Alarums, p.1Richard Laymon
Melanie Conway is a pale and lovely violinist who has strange visions of death. When she crashes to the floor during a concert her boyfriend, Bodie, is at hand to hear her fearful premonition of disaster…
Penelope Conway is even more stunning than her sister but her looks frequently get her into trouble. Although she takes herself seriously as a writer, men only seem impressed by her beauty. The last thing she needs is a series of obscene phone calls…
Captivated by these two alluring sisters, Bodie finds himself drawn deep into a strange mystery that is fired by sex and haunted by blood.
Scaning & primary formating: pagesofdeath.
Secondary formating & proofing: pua.
TO KATHLEEN AND KELLY LAYMON, MY MOM AND DAD,
WHO BROUGHT ME INTO THE WORLD AND RAISED ME WITH LOVE AND HAVE ALWAYS STOOD BESIDE ME
- FROM ME WITH LOVE -
E'en the Daws and Jackals trembled with Afright
As strange Alarums, crying Chaos, bruited through the Night.
'The Portent' Henry Loveworth
Bodie fidgeted, trying to find a comfortable way to sit on the straight-backed chair. It was impossible. The chair had been designed by a sadist.
The music, too.
He could be at a movie right now. Or back at his apartment, sprawled in his lounge chair, reading a book. Instead, here he was in Wesley Hall on a chair grinding his butt bones to powder, listening to a string quartet.
The music fairly lilted.
Boring as hell. Doug Kershaw or Charlie Daniels, now those are a couple of guys who know how to treat a violin.
Melanie, of course, wouldn't be caught dead stomping her foot and sawing out a lively number.
She sat there as stately as a mortician, stiff-backed and prim, playing what sounded like the background score of 'Four Wimps at Tea-Time'.
She looked like a poet contemplating suicide. Thin, almost cadaverous. Glossy black hair hanging to her shoulders. Big, gloomy eyes set in a face so white it seemed nearly translucent. A very long, pale, vulnerable neck. And the choker, of course - one of those velvet bands around her neck.
Bodie found her chokers very erotic. Especially when that was all she had on.
'If I unfasten that,' he had once asked, 'will your head fall off?'
Straddling Melanie, he'd reached behind her neck to remove the narrow ribbon.
She'd whispered, 'Not yet,' held onto her ears, then said, 'Now.'
Sensitive and haunted, but not without a sense of humor.
Bodie shifted his position on the chair. Crossing his legs helped a little. He'd been smart enough, this time, to take a front row seat. At the last concert, he'd been so boxed in that even the small relief of crossing his legs had been impossible. He checked his wristwatch. Ten till nine. Fifty minutes down, seventy to go. He wondered if he could survive that long.
A number ended to quiet applause, and Bodie clapped harder than anyone.
They'll think I'm truly appreciative, he thought. They'll be right. I appreciate the fact that it's over.
Melanie looked at him. Her expression didn't change. Distant, solemn and rather haughty, befitting the occasion. Bodie winked.
Melanie quickly turned her eyes away, but blushed. The color suffused her creamy neck and face. She squirmed just a bit, then stiffened her back even more than before, tucked down her chin firmly against the violin and waited, rigid, for the music to resume.
The new tune sounded much like the last one.
Here we go again.
Bodie glanced at his wristwatch again. Only two minutes had passed.
Don't worry, he told himself. This will end. Eventually. Then freedom. Stretch. Get the kinks out. A nice long walk to Sparkey's. A salami pizza, a pitcher of beer. Relief.
All you've got to do is hold on until ten o'clock.
Does anyone really enjoy this music? he wondered. The hall was pretty crowded. Everyone here couldn't possibly be the lover, relative, or friend of a performer. Well, plenty of them were students and teachers from the music department. They probably eat it up, the same way Melanie…
She jerked as if she'd been kicked in the back, but nobody was behind her. She flung her arms across her face. The violin fell to her lap. The cello player to her left dodged the tip of her flying bow. She made strangled, gasping sounds. The violin dropped to the floor as tremors jolted her body.
