Authors: Stephen King
“Here's what I've been thinking about,” Billy says. “That men don't know what it's like to be raped unless they've been raped themselves. You, Mr. Donovan, are about to have a reasonable facsimile of that experience.”
Donovan tries to lunge up from the love-seat and Billy pushes him back. When he lands the cushion makes a farting sound. Martinez and Flanagan don't move, only stare at the mixer with big eyes.
“What I need you to do is stand up, push down your pants and undershorts, then lie on your stomach.”
Donovan has gone white. His eyes are even bigger than those of his roommates. Billy hardly expected instant compliance. He takes the Ruger from his belt. He remembers Pablo Lopez, one of the squad's Funhouse casualties. Bigfoot Lopez had that Dirty Harry speech down pat, the one that ends with Harry saying
You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well do you, punk?
Billy can't remember it all, but he has the gist.
“This isn't my gun,” he says. “I borrowed it. I know it's loaded, but I don't know what the loads are. I didn't check them. If you don't drop trou and lie on your stomach, I'm going to shoot you in the ankle. Point blank. So you've got to ask yourself one questionâball or hollow point? If they're hard point, you'll probably walk again, but only after a lot of pain and therapy and you'll limp for the rest of your life. If they're softnose, most of your foot is going to say
. So here's the deal. Roll the dice on the bullet or get cornholed. Your choice.”
Donovan begins to blubber. His tears don't make Billy feel pity; they make him want to hit the man in the mouth with the butt of the Ruger and see how many of those toothpaste-ad teeth he can knock out.
“Let me put it to you another way. Either you can endure short-lived pain and humiliation or you can drag your left foot around for the rest of your life. Assuming the doctors don't amputate. You have five seconds to decide. Fiveâ¦ fourâ¦”
On three, Tripp Donovan stands up and drops trou. His cock has shriveled to a noodle and his balls are barely visible at all.
“Mister, do you have toâ” Martinez begins.
“Shut up,” Hank says. “He deserves it. Probably we all do.” To Billy he says, “Just so you know, I didn't put it in, just on her belly.”
“Did you come?” Billy knows the answer to that question.
Hank lowers his head.
Donovan is lying down on the carpet. His ass is white, the buttocks clenched.
Billy takes a knee beside the prone man's hip. “You want to stay still, Mr. Donovan. Still as you can, anyway. You can be grateful I'm not going to plug this thing in. I considered it, believe me.”
“I'll fuck you up,” Donovan sobs.
“No one is getting fucked up today but you.”
Billy sets the base of the hand mixer on Donovan's right asscheek. Donovan jerks and gasps.
“I thought about picking up some goo while I was shoppingâyou know, body lotion, massage oil, even Vaselineâbut I decided against it. Alice didn't get any lube, did she? Unless maybe you spit on your hand before you went in.”
“Please don't,” Donovan sobs.
“Did Alice say that? Probably not, she was probably too roofied out to say much of anything. One thing she did say was âDon't choke me.' She probably would have said more if she could. Here we go, Mr. Donovan. Hold still. I won't tell you to relax and enjoy it.”
Billy doesn't draw it out as he thought he might. He doesn't have the heart for it. Or the stomach. When he's finished he takes pictures of Tripp and the other two with his phone. Then he pulls the mixer out of Tripp, wipes his prints, and tosses it away. The cylinder rolls under the round table with Martinez's laptop on it.
“Each of you stay right where you are. This is almost over, so don't fuck it up on the homestretch.”
Billy goes into the kitchen and grabs a paring knife. When he comes back, none of them have moved. Billy tells Hank Flanagan to hold out his hands. Hank does, and Billy cuts the zip-tie holding him. “Mister?” Hank says, sounding timid. “You lost your wig.”
He's right. The blond wig is lying against the baseboard like a small dead animal. A rabbit, maybe. It must have come off when Donovan rushed him and Billy threw him against the door. Did he remember to glue it on before leaving the basement apartment? Billy can't remember but guesses he didn't. He doesn't try putting it on because he has the mask to contend with, just holds it in the hand not holding the Ruger GP.
