Stephen King's 'End of Watch': Read an exclusive excerpt
The horror master concludes his chilling Bill Hodges trilogy with End of Watch (out June 7). “Mercedes Killer” Brady Hartsfield may have been in a coma — but he’s still in control of the unthinkable new powers he’s gained. Can Bill and Holly stop him before they become victims too?
From End of Watch by Stephen King
Bill Hodges isn’t the only one who took an instant dislike to Becky Helmington’s replacement. The nurses and orderlies who work in the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic call it the Bucket, as in Brain Bucket, and before long Ruth Scapelli has become known as Nurse Ratched. By the end of her third month, she has gotten three nurses transferred for various small infractions, and one orderly fired for smoking in a supply closet. She has banned certain colorful uniforms as “too distracting” or “too suggestive.”
The doctors like her, though. They find her swift and competent. With the patients she is also swift and competent, but she’s cold, and there’s an undertone of contempt there, as well. She will not allow even the most cataclysmically injured of them to be called a gork or a burn or a wipeout, at least not in her hearing, but she has a certain attitude.
“She knows her stuff,” one nurse said to another in the break room not long after Scapelli took up her duties. “No argument about that, but there’s something missing.”
The other nurse was a thirty-year veteran who had seen it all. She considered, then said one word…but it was le mot juste. “Mercy.”
Scapelli never exhibits coldness or contempt when she accompanies Felix Babineau, the head of Neuro, on his rounds, and he probably wouldn’t notice if she did. Some of the other doctors have noticed, but few pay any mind; the doings of such lesser beings as nurses—even head nurses—are far below their lordly gaze.
It is as if Scapelli feels that, no matter what is wrong with them, the patients of the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic must bear part of the responsibility for their current condition, and if they only tried harder, they would surely regain at least some of their faculties. She does her job, though, and for the most part she does it well, perhaps better than Becky Helmington, who was far better liked. If told this, Scapelli would have said she was not here to be liked. She was here to care for her patients, end of story, full stop.
There is, however, one long-term patient in the Bucket whom she hates. That patient is Brady Hartsfield. It isn’t because she had a friend or relative who was hurt or killed at City Center; it’s because she thinks he’s shamming. Avoiding the punishment he so richly deserves. Mostly she stays away and lets other staff members deal with him, because just seeing him often infuses her with a daylong rage that the system should be so easily gamed by this vile creature. She stays away for another reason, too: she doesn’t entirely trust herself when she’s in his room. On two occasions she has done something. The kind of thing that, were it discovered, might result in her being the one fired. But on this early January after – noon, just as Hodges and Holly are finishing their lunch, she is drawn down to Room 217 as if by an invisible cable. Only this morning she was forced to go in there, because Dr. Babineau insists she accompany him on rounds, and Brady is his star patient. He marvels at how far Brady has come.
“He should never have emerged from his coma at all,” Babineau told her shortly after she came on staff at the Bucket. He’s a cold fish, but when he speaks of Brady he becomes almost jolly. “And look at him now! He’s able to walk short distances—with help, I grant you—he can feed himself, and he can respond either verbally or with signs to simple questions.”
He’s also prone to poking himself in the eye with his fork, Ruth Scapelli could have added (but doesn’t), and his verbal responses all sound like wah-wah and gub-gub to her. Then there’s the matter of waste. Put a Depends on him and he holds it. Take it off, and he urinates in his bed, regular as clockwork. Defecates in it, if he can. It’s as if he knows. She believes he does know.
Something else he knows—of this there can be no doubt—is that Scapelli doesn’t like him. This very morning, after the exam was finished and Dr. Babineau was washing his hands in the en suite bathroom, Brady raised his head to look at her and lifted one hand to his chest. He curled it into a loose, trembling fist. From it his middle finger slowly extended.
At first Scapelli could barely comprehend what she was seeing: Brady Hartsfield, giving her the finger. Then, as she heard the water go off in the bathroom, two buttons popped from the front of her uniform, exposing the center of her sturdy Playtex 18-Hour Comfort Strap Bra. She doesn’t believe the rumors she’s heard about this waste of humanity, refuses to believe them, but then…
He smiled at her. Grinned at her.
From END OF WATCH by Stephen King. Copyright © 2016 by Stephen King. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.