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Authors: Stephen King

Billy Summers (38 page)

BOOK: Billy Summers
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“They'll still be looking for a man alone,” Bucky says, “and that's where Alice comes in. You two pull into some roadside café where a couple of bounty hunters are drinking coffee and keeping an eye out on Highway 50, they're going to see nothing but some fella and his daughter or niece in a broke-down old Dodge or F-150.”

“I'm not taking Alice into a situation that might get bloody.” The worst thing about it is that she might go.

“Did you take her with you when you dealt with those dinks who raped her?”

Of course he didn't, he left her in a nearby motel, but before he can say so, the back door opens and Alice is back.

16

When she comes out on the porch her color is high, she's smiling, her hair is blown into a haystack, and Billy sees, with only minimal surprise, that, today at least, she's actually kind of gorgeous.

“It's beautiful up there!” she says. “So windy it almost blew me off my feet but oh my God, Billy, you can see
forever
!”

“On a clear day,” Billy agrees, smiling.

Alice either doesn't get the reference or is too full of what she's seen to give it even a token smile. “There were clouds in the sky above me, but also some
below
me. I saw this huge bird… it couldn't have been a condor, but—”

“Yes it could,” Bucky tells her. “We get them up here now, although I've never seen one myself.”

“And way across, on the other side, this is
crazy
, but I thought I saw that hotel you talked about. Then I blinked my eyes—the wind was so strong they were tearing up—and when I looked again, it was gone.”

Bucky doesn't smile. “You're not the only person who's seen that. I'm not a superstitious man, but I wouldn't go anywhere near where the Overlook Hotel used to stand. Bad stuff happened there.”

Alice ignores that. “It was a beautiful view and a beautiful walk. And guess what, Billy? There's a little log cabin about a quarter of a mile up the path.”

Bucky is nodding. “Kind of a summerhouse type of thing, I guess. Once upon a time.”

“Well, it looks clean and dry and there's a table and some chairs. With the door open, it gets some sun. You could work on your story there, Billy.” She hesitates. “If you wanted to, I mean.”

“Maybe I will.” He turns to Bucky. “How long have you owned this place?”

Bucky thinks about it. “Twelve years? No, I guess it's more like fourteen. How the time slides by, huh? I make sure to come up for a week or a weekend once or twice every year. Get seen around town. It's good to be a familiar face.”

“What name do you go by?”

“Elmer Randolph. My real first name and my middle.” Bucky gets up. “I see you got eggs, and I think the time is just about right for huevos rancheros.”

He goes in. Billy gets up to follow, but before he can, Alice takes
his arm just above the wrist. He remembers how she looked when he carried her across Pearson Street through the pouring rain, her eyes dull marbles peeping out between slitted lids. This is not that girl. This is a better girl.

“I could live here,” she says again.

CHAPTER 18
1

In deference to his guests, Bucky has taken to smoking on the porch, although the whole house holds the olfactory ghosts of the hundreds of Pall Malls he's smoked since relocating from New York. Billy joins him the next morning while Alice is in the shower. And singing in there, which might be the best sign of recovery yet.

“She says you're working on a book,” Bucky says.

Billy laughs. “I doubt if it will mount up to that.”

“Says you might like to work on it in the summerhouse today.”

“I might.”

“She says it's good.”

“I don't think she has much to compare it to.”

Bucky doesn't chase that. “I thought she 'n I might do some shopping this morning, give you a chance to get after it. You need a new wig and she needs some lady things. Not just hair dye.”

“You've already discussed this?”

“As a matter of fact we have. I usually get up around five—or rather my bladder gets me up—and after I took care of that business I came out to have a smoke and she was already here. We watched the sun come up together. Talked a little bit.”

“How did she seem?”

Bucky tilts his head toward the sound of the singing. “How does she sound?”

“Pretty good, actually.”

“I think so, too. We might take a ride all the way to Boulder, better selections there. Stop at Ricky Patterson's used car lot on the backswing. See what he's got. Maybe have lunch at Handy Andy's.”

“What if they're looking for you, too?”

“You're the one in the crosshairs, Billy. I imagine they took a look for me in New York, maybe checked out my sister's place in Queens, then gave me up for a lost cause.”

“I hope you're right.”

“Tell you what, the first stop we make will be either Buffalo Exchange or Common Threads. I'll buy a cowboy hat and yank it down to my ears. Yeehaw.” Bucky puts out his current Pall Mall. “She thinks the world of you, you know. Thinks you're the tomcat's testicles.”

“I hope she didn't put it like that.”

In the bathroom, the shower keeps on. She's still singing, which is good, but Billy thinks she may be having a hard job getting clean enough to suit her.

“Actually,” Bucky says, “she called you her guardian angel.”

2

Half an hour later, after the steam has cleared out of the bathroom, Alice comes to the door while Billy is shaving.

“You don't mind if I go?”

“Not a bit. Have fun, keep your eyes open, and don't be afraid to tell him to turn the radio down when your fillings start to rattle. He always had a tendency to blast it when Creedence or Zep came on. I doubt if he's changed.”

