue that she is also Robin Maguire, aka Ronnie Givens, from the House of Everlasting Paint, but that wouldn't be true because he wanted to fuck Robin, many was the night he jacked off to that fond fantasy, and he doesn't want to fuck Alice. He cares for her, and that means more than fucking.
Is caring for her dangerous? Of course it is. Is the way Alice has come to care for himâto trust him, to depend on himâequally as
dangerous? Of course it is. But to see her sitting there and looking up at the stars, that means something. It might not if things go wrong, but right now it does. He gave her the mountains and the stars, not to own but at least to look at, and that means a lot.
They get an early start and are skirting Denver at eight in the morning. It's flat. They drive through Boulder at quarter of nine. Also flat. Then boom, they're in the mountains. The road is every bit as twisty as Billy thought it would be. Alice sits up straight, her head on a swivel, her eyes wide as she looks from deep gorges on her right to the steep wooded upslopes on her left. Billy gets it. She's a New England girl who's made one short and ultimately unpleasant side trip to the mid-South and this is all new to her, all amazing. He will never believe she had to get raped in order to be here in the Rocky Mountain foothills, but he's glad she can be. He likes her amazement. No, loves it.
“I could live here,” she says.
They drive through Nederland, a little town that seems to be a mere adjunct to the sprawling shopping center on the outskirts. The parking lot is jammed. Billy, who can believe almost anything, would be hard-pressed to believe that in the early spring of the following year that parking lot will be almost deserted on a business day, with most of the stores closed.
“I need to go in there,” Alice says, and points. There are spots of color in her cheeks. “To the drugstore.”
He pulls in and finds a parking space. “Is something wrong?”
“No, but I'm going to have a visit from my friend. It's two weeks early, but I can feel it coming. Cramps.”
He remembers the flier that came with the morning-after pill. “Are you sure you don't want me toâ”
“No, I'll do it. I won't be long. God, I hope I don't make a mess in these pants.”
“If you do, we'll buyâ”
Some new ones
is how he means to finish, but she's already out of the car and hurrying toward the Walgreens, almost running. She comes back a few minutes later with a bag.
He asks if she's okay. She tells him, almost curtly, that she's fine. Outside of town they come to a scenic turnout and she asks him to stop and park away from the few other cars. Then she asks him to look the other way. He does so and sees a hang-gliding fool soaring over a ravine as deep as a stab wound. From this distance the guy hardly appears to be moving. He hears her shifting around, her zipper going down, the rattle of the bag, more rattling as she strips the paper from what she needsâa pad he assumes, she wouldn't want to try a tampon, not yetâand then her zipper again.
“You can look now.”
look,” Billy says, and points out the hang-glider. The guy is wearing a bright red singlet and a yellow helmet which will do exactly jack shit if he crashes into the side of the mountain.
!” Alice is shading her eyes.
“Not to mention your sainted hat.”
Alice grins. A real grin. Very good to see. She repeats, “I could live here.”
?” Billy points.
“Maybe not that.” She pauses, thinking it over. “But maybe.”
“Ready to roll? You all high and tight?”
“Roger that,” Alice replies, smart as you please.
Billy is glad he decided not to drive on through yesterday, because it takes them another two hours to reach Sidewinder. There's no shopping center here, just a one-street downtown crammed with
souvenir shops, restaurants, clothing stores featuring western apparel, and bars. Plenty of those, with names like Rough Rider Saloon, Boots 'N Spurs, Homestead, and 187. There's no Edgewood Saloon, but Billy didn't expect one.
“Funny name for a bar,” Alice says, pointing to 187.
“It is,” Billy agrees, but based on the rank of motorcycles parked out front, he doesn't think the name is funny at all. 187 is the California Penal Code designation for murder.
Alice is using his phone to navigate because the Fusion's GPS is jammed along with the locator. “Another mile, maybe a little more. On the left.”
A mile takes them out of town. Billy slows and sees the sign for Edgewood Mountain Drive. He makes the turn. They pass nice-looking homes and Swiss-style chalets set back from the street, many with their driveways chained off because ski season is still six weeks away. Beyond 108 Edgewood, the paving ends. The previously smooth road becomes first bouncy and then downright jouncy. Billy negotiates a tight
-curve and bulls the Fusion over a washed-out culvert. This time the car bounces so hard their seatbelts lock.
“Are you sure this is right?” Alice asks.
“It's right. We're looking for 199.”