“I have pictures of all of you, but because Mr. Donovan is the only one with a hand mixer sticking out of his ass, he's the star of the show. I don't think you're going to call the police, because then you'd have to explain why I broke in but left without taking any money or valuables, but if you
decide to whomp up some kind of story that doesn't involve gang rape, this picture is going on the Internet. With an explanation. Any questions?”
There are no questions. It's time for Billy to go. He can stow the mask and don the wig on the way to the third-floor lobby. But he wants to say something else before he goes. He feels he has to. The first thing that comes to mind is a question: don't any of you have sisters? And surely they have mothers, even Billy had one of those, although she wasn't very good at the job. But such a question would be rhetorical. Preaching, not teaching.
Billy says, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
He leaves, taking off the mask as he hurries down the hall and putting it in the unzipped computer bag. He's thinking that he's not much better than those guys, really, pot calling the kettle black, but thinking that way is no good. What he tells himself as he puts on the wig and trots down the stairs is that he's stuck with himself and must make the best of it. It's cold comfort, but cold is better than none.
Alice must have been waiting just inside the door of her room, because when Billy knocks she opens up at once. And hugs him. He's startled for a moment and starts to pull away, but when he sees the hurt look on her face he hugs her back. Other than meaningless bro-hugs from people like Nick and Giorgio, he hasn't had a real hug in a long time. Then he realizes that's not true, he got hugs from Shanice Ackerman. They were good and this one is, too.
They go inside. He told her he was okay when he called from the car after leaving Landview Estates, but she asks again now and he tells her again that he is.
“And youâ¦ dealt with them?”
“All three of them?”
“Do I want to know how?”
“None of them is going to need a hospital visit but all of them paid a price. Let's leave it at that.”
“Fine, but can I ask a question I asked before?”
Billy says she can.
“Did you do it for me or your sister?”
He thinks it over and says, “I think both.”
She gives a case-closed nod. “That wig looks like a hurricane blew through it. Do you have a comb?”
He does, in his shaving bag. Alice tents the wig over her spread fingers and starts combing it out in brisk strokes. “Are we staying here tonight?”
Billy has thought about this on the short drive back. “I think we should. I don't believe we have to worry about the Three Stooges calling the cops.” He's thinking of the pictures on his phone. “And it's getting late.”
She stops combing and looks at him dead-on. “Take me with you when you go. Please.” She mistakes his silence for reluctance. “There's nothing for me here. I can't go back to business school and serving cappuccinos. I can't go home, either. I won't. Not after all this. I need to get out of this town. I need to start over. Please, Dalton.
“All right. But there's going to be a point where we go our separate ways. You understand that, right?”
“Yes.” She holds out the wig. “Better?”
“It is. And my friends call me Billy. Okay?”
She smiles. “Okay.”
There's a Slim Chickens a quarter mile down the service road. Billy drives through and brings back food and shakes. The way she keeps her eyes on her chicken-and-bacon sandwich, planning the next bite even while she's chewing the one in her mouth, pleases him. He has no idea why, but it does. They watch the local news. There's just one item about the courthouse assassination. It's nothing new, just a two-minute filler piece before the weather. The world is moving on.
“Are you going to be okay tonight?”
“Yes.” She steals one of his fries, as if that proves it.
“If you start getting short of breathâ”
“ââTeddy Bears' Picnic,' I know.”
“And if that doesn't work, knock on the wall. I'll come.”
He gets up and tosses his trash. “Then I'll say goodnight. There's some stuff I have to do.”
“Are you going to work on your story?”
Billy shakes his head. “Other stuff.”
Alice looks troubled. “Billyâ¦ you wouldn't run out on me in the middle of the night, would you?”
This is such a perfect turnaround that he has to laugh. “No, I'm not going to do that.”
He crooks his little finger as he sometimes did with Shan and often did with Cathy. “Pinky-swear.”
She crooks her own, smiling, and they link up.
“Go to bed early because we're going to leave early. Long drive.”
All he has to do now is find out where they're going.
In his room on the other side of the wall, he texts Bucky Hanson.
Can I come to where you are? Actually it's we, I have someone with me. She's safe but going to need new ID. Not staying long. When I get the balance of what's owed to me, you'll get what I promised.
He sends and waits. He and Bucky go back almost to the beginning. Billy trusts him completely and thinks Bucky trusts him. Also, a million dollars is a lot of cheese.
