Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
“I believe I do,” Johnny said.
They were reading Jude the Obscure now, and Johnny had been surprised at how quickly and naturally Chuck had taken to it (after some moaning and groaning over the first forty pages or so). He confessed he had been reading ahead at night on his own, and he intended to try something else by Hardy when he finished. For the first time in his life he was reading for pleasure. And like a boy who has just been initiated into the pleasures of sex by an older woman, he was wallowing in it.
Now the book lay open but facedown in his lap. They were by the pool again, but it was still drained and both he and Johnny were wearing light jackets. Overhead, mild white clouds scudded across the sky, trying desultorily to coalesce enough to make rain. The feel of the air was mysterious and sweet; spring was somewhere near. It was April 16.
“Is this one of those trick questions?” Chuck asked.
“Well, would they catch me?”
“Pardon?” That was a question none of the others had asked.
“If I killed him. Would they catch me? Hang me from a lamppost? Make me do the funky chicken six inches off the ground?”
“Well; I don't know,” Johnny said slowly. “Yes, I suppose they would catch you.”
“I don't get to escape in my time machine to a gloriously changed world, huh? Back to good old 1977?”
“No, I don't think so.”
“Well, it wouldn't matter. I'd kill him anyway.”
“Just like that?”
“Sure. “Chuck smiled a little. “I'd rig myself up with one of those hollow teeth filled with quick-acting poison or a razor blade in my shirt collar or something like that. So if I did get caught they couldn't do anything too gross to me. But I'd do it. If I didn't, I'd be afraid all those millions of people he ended up killing would haunt me to my grave.”
“To your grave,” Johnny said a little sickly.
“Are you okay, Johnny?”
Johnny made himself return Chuck's smile. “Fine. I guess my heart just missed a beat or something.”
Chuck went on with Jude under the milky cloudy sky.
The smell of cut grass was back for yet another return engagement-also those long-running favorites, honey. suckle, dust, and roses. In New England spring really only comes for one priceless week and then the deejays drag out the Beach Boys golden oldies, the buzz of the cruising Honda is heard throughout the land, and summer comes down with a hot thud.
On one of the last evenings of that priceless spring week, Johnny sat in the guest house, looking out into the night. The spring dark was soft and deep. Chuck was off at the senior prom with his current girl friend, a more intellectual type than the last half-dozen. She reads, Chuck had confided to Johnny, one man of the world to another.
Ngo was gone. He had gotten his citizenship papers in late March, had applied for a job as head groundskeeper at a North Carolina resort hotel in April had gone down for an interview three weeks ago, and had been hired on the spot. Before he left, he had come to see Johnny.
“You worry too much about tigers that are not there, I think,” he said. “The tiger has stripes that will fade into the background so he will not be seen. This makes the worried man see tigers everywhere.”
“There's a tiger,” Johnny had answered.
“Yes,” Ngo agreed. “Somewhere. In the meantime, you grow thin.”
Johnny got up, went to the fridge, and poured himself a Pepsi. He went outside with it to the little deck. He sat down and sipped his drink and thought how lucky everyone was that time travel was a complete impossibility. The moon came up, an orange eye above the pines, and beat a bloody path across the swimming pool. The first frogs croaked and thumped. After a little while Johnny went inside and poured a hefty dollop of Ron Rico into his Pepsi. He went back outside and sat down again, drinking and watching as the moon rose higher in the sky, changing slowly from orange to mystic, silent silver.
On June the 23rd, 1977, Chuck graduated from high school. Johnny, dressed in his best suit, sat in the hot auditorium with Roger and Shelley Chatsworth and watched as he graduated forty-third in his class. Shelley cried.
Afterward, there was a lawn party at the Chatsworth home. The day was hot and humid. Thunderheads with purple bellies had formed in the west; they dragged slowly back and forth across the horizon, but seemed to come no closer. Chuck, flushed with three screwdrivers, came over with his girl friend, Patty Strachan, to show Johnny his graduation present from his parents-a new Pulsar watch.
“I told them I wanted that R2D2 robot, but this was the best they could do,” Chuck said, and Johnny laughed.
They talked a while longer and then Chuck said with almost rough abruptness: “I want to thank you, Johnny. If it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't be graduating today at all.”
“No, that isn't true,” Johnny said. He was a little alarmed to see that Chuck was on the verge of tears. “Class always tells, man.
“That's what I keep telling him,” Chuck's girl said. Behind her glasses, a cool and elegant beauty was waiting to come out.
“Maybe,” Chuck said. “Maybe it does. But I think I know which side my diploma is buttered on. Thanks a hell of a lot. “He put his arms around Johnny and gave him a hug.
It came suddenly-a hard, bright bolt of image that made Johnny straighten up and dap his hand against the side of his head as if Chuck had struck him instead of hugging him. The image sank into his mind like a picture done by electroplate.
“No,” he said. “No way. You two stay right away from there.”
Chuck drew back uneasily. He had felt something. Something cold and dark and incomprehensible. Suddenly he didn't want to touch Johnny; at that moment he never wanted to touch Johnny again. It was as if he had found out what it would be like to lie in his own coffin and watch the lid nailed down.
“Johnny,” he said, and then faltered. “What's what's
Roger had been on his way over with drinks, and now he paused, puzzled. Johnny was looking over Chuck's shoulder, at the distant thunderheads. His eyes were vague and hazy.
He said: “You want to stay away from that place. There are no lightning rods.”
“Johnny… “Chuck looked at his father, frightened. “It's like he's having some kind of… fit, or something.”
“Lightning,” Johnny proclaimed in a carrying voice. People turned their heads to look at him. He spread his hands. “Flash fire. The insulation in the walls. The doors… jammed. Burning people smell like hot pork.”
“What's he talking about?” Chuck's girl cried, and conversation trickled to a halt. Now everyone was looking at Johnny, as they balanced plates of food and glasses.
Roger stepped over. “John! Johnny I What's wrong? Wake up!” He snapped his fingers in front of Johnny's vague eyes. Thunder muttered in the west, the voice of giants over gin rummy. perhaps. “What's wrong?”
Johnny's voice was clear and moderately loud, carrying to each of the fifty-some people who were there-businessmen and their wives, professors and their wives, Durham's upper middle class. “Keep your son home tonight or he's going to burn to death with the rest of them. There is going to be a fire, a terrible fire. Keep him away from Cathy's. It's going to be struck by lightning and it will burn flat before the first fire engine can arrive. The insulation will burn. They will find charred bodies six and seven deep in the exits and there will be no way to identify them except by their dental work. It… it…,