Authors: Stephen King
Jack or Hank, whichever one it is, stumbles backward, pawing at his eyes. Foam drips off his cheeks and plops from his jaws. He stumbles over a hassock in front of a wicker chair with a hoodâwhat Billy thinks is called a “bungalow chair”âand goes sprawling. It's a swinging singles living room for sure, with a curving two-person couchâBilly knows that one, it's a “love-seat”âfacing a big-screen TV. There's a round table with a laptop on it and a bar in front of a wide window that looks toward the airport. Billy can see a plane taking off, and he's sure if the fuckwit could see it, he'd wish he was on it. Billy slams the hall door shut. The guy is yelling that he's blind.
“No, but you will be if you don't get your eyes rinsed out pretty fast, so pay attention. Hold out your hands.”
“I can't see! I can't see!”
“Hold out your hands and I'll take care of you.”
Jack or Hank is rolling around on the wall-to-wall carpet. He's not holding out his hands, he's trying to sit up, and this guy is too big to fool with. Billy drops the laptop bag and kicks him in the stomach. He lets out a whoof of air. Splatters of foam fly and land on the carpet.
“Did I stutter? Hold out your hands.”
He does it, eyes squeezed shut, cheeks and forehead bright red. Billy kneels, holds his wrists together, and secures him with one of the zip-ties before the man on the floor knows what's happening.
“Who else is here?” Billy's pretty sure there's no one. If there was, this man's bellowing would have brought them in a hurry.
“Nobody! Ah Christ, my eyes! They
Jack or Hank blunders to his feet. Billy grabs him by the shoulders and turns him toward the passthrough that gives on the kitchen. “March.”
Jack or Hank doesn't march, but he stumbles forward, waving his arms in front of him for obstacles. He's breathing fast and hard but not whooping for breath the way Alice was; there's no need to teach him the first verse of “Teddy Bears' Picnic.” Billy shoves him until the buckle of his pants hits the front of the sink. The faucet has a sprayer attachment. Billy turns on the water and points the spray at Jack or Hank's face. He also gets wet in the process, but that's all right. It's actually refreshing.
“It burns! It still burns!”
“It'll go away,” Billy says, and it will, but hopefully not too soon. He's betting Alice's works burned plenty. Maybe still do. “What's your name?”
“What do you want?” Now he's crying. Got to be in his mid to
late twenties, tall and at least two-twenty, but he's crying like a baby.
Billy jams the Ruger into the small of the guy's back. “That's a gun, so don't make me ask you again. What's your name?”
” he almost screams. “Jack Martinez! Please don't shoot me,
“Let's go in the living room, Jack.” Billy pushes Jack ahead of him. “Sit in the wicker seat. Can you see it?”
“A little,” Jack weeps. “It's all fucking
. Who are you? Whyâ”
“You can have my wallet. There's not much but Tripp keeps a couple of hundred in his bedroom, in the top drawer of the desk, just take it and go!”
He takes Martinez by the shoulders, turns him, and pushes him into the bungalow chair. It's suspended on a hook-and-rope combo from the ceiling and starts a mild rocking motion when the man's weight hits it. Martinez peers at Billy through bloodshot eyes.
“Just sit there a minute and get yourself together.”
There are napkins on the bar next to the ice bucket. Cloth ones, not paper, very nice. Billy takes one and goes to Martinez.
Martinez sits still and Billy wipes his face, getting rid of the last runnels of foam. Then he steps back. “Where are the other two?”
“You don't ask, Jack. I do. Your job is to answer, unless you want another shot of foam. Or a bullet in the knee if you really irritate me. Understand?”
“Yes!” The crotch of Martinez's chinos has gone dark.
“Where are they?”
“Tripp went to RBCC to see his advisor. Hank's at work. He's a salesman at JossBank.”
“Joseph A. Bank, it's a men'sâ”
“Okay, I know what it is. What's RBCC?”
“Red Bluff Community College. Tripp's a graduate student. Part time. History. He's writing a paper on the Australian and Hungarian War.”
