Authors: Stephen King
“What? I don't know what you'reâ”
“To rape a child. You wanted to know what it was like.”
“You're crazy! I don't have any ideaâ”
“It probably hurt. Like this.” Alice shot him. I think she was aiming for his balls, but she hit him in the stomach instead.
Klerke screamed. It was a very loud scream. It banished the harpy who had taken over her head and pulled the trigger. She dropped her purse and put her hand over her mouth.
” Klerke shrieked. He was holding his stomach. Blood oozed through his fingers and into the lap of his silk pajamas. “
Oh my God I'm HURRRT!
Alice turned to me, eyes wide and wet, mouth open. She
whispered something I didn't quite hear because the gunshot from the Sig Sauer had been much louder than the one from Petersen's little pistol. It might have been
I didn't know
“I need a doctor, it HURRRRRRTS!”
The blood was pouring out of him now. He was forcing it out with his screams. I took the gun from Alice's limp hand, put the muzzle to his left temple, and pulled the trigger. He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.
“It wasn't me,” Alice said. “Billy, it wasn't me who pulled the trigger, I swear it wasn't.”
Only it was. Something inside her had risen up, a stranger, and now she would have to live with its presence because that was her, too. She'd see it the next time she looked in the mirror.
“Come on.” I slipped the Sig in my belt and put the strap of her bag over her shoulder. “We need to go.”
“I justâ¦ it was like I was outside myself, andâ¦”
“I know. We need to go, Alice.”
“It was so
. Wasn't it loud?”
“Yes, very loud. Come on.”
I led her back down the hall, only noticing now that it was lined with tapestries of knights and ladies fair and, for some fucked-up reason, windmills.
“Is he dead, too?” She was looking at Petersen.
I took a knee beside him but didn't need to feel for his pulse. I could hear his breathing, good and steady. “He's alive.”
“Will he call the police?”
“Eventually, but we'll be long gone by the time he comes around, and he's going to be fucked up for a long time after he does.”
“Klerke deserved it,” she said as we went down the steps. She swayed, maybe because she'd gotten a little of the gas, maybe because she was in shock, maybe both. I put an arm around her waist. She looked up at me. “Didn't he?”
“I think so, but I don't really know anymore. What I know is men like him are above justice in most cases. Except the kind we gave him. For the girl in Mexico. And for the murder of his own son.”
“But he was a bad man.”
“Yes,” I said. “Very bad.”
We got in the car and drove the rest of the way around the circle. I wondered if the monitor the two men had been watching had recorded us as well. If it did, it would only show a guy with black hair and a young girl who had lifted her skirt but only twiceâand brieflyâlifted her head. After she got rid of the blond hair, she'd be next to impossible to identify. I was more concerned about the gate. If we needed a code to open it, we were in trouble. But when we pulled up close, the car broke an invisible beam and the gate trundled open. I stopped beyond it, put the car in park, and opened the door.
“What are you stopping for?”
“My gun. He made me leave it at the bottom of that post. It's got my fingerprints on it.”
“Oh my God, that's right. I'm stupid.”
“Not stupid, woozy. And in shock. It will wear off.”
She turned to me, now looking older than her years instead of younger. “Will it? Do you promise?”
“It will and I do.”
I got out of the car and started around the hood. I was still in the glare thrown by the headlights, like an actor on a stage, when the woman came out of the trees ten feet from the gate. She was wearing camo pants and a camo jacket instead of a blue dress, it was a pistol instead of a trowel in her hand, she had no business being on this side of the continental United States or anywhere except at her damaged son's bedside, but I knew who it was. There wasn't even a second's doubt. I raised the Sig, but she was faster.
“You fucking fuck,” Marge said, and fired. I fired a second later and
her head snapped back. She went down with her sneakers sticking out into the road.
Alice was screaming and running to me. “Are you hurt? Billy, are you hurt?”
“No. She missed me.” Then I felt the pain start in my side. Not a clean miss after all.
