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Authors: Stephen King

Billy Summers (54 page)

BOOK: Billy Summers
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“I'm pretty well done.”

“No, Billy. No. You need to hold on. I'll give you two of the Oxys and there are a couple of those speed pills left. I'll drive all night.”

“No you won't.”

“I can do it, Billy. I really can.”

He's shaking his head. She's still holding his hands. She thinks if she let go he'd flop back onto the seat and his shirt would pull
up and she'd see his belly, now blackish-gray with red tendrils of infection reaching up to his chest. To his heart.

“Listen to me now. Are you listening?”

“Yes.”

“I rescued you after those men dumped you, all right? Now I'm rescuing you again. Trying to, anyway. Bucky told me you'd follow me as long as I let you, and if I let you I'd ruin you. He was right.”

“You didn't ruin me, you saved me.”

“Hush. You're not ruined yet, that's the important thing. You're okay. I know because when I asked you how you were doing with Klerke, you said you were trying. I knew what you meant, I know that you are, and in time you'll be able to put it behind you. Except in dreams.”

The red light, shining and shining. Painting the corn. It is so silent here and his hands are burning in hers.

“Klerke screamed, didn't he?”

“Yes.”

“He screamed that it hurt.”

“Stop, Billy, it's horrible and we have to get back on the turnpi—”

“Maybe he deserved to be hurt, but when you give pain it leaves a scar. It scars your mind. It scars your
spirit
. And it should, because hurting someone,
killing
someone, is no little thing. Take it from someone who knows.”

Blood is trickling from the corner of his mouth. No, from both corners. She gives up trying to stop him from talking. She knows what this is, it's a dying declaration, and her job is to listen as long as he's able to speak. She says nothing even when he tells her he's a bad man. She doesn't believe it but this is no time to argue.

“Go to Bucky, but don't stay with him. He cares for you and he'll be kind to you, but he's a bad man, too.” He coughs and blood flies from his mouth. “He'll help you start a new life as Elizabeth Anderson, if that's what you want. There's money, quite a lot of it. Some is in the account of a paper man named Edward Woodley. There's
also money in the Bank of Bimini, in the name of James Lincoln. Can you remember that?”

“Yes. Edward Woodley. James Lincoln.”

“Bucky has the passwords and all the account information. He'll tell you how to manage the flow of money into your own bank account so you don't attract attention from the IRS. That's important, because that's how they're most apt to catch you. Unreported income is a trapdoor. Do you…”

More coughing. More blood.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes, Billy.”

“Some of the money goes to Bucky. The rest is yours. Enough to go to college and a start in life after that. He'll treat you fair. Okay?”

“Okay. Maybe you should lie back now.”

“I'm going to, but if you try to drive all night you'll be an accident waiting to happen. Check your phone for the next town big enough to have a Walmart. Park where the RVs are. Sleep. You'll be fresh in the morning and back at Bucky's by late afternoon. Up in the mountains. You like the mountains, right?”

“Yes.”

“Promise me.”

“I promise to stop for the night.”

“All that corn,” he says, looking over her shoulder. “And the sun. Ever read Cormac McCarthy?”

“No, Billy.”

“You should.
Blood Meridian.
” He smiles at her. “Fucking Marge, huh?”

“That's right,” Alice says. “Fucking Marge.”

“I wrote the password to my laptop on a piece of paper and stuck it in your purse.”

That said, he lets go of her hands and falls back. She lifts his calves and manages to get his legs into the car. If it hurts him, he gives no sign. He's looking at her.

“Where are we?”

“Nebraska, Billy.”

“How did we get here?”

“Never mind. Close your eyes. Rest up.”

He frowns. “Robin? Is that you?”

“Yes.”

“I love you, Robin.”

“I love you, too, Billy.”

“Let's go down cellar and see if there are any apples left.”

7

Another knot pops in the woodstove. Alice gets up, walks to the refrigerator, and gets a beer. She twists off the cap and drinks half of it.

