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Marjorie: Is that a bet in regular talk?

Wanda: Is that a bet when its at home with its feet up?

Marjorie: Im J. Edgar Hoover, my son.

Wanda: Im Chief Curry of the Dallas Police.

And so what? It was the chiming, that was all. The harmony. A side effect of time-travel.

Nevertheless, an alarm bell began to ring far back in my head, and as I turned onto Neely Street, it moved up to the forebrain. History repeats itself, the past harmonizes, and that was what this feeling was about but not all it was about. As I turned into the driveway of the house where Lee had laid his half-assed plan to assassinate Edwin Walker, I really listened to that alarm bell. Because now it was close. Now it was shrieking.

Akiva Roth at the fight, but not alone. With him had been a party-doll in Garbo sunglasses and a mink stole. August in Dallas was hardly mink weather, but the auditorium had been air-conditioned, andas they say in my timesometimes you just gotta signify.

Take away the dark glasses. Take away the stole. What do you have?

For a moment as I sat there in my car, listening to the cooling engine tick and tock, I still had nothing. Then I realized that if you replaced the mink stole with a Ship N Shore blouse, you had Wanda Frati.

Chaz Frati of Derry had set Bill Turcotte on me. That thought had even crossed my mind but I had dismissed it. Bad idea.

Who had Frank Frati of Fort Worth set on me? Well, he had to know Akiva Roth of Faith Financial; Roth was his daughters boyfriend, after all.

Suddenly I wanted my gun, and I wanted it right away.

I got out of the Chevy and trotted up the porch steps, my keys in my hand. I was fumbling through them when a panel truck roared around the corner from Haines Avenue and scrunched to a stop in front of 214 with the leftside wheels up on the curb.

I looked around. Saw no one. The street was deserted. Theres never a bystander you can scream to for help when you want one. Let alone a cop.

I jammed the right key into the lock and turned it, thinking Id lock them outwhoever they wereand call the cops on the phone. I was inside and smelling the hot, stale air of the deserted apartment when I remembered that there was no phone.

Big men were running across the lawn. Three of them. One had a short length of pipe that looked to be wrapped in something.

No, actually there were enough guys to play bridge. The fourth was Akiva Roth, and he wasnt running. He was strolling up the walk with his hands in his pockets and a placid smile on his face.

I slammed the door. I twisted the thumb bolt. I had barely finished when it exploded open. I ran for the bedroom and got about halfway.


Two of Roths goons dragged me into the kitchen. The third was the one with the pipe. It was wrapped in strips of dark felt. I saw this when he laid it carefully on the table where I had eaten a good many meals. He put on yellow rawhide gloves.

Roth leaned in the doorway, still smiling placidly. Eduardo Gutierrez has syphilis, he announced. Its gone to his brain. Hell be dead in eighteen months, but you know what? He dont care. He believes hes gonna come back as an Arab emirate, or sumshit. How bout that, huh?

Responding to non sequitursat cocktail parties, on public transportation, in ticket lines at the movie theateris dicey enough, but its really hard to know what to say when youre being held by two men and about to receive a beating from a third. So I said nothing.

The thing is, you got in his head. You won bets you werent supposed to win. Sometimes you lost, but Eddie G got this crazy idea that when you lost, you were losing on purpose. You know? Then you hit big on the Derby, and he decided you were, I dunno, some kind of telepathic gizmo who could see the future. Did you know he burned down your house?

I said nothing.

Then, Roth said, when those little wormies really started to bite his brain, he started to think you were some kind of ghoul, or devil. He put out the word all over the South, the West, the Midwest. Look for this guy Amberson, and bring him down. Kill him. The guy is unnatural. I could smell it on im but I didnt pay attention. Now look at me, sick and dying. And its this guys fault. Hes a ghoul or a devil, or sumshit. Crazy, you know? Toys in the attic.

I said nothing.

Carmo, I dont think my friend Georgies listening. I think hes dozing off. Give him a wake-up call.

The man in the yellow rawhide gloves swung a Tom Case uppercut, bringing it from hip level to the left side of my face. Pain exploded in my head, and for a few moments I saw everything on that side through a scarlet haze.

