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Authors: Stephen King

Christine (8 page)

BOOK: Christine
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"And if you had any common decency—" Arnie began hotly.

That almost did it. If there was one thing our buddy Ralph wasn't going to have impugned in front of his kids, it was his common decency. He swung on Arnie. I don't know how it would have ended—with Arnie in jail, maybe, his precious car impounded—but somehow I was able to get my own hand up and catch Ralph's hand by the wrist. The two of them coming together made a flat smacking sound in the dusk.

The porky little girl burst into whiny tears.

The porky little boy sat astride his Big Wheel with his lower jaw hanging almost to his chest.

Arnie, who had always scuttered past the smoking area at school like a hunted thing, never even flinched. He actually seemed to
want
it to happen.

Ralph whirled on me, his eyes bulging with fury.

"All right, you little shit," he said. "You first."

I held onto his hand, straining. "Come on, man," I said in a low voice. "The tire's in my boot. Give us five minutes to change it and get out of your face. Please."

Little by little the pressure of holding his hand back slacked off. He glanced at his kids, the little girl sniveling, the little boy wide-eyed, and that seemed to decide him.

"Five minutes," he agreed. He looked at Arnie. "You're just goddam lucky I ain't calling the police on you. That thing's uninspected and it ain't got no tags, either."

I waited for Arnie to say something else inflammatory and send the game into extra innings, but maybe he hadn't forgotten everything he knew about discretion.

"Thank you," he said. "I'm sorry if I got hot under the collar."

Ralph grunted and tucked his shirt back into his pants with savage little jabs. He looked over at his kids again. "Get in the house!" he roared. "What you doing out here? You want me to put a bang-shang-a-lang on you?"

Oh God, what an onomatopoeic family, I thought. For Christ's sake don't put a bang-shang-a-lang on them, Pops—they might make poopy-kaka in their pants.

The kids fled to their mother, leaving their Big Wheels behind.

"Five minutes," he repeated, looking at us balefully. And later tonight, when he was hoisting a few with the boys, he would be able to tell them how he had done his part to hold the line against the drugs-and-sex generation. Yessir, boys, I told 'em to get that fucking junk away from my house before I put a bang-shang-a-lang on them. And you want to believe they moved like their feet was on fire and their asses were catching. And then he would light up a Lucky. Or a Camel.

We put Amie's jack under the bumper. Arnie hadn't pumped the lever more than three times when the jack snapped in two. It made a dusty sound when it went, and rust puffed up. Arnie looked at me, his eyes at once humble and stricken.

"Never mind," I said. "We'll use mine."

It was twilight now, starting to get dark. My heart was still beating too fast and my mouth was sour from the confrontation with the Big Cheese of 119 Basin Drive.

"I'm sorry, Dennis," he said in a low voice. "I won't get you involved with any of this again"

"Forget it. Let's just get the tire on."

We used my jack to get the Plymouth up (for several horrible seconds I thought the rear bumper was just going to rip off in a screech of decaying metal) and pulled the dead tire. We got the new one on, tightened the lug-nuts some, and then let it down. It was a great relief to have the car standing on the street again; the way that rotted bumper bent up under the jack had scared me.

"There," Arnie said, clapping the ancient, dented hubcap back on over the lug-nuts.

I stood looking at the Plymouth, and the feeling I'd had in LeBay's garage suddenly recurred. It was looking at the fresh new Firestone on the rear right that did it, The blackmail still had one of the manufacturer's stickers on it and the bright yellow chalk-marks from the gas-jockey's hurried wheel-balancing.

I shivered a little—but to convey the sudden weirdness I felt would be impossible. It was as if I had seen a snake that was almost ready to shed its old skin, that some of that old skin had already flaked away, revealing the glistening newness underneath.

Ralph was standing on his porch, glowering down at us. In one hand he was holding a drippy hamburger sandwich on Wonder Bread. His other hand was fisted around a can of Iron City.

"Handsome, ain't he?" I muttered to Arnie as I slung his busted jack into the Plymouth's boot.

"A regular Robert Deadford," Arnie muttered back, and that was it—we both got the giggles, the way you sometimes will at the end of a long and tense situation,

Arnie threw the flat into the boot on top of the jack and then got snorting and holding his hands over his mouth. He looked like a kid who just got caught raiding the jam-jar. Thinking that made me break up all the way.