Bodie leaped up and ran to her.
Heart attack? Epileptic fit?
He lurched to a stop in front of Melanie, careful not to step on the violin, and grabbed her wrists. Her rigid arms jumped and twitched in his grip as if an electric current were sizzling through them.
'Melanie!' His voice had no effect.
He forced her arms down and pinned them to the sides of her thrashing body. Her face was inches from his - twisted and gray, eyes rolled back so that only the whites showed. Her tongue lolled out. Spittle dribbled down her chin. Her wheezing breath was hot on Bodie's face.
Somebody bumped into him. He realized they were surrounded by a crowd. People murmured to each other, some asked questions, some called out advice.
'Get back!' he snapped.
He was scared. He'd never been so scared. Melanie looked as if she were being killed - ripped apart inside or electrocuted.
'Paramedics,' said a voice behind him. 'I'll call the paramedics.'
'Yeah, quick!' Bodie yelled.
Melanie's chair suddenly tipped back as she rammed her feet against the floor. Bodie tugged her arms. The chair thumped down and she lurched against him. Bodie, off balance, staggered backward. Someone tried to catch him, but failed. He tumbled to the floor, Melanie on top. Her forehead smashed his nose.
Suddenly, the quaking stopped and the stiffness went out of her. She lay motionless. Bodie tasted blood, felt it trickling down his throat and dribbling along his upper lip and cheeks. 'Are you okay?' he asked.
Melanie shook her head. 'I have to go home,' she muttered. She looked up at the crowd clustered around them. 'I'm sorry,' she said, and burst into tears.
They assured everyone that they were both all right. The paramedics hadn't been called yet. Bodie turned down an offered ride to the hospital. Handkerchief pressed to his nose, he explained that he would take Melanie to the hospital himself, for a checkup. She nodded in agreement, red-eyed but no longer crying.
'We'll be fine,' she said. 'Thank you. Thank you all for your concern.'
A member of the quartet brought Melanie's instrument case to her. 'Everything's in there,' the girl told her. 'Your violin's fine.'
Some of the group stayed with them as they left the auditorium - offering sympathy or encouragement, asking questions, ready to help in case of a relapse. Professor Trueblood, head of the music department, preceded them and opened doors. 'My car's just around in back,' he said. 'I'll drive you to the emergency room, I insist.'
'Really, I'm fine,' Melanie told him. 'Thank you, anyway. I'm fine.'
'I'll take care of her,' Bodie said through his sodden handkerchief.
'You're in some need of attention yourself, young man.'
'I'll be all right.'
Professor Trueblood watched from the door of Wesley Hall as they hurried down the concrete stairs. Once away from him, they walked slowly side by side.
They walked through the warm night in silence. Then Melanie asked, 'How's your nose?'
'It'll live.' He sniffed. 'I think the bleeding's stopped.'
'I'm sorry I hurt you.'
'It's nothing.' He looked at her. 'Are you going to tell me what happened?'
'I know. I saw.'
'Not that. I mean… what I saw.'
'What you saw?'
'My dad. It must've been Dad. Or my sister.' Her hand tightened on Bodie's hip. 'God. He… he must be dead. One of them, anyway. I… damn it.' She sobbed. 'I don't know which one. But Dad, I think. When it happened last time, it was Mom.'
Bodie stopped. He turned and stared down into her glistening eyes. Her sorrow made a thickness in his throat and a tight hurt in his chest. But her words… What was she saying?
He tucked the handkerchief into his pocket and gently took hold of her shoulders. Too late, he realized he had blood on his fingers. 'I want to understand,' he said.
Melanie stiffened. She lowered her head and wiped her nose with a cuff. 'There was something coming at me,' she said in a shaky voice. 'Only not at me. It was dark and noisy and running at me and I knew I had to get out of the way or it would kill me, but I didn't have time, it was too fast and it got me. It got me.'
