"Have you got a brain tumor?"
"Not even a rectal polyp."
"This is not funny, Rich."
"You're being a fucking busher, and I don't like it."
"I don't like it either, but I have to go."
"Where? Why? What is this? Talk to me, Rich!"
"Someone called me. Someone I used to know a long time ago. In another place. Back then something happened. I made a promise. We all promised that we would go back if the something started happening again. And I guess it has."
"What something are we talking about, Rich?"
"I'd just as soon not say." Also, you'll think I'm crazy if I tell you the truth: I don't remember.
"When did you make this famous promise?"
"A long time ago. In the summer of 1958."
There was another long pause, and he knew Steve Covall was trying to decide if Rich "records" Tozier, aka Buford Kissdrivel, aka Wyatt the Homicidal Bag-Boy, etc... etc... was having him on or was having some kind of mental breakdown.
"You would have been just a kid," Steve said flatly.
"Eleven. Going on twelve."
Another long pause. Rich waited patiently.
"All right," Steve said. "I'll shift the rotation-put Mike in for you. I can call Chuck Foster to pull a few shifts, I guess, if I can find what Chinese restaurant he's currently holed up in. I'll do it because we go back a long way together. But I'm never going to forget you bushed out on me, Rich."
"Oh, get down off it," Rich said, but the headache was getting worse. He knew what he was doing; did Steve really think he didn't? "I need a few days off, is all. You're acting like I took a shit on our FCC charter."
"A few days off for what? The reunion of your Cub Scout pack in Shithouse Falls, North Dakota, or Pussyhump City, West Virginia?"
"Actually I think Shithouse Falls in Arkansas, bo," Buford Kissdrivel said in his big hollow-barrel Voice, but Steve was not to be diverted.
"Because you made a promise when you were eleven? Kids don't make serious promises when they're eleven, for Christ's sake! And it's not even that, Rich, and you know it. This is not an insurance company; this is not a law office. This is show-business, be it ever so humble, and you fucking well know it. If you had given me a week's notice, I wouldn't be holding this phone in one hand and a bottle of Mylanta in the other. You are putting my balls to the wall, and you know it, so don't you insult my intelligence!"
Steve was nearly screaming now, and Rich closed his eyes. I'm never going to forget it, Steve had said, and Rich supposed he never would. But Steve had also said kids didn't make serious promises when they were eleven, and that wasn't true at all. Rich couldn't remember what the promise had been-wasn't sure he wanted to remember-but it had been plenty serious.
"Steve, I have to."
"Yeah. And I told you I could handle it. So go ahead. Go ahead, you busher."
"Steve, this is rid-"
But Steve had already hung up. Rich put the phone down. He had barely started away from it when it began to ring again, and he knew without picking it up that it was Steve again, madder than ever. Talking to him at this point would do no good; things would just get uglier. He slid the switch on the side of the phone to the right, cutting it off in mid-ring.
He went upstairs, pulled two suitcases out of the closet, and filled them with a barely glanced-at conglomeration of clothes-jeans, shins, underwear, socks. It would not occur to him until later that he had taken nothing but kid-clothes. He carried the suitcases back downstairs.
On the den wall was a black-and-white Ansel Adams photograph of Big Sur. Rich swung it back on hidden hinges, exposing a barrel safe. He opened it, pawed his way past the paperwork-the house here, poised cozily between the fault-line and the brush-fire zone, twenty acres of timberland in Idaho, a bunch of stocks. He had bought the stocks seemingly at random-when his broker saw Rich coming, he immediately clutched his head-but the stocks had all risen steadily over the years. He was sometimes surprised by the thought that he was almost-not quite, but almost-a rich man. All courtesy of rock-and-roll music... and the Voices, of course.
House, acres, stocks, insurance policy, even a copy of his last will and testament. The strings that bind you tight to the map of your life, he thought.
There was a sudden wild impulse to whip out his Zippo and light it up, the whole whore's combine of wherefores and know-ye-all-men-by-these-present's and the-bearer-of-this-certificate-is-entitled's. And he could do it, too. The papers in his safe had suddenly ceased to signify anything.
The first real terror struck him then, and there was nothing at all supernatural about it. It was only a realization of how easy it was to trash your life. That was what was so scary. You just dragged the fan up to everything you had spent the years raking together and turned the motherfucker on. Easy. Burn it up or blow it away, then just take a powder.
Behind the papers, which were only currency's second cousins, was the real stuff. The cash. Four thousand dollars in tens, twenties, and fifties.
Taking it now, stuffing it into the pocket of his jeans, he wondered if he hadn't somehow known what he was doing when he put the money in here-fifty bucks one month, a hundred and twenty the next, maybe only ten the month after that. Rathole money. Taking-a-powder money.
"Man, that's scary," he said, barely aware he had spoken. He was looking blankly out the big window at the beach. It was deserted now, the surfers gone, the honeymooners (if that was what they had been) gone, too.
