A “wondrously frightening” (Publishers Weekly) tale of terror and #1 national bestseller about a writer’s pseudonym that comes alive and destroys everyone on the path that leads to the man who created him.
Thad Beaumont is a writer, and for a dozen years he has secretly published violent bestsellers under the name of George Stark. But Thad is a healthier and happier man now, the father of infant twins, and starting to write as himself again. He no longer needs George Stark and so, with nationwide publicity, the pseudonym is retired. But George Stark won’t go willingly.
And now Thad would like to say he is innocent. He’d like to say he has nothing to do with the twisted imagination that produced his bestselling novels. He’d like to say he has nothing to do with the series of monstrous murders that keep coming closer to his home. But how can Thad deny the ultimate embodiment of evil that goes by the name he gave it—and signs its crimes with Thad’s bloody fingerprints?
The Dark Half is “a chiller” (The New York Times Book Review), so real and fascinating that you’ll find yourself squirming in Stephen King’s heart-stopping, blood-curdling grip—and loving every minute of it.
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.70(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 21, 1947
Place of Birth:Portland, Maine
Education:B.S., University of Maine at Orono, 1970
Read an Excerpt
The Dark Half
The May 23rd issue of People magazine was pretty typical.
The cover was graced by that week’s Dead Celebrity, a rock and roll star who had hanged himself in a jail cell after being taken into custody for possession of cocaine and assorted satellite drugs. Inside was the usual smorgasbord: nine unsolved sex murders in the desolate western half of Nebraska; a health-food guru who had been busted for kiddie porn; a Maryland housewife who had grown a squash that looked a bit like a bust of Jesus Christ—if you looked at it with your eyes half-closed in a dim room, that was; a game paraplegic girl training for the Big Apple Bike-A-Thon; a Hollywood divorce; a New York society marriage; a wrestler recovering from a heart attack; a comedian fighting a palimony suit.
There was also a story about a Utah entrepreneur who was marketing a hot new doll called Yo Mamma! Yo Mamma! supposedly looked like “everyone’s favorite (?) mother-in-law.” She had a built-in tape recorder which spat out bits of dialogue such as “Dinner was never cold at my house when he was growing up, dear” and “Your brother never acts like I’m dog-breath when I come to spend a couple of weeks.” The real howler was that, instead of pulling a string in the back of Yo Mamma! to get her to talk, you kicked the fucking thing as hard as you could. “Yo Mamma! is well-padded, guaranteed not to break, and also guaranteed not to chip walls and furniture,” said its proud inventor, Mr. Gaspard Wilmot (who, the piece mentioned in passing, had once been indicted for income tax evasion—charges dropped).
And on page thirty-three of this amusing and informative issue of America’s premier amusing and informative magazine, was a page headed with a typical People cut-line: punchy, pithy, and pungent. BIO, it said.
“People,” Thad Beaumont told his wife Liz as they sat side by side at the kitchen table, reading the article together for the second time, “likes to get right to the point. BIO. If you don’t want a BIO, move on to IN TROUBLE and read about the girls who are getting greased deep in the heart of Nebraska.”
“That’s not that funny, when you really think about it,” Liz Beaumont said, and then spoiled it by snorting a giggle into one curled fist.
“Not ha-ha, but certainly peculiar,” Thad said, and began to leaf through the article again. He rubbed absently at the small white scar high on his forehead as he did so.
Like most People BIOs, it was the one piece in the magazine where more space was allotted to words than to pictures.
“Are you sorry you did it?” Liz asked. She had an ear cocked for the twins, but so far they were being absolutely great, sleeping like lambs.
“First of all,” Thad said, “I didn’t do it. We did it. Both for one and one for both, remember?” He tapped a picture on the second page of the article which showed his wife holding a pan of brownies out to Thad, who was sitting at his typewriter with a sheet rolled under the platen. It was impossible to tell what, if anything, was written on the paper. That was probably just as well, since it had to be gobbledegook. Writing had always been hard work for him, and it wasn’t the sort of thing he could do with an audience—particularly if one member of the audience happened to be a photographer for People magazine. It had come a lot easier for George, but for Thad Beaumont it was goddam hard. Liz didn’t come near when he was trying—and sometimes actually succeeding—in doing it. She didn’t bring him telegrams, let alone brownies.
