Home > Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy #2)

Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy #2)
Stephen King

PART 1: BURIED TREASURE

1978

‘Wake up, genius.’

Rothstein didn’t want to wake up. The dream was too good. It featured his first wife months before she became his first wife, seventeen and perfect from head to toe. Naked and shimmering. Both of them naked. He was nineteen, with grease under his fingernails, but she hadn’t minded that, at least not then, because his head was full of dreams and that was what she cared about. She believed in the dreams even more than he did, and she was right to believe. In this dream she was laughing and reaching for the part of him that was easiest to grab. He tried to go deeper, but then a hand began shaking his shoulder, and the dream popped like a soap bubble.

He was no longer nineteen and living in a two-room New Jersey apartment, he was six months shy of his eightieth birthday and living on a farm in New Hampshire, where his will specified he should be buried. There were men in his bedroom. They were wearing ski masks, one red, one blue, and one canary-yellow. He saw this and tried to believe it was just another dream – the sweet one had slid into a nightmare, as they sometimes did – but then the hand let go of his arm, grabbed his shoulder, and tumbled him onto the floor. He struck his head and cried out.

‘Quit that,’ said the one in the yellow mask. ‘You want to knock him unconscious?’

‘Check it out.’ The one in the red mask pointed. ‘Old fella’s got a woody. Must have been having one hell of a dream.’

Blue Mask, the one who had done the shaking, said, ‘Just a piss hard-on. When they’re that age, nothing else gets em up. My grandfather—’

‘Be quiet,’ Yellow Mask said. ‘Nobody cares about your grandfather.’

Although dazed and still wrapped in a fraying curtain of sleep, Rothstein knew he was in trouble here. Two words surfaced in his mind: home invasion. He looked up at the trio that had materialized in his bedroom, his old head aching (there was going to be a huge bruise on the right side, thanks to the blood thinners he took), his heart with its perilously thin walls banging against the left side of his ribcage. They loomed over him, three men with gloves on their hands, wearing plaid fall jackets below those terrifying balaclavas. Home invaders, and here he was, five miles from town.

Rothstein gathered his thoughts as best he could, banishing sleep and telling himself there was one good thing about this situation: if they didn’t want him to see their faces, they intended to leave him alive.

Maybe.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said.

Mr Yellow laughed and gave him a thumbs-up. ‘Good start, genius.’

Rothstein nodded, as if at a compliment. He glanced at the bedside clock, saw it was quarter past two in the morning, then looked back at Mr Yellow, who might be the leader. ‘I have only a little money, but you’re welcome to it. If you’ll only leave without hurting me.’

The wind gusted, rattling autumn leaves against the west side of the house. Rothstein was aware that the furnace was running for the first time this year. Hadn’t it just been summer?

‘According to our info, you got a lot more than a little.’ This was Mr Red.

‘Hush.’ Mr Yellow extended a hand to Rothstein. ‘Get off the floor, genius.’

Rothstein took the offered hand, got shakily to his feet, then sat on the bed. He was breathing hard, but all too aware (self-awareness had been both a curse and a blessing all his life) of the picture he must make: an old man in flappy blue pajamas, nothing left of his hair but white popcorn puffs above the ears. This was what had become of the writer who, in the year JFK became president, had been on the cover of Time magazine: JOHN ROTHSTEIN, AMERICA’S RECLUSIVE GENIUS.

Wake up, genius.

‘Get your breath,’ Mr Yellow said. He sounded solicitous, but Rothstein did not trust this. ‘Then we’ll go into the living room, where normal people have their discussions. Take your time. Get serene.’

Rothstein breathed slowly and deeply, and his heart quieted a little. He tried to think of Peggy, with her teacup-sized breasts (small but perfect) and her long, smooth legs, but the dream was as gone as Peggy herself, now an old crone living in Paris. On his money. At least Yolande, his second effort at marital bliss, was dead, thus putting an end to the alimony.

Red Mask left the room, and now Rothstein heard rummaging in his study. Something fell over. Drawers were opened and closed.

‘Doing better?’ Mr Yellow asked, and when Rothstein nodded: ‘Come on, then.’

Rothstein allowed himself to be led into the small living room, escorted by Mr Blue on his left and Mr Yellow on his right. In his study the rummaging went on. Soon Mr Red would open the closet and push back his two jackets and three sweaters, exposing the safe. It was inevitable.

All right. As long as they leave the notebooks, and why would they take them? Thugs like these are only interested in money. They probably can’t even read anything more challenging than the letters in Penthouse.

Only he wasn’t sure about the man in the yellow mask. That one sounded educated.

All the lamps were on in the living room, and the shades weren’t drawn. Wakeful neighbors might have wondered what was going on in the old writer’s house … if he had neighbors. The closest ones were two miles away, on the main highway. He had no friends, no visitors. The occasional salesman was sent packing. Rothstein was just that peculiar old fella. The retired writer. The hermit. He paid his taxes and was left alone.

Blue and Yellow led him to the easy chair facing the seldom-watched TV, and when he didn’t immediately sit, Mr Blue pushed him into it.

‘Easy!’ Yellow said sharply, and Blue stepped back a bit, muttering. Mr Yellow was the one in charge, all right. Mr Yellow was the wheeldog.

He bent over Rothstein, hands on the knees of his corduroys. ‘Do you want a little splash of something to settle you?’

‘If you mean alcohol, I quit twenty years ago. Doctor’s orders.’

‘Good for you. Go to meetings?’

‘I wasn’t an alcoholic,’ Rothstein said, nettled. Crazy to be nettled in such a situation … or was it? Who knew how one was supposed to react after being yanked out of bed in the middle of the night by men in colorful ski masks? He wondered how he might write such a scene and had no idea; he did not write about situations like this. ‘People assume any twentieth-century white male writer must be an alcoholic.’

‘All right, all right,’ Mr Yellow said. It was as if he were placating a grumpy child. ‘Water?’

‘No, thank you. What I want is for you three to leave, so I’m going to be honest with you.’ He wondered if Mr Yellow understood the most basic rule of human discourse: when someone says they’re going to be honest with you, they are in most cases preparing to lie faster than a horse can trot. ‘My wallet is on the dresser in the bedroom. There’s a little over eighty dollars in it. There’s a ceramic teapot on the mantel …’

He pointed. Mr Blue turned to look, but Mr Yellow did not. Mr Yellow continued to study Rothstein, the eyes behind the mask almost amused. It’s not working, Rothstein thought, but he persevered. Now that he was awake, he was pissed off as well as scared, although he knew he’d do well not to show that.

‘It’s where I keep the housekeeping money. Fifty or sixty dollars. That’s all there is in the house. Take it and go.’

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