Okay, you look a little more awake now, Roth said. Where was I? Oh, I know. How you turned into Eddie Gs private boogeyman. Because of the syph, we all knew that. If it hadnt been you, it would have been some barbershop dog. Or a girl who jerked him off too hard at the drive-in when he was sixteen. Sometimes he cant remember his own address, he has to call someone to come get him. Sad, huh? Its those worms in his head. But everybody humors him, because Eddie was always a good guy. He could tell a joke, man, youd laugh until you cried. Nobody even thought you were real. Then Eddie Gs boogeyman turns up in Dallas, at my shop. And what happens? The boogeyman bets on the Pirates to beat the Yankees, which everyone knows aint gonna happen, and in seven games, which everyone knows the Series aint gonna go.

It was just luck, I said. My voice sounded furry, because the side of my mouth was swelling. An impulse bet.

Thats just stupid, and stupidity always got to be paid for. Carmo, kneecap this stupid sonofabitch.

No! I said. No, please dont do that!

Carmo smiled as if Id said something cute, plucked the felt-wrapped pipe from the table, and swung it at my left knee. I heard something down there make a popping sound. Like a big knuckle. The pain was exquisite. I bit back a scream and sagged against the men who were holding me. They yanked me back up.

Roth stood in the doorway, hands in pockets, smiling his happy placid smile. Okay. Cool. Thats gonna swell, by the way. You wont believe how big its gonna get. But hey, you bought it, you paid for it, you own it. Meanwhile, the facts, maam, nothing but the facts. The goons holding me laughed.

The facts are nobody dressed like you was on the day you came into my store makes a bet like that. For a man dressed like you was, an impulse bet is ten dollars, a double sawbuck at most. But the Pirates came through, that is also the facts. And Im starting to think Eddie G might be right. Not that youre a devil or a ghoul or an ESP gizmo, nothing like that, but how about maybe you know somebody who knows something? Like the fix is in and the Pirates are supposed to win in seven?

Nobody fixes baseball, Roth. Not since the Black Sox in 1919. You run a book, you must know that.

He raised his eyebrows. You know my name! Hey, maybe you are an ESP guy. But I aint got all day.

He glanced at his watch, as if to confirm this. It was big and clunky, probably a Rolex.

I try to see where you live when you come in to collect, but you hold your thumb over your address. Thats okay. Lotta guys do that. I decide Im gonna let it go. I should send some boys down the street to beat the shit out of you, maybe even kill you so that Eddie Gs mindwhats left of itcan be at rest? Because some guy took shit odds and beat me out of twelve hundred? Fuck that, what Eddie G dont know wont hurt him. Besides, with you out of the way, hed just start thinking about something else. Maybe that Henry Ford was the Annie Christ or sumshit. Carmo, hes not listening again and that pisses me off.

Carmo swung the pipe at my midsection. It struck me below the ribs with paralyzing force. There was pain, first jagged, then swallowed in a growing explosion of heat, like a fireball.

Hurts, dont it? Carmo said. Gets you right in the old kazeenie.

I think you ruptured something, I said. I heard a hoarse steam-engine sound and realized that was me, panting.

I hope he fucking did, Roth said. I let you go, you dumbbell! I fucking let you go! I forgot about you! Then you turn up at Franks in Fort Worth to bet the goddam Case-Tiger fight. Exact same MObig bet on the underdog and all the odds you can get. This time you predict the exact fucking round. So heres whats going to happen, my friend: youre going to tell me how you knew. If you do that, I take some pictures of you like you are now and Eddie Gs satisfied. He knows he cant have you dead, because Carlos told him no, and Carlos is the one guy he listens to, even now. But if he sees you fucked up aw, but you aint fucked up enough quite yet. Fuck him up some more, Carmo. Do the face.

So Carmo hammered my face while the other two held me. He broke my nose, closed my left eye, knocked out a few teeth, and tore open my left cheek. I kept thinking, Ill pass out or theyll kill me, either way the pain will stop. But I didnt pass out, and at some point Carmo quit. He was breathing hard, and there were red splotches on his yellow rawhide gloves. Sunshine came in through the kitchen windows and made cheery oblongs on the faded linoleum.

Thats better, Roth said. Get the Polaroid out of the truck, Carmo. Hustle, now. I want to finish up here.

