Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
“A little antidote for Elton John, Aerosmith, Foghat, et al,” he said. “How does a dollar a game sound, Johnny?”
“It sounds fine.”
Roger sat down, rubbing his hands. “Oh, you're goin home poor,” he said.
They played cribbage and the evening passed. Between each game one of them would go downstairs and make sure no one had decided to dance on the pool table or go out back for a little party of their own. “No one is going to impregnate anyone else at this party if I can help it,” Roger said.
Shelley had gone into the living room to read. Once an hour the music on the radio would stop and the news would come on and Johnny's attention would falter a little. But there was nothing about Cathy's in Somersworth-not at eight, nine, or ten.
After the ten o'clock news, Roger said: “Getting ready to hedge your prediction a little, Johnny?”
The weather forecast was for scattered thundershowers, clearing after midnight.
The steady bass signature of K. C. and the Sunshine Band came up through the floor.
“Party's getting loud,” Johnny remarked.
“The hell with that,” Roger said, grinning. “The party's getting drunk. Spider Parmeleau is passed out in the corner and somebody's using him for a beer coaster. Oh, they'll have big heads in the morning, you want to believe it. I remember at my own graduation party…”
“Here is a bulletin from the WMTQ newsroom,” the radio said.
Johnny, who had been shuffling, sprayed cards all over the floor.
“Relax, it's probably just something about that kidnapping down in Florida.”
“I don't think so,” Johnny said.
The broadcaster said: “It appears at this moment that the worst fire in New Hampshire history has claimed more than seventy-five young lives in the border town of Somersworth, New Hampshire. The fire occurred at a restaurant-lounge called Cathy's. A graduation party was in progress when the fire broke out. Somersworth fire chief Milton Hovey told reporters they have no suspicions of arson; they believe that the fire was almost certainly caused by a bolt of lightning.”
Roger Chatsworth's face was draining of all color. He sat bolt upright in his kitchen chair, his eyes fixed on a point somewhere above Johnny's head. His hands lay loosely on the table. From below them came the babble of conversation and laughter, intermingled now with the sound of Bruce Springsteen.
Shelley came into the room. She looked from her husband to Johnny and then back again. “What is it? What's wrong?”
“Shut up,” Roger said.
“… is still blazing, and Hovey said that a final tally of the dead will probably not be known until early morning. It is known that over thirty people, mostly members of the Durham High School senior class, have been taken to hospitals in surrounding areas to be treated for burns. Forty people, also mostly graduating students, escaped from small bathroom windows at the rear of the lounge, but others were apparently trapped in fatal pile-ups at the…
“Was it Cathy's?” Shelley Chatsworth screamed. “Was it that place?”
“Yes,” Roger said. He seemed eerily calm. “Yes, it was.”
Downstairs there had been a momentary silence. It was followed by a running thud of footsteps coming up the stairs. The kitchen door burst open and Chuck came in, looking for his mother.
“Mom? What is it? What's wrong?”
“It appears that we may owe you for our son's life,” Roger said in that same eerily calm voice. Johnny had never seen a face that white. Roger looked like a ghastly living waxwork.
“It burned?” Chuck's voice was incredulous. Behind him, others were crowding up the stairs now, whispering in low, affrighted voices. “Are you saying it burned down?”
No one answered. And then, suddenly, from somewhere behind him, Patty Strachan began to talk in a high, hysterical voice. “It's his fault, that guy there! He made it happen! He set it on fire by his mind, just like in that book Carrie. You murderer! Killer! You…
Roger turned toward her. “SHUT UP!” He roared.
Patty collapsed into wild sobs.
“Burned?” Chuck repeated. He seemed to be asking himself now, inquiring if that could possibly be the right word.
“Roger?” Shelley whispered. “Rog? Honey?”
There was a growing mutter on the stairs, and in the playroom below, like a stir of leaves. The stereo clicked off. The voices murmured.
Was Mike there? Shannon went, didn't she? Are you sure? Yes, I was all ready to leave when Chuck called me. My mother was there when that guy freaked out and she said she felt like a goose was walking on her grave, she asked me to come here instead. Was Casey there? Was Ray there? Was Maureen Ontello there? Oh my God, was she? Was…
Roger stood up slowly and turned around. “I suggest,” he said, “that we find the soberest people here to drive and that we all go down to the hospital. They'll need blood donors.”
Johnny sat like a stone. He found himself wondering if he would ever move again. Outside, thunder rumbled.
And followed on its heels like an inner clap, he heard his dying mother's voice:
Do your duty, John.
August 12, 1977
Finding you wasn't much of a trick-I sometimes think if you have enough free cash, you can find anyone in this country, and the cash I got. Maybe I'm risking your resentment stating it as baldly as that, but Chuck and Shelley and I owe you too much to tell you less than the truth. Money buys a lot, but it can't buy off the lightning. They found twelve boys still in the men's room opening off the restaurant, the one where the window had been nailed shut. The fire didn't reach there but the smoke did, and all twelve of them were suffocated. I haven't been able to get that out of my mind, because Chuck could have been one of those boys. So I had you “tracked down”, as you put it in your letter. And for the same reason, I can't leave you alone as you requested. At least not until the enclosed check comes back canceled with your endorsement on the back.
You'll notice that it's a considerably smaller check than the one you returned about a month ago. I got in touch with the EMMC Accounts Department and paid your outstanding hospital bills with the balance of it. You're free and clear that way, Johnny. That I could do, and I did it-with great pleasure, I might add.
You protest you can't take the money. I say you can and you will You will, Johnny. I traced you to Ft. Lauderdale, and if you leave there I will trace you to the next place you go, even if you decide on Nepal. Call me a louse who won't let go if you want to; I see myself more as “the Hound of Heaven”. I don't want to hound you, Johnny. I remember you telling me that day not to sacrifice my son. I almost did. And what about the others? Eighty-one dead, thirty more terribly maimed and burned. I think of Chuck saying maybe we could work out some kind of a story, spin a yarn or something, and me saying with all the righteousness of the totally stupid, “I won't do that, Chuck. Don't ask me.” Well, I could have done something. That's what haunts me. I could have given that butcher Carrick ~3,ooo to pay off his help and shut down for the night. It would have come to about ~37 a life. So believe me when I say I don't want to hound you; I'm really too busy hounding myself to want to spare the time. I think I'll be doing it for quite a few years to come. I'm paying up for refusing to believe anything I couldn't touch with one of my five senses. And please don't believe that paying the bills and tendering this check is just a sop to my conscience. Money can't buy off the lightning, and it can't buy an end to bad dreams, either. The money is for Chuck, although he knows nothing about it.