The traveling vampire sh.., p.10
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.10
 

           Richard Laymon

  In one corner of the room stood a nice wooden desk with a Royal portable typewriter ready for action. Papers were piled all around the typewriter. On the wall, at Slim’s eye level if she were sitting at the desk, was a framed photo of Ayn Rand that looked is if it had been torn from a LIFE or LOOK magazine.

  Slim’s bed was neatly made. Its wooden headboard had a shelf for holding a radio, books, and so on. She had a radio on it, along with about a dozen paperbacks. I stepped over for a closer look at the books. There were beat-up copies of The Temple of Gold, The Catcher in the Rye, Dracula, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind, The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Eyre, The Sign of the Four, The October Country, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I hadn’t actually read any of these books myself (except The Catcher in the Rye, which was so funny I split a gut laughing and so sad that I cried a few times), but Slim had told me about most of them. Of all the books in her room, these were probably her favorites, which is why she kept them on her headboard.

  When I finished looking at them, I turned around. Rusty was gone.

  I felt a surge of alarm.

  Instead of calling out for him, I went looking.

  I found him in the bedroom across the hall. The mother’s bedroom. Standing over an open drawer of the dresser, his back toward me, his head down. He must’ve heard me come in, because he turned around and grinned. In his hands, he held a flimsy black bra by its shoulder straps. “Check out the merchandise,” he whispered.

  “Put that away. Are you nuts?”

  “It’s her mom’s.”

  “My God, Rusty.”

  “Look.” He raised it in front of his face. “You can see through it.”

  “Put it away.”

  “Dig it, man. It’s had her tits in it.” He put one of the cups against his face like a surgical mask, and breathed in. The soft pouch collapsed against his nose and mouth. As he sighed, it puffed outward. “I can smell her.”

  “Yeah, sure.”

  “I swear to God. She hasn’t washed this thing since the last time she wore it.”

  “Gimme a break.”

  “C’mon and smell it.”

  “No way.”

  “Chicken.”

  “Put it back, Rusty. We’ve gotta get out of here before somebody catches us.”

  “Nobody’s gonna catch us.”

  He breathed in slowly and deeply, once again sucking the fabric against his nose and mouth.

  “For God’s sake.”

  “Okay, okay.” He lowered it, folded it in half and stuffed it into the drawer.

  “Is that the way you found it?” I asked.

  “What do you think, I’m a moron?” He slid the drawer shut.

  “Let’s go.”

  “Hang on.” He pulled open another drawer. “Undies!”

  He started to reach in, so I rushed over and shoved the drawer shut. He jerked his hands clear in the nick of time.

  But I’d shut the drawer too hard.

  The dresser shook.

  On top of the dresser was a tall, slim vase of clear green glass with three or four yellow roses in it.

  The vase toppled forward.

  Gasping, I tried to catch it.

  I wasn’t quick enough.

  It crashed down onto a perfume bottle and they both shattered. Glass, water and perfume exploded, filling the air. Roses flew off the front of the dresser. As they bumped their bright heads against the front of Rusty’s jeans, a cascade of scented water spilled over the edge of the dresser, ran down and poured onto the carpet.

  Chapter Fifteen

  We gazed at the mess, stunned and silent.

  The air of the bedroom carried an odor of perfume so sweet and heavy that it almost made me gag.

  After a while, Rusty muttered, “Shit. You really did it this time.”

  “Me?”

  “Huh? You think I slammed the drawer?”

  “Oh, you had nothing to do with it. All you did was open it in the first place so you could paw through her stuff. If you weren’t such a degenerate…”

  “If you weren’t such a prude…”

  Then we both fell silent and resumed gazing at our catastrophe: the puddle on the dresser top bristling with chunks and slivers and specks of glass; the wet patch on the carpet that looked as if a dog had taken a leak there; the bits of colored glass sprinkled on and around the wet patch; the yellow roses at Rusty’s feet, some of their petals fallen off.

  “What’re we gonna do?” Rusty asked.

  I shook my head. I couldn’t believe we’d found ourselves in such a predicament.

  “Clean it up?” Rusty asked.