“Second of all . . .”
He looked at the picture of Liz with the brownies and him looking up at her. They were both grinning. These grins looked fairly peculiar on the faces of people who, although pleasant, were careful doling out even such common things as smiles. He remembered back to the time he had spent as an Appalachian Trail Guide in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. He’d had a pet raccoon in those dim days, name of John Wesley Harding. Not that he’d made any attempt to domesticate John; the coon had just sort of fallen in with him. He liked his nip on cold evenings, too, did old J.W., and sometimes, when he got more than a single bite from the bottle, he would grin like that.
“Second of all what?”
Second of all, there’s something funny about a one-time National Book Award nominee and his wife grinning at each other like a couple of drunk raccoons, he thought, and could hold onto his laughter no longer: it bellowed out of him.
“Thad, you’ll wake the twins!”
He tried, without much success, to muffle the gusts.
“Second of all, we look like a pair of idiots and I don’t mind a bit,” he said, and hugged her tight and kissed the hollow of her throat.
In the other room, first William and then Wendy started to cry.
Liz tried to look at him reproachfully, but could not. It was too good to hear him laugh. Good, maybe, because he didn’t do enough of it. The sound of his laughter had an alien, exotic charm for her. Thad Beaumont had never been a laughing man.
“My fault,” he said. “I’ll get them.”
He began to get up, bumped the table, and almost knocked it over. He was a gentle man, but strangely clumsy; that part of the boy he had been still lived in him.
Liz caught the pitcher of flowers she had set out as a centerpiece just before it could slide over the edge and shatter on the floor.
“Honestly, Thad!” she said, but then she began to laugh, too.
He sat down again for a moment. He didn’t take her hand, exactly, but caressed it gently between both of his. “Listen, babe, do you mind?”
“No,” she said. She thought briefly of saying It makes me uneasy, though. Not because we look mildly foolish but because . . . well, I don’t know the because. It just makes me a little uneasy, that’s all.
Thought of it but didn’t say it. It was just too good to hear him laugh. She caught one of his hands and gave it a brief squeeze. “No,” she said. “I don’t mind. I think it’s fun. And if the publicity helps The Golden Dog when you finally decide to get serious about finishing the damned thing, so much the better.”
She got up, pressing him back down by the shoulders when he tried to join her.
“You can get them next time,” she said. “I want you to sit right there until your subconscious urge to destroy my pitcher finally passes.”
“Okay,” he said, and smiled. “I love you, Liz.”
“I love you, too.” She went to get the twins, and Thad Beaumont began to leaf through his BIO again.
Unlike most People articles, the Thaddeus Beaumont BIO began not with a full-page photograph but with one which was less than a quarter-page. It caught the eye regardless, because some layout man with an eye for the unusual had bordered the picture, which showed Thad and Liz in a graveyard, in black. The lines of type below stood out in almost brutal contrast.
In the photograph, Thad had a spade and Liz had a pick. Set off to one side was a wheelbarrow with more cemetery implements in it. On the grave itself, several bouquets of flowers had been arranged, but the gravestone itself was still perfectly readable.
Not a Very Nice Guy
In almost jagged contrast to the place and the apparent act (a recently completed interment of what, from the dates, should have been a boy barely in his teens), these two bogus sextons were shaking their free hands across the freshly placed sods—and laughing cheerily.
It was a posed job, of course. All of the photos accompanying the article—burying the body, exhibiting the brownies, and the one of Thad wandering lonely as a cloud down a deserted Ludlow woods road, presumably “getting ideas”—were posed. It was funny. Liz had been buying People at the supermarket for the last five years or so, and they both made fun of it, but they both took their turn leafing through it at supper, or possibly in the john if there wasn’t a good book handy. Thad had mused from time to time on the magazine’s success, wondering if it was its devotion to the celebrity sideshow that made it so weirdly interesting, or just the way it was set up, with all those big black-and-white photographs, and the boldface text, consisting mostly of simple declarative sentences. But it had never crossed his mind to wonder if the pictures were staged.
The photographer had been a woman named Phyllis Myers. She informed Thad and Liz that she had taken a number of photographs of teddy bears in child-sized coffins, all of the teddies dressed in children’s clothes. She hoped to sell these as a book to a major New York publisher. It was not until late on the second day of the photo-and-interview session that Thad realized the woman was sounding him out about writing the text. Death and Teddy Bears, she said, would be “the final, perfect comment on the American way of death, don’t you think so, Thad?”
