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Authors: Stephen King

Billy Summers (41 page)

BOOK: Billy Summers
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Alice is silent for a bit, thinking it over. Then she says, “You told me that because you think you might never get a chance to write it down. Isn't that right?”

It is, but he doesn't want to say so out loud.


“I told you because you wanted to know,” he says finally, and turns on the radio.


They register at another off-brand motel. There are a lot of them in a rough ring around the outskirts of Vegas. While Billy registers them as Dalton Smith and Elizabeth Anderson, Alice plugs four dollars in one of the lobby slots. On the fifth, ten fake cartwheels drop into the trough with a clatter and she squeals like a kid. The desk clerk offers her a choice: ten bucks or motel credit in that amount.

“How's the restaurant here?” Alice asks.

“Buffet's pretty good.” Then he lowers his voice and says, “Take the money, honey.”

Alice takes the money and they get to-go at the Sirloin Super Burger down the road. She insists that it be her treat and Billy doesn't argue.

Back in Billy's room, she sits at the window and watches the endless traffic streaming toward downtown, and the lights of the hotels and casinos coming on. “Sin City,” she marvels, “and here I am in a motel room with a goodlooking guy who happens to be twice my age. My mother would just

Billy throws back his head and laughs. “And your sister?”

“Wouldn't believe it.” She points. “Are those the Paiute Mountains?”

“If that's north, those are them. I think they're actually called foothills. If it matters.”

She turns to him, no longer smiling. “Tell me what you're going to do.”

He does, and not just because he needs her help with the prep. She listens carefully. “It sounds awfully dangerous.”

“If it looks hinky, I'll back off and reconsider.”

“Will you
if it's hinky? The way your friend Taco knew outside that house in Fallujah?”

“You remember that, huh?”

“Will you?”

“I think so, yes.”

“But you'll probably go in anyway. The way you went into the Funhouse and look what happened there.”

Billy says nothing. There's nothing to say.

“I wish I could go with you.”

He says nothing to that, either. Even if the idea didn't fill him with horror, the plan wouldn't work if she were with him and she knows it.

“How badly do you need that money?”

“I could get along without it, and most of it's going to Bucky anyway. The money's not the reason I'm going. Nick treated me badly. He needs to pay a price, just like the boys who raped you needed to pay a price.”

It's Alice's turn to be silent.

“There's something else. I don't think it was Nick's idea to kill me after the job was done, and I
it wasn't his idea to put a six-million-dollar price on my head. I want to know who that person is.”

“And why?”

“Yes. That too.”


The first thing Billy does the next morning is to check the back of the old Dodge truck, because the tools were only tied down, not locked down. Everything is present and accounted for. He's not surprised, partly because everything in the truckbed and trailer is old and pretty clapped-out, but also because his experience over the years has taught him that the great majority of people are honest. They don't take what isn't theirs. People who do—people like Tripp Donovan, Nick Majarian, and whoever is behind Nick—piss him off mightily.

He almost texts Bucky to ask if Bucky can find out what car Nick is currently driving—it would probably be in the VIP area of the Double Domino's parking garage, undoubtedly something fancy with a vanity plate—then doesn't do it. Bucky probably
find out, and it might raise a red flag. That's the last thing Billy wants. He hopes that by now Nick has started to relax.

Once the stores are open, he and Alice go to the nearest Ulta Beauty. This time he's the one who needs makeup, but he lets Alice do the buying. After that she wants to go to a casino. It's a bad idea, but she looks so excited and hopeful that he can't say no. “But not the big hotels and not the Strip,” he says.

Alice consults her phone and directs them to Big Tommy's Hotel and Gambling Hall in East Las Vegas. She's carded before she's allowed in and flashes her new Elizabeth Anderson DL with aplomb. As she wanders around, gawking at the roulette, craps, blackjack, and the ever-spinning Money Wheel, Billy checks around him for guys with a certain look. He doesn't see any. Most of them out here in the boonies are moms and pops that could stand to lose a few.