Bodie pulled her gently against him. She lowered her face against the side of his neck. He felt its wetness, the tickle of her eyelashes. 'That's what happened in your mind?' he whispered. 'While you were… shaking and stuff?'
He felt her nod. 'Jesus,' he muttered.
'When it happened before, I was eleven and at summer camp. It was Mom that time.'
She had told Bodie about the loss of her mother, the woman slipping in the bathtub, smashing her head and drowning. 'You had a vision or whatever then - like tonight?' he asked.
'Not exactly like tonight. But yes. That's why I know Dad's dead.'
'You don't know it,' Bodie said. 'Not for sure.'
She didn't answer.
'Come on. Let's get back to the apartment. You can call home. Maybe everything's fine.'
In their apartment two blocks from campus, Bodie stood in silence behind Melanie while she dialed. Her head was down. On the shoulders of her white blouse were the rust-colored marks left by his fingers.
She listened to the phone for a long time, then hung up and turned to him. 'Nobody answered.'
Bodie looked at his wristwatch. Nine-thirty. It would be eight-thirty, Pacific time. 'Maybe they went out for dinner or something. Why don't you try again in an hour or so?'
'It won't do any good.'
'You can't be sure,' he said. 'How many times have you had these… visions?'
'Only once like this. Strong like this. When Mom was killed.'
'How come you never told me about it?'
She was silent for a moment. Her arms tightened around him. 'I didn't want you thinking I'm a weirdo.'
'Hell, I already knew that.'
'I love you, Bodie.'
'See? That proves you're a weirdo.'
'Look, what do you want to do?'
'Yeah. I've got to. I can't stand it.'
'Do you want me to go with you?'
'Do you mind?'
'No, of course not.'
'You can drive back in time for your Monday classes, and I can just stay there until…' She shrugged.
'Maybe we'll find out everything's all right.'
She didn't answer.
As they held each other, Bodie thought about the trip. Her father's home in Brentwood, California, was probably more than eight hours from Phoenix. If they got away by ten, they would reach the house around six in the morning, five o'clock Pacific time.
A long drive, especially going without sleep. But Bodie felt a stir of excitement about making the trip - a journey through the desert night, Melanie at his side, maybe stopping along the way at a diner for coffee. It would be like a little adventure, even though the occasion for it was anything but joyful.
'Let's pack up,' he said, 'and get going.'
'He set fire to house. He think, "Ha ha, I burn up body, no body." He think, "Me clever fella." Not so clever. Take more than house on fire to dispose of corpse. All he do, he cook it like side of beef.'
The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner grinned and nodded sagely as his remark brought a few chuckles and moans from his audience. Pen looked around. The dapper little oriental, a cross between Quincy and Charlie Chan, had his listeners spellbound. They were eating it up.
She was glad she'd finally worked up the courage to come to one of these meetings. Even though she had sold only one story so far, she felt special to be sitting among so many mystery writers.
Gary Beatty leaned sideways on his seat, shoulder brushing against her. He took a thin cigar from his mouth. 'The man's got good patter,' he said, twitching his lip like Sam Spade. 'Too bad he don't talk English.'
Gary was the first person she'd met here tonight. She had arrived early, found a parking place on a sidestreet beside the Greater Los Angeles Press Club, rushed with her umbrella through the rain, and barely gotten seated at the Press Club bar before he climbed onto the stool beside her.
'Heyyy, Allen,' he greeted the bartender.
' Gary, how are you?' Allen, an oriental, spoke with a voice like Paul McCartney. 'What can I get you, eh? Coors or Bud?'
'Make it a Coors.'
Allen finished preparing Pen's vodka-tonic and set it in front of her. Pen unsnapped her handbag. Gary shook his head. 'It's on me,' he said.
'Never look a gift-drink in the mouth.'
'Don't make me twist your arm, babe. We both might enjoy it too much.'
She'd stayed with Gary, talking and drinking, for twenty minutes. Then he'd led her up to the meeting room.