“Who was that?”
“An angry woman named Marge.”
That struck me funny because it sounded like the title of the kind of film smart people go to see in the art cinemas. I laughed and that made my side hurt more.
“She must have guessed where I was going. Or maybe Nick told her about Klerke, but I don't think so. I think she was just good at keeping her ears peeled while she served lunch and dinner.”
“The woman who was gardening when you drove up to the service gate?”
“Is she dead?” Alice's hands were at her mouth. “If she's not, please don't kill her the way youâ¦ the wayâ¦”
“I'm not going to kill her if she's still alive.”
I could say that because I knew she wasn't. It was all in the way her head snapped back. I knelt beside her, but only briefly.
“She's gone.” I winced when I stood up. I couldn't help it.
“You said she didn't hit you!”
“In the heat of the moment I didn't think she did. It's just a graze.”
“I want to see!”
I did too, but not right then. “We have to get out of here before we do anything else. Five gunshots is four too many. Get my Glock from where I put it.”
While Alice did that, I took the gun Marge had usedâa Smith & Wesson ACPâand replaced it with the Sig Sauer, after first wiping it clean on my shirt and then curling her dead fingers around it. I wiped
the aerosol cannister, put her prints on it, and tucked it into one of her jacket pockets. When I got up the second time, the pain in my side was a little worse. Not terrible, but I could feel the seep of blood staining my high-class pimp's shirt. Worn once and ruined, I thought. What a shame. Maybe I should have stuck with the green one.
I said, “This is done. Let's get out of here.”
We drove back to Riverhead, stopping on the way for Band-Aids, a roll of gauze, tape, hydrogen peroxide, and Betadine ointment. Alice went into the Walgreens while I waited in the car. By the time we got to the hotel, my midsection and left arm had stiffened up considerably. Alice used her key to let us in the side door. In my room, she had to help me off with the bomber jacket. She looked at the hole in it, then at the left side of my shirt. “Oh my God.”
I told her it looked worse than it probably was. Most of the blood had dried.
She helped me with the shirt and invoked God again, but this time it was a bit muffled because her hand was over her mouth. “That's not just a
True. The bullet had slashed through me just above the hipbone, parting the skin and the flesh. The wound was maybe half an inch deep. Fresh blood oozed and seeped.
“In the bathroom,” she said. “If you don't want to leave a lot of blood aroundâ”
“It's almost stopped.”
“Bullshit! Every time you move it starts again. You need to get undressed and then stand in the tub while I dress the wound. Which I've never done before, if you want to know. Although my sister did it to me once when I crashed my bike into the Simeckis' mailbox.”
We went into the bathroom and I sat on the toilet lid while she took off my shoes and socks. I stood up, provoking fresh seepage, and she unbuckled my pants. I wanted to take them off myself but
she wouldn't let me. She made me sit on the toilet again, then knelt and pulled them off by the legs.
“Underwear, too. They're soaked through on the left side.”
“Don't argue. You've seen me naked, right? Think of it as balancing the scales. Get in the tub.”
I stood up, dropped my shorts, and stepped into the tub. She kept a steadying hand on my elbow while I did it. There was blood down my left leg to the knee. I reached for the shower handle and she pushed my hand away. “Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. Not tonight.”
She started the tub faucet, wetted a washcloth, and cleaned me up, avoiding the wound. Blood and small clots ran down the drain. “Dear God, she cut you wide open. Like with a knife.”
“I saw worse in Iraq,” I said, “and guys were back clearing blocks the next day.”
“Is that really true?”
“Wellâ¦ two days. Maybe three.”
She wrung out the washcloth and tossed it into the plastic-lined wastebasket, then gave me another to wipe the sweat off my face. She took it and tossed it in with the other one. “Those go with us.” She patted me dry with a hand towel, tossed that into the wastebasket, then helped me out of the tub. It was harder getting out than it had been getting in.