Ah, yes, doc-it all comes back to me now. Remember Stanley Uris, for instance? Bet your fur I do... Remember how we used to say that, and think it was so cool? Stanley Urine, the big kids called him. "Hey, Urine! Hey, you fuckin Christ-killer! Where ya goin? One of ya fag friends gonna give you a bee jay?"
He slammed the safe door shut and swung the picture back into place. When had he last thought of Stan Uris? Five years ago? Ten? Twenty? Rich and his family had moved away from Derry in the spring of 1960, and how fast all of their faces faded, his gang, that pitiful bunch of losers with their little clubhouse in what had been known then as the Barrens-funny name for an area as lush with growth as that place had been. Kidding themselves that they were jungle explorers, or Seabees carving out a landing strip on a Pacific atoll while they held off the Japs, kidding themselves that they were dam-builders, cowboys, spacemen on a jungle world, you name it, but whatever you name it, don't let's forget what it really was: it was hiding. Hiding from the big kids. Hiding from Henry Bowers and Victor Criss and Belch Huggins and the rest of them. What a bunch of losers they had been-Stan Uris with his big Jew-boy nose, Bill Denbrough who could say nothing but "Hi-yo, Silver!" without stuttering so badly that it drove you almost dogshit, Beverly Marsh with her bruises and her cigarettes rolled into the sleeve of her blouse, Ben Hanscom who had been so big he looked like a human version of Moby Dick, and Richie Tozier with his thick glasses and his A averages and his wise mouth and his face which just begged to be pounded into new and exciting shapes. Was there a word for what they had been? Oh yes. There always was. Le mot juste. In this case le mot juste was wimps.
How it came back, how all of it came back... and now he stood here in his den shivering as helplessly as a homeless mutt caught in a thunderstorm, shivering because the guys he had run with weren't all he remembered. There were other things, things he hadn't thought of in years, trembling just below the surface.
A darkness. Some darkness.
The house on Neibolt Street, and Bill screaming: You k-kitted my brother, you fuh-fuh-fucker!
Did he remember? Just enough not to want to remember any more, and you could bet your fur on that.
A smell of garbage, a smell of shit, and a smell of something else. Something worse than either. It was the stink of the beast, the stink of It, down there in the darkness under Derry where the machines thundered on and on. He remembered George -
But that was too much and he ran for the bathroom, blundering into his Eames chair on his way and almost falling. He made it... barely. He slid across the slick tiles to the toilet on his knees like some weird break-dancer, gripped the edges, and vomited everything in his guts. Even then it wouldn't stop; suddenly he could see Georgie Denbrough as if he had last seen him yesterday, Georgie who had been the start of it all, Georgie who had been murdered in the fall of 1957. Georgie had died right after the flood, one of his arms had been ripped from its socket, and Rich had blocked all of that out of his memory. But sometimes those things come back, oh yes indeedy, they come back, sometimes they come back.
The spasm passed and Rich groped blindly for the flush. Water roared. His early supper, regurgitated in hot chunks, vanished tastefully down the drain.
Into the sewers.
Into the pound and stink and darkness of the sewers.
He closed the lid, laid his forehead against it, and began to cry. It was the first time he had cried since his mother died in 1975. Without even thinking of what he was doing, he cupped his hands under his eyes, and the contact lenses he wore slipped out and lay glistening in his palms.
Forty minutes later, feeling husked-out and somehow cleansed, he threw his suitcases into the trunk of his MG and backed it out of the garage. The light was fading. He looked at his house with the new plantings, he looked at the beach, at the water, which had taken on the cast of pale emeralds broken by a narrow track of beaten gold. And a conviction stole over him that he would never see any of this again, that he was a dead man walking.
"Going home now," Rich Tozier whispered to himself. "Going home, God help me, going home."
He put the car in gear and went, feeling again how easy it had been to slip through an unsuspected fissure in what he had considered a solid life-how easy it was to get over onto the dark side, to sail out of the blue and into the black.
Out of the blue and into the black, yes, that was it. Where anything might be waiting.
Chapter 3 SIX PHONE CALLS (1985) (III)
BEN HANSCOM TAKES A DRINK
If, on that night of May 28th, 1985, you had wanted to find the man Time magazine had called "perhaps the most promising young architect in America" ('Urban Energy Conservation and the Young Turks," Time, October 15,1984), you would have had to drive west out of Omaha on Interstate 80 to do it. You'd have taken the Swedholm exit and then Highway 81 to downtown Swedholm (of which there isn't much). There you'd turn off on Highway 92 at Bucky's Hi-Hat Eat-Em-Up ('Chicken Fried Steak Our Specialty') and once out in the country again you'd hang a right on Highway 63, which runs straight as a string through the deserted little town of Gatlin and finally into Hemingford Home. Downtown Hemingford Home made downtown Swedholm look like New York City; the business district consisted of eight buildings, five on one side and three on the other. There was the Kleen Kut barber shop (propped in the window a yellowing hand-lettered sign fully fifteen years old read IF YOUR A "HIPPY" GET YOUR HAIR CUT SOMEWHERE ELSE), the second-run movie house, the five-and-dime. There was a branch of the Nebraska Homeowners" Bank, a 76 gas station, a Rexall Drug, and the National Farmstead amp; Hardware Supply-which was the only business in town which looked halfway prosperous.
