Authors: Stephen King
“Which doesn't mean he'll believe it. Stories are one thing, seeing is another. What he saw was a middle-aged fat man with a banged-up underage girl.”
Alice draws herself up, looking offended. Under other circumstances it might have been funny. “I'm twenty-one! A legal adult!”
“Do you get carded in bars?”
Billy nods, case closed.
“Maybe,” Alice says, “if you really mean toâ¦ wellâ¦
Tripp, we shouldn't wait until tomorrow. Maybe we should go right now.”
He stares at her, simultaneously believing that pronoun and not believing it. And what's worse, she's looking at him like it's a foregone conclusion.
“Holy shit,” Billy says. “You really
have Stockholm Syndrome.”
“I don't because I'm not a hostage. I could have walked out anytime from the Jensens' apartment, as long as I was quiet on the stairs. You would never have noticed because you'd've been all wrapped up in your writing.”
Probably true, Billy thinks. And furthermoreâ
Alice says it for him. “If I was going to run away, I could have done it the first time you went out. For the morning-after pill.” She pauses, then adds, “Plus I gave him a false name.”
“Because you were scared.”
Alice shakes her head vehemently. “You were in the other room. I could have whispered that you were William Summers, who killed that man at the courthouse. We would have been upstairs and in his car before you finished putting on
.” She pokes him in the fake belly.
“You can't go with me. It's nuts.”
Still, the idea is starting to seep down, like water in dry earth. She can't go with him all the way to Vegas, but if they can work out a story that protects the Dalton Smith identity, which is now in dire peril, then maybeâ¦
“Maybe you could go by yourself if you leave Tripp and his friends alone. Because if anything happens to them, they'd connect it to me. Tripp and his friends, I mean. They wouldn't want to go to the police, but they might decide to hurt me.”
Billy has to hide a smile. She is playing him, and doing a good job of it on short notice. This is quite a change from the puking semiconscious girl he fished out of the rain, the one who sometimes has panic attacks in the night. Billy thinks it's a change for the better. Plus, she's rightâanything he does to those three they would connect to her. Assuming, that is, she's the only woman they date-raped last week, which seems likely.
“Yes,” Alice says, watching him from under her eyebrows and still playing him for all she's worth. “I guess you better leave them unpunished.” Then she asks him what he's smiling about.
“Nothing. Just that I like you. My friend Taco would have said you've got some gimme to you.”
“I don't know what that means.”
“It doesn't matter. But yeah, those guys need a payback for what they did. I need to think about this.”
Alice says, “Can I help you pack while you think?”
It's Billy who does the packing. It doesn't take long. There's no room for her new clothes in his suitcase, but he finds a plastic Barnes & Noble bag, the kind with handles, on the top shelf of the bedroom closet and dumps her stuff into that. He carries the AllTechs out to the Fusion in a stack.
While he does that, Alice goes through the Jensens' apartment with a dish towel and a spray bottle of Lysol and water, wiping down surfaces. She pays special attention to the TV remote, which they've both used, and doesn't neglect the light switches. When she goes downstairs, Billy helps her wipe down the basement apartment, paying particular attention to the bathroom: fixtures, shower head, mirror, the toilet's flush handle. It takes them about an hour.
“I think we're done,” she says.
“What about the key to the Jensens' apartment?”
“Oh glory,” she says. “I've still got it. I'll wipe it down andâ¦ what? Slip it under the door?”
“I'll do it.” He does, but goes in first to get Don Jensen's Ruger. He sticks it in his belt, beneath the pregnancy belly. The XL sweatshirt covers it. The revolver is a pricey item, five or six hundred dollars, and Billy doesn't have that much cash. He leaves two fifties and a C-note on the nightstand, along with a quick scribble that says
Took your gun. Will send the balance when I can
. More like if he can. Meanwhile, what about Daphne and Walter? Will they die of thirst on their windowsill? Romeo and Juliet of the plant world? Stupid to even wonder, given everything else he has to worry about.
