Authors: Stephen King
“Good luck,” Nick says. “I mean that.”
“Uh-huh. Just see that Frank is taken care of. And the other thing.”
“Billy, I just want to tell youâ”
Billy ends the call. He has no interest in what Nick wants to tell him. The books are balanced. He and Nick are done.
Billy is ready to go early the next morning, but Bucky asks him to wait until ten o'clock because he has an errand to run. While he does it, Billy visits the summerhouse one final time. He takes the picture of the hedge animals off the wall and carries it to the end of the path. He looks out over the gorge for a minute or two, across to the place where the reputedly haunted hotel once stood. Alice thought she saw it, but Billy sees only a few charred remnants. Maybe, he thinks, the site is still haunted. Maybe that's why no one's rebuilt on it, although the location looks prime.
He throws the picture over the edge. He peers over the lip of the drop and sees it caught in the top of a pine tree about a hundred feet down. Let it rot there, he thinks, and goes back to the house. Alice has put their little bits of luggage in the Mitsubishi. There's no reason not to drive it east. It's a good vehicle, it can't be tracked, and Reggie won't miss it.
“Where did you go?” Alice asks.
“Just for a walk. Wanted to stretch my legs.”
They are sitting in the rockers on the porch when Bucky comes back. “I saw a friend and bought you a little going-away present,” he says, and hands Alice a pistol. “Sig Sauer P320 Subcompact. Ten in the mag plus one in the pipe. Small enough to carry in your purse. It's loaded, so be careful how you grab it if you have to take it out.”
Alice looks at it, fascinated. “I've never fired a gun before.”
“It's simple enough, just point and shoot. Unless you're standing close, you'll probably miss your target anyway, but you might scare someone off.” He looks at Billy. “If you have a problem with her carrying, speak up.”
Billy shakes his head.
“One thing, Alice. If you need to use it,
. Promise me.”
“Okay, now give me a hug.”
She hugs him and starts to cry. Billy thinks that's good, actually. She's feeling her feelings, as they say in the self-help groups.
It's a long, strong hug. Bucky lets loose after thirty seconds or so and turns to Billy. “Now you.”
Little as he cares for man-hugs, he does it. For years Bucky has just been a business associate, but over the last month or so he's become a friend. He gave them shelter when they needed it, and he's on board with what lies ahead. More important than those things, he's been good to Alice.
Billy gets behind the wheel of the Mitsubishi. Bucky walks around to the passenger side, looking very Colorado in his jeans and flannel shirt. He makes a cranking gesture and Alice powers down the window. Bucky leans in and kisses her on the temple. “I want to see you again. Make sure I do.”
“I will,” Alice says. She's crying again. “I sure will.”
“Okay.” Bucky straightens and stands back. “Now go get that son of a bitch.”
Billy stops at the Walmart Supercenter in Longmont, getting as close to the building as possible to improve the WiFi connection. Using his personal laptop, which is VPN-equipped, he sends the pictures of Alice to Giorgio and asks him to post them on to Klerke ASAP.
Tell him the girl's name is Rosalie. She has a window. It opens three days from now and will close four days after that. Price is negotiable but floor is $8,000 for one hour. Tell him Rosalie is “prime stuff.” Tell him to check with Judy Blatner if he doubts that. If you want, tell him that you will make the arrangements free of charge to compensate for the unavoid
able complications on the Allen job. Tell him the delivery rep will be Darren Byrne's cousin, Steven Byrne. Let me know as soon as you hear.
He signs it B.
They stay that night at a Holiday Inn Express in Lincoln, Nebraska. Billy is bringing in their luggage on a courtesy trolley when his phone dings with a text. He observes, with zero nostalgia, that it's from his old literary agent.
“Giorgio?” Alice asks.
“What does it say?”
Billy hands her his phone.
GRusso: He wants her. November 4, 8 PM. 775 Montauk Highway. Text me thumbs up or down.
“Are you sure you want to do this? Your call, Alice.”
and sends it.
