THE PUSHER CHAPTER 2 THE HONEYPOT
Detta laid up in a deeply shadowed cleft formed by rocks which leaned together like old men who had been turned to stone while sharing some weird secret. She watched Eddie range up and down the rubble-strewn slopes of the hills, yelling himself hoarse. The duck-fuzz on his cheeks was finally becoming a beard, and you might have taken him for a growed man except for the three or four times he passed close to her (once he had come close enough for her to have snaked a hand out and grabbed his ankle). When he got close you saw he wasn't nothing but a kid still, and one who was dog tired to boot.
Odetta would have felt pity; Detta felt only the still, coiled readiness of the natural predator.
When she first crawled in here she had felt things crackling under her hands like old autumn leaves in a woods holler. As her eyes adjusted she saw they weren't leaves but the tiny bones of small animals. Some predator, long gone if these ancient yellow bones told the truth, had once denned here, something like a weasel or a ferret. It had perhaps gone out at night, following its nose further up into The Drawers to where the trees and undergrowth were thicker - following its nose to prey. It had killed, eaten, and brought the remains back here to snack on the following day as it laid up, waiting for night to bring the time of hunting on again.
Now there was a bigger predator here, and at first Detta thought she'd do pretty much what the previous tenant had done: wait until Eddie fell asleep, as he was almost certain to do, then kill him and drag his body up here. Then, with both guns in her possession, she could drag herself back down by the doorway and wait for the Really Bad Man to come back. Her first thought had been to kill the Really Bad Man's body as soon as she had taken care of Eddie, but that was no good, was it? If the Really Bad Man had no body to come back to, there would be no way Detta could get out of here and back to her own world.
Could she make that Really Bad Man take her back?
But maybe so.
If he knew Eddie was still alive, maybe so.
And that led to a much better idea.
She was deeply sly. She would have laughed harshly at anyone daring to suggest it, but she was also deeply insecure. Because of the latter, she attributed the former to anyone she met whose intellect seemed to approach her own. This was how she felt about the gunslinger. She had heard a shot, and when she looked she'd seen smoke drifting from the muzzle of his remaining gun. He had reloaded and tossed this gun to Eddie just before going through the door.
She knew what it was supposed to mean to Eddie: all the shells weren't wet after all; the gun would protect him. She also knew what it was supposed to mean to her (for of course the Really Bad Man had known she was watching; even if she had been sleeping when the two of them started chinning, the shot would have awakened her): Stay away from him. He's packing iron.
But devils could be subtle.
If that little show had been put on for her benefit, might not that Really Bad Man have had another purpose in mind as well, one neither she nor Eddie was supposed to see? Might that Really Bad Man not have been thinking if she sees this one fires good shells, why, she'll think the one she took from Eddie does, too.
But suppose he had guessed that Eddie would doze off? Wouldn't he know she would be waiting for just that, waiting to filch the gun and creep slowly away up the slopes to safety? Yes, that Really Bad Man might have foreseen all that. He was smart for a honky. Smart enough, anyway, to see that Detta was bound to get the best of that little white boy.
So just maybe that Really Bad Man had purposely loaded this gun with bad shells. He had fooled her once; why not again? This time she had been careful to check that the chambers were loaded with more than empty casings, and yes, they appeared to be real bullets, but that didn't mean they were. He didn't even have to take the chance that one of them might be dry enough to fire, now did he? He could have fixed them somehow. After all, guns were the Really Bad Man's business. Why would he do that? Why, to trick her into showing herself, of course! Then Eddie could cover her with the gun that really did work, and he would not make the same mistake twice, tired or not. He would, in fact, be especially careful not to make the same mistake twice because he was tired.
Nice try, honky, Detta thought in her shadowy den, this tight but somehow comforting dark place whose floor was carpeted with the softened and decaying bones of small animals. Nice try, but I ain't goin fo dat shit.
She didn't need to shoot Eddie, after all; she only needed to wait.