He reflects again that Alice is a different girl from the one he brought in out of the pouring rain. On the way to being a better girl, and if what he's planning goes wrong and she's damaged more
than she has been already, that's on him. He thinks, I should just quit this shit and take her back to Colorado. Then he remembers Nick pitching him on the so-called “safe house,” all the time knowing the ride to Wisconsin was going to last about six miles until Dana Edison put a bullet in his head. Nick needs to pay. And he needs to meet the real Billy Summers.

“It's so
!” Alice says. Her cheeks are bright and her eyes are trying to look everywhere at once. “What should I do?”

After checking out the roulette table, Billy guides her there and buys her fifty dollars' worth of chips, all the while telling himself bad idea, bad idea. Her beginner's luck is phenomenal. In ten minutes she's up two hundred dollars and people are cheering her on. Billy doesn't care for that, so he guides her to a bank of five-dollar slots where she spends half an hour and wins another thirty bucks. Then she turns to him and says, “Push the button and look, push the button and look, rinse and repeat. It's kinda stupid, isn't it?”

Billy shrugs but can't help smiling. He remembers Robin Maguire saying it's only a grin when your teeth show, and then it's nothing else.

“You said it, not me,” he says. And shows his teeth.


After the casino they go to the Century 16 and see not one movie but two, a comedy and an action flick. When they come out of that one, it's almost dark.

“How about something to eat?” Alice asks.

“Happy to stop somewhere if you want, but I'm full of popcorn and Sour Patch Kids.”

“Maybe just a sandwich. Want to hear something nice about my mom?”


“Every now and then, if I was good, we'd have what she called a special day. I could have pancakes with chocolate chips for breakfast and then do almost anything I wanted, like have an egg cream at the Green Line Apothecary, or get a stuffed animal—if it was cheap—or ride the bus to the end of the line, which I liked to do. Stupid kid, huh?”

“No,” Billy says.

She takes his hand, natural as anything, and swings it back and forth as they walk to the truck. “This day has been like that. Special.”


Alice turns to him. “You better not get killed.” She sounds absolutely fierce. “You just better not.”

“I won't,” Billy says. “Okay?”

“Okay,” she agrees. “All okay.”


But that night she isn't. Billy is sleeping just below the surface of wakefulness, or he never would have heard Alice's knock. It's light and tentative, almost not there at all. For a moment or two he thinks it's part of the dream he's having, something about Shanice Ackerman, then he's back to the motel room on the outskirts of Vegas. He gets up, goes to the door, and looks through the peephole. She's standing there in the baggy blue pajamas she bought on her shopping trip with Bucky. Her feet are bare and her hand is at her throat and he can hear her gasping. The gasping is louder than her knock was.

He opens up, takes her by the hand that's not clasping her throat, and leads her into the room. As he closes the door he sings, “If you go down to the woods today… sing it with me, Alice.”

She shakes her head and tears in another breath. “—can't—”

“Yes you can. If you go down to the woods today…”

“You better go…”
. “… in dis… dis…”

She's swaying on her feet, close to fainting. Billy thinks it's a wonder she didn't pass out in the hall.

He gives her a shake. “Nope, that's wrong. Try again. Next line.”

“You're sure of a big surprise?” She's still gasping but looks a little less likely to collapse.

“Right. Now let's do it together. And don't talk it, sing it. If you go down to the woods today…”

She joins him. “You're sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today you better go in disguise.” She pulls in a deep breath and lets it out in a series of jerks:
huh… huh… huh
. “Need to sit down.”

“Before you fall down,” Billy agrees. He still has her hand. He leads her to the chair by the window, the drape now drawn.

She sits, looks up at him, brushes her newly blond hair off her forehead. “I tried in my room and it didn't work. Why did it work now?”

“You needed someone to duet with.” Billy sits on the edge of the bed. “What was it? Bad dream?”

“Horrible. One of those boys… those
… was stuffing a dishrag in my mouth. To make me stop yelling. Or maybe I was screaming. I think it was Jack. I couldn't breathe. I was sure I was going to choke to death.”