It's because Bev gave them names, he thinks. He treats each to one final spray for good luck. Then he touches his back pocket, where Shan's flamingo drawing is folded up and stowed away.
Back downstairs, he takes Alice's phone out of his hip pocket and holds it out to her. He's replaced the SIM card.
She takes it with an accusing look. “It wasn't lost. You had it all along.”
“Because I didn't trust you.”
“And now you do?”
“Now I do. And at some point you need to call your mother. Otherwise she's going to get worried.”
“I suppose she would,” Alice says. Then, with a trace of bitterness: “After a
or so.” She sighs. “Okay, and tell her what? I made a friend, we bonded over chicken noodle soup and
Billy considers, but comes up empty.
Alice, meanwhile, breaks into a smile. “You know what, I'm going to tell her I quit school. She'll believe that. And I'm going to Cancun with some friends. She'll believe that, too.”
“Will she really?”
Billy thinks there's a whole mother-daughter relationship in that single word, complete with tears, recriminations, and slammed doors. “You need to work on that a little,” he says. “Right now it's time to go.”
There are two Sherwood Heights exits off the Interstate, both with clusters of fast-food restaurants, gas-em-up quick-stops, and motels. Billy tells Alice to look for a motel that isn't part of a chain. While she's busy checking out the signs, he slips the Ruger out of his belt and stows it under the seat. At the second exit she points out the Penny Pines Motel and asks what he thinks. Billy says it looks good. Using one of his Dalton Smith credit cards, he gets them a pair of adjoining rooms. Alice waits in the car, making Billy think of that old song by the Amazing Rhythm Aces, “Third Rate Romance.”
They bring in their stuff. He takes the Mac Pro out of the carry-bag, puts it on the room's single table (shaky and needing a shim under one leg), re-zips the bag, and slings it over his shoulder.
“What do you need that for?”
“Supplies. I need to do some shopping. And it's got a good look. Professional. What's your phone number?”
She gives it to him and he puts it into his contacts.
“Do you have an address for the condo where these guys live?” It's a question he should have asked before, but they've been a little busy.
“I don't know the number, but it's Landview Estates, on Route 10. It's the last stop the bus makes before it gets to the airport and turns around.” Alice takes him by the sleeve and leads him to the window. She points. “Pretty sure that's Landview Estates, those three on the left. Tripp livesâ
liveâin building C.”
“That's right. I don't remember the apartment number, but it's the one at the end of the hall. You have to push a code to get in the front door, and I didn't see what he put in. It didn't seem important at the time.”
“I'll get in.” Billy hopes he's right about that. His expertise is guns, not entering buildings with security doors.
“Will you come back here before you go there?”
“No, but I'll stay in touch.”
“Are we staying in these rooms tonight?”
“I don't know. It depends on how things go.”
She asks if he's sure he wants to do this. Billy says he is, and it's the truth.
“Maybe it's a bad idea.”
It might be, but Billy means to go through with it anyway, if he can. Those men owe.
“Tell me no and I'll back off.”
Instead of doing that, Alice takes one of his hands and squeezes. Hers is cold. “Be safe.”
He gets halfway down the hall, then turns back. There's another question he forgot to ask. He knocks and she opens the door.
“What does Tripp look like?”
She takes out her phone and shows him a picture. “I took this the night we went to the movies.”
The man who drugged her drink and raped her and, along with his two friends, tossed her out of the old van like a piece of trash, is holding up a bag of popcorn and smiling. His eyes sparkle. His teeth are white and even. Billy thinks he looks like an actor in a toothpaste ad.
“Okay. What about the other two?”
“One was short and had freckles. The other was much taller, with an olive complexion. I don't remember which one was Jack and which one was Hank.”
“It doesn't matter.”