He supposed that, in light of her rather macabre interests, it wasn’t all that surprising that the Myers woman had commissioned George Stark’s tombstone and brought it with her from New York. It was papier-mâché.
“You don’t mind shaking hands in front of this, do you?” she had asked them with a smile that was at the same time wheedling and complacent. “It’ll make a wonderful shot.”
Liz had looked at Thad, questioning and a little horrified. Then they both had looked at the fake tombstone which had come from New York City (year-round home of People magazine) to Castle Rock, Maine (summer home of Thad and Liz Beaumont), with a mixture of amazement and bemused wonder. It was the inscription to which Thad’s eye kept returning:
Not a Very Nice Guy
Stripped to its essentials, the story People wanted to tell the breathless celebrity-watchers of America was pretty simple. Thad Beaumont was a well-regarded writer whose first novel, The Sudden Dancers, had been nominated for the National Book Award in 1972. This sort of thing swung some weight with literary critics, but the breathless celebrity-watchers of America didn’t care a dime about Thad Beaumont, who had only published one other novel under his own name since. The man many of them did care about wasn’t a real man at all. Thad had written one huge best-seller and three extremely successful follow-up novels under another name. The name, of course, was George Stark.
Jerry Harkavay, who was the Associated Press’s entire Waterville staff, had been the first to break the George Stark story wide after Thad’s agent, Rick Cowley, gave it to Louise Booker at Publishers Weekly with Thad’s approval. Neither Harkavay nor Booker had got the whole story—for one thing, Thad was adamant about not giving that smarmy little prick Frederick Clawson so much as a mention—but it was still good enough to rate a wider circulation than either the AP wire service or the book-publishing industry’s trade magazine could give. Clawson, Thad had told Liz and Rick, was not the story—he was just the asshole who was forcing them to go public with the story.
In the course of that first interview, Jerry had asked him what sort of a fellow George Stark was. “George,” Thad had replied, “wasn’t a very nice guy.” The quote had run at the top of Jerry’s piece, and it had given the Myers woman the inspiration to actually commission a fake tombstone with that line on it. Weird world. Weird, weird world.
All of a sudden, Thad burst out laughing again.
There were two lines of white type on the black field below the picture of Thad and Liz in one of Castle Rock’s finer boneyards.
THE DEAR DEPARTED WAS EXTREMELY CLOSE TO THESE TWO PEOPLE, read the first.
SO WHY ARE THEY LAUGHING? read the second.
“Because the world is one strange fucking place,” Thad Beaumont said, and snorted into one cupped hand.
Liz Beaumont wasn’t the only one who felt vaguely uneasy about this odd little burst of publicity. He felt a little uneasy himself. All the same, he found it difficult to stop laughing. He’d quit for a few seconds and then a fresh spate of guffaws would burst out of him as his eye caught on that line—Not a Very Nice Guy—again. Trying to quit was like trying to plug the holes in a poorly constructed earthen dam; as soon as you got one leak stopped up, you saw a new one someplace else.
Thad suspected there was something not quite right about such helpless laughter—it was a form of hysteria. He knew that humor rarely if ever had anything to do with such fits. In fact, the cause was apt to be something quite the opposite of funny.
Something to be afraid of, maybe.
You’re afraid of a goddam article in People magazine? Is that what you’re thinking? Dumb. Afraid of being embarrassed, of having your colleagues in the English Department look at those pictures and think you’ve lost the poor cracked handful of marbles you had?
No. He had nothing to fear from his colleagues, not even the ones who had been there since dinosaurs walked the earth. He finally had tenure, and also enough money to face life as—flourish of trumpets, please!—a full-time writer if he so desired (he wasn’t sure he did; he didn’t care much for the bureaucratic and administrative aspects of university life, but the teaching part was just fine). Also no because he had passed beyond caring much about what his colleagues thought of him some years ago. He cared about what his friends thought, yes, and in some cases his friends, Liz’s friends, and the friends they had in common happened to be colleagues, but he thought those people were also apt to think it was sort of a hoot.