Her one fear was that the gunslinger would return before Eddie fell asleep, but he was still gone. The limp body at the base of the door did not stir. Maybe he was having some trouble getting the medicine he needed - some other kind of trouble, for all she knew. Men like him seemed to find trouble easy as a bitch in heat finds a randy hound.
Two hours passed while Eddie hunted for the woman he called "Odetta" (oh how she hated the sound of that name), ranging up and down the low hills and yelling until he had no voice left to yell with.
At last Eddie did what she had been waiting for: he went back down to the little angle of beach and sat by the wheel-chair, looking around disconsolately. He touched one of the chair's wheels, and the touch was almost a caress. Then his hand dropped away and he fetched him a deep sigh.
This sight brought a steely ache to Detta's throat; pain bolted across her head from one side to the other like summer lightning and she seemed to hear a voice calling... calling or demanding.
No you don't, she thought, having no idea who she was thinking about or speaking to. No you don't, not this time, not now. Not now, may be not ever again. That bolt of pain ripped through her head again and she curled her hands into fists. Her face made its own fist, twisting itself into a sneer of concentration - an expression remarkable and arresting in its mixture of ugliness and almost beatific determination.
That bolt of pain did not come again. Neither did the voice which sometimes seemed to speak through such pains.
Eddie propped his chin on his fists, propping his head up. Soon it began to droop anyway, the fists sliding up his cheeks. Detta waited, black eyes gleaming.
Eddie's head jerked up. He struggled to his feet, walked down to the water, and splashed his face with it.
Dat's right, white boy. Crine shame there ain't any No-Doz in this worl or you be takin dat too, ain't dat right?
Eddie sat down in the wheelchair this time, but evidently found that just a little too comfortable. So, after a long look through the open door (what you seem in dere, white boy? Detta give a twenty-dollar bill to knowdat ), he plopped his ass down on the sand again.
Propped his head with his hands again.
Soon his head began to slip down again.
This time there was no stopping it. His chin lay on his chest, and even over the surf she could hear him snoring. Pretty soon he fell over on his side and curled up.
She was surprised, disgusted, and frightened to feel a sudden stab of pity for the white boy down there. He looked like nothing so much as a little squirt who had tried to stay up until midnight on New Years' Eve and lost the race. Then she remembered the way he and the Really Bad Man had tried to get her to eat poison food and teased her with their own, always snatching away at the last second ... at least until they got scared she might die.
Ifthey were scared you might die, why'd they try to get you to eat poison in the first place?
The question scared her the way that momentary feeling of pity had scared her. She wasn't used to questioning herself, and furthermore, the questioning voice in her mind didn't seem like her voice at all.
Wadn't meanin to kill me wid dat poison food. Jes wanted to make me sick. Set there and laugh while I puked an moaned, I speck.
She waited twenty minutes and then started down toward the beach, pulling herself with her hands and strong arms, weaving like a snake, eyes never leaving Eddie. She would have preferred to have waited another hour, even another half; it would be better to have the little mahfah ten miles asleep instead of one or two. But waiting was a luxury she simply could not afford. That Really Bad Man might come back anytime.
As she drew near the place where Eddie lay (he was still snoring, sounded like a buzzsaw in a sawmill about to go tits up), she picked up a chunk of rock that was satisfyingly smooth on one side and satisfyingly jagged on the other.
She closed her palm over the smooth side and continued her snake-crawl to where he lay, the flat sheen of murder in her eyes.
What Detta planned to do was brutally simple: smash Eddie with the jagged side of the rock until he was as dead as the rock itself. Then she'd take the gun and wait for Roland to come back.
When his body sat up, she would give him a choice: take her back to her world or refuse and be killed. You goan be quits wid me either way, toots, she would say, and wit yo boyfrien dead, ain't nothin more you can do like you said you wanted to.