And, near the end of the main drag, set off a little way from the other buildings like a pariah and resting on the edge of the big empty, you had your basic roadhouse-the Red Wheel. If you had gotten that far, you would have seen in the potholed dirt parking lot an aging 1968 Cadillac convertible with double CB antennas on the back. The vanity plate on the front read simply: BEN'S CADDY. And inside, walking toward the bar, you would have found your man-lanky, sunburned, dressed in a chambray shirt, faded jeans, and a pair of scuffed engineer boots. There were faint squint-lines around the corners of his eyes, but nowhere else. He looked perhaps ten years younger than his actual age, which was thirty-eight.
"Hello, Mr Hanscom," Ricky Lee said, putting a paper napkin on the bar as Ben sat down. Ricky Lee sounded a trifle surprised, and he was. He had never seen Hanscom in the Wheel on a week-night before. He came in regularly every Friday night for two beers, and every Saturday night for four or five: he always asked after Ricky Lee's three boys; he always left the same five-dollar tip under his beer stein when he took off. In terms of both professional conversation and personal regard, he was far and away Ricky Lee's favorite customer. The ten dollars a week (and the fifty left under the stem at each Christmas-time over the last five years) was fine enough, but the man's company was worth far more. Worthwhile company was always a rarity, but in a honkytonk like this, where talk always came cheap, it was scarcer than hen's teeth.
Although Hanscom's roots were in New England and he had gone to college in California, there was more than a touch of the extravagant Texan about him. Ricky Lee counted on Ben Hanscom's Friday-Saturday-night stops, because he had learned over the years that he could count on them. Mr Hanscom might be building a skyscraper in New York (where he already had three of the most talked-about buildings in the city), a new art gallery in Redondo Beach, or a business building in Salt Lake City, but come Friday night the door leading to the parking lot would open sometime between eight o'clock and nine-thirty and in he would stroll, as if he lived no farther than the other side of town and had decided to drop in because there was nothing good on TV. He had his own Learjet and a private landing strip on his farm in Junkins.
Two years ago he had been in London, first designing and then overseeing the construction of the new BBC communications center-a building that was still hotly debated pro and con in the British press (the Guardian: "Perhaps the most beautiful building to be constructed in London over the last twenty years'; the Mirror: "Other than the face of my mother-in-law after a pub-crawl, the ugliest thing I have ever seen'). When Mr Hanscom took that job, Ricky Lee had thought, Well, I'll see him again sometime. Or maybe he'll just forget all about us. And indeed, the Friday night after Ben Hanscom left for England had come and gone with no sign of him, although Ricky Lee found himself looking up quickly every tune the door opened between eight and nine-thirty. Well, I'll see him again sometime. Maybe. Sometime turned out to be the next night. The door had opened at quarter past nine and in he had ambled, wearing jeans and a GO "BAMA tee-shirt and his old engineer boots, looking like he'd come from no farther away than cross-town. And when Ricky Lee cried almost joyfully "Hey, Mr Hanscom! Christ! What are you doin here?," Mr Hanscom had looked mildly surprised, as if there was nothing in the least unusual about his being here. Nor had that been a one-shot; he had showed up every Saturday during the two-year course of his active involvement in the BBC job. He left London each Saturday morning at 11:00 A.M. on the Concorde, he told a fascinated Ricky Lee, and arrived at Kennedy in New York at 10:15 A.M.-forty-five minutes before he left London, at least by the clock ('God, it's like time travel, ain't it?" an impressed Ricky Lee had said). A limousine was standing by to take him over to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, a trip which usually took no more than an hour on Saturday morning. He could be in the cockpit of his Lear before noon with no trouble at all, and touching down in Junkins by two-thirty. If you head west fast enough, he told Ricky, the day just seems to go on forever. He would take a two-hour nap, spend an hour with his foreman and half an hour with his secretary. He would eat supper and then come on over to the Red Wheel for an hour and a half or so. He always came in alone, he always sat at the bar, and he always left the way he had come in, although God knew there were plenty of women in this part of Nebraska who would have been happy to screw the socks off him. Back at the farm he would catch six hours of sleep and then the whole process would reverse itself. Ricky had never had a customer who failed to be impressed with this story. Maybe he's gay, a woman had told him once. Ricky Lee glanced at her briefly, taking in the carefully styled hair, the carefully tailored clothes which undoubtedly had designer labels, the diamond chips at her ears, the look in her eyes, and knew she was from somewhere back east, probably New York, out here on a brief duty visit to a relative or maybe an old school chum, and couldn't wait to get out again. No, he had replied. Mr Hanscom ain't no sissy. She had taken a pack of Doral cigarettes from her purse and held one between her red, glistening lips until he lit it for her. How do you know? she had asked, smiling a little. I just do, he said. And he did. He thought of saying to her: I think he's the most God-awful lonely man I ever met in my life. But he wasn't going to say any such thing to this New York woman who was looking at him like he was some new and amusing type of life.