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In Stephen King's latest thriller, he swaps the supernatural for more traditional scares: Billy Summers (out Aug. 3) follows a killer-for-hire, a former sniper in the Iraq war who uses a career as an author as cover for his more sinister pursuits. Read an exclusive excerpt below.

Excerpt from Billy Summers, by Stephen King

Like most male movie stars—not to mention men Billy passes on the street who are emulating those movie stars—Ken Hoff has a scruff of beard, as if he forgot to shave for three or four days. This is an unfortunate look for Hoff, who is a redhead. He doesn't look rough and tough; he looks like he has a bad sunburn. 

They are sitting at an umbrella-shaded table outside an eatery called the Sunspot Café. It's on the corner of Main and Court. Billy guesses the place is plenty busy during the week, but on this Saturday afternoon it's almost deserted inside, and they have the outside scatter of tables to themselves. 

Hoff is maybe fifty or a hard-living forty-five. He's drinking a glass of wine. Billy has a diet soda. He doesn't think Hoff works for Nick, because Nick is based in Vegas. But Nick has his fingers in many pies, not all of them out west. Nick Majarian and Ken Hoff may be connected in some way, or maybe Hoff is hooked up with the guy who is paying for the job. Always assuming the job happens, that is. 

"That building across the street is mine," Hoff says. "Only twenty-two stories, but good enough to make it the second highest in Red Bluff. It'll be the third highest when the Higgins Cen- ter goes up. That's gonna be thirty stories high. With a mall. I've got a piece of that one, too, but this one? Strictly my baby. They laughed at Trump when he said he was gonna fix the economy, but it's working. It's working."

Billy Summers by Stephen King
'Billy Summers,' by Stephen King
| Credit: Scribner

Billy has no interest in Trump or Trump's economy, but he studies the building with professional interest. He's pretty sure it's where he's supposed to take the shot. It's called the Gerard Tower. Billy thinks that calling a building that has only twenty-two stories a tower is a little overblown, but he supposes in this city of small brick buildings, most of them shabby, it probably seems like a tower. On the well-tended and -watered greensward in front of it is a sign reading OFFICE SPACE AND LUXURY APARTMENTS NOW AVAILABLE. There's a number to call. The sign looks like it's been there awhile. 

"Hasn't filled the way I expected," Hoff says. "The economy's booming, yeah, people with money falling out of their asses and 2020 is going to be even better, but you'd be surprised how much of that is Internet-driven, Billy. Okay to call you Billy?" 

"Sure." 

"Bottom line, I'm a little bit tight this year. Cash flow problems since I bought into WWE, but three affils, how could I say no?" Billy has no idea what he's talking about. Something about pro wrestling, maybe? Or the Monster Truck Jam they keep advertising on TV? Since Hoff clearly thinks he should know, Billy nods his head as if he does. 

"The local old money assholes think I'm overextended, but you have to bet on the economy, am I right? Roll the dice while the dice are hot. Takes money to make money, yeah?" 

"Sure." 

"So I do what I have to do. And hey, I know a good thing when I see it and this is a good deal for me. A little risky, but I need a bridge. And Nick assures me that if you were to get caught, I know you won't but if you did, you'd keep your mouth shut." 

"Yes. I would." Billy has never been caught and doesn't intend to get caught this time. 

"Code of the road, am I right?"

"Sure." Billy has an idea that Ken Hoff has seen too many movies. Some of them probably in the "one last job" sub-genre. He wishes the man would get to the point. It's hot out here, even under the umbrella. And muggy. This climate is for the birds, Billy thinks, and probably even they don't like it. 

"I got you a nice corner suite on the fifth floor," Hoff says. "Three rooms. Office, reception, kitchenette. A kitchenette, how about that, huh? You'll be okay no matter how long it takes. Snug as a bug in a rug. I'm not gonna point, but I'm sure you can count to five, right?" 

Sure, Billy thinks, I can even walk and chew gum at the same time. 

The building is square, your basic Saltine box with windows, so there are actually two corner suites on the fifth floor, but Billy knows which one Hoff means: the one on the left. From the window he traces a diagonal down Court Street, which is only two blocks long. The diagonal, the path of the shot he'll take if he takes the job, ends at the steps of the county courthouse. It's a gray granite sprawl of a building. The steps, at least twenty, lead up to a plaza with blindfolded Lady Justice in the middle, holding out her scales. Among the many things he will never tell Ken Hoff: Lady Justice is based on Iustice, a Roman goddess more or less invented by the emperor Augustus. 

Billy returns his gaze to the fifth-floor corner suite and once more eyes the diagonal. It looks to him like five hundred yards from the window to the steps. That's a shot he is capable of making even in a strong wind. With the right tool, of course. 

"What have you got for me, Mr. Hoff?" 

"Huh?" For a moment Hoff's dumb self is on full view. Billy makes a curling gesture with the index finger of his right hand. It could be taken to mean come on, but not in this case. 

"Oh! Sure! What you asked for, right?" He looks around, sees no one, but lowers his voice anyway. "Remington 700." 

"The M24." That's the Army classification. 

"M . . . ?" Hoff reaches into his back pocket, takes out his wallet, and thumbs through it. He removes a scrap of paper and looks at it. "M24, right." 

He starts to put the piece of paper back in his wallet, but Billy holds out his hand. 

Hoff hands it over. Billy puts it in his own pocket. Later, before he goes to see Nick, he'll flush it down the toilet in his hotel room. You don't write stuff down. He hopes this guy Hoff isn't going to be a problem. 

"Optics?""Huh?""Scope. The sight."Hoff looks flustered. "It's the one you asked for.""Did you write that down, too?""On the paper I just gave you.""Okay.""I've got the, uh, tool in a—""I don't need to know where. I haven't even decided if I want this 

job." He has, though. "Does the building over there have security?" Another dumb self question. 

"Yeah. Sure." 

"If I do take the job, getting the tool up to the fifth floor will be on me. Are we good on that, Mr. Hoff?" 

"Yeah, sure." Hoff looks relieved. 

"Then I think we're done here." Billy stands and holds out his hand. "It was very nice meeting you." It wasn't. Billy isn't sure he trusts the man, and he hates that stupid scruffy beard. What woman would want to kiss a mouth surrounded by red bristles? 

Hoff shakes. "Same here, Billy. This is just a squeeze I'm going through. You ever read a book called The Hero's Journey?" 

Billy has, but shakes his head. 

"You should, you should. I just skimmed the literary stuff to get to the main part. Straight to the meat of a thing, that's me. Cut through the bullshit. Can't remember the name of the guy who wrote it, but he says every man has to go through a time of testing before he becomes a hero. This is my time." 

By supplying a sniper rifle and an overwatch site to an assassin, Billy thinks. Not sure Joseph Campbell would put that in the hero category. 

"Well, I hope you pass."

From BILLY SUMMERS, by Stephen King. Copyright 2021 by Stephen King. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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