The Shining

Part Three. The Wasps' Nest Chapter 20. Talking to Mr. Ullman


The Sidewinder Public Library was a small, retiring building one block down from the town's business area. It was a modest, vine-covered building, and the wide concrete walk up to the door was lined with the corpses of last summer's flowers. On the lawn was a large bronze statue of a Civil War general Jack had never heard of, although he had been something of a Civil War buff in his teenage years.
The newspaper files were kept downstairs. They consisted of the Sidewinder Gazette that had gone bust in 1963, the Estes Park daily, and the Boulder Camera. No Denver papers at all.
Sighing, Jack settled for the Camera.
When the files reached 1965, the actual newspapers were replaced by spools of microfilm ("A federal grant," the librarian told him brightly. "We hope to do 1958 to '64 when the next check comes through, but they're so slow, aren't they? You will be careful, won't you? I just know you will. Call if you need me."). The only reading machine bad a lens that had somehow gotten warped, and by the time Wendy put her hand on his shoulder some forty-five minutes after he had switched from the actual papers, he had a juicy thumper of a headache.
"Danny's in the park," she said, "but I don't want him outside too long. How much longer do you think you'll be?"
"Ten minutes," he said. Actually he had traced down the last of the Overlook's fascinating history-the years between the gangland shooting and the takeover by Stuart Ullman amp; Co. But he felt the same reticence about telling Wendy.
"What are you up to, anyway?" she asked. She ruffed his hair as she said it, but her voice was only half-teasing.
"Looking up some old Overlook history," he said.
"Any particular reason?"
(and why the hell are you so interested anyway?)
just curiosity."
"Find anything interesting?"
"Not much," he said, having to strive to keep his voice pleasant now. She was prying, just the way she had always pried and poked at him when they had been at Stovington and Danny was still a crib-infant. Where are you going, Jack? When will you be back? How much money do you have with you? Are you going to take the car? Is Al going to be with you? Will one of you stay sober? On and on. She had, pardon the expression, driven him to drink. Maybe that hadn't been the only reason, but by Christ let's tell the truth here and admit it was one of them. Nag and nag and nag until you wanted to clout her one just to shut her up and stop the
(Where? When? How? Are you? Will you?)
endless flow of questions. It could give you a real
(headache? hangover?)
headache. The reader. The damned reader with its distorted print. That was why he had such a cunt of a headache.
"Jack, are you all right? You look pale-"
He snapped his head away from her fingers. "I am fine!"
She recoiled from his hot eyes and tried on a smile that was a size too small. "Well... if you are... I'll just go and wait in the park with Danny..." She was starting away now, her smile dissolving into a bewildered expression of hurt.
He called to her: "Wendy?"
She looked back from the foot of the stairs. "What, Jack?"
He got up and went over to her. "I'm sorry, babe. I guess I'm really not all right. That machine... the lens is distorted. I've got a really bad headache. Got any aspirin?"
"Sure." She pawed in her purse and came up with a tin of Anacin. "You keep them."
He took the tin. "No Excedrin?" He saw the small recoil on her face and understood. It had been a bitter sort of joke between them at first, before the drinking had gotten too bad for jokes. He had claimed that Excedrin was the only nonprescription drug ever invented that could stop a hangover dead in its tracks. Absolutely the only one. He had begun to think of his morning-after thumpers as Excedrin Headache Number Vat 69.
"No Excedrin," she said. "Sorry."
"That's okay," he said, "these'll do just fine." But of course they wouldn't, and she should have known it, too. At times she could be the stupidest bitch...
"Want some water?" she asked brightly.
(No I just want you to GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!).
"I'll get some at the drinking fountain when I go up. Thanks."
"Okay." She started up the stairs, good legs moving gracefully under a short tan wool skirt. "We'll be in the park."
