Authors: Stephen King
“I don't understand.”
“Ten bucks for ten milligram tablets, eighty for eighty milligramsâthe greenies. If he tries to jack you up to double thatâ¦” Billy shifts in his seat and grimaces. “Tell him to take a hike. Speed for you. Adderall is good, Provigil maybe even better. Got it?”
Alice nods. “I need to go inside and pee first. I'm pretty nervous.”
Billy nods and closes his eyes. “Lock up, right? I'm in no shape to fight off a carjacker.”
She pees, picks up some snacks and drinks in the store, then goes out and starts walking around the trucks out back. Someone wolf-whistles after her. She ignores it. She's looking for a turned-down visor with something green on it, or a ribbon blowing from a doorhandle. What she finds, just as she's about to give up, is a rumbling Peterbilt with a green Jesus stuck to the dashboard. She's scared, thinks the man behind the wheel will probably either laugh at her or give her a
look, but Billy is in pain and she'll do anything for him.
She steps up and knocks. The window rolls down. It's a Scandahoovian-looking dude with straw-blond hair and a big old jelly-belly. His eyes are ice blue. He looks at her with no expression. “If you're looking for help, honey, call Triple-A.”
She tells him about the back spasms and the long drive and says she can pay if it's not too much.
“How do I know you're not a cop?”
The question is so unexpected she laughs, and that's the convincer. They dicker. She ends up parting with five hundred of the
eight hundred dollars for ten ten-milligram Oxys, one eighty (what Billy called a greenie), and a dozen orange Adderall tabs. She's pretty sure he jacked her up most righteously, but Alice doesn't care. She runs back to the Mitsubishi with a smile. Part of it is relief. Part of it is a sense of accomplishment: her first drug deal. Maybe she really is turning outlaw.
Billy's dozing with his head back and his chin pointing at the windshield. His face has thinned out. Some of the stubble on his cheeks is gray. He opens his eyes when she knocks on the window and leans over to unlock the doors, wincing as he does it. He has to push on the steering wheel to get straight in his seat again and she thinks he won't be able to drive them two miles, let alone across New York and New Jersey in heavy traffic.
“Did you score?” he asks as she slides in behind the wheel.
She opens the handkerchief into which she folded the pills. He looks and says it's good, she did well. It makes her happy.
“Did you have to show the gun?”
She shakes her head.
“Didn't think you would.” He takes the greenie. “I'll save the rest for later.”
“Won't that knock you out?”
“No. People who use it to get high get sleepy. I'm not using it for that.”
“Will you actually be able to drive? Because I can tryâ”
“Give me ten minutes, then we'll see.”
It's fifteen. Then he opens the passenger door and says, “Switch places with me.”
He walks around the car without limping too much and gets behind the wheel without wincing at all. “Johnny Capps was right, the stuff is magic. Of course that's what makes it so dangerous.”
“Good to go,” Billy says. “For awhile, anyway.”
He swings out of the back lot where the big trucks sleep and
merges smoothly onto the LIE, slotting neatly behind a pickup hauling a boat trailer and ahead of a dump truck. Alice thinks she would have hesitated for minutes with exit traffic backing up behind her, honking like crazy, and when she finally pulled out she would have gotten slammed from behind. Soon they're up to sixty-five, Billy moving in and out of slower traffic with no hesitation. She waits for the drug to start messing with his timing. It doesn't happen.
“Get some news on the radio,” he says. “Try 1010 WINS on the AM.”
She finds WINS. There's a story about a pipeline leak in North Dakota, a plane crash in Texas, and a school shooting in Santa Clara. There's nothing about the murder of a media mogul at his estate on Montauk Point.
“That's good,” Billy says. “We need all the running room we can get.”
Outlaws for sure, she thinks.
By the time the New York skyline is on the horizon, he's sweating again, but his driving remains firm and confident. They take the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey. With Alice calling out directions from her GPS, Billy gets to I-80. He doesn't make it all the way to the Pennsylvania state line but pulls off at a tiny rest area in Netcong Borough.
