The Darkest Evening of the Year Page 26

The memory of the tears that he had shed in McCarthy’s kitchen remained vivid, mortifying and frightening. In his line of work, if you started weeping for no reason-or even for a good reason-you were on a slippery slope.

In the living room, he opened the Dom Perignon and poured the champagne not into one of the handsome flutes but instead into a drinking glass. He selected a miniature bottle of fine cognac from the honor bar, opened it, and spiked the champagne.

Pacing through the wonderfully cavernous suite, he sucked at his drink, but by the time he had drained the glass, he felt no better.

Because he would be seeing Harrow in the afternoon and could not afford a hangover, he dared not risk a series of such concoctions.

The only other solace at hand were the weapons in the second suitcase. They were new purchases, gifts to himself. Other men indulged themselves with golf clubs, but Billy didn’t golf.

He returned to the bedroom and put the suitcase on the bed. With the smallest key on his chain, he disengaged the locks.

When he opened the case, the firearm and accessories were there in the left half, as he had packed them.

In his current mood, he had half expected that the always before reliable FedEx had confused his bag with an identical one belonging to, say, a vacationing Mormon dentist or a Bible salesman, and that the contents would give him no fun at all.

The right half of the case contained a second gun, but on top lay a sheaf of papers. The first was McCarthy’s pencil drawing of the golden retriever.

Billy didn’t remember exploding out of the bedroom, but in the living room, the bottle of champagne rattled against the rim of the glass as he poured.

He needed ten minutes to decide that he had to go back into the bedroom and examine the drawings-which, damn it, he had shredded in McCarthy’s office, bagged, and later tossed into the cremator at the funeral home.

If the drawings could survive the cremator and show up in his luggage, there was no argument against the possibility that Gunny Schloss, shot ten times and consigned to the fire, might be waiting in the bathroom when Billy went in there to piss.

He approached the open suitcase with caution-and discovered that the sheaf of papers were not torn from McCarthy’s art tablet. They were the pages of a monthly tabloid-format newspaper published for hunters, target shooters, and other gun aficionados. He had packed the publication himself three days previously.

The reappearance of the drawing had been entirely the work of his imagination. This discovery was an enormous relief. And then it wasn’t. A man with Billy Pilgrim’s responsibilities-and with his associates-could not survive long if he lost his nerve.

Chapter 50

Piggy sits at the desk with magazines. Piggy likes pictures. She cuts them out of magazines.

She can’t have words.

Mother says Piggy is too dumb to read words. Reading words is for people with brains in their heads.

Piggy, poor baby, if you try to learn to read, your fat funny little head will explode.

Piggy can read hope when she sees it. She can read other words, a few.

Her head is okay. Maybe it will go bang with one more word. Probably not.

Mother lies. A lot.

Mother lives to lie, and she lies to live. Bear said so.

Piggy, your mom doesn’t just lie to you and everybody else. She also lies to herself.

This is true. Weird but true.

Here’s one way Piggy knows it’s true: Being told lies makes you unhappy. Her mother is always unhappy.

Lying to herself gets your mom through the day. If she ever faced the truth, she’d fall apart.

Sometimes on a star, sometimes no star, Piggy wishes Mother wouldn’t lie.

But she doesn’t want her mother to fall apart, either.

Maybe Mother sometimes feels she will fall apart, so she tears a doll apart instead. Something to think about.

Here’s another way Piggy knows Mother lies to herself: She thinks nothing bad can happen to her.

Something bad already happened to her. Piggy doesn’t know what bad thing happened to her mother, but you can tell it happened. You can tell.

Bear knew Mother always lies. But Mother lied to Bear, and Bear believed some of her lies.

Weird but true.

Mother and Bear were together to Make Some Money. Everyone needs to Make Some Money.

Piggy and her mother are always going new places, meeting new friends. All friends, everywhere, talk how to Make Some Money.

Usually they talk guns when they talk money. You Make Some Money with guns.

Piggy does not like guns. She will never Make Some Money.

So Bear wanted to Make Some Money, but he was different. Bear saw Piggy. Mostly they see Piggy but don’t really see her.

Bear was a mess, but he wasn’t as big a mess as Mother.

Piggy, I’m a mess, I’m weak and I’m foolish, but I’m not as big a mess as your mother.

She didn’t like Bear saying bad things about himself. Because she knew Bear didn’t lie to her.

