Misery, p.24
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       Misery, p.24

           Stephen King
 
Page 24

  But he was wrong. The next clipping was a NEW ARRIVALS from the Nederland newspaper. Nederland was a small town just west of Boulder. Not all that far from here, Paul judged. For a moment he couldn't find Annie in the short, name-filled clipping, and then realized he was looking for the wrong name. She was here, but had become part of a socio-sexual corporation called "Mr and Mrs Ralph Dugan".

  Paul's head snapped up. Was that a car coming? No. . . just the wind. Surely the wind. He looked back down at Annie's book.

  Ralph Dugan had gone back to helping the lame, the halt, and the blind at Arapahoe County Hospital; presumably Annie went back to that time-honored nurse's job of giving aid and comfort to the grievously wounded.

  Now the killing starts, he thought. The only real question is about Ralph: does he come at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end?

  But he was wrong again. Instead of an obit, the next clipping showed a Xerox of a realtor's one-sheet. In the upper left corner of the ad was a photo of a house. Paul recognized it only by the attached barn - he had, after all, never seen the house itself from the outside.

  Beneath, in Annie's neat firm hand: Earnest money paid March 3rd, 1979. Papers passed March 18th, 1979.

  Retirement home? Paul doubted it. Summer place? No; they couldn't afford the luxury. So. . . ?

  Well, maybe it was just a fantasy, but try this. Maybe she really loves old Ralph Dugan. Maybe a year has passed and she still can't smell cockadoodie on him. Something has sure changed; there have been no obituaries since - He flicked back to see.

  Since Laura Rothberg in September 1978. She stopped killing around the same time she met Ralph. But that was then and this is now; now the pressure is starting to build up again. The depressive interludes are coming back. She looks at the old people. . . the terminally ill. . . and she thinks about what poor poor things they are, and maybe she thinks, It's this environment that's depressing me. The miles of tiled corridor and the smells and the squeak of crepe-soled shoes and the sounds of people in pain. If I could get out of this place I'd be all right.

  So Ralph and Annie had apparently gone back to the land.

  He turned the page and blinked.

  Slashed into the bottom of the page was AUG 43rd 1880 FUCK YOU!

  The paper, thick as it was, had tom in several places under the fury of the hand which had driven the pen.

  It was the DIVORCES GRANTED column from the Nederland paper, but he had to turn it over to make sure that Annie and Ralph were a part of it. She had pasted it in upside down.

  Yes, here they were. Ralph and Anne Dugan. Grounds: mental cruelty.

  "Divorced after a short illness," Paul muttered, and again looked up, thinking he heard an approaching car. The wind, only the wind. . . Still, he'd better get back to the safety of his room. It wasn't just the worsening pain in his legs; he was edging toward a state of terminal freak-out.

  But he bent over the book again. In a weird way it was just too good to put down. It was like a novel so disgusting you just have to finish it.

  Annie's marriage had been dissolved in a much more legal fashion than Paul had anticipated. It seemed fair to say that the divorce really had been after a short illness - a year and a half of wedded bliss wasn't all that much.

  They had bought a house in March, and that was not step you took if you felt that your marriage was falling apart. What happened? Paul didn't know. He could have made up a story, but a story was all it would have been. Then, reading the clipping again, he noticed something suggestive: Angela Ford from John Ford. Kirsten Frawley from Stanley Frawley. Danna McLaren from Lee McLaren. And. . .

  Ralph Dugan from Anne Dugan.

  There's this American custom, right? No one talks about t much, but it's there. Men propose in the moonlight; women file in court. That's not always how it works, but usually that's it. So what tale does this grammatical structure have to tell? Angela's saying "Slip out the back, Jack!" Kirsten is saying "Make a new plan, Stan!" Danna is saying "Drop off the key, Lee!" And what was Ralph, the only man who's listed first in this column, saying? I think maybe he was saying "Let me the hell out of here!"

  "Maybe he saw the dead cat on the stairs," Paul said.

  Next page. Another NEW ARRIVALS article. This one was from the Boulder, Colorado, Camera. There was a photograph of a dozen new staff members standing on the lawn of the Boulder Hospital. Annie was in the second row, her face a blank white circle under her cap with its black stripe. Another opening of another show. The date underneath was March 9th, 1981. She had re-taken her maiden name.

  Boulder. That was where Annie really had gone crazy.

  He turned the pages faster and faster, his horror mounting, and the two thoughts which kept repeating were Why in God's name didn't they tip faster? and How in God's name did she slip through their fingers?

