Velocity Page 34

Unconsciously, he must have known the shot was coming. He saw in his mind’s eye the raven on the window, the still and silent and watchful raven.

Then the bang came, and he did not fly or even flinch, but sat in a Zen indifference.

Valis lowered the gun. He settled into an armchair that faced Billy’s. Billy closed his eyes and leaned his head back.

“I could have killed you two ways without leaving the bedroom,” Valis said.

This was surely true. Billy didn’t ask how.

“You must be very tired,” Valis said.


“How’s your hand?”

“Okay. Vicodin.”

“And your forehead?”


Billy wondered if his eyes were moving under his lids, the way Barbara’s sometimes did in her dreams. They felt still.

“I had a third wound planned for you,” Valis said.

“Can it wait until next week?”

“You’re a funny guy, Billy.”

“I don’t feel that funny.”

“Do you feel relieved?”


“Are you surprised by that?”

“Yeah.” Billy opened his eyes. “Are you surprised?”

“No,” the artist said. “I saw the potential in you.”


“In your short stories. Before I ever met you.” Valis put the revolver on a table beside his chair. “Your potential so explicit on the page. As I researched your life, the potential became clearer.”

“Shooting my parents.”

“Not that so much. The loss of trust.”

“I see.”

“Without trust, there can be no tranquil resting of the mind.”

“No rest,” Billy said. “No real peace.”

“Without trust, there can be no belief. No belief in kindness. Or integrity. In anything.”

“You have more insight into me than I do.”

“Well, I’m older,” Valis said. “And more experienced.”

“Way more experienced,” Billy said. “How long have you planned this performance? Not just since Monday in the bar.”

“Weeks and weeks,” said Valis. “Great art requires preparation.”

“Did you take the commission for the mural because I was here, or did the commission come first?”

“Together,” Valis said. “It was quite serendipitous. Things often are.”

“Amazing. And here we are.”

“Yes, here we are.”

“ ‘Movement, velocity, impact,’” Billy said, quoting Valis’s summary for the style of this production. “In light of how the performance is turning out, I think I would edit that to ‘Movement, velocity, freedom.’”

“Like the fish.”

“Yes. Like the fish. Do you want freedom, Billy?”


“I am entirely free.”

Billy said, “How long have you been… ?”

“Thirty-two years. Since I was sixteen. The first few were embarrassments. Crude hacking. No control. No technique. No style.”

“But now…”

“Now, I have become who I am. Do you know my name?” Billy met those gray and lustrous eyes.

“Yes,” Valis answered for him. “I see you do. You know my name.”

A thought occurred to Billy, and he leaned forward slightly in his chair, curious. “Are the others on your project crew…”

“Are they what?”

“Are they… previous successes of yours?”

Valis smiled. “Oh, no. None of them has ever seen my collection. Men like you and I… we’re rare, Billy.”

“I suppose so.”

“You’re probably full of questions about all this.”

“Maybe when I’ve gotten some sleep.”

“I was out to Deputy Olsen’s house a little while age. You left it clean as a whistle.”

Billy grimaced. “You didn’t plant something else out there, did you?”

“No, no. I knew we were getting close to this moment, no need to torment you further. I just walked the house, admiring how your mind worked, how thorough you were.”

Billy yawned. “Circumstantial evidence. I have this fear of it.”

“You must be very tired.”

“I’m whacked.”

“I’ve only one bedroom, but you’re welcome to a sofa.”

Billy shook his head. “This amazes me.”

“That I’m hospitable?”

“No. That I’m Am;.”

“Art transforms, Billy.”

“Will I feel different when I wake up?”

“No,” Valis said. “You’ve made your choice.”

“They were something, those choices.”

“They gave you an opportunity to understand your potential.”

“Those sofas look so clean, and I’m a mess.”

“You’re fine,” Valis said. “They’re Scotchgarded.”

As they rose simultaneously from their chairs, Billy pulled the Mace from under his T-shirt.

Apparently surprised, Valis tried to turn his face away.

They were only ten feet apart, and Billy sprayed him in the eyes. Blinded, Valis pawed for the revolver on the table but knocked it to the floor.

