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Authors: Stephen King

Billy Summers (52 page)

BOOK: Billy Summers
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Dear Alice,

By the time you read this, I'll be gone. One of the reasons I wanted to stop here is because of the truck stop, Happy Jack's, half a mile down the road. There I'm sure I can find a long-haul independent who'll let me ride along with him for a hundred dollars. It's got to be west or north, either of those will be okay, just not south or east. I've been there and done that.

I am not deserting you. Believe it.

I rescued you when those three bad and stupid men dumped you on the side of Pearson Street, didn't I? Now I'm rescuing you again. Trying, at least. Bucky said something I haven't forgotten. He told me you'd follow me as long as I let you, and if I let you, I'd ruin you. I know he was right about the following part after what we did at Klerke's estate in Montauk Point. I
think
he was right about the ruining part, too, but I don't believe it's happened yet. When I asked you how you were doing with Klerke, you said you were trying. I know that you are, and I'm sure that in time you will succeed in putting that behind you. But I hope it won't be too soon. Klerke screamed, didn't he? He screamed that it hurt, and I hope those screams will haunt you long after you've gotten over my going. Maybe he deserved to be hurt after what he did to the girl in Mexico. And his son. And the other girls—them, too. But when you administer pain to someone, not little pain like the healing wound in
my side but a killing shot, it leaves a scar. Not on the body but on the mind and spirit. It should, because it's no little thing.

I need to leave you because I too am a bad man. This was knowledge I pushed away from my heart before, mostly with books, but I can't push it away any longer and I will not risk infecting you more than I already have.

Go to Bucky, but don't stay with Bucky. He cares for you, he will be kind to you, but he is also a bad man. He will help you start a new life as Elizabeth Anderson, if that is what you want. There is money in the account of a man named Edward Woodley, and if Nick comes through there will be more. There is also money in the Bank of Bimini, in the name of James Lincoln. Bucky has both passwords and all the account information. He will give you advice on how to manage the flow into your own account and put you in touch with a tax advisor. That part is very important, because money that can't be accounted for is a trapdoor that can open under your feet when you least expect it. Some of the money is for Bucky. The rest is yours, for school and for a start in life as a fine independent woman. Which is what you are, Alice, and what you will be.

Stay in the mountains if you want to. Boulder is nice. So is Greeley and Fort Collins and Estes Park. Enjoy your life. At some point, perhaps when you are in your forties and I'm in my sixties, you may get a call from me. We can go out for a drink. Make that two drinks! You can toast Daphne and I'll toast Walter.

I have come to love you, Alice. So very much. If you love me as you have said, then bring that love into the world as a real thing by living a fine and useful life.

Yours,

Billy

PS: I'm taking my laptop—it's an old friend—but leaving the thumb drive with my story on it. It's in my room, along with the
keys to the SUV. The story ends when we left for Montauk Point, but perhaps you could finish it. Certainly you must be very familiar with my style by now! Do with it as you will, just leave the Dalton Smith name out of it. And yours.

I folded the note around the key to my room, printed her name on it, and pushed it under her door. Goodbye, Alice.

I slung my laptop over my right shoulder, picked up my suitcase in my right hand, and left by the side door. Half a mile down the road I stopped to rest, and to do one other thing. I opened the suitcase and took out the two guns—my Glock and the ACP Marge had shot me with. I unloaded them and threw them as far as I could. The bullets would go into one of the trashcans at the truck stop.

With that taken care of, I started walking toward the lights and the big trucks and the rest of my life. Maybe even toward some kind of atonement, if that's not too much to ask for. Probably it is.

CHAPTER 24
1

It's November 21, 2019, a week from Thanksgiving, but the occupants of the house at the end of Edgewood Mountain Drive aren't in a Thanksgiving frame of mind. It's cold outside—colder than a welldigger's belt-buckle, Bucky says—and snow is on the way. He has lit a fire in the kitchen stove and sits in one of his rocking chairs dragged in from the porch with his sock feet up on the fender. He's got an open laptop, rather scratched and battered, balanced on his thighs. A door opens behind him and footsteps approach. Alice comes into the kitchen and sits at the table. She's pale and at least ten pounds lighter than the first time Bucky saw her. Her cheeks are hollowed out, giving her the look of a half-starved fashion model.

