Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

And dreamed of the laughing tiger.



Herb Smith took Charlene MacKenzie as his second wife on the afternoon of January 2, 1977, just as planned. The ceremony took place in the Congregational Church at Southwest Bend. The bride's father, an eighty-year-old gentleman who was almost blind, gave her away. Johnny stood up with his dad and produced the ring flawlessly at the proper moment. It was a lovely occasion.

Sarah Hazlett attended with her husband and their son, who was leaving his babyhood behind now. Sarah was pregnant and radiant, a picture of happiness and fulfilment. Looking at her, Johnny was surprised by a stab of bitter jealousy like an unexpected attack of gas. After a few moments it went away, and Johnny went over and spoke to them at the reception following the wedding.

It was the first time he had met Sarah's husband. He was a tall, good-looking man with a pencil-line moustache and prematurely graying hair. His canvass for the Maine state senate had been successful, and he held forth on what the national elections had really meant, and the difficulties of working with an independent governor, while Denny pulled at the leg of his trousers and demanded more drink, Daddy, more drink, more-drink!

Sarah said little, but Johnny felt her brilliant eyes on him-an uncomfortable sensation, but somehow not unpleasant. A little sad, maybe.

The liquor at the reception flowed freely, and Johnny went two drinks beyond his usual two drink stopping point-the shock of seeing Sarah again, maybe, this time with her family, or maybe only the realization, written on Charlene's radiant face, that Vera Smith really was gone, and for all time. So when he approached Hector MacKenzie, father of the bride, some fifteen minutes after the Hazletts had left, he had a pleasant buzz on.

The old man was sitting in the corner by the demolished remains of the wedding cake, his arthritis-gnarled hands folded over his cane. He was wearing dark glasses. One bow had been mended with black electrician's tape. Beside him there stood two empty bottles of beer and another that was half-full. He peered closely at Johnny.

“Herb's boy, ain't you?”

“Yes, sir.

A longer scrutiny. Then Hector MacKenzie said, “Boy, you don't look well.”

“Too many late nights, I guess.”

“Look like you need a tonic. Something to build you up.”

“You were in World War I, weren't you?” Johnny asked. A number of medals, including a Croix de Guerre, were pinned to the old man's blue serge suit coat.

“Indeed I was,” MacKenzie said, brightening. “Served under Black Jack Pershing. AEF, 1917 and 18. We went through the mud and the crud. The wind blew and the shit flew. Belleau Wood, my boy. Belleau Wood. It's just a name in the history books now. But I was there. I saw men die there. The wind blew and the shit flew and up from the trenches came the whole damn crew.

“And Charlene said that your boy… her brother.,.”

“Buddy. Yep. Would have been your stepuncle, boy. Did we love that boy? I guess we did, His name was Joe, but everyone called him Buddy almost from the day he was born. Charlie's mother started to die the day the telegram came.”

“Killed in the war, wasn't he?”

“Yes, he was,” the old man said slowly. “St. Lo, 1944. Not that far from Belleau Wood, not the way we measure things over here, anyway. They ended Buddy's life with a bullet. The Nazis.”

“I'm working on an essay,” Johnny said, feeling a certain drunken cunning at having brought the conversation around to his real object at last, “I'm hoping to sell it to the Atlantic or maybe Harper's.,.”

“Writer, are you?” The dark glasses glinted up at Johnny with renewed interest.

“Well, I'm trying,” Johnny said. Already he was beginning to regret his glibness. Yes, I'm a writer, I write in my notebooks, after the dark of night has fallen. “Anyway, the essay's going to be about Hitler,”

“Hitler? What about Hitler?”

“Well… suppose… just suppose you could hop into a time machine and go back to the year 1932. In Germany. And suppose you came across Hitler. Would you kill him or let him live?”

The old man's blank black glasses tilted slowly up to Johnny's face, And now Johnny didn't feel drunk or glib or clever at all. Everything seemed to depend on what this old man had to say.

“Is it a joke, boy?”

“No. No joke.”

One of Hector MacKenzie's hands left the head of his cane. It went to the pocket of his suit pants and fumbled there for what seemed an eternity. At last it came out again. It was holding a bone-handled pocket knife that had been rubbed as smooth and mellow as old ivory over the course of years. The other hand came into play, folding the knife's one blade out with all the incredible delicacy of arthritis. It glimmered with bland wickedness under the light of the Congregational parish hall: a knife that had traveled to France in 1917 with a boy, a boy who had been part of a boy-army ready and willing to stop the dirty hun from bayoneting babies and raping nuns, ready to show the Frenchies a thing or two in the bargain; and the boys had been machine-gunned, the boys had gotten dysentery and the killer flu, the boys had inhaled mustard gas and phosgene gas, the boys had come out of Belleau Wood looking like haunted scarecrows who had seen the face of Lord Satan himself. And it had all turned out to be for nothing; it turned out that it all had to be done over again, Somewhere music was playing. People were laughing. People were dancing. A flashbar popped warm light. Somewhere far away. Johnny stared at the naked blade, transfixed, hypnotized by the play of the light over its honed edge.

“See this?” MacKenzie asked softly.

“Yes,” Johnny breathed.

“I'd seat this in his black, lying, murderer's heart,” MacKenzie said. “I'd put her in as far as she'd go… and then I'd twist her. “He twisted the knife slowly in his hand, first clock, then counterclock. He smiled, showing baby-smooth gums and one leaning yellow tooth.

“But first,” he said, “I'd coat the blade with rat poison.”


“Kill Hitler?” Roger Chatsworth said, his breath coming out in little puffs. The two of them were snowshoeing in the woods behind the Durham house. The woods were very silent. It was early March, but this day was as smoothly and coldly silent as deep January.

“Yes, that's right.”

“Interesting question,” Roger said. “Pointless, but interesting. No. I wouldn't. I think I'd join the party instead. Try to change things from within. It might have been possible to purge him or frame him, always granting the foreknowledge of what was going to happen.”

Johnny thought of the sawedoff pool cues. He thought of the brilliant green eyes of Sonny Elliman.

“It might also be possible to get yourself killed!” he said. “Those guys were doing more than singing beer-hall songs back in 1933.”

“Yes, that's true enough. “He cocked an eyebrow at Johnny. “What would you do?”

“I really don't know,” Johnny said.

Roger dismissed the subject. “How did your dad and his wife enjoy their honeymoon?”

Johnny grinned. They had gone to Miami Beach, hotel-workers” strike and all. “Charlene said she felt right at home, making her own bed. My dad says he feels like a freak, sporting a sunburn in March. But I think they both enjoyed it.”

“And they've sold the houses?”

“Yes, both on the same day. Got almost what they wanted, too. Now if it wasn't for the goddam medical bills still hanging over my head, it'd be plain sailing.”



“Nothing. Let's go back. I've got some Chivas Regal, if you've got a taste.”

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