"Right." He slipped the tin of Anacin absently into his pocket, went back to the reader, and turned it off. When he was sure she was gone, he went upstairs himself. God, but it was a lousy headache. If you were going to have a visegripper like this one, you ought to at least be allowed the pleasure of a few drinks to balance it off.
He tried to put the thought from his mind, more ill tempered than ever. He went to the main desk, fingering a matchbook cover with a telephone number on it.
"Ma'am, do you have a pay telephone?"
"No, sir, but you can use mine if it's local."
"It's long-distance, sorry."
"Well then, I guess the drugstore would be your best bet. They have a booth."
He went out and down the walk, past the anonymous Civil War general. He began to walk toward the business block, hands stuffed in his pockets, head thudding like a leaden bell. The sky was also leaden; it was November 7, and with the new month the weather had become threatening. There had been a number of snow flurries. There had been snow in October too, but that had melted. The new flurries had stayed, a light frosting over everything-it sparkled in the sunlight like fine crystal. But there had been no sunlight today, and even as he reached the drugstore it began to spit snow again.
The phone booth was at the back of the building, and he was halfway down an aisle of patent medicines, jingling his change in his pocket, when his eyes fell on the white boxes with their green print. He took one of them to the cashier, paid, and went back to the telephone booth. He pulled the door closed, put his change and matchbook cover on the counter, and dialed O.
"Your call, please?"
"Fort Lauderdale, Florida, operator." He gave her the number there and the number in the booth. When she told him it would be a dollar ninety for the first three minutes, he dropped eight quarters into the slot, wincing each time the bell bonged in his ear.
Then, left in limbo with only the faraway clickings and gabblings of connection-making, he took the green-bottle of Excedrin out of its box, pried up the white cap, and dropped the wad of cotton batting to the floor of the booth. Cradling, the phone receiver between his ear and shoulder, he shook out three of the white tablets and lined them up on the counter beside his remaining change. He recapped the bottle and put it in his pocket.
At the other end, the phone was picked up on the first ring.
"Surf-Sand Resort, how may we help you?" the perky female voice asked.
"I'd like to speak with the manager, please."
"Do you mean Mr. Trent or-"
"I mean Mr. Ullman."
"I believe Mr. Ullman is busy, but if you would like me to check-"
"I would. Tell him it's Jack Torrance calling from Colorado."
"One moment, please." She put him on hold.
Jack's dislike for that cheap, self-important little prick Ullman came flooding back. He took one of the Excedrins from the counter, regarded it for a moment, then put it into his mouth and began to chew it, slowly and with relish. The taste flooded back like memory, making his saliva squirt in mingled pleasure and unhappiness. A dry, bitter taste, but a compelling one. He swallowed with a grimace. Chewing aspirin had been a habit with him in his drinking days; he hadn't done it at all since then. But when your headache was bad enough, a hangover headache or one like this one, chewing them seemed to make them get to work quicker. He had read somewhere that chewing aspirin could become addictive. Where had he read that, anyway? Frowning, he tried to think. And then Ullman came on the line.
"Torrance? What's the trouble?"
"No trouble," he said. "The boiler's okay and I haven't even gotten around to murdering my wife yet. I'm saving that until after the holidays, when things get dull."
"Very funny. Why are you calling? I'm a busy-"
"Busy man, yes, I understand that. I'm calling about some things that you didn't tell me during your history of the Overlooks great and honorable past. Like how Horace Derwent sold it to a bunch of Las Vegas sharpies who dealt it through so many dummy corporations that not even the IRS knew who really owned it. About how they waited until the time was right and then turned it into a playground for Mafia bigwigs, and about how it had to be shut down in 1966 when one of them got a little bit dead. Along with his bodyguards, who were standing outside the door to the Presidential Suite. Great place, the Overlook's Presidential Suite. Wilson, Harding, Roosevelt, Nixon, and Vito the Chopper, right?"
