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Annie smiled in return. "The good news," she said, "is that your car is gone. I've been very worried about your car, Paul. I knew it would take a storm like this to get rid of it and maybe even that wouldn't do the trick. The spring run-off got rid of that Pomeroy dirty bird, but a car is ever so much heavier than a man, isn't it? Even a man as full of cockadoodie as he was. But the storm and the run-off combined was enough to do the trick. Your car is gone. That's the good news. "
"What. . . " More faint alarm bells. Pomeroy. . . he knew that name, but couldn't think exactly how he knew it. Then it came to him. Pomeroy. The late great Andrew Pomeroy, twenty-three, of Cold Stream Harbor, New York. Found in the Grider Wildlife Preserve, wherever that was.
"Now Paul," she said, in the prim voice he knew so well. "No need to be coy. I know you know who Andy Pomeroy was, because I know you've read my book. I suppose that I sort of hoped you would read it, you know; otherwise, why would I have left it out? But I made sure, you know - I make sure of everything. And sure enough, the threads were broken. "
"The threads," he said faintly.
"Oh yes. I read once about a way you're supposed to find out for sure if someone has been snooping around in your drawers. You tape a very fine thread across each one, and if you come back and find one broken, why you know, don't you? You know someone's been snooping. You see how easy it is?"
"Yes, Annie. " He was listening, but what he really wanted to do was trip out on the marvellous quality of the light.
Again she bent over to check whatever it was she had at the foot of the bed; again he heard a faint dull clunk/clank, wood thumping against some metallic object, and then she turned back, brushing absently at her hair again.
"I did that with my book - only I didn't really use threads, you know; I used hairs from my own head. I put them across the thickness of the book in three different places and when I came in this morning - very early, creeping like a little mousie so I wouldn't wake you up - all three threads were broken, so I knew you had been looking at my book. " She paused, and smiled. It was, for Annie, a very winning smile, yet it had an unpleasant quality he could not quite put his finger on. "Not that I was surprised. I knew you had been out of the room. That's the bad news. I've known for a long, long time, Paul. " He should feel angry and dismayed, he supposed. She had known, known almost from the start, it seemed. . . but he could only feel that dreamy, floating euphoria, and what she was saying did not seem nearly as important as the glorious quality of the strengthening light as the day hovered on the edge of becoming.
"But," she said with the air of one returning to business, "we were talking about your car. I have studded tires, Paul, and at my place in the hills I keep a set of 10X tire chains. Early yesterday afternoon I felt ever so much better - I spent most of my time up there on my knees, deep in prayer, and the answer came, as it often does, and it was quite simple, as it often is. What you take to the Lord in prayer, Paul, He giveth back a thousandfold. So I put the chains on and I crept back down here. It was not easy, and I knew I might well have an accident in spite of the studs and the chains. I also knew that there is rarely such a thing as a "minor accident" on those twisty upcountry roads. But I felt easy in my mind, because I felt safe in the will of the Lord. "
"That's very uplifting, Annie," Paul croaked.
She gave him a look which was momentarily startled and narrowly suspicious. . . and then she relaxed and smiled "I've got a present for you, Paul," she said softly, and before he could ask her what it was - he wasn't sure he wanted any sort of present from Annie - she went on: "The roads were terribly icy. I almost went off twice. . . The second time Old Bessie slid all the way around in a circle and kept right on going downhill while she did it!" Annie laughed cheerily "Then I got stuck in a snowbank - this was around midnight - but a sanding-crew from the Eustice Public Works Department came along and helped me out. "
"Bully for the Eustice Public Works Department," Paul said, but what came out was badly slurred - Burry furdah Estice Pulleyqurks Deparrent.
"The two miles in from the county highway, that was the last hard patch. The county highway is Route 9, you know. The road you were on when you had your wreck. They had sanded that one to a fare-thee-well. I stopped where you went off and looked for your car. And I knew what I would have to do if I saw it. Because there would be questions, and I'd be just about the first one they'd ask those questions to for reasons I think you know. " I'm way ahead of you, Annie, he thought. I examined this whole scenario three weeks ago.
"One of the reasons I brought you back was because it seemed like more than a coincidence. . . it seemed moral like the hand of Providence. "
"What seemed like the hand of Providence, Annie?" he, managed.
