A NovelBook - 2001
From the critics
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It is the end, at least for now:
He felt an urge to pray, to seek forgiveness for what he had done. He began silently with “Dear God,” but his mind stalled. The contrition was only a reflex, not real this time. It was only a grasp for certainty, just a reaction to his discomfort at not being able to know he had done the right thing. He stopped, closed down the channel of communication: “Amen,” he whispered. Nobody gets out of this life without doubt.
“Don’t give me anything else,” she said. “I don’t need it. Just go away now, so it can be over.”
“Last chance, Slick.”
“Live or die, ... You pick.”
I learn more about people by hearing what they want than by hearing what they have. So if it’s a sad story, I don’t want to hear it.
“Is there somebody I forgot to tip?” She got into the car, shook her head, and giggled. “No, I think you tipped everybody—even a couple of customers. I was just taking a last look.”
He suspected that even now, she did not quite accept that she was a beautiful fifty-year-old, any more than he had been able to convince her that she was a beautiful twenty-eight-year-old at the time.
He felt as though he had come upon a mangy, growling dog in the sidewalk, and on an impulse—not even a decision—given it a half-hearted kick to get it out of his way and teach it a lesson. It had not yelped and slunk away with its tail between its legs. It had clamped its jaws on his ankle and held on. After that, everything had turned painful and hard. He felt as though he still could not get loose.
They don’t move the roads when the sun goes down, ...
She looked better in her autopsy photograph than most of the women he had seen alive on the streets in Louisville.
He was cruising along at fifty-five miles an hour without a traffic signal to delay him, and the nearest cars a quarter mile ahead or a quarter mile behind. The drivers couldn’t actually see him: he was just an assumption they made because a car couldn’t be moving along a public highway without a driver.
In the history of the world, no man ever left his wife because some other woman was a better cook, or was more eager about setting the food on the table, or arranging it more attractively on the plate. The way to a man’s heart is not through his stomach, it’s a bit south of there.
His strongest sensation had been relief: he was never again going to have to walk through the door of an unfamiliar building feeling the weight of a loaded pistol on his body, looking for a face.
"... It’s like a man doing birdcalls: if he practices enough, he can hit the same notes, maybe not exactly, but close enough to fool a lot of birds. But he’s not a bird. He doesn’t know what the bird feels when it sings, or what it means. He just knows that when he does it, birds will come close enough so he can kill them.”
“I told you. I’m a painter. I’m not sort of a painter. I don’t quit just because some ignorant character comes in and tells me it’s good enough for him. It has to be good enough for me.”
He looked into their faces and read things: stupid misconceptions that they stubbornly clung to in the face of all evidence, bad decisions they had made years ago and still thought about sometimes and regretted. He sensed the things they worried about late at night, and he saw the courage and will it took when they woke up each morning to take up the weight of their lives again.
He noticed that his face felt strange, and realized that he had smiled at the clerk, and forgotten to stop smiling. He let the muscles go slack.
“I started out wanting to be a great man, but then I noticed that every time there was a great man, somebody would lay the crosshairs on his forehead. Then I figured I’d be a saintly man. But it meant I would have to deny myself all the things my mama wouldn’t have approved of, and end up getting burned at a stake or something. Then I thought I’d settle for being a good man. But no matter how hard I applied myself to it, I couldn’t detect that I was getting any better than anybody else. ...
... meantime, I discovered that no matter how rich and sophisticated you are, you don’t want your portrait to be abstract. You want realism, with ten years lopped off.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to limit it to tonight, tomorrow night, or any other night in the future,” he said. “Last night is out.”
He simply had to embody all of the qualities that this man had been searching for, as though it were a miracle: he had to be all the people this man had ever hated.
“Before we get to know each other, I want to be fair. You’re young, and probably smart as a spare tire, so I’ll spell it out..."
“It’s just a little feeling I have. Once we get good enough at deer hunting, we find it hard to put up with much from the deer.”
It also occurred to him that in a large city, almost any good hotel had a bed as comfortable as he’d had, a chef who could cook better than he could, and a bathroom that was cleaned more often than he was willing to clean it.
All of them said something disparaging about his “methods.” He used excessive force, disregarded public safety, ignored the rights of suspects, paid bribes, or made threats to informants. It was all pretty much what the average police force did, but they didn’t care for having him do it too.
“We’re accustomed to having authorities, from the president on down, say killings like these are ‘senseless,’ or I believe the usual term is ‘random and senseless.’ They’re neither: the killer knows exactly what they were for.”
" ... But the reason bears are an endangered species and we’re not, is that the hunter also knows what the bear is going to do. His larger brain is the only advantage that matters.”
... the mice. They were perfectly normal animals doing what animals did. They struggled for food, a warm, dry place, and safety. They had a good strategy: they shared a house with another, larger species that used it almost exclusively during daylight, so they used it mainly at night. The attributes of the larger species rendered it harmless to mice ...
It was like setting a fire at the entrance to a cave: there was no question that what was in there would be out shortly, but whatever it was, it would be moving fast and looking for the guy holding a match.
“He wants you to think he’s a guy who wears camouflage fatigues around the house. He wants you to think that tonight he got a big headache and heard Jesus tell him he wanted new angels. But that isn’t who he is. He came for one of these people. Just one."
The face was unchanging, the features relaxed but never in motion, as though there were no such thing as surprise. His was the face of a man in a room by himself. The eyes were different—bright and alert, but without sympathy: they did not veil the fact that they were looking at you but not feeling what you felt.
Failure was humiliating and brought unwelcome attention, so he avoided trouble by doing his homework and getting good grades.
He pictured them tugging on the door handle, and sensed a small, amused chuckle. Why was that? They looked funny: pulling on the door, pulling harder, their eyes widening with the bad news.
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