The Airport Mall is just up the road from the motel. It's anchored by a Walmart even bigger than the one in Midwood. Billy locks his car, mindful of the gun under the driver's seat, and does his shopping. The mask is easy. Halloween is still weeks away, but the stores always put out their holiday shit well ahead of time. He also picks up a cheap pair of binoculars, a package of heavy-duty zip-ties, a pair of thin gloves, a Magic Wand hand mixer, and a can of Easy-Off oven cleaner. Outside, a couple of copsâreal ones, not Wally World security guardsâare drinking coffee and discussing outboard motors. Billy gives them a nod. “Afternoon, officers.”
They nod back and go on with their conversation. Billy walks fat until he's well into the parking lot, then hurries to the Fusion. He transfers the gun and his purchases to his laptop case and drives the mile and a half to Landview Estates. It's pretty upscale, the perfect place for swinging singles, but not upscale enough for a security booth manned by a rent-a-cop, and at this time of day the parking lot in front of Building C is fairly empty.
Billy pulls into a spot facing the door, takes off the fake stomach, and waits. After twenty minutes or so a sporty Kia Stinger pulls in and two young women get out with shopping bags. Billy raises the binoculars. They go to the door and push some buttons on the keypad, but one of them is in the way and Billy gets nothing. The next arrival, twenty minutes later, is a manâ¦ but not one Billy is looking for. This guy is in his fifties. He also stands between Billy and the pad, rendering the binocs useless.
This isn't going to work, he thinks.
He could try going in with a legitimate resident (“Would you hold the door a second? Thanks!”), but that probably just works in the movies. Also, this is a slack time of day. Only two people have entered in forty minutes, and no one at all has come out.
Billy shoulders his computer bag and walks around to the back of the building. The first thing he sees in the smaller auxiliary parking lot is the van. Now he can read the bumper sticker: DEADHEADS SUCK. Unless the van's broken down, always a possibility, at least one of these fuckwits is home.
There are two big garbage dumpsters on the left of what must be a service door. On the right is a lawn chair and a rusty little table with an ashtray on it. The door is propped open a few inches with a brick, because this is the kind of door that locks as soon as you shut it, and whoever comes out here to smoke doesn't want to bother unlocking it each time he goes back in.
Billy goes to the door and peeks through the gap. He sees a dim hallway, no one in it. There's music, Axl Rose wailing “Welcome to the Jungle.” Thirty feet or so along are open doors on the left and right. The music is coming from the one on the right. Billy enters and walks briskly down the hall. When you're in a place where you don't belong, you have to act like you do. The room on the left is a laundry, with a few coin-op washers and driers inside. The one on the right goes down to the basement.
Someone is down there, singing along with the music. And not just singing. Billy can't see him but he can see his shadow, and the shadow is dancing. Someone, probably the building super, has taken a pause in whatever chore he came down to doâre-setting a breaker, hunting out a can of touch-up paintâto fantasize that he's on
Dancing with the Stars
There's an oversized freight elevator at the end of the hall, doors open, sides hung with furniture pads, but Billy doesn't even think about using it. The machinery will be in the basement and if the elevator starts up, the shadow dancer will hear it. There's a door to the left of the elevator marked STAIRS. Billy climbs to the third-floor landing. There he unzips his laptop case. He puts on the gloves and the mask. He puts the zip-ties in his pants pocket. He has the Ruger in his left hand and the can of oven cleaner in his
right. He cracks the stairway door and peeks out into a little lobby. It's empty. So is the hallway beyond. There's one apartment door on the left, one on the right, and one at the end. That will be the one where the rapin' roomies live.
Billy walks down the hall. There's a bell, but instead of using it he knocks good and loud. He gives it a pause, then knocks even louder.
Footsteps approach. “Who is it?”
“Police, Mr. Donovan.”
“He's not here. I'm just one of his roommates.”
“You don't get a prize for that. Open up.”
The man who opens the door is olive-skinned and at least six inches taller than Billy. Alice Maxwell is five-four at most, and the thought of this big man hulking over her infuriates Billy.
“Whatâ” The guy's face goes slack as he beholds a man in a Melania Trump mask with a laptop bag slung over his shoulder.
“Get them panties down,” Billy says, and sprays him in the eyes with Easy-Off.