Five minutes later his phone bings.
SCOTS live show Skipper's Smokehouse 2007 69 El Camino YT. Delete and DTA.
They haven't communicated like this in several years, but Billy
remembers what DTA means:
Don't text again
. For Bucky to go to such lengths means he's being very, very cautious. He may have heard something. If so, it was nothing good.
Billy also knows SCOTS. It stands for Southern Culture on the Skids, Bucky's favorite band. “â'69 El Camino” is one of their songs. Billy goes to YouTube and types out
SCOTS live at Skipper's Smokehouse
. Southern Culture on the Skids must have played that particular venue a lot over the years because there are over forty vids of various songs. Five of them are of “â'69 El Camino,” but there's only one from 2007. Billy selects it but doesn't hit play. It's smeary cell phone video, the sound will suck, and it's not music he came for.
It's had a little over four thousand views and hundreds of people have left comments. Billy scrolls down to the last one, which is tagged Hanson199. It was posted two minutes ago.
the comment reads.
Saw them play a kick-ass 10-minute version at Edgewood Saloon in Sidewinder.
Billy adds his own post, tagging himself Taco04. It's brief.
Hope to see them soon!
He deletes his text to Bucky and Bucky's reply about the SCOTS video, then goes to Google. There's only one town named Sidewinder in the continental United States. It's in Colorado. There's no Edgewood Saloon, but there is a thoroughfare called Edgewood Mountain Drive.
He texts Alice:
Leaving at 5 AM, OK?
âcomes back immediately.
Billy downloads an app to one of the AllTech laptops. It takes awhile because the Penny Pines WiFi is weak as shit. When the download is complete he reads for an hour, then takes a long hot shower. He sets the alarm on his phone before going to bed even though he knows he won't need it. He dreams of Lalafallujah. No surprise there.
It's still dark when they stow their few belongings in the back seat of the Fusion. Billy sets one of the cheap AllTechs on the console between the front seats and plugs it into the power outlet. “I knew one of these cheapies would come in handy sooner or later.”
“Did you really?” Alice looks still half-asleep.
“Nope, but sometimes you get lucky.”
While she fastens the seatbelt, Billy opens the app he downloaded last night. There's a shrill sound, like an old-fashioned modem connecting. He squelches the volume.
“What's that for?”
Billy bends over and points to an unobtrusive panel down low and to the left of the glove compartment. “That's the OBD. Onboard diagnostic. It does all sorts of things, and because this is a lease car, one of the things it does is pinpoint our location if anyone at the dealership wants to check. Which they would as soon as we cross the state line, because it's programmed to send a notification. The app is a jammer. If anyone checks, they'll think the OBD is on the fritz.”
“You hope they'll think that.”
“Confidence is high,” Billy says. “You ready? Don't want to dummy-check the room?”
“I'm ready.” She's wide awake now. “Where are we going?”
“Colorado, my God.” She sounds very young. “How far?”
“Over a thousand miles. Two-day drive.”
She smiles. “Then we better get going.”
Billy says “Roger that,” and drops the Fusion's transmission in drive. Five minutes later they're on the turnpike and headed west.
They stop for gas and food in Muskogee, the town made famous by Merle Haggard. Alice has been busy on the AllTech, and directs Billy to the Arrowhead Mall. When they get there, she points out a building with bright orange awnings.
“What's Ulta?” Billy asks.
“Makeup store. You go in. I don't want to with my face looking like this.”
Billy can't blame her. She's young, she's healthy, and the bruises have started to fade, but it's still pretty clear that someone tuned up on her in the recent past. She tells him what to get and he gets it. The basic product is called Dermablend Cover Creme. It's less expensive than the morning-after pill, but once he adds in the brush and the setting powder, he's closing in on eighty bucks.
“You're an expensive date,” he says when he gives her the bag.
“Wait 'til you see the results.”
She sounds pert. Billy likes that. She has come a long way back from the girl who couldn't bear to look at herself in the mirrorâ¦ but not all the way back. She falls asleep that afternoon as they continue to drive northwest, and after an hour or so he hears her moaning. She puts out her hands in a warding-off gesture. One of them strikes the dashboard and she wakes up with a gasp. Then another. And a third, this time with her hand on her throat.