There was a moment of surprised silence on the other end of the line, and then Ullman said quietly: "I don't see how that can have any bearing on your job, Mr. Torrance. It-"
"The best part happened after Gienelli was shot, though, don't you think? Two more quick shuffles, now you see it and now you don't, and then the Overlook is suddenly owned by a private citizen, a woman named Sylvia Hunter... who just happened to be Sylvia Hunter Derwent from 1942 to 1948."
"Your three minutes are up," the operator said. "Signal when through."
"My dear Mr. Torrance, all of this is public knowledge... and ancient history."
"It formed no part of my knowledge," Jack said. "I doubt if many other people know it, either. Not all of it. Thev remember the Gienelli shooting, maybe, but I doubt if anybody has put together all the wondrous and strange shuffles the Overlook has been through since 1945. And it always seems like Derwent or a Derwent associate comes up with the door prize. What was Sylvia Hunter running up there in '67 and '68, Mr. Ullman? It was a whorehouse, wasn't it?"
"Torrance!" His shock crackled across two thousand miles of telephone cable without losing a thing.
Smiling, Jack popped another Excedrin into his mouth and chewed it.
"She sold out after a rather well known U. S. senator died of a heart attack up there. There were rumors that he was found naked except for black nylon stockings and a garter belt and a pair of high-heeled pumps. Patent-leather pumps, as a matter of fact."
"That's a vicious, damnable lie!" Ullman cried.
"Is it?" Jack asked. He was beginning to feel better. The headache was draining away. He took the last Excedrin and chewed it up, enjoying the bitter, powdery taste as the tablet shredded in his mouth.
"It was a very unfortunate occurrence," Ullman said. "Now what is the point, Torrance? If you're planning to write some ugly smear article... if this is some illconceived, stupid blackmail idea..."
"Nothing of the sort," Jack said. "I called because I didn't think you played square with me. And because-"
"Didn't play square?" Ullman cried. "My God, did you think I was going to share a large pile of dirty laundry with the hotel's caretaker? Who in heaven's name do you think you are? And how could those old stories possibly affect you anyway? Or do you think there are ghosts parading up and down the halls of the west wing wearing bedsheets and crying 'Woe!'?"
"No, I don't think there are any ghosts. But you raked up a lot of my personal history before you gave me the job. You had me on the carpet, quizzing me about my ability to take care of your hotel like a little boy in front of the teacher's desk for peeing in the coatroom. You embarrassed me."
"I just do not believe your cheek, your bloody damned impertinence," Ullman said. He sounded as if he might be choking. "I'd like to sack you. And perhaps I will."
"I think Al Shockley might object. Strenuously."
"And I think you may have finally overestimated Mr. Shockley's commitment to you, Mr. Torrance."
For a moment Jack's headache came back in all its thudding glory, and he closed his eyes against the pain. As if from a distance away he heard himself ask: "Who owns the Overlook now? Is it still Derwent Enterprises? Or are you too smallfry to know?"
"I think that will do, Mr. Torrance. You are an employee of the hotel, no different from a busboy or a kitchen pot scrubber. I have no intention of-"
"Okay, I'll write Al," Jack said. "He'll know; after all, he's on the Board of Directors. And I might just add a little P. S. to the effect that-"
"Derwent doesn't own it."
"What? I couldn't quite make that out."
"I said Derwent doesn't own it. The stockholders are all Easterners. Your friend Mr. Shockley owns the largest block of stock himself, better than thirtyfive per cent. You would know better than I if he has any ties to Derwent."
"Who else?"
"I have no intention of divulging the names of the other stockholders to you, Mr. Torrance. I intend to bring this whole matter to the attention of-"
"One other question."
"I am under no obligation to you."
"Most of the Overlook's history-savory and unsavory alike-I found in a scrapbook that was in the cellar. Big thing with white leather covers. Gold thread for binding. Do you have any idea whose scrapbook that might be?"
"None at all."
"Is it possible it could have belonged to Grady? The caretaker who killed himself?"
