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Dolan's Cadillac nad-1, Page 2

Stephen King

  The big struggle was not to faint, to hold onto consciousness no matter what. All through June I held on, and the first week of July, and then Blocker sat down next to me one lunch hour while I was eating a sandwich with one shaking hand. I shook sometimes until ten at night. It was the heat. It was either shake or faint, and when I thought of Dolan I somehow managed to keep shaking.

  “You still ain’t strong, bubba,” he said.

  “No,” I said. “But like the man said, you should have seen the materials I had to start with.”

  “I keep expecting to look around and see you passed out in the middle of the roadbed and you keep not doing it. But you gonna.”

  “No, I’m not.”

  “Yes, you are. If you stay behind the truck with a shovel, you gonna.”


  “Hottest part of the summer still coming on, bubba. Tink calls it cookiesheet weather.”

  “I’ll be fine.”

  He pulled something out of his pocket. It was my great-granddad’s watch. He tossed it in my lap. “Take this fucking thing,” he said, disgusted. “I don’t want it.”

  “You made a deal with me.”

  “I’m calling it off.”

  “If you fire me, I’ll take you to arbitration,” I said. “You signed my form. You…”

  “I ain’t firing you,” he said, and looked away. “I’m going to have Tink teach you how to run a front-end loader.”

  I looked at him for a long time, not knowing what to say. My third-grade classroom, so cool and pleasant, had never seemed so far away... and still I didn’t have the slightest idea of how a man like Blocker thought, or what he meant when he said the things he said. I knew that he admired me and held me in contempt at the same time, but I had no idea why he felt either way. And you don’t need to care, darling, Elizabeth spoke up suddenly inside my mind. Dolan is your business. Remember Dolan.

  “Why do you want to do that?” I asked at last.

  He looked back at me then, and I saw he was both furious and amused. But the fury was the emotion on top, I think. “What is it with you, bubba? What do you think I am?”

  “I don’t…”

  “You think I want to kill you for your fucking watch? That what you think?”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Yeah, you are. Sorriest little motherfucker I ever saw.”

  I put my great-granddad’s watch away.

  “You ain’t never gonna be strong, bubba. Some people and plants take hold in the sun. Some wither up and die. You dyin. You know you are, and still you won’t move into the shade. Why? Why you pulling this crap on your system?”

  “I’ve got my reasons.”

  “Yeah, I bet you do. And God help anyone who gets in your way.

  He got up and walked off.

  Tinker came over, grinning.

  “You think you can learn to run a front-end loader?”

  “I think so,” I said.

  “I think so, too,” he said. “Ole Blockhead there likes you – he just don’t know how to say so.”

  “I noticed.”

  Tink laughed. “Tough little motherfucker, ain’t you?”

  “I hope so,” I said.

  I spent the rest of the summer driving a front-end loader, and when I went back to school that fall, almost as black as Tink himself, the other teachers stopped laughing at me. Sometimes they looked at me out of the corners of their eyes after I passed, but they had stopped laughing.

  I’ve got my reasons. That’s what I told him. And I did. I did not spend that season in hell just on a whim. I had to get in shape, you see. Preparing to dig a grave for a man or a woman may not require such drastic measures, but it was not just a man or woman I had in mind.

  It was that damned Cadillac I meant to bury.

  By April of the following year I was on the State Highway Commission’s mailing list. Every month I received a bulletin called Nevada Road Signs. I skimmed most of the material, which concerned itself with pending highway improvement bills, road equipment that had been bought and sold, State Legislature action on such subjects as sand-dune control and new anti-erosion techniques. What I was interested in was always on the last page or two of the bulletin. This section, simply titled The Calendar, listed the dates and sites of roadwork in each coming month. I was especially interested in sites and dates followed by a simple four-letter abbreviation: RPAV. This stood for repaving, and my experience on Harvey Blocker’s crew had showed me that these were the operations which most frequently called for detours. But not always – no indeed. Closing a section of road is a step the Highway Commission never takes unless there is no other choice. But sooner or later, I thought, those four letters might spell the end for Dolan. Just four letters, but there were times when I saw them in my dreams: RPAV.

  Not that it would be easy, or perhaps even soon – I knew I might have to wait for years, and that someone else might get Dolan in the meantime. He was an evil man, and evil men live dangerous lives. Four loosely related vectors would have to come together, like a rare conjunction of the planets: travel for Dolan, vacation time for me, a national holiday, and a three-day weekend.

  Years, maybe. Or maybe never. But I felt a kind of serenity – a surety that it would happen, and that when it did I would be prepared. And eventually it did happen. Not that summer, not that fall, and not the following spring. But in June of last year, I opened Nevada Road Signs and saw this in The Calendar:

  JULY 1–JULY 22 (tent.):

  US 71 MI 440–472 (WESTBND) RPAV

  Hands shaking, I paged through my desk calendar to July and saw that July 4th fell on a Monday.

  So here were three of the four vectors, for surely there would be a detour somewhere in the middle of such an extensive repaving job.

  But Dolan... what about Dolan? What about the fourth vector?