“I want to get a couple of skirts and tops as well as the dye for my hair and a wig for you. A pair of cheap tennies. Also some underwear that's not so…” She trails off.

“The kind of stuff your clueless uncle might pick up for you in a pinch? Don't spare my feelings. I can take it.”

“What you got me was fine, but I could use a little more. And a bra that doesn't have a knot holding one of the straps together.”

Billy forgot about that. Like the Fusion's license plates.

Although Bucky is back on the porch, smoking and drinking orange juice (Billy doesn't know how he can bear the combination), Alice lowers her voice. “But I don't have much money.”

“Let Bucky take care of that, and I'll take care of Bucky.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

She takes the hand not holding the razor and gives it a squeeze. “Thank you. For everything.”

Her thanking him is simultaneously crazy and perfectly reasonable. A paradox, in other words. He keeps this to himself and tells her she's welcome.

3

Bucky and Alice leave in the Cherokee at quarter past eight. Alice has done her face and there's no sign of the bruises. They wouldn't show much even without the makeup, Billy thinks. It's been over a week since her date with Tripp Donovan, and the young are fast healers.

“Call me if you need to,” he says.

“Yes, Dad,” Bucky says.

Alice tells Billy she will, but he can see that in her mind she's already on the road, talking with Bucky the way normal people talk (as if any of this is normal) and thinking about what she will see in stores that are new to her. Maybe trying stuff on. The only sign he's gotten this morning of the girl who was raped is the way the shower ran and ran.

Once they're gone, Billy walks the path Alice took yesterday. He stops at the little cabin Bucky calls the summerhouse and looks inside. There's an unpainted plank floor and the only furniture is a card table and three folding chairs, but what else does he need? Just his word-cruncher and maybe a Coke out of the fridge.

Oh for the life of a writer, he thinks, and wonders who said that to him. Irv Dean, wasn't it? The security guy at Gerard Tower. That seems long ago, in another life. And it was. His David Lockridge life.

He walks up to where the path ends and looks across the gorge to the clearing, wondering if he might see Alice's phantom hotel. He doesn't, just a few charred uprights where it once stood. There's no condor, either.

He goes back to the house for his Mac Pro and that can of Coke. He sets them on the card table in the summerhouse. With the door wide open, the light is good. He sits in one of the folding chairs gingerly at first, but it seems solid enough. He boots up his story and scrolls down to where Taco was handing the squad bullhorn to Fareed, their terp. He's about to pick up where he left off when Merton Richter interrupted him, then notices there's a picture on the wall. He gets up for a closer look, because it's in the far corner—weird place for a painting—and the morning light doesn't quite reach there. It appears to show a bunch of hedges that have been clipped into animal shapes. There's a dog on the left, a couple of rabbits on the right, two lions in the middle, and what might be a bull behind the lions. Or maybe it's supposed to be a rhinoceros. It's a poorly executed thing, the greens of the animals too violent, and the artist has for some reason plinked a dab of red in the lions' eyes to give them a devilish aspect. Billy takes the painting down and turns it to face the wall. He knows that if he doesn't his eyes will be continually drawn to it. Not because it's good but because it isn't.

He cracks the can of Coke, takes a long swallow, and gets going.

4

“Come on, you guys,” Taco said. “Let's get some.” He handed Fareed the bullhorn that had GOOD MORNING VIETNAM on the side and told him to give the house the usual loudhail, which came down to come out now and you come out on your feet, come out later and you'll be in a body bag. Fareed did it and nobody came out. That was usually our cue to go in after chanting
We are Darkhorse, of course of course
, but this time Taco told Fareed to give it to them again. Fareed shot him a questioning look but did as he was told. Still nothing. Tac told him to go one more time.

“What's up with you?” Donk asked.

“Don't know,” Taco said. “Just feels wrong somehow. I don't like the fucking balcony running around the dome, for one thing. You see it?” We saw it, all right. It had a low cement railing. “There could be muj behind it, all crouched down.” He saw us looking at him. “No, I'm not freaking out, but it feels hinky.”

Fareed was halfway through his spiel when Captain Hurst, the new company commander, came by, standing up in an open Jeep, legs spread like he thought he was George S. Fucking Patton Esquire. On the other side of the street from him were three apartment buildings, two finished and one half-built, all spray painted with a big C, meaning they had been cleared. Well, supposedly. Hurst was green, and maybe not aware that sometimes the hajis crept back, and through even bad optics his head would look as big as a Halloween pumpkin.

“What are you waiting for, Sergeant?” he bawled. “Daylight's wastin'! Clear that fucking hacienda!”

“Sir, yes, sir!” Taco said. “Just giving them one more chance to come out alive.”

“Don't bother!” Captain Hurst shouted, and on he sped.

“The dingbat has spoken,” Bigfoot Lopez said.

“All right,” Taco said. “Hands in the huddle.”

We grouped in tight, the Hot Eight that used to be the Hot Nine. Taco, Din-Din, Klew, Donk, Bigfoot, Johnny Capps, Pillroller with his medical bag of tricks. And me. I saw us as if I was outside myself. It happened to me that way sometimes.