If the gun the Really Bad Man had given Eddie didn't work - it was possible; she had never met a man she hated and feared as much as Roland, and she put no depth of slyness past him - she would do him just the same. She would do him with the rock or with her bare hands. He was sick and shy two fingers to boot. She could take him.
But as she approached Eddie, a disquieting thought came to her. It was another question, and again it seemed to be another voice that asked it.
What if he knows? What if he knows what you did the second you kill Eddie?
He ain't goan know nuthin. He be too busy gittin his medicine. Gittin hisself laid, too, for all I know.
The alien voice did not respond, but the seed of doubt had been planted. She had heard them talking when they thought she was asleep. The Really Bad Man needed to do something. She didn't know what it was. Had something to do with a tower was all Detta knew. Could be the Really Bad Man thought this tower was full of gold or jewels or something like that. He said he needed her and Eddie and some other one to get there, and Detta guessed maybe he did. Why else would these doors be here?
If it was magic and she killed Eddie, he might know. If she killed his way to the tower, she thought she might be killing the only thing graymeat mahfah was living for. And if he knew he had nothing to live for, mahfah might do anything, because the mahfah wouldn't give a bug-turd for nothin no more.
The idea of what might happen if the Really Bad Man came back like that made Detta shiver.
But if she couldn't kill Eddie, what was she going to do? She could take the gun while Eddie was asleep, but when the Really Bad Man came back, could she handle both of them?
She just didn't know.
Her eyes touched on the wheelchair, started to move away, then moved back again, fast. There was a deep pocket in the leather backrest. Poking out of this was a curl of the rope they had used to tie her into the chair.
Looking at it, she understood how she could do everything.
Detta changed course and began to crawl toward the gunslinger's inert body. She meant to take what she needed from the knapsack he called his "purse," then get the rope, fast as she could ... but for a moment she was held frozen by the door.
Like Eddie, she interpreted what she was seeing in terms of the movies ... only this looked more like some TV crime show. The setting was a drug-store. She was seeing a druggist who looked scared silly, and Detta didn't blame him. There was a gun pointing straight into the druggist's face. The druggist was saying something, but his voice was distant, distorted, as if heard through sound-baffles. She couldn't tell what it was. She couldn't see who was holding the gun, either, but then, she didn't really need to see the stick-up man, did she? She knew who it was, sho.
It was the Really Bad Man.
Might not look like him over there, might look like some tubby little sack of shit, might even look like a brother, but inside it be him, sho. Didn't take him long to find another gun, did it? I bet it never does. You get movin, Detta Walker.
She opened Roland's purse, and the faint, nostalgic aroma of tobacco long hoarded but now long gone drifted out. In one way it was very much like a lady's purse, filled with what looked like so much random rickrack at first glance ... but a closer look showed you the travelling gear of a man prepared for almost any contingency.
She had an idea the Really Bad Man had been on the road to his Tower a good long time. If that was so, just the amount of stuff still left in here, poor as some of it was, was cause for amazement.
You get movin, Detta Walker.
She got what she needed and worked her silent, snakelike way back to the wheelchair. When she got there she propped herself on one arm and pulled the rope out of the pocket like a fisherwoman reeling in line. She glanced over at Eddie every now and then just to make sure he was asleep.
He never stirred until Detta threw the noose around his neck and pulled it taut.
He was dragged backward, at first thinking he was still asleep and this was some horrible nightmare of being buried alive or perhaps smothered.
Then he felt the pain of the noose sinking into his throat, felt warm spit running down his chin as he gagged. This was no dream. He clawed at the rope and tried for his feet.
She yanked him hard with her strong arms. Eddie tell on his back with a thud. His face was turning purple.
"Quit on it!" Detta hissed from behind him. "I ain't goan kill you if you quit on it, but if you don't, I'm goan choke you dead."
Eddie lowered his hands and tried to be still. The running slipknot Odetta had tossed over his neck loosened enough for him to draw a thin, burning breath. All you could say for it was that it was better than not breathing at all.