“Did they do that?”

Alice shakes her head. “I don't remember.”

But Billy knows they did, and she does, too. He has experienced this sort of thing himself, although not as badly or as often as some. He didn't keep up with the jars he knew in Iraq—Johnny Capps was the exception—but there are websites and sometimes he checks them out.

“It's natural, how the minds of combat survivors deal with the trauma. Or try to.”

“Is that what I am? A combat survivor?”

“That's what you are. The song may not work every time. A wet
cloth across your face may not work every time. There are other tricks to getting through panic attacks, you can read about them on the Internet. Sometimes, though, you just have to wait it out.”

“I thought I was better,” Alice whispers.

“You are. But you're also under stress.” And I put you there, Billy thinks.

“Can I stay here tonight? With you?”

He almost tells her no, then looks at her pale pleading face and thinks again, I put you there.

“Okay.” He wishes he was wearing more than just a pair of loose boxers, but they will have to do.

She gets in and he gets in next to her. They lie on their backs. The bed is narrow and their hips touch. He looks up at the ceiling and thinks, I am not going to get an erection. Which is like telling a dog not to chase a cat. Their legs are also touching. Hers is warm and firm through the cotton. He hasn't been with a woman since Phil and he doesn't want to be with this one, but oh God.

“Can I help you?” Her voice is quiet but not timid. “I can't make love to you… you know, the real way… but I could help you. I'd be glad to help you.”

“No, Alice. Thank you, but no.”

“Are you sure?”


“All right.” She rolls on her side, away from him and toward the wall.

Billy waits until her breathing grows long and mild and steady. Then he goes in the bathroom and helps himself.


Days go by, just a few, almost like a vacation, and then it's almost time. There's a Target down the road, and after breakfast they shop
there. Alice buys a big plastic jug of moisturizer and a spray bottle. Also bathing suits. Hers is a modest blue tank. His are billowy trunks with tropical fish on them. She also buys him a pair of pre-washed bib overalls, yellow work gloves, a denim barn coat, and a T-shirt with a very Vegas slogan on it.

They swim in the motel pool, which they discover is the best part of their current accommodation. Alice plays water volleyball with some kids while Billy lies on a chaise, watching. It all feels natural. They could be a father and daughter on their way to Los Angeles, maybe looking for work, maybe looking for relatives they can touch up for a long-term loan or a place to stay.

The motel clerk was right about the buffet—it's heavy on mac and cheese and prehistoric roast beef
au jus
—but after almost two hours in the pool, Alice eats everything on her heaped plate and goes back for more. Billy can't keep up with her, although there was a time—basic training, for instance—when he could have eaten her under the table. After lunch, she says she wants a nap. Billy isn't surprised.

Around four o'clock they go shopping again, this time at a farm-and-garden store called Grow Baby Grow. Alice's great mood of the morning has darkened, but she makes no effort to change his mind about the next day. Billy is grateful. Persuasion might lead to argument and arguing with Alice is the last thing he wants. Not on what could be their last day together.

When they park at the motel, Billy reaches into his back pocket and brings out a folded piece of paper. He unfolds it, smooths it gently, and then attaches it to the dashboard with Scotch tape from Target. Alice looks at the little girl hugging the pink flamingo.

“Who is that?”

Shanice's careful crayon work has blurred a little, but the hearts rising from the flamingo's noddy head to Shanice's are still clear enough. Billy touches one of them. “The little girl who lived next door to me in Midwood. But tomorrow she's going to be my daughter. If I need her to be.”


Billy trusts people not to steal, but only so far. The old tools and dirty barrels are safe enough, but someone might see the stuff they bought at Grow Baby Grow and decide to filch some, so they carry the bags inside and store them in Billy's bathroom. There are four 50-pound sacks of Miracle-Gro potting soil, five 10-pound sacks of Buckaroo Worm Castings, and a 25-pound sack of Black Kow fertilizer.

BOOK: Billy Summers
7.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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