“All I can do,” he says. “Your turn. Take an Adderall now, and probably another two around four o'clock, when you start to fade. Then keep driving as long as you can. Try to make it until ten o'clock. By then we'll have put almost eight hundred miles behind us.”
Alice looks at the orange pill. “What's it going to do to me?”
Billy smiles. “You'll be fine. Trust me.”
She swallows the pill. Billy slides slowly from behind the wheel, makes it halfway around the hood of the Mitsubishi, then staggers and has to hold on. Alice gets out in a hurry and steadies him.
“Not bad,” he says, but her eyes are on him and he says, “Actually
pretty bad. I'm going to get in back and stretch out as much as I can. Give me two of those ten-milligram Oxys. Maybe I can sleep.”
She supports him to the back door as best she can and helps him in. She wants to pull up his shirt and look at the area around the Band-Aid, but he won't let her and she doesn't press him, partly because she knows he wants her to get going and partly because she knows she wouldn't like what she'd see.
The pill is working. At first she thinks it's her imagination, but the way her heartbeat is ramping up isn't imagination, and neither is the way her vision seems to be clarifying. There's grass around the rest area's little brick comfort station and she can see the shadow thrown by each blade. A fluttering potato chip bag looks, there's no other word for it,
. She discovers that she
to drive now, wants to watch as the Mitsubishi swallows up the miles.
Billy either reads her mind or knows from experience how the Adderall is hitting a girl who's never taken a stimulant stronger than her morning coffee. “Sixty-five,” he says. “Seventy if you have to pass a semi. We don't want any flashing blue lights, okay?”
“We rolled, all right,” Alice says. “My mouth got dry and I finished both my Diet Coke and his Sprite, but I didn't have to pee for the longest time. It was like I left my bladder at Happy Jack's Truck Stop.”
“Speed does that,” Bucky says. “You probably didn't want to eat, either.”
“I didn't, but knew I had to. I stopped around three o'clock for sandwiches. Billy stayed in back. He was sleeping and I didn't want to wake him.”
Bucky doubts very much if Billy was sleeping, not with internal bleeding and a spreading infection, but he keeps quiet on that score.
“I took two more of the pills and kept driving. We stopped for the night at a no-tell motelâour specialtyâoutside Gary, Indiana. Billy was awake by then, but he made me check in. I had to help him to the room. He could barely walk. I told him to take more of the OxyContin and he said he had to save them for tomorrow. I got him on the bed and looked at the wound. He didn't want me to, but by then he was too weak to stop me.”
Alice's voice remains steady through all of this, but she wipes her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater again and again.
“Was it turning black?” Bucky asks. “Necrotic?”
Alice nods. “Yes, and swollen. I said we had to get him help and he said no. I said I was going to get him a doctor and he couldn't stop me. He said that was true, but if I did, there was a good chance I'd spend thirty or forty years in jail. By then it was on the news. About Klerke. Do you think he was just trying to scare me?”
Bucky shakes his head. “He was trying to take care of you. If the copsâand the Feebs, they'd be involvedâcould connect you to what went down at Klerke's place, you'd go away for a very long time. And once the cops put you with Billy at that Hyatt, you'd be connected.”
“You're saying that to make me feel better.”
Bucky gives her an impatient look. “Of course I am, but it happens to be the truth.” He pauses. “When did he die, Alice?”
Neither of them sleep worth a damn, Billy because he's in pain that must be excruciating, Alice because she's still feeling the remnants of speed-up pills her system has never encountered before. Around four-thirty in the morning, long before first light, he tells her they
need to get going. He says she'll have to help him to the car, and he'd like that to happen before the world wakes up.
He takes four of the remaining Oxy tens and uses the bathroom. She goes in after him. He's flushed away the worst of the blood, but there's still some on the rim of the toilet and on the tiles. She wipes it up and takes the plastic trash bag with them: outlaw mentality.
By then the pain pills are working, but it still takes almost ten minutes to get him to the car because he has to rest after every two or three steps. He's leaning heavily on her and gasping like a man who's just finished a marathon. His breath is rank. She's terrified that he'll faint and she'll have to drag him (because she can't carry him), but they make it all right.
