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Authors: Ariel S. Winter

The Twenty-Year Death (66 page)

BOOK: The Twenty-Year Death
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He waved that away. “We may not know exactly how much the estate will throw off, but we do know it will be more than a few hundred dollars. We’ll net this against the ultimate payout, charging appropriate interest of course. It’ll all come out even in the end.”

I nodded, my lips pressed tightly together. He walked me out of the office, shaking my hand again at the elevators, and then waving goodbye as the elevator doors closed.

25.

I ran then. I didn’t think I really had much chance of getting away from Browne’s men. He had been connected enough to strike a deal with Hub Gilplaine on the other side of the country, so I wasn’t so foolish as to think that there wouldn’t be people all over the country looking for me. If it had gone off the way I had hoped, I would have been safe, but having been spotted... Yeah, I ran.

That first night, I checked into a little motel just off of Route 40. Like a million other motels across the country, it was called the E-Z Motel and it wrapped in a U around a central parking lot, which was mostly empty. The clerk was a boy who couldn’t have been more than sixteen. He didn’t even look at the false name I put in the register. I went to my room, which smelled of mildew, but was otherwise clean, and I lay on top of the bedspread in my clothes since I didn’t have any other clothing with me. I stared at the ceiling, and I thought.

What did I think? I thought I wanted to die. I thought that was the only way I could escape from the utter exhaustion I was feeling. I thought about the girl who’d been my mistress who got killed, her body mutilated, and how I had been the one to find her, that smell, that sight. I thought about how Clotilde could have been killed like that, how close a thing it might have been. And I wondered why I had seen so many dead bodies brutally treated. Of course the last several were because I had
killed them. I knew that. I hadn’t forgotten that. But still, it seemed to me that I’d seen too many. A man could only take so much of that, and I’d had too much. It would be better if it were just over. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t have what it took to do anything about that, so I had to live with it.

I tried to tell myself things would be different if Clotilde were here. If I hadn’t started going with a whore, none of this could have happened. It was Vee’s fault really. She couldn’t blame me for doing what I did. She’d have done the same to me if I’d given her the chance. Yeah, Clotilde would have saved me.

There were no long-distance calls allowed from the rooms and I didn’t want to have a conversation with the kid at the desk standing right there. I thought I’d write a letter, several letters actually. I got up and looked in the nightstand for a pad, but it wasn’t the kind of place that offered a complimentary pad and pen. These places never were. They didn’t get many writers among the traveling salesmen and wayward tourists. Why would they waste money on pads and pens?

I pulled myself together and went back to face the kid at the desk. He handed over a pad and pen, and I asked for a few envelopes and stamps, and for that he had to get up. He rolled his eyes and huffed his annoyance, but he got me the envelopes and stamps all the same.

I took my supplies back to the room and wrote three short letters.

The first was to Clotilde, and it basically said, I love you. It said a little more than that, but that’s what it basically said, so we’ll leave it at that.

The second letter I wrote to Great Aunt Alice, and I told her
I was sorry I’d had to miss dinner when I knew she wanted to talk to me so badly, but that things had come up, and I’d had to leave town, and I couldn’t thank her enough, and if she could send my duffel bag back to my home in S.A., I’d pay the postage, and I’d write again soon. I felt guilty writing it, but there was nothing more I could do about it.

The third letter was the hardest. It was to Taylor Montgomery. I wanted to tell him how much it had meant to me to work with him the few times we had worked together. How fulfilled that time had made me feel, because of the writing, but even more because of him, a young man’s interest and respect, the only thing an old man like me could hope for. I almost wanted to say he’d been like a son to me, but I knew that was going too far, and anyway, how do you write any of that to a man you’d met only a week ago, not even? Well, I’m sure it came out all jumbled, and I filled three sheets of paper front and back, but I sealed it into the envelope before I could reread it and make any changes.

I passed a bad night that night, but I managed a little sleep.

And after that, a week went by in a series of motels and lonely highways and gas stations and all-night diners. Every time I encountered someone new, I had a moment of panic that this was the one who was looking for me, who was going to gun me down. That kind of stress makes your stomach burn straight up into your throat and I was nearly sick any number of times during the day.

But when it finally came, I knew immediately.

I was in a diner in Iowa. There was nothing but corn all around and enough sky for everyone on the planet. Judging by the number of pick-up trucks parked on the dirt shoulder outside
the diner, it seemed to be the meeting place of everyone around. Inside all of the booths were taken and about half the counter space as well. The place was loud, and loud waitresses ran through the crowd with coffeepots they never put down, even when carrying someone’s meal.

I sat at the counter with a coffee and some crumb cake in front of me, but I wasn’t able to take much of either on account of my stomach. Maybe I knew the door opened behind me, but when I saw a man in a blue suit head straight for the bathroom, it struck me as funny, and before I knew it there was another man in a suit sitting beside me. I’d never seen him before, but I’d watched him in the movies a million times, right down to the diamond tiepin puckering the center of his tie.

To my surprise I wasn’t frightened. In fact, it was just like when I killed Vee and Browne, my mind shut off and I was focused physical energy.

I didn’t move or say anything, and I tried not to stare.

The first man came back, and the man beside me slid off of his stool and headed for the bathroom, while his friend took the stool he’d just vacated. He looked at me, but just the way that neighbors look at each other when they first sit down at a counter. He ordered a soda, and then he looked at me again, and this time I could feel it was a more considered look.

I took a sip of my coffee. It had gone cold. Then I slid off of my stool and started for the door. When I was halfway there, the man behind me called, “Hey, Shem.”

I paused for just a second out of instinct, but I knew it was enough to give me away. I quickstepped out the door then, and ran to the car. I could see through the windows of the diner that the man was hurrying to the bathroom to get his companion,
and this gave me enough time to get the car started, back up onto the road, and tear off before they had come out of the diner.

I had the road to myself for maybe five minutes, but their car appeared in the rearview mirror after that, and I knew there was no way I could outrun them. I was in a good car, and I had the pedal to the floor, but they’d still get me, because it didn’t matter if they got me then or later, they knew where I was, and that was all they needed to know.

I watched the rearview more than I watched the road. They were sitting back there, barreling down at me.

I’d say I thought something then about Clotilde, about Joe, about everything I’d done, and about how bad my stomach hurt, and how tired I was of it all, and all that kind of junk you would think would be going through a man’s head when he’s about to do what I did, but I didn’t think anything. I thought nothing. I simply saw the wide dirt patch beside the road, and I swung out into it. I swung out, and skidding sideways as I turned, the car slammed into a row of corn, the stalks hitting with enough force to break out the windows on that side of the car. I jerked on the wheel, grinding the gears, and I managed to fishtail back onto the road facing back in the direction from which I’d just come.

The other car was closer to me now, but still several hundred yards off.

I ground the gears some more, and put my foot to the floor again, and started in their direction on the wrong side of the road, headed straight for them.

I don’t know if they thought I was just playing chicken or what, but they didn’t show any sign of turning.

I leaned forward on the wheel as though that could make me go faster. I leaned forward and all of a sudden I broke into a grin. My trademark grin, as big as ever and one hundred percent genuine. Yeah, I grinned, and I looked for any sign that they were going to turn, because if they were, I was going to turn, too. I wasn’t going to make any mistake about that. They’d caught me, but I was ready for them.

And I grinned all the way.

BOOK: The Twenty-Year Death
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