Mother promised Bear when they had money, then she would give Piggy to child-welfare people.

Piggy doesn’t know who child-welfare people are. Bear made them sound nice. He made them sound not like the usual friends with guns.

After they had money, Mother broke her promise. No child-welfare people for Piggy.

Bear and Mother are laughing, and Mother sits on his lap.

This was back on the day it happened.

Mother sits on Bear’s lap, laughing, and takes the big knife out from between sofa cushions, where it never was before.

Piggy remembers like it’s right now, like it’s not back then.

Mother makes the knife go all the way through Bear’s neck, front to back.

Then everything gets very bad, worse than anything ever.

Let not your heart be troubled.

Let not your heart be troubled.

Mother says she didn’t kill him to take his money. She says she killed him because he was Piggy’s friend.

Mother says, My friends are mine, you fat-faced little freak. My friends aren’t yours. What’s mine is mine. You’re mine, Piggy Pig. You belong to me, Piggy Pig. Nobody takes what’s mine. He’s dead because of you.

This would make Piggy sad forever if it was true Bear was dead because of her.

Here’s one way Piggy knows it isn’t true: Mother always lies.

Let not your heart be troubled.

Here’s another way Piggy knows it isn’t true: Dying, Bear looks at her, and his eyes aren’t afraid or angry.

His eyes just say Sorry, Piggy.

And his eyes say It’s okay, girl, you keep on keepin’ on.

Piggy can read eyes. She can’t read words, but she reads eyes real good.

Sometimes when she reads her mother’s eyes, Piggy feels her head might go bang.

The lock squeaks.

Piggy doesn’t hide the magazine. She keeps scissoring pictures. She is allowed to cut pictures.

The magazines are Mother’s, but old ones she doesn’t want.

Piggy is allowed to cut lots of pictures and paste them together to make bigger pictures. Mother calls the bigger pictures some name Piggy will never read and can’t remember.

Piggy doesn’t call them any name. She just sees how some pretty things can be put with other pretty things in ways so all the things are even more pretty because of how they’re put together.

The most pretty things Piggy makes, her mother burns. They go outside, and Mother burns the best put-together pictures.

This is one of not many things you can say for sure makes her mother happy.

Here’s another way Piggy knows Mother lies even to herself: She thinks she is always happy.

The lock squeaks. The door opens. Mother comes in.

The man stays in the doorway, leaning there, arms crossed.

Mother and the man have been drinking. You can tell.

Mother sits on the desk. “What’re you doing, baby?”

“Makin’ stuff.”

“My little artist.”

“Just pictures.”

Mother has a knife.

Not the Bear knife, but like the Bear knife.

She puts it on the desk.

Piggy thinks maybe she forgot to zip the chair-cushion cover after she put away the Forever Shiny Thing.

If Mother sees an open chair-cushion cover and finds HOPE on a silver chain, then here come the Big Uglies.

Piggy glances at the chair. Cover is zipped.

“Big day coming, Piggy.”

Cover is zipped, so just keep working the scissors.

“Your daddy is coming to get you, baby.”

Piggy makes a mistake. She cuts off a pretty lady’s head. So she pretends she only wants a head, and she cuts the head out very carefully.

“I’ve told you about your daddy, how you made him sick to his stomach, your stupid fat face embarrassed him, so he dumped you on me and split.”

“Sure,” Piggy says, but just to say something.

“Well, he’s got religion all of a sudden, wants to do the right thing, so he’s coming to take you home with him, where the two of you will live happily ever after.”

This is bad. This is as bad as bad can be.

Maybe it is a lie her father is coming.

If it’s a lie, why say it? Only to make Piggy hope and then, no, it doesn’t happen, but some really really bad thing happens instead.

And if her father really is coming, they won’t go and be happy ever after. No way.

What’s mine is mine. You’re mine, Piggy Pig. You belong to me, Piggy Pig. Nobody takes what’s mine.

Her nice Bear dead and all the blood and her mother whispering You’re mine, Piggy Pig.

And here on the desk is a knife like the Bear knife.

If Piggy’s father comes, Mother will kill him.

She wants Piggy to know what will happen. That’s why the knife on the desk. So Piggy will know.

Mother wants Piggy to know there is a chance of getting away but, no, not a chance after all, because nobody takes what belongs to Mother. She wants Piggy to have hope, then steals it from her.