Before leaving, Carmo stripped off his gloves and put them on the table next to the lead pipe. Some of the felt strips had come loose. They were soaked with blood. My face was throbbing, but my abdomen was worse. There, the heat continued to spread. Something was very wrong down there.

One more time, Amberson. Howd you know the fix was in? Who told you? The truth.

It was just a guess. I tried to tell myself I sounded like a man with a bad cold, but I didnt. I sounded like a man whod just had the shit beaten out of him.

He picked up the pipe and tapped it against one pudgy hand. Who told you, fuckface?

Nobody. Gutierrez was right. Im a devil, and devils can see the future.

Youre running out of chances.

Wandas too tall for you, Roth. And too skinny. When youre on top of her, you must look like a toad trying to fuck a log. Or maybe

His placid face wrinkled into rage. It was a complete transformation, and it happened in less than a second. He swung the pipe at my head. I got my left arm up and heard it crack like a birch-branch overloaded with ice. This time when I sagged, the goons let me drop to the floor.

Fuckin wiseass, how I hate a fuckin wiseass. This seemed to come from a great distance. Or a great height. Or both. I was finally getting ready to pass out, and ever so grateful to go. But I had enough vision left to see Carmo when he came back in with a Polaroid camera. It was big and bulky, the kind where the lens comes out on a kind of accordion.

Turn im over, Roth said. Lets get his good side. As the goons did so, Carmo handed Roth the camera, and Roth handed Carmo the pipe. Then Roth raised the camera to his face and said, Watch the birdie, you fuckin spunkbucket. Heres one for Eddie G


and one for my own personal collection, which I dont actually have but which I may now start


and heres one for you. To remember that when serious people ask you questions, you should answer.


He yanked the third shot out of the camera and threw it in my direction. It landed in front of my left hand which he then stepped on. Bones crunched. I whimpered and drew my hurt hand back to my chest. He had broken at least one finger, maybe as many as three.

You want to remember to strip that in sixty seconds, or itll get all overcooked. If youre awake, that is.

You want to ask im some more now that hes tenderized? Carmo asked.

You kiddin? Look at im. He dont even know his own name anymore. Fuck him. He started to turn away, then turned back. Hey, asshat. Heres one to grow on.

That was when he kicked me in the side of the head with what felt like a steel-toed shoe. Skyrockets exploded across my vision. Then the back of my head connected with the baseboard, and I was gone.


I dont think I was out for long, because the oblongs of sunlight on the linoleum didnt appear to have moved. My mouth tasted of wet copper. I spat half-congealed blood onto the floor, along with a fragment of tooth, and set about getting to my feet. I needed to hold onto one of the kitchen chairs with my one working hand, then onto the table (which nearly fell over on top of me), but on the whole it was easier than I thought. My left leg felt numb, and my pants were tight halfway down, where the knee was swelling as promised, but I thought it could have been a lot worse.

I looked out the window to make sure the panel truck was gone, then began a slow, limping journey into the bedroom. My heart was taking big soft walloping beats in my chest. Each one throbbed in my broken nose and vibrated the swelling left side of my face, where the cheekbone just about had to be broken. The back of my head throbbed, too. My neck was stiff.

Could have been worse, I reminded myself as I shuffled across the bedroom. Youre on your feet, arent you? Just get the damn gun, put it in the glove compartment, then drive yourself to the emergency room. Youre basically all right. Probably better than Dick Tiger is this morning.

I was able to go on telling myself that until I stretched my hand up to the closet shelf. When I did that, something first pulled in my guts and then seemed to roll. The sullen heat centered on my left side flared like coals when you throw gasoline on them. I got my fingertips on the butt of the gun, turned it, hooked a thumb into the trigger-guard, and pulled it off the shelf. It hit the floor and bounced into the bedroom.

Probably not even loaded. I bent over to get it. My left knee shrieked and gave way. I fell to the floor, and the pain in my guts whooshed up again. I got the gun, though, and rolled the cylinder. It was loaded after all. Every chamber. I put it in my pocket and tried to crawl back to the kitchen, but the knee was too painful. And the headache was worse, spreading out dark tentacles from its little cave above the nape of my neck.