She consults the phone. “This says there's no such number.”
“I'm not surprised.”
Half a mile further on, the dirt runs out and they find themselves on a grassy track with wildflowers growing on the hump between the ruts. Billy thinks it might be the remains of an old logging road. The trees crowd in. Branches whip the Fusion's sides. The track goes steeper. Billy steers his way around protruding rocks left over from the last ice age. Alice looks increasingly uneasy.
“If this just ends, you're going to have to back up for two miles, because there's no place toâ”
Billy hauls the Fusion around the tightest curve yet, and the road
end. Dead ahead is a log house jutting its long length over
a steep slope, supported by posts that look like cut-off telephone poles. A Jeep Cherokee is parked underneath an open porch. Billy can hear a generator somewhere out back, the sound low but strong and steady.
Billy and Alice get out and look up at the porch, shading their eyes. Bucky Hanson rises from the rocking chair he's been sitting in and comes to the shakepole railing. He's wearing a New York Rangers gimme cap and smoking a cigarette.
“Yo, Billy. I thought you got lost.”
“She did, too. Bucky, this is Alice Maxwell.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you, Alice. And Billy, look at you. How long has it been since we were face to face?”
“Got to be four years at least,” Billy says. “Maybe five.”
“Well, come on up. Steps are on the side. Are you hungry?”
Billy was afraid his long-time fixer and agent might resent him bringing a stranger to this place, which is pretty clearly an emergency bolthole, but Bucky treats Alice kindly. He doesn't come right out and say that any friend of Billy's, etc., but he makes it clear, and after her initial shyness (or maybe it's wariness), she relaxes. Still, she's careful to stay near Billy.
The kitchen is neat, roomy, sunshiny. Bucky heats up macaroni and cheese in the microwave. “I'd love to make you huevos rancheros, I'm not half-bad at it, but I'm still not completely situated here. Need to finish getting supplied. Then I'll just hunker down until this business comes to a conclusion. A happy one would be nice.”
“I got you into a mess and I'm sorry,” Billy says.
Bucky flaps a hand at him. “I brokered the deal and knew the risks.” He sets a steaming bowl before each of them. “What about you, Alice? How'd you meet this vet of Georgie Bush's war?”
Alice looks down at her mac and cheese as if she finds it especially fascinating. Her cheeks turn pink. “I guess you could say he picked me up off the street.”
“Is that so? Huh. Has he shown you his stupid act yet? That is something to see. Give it to her, Billy.”
Billy doesn't want to, Alice is different from mugs like Nick and Giorgio, but Bucky has given them a place to stay for awhile and he doesn't want to refuse such a simple request. Only he doesn't have to do it.
“I've seen it already.” Alice pauses, then adds, “In a manner of speaking.”
She gives Billy a look before addressing her food again, just a quick one, but it's enough to make him feel sure she's talking about the first part of his story. The part he wrote knowing Nick or Giorgio was probably reading over his shoulder.
“Great, isn't it?” Bucky says, fetching his own bowl and sitting down. “Billy reads all the hard books, but he can also tell you every kid at Riverdale High and how Batman got his cape.”
Billy thinks what the hell, a little won't hurt. He makes his eyes big and slows his speech. “I actually don't know that part.”
Bucky laughs and points his fork, a macaroni noodle still caught on one of the tines, at Billy. “Man, you haven't lost a step.”
He turns to Alice.
“Just picked you up off the street, huh? What's that mean exactly?”
“That he saved my life.”
Bucky raises his eyebrows. “Did he now? I want to hear all about it. In fact I want to hear everything. Especially what went wrong.”
Billy considers this carefully. “Everything but Alice,” he says, and starts laughing. He can't help it.
He again starts with Frank Macintosh and Paulie Logan picking him up at the hotel and goes through it to the end, skimping only on the last part, just saying some guys roughed Alice up and he took care of them.
Bucky doesn't ask how. He only collects their dishes, takes them over to the sink, and starts running hot water. The little house at the ass end of Edgewood Mountain Drive has a microwave and a satellite dish on the roof, but there's no dishwasher.
“I'll do those,” Alice says, getting up.
“No you won't,” Bucky says. “There's only a few and I'll leave the casserole dish to soak. That baked-on cheese is a bitch. Billy, how long do you want to stay? I only ask because if you're gonna be here long, I'll have to make a run to King Soopers.”
“I don't know, but I'm happy to get the groceries.”