If there was anything to be afraid of, it was—
Stop it, his mind ordered in the dry, stern tone that had a way of causing even the most obstreperous of his undergrad English students to fall pale and silent. Stop this foolishness right now.
No good. Effective as that voice might be when he used it on his students, it wielded no power over Thad himself.
He looked down again at that picture and this time his eye paid no attention to the faces of his wife and himself, mugging cheekily at each other like a couple of kids performing an initiation stunt.
Not a Very Nice Guy
That was what made him uneasy.
That tombstone. That name. Those dates. Most of all that sour epitaph, which made him bellow laughter but was not, for some reason, one bit funny underneath the laughter.
“Doesn’t matter,” Thad muttered. “Motherfucker’s dead now.”
But the uneasiness remained.
When Liz came back in with a freshly changed and dressed twin curled in each arm, Thad was bent over the story again.
“Did I murder him?”
Thaddeus Beaumont, once hailed as America’s most promising novelist and a National Book Award nominee for The Sudden Dancers in 1972, repeats the question thoughtfully. He looks slightly bemused. “Murder,” he says again, softly, as if the word had never occurred to him . . . even though murder was almost all his “dark half,” as Beaumont calls George Stark, did think about.
From the wide-mouthed mason jar beside his old-fashioned Remington 32 typewriter, he draws a Berol Black Beauty pencil (all Stark would write with, according to Beaumont) and begins to gnaw lightly on it. From the look of the dozen or so other pencils in the mason jar, the gnawing is a habit.
“No,” he says at last, dropping the pencil back into the jar. “I didn’t murder him.” He looks up and smiles. Beaumont is thirty-nine, but when he smiles in that open way, he might be mistaken for one of his own undergrads. “George died of natural causes.”
Beaumont says George Stark was his wife’s idea. Elizabeth Stephens Beaumont, a cool and lovely blonde, refuses to take sole credit. “All I did,” she says, “was suggest he write a novel under another name and see what happened to it. Thad was suffering from serious writer’s block, and he needed a jump-start. And really”—she laughs—” George Stark was there all along. I’d seen signs of him in some of the unfinished stuff that Thad did from time to time. It was just a case of getting him to come out of the closet.”
According to many of his contemporaries, Beaumont’s problems went a little further than writer’s block. At least two well-known writers (who refused to be quoted directly) say that they were worried about Beaumont’s sanity during that crucial period between the first book and the second. One says he believes Beaumont may have attempted suicide following the publication of The Sudden Dancers, which earned more critical acclaim than royalties.
Asked if he ever considered suicide, Beaumont only shakes his head and says, “That’s a stupid idea. The real problem wasn’t popular acceptance; it was writer’s block. And dead writers have a terminal case of that.”
Meanwhile, Liz Beaumont kept “lobbying”—Beaumont’s word—for the idea of a pseudonym. “She said I could kick up my heels for once, if I wanted to. Write any damn thing I pleased without The New York Times Book Review looking over my shoulder the whole time I wrote it. She said I could write a Western, a mystery, a science fiction story. Or I could write a crime novel.”
Thad Beaumont grins.
“I think she put that one last on purpose. She knew I’d been fooling around with an idea for a crime novel, although I couldn’t seem to get a handle on it.
“The idea of a pseudonym had this funny draw for me. It felt free, somehow—like a secret escape hatch, if you see what I mean.
“But there was something else, too. Something that’s very hard to explain.”
Beaumont stretches a hand out toward the neatly sharpened Berols in the mason jar, then withdraws it. He looks off toward the window-wall at the back of his study, which gives on a spring spectacular of greening trees.
“Thinking about writing under a pseudonym was like thinking about being invisible,” he finally says almost hesitantly. “The more I played with the idea, the more I felt that I would be . . . well . . . reinventing myself.”
His hand steals out and this time succeeds in filching one of the pencils from the mason jar while his mind is otherwise engaged.
Thad turned the page and then looked up at the twins in their double high chair. Boy-girl twins were always fraternal . . . or brother-and-sisteral, if you didn’t want to be a male chauvinist pig about it. Wendy and William were, however, about as identical as you could get without being identical.
William grinned at Thad around his bottle.
Wendy also grinned at him around her bottle, but she was sporting an accessory her brother didn’t have—one single tooth near the front, which had come up with absolutely no teething pain, simply breaking through the surface of the gum as silently as a submarine’s periscope sliding through the surface of the ocean.