“That was the last thing he said to me. When I parked with the RVs at the Kearney Walmart, he was still alive. I know, because I could hear him breathing. Rasping. When I woke up the next morning at five, he was dead. Do you want a beer?”

“Yes. Thanks.”

Alice brings him a beer and sits down. She looks tired. “ ‘Let's go down cellar and see if there are any apples left.' Maybe talking to Robin, or to his friend Gad. Not much of an exit line. Life would be better if Shakespeare wrote it, that's what I think. Although… when you think about
Romeo and Juliet
…” She drinks the rest of her beer and some color comes into her cheeks. Bucky thinks she looks a little better.

“I waited until the Walmart opened, then went inside and bought some stuff—blankets, pillows, I think a sleeping bag.”

“Yes,” Bucky says. “There was a sleeping bag.”

“I covered him up and got back on the highway. Keeping no more than five miles an hour over the speed limit, just like he told
me. Once a Colorado State Patrol car came up behind with its flashers going and I thought I was cooked but it went by and on down the road, lickety-split. I got here. And we buried him, along with most of his things. There wasn't much.” She pauses. “But not too near the summerhouse cabin. He didn't like it. He worked there but he said he never liked it.”

“He told me he thought it was haunted,” Bucky says. “What comes next for you, darlin?”

“Sleep. I just can't seem to get enough. I thought it would be better when I finished writing his story, but…” She shrugs, then stands up. “I'll figure it out later. You know what Scarlett O'Hara said, don't you?”

Bucky Hanson grins. “ ‘I'll think about it tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day.' ”

“That's right.” Alice starts toward the bedroom where she has spent most of her time since coming back here, writing and sleeping, then turns back. She's smiling. “I bet Billy would have hated that line.”

“You could be right.”

Alice sighs. “I can never publish it, can I? His book. Not even as a
roman à clef
. Not five years from now, not ten. No sense fooling myself.”

“Probably not,” Bucky agrees. “It'd be like D.B. Cooper writing his autobiography and calling it
Here's How I Did It
.”

“I don't know who that is.”

“No one does, that's the point. Guy hijacked a plane, got a bunch of money, jumped out with a parachute, was never seen again. Kind of like Billy in your version of his story.”

“Do you think he'd be glad that I did it? That I let him live?”

“He'd fucking love it, Alice.”

“I think so, too. If I
could
publish it, you know what I'd call it?
Billy Summers
:
The Story of a Lost Man
. What do you think?”

“I think it sounds about right.”

8

There's snow in the night, just an inch or two, and it's stopped by the time Alice gets up at seven, the morning sky so clear it's almost transparent. Bucky is still asleep; she can hear him snoring even through the bedroom door. She puts on the coffee, gets wood from the pile beside the house, and builds up the fire in the stove. By then the coffee is hot and she drinks a cup before putting on her coat, boots, and a wooly hat that covers her ears.

She goes into the room set aside for her use, touches Billy's laptop, then picks up the paperback lying beside it and puts it in the back pocket of her jeans. She lets herself out and walks up the path. There are deer tracks in the fresh snow, lots of them, and the weird hand-shaped tracks of a raccoon or two, but the snow in front of the summerhouse is conspicuously unmarked. The deer and coons have steered clear of the place. Alice does, too.

There's an old cottonwood with a split trunk not too far from where the path ends. It's her marker. Alice turns into the woods and starts walking, counting the steps off under her breath. It was two hundred and ten on the day they brought Billy here, but because the going is a trifle slippery this morning she's up to two hundred and forty before she comes to the little clearing. She has to clamber over a fallen lodgepole pine to get into it. In the center of the clearing there's a square of brown earth upon which they have scattered a mixture of pine needles and fallen leaves. Even with the light fall of snow added to the needles and leaves, it's pretty clear it's a grave. Time will take care of that, Bucky has assured her. He says that by next November a random hiker could walk over that patch with no idea of what lay beneath.