“Finished, or still reading?”

“Finished. Just looking at the end again. That part doesn't make much sense.”

Alice says nothing.

“Because if he left you the thumb drive, the part about him walking down the road and throwing away the guns couldn't be on it.”

Alice says nothing. Since she arrived at Bucky's place, she has said very little, and Bucky hasn't pushed her. What she's done, mostly, is sleep and write on the laptop Bucky now closes and holds up.

“MacBook Pro. Nice gadget, but this one has been around the block a few times.”

“Yes,” Alice says. “I guess that's true.”

“So in the story Billy took his laptop with him, but here it is. Add the stuff that couldn't be on the thumb drive and it's kind of a science fiction–type story.”

The young woman sitting at the kitchen table says nothing.

“Still, there's no reason it shouldn't hold together. No reason for people who read it to think he didn't just walk away and is living out west somewhere. Or in Australia, he always talked about that. Maybe writing a book. Another one. He always talked about that too, but I never thought it would come to anything.”

He looks at her. Alice looks back. Outside a cold wind is blowing and it looks like snow, but it's warm here in the kitchen. A knot pops in the stove.

At last Bucky says, “
Will
people read it, Alice?”

“I don't know… I'd have to change the names…”

He shakes his head. “Klerke's murder was world-wide news. Still…” He sees her disappointment and shrugs. “They'd maybe think it was a
roman à clef.
That's French. I learned it from him. He said it while I was reading this old paperback I picked up at the Strand.
Valley of the Dolls
, it was called.” He shrugs again. “Just as long as you keep me out of it, I don't care. Call me Trevor Wheatley or something and put me up in Saskatchewan or Manitoba. As for Nick Majarian, that motherfucker can take care of himself.”

“Is it any good, do you think?”

He puts the laptop—Billy's old standby—on the kitchen table. “I think so, but I'm no literary critic.”

“Does it sound like him?”

Bucky laughs. “Sweetheart, I never read anything he wrote, so I can't say for sure, but it sure sounds like his voice. And the voice stays the same all the way through. Put it this way, I can't tell for sure where you took over.”

Smiles have been in short supply since Alice came back, but she gives him one now. “That's good. I think it's the most important part.”

“Did you make that up about me being a bad man, too?”

She doesn't drop her eyes. “No. He said it.”

“You wrote what you wished had happened,” Bucky says. “The hero of the story walks away into the future toting his suitcase. Now tell me what really did happen.”

So she does.

2

They drive back to Riverhead, stopping on the way for Band-Aids, a roll of gauze, tape, hydrogen peroxide, and Betadine ointment. Alice goes into the Walgreens while Billy waits in the car. At the hotel they enter by the side door. Once they're in his room, she helps him off with the bomber jacket. There's a hole in it, and another in his shirt. Not a rip but a hole, and not in the side, as he told her. Farther in.

“Oh my God,” Alice says. Her voice is muffled because her hand is over her mouth. “That's not a
graze
, that's your
stomach
.”

“I guess it is. Or maybe a little lower?” He sounds bemused.

“In the bathroom,” Alice says. “If you don't want to leave a lot of blood around.”

But once they're in there and she helps him get his shirt off, she sees there is almost no blood coming from the red-black hole. She's able to cover it with one of the Band-Aids after she's used the hydrogen peroxide and a little Betadine.

She has to help him back to the bed. He's walking slowly and listing to the right. His face is sheened with sweat. “Marge,” he says. “Fucking Marge.”

He sits down but gasps when his body bends. Alice asks him how bad it hurts.

“Not too bad.”

“Are you lying?”

“No,” he says. “Well, a little.”