"Mr. Torrance," Ullman said in tones of deepest frost, "I am by no means sure that Mr. Grady could read, let alone dig out the rotten apples you have been wasting my time with."
"I'm thinking of writing a book about the Overlook Hotel. I thought if I actually got through it, the owner of the scrapbook would like to have an acknowledgment at the front."
"I think writing a book about the Overlook would be very unwise," Ullman said. "Especially a book done from your... uh, point of view."
"Your opinion doesn't surprise me." His headache was all gone now. There had been that one flash of pain, and that was all. His mind felt sharp and accurate, all the way down to millimeters. It was the way he usually felt only when the writing was going extremely well or when he had a threedrink buzz on. That was another thing he had forgotten about Excedrin; he didn't know if it worked for others, but for him crunching three tablets was like an instant high.
Now he said: "What you'd like is some sort of commissioned guidebook that you could hand out free to the guests when they checked in. Something with a lot of glossy photos of the mountains at sunrise and sunset and a lemon-meringue text to go with it. Also a section on the colorful people who have stayed there, of course excluding the really colorful ones like Gienelli and his friends."
"If I felt I could fire you and be a hundred per cent certain of my own job instead of just ninety-five per cent," UIIman said in clipped, strangled tones, "I would fire you right this minute, over the telephone. But since I feel that five per cent of uncertainty, I intend to call Mr. Shockley the moment you're off the line... which will be soon, or so I devoutly hope."
Jack said, "There isn't going to be anything in the book that isn't true, you know. There's no need to dress it up."
(Why are you baiting him? Do you want to be fired?)
"I don't care if Chapter Five is about the Pope of Rome screwing the shade of the Virgin Mary," Ullman said, his voice rising. "I want you out of my hotel!"
"It's not your hotel!" Jack screamed, and slammed the receiver into its cradle.
He sat on the stool breathing hard, a little scared now,
(a little? hell, a lot)
wondering why in the name of God he had called Ullman in the first place.
(You lost your temper again, Jack.)
Yes. Yes, he had. No sense trying to deny it. And the bell of it was, he had no idea how much influence that cheap little prick had over Al, no more than he knew how much bullshit Al would take from him in the name of auld lang syne. If Ullman was as good as he claimed to be, and if he gave Al a he-goes-or-I-go ultimatum, might not Al be forced to take it? He closed his eyes and tried to imagine telling Wendy. Guess what, babe? I lost another job. This time I had to go through two thousand miles of Bell Telephone cable to find someone to punch out, but I managed it.
He opened his eyes and wiped his mouth with his handkerchief. He wanted a drink. Hell, he needed one. There was a cafe just down the street, surely he had time for a quick beer on his way up to the park, just one to lay the dust...
He clenched his hands together helplessly.
The question recurred: Why had he called Ullman in the first place? The number of the Surf-Sand in Lauderdale had been written in a small notebook by the phone and the CB radio in the office-plumbers' numbers, carpenters, glaziers, electricians, others. Jack bad copied it onto the matchbook cover shortly after getting out of bed, the idea of calling Ullman fullblown and gleeful in his mind. But to what purpose? Once, during the drinking phase, Wendy had accused him of desiring his own destruction but not possessing the necessary moral fiber to support a full-blown deathwish. So he manufactured ways in which other people could do it, lopping a piece at a time off himself and their family. Could it be true? Was be afraid somewhere inside that the Overlook might be just what he needed to finish his play and generally collect tip his shit and get it together? Was he blowing the whistle on himself? Please God no, don't let it be that way. Please.
He closed his eyes and an image immediately arose on the darkened screen of his inner lids: sticking his hand through that hole in the shingles to pull out the rotted flashing, the sudden needling sting, his own agonized, startled cry in the still and unheeding air: Oh you goddamn fucking son of a bitch...
