Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER THREE
Johnny was barely aware of the Mustang flashing by on their left. Then the cab and the Charger met head-on and Johnny felt himself getting lifted up and out. There was no pain, although he was marginally aware that his thighs had connected with the taximeter hard enough to rip it out of its frame.
There was the sound of smashing glass. A huge gout of flame stroked its way up into the night. Johnny's head collided with the cab's windshield and knocked it out. Reality began to go down a hole. Pain, faint and far away, in his shoulders and arms as the rest of him followed his head through the jagged windshield. He was flying. Flying into the October night.
Dim flashing thoughs Am I dying? Is this going to kill me?
Interior voice answering: Yes, this is probably it.
Flying. October stars flung across the night. Racketing boom of exploding gasoline. An orange glow. Then darkness.
His trip through the void ended with a hard thump and a splash. Cold wetness as he went into Carson's Bog, twenty-five feet from where the Charger and the cab, welded together, pushed a pyre of flame into the night sky.
Until all that was left seemed to be a giant red-and-black wheel revolving in such emptiness as there may be between the stars, try your luck, first time fluky, second time lucky, hey-hey-hey. The wheel revolved up and down, red and black, the marker ticking past the pins, and he strained to see if it was going to come up double zero, house number, house spin, everybody loses but the house. He strained to see but the wheel was gone. There was only blackness and that universal emptiness, negatory, good buddy, el zilcho. Cold limbo.
Johnny Smith stayed there a long, long time.
At some time a little past two A. M. on the morning of October 30, 1970, the telephone began to ring in the downstairs hall of a small house about a hundred and fifty miles south of Cleaves Mills.
Herb Smith sat up in bed, disoriented, dragged half-way across the threshold of sleep and left in its doorway, groggy and disoriented.
Vera's voice beside him, muffled by the pillow. “Phone.”
“Yeah,” he said, and swung out of bed. He was a big, broad-shouldered man in his late forties, losing his hair, now dressed in blue pajama bottoms. He went out into the upstairs hall and turned on the light. Down below, the phone shrilled away.
He went down to what Vera liked to call “the phone nook. “It consisted of the phone and a strange little desk-table that she had gotten with Green Stamps about three years ago. Herb had refused from the first to slide his two hundred and forty pound bulk into it. When he talked on the phone, he stood up. The drawer of the desk-table was full of Upper Rooms, Reader's Digests, and Fate magazines.
Herb reached for the phone, then let it ring again.
A phone call in the middle of the night usually meant one of three things: an old friend had gotten totally shitfaced and had decided you'd be glad to hear from him even at two in the morning; a wrong number; bad news.
Hoping for the middle choice, Herb lifted up the phone. “Hello?”
A crisp male voice said: “Is this the Herbert Smith residence?”
“To whom am I speaking, please?”
“I'm Herb Smith. What…”
“Will you hold for a moment?”
“Yes, but who. -
Too late. There was a faint clunk in his ear, as if the party on the other end had dropped one of his shoes. He had been put on hold. Of the many things he disliked about the telephone-bad connections, kid pranksters who wanted to know if you had Prince Albert in a can, operators who sounded like computers, and smoothies who wanted you to buy magazine subscriptions-the thing he disliked the most was being on hold. It was one of those insidious things that had crept into modern life almost unnoticed over the last ten years or so. Once upon a time the fellow on the other end would simply have said, “Hold the phone, willya?” and set it down. At least in those days you were able to hear faraway conversations, a barking dog, a radio, a crying baby. Being on hold was a totally different proposition. The line was darkly, smoothly blank. You were nowhere. Why didn't they just say, “Will you hold on while I bury you alive for a little while?”
He realized he was just a tiny bit scared.
He turned round, the phone to his ear. Vera was at the top of the stairs in her faded brown bathrobe, hair up in curlers, some sort of cream hardened to a castlike consistency on her cheeks and forehead.
“Who is it?”
“I don't know yet. They've got me on hold.”
“On hold? At quarter past two in the morning?”
“It's not Johnny, is it? Nothing's happened to Johnny?”
“I don't know,” he said, struggling to keep his voice from rising. Somebody calls you at two in the morning, puts you on hold, you count your relatives and inventory their condition. You make lists of old aunts. You tot up the ailments of grandparents, if you still have them. You wonder if the ticker of one of your friends just stopped ticking. And you try not to think that you have one son you love very much, or about how these calls always seem to come at two in the morning, or how all of a sudden your calves are getting stiff and heavy with tension…
Vera had closed her eyes and had folded her hands in the middle of her thin bosom. Herb tried to control his irritation. Restrained himself from saying, “Vera, the Bible makes the strong suggestion that you go and do that in your closet. “That would earn him Vera Smith's Sweet Smile for Unbelieving and Hellbound Husbands. At two o'clock in the morning, and on hold to boot, he didn't think he could take that particular smile.
The phone clunked again and a different male voice, an older one, said, “Hello, Mr. Smith?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, sir. Sergeant Meggs of the state police, Orono branch.”
“Is it my boy? Something about my boy?”
Unaware, he sagged onto the seat of the phone nook. He felt weak all over.
Sergeant Meggs said, “Do you have a son named John Smith, no middle initial?”
“Is he all right? Is he okay?”
Footsteps on the stairs. Vera stood beside him. For a moment she looked calm, and then she clawed for the phone like a tigress. “What is it? What's happened to my Johnny?”
Herb yanked the handset away from her, splintering one of her fingernails. Staring at her hard he said, “I am handling this.”
She stood looking at him, her mild, faded blue eyes wide above the hand clapped to her mouth.
“Mr. Smith, are you there?”
Words that seemed coated with novocaine fell from Herb's mouth. “I have a son named John Smith, no middle initial, yes. He lives in Cleaves Mills. He's a teacher at the high school there.”
“He's been in a car accident, Mr. Smith. His condition is extremely grave. I'm very sorry to have to give you this news. “The voice of Meggs was cadenced, formal.
“Oh, my God,” Herb. said. His thoughts were whirling. Once, in the army, a great, mean, blond-haired Southern boy named Childress had beaten the crap out of him behind an Atlanta bar. Herb had felt like this then, unmanned, all his thoughts knocked into a useless, smeary sprawl. “Oh, my God,” he said again.
“He's dead?” Vera asked. “He's dead? Johnny's dead?”
He covered the mouthpiece. “No,” he said. “Not dead.”
“Not dead! Not dead!” she cried, and fell on her knees in the phone nook with an audible thud. “0 God we most heartily thank Thee and ask that You show Thy tender care and loving mercy to our son and shelter him with Your loving hand we ask it in the name of Thy only begotten Son Jesus and…