Wendy took one chubby hand from her plastic bottle. Opened it, showing the clean pink palm. Closed it. Opened it. A Wendy-wave.
Without looking at her, William removed one of his hands from his bottle, opened it, closed it, opened it. A William-wave.
Thad solemnly raised one of his own hands from the table, opened it, closed it, opened it.
The twins grinned around their bottles.
He looked down at the magazine again. Ah, People, he thought—where would we be, what would we do, without you? This is American star-time, folks.
The writer had dragged out all the soiled linen there was to drag out, of course—most notably the four-year-long bad patch after The Sudden Dancers had failed to win the NBA—but that was to be expected, and he found himself not much bothered by the display. For one thing, it wasn’t all that dirty, and for another, he had always felt it was easier to live with the truth than with a lie. In the long run, at least.
Which of course raised the question of whether or not People magazine and “the long run” had anything at all in common.
Oh well. Too late now.
The name of the guy who had written the piece was Mike—he remembered that much, but Mike what? Unless you were an earl tattling on royalty or a movie star tattling on other movie stars, when you wrote for People your byline came at the end of the piece. Thad had to leaf through four pages (two of them full-page ads) to find the name. Mike Donaldson. He and Mike had sat up late, just shooting the shit, and when Thad had asked the man if anyone would really care that he had written a few books under another name, Donaldson said something which had made Thad laugh hard. “Surveys show that most People readers have extremely narrow noses. That makes them hard to pick, so they pick as many other people’s as they can. They’ll want to know all about your friend George.”
“He’s no friend of mine,” Thad had responded, still laughing.
Now he asked Liz, who had gone to the stove, “You got it together, babe? You need some help?”
“I’m fine,” she said. “Just cooking up some goo for the kiddos. You haven’t got enough of yourself yet?”
“Not yet,” Thad said shamelessly, and went back to the article.
“The hardest part was actually coming up with the name,” Beaumont continues, nipping lightly at the pencil. “But it was important. I knew it could work. I knew it could break the writer’s block I was struggling with . . . if I had an identity. The right identity, one that was separate from mine.”
How did he choose George Stark?
“Well, there’s a crime writer named Donald E. Westlake,” Beaumont explains. “And under his real name, Westlake uses the crime novel to write these very funny social comedies about American life and American mores.
“But from the early sixties until the mid-seventies or so, he wrote a series of novels under the name of Richard Stark, and those books are very different. They’re about a man named Parker who is a professional thief. He has no past, no future, and in the best books, no interests other than robbery.
“Anyway, for reasons you’d have to ask Westlake about, he eventually stopped writing novels about Parker, but I never forgot something Westlake said after the pen name was blown. He said he wrote books on sunny days and Stark took over on the rainy ones. I liked that, because those were rainy days for me, between 1973 and early 1975.
“In the best of those books, Parker is really more like a killer robot than a man. The robber robbed is a pretty consistent theme in them. And Parker goes through the bad guys—the other bad guys, I mean—exactly like a robot that’s been programmed with one single goal. ‘I want my money,’ he says, and that’s just about all he says. ‘I want my money, I want my money.’ Does that remind you of anyone?”
The interviewer nods. Beaumont is describing Alexis Machine, the main character of the first and last George Stark novels.
“If Machine’s Way had finished up the way it started out, I would have shoved it in a drawer forever,” Beaumont says. “Publishing it would have been plagiarism. But about a quarter of the way through, it found its own rhythm, and everything just clicked into place.”
The interviewer asks if Beaumont is saying that, after he had spent awhile working on the book, George Stark woke up and started to talk.
“Yes,” Beaumont says. “That’s close enough.”
Thad looked up, almost laughing again in spite of himself. The twins saw him smiling and grinned back around the pureed peas Liz was feeding them. What he had actually said, as he remembered, was: “Christ, that’s melodramatic! You make it sound like the part of Frankenstein where the lightning finally strikes the rod on the highest castle battlement and juices up the monster!”
“I’m not going to be able to finish feeding them if you don’t stop that,” Liz remarked. She had a very small dot of pureed peas on the tip of her nose, and Thad felt an absurd urge to kiss it off.
“You grin, they grin. You can’t feed a grinning baby, Thad.”