"Your car was wrecked in almost exactly the same spot where I got rid of that Pomeroy creep. The one who said he was an artist. " She slapped a hand in contempt, shifted her feet, and there was that wooden clunking sound as one of them brushed some of whatever it was she had down there on the floor.
"I picked him up on my way back from Estes Park. I was there at a ceramics show. I like little ceramic figurines. "
"I noticed," Paul said. His voice seemed to come from light-years away. Captain Kirk! There's a voice coming in over the sub-etheric, he thought, and chuckled dimly. That deep part of him - the part the dope couldn't reach - tried to warn him to shut his mouth, just shut it, but what was the sense? She knew. Of course she knows - the Bourka Bee-Goddess knows everything. "I particularly liked the penguin on the block of ice. "
"Thank you, Paul. . . he is cute, isn't he?
"Pomeroy was hitchhiking. He had a pack on his back. He said he was an artist, although I found out later he was nothing but a hippie dope-fiend dirty bird who had been washing dishes in an Estes Park restaurant for the last couple of months. When I told him I had a place in Sidewinder, he said that was a real coincidence. He said he was going to Sidewinder. He said he'd gotten an assignment from a magazine in New York. He was going to go up to the old hotel and sketch the ruins. His pictures were going to be with an article they were doing. It was a famous old hotel called the Overlook. It burned down ten years ago. The caretaker burned it down. He was crazy. Everybody in town said so. But never mind; he's dead.
"I let Pomeroy stay here with me.
"We were lovers. " She looked at him with her black eyes burning in her solid yet doughy white face and Paul thought: If Andrew Pomeroy could get it up for you, Annie, he must have been as crazy as the caretaker that burned down the hotel.
"Then I found out that he didn't really have an assignment to draw pictures of the hotel at all. He was just doing them on his own, hoping to sell them. He wasn't even sure the magazine was doing an article on the Overlook. I found that out pretty quick! After I did, I sneaked a look at his sketchpad. I felt I had a perfect right to do that. After all, he was eating my food and sleeping in my bed. There were only eight or nine pictures in the whole book and they were terrible. " Her face wrinkled, and for a moment she looked as she had when she had imitated the sound the pig made.
"I could have made better pictures! He came in while I was looking and he got mad. He said I was snooping. I said I didn't call looking at things in my own house snooping. I said if he was an artist, I was Madame Curie. He started to laugh. He laughed at me. So I. . . I. . . "
"You killed him," Paul said. His voice sounded dim and ancient.
She smiled uneasily at the wall. "Well, I guess it was something like that. I don't remember very well. Just when he was dead. I remember that. I remember giving him a bath. " He stared at her and felt a sick, soupy horror. The image came to him - Pomeroy's naked body floating in the downstairs tub like a piece of raw dough, head reclining aslant against the porcelain, open eyes staring up at the ceiling. . .
"I had to," she said, lips drawing back a bit from her teeth. "You probably don't know what the police can do with just one piece of thread, or dirt under someone's
fingernails or even dust in a corpse's hair! You don't know but I worked in hospitals all my life and I do know! I do know! I know about for-EN-sics!" She was working herself into one of her patented Annie Wilkes frenzies and he knew he should try and say something which would at least temporarily defuse her, but his mouth seemed numb and useless.
"They're out to get me, all of them! Do you think they would have listened if I tried to tell them how it was? Do you? Do you? Oh no! They'd probably say something crazy like I made a pass at him and he laughed at me and so I killed him! They'd probably say something like that!" And you know what, Annie? You know what? I think that just might be a little closer to the truth.
"The dirty birdies around here would say anything to get me in trouble or smear my name. " She paused, not quite panting but breathing hard, looking at him hard, as if inviting him to just dare and tell her different. Just you dare!
Then she seemed to get herself under some kind of control and she went on in a calmer voice.
"I washed. . . well. . . what was left of him. . . and his clothes. I knew what to do. It was snowing outside, the first real snow of the year, and they said we'd have a foot by the next morning. I put his clothes in a plastic bag and wrapped the body in sheets and took everything out to that dry wash on Route 9 after dark. I walked about a mile farther down from where your car ended up. I walked until I was in the woods and just dumped everything. You probably think I hid him, but I didn't. I knew the snow would cover him up, and I thought the spring melt would carry him away if I left him in the stream-bed. And that was what happened, except I had no idea he would go so far. Why, they found his body a whole year after. . . after he died, and almost twenty-seven miles away. Actually, it would have been better if he hadn't gone as far as he did, because there are always hikers and bird-watchers in the Grider Preserve. The woods around here are much less travelled. " She smiled.