We left Lincoln early and drove east on I-80. For the first hour or so we didn't talk much. Alice had my lappie open and was reading everything I'd written in the summerhouse. On the outskirts of Council Bluffs a car blipped past us with a clown and a ballerina looking at us from the back seat. The clown waved. I waved back.
“Alice!” I said. “Do you know what today is?”
“Thursday?” She didn't look up from the screen. It made me think of Derek Ackerman and his friend Danny Fazio back on Evergreen Street, hypnotized by whatever they were looking at on their phones.
“Not just any Thursday. It's Halloween.”
“Okay.” Still not looking up.
“What did you go as? Your favorite, I mean.”
“Mmmâ¦ once I was Princess Leia.” Still not looking up from what she was reading. “My sister took me around the neighborhood.”
“In Kingston, right?”
“Get much swag?”
She finally looked up. “Let me read, Billy, I'm almost done.”
So I let her read and we rolled deeper into Iowa. No big changes there, just miles of flatland. At last she closed the laptop. I asked her if she'd read it all.
“Just to where I came into the story. The part where I threw up
and almost choked. That was hard to read about, so I stopped. By the way, you forgot to change my name.”
“I'll make a note.”
“The rest I knew.” She smiles. “Remember
on Netflix? And how we watered the plants?”
“Daphne and Walter.”
“Do you think they lived?”
“I'm sure they did.”
“Bullshit. You don't know if they did or not.”
I admitted that was true.
“And neither do I. But we can believe they did if we want to, can't we?”
“Yes,” I said. “We can.”
“That's the advantage of not knowing.” Alice was staring out the window at miles of cornfields, all brown now and waiting for winter. “People can choose to believe any old thing they want. I choose to believe that we'll get to Montauk Point, and do what we came to do, and get away with it, and live happily ever after.”
“Okay,” I said, “I'll choose to believe that, too.”
“After all, you've never been caught yet. All those killings, and you got away with them all.”
“I'm sorry you had to read about that. But you said I should write down everything.”
She shrugged. “They were bad people. They all had that in common. You didn't shoot any priests or doctors orâ¦ or crossing guards.”
That made me laugh and Alice smiled a little, but I could tell she was thinking. I let her do it. The miles rolled by.
“I'm going back to the mountains,” she said at last. “I might even live with Bucky for awhile. What do you think of that?”
“I think he'd like it.”
“Just to get started. Until I can find work and get my own place and start saving up money to go back to school. Because you can
start college whenever you want. Sometimes people don't start college until they're in their forties or even their sixties, right?”
“I saw a thing on TV about a man who started when he was seventy-five and got his diploma when he was eighty. My Spidey sense tells me it's not business school you're thinking about.”
“No, regular school. Maybe even the University of Colorado. I could live in Boulder. I liked that town.”
“Any idea what you'd want to study?”
She hesitated, as if something had occurred to her and she'd changed her mind. “History, I think. Or sociology. Maybe even theater arts.” Then, as if I had objected to the idea: “Not for acting, I wouldn't want to do that, but the other stuffâsets and lighting and all that. There's so much I'm curious about.”
I said that was good.
“What about you, Billy? What's your happily ever after?”
I didn't have to think about it. “Since we're dreaming, I'd like to write books.” I tapped the laptop, which she was still holding. “Until I wrote that I didn't know if I could. Now I do.”
“What about this story? You could fix it up, turn it into fictionâ¦”
I shook my head. “No one but you is ever going to see it, and that's all right. It did its job. It opened the door. And I don't have to give you an alias.”
Alice was quiet for awhile. Then she said, “This is Iowa, right?”
I laughed. “I bet the Iowans don't think so.”
“I bet they do. Especially the kids.”
I couldn't argue with her there.
“Tell me something.”
“I will if I can.”
“Why would a man in his sixties want to be with a girl as young as Rosalie is supposed to be? I don't get that. It seemsâ¦ I don't knowâ¦ grotesque.”
“Insecurity? Or maybe trying to connect with the vitality he's lost? Reaching back to his own youth and trying to connect with it?”