“ââTeddy Bears' Picnic,' stat!” Billy says. He's already slowing, moving over into the breakdown lane.
“I'm okay, keep going. I'm all right now. Bad dream is all.”
“What was it?” Billy asks, turning off his blinker and swerving the Fusion back into the travel lane.
“I don't remember.”
She's lying, but that's okay.
They stop for the night in the little town of Protection, Kansas, because it's almost halfway to where they're going but also because they both like the idea of staying at a place called the Protection Motel. This time Alice goes in with him when he registers, and the guy at the desk barely gives her a glance. A woman might have, Billy thinks. The makeup is good and she applied it skillfully, but it's not quite perfect. He asks if she wants him to get takeout and Alice shakes her head. She's ready to go public, and that's also good. They eat at Don's Place, which is just about the only place in Protection when it comes to food. The menu consists mostly of burgers and corn dogs.
“This guy we're going to see,” Alice says. “What's he like?”
“Bucky's sixty-five or seventy now. Skinny as hell. Ex-Marine. Pretty much lives on beer, cigarettes, Slim Jims, and rock and roll. He's good with computers, he has a lot of contacts, and he helps put strings together.”
“Pro stickup guys. Not kids, not junkies, not trigger-happy hotheads. He's part agent, part talent scout.”
“For the underworld.”
Billy smiles. “I don't know if there's really an underworld anymore. I think the Computer Age pretty much killed it.”
“And he finds jobs for people like you.” She lowers her voice. “Hired killers.”
So far as Billy knows, he's the only hired killer Bucky does business with, but he doesn't disagree. How could he when it's true? He could tell her again that he only kills people who deserve to be killed, but why bother? Either she believes it or she doesn't. In any case it's a moot point. He can't change his past but he means to change his future. He also intends to have his payday. He earned it.
“Bucky will have ID for you, I think. It's one of the things he does. You can be a new person. If you want to.”
“I do.” She doesn't pause to think about it. “Although at some point I suppose I'll want to call my mother again.” She gives a little laugh and a small shake of the head. “You know, I can't remember the last time she called me. I really can't.”
“But you did talk to her?”
“Yes. While you wereâ¦ um, visiting Tripp and his roommates.”
“You didn't really tell her you were going to Cancun, did you?”
She smiles. “I was tempted, but no. I said I had a boyfriend, and we broke up when I quit school, and I needed some time to think about what comes next.”
“She was okay with that?”
“It's been a long time since she was okay with anything I do. Can we talk about something else, please?”
The next day is nothing but driving, most of it on I-70. Alice, still recovering from physical and mental trauma, sleeps a lot. Billy thinks about the Fallujah part of his story, which is now stored on a thumb drive in his computer bag. That leads him to Albie Stark, who used to talk about getting his Harley out of storage when he got home and taking a road trip from New York to San Francisco.
None of that blue highways shit, either
, he said.
I be turnpikin' the whole way. Crank it up to eighty and pull the knobs off
. Albie never had a chance to do that. Albie died behind a rusty old Fallujah taxi and his last words were
It's nothing, just clipped me
. Only then he started gasping, the way Alice did when she had her panic attacks, and he never got a chance to sing even the first line of “Teddy Bears' Picnic.”
They stop for gas and food in the little town of Quinter, Kansas. It's a Waffle Delite and when they get out of the Fusion and approach, they see a couple of state cops sitting at the counter. Alice hesitates, but Billy keeps going and it turns out fine. The cops hardly give them a glance.
“If you act right, most times they don't even notice you,” Billy says as they walk back to the car.
Billy shrugs. “Anything can happen to anybody. You play the odds and hope for the best.”
“You're a fatalist.”
Billy laughs. “I'm a realist.”
“Is there a difference?”
He stops with his hand on the Fusion's doorhandle and looks at her. She has a way of surprising him.
“You're maybe too smart for business school,” he says. “I think you could do better.”
Alice sleeps again, full of waffles and bacon. Billy glances at her from time to time. He likes her looks more and more. He likes who she is. To just slam the door on one life and open the door on a new one? How many people would do that even if they got the chance?