From THE OUTSIDER by Stephen King. Copyright © 2018 by Stephen King. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Listen along to the below excerpt, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Audio.
He was prepared for another of those accusing stares, but Terry only glanced at him briefly, and with no expression at all, before turning his attention to Bill Samuels, who had taken a seat in one of the three chairs on the other side of the table.
Studying Samuels now, Ralph began to get an idea of how he had risen so high so quickly. While the two of them were standing on the other side of the one-way glass, the DA had simply looked a bit young for the job. Now, facing Frankie Peterson’s rapist and killer, he looked even younger, like a law office intern who had (due to some mixup, probably) landed this interview with a big-time perp. Even the little Alfalfa cowlick sticking up from the back of his head added to the role the man had slipped into: untried youth, just happy to be here. You can tell me anything, said those wide, interested eyes, because I’ll believe it. This is my first time playing with the big boys, and I just don’t know any better.
“Hello, Mr. Maitland,” Samuels said. “I work in the county DA’s office.”
Good start, Ralph thought. You are the county DA’s office.
“You’re wasting your time,” Terry said. “I’m not going to talk to you until my lawyer gets here. I will say that I see a sizeable wrongful arrest suit in your future.”
“I understand that you’re upset, in your position, anyone would be. Maybe we can iron it out right here. Can you just tell me where you were when the Peterson boy was killed? That was on last Tuesday afternoon. If you were somewhere else, then—”
“I was,” Terry said, “but I intend to discuss that with my lawyer before I discuss it with you. His name is Howard Gold. When he gets here, I’ll want to talk to him privately. I assume that’s my right? Since I’m presumed innocent until proven guilty?”
Quick recovery, Ralph thought. A career criminal couldn’t have done it better.
“It is indeed,” Samuels said. “But if you haven’t done anything—”
“Don’t try, Mr. Samuels. You didn’t bring me here because you’re a nice guy.”
“Actually, I am,” Samuels said earnestly. “If there’s been a mistake, I’m as interested in getting it straightened out as you are.”
“You have some hair sticking up in back,” Terry said. “Might want to do something about that. It makes you look like Alfalfa in the old comedies I used to watch when I was a kid.”
Ralph didn’t even come close to laughing, but one corner of his mouth twitched. That he couldn’t help.
Momentarily put off-balance, Samuels raised a hand to smooth down the cowlick. It laid flat for a moment, then sprang back up.
“Are you sure you don’t want to clear this up?” Samuels leaned forward, his earnest expression suggesting that Terry was making a bad mistake.
“I’m sure,” Terry said. “And I’m sure about the suit, too. I don’t think there’s a settlement large enough to pay for what you sorry sons of bitches did tonight—not just to me, but to my wife and girls—but I intend to find out.”
Samuels sat where he was for a moment longer—leaning forward, innocently hopeful eyes locked on Terry’s—and then he stood up. The innocent look disappeared. “Okay. Fine. You can confer with your lawyer, Mr. Maitland, that’s your right. No audio, no video, we’ll even draw the curtain. If you two are quick about it, maybe we can get this squared away tonight. I’ve got an early tee time in the morning.”
Terry looked as if he had misheard. “Golf?”
“Golf. It’s a game where you try to knock the little ball into the cup. I’m not very good at it, but I’m very good at this game, Mr. Maitland. And as the estimable Mr. Gold will tell you, we can hold you here for forty-eight hours without charging you. It won’t actually be that long. If we can’t clarify this, we’ll take you for arraignment bright and early on Monday morning. Your arrest will be statewide news by then, so there will be plenty of coverage. I’m sure the photographers will get your good side.”
Having gotten what he assumed was the last word, Samuels almost strutted to the door (Ralph guessed Terry’s comment about the cowlick still rankled). Before he could open it, Terry said, “Hey, Ralph.”
Ralph turned. Terry looked calm, which was extraordinary under the circumstances. Or maybe not. Sometimes the really cold ones, the sociopaths, found that calm after the initial shock, and buckled down for the long haul. Ralph had seen it before.
“I’m not going to discuss any of this until Howie gets here, but I want to tell you one thing.”
“Go ahead.” That was Samuels, trying not to sound eager, but his face fell at what Terry said next.
“Derek was the best drag bunter I ever had.”
“Oh, no,” Ralph said. He could hear the rage trembling in his voice, a kind of vibrato. “Don’t go there. I don’t want to hear my son’s name come out of your mouth. Not tonight, not ever.”
Terry nodded. “I can relate, because I never wanted to be arrested in front of my wife and daughters and a thousand other people, many of them my neighbors. So never mind what you don’t want to hear. Just listen a minute. I think you owe me that for doing it the nasty way.”
Ralph opened the door, but Samuels put a hand on his arm, shook his head, and raised his eyes slightly to the camera in the corner with its small red light. Ralph closed the door again and turned back to Terry, crossing his arms over his chest. He had an idea that Terry’s idea of payback for the public arrest was going to hurt, but he knew Samuels was right. A suspect talking was always better than a suspect clamming up until his lawyer arrived. Because one thing had a way of leading to another.