"What are you two punks laughing at?" Ralph roared. He came to the steps of his porch. "Huh? You want to try laughing on the other sides of your faces for a while? I can show you how, believe me!"

"Get out of here
quick,"
I said to Arnie, and bolted back to my Duster. Nothing could stop the laughter now; it just came rolling out. I fell into the front seat and keyed the engine, whinnying with laughter. In front of me, Arnie's Plymouth started up with a bellowing roar and a huge stinking cloud of blue exhaust. Even over it, I could hear his high, helpless laughter, a sound that was close to hysteria.

Ralph came charging across his lawn, still holding his drippy burger and his beer.

"What are you laughing at, you punks? Huh?"

"You, you nerd!
" Arnie shouted triumphantly, and pulled out with a rattling fusillade of backfires. I tromped the gas pedal of my own car and had to swerve sharply to avoid Ralph, who was now apparently intent on murder. I was still laughing, but it wasn't good laughter anymore, if it ever had been—it was a shrill, breathless sound, almost like screaming.

"I'll kill you, punk!"
Ralph roared.

I goosed the accelerator again, and this time I almost tailgated Arnie.

I flipped Ralph the old El Birdo.
"Jam it!"
I yelled.

Then he was behind us. He tried to catch up; for a few seconds he came pounding along the sidewalk, and then he stopped, breathing hard and snarling.

"What a crazy day," I said aloud, a little frightened by the shaky, teary quality of my own voice. That sour taste was back in my mouth. "What a crazy fucking day."

Darnell's Garage on Hampton Street was a long building with rusty corrugated-tin sides and a rusty corrugated-tin roof. Out front was a grease-caked sign which read: SAVE MONEY! YOUR KNOW-HOW, OUR TOOLS! Below that was another sign in smaller type, reading
Garage Space Rented by the Week, Month, or Year.

The automobile junkyard was behind Darnell's. It was a block-long space enclosed in five-foot-high strips of the same corrugated tin, Will Darnell's apathetic nod toward the Town Zoning Board. Not that there was any way the Board was going to bring Wilt Darnell to heel, and not just because two of the three Zoning Board members were his friends. In Libertyville, Will Darnell knew just about everyone who counted. He was one of those fellows you find in almost any large town or small city, moving quietly behind any number of scenes.

I had heard that he was mixed up in the lively drug traffic at Libertyville High and Darby Junior High, and I had also heard that he was on a nodding acquaintance with the big-time crooks in Pittsburgh and Philly. I didn't believe that stuff—at least, I didn't
think
I did—but I knew that if you wanted firecrackers or cherry-bombs or bottle-rockets for the Fourth of July, Will Darnell would sell them to you. I had also heard, from my father, that Will had been indicted twelve years before, when I was but a lad of five, as one of the kingpins in a stolen-car ring that stretched from our part of the world east to New York City and all the way up to Bangor, Maine. Eventually the charges were dropped. But my dad also said he was pretty sure that Will Darnell might be up to his ears in other shenanigans; anything from truck hijackings to fake antiques.

A good place to stay away from, Dennis,
my father had said. This had been a year ago, not long after I got my first clunker and had invested twenty dollars in renting one of Darnell's Do-It-Yourself Garage bays to try and replace the carburetor, an experiment that had ended in dismal failure.

A good place to stay away from—and here I was, pulling in through the main gates behind my friend Arnie after dark, nothing left of the day but a tinge of furnace red on the horizon. My headlights picked out enough discarded auto-parts, wreckage, and general all-around dreck to make me feel more depressed and tired than ever. I realized I hadn't called home, and that my mother and father would probably be wondering just where the hell I was.

Arnie drove up to a big garage door with a sign beside it reading HONK FOR ENTRY. There was a feeble light spilling out through a grime-coated window beside the door somebody was at home—and I barely restrained an impulse to lean out of my window and tell Arnie to drive his car over to my house for the night. I had a vision of us stumbling onto Will Darnell and his cronies inventorying hijacked color TVs or repainting stolen Cadillacs. The Hardy Boys come to Libertyville.

Arnie just sat there, not honking, not doing anything and I was about to get out and ask him what was what when he came back to where I was parked. Even in the last of the failing light, he looked deeply embarrassed.