  Three times before I could remember him going to LA during the week of the Fourth of July – a week which is one of the few slow ones in Las Vegas. I could remember three other times when he had gone somewhere else – once to New York, once to Miami, once all the way to London – and a fourth time when he had simply stayed put in Vegas.

  If he went...

  Was there a way I could find out?

  I thought on this long and hard, but two visions kept intruding. In the first I saw Dolan’s Cadillac speeding west toward LA along US 71 at dusk, casting a long shadow behind it. I saw it passing DETOUR AHEAD signs, the last of them warning CB owners to turn off their sets. I saw the Cadillac passing abandoned road equipment – bulldozers, graders, front-end loaders. Abandoned not just because it was after knocking-off time but because it was a weekend, a three-day weekend.

  In the second vision everything was the same except the detour signs were gone.

  They were gone because I had taken them down.

  It was on the last day of school when I suddenly realized how I might be able to find out. I had been nearly drowsing, my mind a million miles away from both school and Dolan, when I suddenly sat bolt-upright, knocking a vase on the side of my desk (it contained some pretty desert flowers my students had brought me as an end-of-school present) to the floor, where it shattered. Several of my students, who had also been drowsing, also sat bolt-upright, and perhaps something on my face frightened one of them, because a little boy named Timothy Urich burst into tears and I had to soothe him.

  Sheets, I thought, comforting Timmy. Sheets and pillowcases and bedding and silverware; the rugs; the grounds. Everything has to look just so. He’ll want everything just so.

  Of course. Having things just so was as much a part of Dolan as his Cadillac.

  I began to smile, and Timmy Urich smiled back, but it wasn’t Timmy I was smiling at.

  I was smiling at Elizabeth.

  School finished on June 10th that year. Twelve days later I flew to Los Angeles. I rented a car and checked into the same cheap hotel I had used on other occasions. On each of the next three days I drove into the Hollywood Hills and mount
ed a watch on Dolan’s house. It could not be a constant watch; that would have been noticed. The rich hire people to notice interlopers, because all too often they turn out to be dangerous.

  Like me.

  At first there was nothing. The house was not boarded up, the lawn was not overgrown – heaven forbid! – the water in the pool was doubtless clean and chlorinated. But there was a look of emptiness and disuse all the same – shades pulled against the summer sun, no cars in the central turnaround, no one to use the pool that a young man with a ponytail cleaned every other morning.

  I became convinced it was a bust. Yet I stayed, wishing and hoping for the final vector.

  On the 29th of June, when I had almost consigned myself to another year of watching and waiting and exercising and driving a front-end loader in the summer for Harvey Blocker (if he would have me again, that was) a blue car marked LOS ANGELES SECURITY SERVICES pulled up at the gate of Dolan’s house. A man in a uniform got out and used a key to open the gate. He drove his car in and around the corner. A few moments later he came back on foot, closed the gate, and relocked it.

  This was at least a break in the routine. I felt a dim flicker of hope.

  I drove off, managed to make myself stay away for nearly two hours, and then drove back, parking at the head of the block instead of the foot this time. Fifteen minutes later a blue van pulled up in front of Dolan’s house. Written on the side were the words BIG JOE’S CLEANING SERVICE. My heart leaped up in my chest. I was watching in the rear-view mirror, and I remember how my hands clamped down on the steering wheel of the rental car.

  Four women got out of the van, two white, one black, one Chicana. They were dressed in white, like waitresses, but they were not waitresses, of course; they were cleaning women.

  The security guard answered when one of them buzzed at the gate, and unlocked it. The five of them talked and laughed together. The security guard attempted to goose one of the women and she slapped his hand aside, still laughing.

  One of the women went back to the van and drove it into the turnaround. The others walked up, talking among themselves as the guard closed the gate and locked it again.

  Sweat was pouring down my face; it felt like grease. My heart was triphammering.

  They were out of my field of vision in the rear-view mirror. I took a chance and looked around.

  I saw the back doors of the van swing open.

  One of them carried a neat stack of sheets; another had towels; another had a pair of vacuum cleaners.

  They trooped up to the door and the guard let them inside.

  I drove away, shaking so badly I could hardly steer the car.

  They were opening the house. He was coming.

  Dolan did not trade in his Cadillac every year, or even every two – the gray Sedan DeVille he was driving as that June neared its end was three years old. I knew its dimensions exactly. I had written the GM company for them, pretending to be a research writer. They had sent me an operator’s manual and spec sheet for that year’s model. They even returned the stamped, selfaddressed envelope I had enclosed. Big companies apparently maintain their courtesy even when they’re running in the red.

  I had then taken three figures – the Cadillac’s width at its widest point, height at its tallest, and length at its longest – to a friend of mine who teaches mathematics at Las Vegas High School. I have told you, I think, that I had prepared for this, and not all my preparation was physical. Most assuredly not.

  I presented my problem as a purely hypothetical one. I was trying to write a science fiction story, I said, and I wanted to have my figures exactly right. I even made up a few plausible plot fragments – my own inventiveness rather I astonished me.

  My friend wanted to know how fast this alien scout vehicle of mine would be going. It was a question I had not expected, and I asked him if it mattered.