  May 10th, 1981 - long illness. May 14th, 1981 - long illness. May 23rd - long illness. June 9th - short illness. June 15th - short. June 16th - long.

  Short. Long. Long. Short. Long. Long. Short.

  The pages stuttered through his fingers. He could smell the faint odor of dried paper-paste.

  "Christ, how many did she kill?" If it was right to equate each obituary pasted in this book with a murder, then her score was more than thirty people by the end of 1981. . . all without a single murmur from the authorities. Of course most of the victims were old, the rest badly hurt, but still. . . you would think. . .

  In 1982 Annie had finally stumbled. The clipping from the January 14th Camera showed her blank, stonelike face rendered in newsprint dots below a headline which read: NEW HEAD MATERNITY WARD NURSE NAMED.

  On January 29th the nursery deaths had begun.

  Annie had chronicled the whole story in her meticulous way. Paul had no trouble following it. If the people after your hide had found this book, Annie, you would have been in jail or some asylum - until the end of time.

  The first two infant deaths had not aroused suspicion - a story on one had mentioned severe birth defects. But babies, defective or not, weren't the same as old folks dying of renal failure or car-crash victims brought in still somehow alive in spite of heads which were only half there or steering-wheel-sized holes in their guts. And then she had begun killing the healthy along with the damaged. He supposed that, in her deepening psychotic spiral, she had begun to see all of them as poor poor things.

  By mid-March of 1982 there had been five nursery deaths in the Boulder Hospital. A full-scale investigation was launched. On March 24th the Camera named the probable culprit as "tainted formula". A "reliable hospital source" was cited, and Paul wondered if perhaps the source had not been Annie Wilkes herself.

  Another baby had died in April. Two in May.

  Then, from the front page of the June 1st Denver Post:

  HEAD MATERNITY NURSE QUESTIONED ON INFANT DEATHS

 

  No Charges Made "As Yet," Sheriffs Office Spokeswoman Says

  By Michael Leith

  Anne Wilkes, the thirty-nine-year-old head nurse of the maternity ward at Boulder Hospital, is being questioned today about the deaths of eight infants - deaths which have taken place over a span of some months. All of the deaths took place following Miss Wilkes's appointment.

  When asked if Miss Wilkes was under arrest, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Tamara Kinsolving said she was not. When asked if Miss Wilkes had come in of her own free will to give information in the case, Ms. Kinsolving replied: "I would have to say that was not the case. Things are a bit more serious than that. " Asked if Wilkes had been charged with any crime, Ms. Kinsolving replied: "No. Not as yet. "

  The rest of the article was a rehash of Annie's career. It was obvious that she had moved around a lot, but there was no hint that people in all of Annie's hospitals, not just the one in Boulder, had a way of croaking when she was around.

  He looked at the accompanying photograph, fascinated.

  Annie
in custody. Dear God, Annie in custody; the idol not fallen but teetering. . . teetering. . .

  She was mounting a set of stone steps in the company of a husky policewoman, her face dull, devoid of expression. She was wearing her nurse's uniform and white shoes.

  Next page: WILKES RELEASED, MUM ON INTERROGATION.

  She'd gotten away with it. Somehow, she'd gotten away with it. It was time for her to fade out and show up someplace else - Idaho, Utah, California, maybe. Instead, she went back to work. And instead of a NEW ARRIVALS column from somewhere farther west there was a huge headline from the Rocky Mountain News front page of July 2nd, 1982:

  The Horror Continues:

  THREE MORE INFANT DEATHS IN BOULDER HOSPITAL

 

  Two days later the authorities arrested a Puerto Rican orderly, only to release him nine hours later. Then, on July 19th, both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News announced Annie's arrest. There had been a short preliminary hearing in early August. On September 9th she went on trial for the murder of Girl Christopher, a female child one day of age. Behind Girl Christopher were seven other counts of first-degree murder. The article noted that some of Annie's alleged victims had even lived long enough to be given real names.

  Interspersed among the accounts of the trial were Letters to the Editor printed in the Denver and Boulder newspapers.

  Paul understood that Annie had been driven to cull only the most hostile ones - those which reinforced her jaundiced view of mankind as Homo brattus - but they were vituperative by any standards. There seemed to be a consensus: hanging was too good for Annie Wilkes. One correspondent dubbed her the Dragon Lady, and the name stuck for the duration of the trial. Most seemed to feel that the Dragon Lady should be jabbed to death with hot forks, and most indicated they would be very willing to serve as a jabber.

  Beside one such letter Annie had written in a shaky arid somehow pathetic script entirely unlike her usual firm hard: Sticks stones will break my bones words will never hurt me.

  It was apparent that Annie's biggest mistake had been not stopping when people finally realized something was going on. It was bad, but, unfortunately, not quite bad enough. The idol only tottered. The prosecution's case was entire only circumstantial, and in places thin enough to read a newspaper through. The district attorney had a hand-mark on Girl Christopher's face and throat which corresponded to the size of Annie's hand, complete with the mark of the amethyst ring she wore on the fourth finger of her right hand. The D. A. also had a pattern of observed entries arid exits to the nursery which roughly corresponded to the infant deaths. But Annie was the head maternity nurse, after all, so she was always going in and out. Defense was able to show dozens of other occasions when Annie had entered the ward and nothing untoward had happened. Paul thought this was akin to proving that meteors never struck the earth by showing five days when not a single one had hit Farmer John's north field, but he could understand the weight he argument would have carried with the jury just the same.

  The prosecution wove its net as well as it could, but he handprint with the mark of the ring was really the most damning bit of evidence it could come up with. The fact that the State of Colorado bad elected to bring Annie to trial at all, given such a slight chance of conviction on the evidence, left Paul with one assumption and one certainty. The assumption was that Annie had said things during her original interrogation which were extremely suggestive, perhaps even damning; her attorney had managed to keep the transcript of that interrogation out of the trial record. The certainty was that Annie's decision to testify in her own behalf at the preliminary hearing had been extremely unwise. That testimony her attorney hadn't been able to keep out of the trial (although he had nearly ruptured himself trying), and while Annie had never confessed to anything in so many words during the three days in August she had spent "up there on the stand in Denver", he thought that she had really confessed to everything.

  Excerpts from the clippings pasted in her book contained some real gems:

  Did they make me feel sad? Of course they made me feel sad, considering the world we live in.

  I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am never ashamed. What I do, that's final, I never look back on that type of thing.

  Did I attend the funerals of any of them? Of course not. I find funerals very grim and depressing. Also, I don't believe babies are ensouled.

  No, I never cried.

  Was I sorry? I guess that's a philosophical question, isn't it?

  Of course I understand the question. I understand all your questions. I know you're all out to get me.

  If she had insisted on testifying in her own behalf at her trial, Paul thought, her lawyer probably would have shot her to shut her up.

  The case went to the jury on December 13th, 1982. And here was a startling picture from the Rocky Mountain News, a photo of Annie sitting calmly in her holding cell and reading Misery's Quest. IN MISERY? the caption below asked. NOT THE DRAGON LADY. Annie reads calmly as she wait for the verdict.

  And then, on December 16th, banner headlines: DRAGON LADY INNOCENT. In the body of the story a juror who asked not to be identified was quoted. "I had very grave doubt as to her innocence, yes. Unfortunately, I had very reasonable doubts as to her guilt. I hope she will be tried again on one of the other counts. Perhaps the prosecution could make a stronger case on one of those. " They all knew she did it but nobody could prove it. So she slipped through their fingers.

  The case wound down over the next three or four pages. The D. A. said Annie surely would be tried on one of the other counts. Three weeks later, he said he never said that. In early February of 1983, the district attorney's office issued a statement saying that while the cases of infanticide at the Boulder Hospital were still very much alive, the case, against Anne Wilkes was closed.

  Slipped through their fingers.

  Her husband never testified for either side. Why was that, I wonder?

  There were more pages in the book, but he could tell, by the snug way most lay against each other that he was almost done with Annie's history up to now. Thank God.

  The next page was from the Sidewinder Gazette, November 19th, 1984. Hikers had found the mutilated and partly dismembered remains of a young man in the eastern section of Grider Wildlife Preserve. The following week's paper identified him as Andrew Pomeroy, age twenty-three, of Cold Stream Harbor, New York. Pomeroy had left New York for L. A. in September of the previous year, hitch-hiking. His parents had last heard from him on October 15th. He had called them collect from Julesburg. The body had been found in a dry stream-bed. Police theorized that Pomeroy might actually have been killed near Highway 9 and washed into the Wildlife Preserve during the spring run-off. The coroner's report said the wounds had been inflicted with an axe.

  Paul wondered, not quite idly, how far Grider Wildlife Preserve was from here.

 
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