I Know What You Need
by Stephen King

As the days passed it occurred to her that she had never met anyone, male or female, that seemed to understand her moods and needs so completely or so wordlessly. Their tastes coincided. While Tony had enjoyed violent movies of the Godfather type, Ed seemed more into comedy or non-violent dramas. He took her to the circus one night when she was feeling low and they had a hilariously wonderful time. Study dates were real study dates, not just an excuse to grope on the third floor of the Union. He took her to dances and seemed especially good at the old ones, which she loved. They won a fifties Stroll trophy at a Homecoming Nostalgia Dance. More important, he seemed to understand when she wanted to be passionate. He didn't force her or hurry her; she never got the feeling that she had with some of the other boys she had gone out with - that there was an inner timetable for sex, beginning with a kiss good night on Date 1 and ending with a night in some friend's borrowed apartment on Date 10. The Mill Street apartment was Ed's exclusively, a third-floor walkup. They went there often, and Elizabeth went without the feeling that she was walking into some minor-league Don Juan's passion pit. He didn't push. He honestly seemed to want what she wanted, when she wanted it. And things progressed.

When school reconvened following the semester break, Alice seemed strangely preoccupied. Several times that afternoon before Ed came to pick her up - they were going out to dinner - Elizabeth looked up to see her room-mate frowning down at a large manila envelope on her desk. Once Elizabeth almost asked about it, then decided not to. Some new project probably.

It was snowing hard when Ed brought her back to the dorm.

'Tomorrow?' he asked. 'My place?' 'Sure. I'll make some popcorn.'

'Great,' he said, and kissed her. 'I love you, Beth.'

'Love you, too.'

'Would you like to stay over?' Ed asked evenly. 'Tomorrow night?'

'All right, Ed.' She looked into his eyes. 'Whatever you want.'

'Good,' he said quietly. 'Sleep well, kid.'

'You, too.'

She expected that Alice would be asleep and entered the room quietly, but Alice was up and sitting at her desk.

'Alice, are you okay?'

'I have to talk to you, Liz. About Ed.'

'What about him?'

Alice said carefully, 'I think that when I finish talking to you we're not going to be friends any mpre. For me, that's giving up a lot. So I want you to listen carefully.'

'Then maybe you better not say anything.'

'I have to try.'

Elizabeth felt her initial curiosity kindle into anger. 'Have you been snooping around Ed?'

Alice only looked at her.

'Were you jealous of us?'

'No. If I'd been jealous of you and your dates, I would have moved out two years ago.'

Elizabeth looked at her, perplexed. She knew what Alice said was the truth. And she suddenly felt afraid.

'Two things made me wonder about Ed Hamner,' Alice said. 'First, you wrote me about Tony's death and said how lucky it was that I'd seen Ed at the Lakewood Theatre. How he came right over to Boothbay and really helped you out. But I never saw him, Liz. I was never near the Lakewood Theatre last summer.'

'But...

'But how did he know Tony was dead? I have no idea. I only know he didn't get it from me. The other thing was that eidetic-memory business. My God, Liz, he can't even remember which socks he's got on!'

'That's a different thing altogether,' Liz said stiffly. 'It -' 'Ed Hamner was in Las Vegas last summer,' Alice said softly. 'He came back in mid-July and took a motel room in Pemaquid. That's just across the Boothbay Harbour town line. Almost as if he were waiting for you to need him.'

'That's crazy!' And how would you know Ed was in Las Vegas?'

'I ran into Shirley D'Antonio just before school started. She worked in the Pines Restaurant, which is just across from the playhouse. She said she never saw anybody who looked like Ed Hamner. So I've known he's been lying to you about several things. And so I went to my father and laid it out and he gave me the go-ahead.'

'To do what?' Elizabeth asked, bewildered.

'To hire a private detective agency.'

Elizabeth was on her feet. 'No more, Alice. That's it.' She would catch the bus into town, spend tonight at Ed's apartment. She had only been waiting for him to ask her, anyway.