I made it to the bed on my belly, using a swimming motion. Once I was there I managed to haul myself up again, using my right arm and right leg. The left leg held me, but I was losing flexion in the knee. I had to get out of there, and right away.

I must have looked like Chester, the limping deputy from Gunsmoke, as I made my way out of the bedroom, across the kitchen, and to the front door, which hung open with splinters around the lock. I even remember thinking Mr. Dillon, Mr. Dillon, theres trouble down at the Longbranch!

I crossed the porch, seized the railing in my right fist, and crabbed down to the walk. There were only four steps, but my headache got worse each time I jolted down another one. I seemed to be losing my peripheral vision, which couldnt be good. I tried to turn my head to see my Chevrolet, but my neck didnt want to cooperate. I managed a shuffling whole-body pivot instead, and when I had the car in my sights, I realized driving would be an impossibility. Even opening the passenger side door and stowing the gun in the glove compartment would be an impossibility: bending would cause the pain and heat in my side to explode again.

I fumbled the .38 out of my pocket and returned to the porch. I held the stair-rail and underhanded the gun beneath the steps. It would have to do. I straightened up again and made my slow way down the walk to the street. Baby steps, I told myself. Little baby steps.

Two kids came sailing up on bikes. I tried to tell them I needed help, but the only thing to come out of my swollen mouth was a dry hhhahhhh sound. They glanced at each other, then pedaled faster and swerved around me.

I turned to the right (my swollen knee made going left seem like the worlds worst idea) and began to stagger down the sidewalk. My vision continued to close in; now I seemed to be peering out of a gunslit, or from the mouth of a tunnel. For a moment that made me think of the fallen smokestack at the Kitchener Ironworks, back in Derry.

Get to Haines Avenue, I told myself. Therell be traffic on Haines Avenue. You have to get at least that far.

But was I going toward Haines, or away from it? I couldnt remember. The visible world was down to a single sharp circle about six inches in diameter. My head was splitting; there was a forest fire in my guts. When I fell, it seemed to be in slow motion, and the sidewalk felt as soft as a feather-pillow.

Before I could pass out, something prodded me. A hard, metallic something. A rusty voice eight or ten miles above me said, You! You, boy! Whats wrong with you?

I turned over. It took the last of my strength, but I managed. Towering above me was the elderly woman whod called me a coward when I refused to step in between Lee and Marina on The Day of the Zipper. It might have been that day, because, August heat or no August heat, she was once more wearing the pink flannel nightgown and the quilted jacket. Perhaps because I still had boxing on what remained of my mind, her upstanding hair today reminded me of Don King instead of Elsa Lanchester. She had poked me with one of the front legs of her walker.

Ohmydeargod, she said. Who has beaten you?

That was a long story, and I couldnt tell it. The dark was closing in, and I was glad because the pain in my head was killing me. Al got lung cancer, I thought. I got Akiva Roth. Either way, game over. Ozzie wins.

Not if I could help it.

Gathering all my strength, I spoke to the face far above me, the only bright thing left in the encroaching darkness. Call nine-one-one.

Whats that?

Of course she didnt know. Nine-one-one hadnt been invented yet. I held on long enough to try one more time. Ambulance.

I think I might have repeated it, but Im not sure. That was when the darkness swallowed me.


I have wondered since if it was kids who stole my car, or Roths goons. And when it happened. At any rate, the thieves didnt trash it or crash it; Deke Simmons picked it up in the DPD impound lot a week later. It was in far better shape than I was.

Time-travel is full of ironies.



During the next eleven weeks I once more lived two lives. There was the one I hardly knew aboutthe outside lifeand the one I knew all too well. That was the one inside, where I often dreamed of the Yellow Card Man.

In the outside life, the walker-lady (Alberta Hitchinson; Sadie sought her out and brought her a bouquet of flowers) stood over me on the sidewalk and hollered until a neighbor came out, saw the situation, and called the ambulance that took me to Parkland. The doctor who treated me there was Malcolm Perry, who would later treat both John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald as they lay dying. With me he had better luck, although it was a close thing.

I had sustained broken teeth, a broken nose, a broken cheekbone, a fractured left knee, a broken left arm, dislocated fingers, and abdominal injuries. I had also suffered a brain injury, which was what concerned Perry the most.