“Sorry,” he said humbly, and winked at the twins. Their identical green-rimmed smiles widened for a moment.
Then he lowered his eyes and went on reading.
“I started Machine’s Way on the night in 1975 I thought up the name, but there was one other thing. I rolled a sheet of paper into my typewriter when I got ready to start . . . and then I rolled it right back out again. I’ve typed all my books, but George Stark apparently didn’t hold with typewriters.”
The grin flashes out briefly again.
“Maybe because they didn’t have typing classes in any of the stone hotels where he did time.”
Beaumont is referring to George Stark’s “jacket bio,” which says the author is thirty-nine and has done time in three different prisons on charges of arson, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault with intent to kill. The jacket bio is only part of the story, however; Beaumont also produces an author-sheet from Darwin Press, which details his alter-ego’s history in the painstaking detail which only a good novelist could create out of whole cloth. From his birth in Manchester, New Hampshire, to his final residence in Oxford, Mississippi, everything is there except for George Stark’s interment six weeks ago at Homeland Cemetery in Castle Rock, Maine.
“I found an old notebook in one of my desk drawers, and I used these.” He points toward the mason jar of pencils, and seems mildly surprised to find he’s holding one of them in the hand he uses to point. “I started writing, and the next thing I knew, Liz was telling me it was midnight and asking if I was ever going to come to bed.”
Liz Beaumont has her own memory of that night. She says, “I woke up at 11:45 and saw he wasn’t in bed and I thought, ‘Well, he’s writing.’ But I didn’t hear the typewriter, and I got a little scared.”
Her face suggests it might have been more than just a little.
“When I came downstairs and saw him scribbling in that notebook, you could have knocked me over with a feather.” She laughs. “His nose was almost touching the paper.”
The interviewer asks her if she was relieved.
In soft, measured tones, Liz Beaumont says: “Very relieved.”
“I flipped back through the notebook and saw I’d written sixteen pages without a single scratch-out,” Beaumont says, “and I’d turned three-quarters of a brand-new pencil into shavings in the sharpener.” He looks at the jar with an expression which might be either melancholy or veiled humor. “I guess I ought to toss those pencils out now that George is dead. I don’t use them myself. I tried. It just doesn’t work. Me, I can’t work without a typewriter. My hand gets tired and stupid.
“George’s never did.”
He glances up and drops a cryptic little wink.
“Hon?” He looked up at his wife, who was concentrating on getting the last of William’s peas into him. The kid appeared to be wearing quite a lot of them on his bib.
“Look over here for a sec.”
“Was that cryptic?”
“I didn’t think it was.”
The rest of the story is another ironic chapter in the larger history of what Thad Beaumont calls “the freak people call the novel.”
Machine’s Way was published in June of 1976 by the smallish Darwin Press (Beaumont’s “real” self has been published by Dutton) and became that year’s surprise success, going to number one on best-seller lists coast to coast. It was also made into a smash-hit movie.
“For a long time I waited for someone to discover I was George and George was me,” Beaumont says. “The copyright was registered in the name of George Stark, but my agent knew, and his wife—she’s his ex-wife now, but still a full partner in the business—and, of course, the top execs and the comptroller at Darwin Press knew. He had to know, because George could write novels in longhand, but he had this little problem endorsing checks. And of course, the IRS had to know. So Liz and I spent about a year and a half waiting for somebody to blow the gaff. It didn’t happen. I think it was just dumb luck, and all it proves is that, when you think someone has just got to blab, they all hold their tongues.”
And went on holding them for the next ten years, while the elusive Mr. Stark, a far more prolific writer than his other half, published another three novels. None of them ever repeated the blazing success of Machine’s Way, but all of them cut a swath up the best-seller lists.
After a long, thoughtful pause, Beaumont begins to talk about the reasons why he finally decided to call off the profitable charade. “You have to remember that George Stark was only a paper man, after all. I enjoyed him for a long time . . . and hell, the guy was making money. I called it my f—— you money. Just knowing I could quit teaching if I wanted to and go on paying off the mortgage had a tremendously liberating effect on me.