She touches his stomach to the right of the hole and he gasps again. “Don't.”

“We have to get you to a hos…” She stops. “We can't, can we? It's a gunshot wound and they have to report those.”

“You're turning outlaw on me,” he says, and grins. “You really are.”

Alice shakes her head. “I just watch too much television.”

“I'll be okay. I saw worse in Iraq and guys were back clearing blocks the next day.”

Alice shakes her head. “You're bleeding inside. Aren't you? And the bullet's still in there.”

Billy doesn't reply. She stares at the Band-Aid. It looks stupid. Like something you'd put on a scrape.

“Try to lie still tonight. On your back. Do you want Tylenol? I've got some in my purse.”

“If Tylenol's what you've got, I'll take it.”

She gives him two and helps him to sit up so he can take them with water. He coughs, cupping his hand over his mouth. She grabs the hand and looks at it. There's no blood in the palm. Maybe that's good. Maybe it isn't. She doesn't know.

“Thank you.”

“No thanks needed. I'd do anything for you, Billy.”

He presses his lips together. “We need to get out of here in the morning. Early.”

“Billy, we can't—”

“What we can't do is stay here.”

“I'll call Bucky. He's got connections. One of them might be a doctor in New York who can treat a gunshot wound.”

Billy shakes his head. “That could happen in a TV show. Not in real life. Bucky's not that kind of fixer. But if we make it back to Sidewinder, to gun country, he'll be able to find somebody.”

“That's almost two thousand miles! I googled it!”

Billy nods. “You'll have to do some of the driving, maybe even
most of it, and we need to make it as fast as we can. If there's a snowstorm, God help us.”

“Two thousand miles!” It feels like a weight on her shoulders.

“There might be a way to speed the plow.”

“Speed the—”

“It's the name of a play. Never mind.” Grimacing, he reaches into his back pocket, brings out his wallet, and hands it to her. “Find my ATM card. There's a machine on the mezzanine level. My passcode in 1055. Can you remember that?”

“Yes.”

“The machine will let you take four hundred dollars. Tomorrow morning, before we leave, you can get another four hundred.”

“Why so much?”

“Never mind now. What I'm thinking of may not work anyway, but let's be optimists. Find the card.”

She thumbs through his wallet and finds it. The embossed name is Dalton Curtis Smith. She holds it up, eyebrows raised.

“Go, girl.”

The girl goes. The mezzanine level is deserted. Muzak plays softly. Alice puts in the plastic and punches the code. She half expects the machine to eat the card, maybe even start sounding an alarm, but it pops back out and the money does, too. All twenties, fresh and uncreased. She folds them and puts the wad in her purse. When she comes back to Billy's room, he's lying down.

“How is it?” she asks.

“Not terrible. I was able to go to the bathroom and take a leak. No blood. Maybe the bullet being in there is good. It might be stopping up the bleeding.”

This sounds unlikely to Alice, like her grandmother saying a little cigarette smoke blown into an aching ear would quiet the pain, but she doesn't say so. She roots in her purse instead and comes out with her bottle of Tylenol. “How about another one of these?”

“God, yes.”

She gets him a glass of water in the bathroom and when she comes back he's sitting up with his hand pressed to his side. He takes the pill and lies down again, wincing.

“I'm going to stay with you. Don't even think about arguing with me.”

He doesn't. “I'd like to be out of here by six. Seven at the latest. So get some sleep.”

3

“And did you?” Bucky asks. “Get some sleep?”

“A little. Not much. I doubt if he got any. I didn't know how bad it was, how deep the bullet went in.”

“I'm guessing it perforated his intestines. Maybe his stomach.”


Could
you have found him a doctor? If I'd called you?”

Bucky thinks it over. “No, but I could have reached out to someone who might have been able to reach out to someone else on short notice. Someone of a medical persuasion.”

“Would Billy have known that?”

Bucky shrugs. “He knows I have a lot of connections in different fields.”

“Then why wouldn't he at least have let me try it?”