This'll separate the men from the sissies,' Gary said as the overhead lights went out.
'Do you think he'll show bodies?' Pen asked.
Gary tipped back his head and blew out a smoke ring. 'I wouldn't be at all surprised.'
The first slides showed the Los Angeles Medical Examiner's headquarters building and fleet of golden vans. As they appeared on the screen, the coroner gave statistics about the size of his department, its annual budget, the number of bodies handled during the previous year, the previous month. Gary, Pen noticed, was taking notes. 'We do booming business,' the coroner said. Rather gleefully.
Then it started getting bad.
A slide of the autopsy room. Stainless steel operating tables. Trays of surgical instruments. Scales for weighing excised organs. Slanted tables with drains at their lower ends to catch the run-off.
Pen realized she was holding her breath. She let it out, inhaled deeply, and took a drink of the vodka-tonic she'd brought up with her from the bar.
The next slide showed a sunlit field. One of the golden vans was near a couple of police cars. Several men stood in knee-high weeds near the top of the picture. 'Nice spot for picnic, but we have customer.' The projector clicked and hummed. The customer appeared.
A woman. She was sprawled face-down. Her skin looked bluish-gray and puffy. The bottoms of her feet were dirty. Surrounding her were the shoes and ankles of men from the previous shot. 'She not be here long. Overnight, maybe.'
A close-up of her buttocks. What had looked in the longer view like a dark smudge was now obviously the contusion surrounding a bite. 'Our killer make big mistake. Love bites. Teeth marks not fingerprints, but almost. Good for us, bad for him. Maybe we get saliva sample. If he secreter, we get blood type from saliva. Pin him down good.'
The picture changed.
A different naked woman. Heavier than the other one. She was face-down on a table in the autopsy room. The little man stepped close to the screen and pointed a finger at her rump. Both buttocks were a deep, grayish purple. 'Post-mortem lividity. When heart stop pumping, gravity act on blood. Blood sink.' He pointed out other blotches on her shoulder-blades and the backs of her legs. 'Look like world's worst hickey. But we know she supine
Gary groaned. 'What a wit,' he muttered.
Pen took a deep, shaky breath. She felt light-headed and a little weak. Something's wrong, she thought. Too much vodka? She wanted to take another sip, but she didn't dare.
The next slide showed a man.
He was stretched out on a table. A blue cloth covered his face. He was naked. His skin was red. 'This not post-mortem lividity, this not sunburn, this cyanosis.' He went on. Pen kept glancing at the corpse's limp penis, and forcing her eyes away from it, and looking again.
She shut her eyes. Her face felt cold and numb. She rubbed it with her hand. It was wet.
This, she thought, is what they call a cold sweat.
What am I doing here?
Then came a close-up of a gaunt, dead face. A man with whiskers. And a white speck of something in the hair of his left nostril. 'Nature always at work,' said the chipper coroner.
Pen's ears were ringing.
He pointed at the speck. 'Fly eggs. Fly eggs like little clocks, very handy. We know they left after death, so…'
Pen set her drink on the floor and picked up her umbrella and handbag. She rose on wobbly legs, sidestepped past Gary 's knees, and made her way along the side of the room until she reached the head of the stairs. The narrow staircase looked steep. She paused, wondering if she dare try to descend. Damn well better, she thought. Gotta get out of here before I toss my cookies.
Hooking the umbrella handle over her left wrist, she clutched the wooden hand-rail and started down.
Her mouth kept filling with saliva. The staircase looked darker than it should. When she blinked, it had an electric blue aura. She clung to the railing, sliding her hand down it, prepared to grip it firmly if her legs should give out.
You're gonna faint or barf, she thought. One or the other.
God, what a disaster.
She gagged, her throat straining and tears coming to her eyes.
Then she was at the bottom of the staircase, breathing deeply of the fresh, cool breeze. It helped. The rain sounded pleasant spattering the courtyard in front of her. It seemed to be coming down harder than before.
Alarums by Richard Laymon / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes