Misery, p.36
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       Misery, p.36

           Stephen King
 
Page 36

  But when he actually did hear them coming, Geoffrey felt a moment's doubt in spite of the agony in his arms. Suppose that, just this once, the one

  29

  His pencil paused in mid-word at the sound of an approaching engine. He was surprised at how calm he felt - the strongest emotion in him right now was mild annoyance at being interrupted just when it was starting to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Annie's boot-heels rattled staccato down the hallwav.

  "Get out of sight. " Her face was tight and grim. The khaki bag, unzipped, was over her shoulder. "Get out of s - " She paused and saw that he had already rolled the wheelchair back from the window. She looked to make sure that none of his things were on the sill, then nodded.

  "It's the State Police," she said. She looked tense but in control. The shoulder-bag was within easy reach of her right hand. "Are you going to be good, Paul?"

  "Yes," he said.

  Her eyes searched his face.

  "I'm going to trust you," she said finally and turned away, closing the door but not bothering to lock it.

  The car turned into the driveway, the smooth, sleepy beat of that big 442 Plymouth engine almost like a trademark. He heard the kitchen screen door bang shut and eased the wheelchair close enough to the window so he could remain in an angle of shadow and still peek out. The cruiser pulled up to where Annie stood, and the engine died. The driver got out and stood almost exactly where the young trooper had been standing when he spoke his last four words. . . but there all resemblance ended. That trooper had been a weedy young man hardly out of his teens, a rookie cop pulling a shit detail, chasing the cold trail of some numbnuts writer who had wrecked up his car and then either staggered deeper into the woods to die or walked blithely away from the whole mess with his thumb cocked.

  The cop currently unfolding himself from behind the cruiser's wheel was about forty, with shoulders seemingly as wide as a barnbeam. His face was a square of granite with a few narrow lines carved into it at the eyes and the corners of the mouth. Annie was a big woman, but this fellow made her look almost small.

  There was another difference as well. The trooper Annie killed had been alone. Getting out of the shotgun seat of this cruiser was a small, slope-shouldered plainsclothesman with lank blonde hair. David and Goliath, Paul thought. Mutt and Jeff. Jesus.

  The plainclothesman did not so much walk around the cruiser as mince around it. His face looked old and tired, the face of a man who is half-asleep. . . except for his faded blue eyes. The eyes were wide-awake, everywhere at once. Paul thought he would be quick.

  They bookended Annie and she was saying something to them, first looking up to speak to Goliath, then half-turning and looking down to reply to David. Paul wondered what would happen if he broke the window again and screamed for help again. He thought the odds were maybe eight in ten that they would take her. Oh, she was quick, but the big cop looked as if he might be quicker in spite of his size, and strong enough to uproot middling-sized trees with his bare hands. The plainclothesman's self-conscious walk might be as deliberately deceptive as his sleepy look. He thought they would take her. . . except what surprised them wouldn't surprise her, and that gave her an outside chance, anyway.

  The plainclothesman's coat. It was buttoned in spite of the glaring heat. If she shot Goliath first, she might very well be able to put a slug in David's face before he could get that oogy goddam coat unbuttoned and his gun out. More than anything else, that buttoned coat suggested that Annie had been right: so far, this was just a routine check-back.

  So far.

  I didn't kill him, you know. You killed him. If you had kept your mouth shut, I would have sent him on his way. He'd be alive now. . .

  Did he believe that? No, of course not. But there was still that strong, hurtful moment of guilt - like a quick deep stab-wound. Was he going to keep his mouth shut because there were two chances in ten that she would off these two as well if he opened it?

  The guilt stabbed quickly again and was gone. The answer to that was also no. It would be nice to credit himself with such selfless motives, but it wasn't the truth. The fact was simple: he wanted to take care of Annie Wilkes himself. They could only put you in jail, bitch, he thought. I know how to hurt you.

  30

  There was always the possibility, of course, that they would smell a rat. Rat-catching was, after all, their job, and they would know Annie's background. If that was the way things turned out, so be it. . . but he thought Annie might just be able to wriggle past the law this one last time.

  Paul now knew as much of the story as he needed to know, he supposed. Annie had listened to the radio constantly since her long sleep, and the missing state cop, whose name was Duane Kushner, was big news. The fact that he had been searching for traces of a hotshot writer named Paul Sheldon was reported, but Kushner's disappearance had not been linked, even speculatively, with Paul's own. At least, not yet.

  The spring runoff had sent his Camaro rolling and tumbling five miles down the wash. It might have lain undiscovered in the forest for another month or another year but for merest coincidence. A couple of National Guard chopper-jockeys sent out as part of a random drug-control sweep (looking for back-country pot-farmers, in other words) had seen a sunflash on what remained of the Camaro's windshield and set down in a nearby clearing for a closer look. The seriousness of the crash itself had been masked by the violent battering the Camaro had taken as it travelled to its final resting place. If the car had yielded traces of blood to forensic analysis (if, indeed, there had been a forensic analysis), the radio did not say so. Paul knew that even an exhaustive analysis would turn up precious few traces of blood - his car had spent most of the spring with snowmelt running through it at flood-speed.

  And in Colorado, most of the attention and concern were focused on Trooper Duane Kushner - as he supposed these two visitors proved. So far all speculation centered on three illegal substances: moonshine, marijuana, and cocaine. It seemed possible that Kushner might have stumbled across the growing, distilling, or stockpiling of one of these substances quite by accident during his search for signs of the tenderfoot writer. And as hope of finding Kushner alive began to fade, questions about why he had been out there alone in the first place began to grow louder - and while Paul doubted if the State of Colorado had money enough to finance a buddy system for its vehicle police, they were obviously combing the area for Kushner in pairs. Taking no chances.

  Goliath now gestured toward the house. Annie shrugged and shook her head. David said something. After a moment she nodded and led them up the path to the kitchen door. Paul heard the screen's hinges squeak, and then they were in. The sound of so many footfalls out there was Tightening, almost a profanation.

  "What time was it when he came by?" Goliath asked - it had to be Goliath. He had a rumbling Midwestern voice, roughened by cigarettes.

  Around four, Annie said. Give or take. She had just finished mowing the grass and she didn't wear a watch. It had been devilish hot; she remembered that well enough.

  "How long did he stay, Mrs Wilkes? David asked.

  "It's Miss Wilkes, if you don't mind. "

  "Excuse me. " Annie said she couldn't reckon on how long for sure, only it hadn't been long. Five minutes, maybe.

  "He showed you a picture?" Yes, Annie said, that was why he came. Paul marvelled at how composed she sounded, how pleasant.

  "And had you seen the man in the picture?" Annie said certainly, he was Paul Sheldon, she knew that right away. "I have all his books," she said. "I like them very much. That disappointed Officer Kushner. He said if that was the case, he guessed I probably knew what I was talking about. He looked very discouraged. He also looked very hot. "

  "Yeah, it was a hot day, all right," Goliath said, and Paul was alarmed by how much closer his voice was. In the parlor? Yes, almost certainly in the parlor. Big or not, the guy moved like a goddamned lynx. When Annie responded, her ow
n voice was closer. The cops had moved into the parlor. She was following. She hadn't asked them, but they had gone in there anyway. Looking the place over.

  Although her pet writer was now less than thirty-five feet away, Annie's voice remained composed. She had asked if he would like to come in for an iced coffee; he said he couldn't. So she had asked if he'd like to take along a cold bottle of - "Please don't break that," Annie interrupted herself, her voice sharpening. "I like my things, and some of them are quite fragile. "

  "Sorry, ma'am. " That had to be David, his voice low and whispery, both humble and a little startled. That tone coming from a cop would have been amusing under other circumstances, but these were not other circumstances and Paul was not amused. He sat stiffly, hearing the small sound of something being set carefully back down (the penguin on his block of ice, perhaps), his hands clasped tightly on the arms of the wheelchair. He imagined her fiddling with the shoulder-bag. He waited for one of the cops - Goliath, probably - to ask her just what the hell it was she had in there.

  Then the shooting would start.

  "What were you saying?" David asked.

  "That I asked him if he'd like to take along a cold Pepsi from the fridge because it was such a hot day. I keep them right next to the freezer compartment, and that keeps them as cold as you can get them without freezing them. He said that would be very kind. He was a very polite boy. Why did they let such a young boy out alone, do you know?"

  "Did he drink the soda here?" David asked, ignoring her question. His voice was closer still. He had crossed the parlor. Paul didn't have to close his eyes to imagine him standing there, looking down the short hall which passed the little downstairs bathroom and ended in the closed guest-room door. Paul sat tight and upright, a pulse beating rapidly in his scrawny throat.

  "No," Annie said, as composed as ever. "He took it along. He said he had to keep rolling. "

  "What's down there?" Goliath asked. There was a double thud of booted heels, the sound slightly hollow, as he stepped off the parlor carpet and onto the bare boards of the hallway.

  "A bath and a spare bedroom. I sometimes sleep there when it's very hot. Have a look, if you like, but I promise you I don't have your trooper tied to the bed. "

  "No, ma'am, I'm sure you don't," David said, and, amazingly, their footfalls and voices began to fade toward the kitchen again. "Did he seem excited about anything while he was here?"

  "Not at all," Annie said. "Just hot and discouraged. " Paul was beginning to breathe again.

  "Preoccupied about anything?"

  "No. "

  "Did he say where he was going next?" Although the cops almost surely missed it, Paul's own practiced ear sensed the minutest of hesitations - there could be a trap here, a snare which might spring at once or after a short delay. No, she said at last, although he had headed west, so she assumed he must have gone toward Springer's Road and the few farms out that way.

  "Thank you, ma'am, for your cooperation," David said. "We may have to check back with you. "

  "All right," Annie said. "Feel free. I don't see much company these days. "

  "Would you mind if we looked "m your barn?" Goliath asked abruptly.

  "Not at all. Just be sure to say howdy when you go in. "

  "Howdy to who, ma'am?" David asked.

  "Why, to Misery," Annie said. "My pig. "

  31

  She stood in the doorway looking at him fixedly - so fixedly that his face began to feel warm and he supposed he was blushing. The two cops had left fifteen minutes ago.

  "You see something green?" he asked finally.

  "Why didn't you holler?" Both cops had tipped their hats to her as they got in their cruiser, but neither had smiled, and there had been a look in their eyes Paul had been able to see even from the narrow angle afforded by the corner of his window. They knew who she was, all right. "I kept expecting you to holler. They would have fallen on me like an avalanche. "

  "Maybe. Maybe not. "

  "But why didn't you?"

  "Annie, if you spend your whole life thinking the worst thing you can imagine is going to happen, you have to be wrong some of the time. "

  "Don't be smart with me!" He saw that beneath her assumed impassivity she was deeply confused. His silence did not fit well into her view of all existence as a sort of Big-Time Wrestling match: Honest Annie vs. that all-time, double-ugly tag-team of The Cockadoodie Brats.

  "Who's being smart? I told you I was going to keep my mouth shut and I did. I want to finish my book in relative peace. And I want to finish it for you. " She looked at him uncertainly, wanting to believe, afraid to believe. . . and ultimately believing anyway. And she was right to believe, because he was telling the truth.

  "Get busy, then," she said softly. "Get busy right away. You saw the way they looked at me. "

  32

  For the next two days life went on just as it had before Duane Kushner; it was almost possible to believe Duane Kushner had never happened at all. Paul wrote almost constantly. He had given the typewriter up for the nonce. Annie put it on the mantel below the picture of the Arc de Triomphe without comment. He filled three legal pads in those two days. There was only one left. When he had filled that one, he would move on to the steno pads. She sharpened his half-dozen Berol Black Warrior pencils, he wrote them dull, and Annie sharpened them again. They shrank steadily as he sat in the sun by the window, bent over, sometimes scratching absently with the great toe of his right foot at the air where the sole of his left foot had been, looking through the hole in the paper. It had yawned wide open again, and the book rushed toward its climax the way the best ones did, as if on a rocket sled. He saw everything with perfect clarity - three groups all hellbent for Misery in the crenellated passages behind the idol's forehead, two wanting to kill her, the third - consisting of Ian, Geoffrey, and Hezekiah - trying to save her. . . while below, the village of the Bourkas burned and the survivors massed at the one point of egress - the idol's left ear - to massacre anyone who happened to stagger out alive.

  This hypnotic state of absorption was rudely shaken but not broken when, on the third day after the visit of David and Goliath, a cream-colored Ford station wagon with KTKA / Grand Junction written on the side pulled into Annie's driveway. The back was full of video equipment.

  "Oh God!" Paul said, frozen somewhere between humor, amazement, and horror. "What's this fuck-a-row?" The wagon had barely stopped before one of the rear doors flew open and a guy dressed in combat-fatigue pants and a Deadhead tee-shirt leaped out. There was something big and black pistol-gripped in one hand and for one wild moment Paul thought it was a tear-gas gun. Then he raised it to his shoulder, and swept it toward the house, and Paul saw it was a minicam. A pretty young woman was getting out of the front passenger seat, fluffing her blow-dried hair and pausing for one final appraising look at her makeup in the outside rear-view mirror before joining her camera-man.

 
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