Alice walked with me to the bed, where I sat downâcarefully, trying to stay straight from the waist up. She helped me on with my last pair of clean undershorts, then disinfected the wound, which hurt worse than the bullet had when it clipped through me. The Band-Aids were no good. The wound was too long and the edges had spread, creating a wedge-shaped divot in my side. She used the gauze and tape instead. At last she sat back on her heels. Her fingers were stained with my blood.
“Try to lie still tonight,” she said. “On your back. Don't roll
around and break it open and get blood on the sheets. Maybe you ought to lie on a towel.”
“Probably a good idea.”
She went to get one, a bath towel this time. She also brought the plastic bag with the towel and washcloth in it. “I've got Tylenol in my purse. I'll give you two and leave two for later, okay?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
She looked straight at me. “No thanks needed. I'd do anything for you, Billy.”
I wanted to tell her not to say that, but I didn't. I said, “We need to get out of here in the morning. Early. It's a long drive back to Sidewinder, andâ”
“Just shy of two thousand miles,” Alice said. “I googled it.”
“âand I don't know how much of the driving I can do.”
“None would be good, at least to start with. Unless you want to open that wound up again. You need stitches, but I'm not trying
“I don't expect you to. I can live with some scarring. A couple of inches farther in and I would have been in real trouble. Marge. Jesus. Fucking Marge. Don't turn down the bedspread, Alice, I'll sleep on top of it.” If I could sleep, that was. The pain wasn't terribly intense now that the sting of the hydrogen peroxide had worn off, but it was steady. “Just spread the towel.”
She did, then sat where I had been sitting. “Maybe I should stay. Sleep on the other side.”
I shook my head. “No. Bring me the Tylenol, then sleep in your own room. You'll need to sleep if you're going to be doing the driving.” I glanced at my watch and saw it was quarter past eleven. “I'd like to be out of here by eight, at the latest.”
We were out by seven. Alice took the wheel as far as the New York metro area, then turned the driving chore over to me, with obvious relief. I got us across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. At the
welcome area just over the state line, we changed places again. The wound in my side was seeping again, and before we stopped for the nightâat another off-the-grid motelâwe'd have to pick up more gauze. I was going to be okay, but I was going to have one hell of a battle scar to go with my half-missing big toe. And no Purple Heart this time.
That night we stayed at Jim and Melissa's Roadside Cabins, 10% Discount For Cash. The following day I felt better, my side not so stiff and painful, and I was able to do some of the driving. We stopped on the outskirts of Davenport, at a ramshackle motel called the Bide-A-Wee.
I had spent most of that day thinking and deciding what came next. There was money in three separate accounts, one of them accessible only to me as Dalton Smith, an identity that was (by the grace of God) still clean. At least as far as I knew. There would be more in the Woodley account if Nick came through, and I thought he would. His Roger Klerke problem had been solved, after all, and to his great financial benefit.
Before she went into her room, I hugged Alice and kissed her on both cheeks.
She looked at me with dark blue eyes I'd come to love, just as I'd loved Shan Ackerman's dark brown ones. “What was that for?”
“I just felt like doing it.”
“Okay.” She stood on tiptoes and kissed me on the mouth, firm and long. “And I felt like doing that.”
I don't know what my expression was, but it made her smile.
“You're not going to sleep with me, I understand that, but
need to understand that I'm not your daughter, and my feelings for you aren't in the least bit daughterly.”
She started away. I wasn't going to see her again, but there was one more thing I needed from her. “Hey Alice?” And when she turned back: “How are you doing with it? With Klerke?”
She thought it over, running a hand through her hair as she did
it. She was back to black. “I'm getting there,” she said. “Trying.” I decided that was good enough.
That night I set my phone alarm for one AM, long after she would be asleep. When I got up, I checked the bandages. No blood and hardly any pain. Pain had been replaced by the deep dry itch of healing. There was no stationery in the Bide-A-Wee, of course, but I had a Staples pad from the Gerard Tower in my suitcase. I tore out a couple of pages and wrote my goodbye letter.