Slowly, with a series of little whimpering cries she hates to hear, he manages to crawl into the back seat. But when he's in as well as he can be, with his head pillowed on one arm, he manages a remarkably sunny smile.
“Fucking Marge. If she'd hit just half an inch further to the left, we could have avoided all this mishegas.”
“Fucking Marge,” she agrees.
“Keep it at sixty-five except to pass. Seventy-five once we get to Iowa and Nebraska. We don't want to see any flashing blue lights.”
“No flashing lights, roger that,” she says, and gives him a salute.
He smiles. “I love you, Alice.”
Alice takes two of the Adderall. She considers and adds a third. Then she gets going.
The traffic south of Chicago is horrible, six or eight lanes in either direction, but with the Adderall on board Alice navigates through it fearlessly. West of the metro area the traffic thins out some and the towns roll by: LaSalle, Princeton, Sheffield, Annawan. Her heart beats in her chest nice and tight. She's locked in, got the hammer down like a trucker in a country song. Every now and then her eyes flick to the rearview and to the prone shape folded into the back seat. And as they leave Davenport behind and enter the wide
flat spaces of Iowa, its fields now gray and still, waiting for winter, he begins to talk. It makes no sense; it makes all the sense in the world. He's in the dark, she thinks. He is in the dark and in pain and looking for the way out. Oh Billy, I am so, so sorry.
There's a lot about Cathy. He tells her not to bake the cookies, to wait until Ma comes home to help her. He tells Cathy someone hurt Bob Raines and he's going to come home mean. He says Corinne stuck up for him, the only one who did. He talks about Shan. There's something about a shooting gallery. He talks about someone named Derek and someone named Danny. He tells these phantoms that he won't take it easy on them just because he's a grownup. Alice thinks he's talking about Monopoly because he says to hurry up and shake the dice and the railroads are a good buy but the utilities aren't. Once he shouts, making her jump and swerve. Don't go in there, Johnny, he says, there's a muj behind the door, throw in a flash-bang first and get him out of there. He talks about Peggy Pye, the girl from the foster home where he stayed after his mother lost custody. He says paint is the only thing holding the goddam house together. He talks about the girl he had a crush on, sometimes calling her Ronnie and sometimes calling her Robin, which Alice knows was her real name. He says something about a Mustang convertible and something about a jukebox (“It would play all night if you hit it in just the right place, Tac, remember?”), he talks about the toe that was partly lost and the baby shoe that was entirely lost and Bucky and Alice and someone named ThÃ©rÃ¨se Raquin. He returns again and again to his sister and to the policeman who took him away to the House of Everlasting Paint. He talks about thousands of cars with their windshields shining in the sun. He says they were smashed beauty. He is unpacking his life in the back seat of this stolen car and her heart breaks.
Finally he falls silent and at first she thinks he's gone to sleep, but the third or fourth time she looks in the rearview and sees him lying there so still with his knees pulled up she thinks he's dead.
They're in Nebraska now. She pulls off at the exit for Hemingford Home and onto two-lane county blacktop running straight as a string between walls of corn that's finished for another year. The day is almost over. She goes a mile and comes to a dirt road and pulls onto it, driving in far enough to be hidden from the blacktop road. She gets out and opens the back door and is at first relieved to see him looking at her, next terrified by the thought that he's died with his eyes open. Then he blinks.
“Why'd we stop?”
“I needed to stretch my legs. How are you, Billy?”
Stupid question, but what else is there to ask? Do you know who I am or do you think I'm your dead sister? Are you going to be in your right mind for awhile? And by the way, is it too late? Alice thinks she knows the answer to that one.
“Help me sit up.”
“I don't know if that's a goodâ”
“Help me sit up, Alice.”
So he knows. And he's with her, at least for now. She takes his hands and helps him sit up with his feet on an unnamed dirt road in a town called Hemingford Home. In the mountains of Colorado it will already be almost dark. Here in the flatlands the afternoon has stretched into evening even though it's November. Here the evening redness of the west spills over corn that rustles and sighs in a light breeze. His hands are hot and his face is burning. There are fever blisters on his lips.