Billy ducked past him, scooped up the gun, and Valis clawed at the air, trying to find him.

Coming around behind the freak, Billy hammered the back of his skull with the butt of the revolver, then hit him again.

With none of his usual grace, Valis crashed to the floor on his face. Billy went to his knees to be sure the freak was out. He was.

Valis wore his shirt tucked in his pants. Billy tugged it loose and pulled it over the man’s head, forming a tight hood by tying the tails together. His purpose was not to blindfold Valis but to form a bandage in case his scalp began bleeding where the gun clipped it. Billy wanted to avoid getting bloodstains on the carpet.

Chapter 72

Billy stretched his hands into the latex gloves. He got to work. The bedroom was even more sumptuous than the rest of the motor home. The bathroom glowed and lustered, a jewel box of marble, glass, beveled mirrors, and gold-plated fixtures.

Embedded at a slant in the top of a ribbon-maple bedroom desk, a touchsensitive screen provided control of the electronic systems from music to security.

Apparently, these controls had to be accessed by entering a code. Fortunately, Valis had left the system open after using it to put up the tambour panels and put down the steel blinds at the windows.

All controls featured idiot-proof labels. Billy unlocked the front door. In the living room, Valis was still limp and unconscious, his head hooded by his shirt.

Billy dragged Valis out of the living room, through the dining area and kitchen, into the cockpit. He tumbled him down the steps and out of the motor home.

No more than an hour of darkness remained. The slim sickle moon now harvested stars beyond the western horizon.

He had parked the Explorer between the tent and the motor home, out of sight from the highway. No traffic passed.

He dragged Valis to the SUV.

No one lived nearby. The tavern across the highway would be deserted for hours yet.

When Valis had fired the shot into the armchair, there had been no one to hear.

Billy opened the tailgate. He unfolded one of the quilted moving blankets with which he had disguised poor Ralph Cottle’s tarp-wrapped body. He smoothed it across the floor of the cargo area.

On the ground, Valis twitched. He began to moan.

Billy suddenly felt weak, less with physical fatigue than with an exhaustion of the mind and heart. The world turns and the world changes, but one thing does not change. However you disguise it, this thing does not change: the perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.

With another blanket, Billy knelt beside the renowned artist. Thrusting the revolver into those quilted folds, using them as sound suppression, he expended the five remaining rounds in the freak’s chest.

He dared not wait to see if this time the gun had been heard. Immediately, he unfolded the smoking blanket on the ground and rolled the dead man in it. Getting the corpse into the Explorer proved more difficult than he expected. Valis was heavier than scrawny Ralph Cottle.

If someone had been filming Billy, he would have had in camera a classic piece of macabre comedy. This was one of those moments when he wondered about God; didn’t doubt His existence, just wondered about Him. With Valis wrapped and loaded, Billy slammed the tailgate and returned to the motor home.

The bullet Valis fired had passed through the padded armchair and out the back. By ricochet, it had damaged the wall paneling. Billy tried to track it from there.

Because his father and mother had been shot with the .38, forensic profiles of the revolver existed. He didn’t think there was a high likelihood that a match would be made, but he didn’t intend to take any chances.

In a few minutes, he found the spent slug under a coffee table. He pocketed it.

Police would recognize the hole in the armchair as damage from gunfire. They would know that a weapon had been discharged; and there was nothing to be done about that.

They would not know, however, whether it had been fired at Valis or by him. Without blood, they would not be able to deduce to whom, if anyone, violence had been committed.

Turning slowly in a full circle, casting his mind back to the moment, Billy tried to remember if, during the short time he’d been without gloves, he’d touched any surface that could be fingerprinted. No. The place was clean. He left the steel blinds shut. He left the tambour panels raised to expose the collection of faces and hands.

He did not close the door when he stepped out of the motor home. Open, it invited.

What a surprise for the glamorous crew of artists and artisans. No traffic appeared on the highway during the time that he drove away from the motor home, out of the meadow, and onto the pavement. What patterns his tires had imprinted in the dust, if they had imprinted any, would be obliterated when the crew arrived in a few hours.