I remember sporadic gunfire. A grenade went off somewhere behind us in Block Kilo, that low
crump
sound, and an RPG banged somewhere up ahead, maybe in Block Papa. I remember hearing a helo off in the distance. I remember some idiot blowing a whistle,
fweet-fweet-fweet
, Christ knows why. I remember how hot it was, the sweat cutting clean trails down our dirty faces. And the kids up the street, always the kids in their rock n rap T-shirts, ignoring the gunfire and the explosions like they didn't exist, bent over their scabbed knees and picking up spent shell casings to be reloaded and redistributed to the fighters. I remember feeling for the baby shoe on my belt loop and not finding it.

Our hands all together for the last time. I think Taco felt it. I sure did. Maybe they all did, I don't know. I remember their faces. I remember the smell of Johnny's English Leather. He put on a little every day, rationing it out, his own private lucky charm. I remember him once saying to me that no man could die smelling like a gentleman, God wouldn't let it happen.

“Give it to me, kids,” Taco said, so we did. Stupid, childish—like so many things in war are stupid and childish—but it pumped us up. And maybe if there were muj waiting for us in that big domed house it gave them a moment's pause, time to look at each other and wonder what the fuck they were doing and why they were probably going to die for some elderly half-senile imam's idea of God.

“We are Darkhorse, of course of course! We are Darkhorse, of course of course!”

We gave our knotted hands a shake, then stood up. I had an M4 and my M24 slung over my shoulder, as well. Next to me, Big Klew held the SAW over one arm, twenty-five pounds or so fully loaded and the belt slung over one massive shoulder like a necktie.

We clustered at the gate in the outer courtyard. Crisscross shadows from the unfinished apartment building across the street made the mural on the wall into a checkerboard—children in some squares, the watching women and the
mutawaeen
in others. Bigfoot had his M870 breaching tool, a doorbuster shotgun meant to blow the lock on the gate to smithereens. Taco stood aside so Foot could do his thing, but when Pablo gave the gate an experimental push, it swung open with a horror movie creak. Taco looked at me and I looked at him, two lowly jarhead bullet sponges with but a single thought: how fucking dinky-dau is this?

Tac gave a little shrug as if to say it is what it is, then led us across the courtyard at a run, head down and bent at the waist. We followed. There was a single lonely soccer ball on the cobbles. George Dinnerstein gave it a sidefoot kick as he went by.

We crossed without a single shot fired from the house's barred windows and finished against the cement wall, four on either side of the double doors, which were heavy wood and at least eight feet high. Carved into each were crossed scimitars over a winged anchor, the symbol of the Ba'athist Battalions. Another hoodoo sign. I looked around for Fareed and saw him back by the gate. He saw me looking and shrugged. I got it. Fareed had a job and this wasn't it.

Taco pointed to Donk and Klew, signaling them to go left and check the window there. Me and Bigfoot went to the right. I snuck a peek in the window on my side, hoping to pull back in time if some muj decided to blow my head off, but I saw no one and no one shot at me. I saw a big circular room with rugs on the floor, a low couch, a bookcase now containing just one lonely paperback book, a coffee table on its side. There was a tapestry of running horses on one wall. The room was almost as high as the nave of a smalltown Catholic church, rising at least fifty feet to that dome, which was lit by lasers of sunlight made almost solid by dancing dust motes.

I ducked back for Bigfoot to take my place. Since I hadn't gotten my head blown off, he looked a little longer.

“Can't see the doors from here,” Foot said to me. “Angle's wrong.”

“I know.”

We turned back to Tac. I rocked my hands back and forth in a gesture that meant maybe okay, maybe not. From beside the window on the other side, Donk conveyed the same message with a shrug. We heard more gunfire, some distant and some closer, but there was none on Block Lima. The big domed house was quiet. The soccer ball Din-Din kicked had come to rest in the corner of the courtyard. The place was probably deserted, but I kept feeling my belt loop for that fucking shoe.

The eight of us drew back together, flanking the door. “Gotta stack,” Taco said. “Who wants some?”

“I do,” I said.

Taco shook his head. “You went first last time, Billy. Quit grubbing for tin and give someone else a chance.”

“I want some,” Johnny Capps said, and Taco said “You're it, then,” and that's why I'm walking today and Johnny isn't. Simple as that. God doesn't have a plan, He throws pickup sticks.

Taco pointed to Bigfoot, then at the double doors. The one on the right had an oversized iron latch sticking out like an impudent black tongue. Foot tried it, but the latch stayed firm. The courtyard had been open, maybe because kids came in there to play in better times, but the house was locked. Taco gave Bigfoot the nod and Foot shouldered his shotgun, which was loaded with special door-busting shells. The rest of us moved into a line—the ever-popular stack—behind Johnny. Klew was second, because he had the SAW. Taco was behind Klew. I was fourth in line. Pill was at the back of the stack, as he always was. Johnny was hyperventilating, psyching himself up. I could see his lips moving:
Get some, get some, fucking get some
.

BOOK: Billy Summers
9.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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