"And that's where your car is now, Paul - somewhere between Route 9 and the Grider Wildlife Preserve, somewhere in the woods. It's far enough in so you can't see it from the road. I've got a spotlight on the side of Old Bessie, and it's plenty powerful, but the wash is empty all the way into the woods. I guess I'll go in on foot and check when the water goes down a little, but I'm almost positive it's safe. Some hunter will find it in two years or five years or seven years, all rusty and with chipmunks nesting in the seats, and by then you will have finished my book and will be back in New York or Los Angeles or wherever it is you decide to go, and I'll be living my quiet life out here. Maybe we will correspond sometimes. " She smiled mistily - the smile of a woman who sees a lovely castle in the sky - and then the smile disappeared and she was all business again.
"So I came back here and on the way I did some hard thinking. I had to, because your car being gone meant that you could really stay, you could really finish my book. I wasn't always sure you'd be able to, you know, although I never said because I didn't want to upset you. Partly I didn't want to upset you because I knew you wouldn't write as well if I did, but that sounds ever so much colder than I really felt, my dear. You see, I began by loving only the part of you that makes such wonderful stories, because that's the only part I had - the rest of you I didn't know anything about, and I thought that part might really be quite unpleasant. I'm not a dummy, you know. I've read about some so-called "famous authors", and I know that often they are quite unpleasant. Why, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and that redneck fellow from Mississippi - Faulkner or whatever it was - those fellows may have won National Pulitzer Book Awards and things, but they were nothing but cockadoodie drunken burns just the same. Other ones, too - when they weren't writing wonderful stories they were drinking and whoring and shooting dope and heaven knows what else.
"But you're not like that, and after awhile I came to know the rest of Paul Sheldon, and I hope you don't mind me saying it, but I have come to love the rest of him, too. "
"Thank you, Annie," he said from atop his golden glistening wave, and he thought: Bu tyou may have read me wrong, you know - I mean, the situations that lead men into temptation have been severely curtailed up here. It's sort of hard to go bar-hopping when you've got a couple of broken legs, Annie. As for shooting dope, I've got the Bourka Bee-Goddess to do that for me.
"But would you want to stay?" she resumed. "That was the question I had to ask myself, and as much as I may have wanted to pull the wool over my eyes, I knew the answer to that - I knew even before I saw the marks on the door over there. " She pointed and Paul thought: I'll bet she did know almost from the very first. Wool-pulling? Not you, Annie. Never you. But I was doing enough of that for both of us.
"Do you remember the first time I went away? After we had that silly fight over the paper?"
"Yes, Annie. "
"That was when you went out the first time, wasn't it?"
"Yes. " There was no point in denying it.
"Of course. You wanted your pills. I should have known you'd do anything to get your pills, but when I get mad, I get. . . you know. " She giggled a little nervously. Paul did not join her, or even smile. The memory of that pain-racked, endless interlude with the phantom voice of the sportscaster doing the play-by-play was too strong still.
Yes, I know how you get, he thought. You get oogy.
"At first I wasn't completely sure. Oh, I saw that some of the figures on the little table in the parlor had been moved around, but I thought I might have done that myself - I have times when I'm really quite forgetful. It crossed my mind that you'd been out of your room, but then I thought, No, that's impossible. He's so badly hurt, and besides, I locked the door. I even checked to make sure the key was still in my skirt pocket, and it was. Then I remembered you were in your chair. So maybe. . .
"One of the things you learn when you've been an R. N. for ten years is that it's always wise to check your maybes. So I took a look at the things I keep in the downstairs bathroom - they're mostly samples I brought home off and on while I was working; you should see all the stuff that just goes roiling around in hospitals, Paul! And so every now and then I helped myself to a few. . . well. . . a few extras. . . and I wasn't the only one. But I knew enough not to take any of the morphine based drugs. They lock those up. They count. They keep records. And if they get an idea that a nurse is, you know, chipping - that's what they call it - they watch that nurse until they're sure. Then, bang!" Annie chopped her hand down hard. "Out they go, and most of them never put on the white cap again.