When the panicked beating of his heart had slowed a little, he tried to look around. The noose immediately drew tight again.
" Nev ' mind. You jes go on an take in dat ocean view, graymeat. Dat's all you want to be lookin at right now."
He looked back at the ocean and the knot loosened enough to allow him those miserly burning breaths again. His left hand crept surreptitiously down to the waistband of his pants (but she saw the movement, and although he didn't know it, she was grinning). There was nothing there. She had taken the gun.
She crept up on you while you were asleep, Eddie. It was the gunslinger's voice, of course. It doesn't do any good to say I told you so now, but ...I told you so. This is what romance gets you - a noose around your neck and a crazy woman with two guns somewhere behind you.
But if she was going to kill me, she already would have done it. She would have done it while I was asleep.
And what is it you think she's going to do, Eddie? Hand you an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Disney World?
"Listen," he said. "Odetta - "
The word was barely out of his mouth before the noose pulled savagely tight again.
"You doan want to be callin me dat. Nex time you be callin me dat be de las time you be callin anyone anythin. My name's Detta Walker, and if you want to keep drawin breaf into yo lungs, you little piece of whitewashed shit, you better member it!"
Eddie made choking, gagging noises and clawed at the noose. Big black spots of nothing began to explode in front of his eyes like evil flowers.
At last the choking band around his throat eased again.
"Got dat, honky?"
"Yes," he said, but it was only a hoarse choke of sound.
"Den say it. Say my name."
"Say my whole name!" Dangerous hysteria wavered in her voice, and at that moment Eddie was glad he couldn't see her.
"Good." The noose eased a little more. "Now you lissen to me, whitebread, and you do it good, if you want to live til sundown. You don't want to be trine to be cute, like I seen you jus trine t'snake down an git dat gun I took off'n you while you was asleep. You don't want to cause Detta, she got the sight. See what you goan try befo you try it. Sho.
"You don't want to try nuthin cute cause I ain't got no legs, either. I have learned to do a lot of things since I lost em, and now I got both o dat honky mahfah's guns, and dat ought to go for somethin. You think so?"
"Yeah," Eddie croaked. "I'm not feeling cute."
"Well, good. Dat's real good." She cackled. "I been one busy bitch while you been sleepin. Got dis bidness all figured out. Here's what I want you to do, whitebread: put yo hands behin you and feel aroun until you find a loop jus like d'one I got roun yo neck. There be three of em. I been braidin while you been sleepin, lazybones!" She cackled again. "When you feel dat loop, you goan put yo wrists right one against t'other an slip em through it.
"Den you goan feel my hand pullin that runnin knot tight, and when you feel dat, you goan say 'Dis my chance to toin it aroun on disyere nigger bitch. Right here, while she ain't got her good hold on dat jerk-rope.' But - " Here Detta's voice became muffled as well as a Southern darkie caricature. " - you better take a look aroun befo you go doin anythin rash."
Eddie did. Detta looked more witchlike than ever, a dirty, matted thing that would have struck tear into hearts much stouter than his own. The dress she had been wearing in Macy's when the gunslinger snatched her was now filthy and torn. She'd used the knife she had taken from the gunslinger's purse - the one he and Roland had used to cut the masking tape away - to slash her dress in two other places, creating makeshift holsters just above the swell of her hips. The worn butts of the gunslinger's revolvers protruded from them.
Her voice was muffled because the end of the rope was clenched in her teeth. A freshly cut end protruded from one side of her grin; the rest of the line, the part which led to the noose around his neck, protruded from the other side. There was something so predatory and barbaric about this image -??the rope caught in the grin - that he was frozen, staring at her with a horror that only made her grin widen.
"You try to be cute while I be takin care of yo hans," she said in her muffled voice, "I goan joik yo win'pipe shut wif my teef, graymeat. And dat time I not be lettin up agin. You understan?"
He didn't trust himself to speak. He only nodded.