'At least know,' Alice said. 'Then make your own decision.'

'I don't have to know anything except he's kind and good and -'

'Love is blind, huh?' Alice said, and smiled bitterly. 'Well, maybe I happen to love you a little, Liz. Have you ever thought of that?'

Elizabeth turned and looked at her for a long moment. 'If you do, you've got a funny way of showing it,' she said. 'Go on, then. Maybe you're right. Maybe I owe you that much. Goon.'

'You knew him a long time ago,' Alice said quietly. 'I. . . what?'

'P.S. 119, Bridgeport, Connecticut.'  (P.S. 119 = Public School 119)

Elizabeth was struck dumb. She and her parents had lived in Bridgeport for six years, moving to their present home the year after she had finished the second grade. She had gone to P.S. 119, but -'Alice, are you sure?'

'Do you remember him?'

'No, of course not!' But she did remember the feeling she'd had the first time she had seen Ed - the feeling of deja' vu.

'The pretty ones never remember the ugly ducklings, I guess. Maybe he had a crush on you. You were in the first grade with him. Liz. Maybe he sat in the back of the room and just . . . watched you. Or on the playground. Just a little nothing kid who already wore glasses and probably braces and you couldn't even remember him, but I'll bet he remembers you.'

Elizabeth said, 'What else?'

'The agency traced him from school fingerprints. After that it was just a matter of finding people and talking to them. The operative assigned to the case said he couldn't understand some of what he was getting. Neither do I. Some of it's scary.'

'It better be,' Elizabeth said primly.

'Ed Hammer, Sr., was a compulsive gambler. He worked for a top-line advertising agency in New York and then moved to Bridgeport sort of on the run. The operative says that almost every big-money poker game and high-priced book in the city was holding his markers.'

Elizabeth closed her eyes. 'These people really saw you got a full measure of dirt for your dollar, didn't they?'

'Maybe. Anyway, Ed's father got in another jam in Bridgeport. It was gambling again, but this time he got mixed up with a big-time loan shark. He got a broken leg and a broken arm somehow. The operative says he doubts it was an accident.'

'Anything else?' Elizabeth asked. 'Child beating? Embezzlement?'

'He landed a job with a two-bit Los Angeles ad agency in 1961. That was a little too close to Las Vegas. He started to spend his weekends there, gambling heavily . . . and losing. Then he started taking Ed Junior with him. And he started to win.'

'You're making all of this up. You must be.'

Alice tapped the report in front of her. 'It's all here, Liz. Some of it wouldn't stand up in court, but the operative says none of the people he talked with would have a reason to lie. Ed's father called Ed his "good luck charm". At first, nobody objected to the boy even though it was illegal for him to be in the casinos. His father was a prize fish. But then the father started sticking just to roulette, playing only odd-even and red-black. By the end of the year the boy was

off-limits in every casino on the strip. And his father took up a new kind of gambling.'

'What?'

'The stock market. When the Hamners moved to L.A. in the middle of 1961, they were living in a ninety-dollar-a-month cheese box and Mr Hamner was driving a '52 Chevrolet. At the end of 1962, just sixteen months later, he had quit his job and they were living in their own home in San Jose. Mr Hamner was driving a brand-new Thunderbird and Mrs Hamner had a Volkswagen. You see, it's against the law for a small boy to be in the Nevada casinos, but no one could take the stock-market page away from him.'

'Are you implying that Ed. . . that he could. . . Alice, you're crazy!'

'I'm not implying anything. Unless maybe just that he knew what his daddy needed.'

I know what you need.

It was almost as if the words had been spoken into her ear, and she shuddered.

'Mrs Hamner spent the next six years in and out of various mental institutions. Supposedly for nervous disorders, but the operative talked to an orderly who said she was pretty close to psychotic. She claimed her son was the devil's henchman. She stabbed him with a pair of scissors in 1964. Tried to kill him. She. . . Liz? Liz, what is it?'