Alice considered these ideas, but only briefly. “Sounds like bullshit to me.”
It did to me too, actually.
“I mean, think about it. What would Klerke talk about to a sixteen-year-old girl? Politics? World events? His TV stations? And what would she talk about to him? Cheerleading and her Facebook friends?”
“I don't think he's looking for a long-term relationship. The deal was eight thousand for one hour.”
“So it's fucking for the sake of fucking. Taking for the sake of taking. That seems so hollow to me. So empty. And that little girl in Mexicoâ¦”
She fell silent and watched Iowa roll by. Then she said something, but so low I couldn't make it out.
“Monster.” She was still looking out at the miles of dead corn. “I said monster.”
We spent Halloween night in South Bend, Indiana, and the first of November in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. As we checked in, my phone binged with a text from Giorgio.
GRusso: Petersen, RK's assistant, wants a picture of Darren Byrne's cousin, for identification purposes. Send it to [email protected]. She will pass it on at no charge. She'd be happy if RK ran into some bad luck.
Petersen wanting a photo was worrisome but not surprising. He was Klerke's on-site security as well as his assistant, after all.
Alice told me not to worry. She said she would cut and re-style the black wig I'd worn to Promontory Point. (“Sometimes it's good to have a sister who's a hairdresser,” she said.) We went to Walmart.
Alice found a pair of aviator-style glasses and some cold cream that she said would give me an Irish pallor. Also a small clip-on gold earring, not too ostentatious, for my left ear. Back in the motel she combed the black wig back from my forehead and told me to prop the aviators on it.
“Like you think you're a movie star,” she said. “Put on the shirt with the high collar. And remember that as far as Klerke and this guy Petersen know, Billy Summers is dead.”
She took the picture against a neutral background (the brick wall of the Best Western where we were staying) and we examined it together, and closely.
“Is it good enough?” Alice asked. “I mean, you don't look like you to me, especially with that snarky grin, but I wish we had Bucky to help us.”
“I think it is. As you said, it helps that they think I'm buried in the Paiute Foothills.”
“This is quite a little conspiracy we've got going,” Alice said as we went back inside. “Bucky, your make-believe literary agent, and now some big shot Vegas madam.”
“Don't forget Nick,” I said.
She stopped halfway down the corridor to our rooms, frowning. “If any of them called Klerke and told him what's going on, it would probably be a nice payday for them. Not Majarian or Mr. Piglielli, and Bucky wouldn't
, but what about the Blatner woman?”
“She won't, either,” I said. “Basically, they've all had enough of him.”
“I know,” I said, and hoped I did. In any case I was going in, and it looked more and more like Alice would be going in with me.
We stayed in New Jersey on the night of November 2. The following night we checked into the Riverhead Hyatt, fifty miles from Mon
tauk Point. Giorgio had indeed made reservations from his fat farm prison in South America. Because he knew I had no Steven Byrne ID, I was reserved under the Dalton Smith name. And because this place was quite a bit more fancy-shmancy than the motels where we'd previously stayed, Alice had to show her new Elizabeth Anderson ID. Giorgio, maybe thinner but as sharp as ever, had also reserved a double room, prepaid, for Steven Byrne and Rosalie Forester. Klerke wouldn't check, such chores were beneath him, but Petersen might. If the clerk told Petersen that Byrne and Forester hadn't checked in yet, Petersen wouldn't be too concerned. Pimps weren't known for keeping regular schedules.
Before leaving the desk, I asked if there was a package for me. Turned out there was, from Fun & Games Novelties in Las Vegas. A nonexistent company, no doubt. Giorgio had ordered it at my request. I opened it in my room with Alice looking on. Inside was a small unmarked aerosol cannister about the size of a roll-on deodorant tube. No oven spray this time.
“What is it?”
“Carfentanil. In 2002, the Russians pumped a version of this into a theater where forty or fifty Chechen rebels were holding seven hundred people hostage. The idea was to put everyone to sleep and end the siege. It worked, but the gas was too strong. A hundred of the hostages didn't just go to sleep, they died. I doubt if Putin gave a shit. This stuff is supposedly half-strength. It's Klerke we're after. I don't want to kill Petersen if I don't have to.”