But Mother doesn’t know, whatever happens, Piggy has HOPE Bear gave her on a silver chain.

“My guy here, Piggy, he wonders why I ever had you in the first place, a little mutant like you.”

She means the man standing in the doorway. Piggy is afraid of this man more than others who were before him. He makes Mother worse. Mother is much worse since him.

“There was this big rich guy, he built homes, name was Hisscus. He couldn’t make babies, he had bad seed.”

Piggy looks her mother in the eyes. She reads Mother’s eyes, and in there with all the scary, Piggy sees some truth.

So she can’t look at Mother’s eyes anymore, Piggy works the scissors on another picture.

While she cuts, she listens close, not understanding half, but when Mother tells truth, it’s a big thing because she never does.

“Hisscus, he wasn’t married, but he wanted a baby in the worst way. Didn’t want it officially. Wanted an unofficial baby.”

From the corner of her eye, Piggy sees Mother glance toward the man in the doorway.

“Hisscus knew this doctor who was like him, would deliver the baby at home, no birth certificate, no record.”

Mother laughs at something the man in the doorway does.

Piggy keeps her head down.

“So I had your daddy knock me up,” Mother tells Piggy.

This doesn’t mean anything to Piggy. She listens closer.

“Didn’t have an ultrasound scan to determine sex or anything.”

The closer Piggy listens, the less sense Mother makes.

“If I gave him a girl, Hisscus would keep it. If I gave him a boy, he knew people who wanted the same kind of candy he did, but who liked the opposite flavor, so he could trade it to them for a girl.”

In the doorway, the man whistles very soft and low. He says, “What’s colder than dry ice?”

“Me, baby,” Mother tells him.

Neither of them is making any sense. Ice is wet.

“Hisscus had this second house, cool place, up the coast. I was going to live there, get a big fat paycheck every month, whatever I wanted. When the maid came in to clean, she wouldn’t know about the secret cellar.”

Piggy doesn’t understand what her mother is telling her, but she knows for sure, without knowing how she knows, that whatever she does right now, she must not look in Mother’s eyes, because what’s in them now is scarier than anything before.

“Then, Piggy, you pop out of me, stupid fat-faced little Piggy Pig, and the whole deal falls apart. He doesn’t want a little Piggy Pig in his secret cellar, not even if he’s got me, because I wasn’t what he wanted most to begin with.”

“Blackmail?” says the man in the doorway.

“That’s why I kept the little bitch,” Mother says. “I tried to play that angle. But I didn’t have proof. He’d been totally clever. He tried paying me off with chump change, and I took it, but I kept pushing for a year-and then it turned out he knew how to push back hard.”

“After that, why didn’t she end up in a Dumpster?”

“By then,” Mother says, “I thought old Piggy Pig owed me big-time, and I like to be paid what I’m owed.”

Mother picks up the knife.

“Piggy’s been paying me good interest, but it’s about time I get my principal back.”

Mother gets up from the desk.

“Piggy, my guy and me just had a bonding moment.” To the man, she says, “Now you know it all, you think I’m too nasty for you?”

“Never,” he says.

“So are you nasty enough for me?”

“I can try to be,” he says.

She laughs again. Mother has a nice laugh.

Sometimes, no matter what happens, Mother’s laugh makes you want to smile. Not now.

They leave and lock the door.

Piggy alone.

She doesn’t know what any of it meant. But whatever it meant, it didn’t mean anything good.

She puts down the scissors.

She says, “Hey, Bear,” but though Bear will always be with her, he does not answer.

Mother and the man talking, voices fading. They are going away awhile to do something, she doesn’t know what, but she can tell.

When Mother comes back, she will have the knife. The knife is going to be with her from now on. Until she uses it.

All things work out for the best, hard as that is to believe.

That’s what Bear said. And Bear knew things. Bear wasn’t dumb like Piggy. But Bear is dead.

Chapter 51

The first one out of bed, at a quarter to six, Amy showered and dressed. She fed Nickie and took her for a walk while Brian prepared for the day.

The sun hadn’t appeared with the dawn. Gray clouds smeared the sky. They looked greasy.

In the oceanside park, the immense old palm trees barely stirred in a breeze as languid as the ocean off which it came. As if wounded, colorless waves crawled to shore and expired on sand ribboned with rotting seaweed.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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