Hatful of Pain
Hatful of Pain   Chapter 9

Bill was in the kitchen taking shrink-wrap off three new bibles, Dudley was looking out the window, and Ann was talking about Richard winning the Cavalry city cleanup prize in 1993 and 1996. In her voice was a rising wistfulness at the sense of something good having come to an end. Tears formed in her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

Corky hugged her. "Me, too. I've been locking myself in bathrooms and crying."

"Sounds like a good name for a country music song," I said, but wished I hadn't. This was no time to joke. Dudley was looking out of the window at passing cars. Maybe thinking of throwing himself into the road.

Bill handed me a bible--he gave them to people who needed "a good talking-to from the Lord." I had an impressive collection.

After a long silence I spoke softly, telling them about my conversation with Mrs. Terrig.

"We owe it to Kristin to tell them. And I know you caring folks will insist on joining me when I go over there."

"Sorry," Bill said. "You're chafing your lips on the wrong butt."

I glanced around the room at the others.

Dudley brushed his hand through his thick black hair.

"And what, exactly, aren't you telling us?"

"Nothing much, really. A friend of Kristin's seems to have leaked the names of several A.L.F. members, and Beezil hired Lester Gillis to threaten us to keep quiet."

Anger flowed out of Dudley like a tangible force.

"Hell. I'll go with you then. In fact, I'll run over there right now and punch him in the mouth." Dudley punched at a folding metal chair. He barely touched it, but it buckled comically and crashed with a clatter.

"When you're finished with the chair," I said, "I have a mixing board that's been giving me trouble."

"Why resort to violence, Dudley?" Ann was serious. "You're smarter than Beezil is."

"Oh, good. Then I'll dash right over and give him a pop quiz."

"Kristin deserves having her parents understand what she believed in," Ann said. "I'll go with you, Clark."

"That's nice," Bill said, "and I'm sure her dad will sincerely thank you both to a pulp."

"We still have to find the leak," Dudley said.

Corky headed for the door. "How about if I call each A.L.F. member and ask if they'll lead the Laurel mission. If anyone balks without a fast reason, we'll know to be suspicious."

"What if they agree only so they can lead us into a trap?"

"Good point. We'll change plans at the last minute to mess them up. Let's visit Richard."

Outside, Hoover arfed and snapped at the snow like he knew he should be playing in it, but wasn't quite sure what to do. I wished I could teach him to frolic. When I said "Okay," he jumped into the van. I tucked him under a blanket, and with only his nose sticking out, he seemed at peace with the world.

As Highway 1 threaded its way northeast between rolling hills, gusts of wind tried to push us into snow banks in the gully below. Corky sat next to me in the front and slid the Miles Davis CD we'd bought for Richard into the player. It choked me up a little, listening to what Richard liked.

Dudley leaned forward and touched Corky's shoulder. "What'll it take to get you to go on a date?"

"You got any friends?"

Dudley started to laugh, but his breath caught short when he noticed a pair of ducks flying north, fighting the wind driven snow. "Loons are very rare in Massachusetts. Especially flying after sunset."

Corky squinted in the direction of the birds.

"Six pairs nest at the Quabbin reservoir," Dudley went on, "and four near the reservoir. Acid rain is threatening their habitat . . ." About five minutes into Dudley's monologue on the trials and tribulations of loons, Ann and Bill had dozed off, tilting against each other.

The windshield wipers weren't coping well with the snow flying straight into the windshield like tracer bullets. I switched on the high beams, turning the snow into a white curtain. I switched back to low.

Something in my rearview mirror broke through the haze. A car was gaining on us, fast. My speed had crept up to fifty. I slowed to forty, moved into the right lane and held steady.

Instead of passing, the driver slowed down and paced us, staying in my blind spot.

What's his problem? I increased my speed to fifty, back to forty. He did the same. Now I was worried.

With patches of ice on the road, I was afraid to make a sudden move. The car, a white Celica, increased speed and drew even with me. Through murky darkness and two fogged windows I saw a tight-lipped grimace.

He began moving ahead of me. Have I driven him to road rage?

With that thought lodged in my head like a bullet, he started moving into my lane, forcing me off the road.

I backed off the accelerator. He matched my speed and continued edging into me, so I gambled and pumped the brakes.

The Celica swerved into us and its right rear bumper clipped the van. An agonizing cry of shredding metal was followed by a shattering of glass as the van's left headlight was pulverized.

We shot toward the frozen ravine that ran parallel to the highway, nearly fifty feet below.

I pulled hard to the left.

The van began to tilt, and I corrected with a slight pull to the right and a tap on the brakes. The energy of the aborted rollover channeled itself into a slide. When I tried to correct, the van slithered like a wet bar of soap from one side of the highway to the other until we plunged over the shoulder.

I was still fighting the wheel as we slued down an embankment. The front passenger door flew open. I clung to the steering wheel. Corky grappled with the dashboard and struggled to stay inside as objects hurled past her, out the door.

So this is it, curtains. And the show was just getting interesting. On to the Afterlife. I'm sure I'll go to heaven, I've been dull enough.

My head hit the steering wheel.

Hatful of Pain 10

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