“What if it doesn't work?”
“Then I'll do whatever I need to.”
,” Alice said.
November 4 was a long day. Days of waiting always are. Alice brought out her tank suit and swam in the pool. Later on we took a walk and ate a pickup lunch at a hotdog wagon. Alice said she
wanted a nap. I tried to take one and couldn't. Later, while she was re-styling the wig again to match the photo, she admitted she hadn't been able to, either.
“And I didn't sleep much last night. I'll sleep when this is over. Then I'll sleep a
“Fuck it,” I said. “Stay here. Let me do this.”
Alice cracked a small smile. “And what would you say to Petersen when you showed up without the eight-thousand-dollar girl?”
“I'll think of something.”
“You might not even get in. If you did, you'd have to kill Petersen. You don't want to do that, and I don't want you to do it. I'm going.”
So that was that.
We left at six. Alice had a picture of the estate from Google Earth and directions on how to get there on the GPS. This late in the season the traffic was light. I asked her if she wanted to stop at one of the fast food places on the outskirts of Riverhead and she gave a brittle laugh. “If I ate anything, I'd throw up all over my nice new dress.”
It was the boatneck, purple with tiny white flowers. She was wearing her new parka but not zipped, so the place where her cleavage began would show. There wasn't much else up front because she was wearing a mid-length binder underneath instead of a bra. Her handbag was on her lap. The Sig was inside. I was wearing my new bomber jacket. The Glock was in one of the inside pockets. The aerosol can was in the other.
“Montauk Highway makes a loop,” she said. I knew that, I'd studied the layout on my laptop that afternoon when I couldn't nap, but I let her talk. She was working on her nerves, trying to sand them down. “You go past the Lighthouse Museum and take your first left. Eos isn't a seafront estate, he traded that for the view, I guess. I doubt if he water-skis or bodysurfs at his age, anyway. Are you scared?”
“No.” Not for myself, at least.
“Then I'll be scared for both of us. If you don't mind.” She consulted the map on her phone again. “It looks like number 775 is about a mile in, right after the Montauk Farm Store. That must be handy. For fresh veggies and all. You look good, Billy, Irish as all get-out, and can you stop somewhere? I have to pee so bad.”
I stopped at a place called the BreezeWay Diner, about halfway between Riverhead and Montauk. Alice dashed inside and I thought about driving on without her. Everything Bucky had told me not to do with herâ
herâI was doing. Soon she would be an accessory to the murder of a rich and famous man, and that would only be if things went right. If they didn't, she might wind up dead. But I stayed. Because I needed her to get in, yes, but also because she had a right to decide.
She came out smiling. “That is so much better.” And as I pulled back onto the highway: “I thought you might leave me.”
“Never crossed my mind,” I said. From the look she gave me I thought she knew better.
She straightened in her seat and tugged the hem of her dress to her knees. She looked like a prim and proper high school girl, the kind they don't seem to make anymore. “Let's do this.”
We passed the Lighthouse Museum and the left turn came up less than a hundred yards further on. It was full dark now. Somewhere off to the right was the sound of the ocean. A crescent moon flicked through the trees. Alice leaned over, fussed briefly with my wig, then sat back. We didn't talk.
The numbers on Montauk Highway started at 600, for reasons probably only known to town planners who had long since gone to their final rewards. I was surprised that the houses, although well-kept, were mundane. Most were ranches and Cape Cods that wouldn't have looked out of place on Evergreen Street. There was
even a trailer park. A nice one with carriage lamps and gravel lanes, granted, but a trailer park is a trailer park.
The Montauk Farm Store, really just a jumped-up produce stand, was dark and shuttered. There were a few lonely pumpkins in a pyramid by the door and a few more in the back of an old stakebed truck with 4-SALE soaped on one side of the windshield and RUNS GOOD on the other.