I was told I woke up and howled when my belly was palpated, but I have no memory of it. I was catheterized and immediately began pissing what boxing announcers would have called the claret. My vitals were at first stable, then began sliding. I was typed, cross-matched, and given four units of whole blood which, Sadie told me later, the residents of Jodie made up a hundred times over at a community blood drive in late September. She had to tell me several times, because I kept forgetting. I was prepped for abdominal surgery, but first a neurology consult and a spinal taptheres no such thing as CT scans or MRIs in the Land of Ago.

Im also told I had a conversation with two of the nurses prepping me for the tap. I told them that my wife had a drinking problem. One of them said that was too bad and asked me what her name was. I told them she was a fish called Wanda and laughed quite heartily. Then I passed out again.

My spleen was trashed. They removed it.

While I was still conked out and my spleen was going wherever no longer useful but not absolutely vital organs go, I was turned over to Orthopedics. There my broken arm was put in a splint and my broken leg in a plaster cast. Many people signed it over the following weeks. Sometimes I knew the names; usually I didnt.

I was kept sedated with my head stabilized and my bed raised to exactly thirty degrees. The phenobarbital wasnt because I was conscious (although sometimes I muttered, Sadie said) but because they were afraid I might suddenly come around and damage myself further. Basically, Perry and the other docs (Ellerton also came in regularly to monitor my progress) were treating my battered chump like an unexploded bomb.

To this day Im not entirely sure what hematocrit and hemoglobin are, but mine started to come back up and that pleased everybody. I had another spinal tap three days later. This one showed signs of old blood, and when it comes to spinal taps, old is better than new. It indicated that I had sustained significant brain trauma, but they could forgo drilling a burr-hole in my skull, a risky procedure given all the battles my body was fighting on other fronts.

But the past is obdurate and protects itself against change. Five days after I was admitted, the flesh around the splenectomy incision began to turn red and warm. The following day the incision reopened and I spiked a fever. My condition, which had been downgraded from critical to serious after the second spinal tap, zipped back up to critical. According to my chart, I was sedated as per Dr. Perry and neurologically minimally responsive.

On September seventh, I woke up briefly. Or so Im told. A woman, pretty despite her scarred face, and an old man with a cowboy hat in his lap were sitting by my bed.

Do you know your name? the woman asked.

Puddentane, I said. Ask me again and Ill tell you the same.

Mr. Jake George Puddentane Epping-Amberson spent seven weeks in Parkland before being moved to a rehab centera little housing complex for sick peopleon the north side of Dallas. During those seven weeks I was on IV antibiotics for the infection that had set up shop where my spleen used to be. The splint on my broken arm was replaced with a long cast, which also filled up with names I didnt know. Shortly before moving to Eden Fallows, the rehab center, I graduated to a short cast on my arm. Around that same time, a physical therapist began to torture my knee back to something resembling mobility. I was told I screamed a lot, but I dont remember.

Malcolm Perry and the rest of the Parkland staff saved my life, I have no doubt about that. They also gave me an unintended and unwelcome gift that lasted well into my time at Eden Fallows. This was a secondary infection caused by the antibiotics being pumped into my system to beat the primary one. I have hazy memories of vomiting and of spending what seemed like whole days with my ass on a bedpan. I remember thinking at one point I have to go to the Derry Drug and see Mr. Keene. I need Kaopectate. But who was Mr. Keene, and where was Derry?

They let me out of the hospital when I began to hold food down again, but Id been at Eden Fallows almost two weeks before the diarrhea stopped. By then it was nearing the end of October. Sadie (usually I remembered her name; sometimes it slipped my mind) brought me a paper jack-o-lantern. This memory is very clear, because I screamed when I saw it. They were the screams of someone who has forgotten something vitally important.

What? she asked me. What is it, honey? Whats wrong? Is it Kennedy? Something about Kennedy?

Hes going to kill them all with a hammer! I shouted at her. On Halloween night! I have to stop him!

Who? She took my waving hands, her face frightened. Stop who?

But I couldnt remember, and I fell asleep. I slept a lot, and not just because of the slowly healing head injury. I was exhausted, little more than a ghost of my former self. On the day of the beating, I had weighed one hundred and eighty-five pounds. By the time I was released from the hospital and installed in Eden Fallows, I weighed a hundred and thirty-eight.