  “Of course it matters,” he said. “It matters a lot. If you want the scout vehicle in your story to fall directly into your trap, the trap has to be exactly the right size. Now this figure you’ve given me is seventeen feet by five feet.”

  I opened my mouth to say that wasn’t exactly right, but he was already holding up his hand.

  “Just an approximation,” he said. “Makes it easier to figure the arc.”

  “The what?”

  “The arc of descent,” he repeated, and I cooled off. That was a phrase with which a man bent on revenge could fall in love. It had a dark, smoothly portentous sound. The arc of descent.

  I’d taken it for granted that if I dug the grave so that the Cadillac could fit, it would fit. It took this friend of mine to make me see that before it could serve its purpose as a grave, it had to work as a trap.

  The shape itself was important, he said. The sort of slit-trench I had been envisioning might not work – in fact, the odds of its not working were greater than the odds that it would. “If the vehicle doesn’t hit the start of the trench dead-on,” he said, “it may not go all the way in at all. It would just slide along on an angle for awhile and when it stopped all the aliens would climb out the passenger door and zap your heroes.” The answer, he said, was to widen the entrance end, giving the whole excavation a funnel-shape.

  Then there was this problem of speed.

  If Dolan’s Cadillac was going too fast and the hole was too short, it would fly across, sinking a bit as it went, and either the frame or the tires would strike the lip of the hole on the far side. It would flip over on its roof – but without falling in the hole at all. On the other hand, if the Cadillac was going too slowly and the hole was too long, it might land at the bottom on its nose instead of its wheels, and that would never do. You couldn’t bury a Cadillac with the last two feet of its trunk and its rear bumper sticking out of the ground any more than you could bury a man with his legs sticking up.

  “So how fast will your scout vehicle be going?”

  I calculated quickly. On the open highway, Dolan’s driver kept it pegged between sixty and sixty-five. He would probably be driving a little slower than that where I planned to make my try. I could take away the detour signs, but I couldn’t hide the road machinery or erase all the signs of construction.

  “About twenty rull,” I said.

  He smiled. “Translation, please?”

  “Say fifty earth-miles an hour.”

  “Ah-hah.” He set to work at once with his slip-stick while I sat beside him, bright-eyed and smiling, thinking about that wonderful phrase: arc of descent.

  He looked up almost at once. “You know,” he said, “you might want to think about changing the dimensions of the vehicle, buddy.”

  “Oh? Why do you say that?”

  “Seventeen by five is pretty big for a scout vehicle.” He laughed. “That’s damn near the size of a Lincoln Mark IV.”

  I laughed, too. We laughed together.

  After I saw the women going into the house with the sheets and towels, I flew back to Las Vegas.

  I unlocked my house, went into the living room, and picked up the telephone. My hand trembled a little. For nine years I had waited and watched like a spider in the eaves or a mouse behind a baseboard. I had tried never to give Dolan the slightest clue that Elizabeth’s husband was still interested in him – the totally empty look he had given me that day as I passed his disabled Cadillac on the way back to Vegas, furious as it had made me at the time, was my just reward.

  But now I would have to take a risk. I would have to take it because I could not be in two places at the same time and it was imperative that I know if Dolan was coming, and when to make the detour temporarily disappear.

  I had figured out a plan coming home on the plane. I thought it would work. I would make it work.

  I dialed Los Angeles directory assistance and asked for the number of Big Joe’s Cleaning Service. I got it and dialed it.

  “This is Bill at Rennie’s Catering,” I said. “We got a party Saturday night at 1121 Aster Drive in Hollywood Hills. I wanted to know if one of you
r girls would check for Mr Dolan’s big punch-bowl in the cabinet over the stove. Could you do that for me?”

  I was asked to hold on. I did, somehow, although with the passing of each endless second I became more and more sure that he had smelled a rat and was calling the phone company on one line while I held on the other.

  At last – at long, long last – he came back on. He sounded upset, but that was all right. That was just how I wanted him to sound.

  “Saturday night?”

  “Yes, that’s right. But I don’t have a punch-bowl as big as they’re going to want unless I call across town, and my impression was that he already has one. I’d just like to be sure.”

  “Look, mister, my call-sheet says Mr Dolan ain’t expected in until three P. m. Sunday afternoon. I’ll be glad to have one of my girls check out your punch-bowl, but I want to straighten this other business out first. Mr Dolan is not a man to fuck around with, if you’ll pardon my French…”

  “I couldn’t agree with you more,” I said.

  “…and if he’s going to show up a day early, I got to send some more girls out there right away.”

  “Let me double-check,” I said. The third-grade reading textbook I use, Roads to Everywhere, was on the table beside me. I picked it up and riffled some of the pages close to the phone.

  “Oh, boy,” I said. “It’s my mistake. He’s having people in Sunday night. I’m really sorry. You going to hit me?”

  “Nah. Listen, let me put you on hold – I’ll get one of the girls and have her check on the…”

  “No need, if it’s Sunday,” I said. “My big punch-bowl’s coming back from a wedding reception in Glendale Sunday morning.”