'The scar,' she muttered. 'We went swimming at the University pool on an open night about a month ago. He's got a deep, dimpled scar on his shoulder. . . here.' She put her hand just above her left breast. 'He said . . .' A wave of nausea tried to climb up her throat and she had to wait for it to recede before she could go on. 'He said he fell on a picket fence when he was a little boy.'

'Shall I go on?'

'Finish, why not? What can it hurt now?'

'His mother was released from a very plush mental institution in the San Joaquin Valley in 1968. The three of them went on a vacation. They stopped at a picnic spot on Route 101. The boy was collecting firewood when she drove the car right over the edge of the drop-off above the ocean with both her and her husband in it. It might have been an attempt to run Ed down. By then he was nearly eighteen. His father left him a million-dollar stock port-folio. Ed came east a year and a half later and enrolled here. And that's the end.'

'No more skeletons in the closet?'

'Liz, aren't there enough?'

She got up. 'No wonder he never wants to mention his family. But you had to dig up the corpse, didn't you?'

'You're blind,' Alice said. Elizabeth was putting on her coat. 'I suppose you're going to him.'

'Right.'

'Because you love him.'

'Right.'

Alice crossed the room and grabbed her arm. 'Will you get that sulky, petulant look off your face for a second and think! Ed Hamner is able to do things the rest of us only dream about. He got his father a stake at roulette and made him rich playing the stock market. He seems to be able to will winning. Maybe he's some kind of low-grade psychic. Maybe he's got precognition. I don't know. There are people who seem to have a dose of that. Liz, hasn't it ever occurred to you that he's forced you to love him?'

Liz turned to her slowly. 'I've never heard anything so ridicul6us in my life.'

'Is it? He gave you that sociology test the same way he gave his father the right side of the roulette board! He was never enrolled in any sociology course! I checked. He did it because it was the only way he could make you take him seriously!'

'Stop it!' Liz cried. She clapped her hands over her ears.

'He knew the test, and he knew when Tony was killed, and he knew you were going home on a plane! He even knew just the right psychological moment to step back into your life last October.'

Elizabeth pulled away from her and opened the door.

'Please,' Alice said. 'Please, Liz, listen. I don't know how he can do those things. I doubt if even he knows for sure. He might not mean to do you any harm, but he already has. He's made you love him by knowing every secret thing you want and need, and that's not love at all. That's rape.

Elizabeth slammed the door and ran down the stairs.

She caught the last bus of the evening into town. It was snowing more heavily than ever, and the bus lumbered through the drifts that had blown across the road like a crippled beetle. Elizabeth sat in the back, one of only six or seven passengers, a thousand thoughts in her mind.

Menthol cigarettes. The stock exchange. The way he had known her mother's nickname was Deedee. A little boy sitting at the back of a first-grade classroom, making sheep's eyes at a vivacious little girl too young to under-stand that - I know what you need.

No. No. No. I do love him!

Did she? Or was she simply delighted at being with someone who always ordered the right thing, took her to the right movie, and did not want to go anywhere or do anything she didn't? Was he just a kind of psychic mirror, showing her only what she wanted to see? The presents he gave her were always the right presents. When the weather had turned suddenly cold and she had been longing for a hair dryer, who gave her one? Ed Hamner, of course. Just happened to see one on sale in Day's, he had said. She, of course, had been delighted.

That's not love at all That's rape.

The wind clawed at her face as she stepped out on the corner of Main and Mill, and she winced against it as the bus drew away with a smooth diesel growl. Its tail-lights twinkled briefly in the snowy night for a moment and were gone.

She had never felt so lonely in her life.

He wasn't home.

She stood outside his door after five minutes of knocking, nonplussed. It occurred to her that she had no idea what Ed did or whom he saw when he wasn't with her. The subject had never come up.

Maybe he's raising the price of another hair dryer in a poker game.