"Good. Maybe you be livin a little bit longer after all."
"If I don't," Eddie croaked, "you're never going to have the pleasure of shoplifting in Macy's again, Detta. Because he'll know, and then it'll be everybody out of the pool."
"Hush up," Detta said ... almost crooned. "You jes hush up. Leave the thinkin to the folks dat kin do it. All you got to do is be feelin aroun fo dat next loop."
Ibeen braidin while you been sleepin, she had said, and with disgust and mounting alarm, Eddie discovered she meant exactly what she said. The rope had become a series of three running slip-knots. The first she had noosed around his neck as he slept. The second secured his hands behind his back. Then she pushed him roughly over on his side and told him to bring his feet up until his heels touched his butt. He saw where this was leading and balked. She pulled one of Roland's revolvers from the slit in her dress, cocked it, and pressed the muzzle against Eddie's temple.
"You do it or I do it, graymeat," she said in that crooning voice. "Only if I do it, you goan be dead when I do. I jes kick some san' over de brains dat squoit out d'other side yo haid, cover de hole wit yo hair. He think you be sleepin!" She cackled again.
Eddie brought his feet up, and she quickly secured the third running slip-knot around his ankles.
"There. Trussed up just as neat as a calf at a ro-day-o."
That described it as well as anything, Eddie thought. If he tried to bring his feet down from a position which was already growing uncomfortable, he would tighten the slipknot holding his ankles even more. That would tighten the length of rope between his ankles and his wrists, which would in turn tighten that slipknot, and the rope between his wrists and the noose she'd put around his neck, and ...
She was dragging him, somehow dragging him down the beach.
"Hey! What - "
He tried to pull back and felt everything tighten - including his ability to draw breath. He let himself go as limp as possible (and keep those feet up, don't forget that, asshole, because if you lower your feet enough you're going to strangle) and let her drag him along the rough ground. A jag of rock peeled skin away from his cheek, and he felt warm blood begin to flow. She was panting harshly. The sound of the waves and the boom of surf ramming into the rock tunnel were louder.
Drown me? Sweet Christ, is that what she means to do?
No, of course not. He thought he knew what she meant to do even before his face plowed through the twisted kelp which marked the high tide line, dead salt-stinking stuff as cold as the fingers of drowned sailors.
He remembered Henry saying once, Sometimes they'd shoot one of our guys. An American, I mean - they knew an ARVN was no good, because wasn't any of us that'd go after a gook in the bush. Not unless he was some fresh fish just over from the States. They'd guthole him, leave him screaming, then pick off the guys that tried to save him. They'd keep doing that until the guy died. You know what they called a guy like that, Eddie?
Eddie had shaken his head, cold with the vision of it.
They called him a honeypot, Henry had said. Something sweet. Something to draw flies. Or maybe even a bear.
That's what Detta was doing: using him as a honeypot.
She left him some seven feet below the high tide line, left him without a word, left him facing the ocean. It was not the tide coming in to drown him that the gunslinger, looking through the door, was supposed to see, because the tide was on the ebb and wouldn't get up this far again for another six hours. And long before then ...
Eddie rolled his eyes up a little and saw the sun striking a long gold track across the ocean. What was it? Four o'clock ? About that. Sunset would come around seven.
It would be dark long before he had to worry about the tide.
And when dark came, the lobstrosities would come rolling out of the waves; they would crawl their questioning way up the beach to where he lay helplessly trussed, and then they would tear him apart.
That time stretched out interminably for Eddie Dean. The idea of time itself became a joke. Even his horror of what was going to happen to him when it got dark faded as his legs began to throb with a discomfort which worked its way up the scale of feeling to pain and finally to shrieking agony. He would relax his muscles, all the knots would pull tight, and when he was on the verge of strangling he would manage somehow to pull his ankles up again, releasing the pressure, allowing some breath to return. He was no longer sure he could make it to dark. There might come a time when he would simply be unable to bring his legs back up.