“Not that there'll be any. This is my land, and I keep it posted. Maybe when I wasn't here people took advantage, probably used the path to stare across to where the Overlook used to be, but now I'm here, and I plan to stay. Thanks to Billy, I'm retired. Just an
other old mountain man. There are thousands of them between here and the Western Slope, growing their hair down to their asses and listening to their old Steppenwolf records.”

Now Alice stands at the foot of the grave and says, “Hey, Billy.” It feels natural to talk to him, natural enough. She wasn't sure it would. “I finished your story. Gave it a different ending. Bucky says you wouldn't have minded. It's on the same thumb drive you were using when you started in that office building. Once I get to Fort Collins, I'll rent a safe deposit box and put it inside with my Alice Maxwell ID.”

She goes back to the fallen lodgepole pine and sits down on it, first taking the paperback out of her pocket and putting it in her lap. It's good to be here. It's a peaceful place. Before wrapping the body in a tarpaulin, Bucky did something to it. He wouldn't tell her what, but he said there wouldn't be much smell when the hot weather came back, if any. The animals wouldn't disturb him. Bucky said it was the way such things were done in the old days of wagon trains and silver mines.

9

“Fort Collins is where I've decided to go to school. Colorado State University. I've seen the pictures and it's beautiful there. Remember when you asked me what I wanted to study? I said maybe history, maybe sociology, maybe even theater arts. I was too shy to tell you what I really wanted to do, but I bet you can guess. Maybe you even guessed then. I thought about it sometimes when I was in high school because English was always my best class, but finishing your story made it seem possible.”

She stops, because the rest of it is hard to say out loud even when she's alone. It sounds pretentious. Her mother would say she was
getting above herself
. But she needs to say it, she owes him.

“I'd like to write stories of my own.”

She stops again and wipes her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket. It's cold out here. But the stillness is exquisite. This early even the crows are asleep.

“When I was doing it, when I was…” She hesitates. Why is the word so hard to say? Why should it be? “When I was
writing
, I forgot to be sad. I forgot to worry about the future. I forgot where I was. I didn't know that could happen. I could pretend we were in the Bide-A-Wee Motel outside of Davenport, Iowa. Only it wasn't like pretending, even though there's no such place. I could see the fake wood walls and the blue bedspread and the bathroom glass in its plastic bag with writing on it that said SANITIZED FOR YOUR HEALTH. But that wasn't the most important part.”

She wipes her eyes, she wipes her nose, she watches the white clouds of vapor from her exhalations drift away.

“I could pretend that Marge—fucking Marge—only creased you, after all.” She shakes her head as if to clear it. “Only that's not right. You
were
only creased. You
did
write me that note and put it under my door when I was sleeping. You walked to the truck stop up the road even though the truck stop was back in New York and you went on from there.
Are
going on. Did you know that could happen? Did you know that you could sit in front of a screen or a pad of paper and change the world? It doesn't last, the world always comes back, but before it does, it's awesome. It's everything. Because you can have things the way you want and I want you to still be alive and in the story you are and always will be.”

She stands and goes over to the square of earth she and Bucky dug together. In the real world he's under there. She takes a knee and puts the book on the grave. Maybe the snow will cover it. Maybe the wind will blow it away. It doesn't matter. In her mind it will stay here. The book is
Thérèse Raquin
, by Émile Zola.

“Now I know who you were talking about,” she says.

10

Alice walks up to where the path ends at the knife-cut valley and looks across to the flat ground where the old hotel used to stand—the reputedly haunted hotel, according to Bucky. Once she thought she actually saw it, no doubt a hallucination caused by being unused to the thin air up here. Today she sees nothing.

But I could make it be there, she thinks. I could make it be there just as I was able to make the Bide-A-Wee be there, complete with all the details I didn't put in, like the bagged glass in the bathroom or the stain, sort of like the shape of Texas, on the rug. I could make it be there. I could even fill it with ghosts, if I wanted to.

She stands looking across the gulf of cold air between this side and that, hands in her pockets, thinking she could create worlds. Billy gave her that chance. She is here. She is found.

BOOK: Billy Summers
11.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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