Mickey stuffed the cell phone into his pocket. He’d bought it at Sweet’s Drugs and had paid cash for it. Of course, Mr. Sweet knew him, so it wasn’t so anonymous. And that’s the point, Mickey, the thought came to him. That’s exactly the point. You have to look stupid, in hindsight. Only in hindsight. Like things you didn’t think of. But not too stupid. Just stupid enough.
Or you could stop it, Mickey thought to himself. No – to not-himself. Please. Just stop all of this. You could do it. You’re strong. You could just stop things right here. You don’t need to go on any longer. You don’t have to do any of this.
“You did good work,” Mickey said, nodding first toward Jay, and then toward Gunny. “So, here’s how it’s going to go down. Walk with me.” He gestured as he began to walk back around the Clod again, toward where Rick had gone earlier. He was pleased that Jay was quickly at his side, with Gunny following along a little ways behind Jay, both of them coming up alongside Mickey, off to his right, exactly where he wanted them to be. Mickey kept his pace leisurely. “Now, it’ll take a while for your dad to get here. We’re going to be gone before he arrives.”
“Hey — you think he’s gonna bring the cops?” Jay asked, sounding gleeful at the prospect.
“Nah. Like they’d listen to him? He’s not really sheriff any more, anyway.” Mickey watched Gunny out of the corner of his eye. The chubby kid’s back stiffened and those fat fingers turned into fists.
Please. You just need to stop it. All you need to do-
Quiet. A picture formed inside Mickey’s mind — a picture of himself, lit up with orange fire; flesh was crackling and sizzling, eyes popping. He imagined himself in agony, fingertips revealing bones and tongue turning crisp and black. Mickey smiled, showing teeth, as he regarded Jay and Gunny fondly. As the group came back around to the front of the Clod, Mickey saw that Rick had apparently folded the chairs and piled them up together before leaving, because he was gone now. “Okay — so Rick’s off running an errand. What I need next from you, Jay, is for you right now to go meet up with CJ and hang ’til I call you.”
“Cool,” Jay said, needing no further instructions. Jay apparently hadn’t come with a bike, because the redhead took off at a run toward the well-tread path that led back into the woods.
“And Gunny?” Mickey said, turning toward the kid he’d just marked with Victor Marsh’s pocket knife.
“Yeah?” Gunny asked. The kid was shaking a little, maybe outright scared, like that kind of scared that gets you down in your gut.
You’re going to cut this one. Probably not today. But soon. Very soon. You want to see that, don’t you, Mickey? You want to watch your hands cut him, don’t you?
“Go to your dad’s. You’re the inside man. Go make sure he gets the message. I’m counting on you to maintain secrecy. You’ve done a lot for me this morning, so I know I can count on you. And I appreciate it.” Mickey’s voice broke on the word ‘appreciate,’ but just a little bit. “I’ll call you if I need you to do anything else.”
“My ph-phone is being weird, like, maybe it’s busted or something, I think, so I – “ Gunny’s voice trailed off.
You’re going to cut this one. Later, if you’re lucky. Today, if you’re luckier. You’ve got a lot of things to do.
Mickey’s eyes narrowed with frustration, but just a little. “Go and get on your bicycle. Go to your dad’s place, Gunny Marsh. I’ll see ‘ya soon, okay?”
Gunny made a weird face at that, as if confused. Those chubby fingers rubbed against both ears, like the blonde kid had some kind of nervous tic.
“This is the part where I need you to kind of beat it,” Mickey said.
Gunny nodded twice and ran off toward his trashy, old BMX bike. Then, the kid pedaled off, wheezing and sweating. Crying, too, maybe?
No, don’t. Please! You don’t have to —
Don’t second-guess me, Mickey. You should be proud. We need to go back where she left the gear.
But there are other things to think about, too. What if you run into Emmett, Cameron? What will you do? What if he stops you?
You’ve got the wrong idea about Emmett Beery if you think he can stop this. Or anything. Another image sprang to life inside Mickey’s head: poisonous fumes, a rusted metal barrel, acid eating away at pale flesh, a hand reaching up out of water. Emmett’s a little nothing. He doesn’t matter right now. We’ll handle him soon, though. Don’t worry – and trust me. I’ve taken care of us this long, haven’t I? If we see him, I know exactly what we need to do. He won’t get there before we do. And he can’t go home, can he?
What? What’re you going to do to him? He’s just a kid. Please!
He’s dead, Mickey. But … I told you – don’t worry. Little Raccoon-Face knows me. Just like You Know Me.
What do you mean? You don’t have to —
Emmett Beery has and I have a history, yeah. But here’s what matters: he’s not looking out for Mickey Laddow, but he is looking out for Cameron Stye — so he can run the other way. He’ll steer clear – until we need him. He knows what he’ll be in for if he doesn’t; he’s been down that road with me … a few times, now. That’s why he ran away before; he always runs away. Right now, we just need to go to the hiding place. And Mickey Laddow did just that. He walked into the woods, like Jay had, but taking a different path from the well tread one the other kids were taking. He walked toward the mud and the willows, until he lost all view of the Dirt Clod and the others.
As he walked, all was quiet — except inside of his head.
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