"Would you mind honking your horn for me, Dennis?" he said humbly. "Christine's doesn't seem to work."

"Sure."

"Thanks."

I beeped my horn twice, and after a pause the big garage door went rattling up. Will Darnell himself was standing there, his belly pushing out over his belt. He waved Arnie inside impatiently.

I turned my car around, parked it facing out, and went inside myself.

The interior was huge, vault-like, and terribly sil2nt at the end of the day. There were as many as five dozen slant-parking stalls, each equipped with its own bolted-down toolbox for do-it-yourselfers who had ailing cars but no tools. The ceiling overhead was high, and crossed with naked, gantry-like beams.

Signs were plastered everywhere: ALL TOOLS MUST BE INSPECTED BEFORE YOU LEAVE and MAKE APPOINTMENT FOR LIFT-TIME IN ADVANCE and MOTOR MANUALS ON FIRST-COME FIRST-SERVE BASIS and NO PROFANITY OR SWEARING WILL BE TOLERATED. Dozens of others; everywhere you turned, one seemed to jump right out at you. A big sign-man was Will Darnell.

"Stall twenty! Stall twenty!" Darnell yelled at Arnie in his irritable, wheezy voice. "Get it over there and shut it off before we all choke!"

"We all" seemed to be a group of men at an oversized card-table in the far corner. Poker-chips, cards, and bottles of beer were scattered across the table. They were looking at Arnie's new acquisition with varying expressions of disgust and amusement.

Arnie drove across to stall twenty, parked it, and shut it off. Blue exhaust drifted in the huge, cavernous space.

Darnell turned to me. He was wearing a sail-like white shirt and brown khaki pants. Great rolls of fat bulged out his neck and hung in dewlaps from below his chin.

"Kiddo," he said in that same wheezing voice, "if you sold him that piece of shit, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

"I didn't sell it to him." For some absurd reason I felt I had to justify myself before this fat slob in a way I wouldn't have done before my own father. "I tried to talk him out of it."

"You should have talked harder." He walked across to where Arnie was getting out of his car. He slammed the door; rust flaked down from the rocker panel on that side in a fine red shower.

Asthma or no asthma, Darnell walked with the graceful, almost feminine movements of a man who has been fat for a long time and sees a long future of fathood ahead of him. And he was yelling at Arnie before Arnie even got turned around, asthma or not. I guess you could say he was a man who hadn't let his infirmities get him down.

Like the kids in the smoking area at school, like Ralph on Basin Drive, like Buddy Repperton (we'll be talking about him all too soon, I'm afraid), he had taken an instant dislike to Arnie—it was a case of hate at first sight.

"Okay, that's the last time you run that mechanical asshole in here without the exhaust hose!" he yelled. "I catch you doin it, you're out, you understand?"

"Yes." Arnie looked small and tired and whipped. Whatever wild energy had carried him this far was gone now. it broke my heart a little to see him looking that way. "I—"

Darnell didn't let him get any further. "You want an exhaust hose, that's two-fifty an hour if you reserve in advance. And I'm telling you something else right now, and you want to take it to heart, my young friend. I don't take any shit from you kids. I don't have to. This place is for working guys that got to keep their cars running so they can put bread on the table, not for rich college kids who want to go out dragging on the Orange Belt. I don't allow no smoking in here. If you want a butt, you go outside in the junkyard."

"I don't sm—"

"Don't interrupt me, son. Don't interrupt me and don't get smart," Darnell said. Now he was standing in front of Arnie. Being both taller and wider, he blotted my friend out entirely.

I began to get angry again. I could actually feel my body moan in protest at the yo-yo string my emotions had been on ever since we pulled up to LeBay's house and saw that the damned car wasn't on the lawn anymore.

Kids are a downtrodden class; after a few years you learn to do your own version of an Uncle Tom routine on kid-haters like Will Darnell.
Yessir, nosir, okay, you bet.
But, Jesus, he was laying it on thick.

I suddenly grabbed Darnell's arm. "Sir?"

He swung around on me. I find that the more I dislike adults, the more apt I am to call them Sir.

"What?"

"Those men over there are smoking. You better tell them to stop." I pointed to the guys at the poker table. They had dealt out a fresh hand. Smoke hung over the table in a blue haze.

BOOK: Christine
6.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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