With sudden decision she stood on her toes and felt along the top of the door-jamb for the spare key she knew he kept there. Her fingers stumbled over it and it fell to the hall floor with a clink.

She picked it up and used it in the lock.

The apartment looked different with Ed gone - artificial, like a stage set. It had often amused her that someone who cared so little about his personal appearance should have such a neat, picture-book domicile. Almost as if he had decorated it for her and not himself. But of course that was crazy. Wasn't it?

It occurred to her again, as if for the first time, how much she liked the chair she sat in when they studied or watched TV. It was just right, the way Baby Bear's chair had been for Goldilocks. Not too hard, not too soft. Just right. Like everything else she associated with Ed.

There were two doors opening off the living room. One went to the kitchenette, the other to his bedroom. The wind whistled outside, making the old apartment building creak and settle.

In the bedroom, she stared at the brass bed. It looked neither too hard nor too soft, but just right. An insidious voice smirked: It's almost too perfect, isn't it?

She went to the bookcase and ran her eye aimlessly over the titles. One jumped at her eyes and she pulled it out:

Dance Crazes of the Fifties.

The book opened cleanly to a point some three-quarters through. A section titled 'The Stroll' had been circled heavily in red grease pencil and in the margin the word BETH had been written in large, almost accusatory letters.

I ought to go now, she told herself. I can still save something. If he came back now I could never look him in the face again and Alice would win. Then she'd really get her money's worth.

But she couldn't stop, and knew it. Things had gone too far.

She went to the closet and turned the knob, but it didn't give. Locked.

On the off chance, she stood on tiptoe again and felt along the top of the door. And her fingers felt a key. She took it down and somewhere inside a voice said very clearly: Don't do this. She thought of Bluebeard's wife and what she had found when she opened the wrong door. But it was indeed too late; if she didn't proceed now she would always wonder. She opened the closet.

And had the strangest feeling that this was where the real Ed Hamner, Jr. had been hiding all the time.

The closet was a mess - a jumbled rickrack of clothes, books, an unstrung tennis racket, a pair of tattered tennis shoes, old prelims and reports tossed helter-skelter, a spilled pouch of Borkum Riff pipe tobacco. His green fatigue jacket had been flung in the far corner.

She picked up one of the books and blinked-at the title. The Golden Bough. Another. Ancient Rites, Modern Mysteries. Another. Haitian Voodoo. And a last one, bound in old, cracked leather, the title almost rubbed off the binding by much handling, smelling vaguely like rotted fish: Necronomicon. She opened it at random, gasped, and flung it away, the obscenity still hanging before her eyes. -

More to regain her composure than anything else, she reached for the green fatigue jacket, not admitting to herself that she meant to go through its pockets. But as she lifted it she saw something else. A small tin box . .

Curiously, she picked it up and turned it over in her hands, hearing things rattle inside. It was the kind of box a young boy might choose to keep his treasures in. Stamped in raised letters on the tin bottom were the words 'Bridgeport Candy Co.' She opened it.

The doll was on top. The Elizabeth doll.

She looked at it and began to shudder.

The doll was dressed in a scrap of red nylon, part of a scarf she had lost two or three months back. At a movie with Ed. The arms were pipe cleaners that had been draped in stuff that looked like blue moss. - Graveyard moss, perhaps. There was hair on the doll's head, but that was wrong. It was fine white - flax, taped to the doll's pink gum-eraser head. Her own hair was sandy blonde and coarser than this. This was more the way her hair had been -When she had been a little girl.

She swallowed and there was a clicking in her throat. Hadn't they all been issued scissors in the first grade, tiny scissors with rounded blade, just right for a child's hand? Had that long-ago little boy crept up behind her, perhaps at nap time, and -Elizabeth put the doll aside and looked in the box again.

There was a blue poker chip with a strange six-sided pattern drawn on it in red ink. A tattered newspaper obituary - Mr and Mrs Edward Hamner. The two of them smiled meaninglessly out of the accompanying photo, and she saw that the same six-sided pattern had been drawn across their faces, this time in black ink, like a pall. Two more dolls, one male, one female. The similarity to the faces in the obituary photograph was hideous, unmistakable.

