Clark was still staring at the cook and the waitress with that alarming expression of dazed knowledge, his face so long and drawn that it looked like something glimpsed in a funhouse mirror.
They'll see that, if they haven't already, Mary thought, and we'll lose any chance we still have of getting out of this nightmare. I think you better take charge of this situation, kiddo, and quick. The question is, what are you going to do?
She reached for his hand, meaning to grab it and squeeze it, then decided that wouldn't do enough to alter his slack-jawed expression. She reached further and squeezed his balls instead... as hard as she dared. Clark jerked as if someone had zapped him with a laser and swung toward her so fast he almost fell off his stool.
. "I left my wallet in the car," she said. Her voice sounded -Brittle and too loud in her own ears. "Would you get it for me... ? Clark?"
She looked at him, lips smiling, eyes locked on his with complete concentration. She had read, probably in some shit-intensive woman's magazine while waiting to get her hair done, that when you lived with the same man for ten or twenty years, you forged a low-grade telepathic link with your partner. This link, the article went on to suggest, came in mighty handy when your hubby was bringing the boss home to dinner without phoning ahead or when you wanted him to bring a bottle of Amaretto from the liquor store and a carton of whipping cream from the supermarket. Now she tried -- tried with all her might -- to send a far more important message.
Go, Clark. Please go. I'll give you ten seconds, and then come on the run. And if you're not in the driver's seat with the key in the ignition, I have a feeling we could be seriously f**ked here.
And at the same time, a deeper Mary was saying timidly: This is all a dream, isn't it? I mean... it is, isn't it?
Clark was looking at her carefully, his eyes watering from the tweak she had given him... but at least he wasn't complaining about it. His eyes shifted to the redhead and the short-order cook for a moment, saw they were still deep in their own conversation (now she appeared to be the one who was telling a joke), and then shifted back to her.
"It might have slid under the seat," she said in her too-loud, too-brittle voice before he could reply. "It's the red one."
After another moment of silence -- one that seemed to last forever -- Clark nodded slightly. "Okay," he said, and she could have blessed him for his nicely normal tone, "but no fair stealing my pie while I'm gone."
"Just get back before I finish mine and you'll be okay," she said, and tucked a forkful of cherry pie into her mouth. It had absolutely no taste at all to her, but she smiled. God, yes. Smiled like the Miss New York Apple Queen she had once been.
Clark started to get off his stool, and then, from somewhere outside, came a series of amplified guitar chops -- not chords but only open strums. Clark jerked, and Mary shot out one hand to clutch his arm. Her heart, which had been slowing down, broke into that nasty, scary sprint again.
The redhead and the cook -- even the younger waitress, who, thankfully, didn't look like anyone famous -- glanced casually toward the plate-glass windows of the Rock-a-Boogie.
"Don't let it get you, hon," the redhead said. "They're just startin to tune up for the concert tonight."
"That's right," the short-order cook said. He regarded Mary with his drop-dead blue eyes. "We have a concert here in town most every night."
Yes, Mary thought. Of course. Of course you do.
A voice both toneless and godlike rolled across from the town common, a voice almost loud enough to rattle the windows. Mary, who had been to her share of rock shows, was able to place it in a clear context at once -- it called up images of bored, long-haired roadies strolling around the stage before the lights went down, picking their way with easy grace between the forests of amps and mikes, kneeling every now and then to patch two power-cords together.
"Test!" this voice cried. "Test-one, test-one, test-one!"
Another guitar chop, still not a chord but close this time. Then a drum-run. Then a fast trumpet riff lifted from the chorus of "Instant Karma," accompanied by a light rumble of bongos. CONCERT TONIGHT, the Norman Rockwell sign over the Norman Rockwell town common had said, and Mary, who had grown up in Elmira, New York, had been to quite a few free concerts-on-the-green as a child. Those really had been Norman Rockwell concerts, with the band (made up of guys wearing their Volunteer Fire Department kit in lieu of the band uniforms they couldn't afford) tootling their way through slightly off-key Sousa marches and the local Barber Shop Quartet (Plus Two) harmonizing on things like "Shenandoah" and "I've Got a Gal from Kalama-zoo."
She had an idea that the concerts in Rock and Roll Heaven might be quite different from those childhood musicales where she and her friends had run around waving sparklers as twilight drew on for night.
She had an idea that these concerts-on-the-green might be closer to Goya than to Rockwell.
"I'll go get your wallet," he said. "Enjoy your pie."
"Thank you, Clark." She put another tasteless forkful of pie in her mouth and watched him head for the door. He walked in an exaggerated slow-motion saunter that struck her feverish eye as absurd and somehow horrid: / don't have the slightest idea that I'm sharing this room with a couple of famous corpses, Clark's ambling, sauntering stride was saying. What, me worry?
Hurry up! she wanted to scream. Forget about the gunslinger strut and move your ass!
The bell jingled and the door opened as Clark reached for the knob, and two more dead Texans came in. The one wearing the dark glasses was Roy Orbison. The one wearing the hornrims was Buddy Holly.
All my exes come from Texas, Mary thought wildly, and waited for them to lay their hands on her husband and drag him away.
" 'Scuse me, sir," the man in the dark glasses said politely, and instead of grabbing Clark, he stepped aside for him. Clark nodded without speaking -- Mary was suddenly quite sure he couldn't speak -- and stepped out into the sunshine.
Leaving her alone in here with the dead. And that thought seemed to lead naturally to another one, even more horrible: Clark was going to drive off without her. She was suddenly sure of it. Not because he wanted to, and certainly not because he was a coward -- this situation went beyond questions of courage and cowardice, and she supposed that the only reason they both weren't gibbering and drooling on the floor was because it had developed so fast -- but because he just wouldn't be able to do anything else. The reptile that lived on the floor of his brain, the one in charge of self-preservation, would simply slither out of its hole in the mud and take charge of things.
You've got to get out of here, Mary, the voice in her mind -- the one that belonged to her own reptile -- said, and the tone of that voice frightened her. It was more reasonable than it had any right to be, given the situation, and she had an idea that sweet reason might give way to shrieks of madness at any moment.
Mary took one foot off the rail under the counter and put it on the floor, trying to ready herself mentally for flight as she did so, but before she could gather herself, a narrow hand fell on her shoulder and she looked up into the smiling, knowing face of Buddy Holly.
He had died in 1959, a piece of trivia she remembered from that movie where Gary Busey had played him. 1959 was over thirty years gone, but Buddy Holly was still a gawky twenty-three-year-old who looked seventeen, his eyes swimming behind his glasses and his adam's apple bobbing up and down like a monkey on a stick. He was wearing an ugly plaid jacket and a string tie. The tie's clasp was a large chrome steer-head. The face and the taste of a country bumpkin, you would have said, but there was something in the set of the mouth that was too wise, somehow, too dark, and for a moment the hand gripped her shoulder so tightly she could feel the tough pads of callus on the ends of the fingers -- guitar calluses.
"Hey there, sweet thang," he said, and she could smell clove gum on his breath. There was a silvery crack, hair-thin, zigzagging across the left lens of his glasses. "Ain't seen you roun' these parts before."
Incredibly, she was lifting another forkful of pie toward her mouth, her hand not hesitating even when a clot of cherry filling plopped back onto her plate. More incredibly, she was slipping the fork through a small, polite smile.
"No," she said. She was somehow positive that she couldn't let this man see she had recognized him; if he did, any small chance she and Clark might still have would evaporate. "My husband and I are just... you know, passing through."