The Shining

Part Five. Matters of Life and Death Chapter 42. Mid-Air


Dick Hallorann's flight was called at 6:45 A. M., EST, and the boarding clerk held him by Gate 31, shifting his flight bag nervously from hand to hand, until the last call at 6:55. They were both looking for a man named Carlton Vecker, the only passenger on TWA's flight 196 from Miami to Denver who hadn't checked in.
"Okay," the clerk said, and issued Hallorann a blue firstclass boarding pass. "You lucked out. You can board, sir."
Hallorann hurried up the enclosed boarding ramp and let the mechanically grinning stewardess tear his pass off and give him the stub.
"We're serving breakfast on the flight," the stew said. "If you'd like-"
"Just coffee, babe," he said, and went down the aisle to a seat in the smoking section. He kept expecting the no-show Vecker to pop through the door like a jack-in-the-box at the last second. The woman in the seat by the window was reading You Can Be Your Own Best Friend with a sour, unbelieving expression on her face. Hallorann buckled his seat belt and then wrapped his large black hands around the seat's armrests and promised the absent Carlton Vecker that it would take him and five strong TWA flight attendants to drag him out of his seat. He kept his eye on his watch. It dragged off the minutes to the 7:00 takeoff time with maddening slowness.
At 7:05 the stewardess informed them that there would be a slight delay while the ground crew rechecked one of the latches on the cargo door.
"Shit for brains," Dick Hallorann muttered.
The sharp-faced woman turned her sour, unbelieving expression on him and then went back to her book.
He had spent the night at the airport, going from counter to counter-United, American, TWA, Continental, Braniff-haunting the ticket clerks. Sometime after midnight, drinking his eighth or ninth cup of coffee in the canteen, he had decided he was being an asshole to have taken this whole thing on his own shoulders. There were authorities. He had gone down to the nearest bank of telephones, and after talking to three different operators, he had gotten the emergency number of the Rocky Mountain National Park Authority.
The man who answered the telephone sounded utterly worn out. Hallorann had given a false name and said there was trouble at the Overlook Hotel, west of Sidewinder. Bad trouble.
He was put on hold.
The ranger (Hallorann assumed he was a ranger) came back on in about five minutes.
"They've got a CB," the ranger said.
"Sure they've got a CB," Hallorann said.
"We haven't had a Mayday call from them."
"Man, that don't matter. They-"
"Exactly what kind of trouble are they in, Mr. Hall?"
"Well, there's a family. The caretaker and his family. I think maybe he's gone a little nuts, you know. I think maybe he might hurt his wife and his little boy."
"May I ask how you've come by this information, sir?"
Hallorann closed his eyes. "What's your name, fellow?"
"Tom Staunton, sir."
"Well, Tom, I know. Now I'll be just as straight with you as I can be. There's bad trouble up there. Maybe killin bad, do you dig what I'm sayin?"
"Mr. Hall, I really have to know how you-"
"Look," Hallorann had said. "I'm telling you I know. A few years back there was a fellow up there name of Grady. He killed his wife and his two daughters and then pulled the string on himself. I'm telling you it's going to happen again if you guys don't haul your asses out there and stop id"
"Mr. Hall, you're not calling from Colorado."
"No. But what difference-"
"If you're not in Colorado, you're not in CB range of the Overlook Hotel. If you're not in CB range you can't possibly have been in contact with the, uh..." Faint rattle of papers. "The Torrance family. While I had you on hold I tried to telephone. It's out, which is nothing unusual. There are still twenty-five miles of aboveground telephone lines between the hotel and the Sidewinder switching station. My conclusion is that you must be some sort of crank."
"Oh man, you stupid..." But his despair was too great to find a noun to go with the adjective. Suddenly, illumination. "Call them!" he cried.
"You got the CB, they got the CB. So call them! Call them and ask them what's up!"
There was a brief silence, and the humming of long-distance wires.
"You tried that too, didn't you?" Hallorann asked. "That's why you had me on hold so long. You tried the phone and then you tried the CB and you didn't get nothing but you don't think nothing's wrong... what are you guys doing up there? Sitting on your asses and playing gin rummy?"
"No, we are not," Staunton said angrily. Hallorann was relieved at the sound of anger in the voice. For the first time he felt he was speaking to a man and not to a recording. "I'm the only man here, sir. Every other ranger in the park, plus game wardens, plus volunteers, are up in Hasty Notch, risking their lives because three stupid assholes with six months' experience decided to try the north face of King's Ram. They're stuck halfway up there and maybe they'll get down and maybe they won't. There are two choppers up there and the men who are flying them are risking their lives because it's night here and it's starting to snow. So if you're still having trouble putting it all together, I'll give you a hand with it. Number one, I don't have anybody to send to the Overlook. Number two, the Overlook isn't a priority here-what happens in the park is a priority. Number three, by daybreak neither one of those choppers will be able to fly because it's going to snow like crazy, according to the National Weather Service. Do you understand the situation?"
"Yeah," Hallorann had said softly. "I understand."
"Now my guess as to why I couldn't raise them on the CB is very simple. I don't know what time it is where you are, but out here it's nine-thirty. I think they may have turned it off and gone to bed. Now if you-"
"Good luck with your climbers, man," Hallorann said. "But I want you to know that they are not the only ones who are stuck up high because they didn't know what they were getting into."
He had hung up the phone.
At 7:20 A. M. the TWA 747 backed lumberingly out of its stall, turned, and rolled out toward the runway. Hallorann let out a long, soundless exhale. Carlton Vecker, wherever you are, eat your heart out.
Flight 196 parted company with the ground at 7:28, and at 7:31, as it gained altitude, the thought-pistol went off in Dick Hallorann's head again. His shoulders hunched uselessly against the smell of oranges and then jerked spasmodically. His forehead wrinkled, his mouth drew down in a grimace of pain.
And that was all. It was sudd enly gone. No fading out this time. The communication had been chopped off cleanly, as if with a knife. It scared him. His hands, still clutching the seat rests, had gone almost white. His mouth was dry. Something bad happened to the boy. He was cure of it. If anyone had hurt that little child-
"Do you always react so violently to takeoffs?"
He looked around. It was the woman in the horn-rimmed glasses.
"It wasn't that," Hallorann said. "I've got a steel plate in my head. From Korea. Every now and then it gives me a twinge. Vibrates, don't you know. Scrambles the signal."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"It is the line soldier who ultimately pays for any foreign intervention," the sharp-faced woman said grimly.
"Is that so?"
"It is. This country must swear off its dirty little wars. The CIA has been at the root of every dirty little war America has fought in this century. The CIA and dollar diplomacy."
She opened her book and began to read. The No SMOKING sign went off. Hallorann watched the receding land and wondered if the boy was all right. He had developed an affectionate feeling for that boy, although his folks hadn't seemed all that much.
He hoped to God they were watching out for Danny.