Billy thinks of telling this idiot that Australia had nothing to do with the Hungarian revolution of 1848, but why would he? He's here to teach a different lesson.
“When will he be back?”
“I don't know. I think he said his meeting was at two. He might stop for coffee after, sometimes he does that.”
“Chat up a barista, maybe,” Billy says. “That is if she's new in town and hoping to meet someone nice.”
Billy kicks him in the leg. It's not hard, but Martinez cries out and the bungalow chair starts swinging again. It's a swinging chair for three swinging roommates.
“What about Hank? When does he get back?”
“He gets off at four. Why do youâ”
Billy raises the can of Easy-Off. It must still look blurry to Martinez, but he knows what it is and subsides.
“What about you, Jack? How do you earn your beer and bagels?”
“I'm a day trader.”
Billy goes over to the laptop on the round table. Numbers are flowing across it, most of them green. It's Saturday, but someone is trading somewhere, because money never sleeps.
“Is that your van out back?”
“No, Hank's. I've got a Miata.”
“Is the van broken down?”
“Yeah, blew a head gasket. He's been taking my car to work this week. The store he works at is in the Airport Mall.”
Billy pulls a regular chair over to the hanging bungalow chair.
He sits in front of Martinez. “I can be done with you, Jack. If you behave. Can you behave?”
“That means when your roomies come home, you keep perfectly quiet. No yelling out a warning. It's Tripp I mostly want to deal with, but if you alert him, or Hank, I will give you what I was going to give Tripp. Do you understand me? Are we clear?”
Billy takes out his phone and calls Alice. She asks if he's all right and Billy says he is. “I'm with a guy named Jack Martinez. He has something he wants to say to you.” Billy holds the phone out to Jack. “Tell her you're a worthless piece of shit.”
Jack doesn't protest, perhaps because he's cowed, perhaps because that's how he feels just now. Billy is hoping for that. He's hoping even day traders can learn.
“I'mâ¦ a worthless piece of shit.”
“Now say you're sorry.”
“I'm sorry,” Martinez says into the phone.
Billy takes the phone back. Alice sounds like she's crying. She tells him to be careful and Billy says he will. He ends the call and turns his attention to the red-faced man in the bungalow chair. “Do you know what you were apologizing for?”
Martinez nods and Billy decides that's good enough.
They sit there and time passes. Martinez says his eyes still burn, so Billy wets another bar napkin in the bar sink and wipes his face, paying particular attention to his eyes. Martinez thanks him. Billy thinks the man may regain his MAGA swagger eventually, but that's okay because he also thinks Martinez will never rape another woman. He has been rehabilitated.
Around three-thirty someone comes to the door. Billy stands behind it after first looking at Martinez with a finger to the lips of the Melania mask. Martinez nods. It's got to be Tripp Donovan because it's too early for Hank. The key rattles in the lock. Donovan is whistling. Billy holds the Ruger by the barrel and raises it to the side of his face.
Donovan comes in, still whistling. He's looking very young-man-about-town in his designer jeans and short leather coat, the picture finished off to perfection by the monogrammed briefcase in his hand and the scally cap perched jauntily on his dark hair. He sees Martinez in the bungalow chair with his hands bound together and stops whistling. Billy steps forward and clubs him with the butt of the gun. Not too hard.
Donovan stumbles forward but doesn't go down like the guys on TV do when they get pistol-whipped. He turns around, eyes wide, hand to the back of his head. Now Billy is pointing the business end of the gun at him. Donovan looks at his hand. There's a smear of blood on it.
“You hit me!”
“Better than what I got,” Martinez says in a grumbly tone that's almost funny.
“Why are you wearing that mask?”
“Put your hands together. Wrist to wrist.”
“Because I'll shoot you if you don't.”
Donovan puts his hands together wrist to wrist with no further argument. Billy tucks the Ruger into his belt at the front. Donovan rushes at him, which Billy expected. He steps aside and aids Donovan's forward motion with a hearty push into the closed door. Donovan cries out. Billy grabs him by the collar of his trendy leather coatâperhaps purchased at Joseph A. Bankâand pulls him backward, tripping Tripp over one outstretched leg. He falls on his back. His nose is bleeding.