Replaced with an image two years earlier, himself stumbling into the house at three in the morning, drunk, falling over a table and sprawling full-length on the floor, cursing, waking Wendy up on the couch. Wendy turning on the light, seeing his clothes ripped and smeared from some cloudy parking-lot scuffle that had occurred at a vaguely remembered honky-tonk just over the New Hampshire border hours before, crusted blood under his nose, now looking up at his wife, blinking stupidly in the light like a mole in the sunshine, and Wendy saying dully, You son of a bitch, you woke Danny up. If you don't care about yourself, can't you care a little bit about us? Oh, why do I even bother talking to you?
The telephone rang, making him jump. He snatched it off the cradle, illogically sure it must be either Ullman or Al Shockley. "What?" he barked.
"Your overtime, sir. Three dollars and fifty cents."
"I'll have to break some ones," he said. "Wait a minute."
He put the phone on the shelf, deposited his last six quarters, then went out to the cashier to get more. He performed the transaction automatically, his mind running in a single closed circle like a squirrel on an exercise wheel.
Why had he called Ullman?
Because Ullman had embarrassed him? He had been embarrassed before, and by real masters-the Grand Master, of course, being himself. Simply to crow at the man, expose his hypocrisy? Jack didn't think he was that petty. His mind tried to seize on the scrapbook as a valid reason, but that wouldn't hold water either. The chances of Ullman knowing who the owner was were no more than two in a thousand. At the interview, he had treated the cellar as another country-a nasty underdeveloped one at that. If he had really wanted to know, he would have called Watson, whose winter number was also in the office notebook. Even Watson would not have been a sure thing but surer than Ullman.
And telling him about the book idea, that had been another stupid thing. Incredibly stupid. Besides jeopardizing his job, he could be closing off wide channels of information once Ullman called around and told people to beware of New Englanders bearing questions about the Overlook Hotel. He could have done his researches quietly, mailing off polite letters, perhaps even arranging some interviews in the spring... and then laughed up his sleeve at Ullman's rage when the book came out and he was safely away-The Masked Author Strikes Again. Instead he had made that damned senseless call, lost his temper, antagonized Ullman, and brought out all of the hotel manager's Little Caesar tendencies. Why? If it wasn't an effort to get himself thrown out of the good job Al had snagged for him, then what was it?
He deposited the rest of the money in the slots and hung up the phone. It really was the senseless kind of thing he might have done if he had been drunk. But he had been sober; dead cold sober.
Walking out of the drugstore be crunched another Excedrin into his mouth, grimacing yet relishing the bitter taste.
On the walk outside he met Wendy and Danny.
"Hey, we were just coming after you," Wendy said. "Snowing, don't you know."
Jack blinked up. "So it is." It was snowing hard. Sidewinder's main street was already heavily powdered, the center line obscured. Danny had his head tilted up to the white sky, his mouth open and his tongue out to catch some of the fat flakes drifting down.
"Do you think this is it?" Wendy asked.
Jack shrugged. "I don't know. I was hoping for another week or two of grace. We still might get it."
Grace, that was it.
(I'm sorry, Al. Grace, your mercy. For your mercy. One more chance. I am heartily sorry-)
How many times, over how many years, had he-a grown man-asked for the mercy of another chance? He was suddenly so sick of himself, so revolted, that he could have groaned aloud.
"How's your headache?" she asked, studying him closely.
He put an arm around her and hugged her tight. "Better. Come on, you two, let's go home while we still can."
They walked back to where the hotel truck was slantparked against the curb, Jack in the middle, his left arm around Wendy's shoulders, his right hand holding Danny's hand. He had called it home for the first time, for better or worse.
As he got behind the truck's wheel it occurred to him that while he was fascinated by the Overlook, he didn't much like it. He wasn't sure it was good for either his wife or his son or himself. Maybe that was why he had called Ullman.
To be fired while there was still time.
He backed the truck out of its parking space and headed them out of town and up into the mountains.