“But I wanted to write my own books again, and Stark was running out of things to say. It was as simple as that. I knew it, Liz knew it, my agent knew it. . . . I think that even George’s editor at Darwin Press knew it. But if I’d kept the secret, the temptation to write another George Stark novel would eventually have been too much for me. I’m as vulnerable to the siren-song of money as anyone else. The solution seemed to be to drive a stake through his heart once and for all.
“In other words, to go public. Which is what I did. What I’m doing right now, as a matter of fact.”
Thad looked up from the article with a little smile. All at once his amazement at People’s staged photographs seemed itself a little sanctimonious, a little posed. Because magazine photographers weren’t the only ones who sometimes arranged things so they’d have the look readers wanted and expected. He supposed most interview subjects did it, too, to a greater or lesser degree. But he guessed he might have been a little better at arranging things than some; he was, after all, a novelist . . . and a novelist was simply a fellow who got paid to tell lies. The bigger the lies, the better the pay.
Stark was running out of things to say. It was as simple as that.
How utterly full of shit.
She was trying to wipe Wendy clean. Wendy was not keen on the idea. She kept twisting her small face away, babbling indignantly, and Liz kept chasing it with the washcloth. Thad thought his wife would catch her eventually, although he supposed there was always a chance she would tire first. It looked like Wendy thought that was a possibility, too.
“Were we wrong to lie about Clawson’s part in all this?”
“We didn’t lie, Thad. We just kept his name out of it.”
“And he was a nerd, right?”
“No,” Liz said serenely. She was now beginning to clean William’s face. “He was a dirty little Creepazoid.”
Thad snorted. “A Creepazoid?”
“That’s right. A Creepazoid.”
“I think that’s the first time I ever heard that particular term.”
“I saw it on a videotape box last week when I was down at the corner store looking for something to rent. A horror picture called The Creepazoids. And I thought, ‘Marvelous. Someone made a movie about Frederick Clawson and his family. I’ll have to tell Thad.’ But I forgot until just now.”
“So you’re really okay on that part of it?”
“Really very much okay,” she said. She pointed the hand holding the washcloth first at Thad and then at the open magazine on the table. “Thad, you got your pound of flesh out of this. People got their pound of flesh out of this. And Frederick Clawson got jack shit . . . which was just what he deserved.”
“Thanks,” he said.
She shrugged. “Sure. You bleed too much sometimes, Thad.”
“Is that the trouble?”
“Yes—all the trouble . . . William, honestly! Thad, if you’d help me just a little—”
Thad closed the magazine and carried Will into the twins’ bedroom behind Liz, who had Wendy. The chubby baby was warm and pleasantly heavy, his arms slung casually around Thad’s neck as he goggled at everything with his usual interest. Liz laid Wendy down on one changing table; Thad laid Will down on the other. They swapped dry diapers for soggy ones, Liz moving a little faster than Thad.
“Well,” Thad said, “we’ve been in People magazine, and that’s the end of that. Right?”
“Yes,” she said, and smiled. Something in that smile did not ring quite true to Thad, but he remembered his own weird laughing fit and decided to leave it be. Sometimes he was just not very sure about things—it was a kind of mental analogue to his physical clumsiness—and then he picked away at Liz. She rarely snapped at him about it, but sometimes he could see a tiredness creep into her eyes when he went on too long. What had she said? You bleed too much sometimes, Thad.
He pinned Will’s diapers closed, keeping a forearm on the wriggling but cheerful baby’s stomach while he worked so Will wouldn’t roll off the table and kill himself, as he seemed determined to do.
“Bugguyrah!” Will cried.
“Yeah,” Thad agreed.
“Divvit!” Wendy yelled.
Thad nodded. “That makes sense, too.”
“It’s good to have him dead,” Liz said suddenly.
Thad looked up. He considered for a moment, then nodded. There was no need to specify who he was; they both knew. “Yeah.”
“I didn’t like him much.”
That’s a hell of a thing to say about your husband, he almost replied, then didn’t. It wasn’t odd, because she wasn’t talking about him. George Stark’s methods of writing hadn’t been the only essential difference between the two of them.
“I didn’t, either,” he said. “What’s for supper?”
What People are Saying About This
“A chiller.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A knockout thriller…brilliant, compelling…grips you by the throat.”—The Flint Journal
“Compelling…King makes you believe.”—The Palm Beach Post
“King is just so good, the pages turn and you’re snared by his web.”—The Baton Rouge Advocate