Billy kneels beside him, first putting Don Jensen's gun in his belt at the back so Donovan can't make a grab for it, then holding out one of the ties. “Put your hands together, wrist to wrist.”
“Your nose is bleeding but not broken. Put your hands together or I'll fix that.”
Donovan puts his hands together. Billy binds his wrists and then calls Alice to tell her two down and one to go. He doesn't put Donovan on the phone because Donovan doesn't seem like he's ready to apologize. At least not yet.
Tripp Donovan, sitting on the love-seat, keeps trying to engage Billy in conversation. He says he knows why Billy is here, but whatever that girl Alice told him is total self-protecting bullshit. She was horny, she wanted it, she got it, everyone parted friends, end of story.
Billy nods agreeably. “You took her home.”
“That's right, we took her home.”
“In Hank's van.”
Donovan's eyes shift at that. He's got that magic mixture of charm and bullshit, it's worked for him his whole life and he even expects it to work on the home invader in the Melania Trump mask, but he doesn't like that question. It's a
“No, the Love Machine's broken down in the back parking lot.”
Billy says nothing. Martinez says nothing, and Donovan doesn't see his roomie's
you fucked up
look. Donovan is concentrating on Billy.
“That a Pro?” Nodding at the computer bag on the floor. “Sweet cruncher, man.”
Billy says nothing. He's sweating inside the plastic shell of the
mask and he can't wait to get it off. He can't wait to finish his business and get out of this swinging bachelor pad.
At quarter to five another key rattles in the lock and in comes the third little pig, a small and dapper porker in a black three-piece suit set off by a tie as red as the blood on Alice Maxwell's thighs. Hank makes no trouble. He sees the blood on Donovan's face and Martinez's swollen eyes and when Billy tells him to hold out his hands he does so with only token protest and allows Billy to zip-tie his wrists. Billy leads him to the round table.
“Here we are,” Billy says. “All in our places with bright shiny faces.”
“There's money in my desk,” Donovan says. “In my room. Also some dope. World-class coke, man. An eightball.”
“I've got some cash, too,” Hank says. “Only fifty, butâ¦” He gives a what-can-you-do shrug. Billy can almost like this one. Stupid considering what he did but true. The flesh under his eyes and around his mouth is white with terror, but he's behaving and putting up a good front.
“Oh, you know this isn't about money.”
“I told youâ” Donovan begins.
“He knows the whole thing, Tripp,” Martinez says.
Billy turns to Hank. “What's your last name?”
“And the van out back, the Love Machineâ¦ that's yours, right?”
“Yes. But it's broken down. The head gasketâ”
“Blew, I know. But it was running last week, yeah? You guys took Alice home in it after you were done with her?”
“Don't say anything!” Donovan barks.
Hank ignores him. “What are you? Her boyfriend? Her brother? Oh boy.”
Billy says nothing.
Hank lets out a sigh. It sounds wet. “You know we didn't take her home.”
“What did you do with her?”
Donovan: “Don't say anything!” This seems to be his scripture.
“Bad advice, Hank. Just say it and spare yourself a lot of grief.”
“We dropped her off.”
“Dropped her off? Is that what you want to call it?”
“Okay, we dumped her,” he says. “But manâ¦ she was
, okay? And we knew she had her phone and money for an Uber. She was
“And making perfect sense?” Billy asks. “Holding a conversation? Tell me that if you fucking dare.”
Hank doesn't tell him that. He starts to cry, which tells Billy something else.
Billy calls Alice. He doesn't make Hank tell her he's a worthless piece of shit, because the man's tears make it clear he already knows that. He only asks Hank to say he's sorry. Which he does and sounds like he means it. For whatever that's worth.
Billy turns to Donovan. “That leaves you.”
The swinging roommates are cowed. No one's going to run for the door because they know the intruder in the mask would clothesline them if they tried. Billy goes to his computer bag and takes out the Magic Wand hand mixer. It's a slim stainless steel cylinder about eight inches long. Its electrical cord has been bound into a neat bow by two twist ties.