Chapter 73

Once more to the lava pipe, this time by a different route to avoid trampling the same brush as before.

While Billy removed the redwood lid, the narrow ragged wound of an appropriately bloody dawn opened along the contours of the mountains in the east.

A prayer didn’t feel appropriate.

As though his specific gravity were greater than those of the other three cadavers, Valis seemed to drop faster into the hungry shaft than had the dead who preceded him.

When the sounds of the body’s descent faded into silence, Billy said,

“Older and more experienced, my ass.” Then he remembered to drop Lanny’s wallet into the pipe, and he replaced the lid.

As the night futilely resisted the early purple light, Billy parked the Explorer on the yard behind Lanny’s garage. He let himself into the house. This was Thursday, only the second of Lanny’s two days off. No one was likely to wonder about him or to come around looking for him until sometime Friday.

Although Valis had denied planting any additional evidence in the wake of Billy’s previous visit, Billy decided to search the house once more. You just couldn’t trust some people.

He began upstairs, moving with the deliberateness of extreme fatigue, and by the time that he returned to the kitchen, he had not found anything incriminating.

Thirsty, he took a glass from a cabinet and drew cold tap water. Still wearing gloves, he was unconcerned about leaving prints.

Thirst quenched, he rinsed the glass, dried it on a dishtowel, and returned it to the cabinet from which he’d taken it.

Something didn’t feel right.

He suspected that he had missed a detail that had the power to undo him. Dulled by weariness, his gaze had traveled over some damning evidence without recognizing its importance.

In the living room once more, he circled the sofa on which Valis had propped Ralph Cottle’s corpse. No stains marred the furniture or the carpet around it.

Billy took up the cushions to see if anything from Cottle’s pockets might have fallen between them. When he found nothing, he replaced the cushions. Still plagued by a disquieting feeling that he had overlooked something, he sat down to brood. Because he was a mess, he didn’t risk soiling a chair but with a sigh of weariness sat cross-legged on the floor.

He had just killed a man, or something rather like a man, but he could still be concerned about the parlor upholstery. He remained a polite boy. A considerate little savage.

This contradiction struck him as funny, and he laughed out loud. The more he laughed, the funnier his fussiness about the upholstery seemed to be, and then he was laughing at his own laughter, amused by his inappropriate giddiness.

He knew this was dangerous laughter, that it could unravel the carefully tied knot of his equilibrium. He stretched out on the carpet, flat on his back, and took long deep breaths to calm himself.

The laughter relented, he breathed less deeply, and somehow he allowed himself to fall into sleep.

Chapter 74

Billy woke disoriented. For a moment, blinking at the legs of chairs and sofas all around him, he thought that he had fallen asleep in a hotel lobby, and he marveled at how considerate the management had been to leave him undisturbed.

Then memory tweaked him fully awake.

Getting to his feet, he gripped the arm of the sofa with his left hand. That was a mistake. The nail wound was inflamed. He cried out and almost fell, but didn’t.

The day beyond the curtained windows looked fiercely bright and well advanced.

When he consulted his wristwatch, he saw that it was 5:02 in the afternoon. He had slept almost ten hours.

Panic flew, and his heart drummed like frantic wings. He thought his unexplained absence must have made him the primary suspect in the disappearance of Valis.

Then he remembered that he had called in sick for a second day. No one was expecting him to be anywhere. And no one knew he had any connection whatsoever to the dead artist.

If the police were eager to find anyone, they were searching for Valis himself, to ask him pointed questions about the contents of the jars in his living room.

In the kitchen, Billy took a drinking glass out of the cabinet. He filled it from the tap.

Digging in the pockets of his jeans, he found two Anacins and took them with a long drink. He also swallowed one tablet of Cipro and a Vicodin.

For a moment he felt nauseated, but the feeling passed. Maybe all these medications would interact in a mortal fashion and drop him dead between one step and another, but at least he wouldn’t puke.

He was no longer troubled by the feeling that he might have left incriminating evidence in this house. That fear had been a symptom of exhaustion. Rested now, reviewing his precautions, he knew that he had not missed anything.

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