And something else.

She fumbled it out, and her fingers shook so badly she almost dropped it. A tiny sound escaped her.

It was a model car, the sort small boys buy in drugstores and hobby shops and then assemble with airplane glue. This one was a Fiat. It had been painted red. And a piece of what looked like one of Tony's shirts had been taped to the front.

She turned the model car upside down. Someone had hammered the underside to fragments.

'So you found it, you ungrateful bitch.'

She screamed and dropped the car and the box. His foul treasures sprayed across the floor.

He was standing in the doorway, looking at her. She had never seen such a look of hate on a human face.

She said, 'You killed Tony.'

He grinned unpleasantly. 'Do you think you could prove it?'

'It doesn't matter,' she said, surprised at the steadiness of her own voice. 'I know. And I never want to see you again. Ever. And if you do. . . anything. . . to anyone else, I'll know. And I'll fix you. Somehow.'

His face twisted. 'That's the thanks I get. I gave you everything you ever wanted. Things no other man could have. Admit it. I made you perfectly happy.'

'You killed Tony!,

She screamed it at him.

He took another step into the room. 'Yes, and I did it for you. And what are you, Beth? You don't know what love is. I loved you from the first time I saw you, over seventeen years ago. Could Tony say that? It's never been hard for you. You're pretty. You never had to think about wanting or needing or about being lonely. You never had to find. other ways to get the things you had to have. There was always a Tony to give them to you. All you ever had to do was smile and say please.' His voice rose a note. 'I could never get what I wanted that way. Don't you think I tried? It didn't work with my father. He just wanted more and more. He never even kissed me good night or gave me a hug until I made him rich. And my mother was the same way. I gave her her marriage back, but was that enough for her? She hated me! She wouldn't come near me! She said I was unnatural! I gave her nice things but. . . Beth, don't do that! Don't. . . dooon't -'

She stepped on the Elizabeth doll and crushed it, turning her heel on it. Something inside her flared in agony, and then was gone. She wasn't afraid of him now. He was just a small, shrunken boy in a young man's body. And his socks didn't match.

'I don't think you can do anything to me now, Ed,' she told him. 'Not now. Am I wrong?'

He turned from her. 'Go on,' he said weakly. 'Get out. But leave my box. At least do that.'

'I'll leave the box. But not the things in it.' She walked past him. His shoulders twitched, as if he might turn and try to grab her, but then they slumped.

As she reached the second-floor landing, he came to the top of the stairs and called shrilly after her: 'Go on then! But you'll never be satisfied with any man after me! And when your looks go and men stop trying to give you anything you want, you'll wish for me! You'll think of what you threw away!'

She went down the stairs and out into the snow. Its coldness felt good against her face. It was a two-mile walk back to the campus, but she didn't care. She wanted the walk, wanted the cold. She wanted it to make her clean.

In a queer, twisted way she felt sorry for him a little boy with a huge power crammed inside a dwarfed spirit. A little boy who tried to make humans behave like toy soldiers and then stamped on them in a fit of temper when they wouldn't or when they found out.

And what was she? Blessed with all the things he was not, through no fault of his or effort of her own? She remembered the way she had reacted to Alice, trying blindly and jealously to hold on to something that was easy rather than good, not caring, not caring.

When your looks go and men strop trying to give you anything you want, you'll wish for me!. . .I know what you need.

But was she so small that she actually needed so little?

Please, dear God, no.

On the bridge between the campus and town she paused and threw Ed Hamner's scraps of magic over the side, piece by piece. The red-painted model Fiat went last, falling end over end into the driven snow until it was lost from sight. Then she walked on.

 

 

HTML layout and style by Stephen Thomas, University of Adelaide.
Modified by Skip for ESL Bits English Language Learning.