“Maybe he didn't want to,” Bucky says. “Maybe, Alice, he just wanted to get you here and be done.”

4

They leave the hotel at six-thirty. Billy is able to walk to the car unassisted. He says that with a couple more of Alice's Tylenol onboard, the pain is pretty manageable. Alice wants to believe it and can't.
He's walking with a limp, hand pressed to his left side. He gets into the passenger seat with the slow, almost glassy care of an old man with arthritic hips. She starts the engine and gets the heater going against the morning chill, then hurries back inside to get another four hundred dollars from the ATM. She snags a trolley for their luggage and trundles it out to the car.

“Let's roll,” he says, trying to buckle his seatbelt. “Fuck, I can't get this.”

She does it for him, and then they roll.

It's Route 27 to the Long Island Expressway and the LIE to I-95. The traffic gets progressively heavier on the Expressway, and Alice drives sitting bolt upright, hands clutching the wheel at ten and two, nervous about the river of cars passing on both her left and right. She's only had a driver's license for slightly over three years and she's never driven in traffic like this. In her mind she sees half a dozen accidents waiting to happen because of her inexperience. In the worst, they are killed instantly in a four-car pile-up. In the second-worst, they survive but the responding police discover that her companion has a bullet in his gut.

“Take the next exit,” Billy says. “We'll switch. I'm going to drive us through the metro area, then across New Jersey. Once we're in PA, you can take over. You'll be fine.”

“Can you?”

“Absolutely.” The strained grin she doesn't like appears. His face is damp again, sweat running in little rivulets, and his cheeks are flushed. Can he have a fever-induced infection already? Alice doesn't know, but she knows Tylenol won't stop it if he does. “If we're lucky, I may even be able to do it in relative comfort.”

Alice changes lanes to line up with the exit. Someone honks and she jumps. Her heart skips in her chest. The traffic is
insane
.

“That was their bad,” Billy says. “Tailgating son of a bitch. Probably a Yankee fan. There—see that sign? That's what we want.”

The sign shows a hand-waving truck driver jumping back and forth over a sixteen-wheeler outlined in pink neon. Below it, also in pink neon: HAPPY JACK'S TRUCK STOP.

“Saw it on our way out. On a better day, before Marge perforated me.”

“We have almost a full tank of gas, Billy.”

“Gas isn't what we want. Pull around back. And put this in your purse.” From under the seat he takes Marge's Smith & Wesson ACP.

“I don't want it.” This is absolutely true. She never wants to touch another gun in her life.

“I get that but take it anyway. It's not loaded. The chances that you even have to show it are about one in a hundred.”

She takes it, drops it in her purse, and drives around to where she sees dozens of ranked long-haul trucks, most of them grumbling quietly.

“No lot lizards. They must be sleeping in.”

“What are lot lizards? Whores? Truck-stop whores?”

“Yes.”

“Charming.”

“You need to stroll around those trucks, kind of like you were shopping back at those malls where you bought your clothes. Because shopping is what you're doing.”

“Won't they think I'm a lizard?”

This time it's not the grin but the smile she's come to love. He scans her blue jeans, her parka, and most of all her face, which is innocent of makeup. “Not a chance. I want you to hunt for a truck with the visor turned down. There'll be something green on it, like a piece of paper or celluloid. Or maybe some ribbon on the doorhandle. If the trucker is in the cab, you step up and knock on his window. With me?”

“Yes.”

“If the driver doesn't just wave you off, if he rolls down his window, you say that you're on a long trip, like coast to coast long, and
your boyfriend is having back spasms. Tell him you're doing most of the driving and you were hoping to find some pain med stronger than aspirin or Tylenol for him and some stimulants stronger than coffee or Monster Energy for you. Got it?”

Now she understands the two visits to the ATM.

“I'm hoping for OxyContin but Percs or Vikes would be okay. If it's Oxy, tell him you'll pay ten for tens or eighty for eighties.”

BOOK: Billy Summers
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