Terry said, “Derek couldn’t have been more than four-ten or -eleven back in Little League. I’ve seen him since—tried to get him to play for City last year, as a matter of fact—and he’s grown six inches since then. He’ll be taller than you by the time he graduates from high school, I bet.”
“He was a shrimp, but he was never afraid in the batter’s box. A lot of them are, but Derek would stand in even against the kids who’d wind up and fling the ball with no idea of where it was going. Got hit half a dozen times, but he never gave in.”
It was the truth. Ralph had seen the bruises after some of the games, when D peeled off his uniform: on the butt, on the thigh, on the arm, on the shoulder. Once there had been a perfect black and blue circle on the nape of his neck. Those hits had driven Jeanette crazy, and the batting helmet Derek wore didn’t comfort her; every time D stepped into the batter’s box, she had gripped Ralph’s arm almost hard enough to bring blood, afraid the kid would eventually take one between the eyes and wind up in a coma. Ralph assured her it wouldn’t happen, but he had been almost as glad as Jeannie was when Derek decided tennis was more his game. The balls were softer.
Terry leaned forward, actually smiling a little.
“A kid that short usually gets a lot of walks—as a matter of fact, that’s sort of what I was hoping for tonight, when I let Trevor Michaels bat for himself—but Derek wasn’t going to get cheated. He’d flail at just about anything—inside, outside, over his head or in the dirt. Some of the kids started calling him Whiffer Anderson, then one of them changed it to Swiffer, like the mop, and that stuck. At least for awhile.”
“Very interesting,” Samuels said, “but why don’t we talk about Frank Peterson, instead?”
Terry’s eyes remained fixed on Ralph.
“Long story short, when I saw he wouldn’t take a walk, I taught him to bunt. Lot of boys his age—ten, eleven—they won’t do it. They get the idea, but they don’t like dropping the bat over the plate, especially against a kid who can really bring it. They keep thinking about how much their fingers are going to hurt if they get hit with their bare hands out front like that. Not Derek, though. He had a yard of guts, your boy. Besides, he could really scoot down the line, and a lot of times when I sent him up to sacrifice, he ended up getting a base hit.”
Ralph didn’t nod or give any sign at all that he cared about this, but he knew what Terry was talking about. He had cheered plenty of those bunts, and had seen his kid fly down the line like his hair was on fire and his ass was catching.
“It was just a matter of teaching him the right bat angles,” Terry said, and held up his hands to demonstrate. They were still smudged with dirt, probably from throwing batting practice before tonight’s game. “Angle to the left, the ball squirts up the third base line. Angle to the right, first base line. Don’t shove the bat, most times that does nothing but send an easy pop-up to the pitcher, just give it a little nudge at the last split-second. He caught on fast. The kids stopped calling him Swiffer and gave him a new nickname. We’d have a runner on first or third late in the game and the other team knew he was going to lay one down—there was no faking, he’d drop the bat across the plate as soon as the pitcher went into his motion, and the kids on the bench would all be yelling ‘Push it, Derek, push it!’ Me and Gavin, too. And that was what they called him that whole last year, when we won the district. Push It Anderson. Did you know that?”
Ralph hadn’t, maybe because it was strictly a team thing. What he did know was that Derek had grown up a lot that summer. He laughed more, and wanted to hang around after the games were over instead of just heading for the car with his head down and his glove dangling.
“He did most of it himself—practiced like a mother until he had it right—but I was the one who talked him into trying it.” He paused, then said, very softly, “And you do this to me. In front of everyone, you do this to me.”
Ralph felt his cheeks heat up. He opened his mouth to reply, but Samuels was escorting him out the door, almost pulling him along. He paused just long enough to say one thing over his shoulder. “Ralph didn’t do it to you, Maitland. Neither did I. You did it to yourself.”
Then the two of them were looking through the one-way glass again, and Samuels was asking if Ralph was all right.
“Fine,” Ralph said. His cheeks were still burning.
“Some of them are masters at getting under your skin. You know that, right?”
“And you know he did this, right? I’ve never had a case sewn up so tight.”
Which bothers me, Ralph thought. It didn’t before, but it does now. It shouldn’t, because Samuels is right, but it does.
“Did you notice his hands?” Ralph asked. “When he was showing how he taught Derek to bunt, did you see his hands?”
“Yes. What about them?”
“No long pinky fingernail,” Ralph said. “Not on either hand.”
Samuels shrugged. “So he clipped it. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Fine,” Ralph said. “I just—”
The door between the office area and the detention wing buzzed, then banged open. The man who came hurrying down the hallway was dressed in his Saturday night relaxing-at-home clothes—faded jeans and a TCU tee-shirt with SuperFrog hopping on the front—but the boxy briefcase he was carrying was all lawyer.
“Hello, Bill,” he said. “And hello to you, Detective Anderson. Would either of you like to tell me why you have arrested Flint City’s 2015 Man of the Year? Is it just a mistake, one we can perhaps smooth over, or have you lost your f—ing minds?”
Howard Gold had arrived.