That was the outside life of Jake Epping, a man who had been beaten badly, then nearly died in the hospital. My inside life was blackness, voices, and flashes of understanding that were like lightning: they blinded me with their brilliance and were gone again before I could get more than glimpses of the landscape by their light. I was mostly lost, but every now and then I found myself.

Found myself hellishly hot, and a woman was feeding me ice chips that tasted heavenly cool. This was THE WOMAN WITH THE SCAR, who was sometimes Sadie.

Found myself on the commode in the corner of the room with no idea how Id gotten there, unloosing what felt like gallons of watery burning shit, my side itching and throbbing, my knee bellowing. I remember wishing someone would kill me.

Found myself trying to get out of bed, because I had to do something terribly important. It seemed to me that the whole world was depending on me to do this thing. THE MAN WITH THE COWBOY HAT was there. He caught me and helped me back into bed before I fell on the floor. Not yet, son, he said. Youre nowhere near strong enough.

Found myself talkingor trying to talkto a pair of uniformed policemen who had come to ask questions about the beating Id taken. One of them had a name tag that said TIPPIT. I tried to tell him he was in danger. I tried to tell him to remember the fifth of November. It was the right month but the wrong day. I couldnt remember the actual date and began to thump at my stupid head in frustration. The cops looked at each other, puzzled. NOT-TIPPIT called for a nurse. The nurse came with a doctor, the doctor gave me a shot, and I floated away.

Found myself listening to Sadie as she read to me, first Jude the Obscure, then Tess of the DUrbervilles. I knew those stories, and listening to them again was comforting. At one point during Tess, I remembered something.

I made Tessica Caltrop leave us alone.

Sadie looked up. Do you mean Jessica? Jessica Caltrop? You did? How? Do you remember?

But I didnt. It was gone.

Found myself looking at Sadie as she stood at my little window, staring out at the rain and crying.

But mostly I was lost.

THE MAN WITH THE COWBOY HAT was Deke, but once I thought he was my grandfather, and that scared me very badly, because Grampy Epping was dead, and

Epping, that was my name. Hold onto it, I told myself, but at first I couldnt.

Several times AN ELDERLY WOMAN WITH RED LIPSTICK came to see me. Sometimes I thought her name was Miz Mimi; sometimes I thought it was Miz Ellie; once I was quite sure she was Irene Ryan, who played Granny Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies. I told her that Id thrown my cell phone into a pond. Now it sleeps with the fishes. I sure wish I had that sucker back.

A YOUNG COUPLE came. Sadie said, Look, its Mike and Bobbi Jill.

I said, Mike Coleslaw.

THE YOUNG MAN said, Thats close, Mr. A. He smiled. A tear ran down his cheek when he did.

Later, when Sadie and Deke came to Eden Fallows, they would sit with me on the couch. Sadie would take my hand and ask, Whats his name, Jake? You never told me his name. How can we stop him if we dont know who he is or where he is going to be?

I said, Im going to flop him. I tried very hard. It made the back of my head hurt, but I tried even harder. Stop him.

You couldnt stop a cinchbug without our help, Deke said.

But Sadie was too dear and Deke was too old. She shouldnt have told him in the first place. Maybe that was all right, though, because he didnt really believe it.

The Yellow Card Man will stop you if you get involved, I said. Im the only one he cant stop.

Who is the Yellow Card Man? Sadie asked, leaning forward and taking my hands.

I dont remember, but he cant stop me because I dont belong here.

Only he was stopping me. Or something was. Dr. Perry said my amnesia was shallow and transient, and he was right but only up to a point. If I tried too hard to remember the things that mattered most, my head ached fiercely, my limping walk became a stumble, and my vision blurred. Worst of all was the tendency to suddenly fall asleep. Sadie asked Dr. Perry if it was narcolepsy. He said probably not, but I thought he looked worried.

Does he wake when you call him or shake him?

Always, Sadie said.

Is it more likely to happen when hes upset because he cant remember something?

Sadie agreed that it was.

Then Im quite sure it will pass, the way his amnesia is passing.

: 2016-10-06; : 349 |




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