  “I don’t think we can. That perfume…we’ll never get the smell out of the carpet. The minute someone comes upstairs, they’re gonna know something’s wrong.”

  “Not to mention,” said Rusty, “we can’t exactly unbreak the glass.”

  “Whatever we do, we’d better do it fast and get out of here.”

  “Wanta just leave?” Rusty asked.

  “I want to make it all go away!”

  “Rotsa ruck.”

  “Okay,” I muttered, sort of thinking out loud. “We can’t make it go away. And it’d probably take us fifteen minutes just to clean up all the glass. Then the place’ll still smell like a perfume factory. And in the meantime, we might get caught up here.”

  Rusty nodded, then said, “If we just go away—leave everything exactly the way it is right now—they might not even realize anyone was here. I mean, if shutting a drawer too hard’ll knock that vase over, anything will. They’ll think it was just an accident.”

  “I don’t know,” I said.

  “C’mon, man. A lot of stuff could’ve knocked the thing over. Like even the front door slamming.”

  “Maybe so.”

  “So let’s haul ass.”

  We walked backward away from our mess, watching it as if to make sure it wouldn’t pursue us. On the other side of the doorway, we whirled around and ran for the stairs. When we were a block away from Slim’s house, we looked at each other, shook our heads and sighed.

  “I feel like such a rat,” I said.

  “Accidents happen,” Rusty said. “Thing is, we got away with it. Long as nobody blabs…”

  “I don’t know.”

  “You don’t know?”

  “Lying to Slim…”

  “You’d rather have her find out we went sneaking through her house? That’d go over big.”

  “If we explain why…”

  “And what were we doing in her mother’s bedroom?”

  “I just went in to look for you.”

  “Oh, so you wanta tell Slim what I was doing in her mom’s room?”

  I shook my head. I sure couldn’t tell Slim the truth about that.

  “You’d better not.”

  “Why’d you have to do that?”

  “Felt like it,” he muttered. “Anyway, you would’ve done the same thing if you had the guts.”

  “Would not.”

  “Only you would’ve gone through Slim’s drawers.” Grinning, he raised his eyebrows. “What were you doing by yourself in Slim’s room, huh?”

  “Looking at her books.”

  “Oh, sure.”

  “I didn’t even know you were gone.”

  “Uh-huh. Sure.”

  “Go to hell.”

  Laughing, he patted me on the back.

  “Hands off,” I said.

  He took his hand away. His smile sliding sideways, he said, “Seriously, you’re not gonna tell Slim about any of this, right?”

  “I guess not,” I said.

  “You guess not? C’mon, man! I’ve never told on you.”

  “I know,” I said, and went a little sick inside at the reminder of all the things Rusty knew about me. “I won’t tell. I promise.”

  “Okay. Good deal. It’s just between you and me.”

  “Right.”

  “Shake on it.”

  I looked
around. There were houses on both sides of the street and a few people nearby, but nobody seemed to be watching us. So I shook hands with Rusty. His hand was bigger than mine, and very sweaty. He didn’t pull any funny stuff, so I guess he was being sincere.

  “If anything comes up,” he said, “we didn’t even go in Slim’s house today.”

  “What if somebody saw us?”

  “We’ll claim it wasn’t us.”

  “Sure thing.”

  “We just stick to our story, no matter what.”

  “But if somebody saw us…somebody who knows us…”

  “Simple. We just say he’s confused about which day it was. You know? We’ll say we did go into Slim’s house yesterday, but not today. Get it?”

  “I guess so.”

  “But don’t worry. It’ll never come up. It’s not like anybody got murdered in there.”

  “That’s true,” I admitted.

  But I got a sick feeling again, because the truth was a lot worse than a broken vase and perfume bottle. Sure, it wasn’t murder. If it ever got out what really happened in Slim’s house, however, people would be giving me and Rusty (especially Rusty) funny looks from now till Doomsday.

  “Never happened?” Rusty asked.

  “Never happened.”

  “Great.” He smiled as if vastly relieved. “That’s that.”

  “All we’ve gotta do now,” I said, “is find Slim.”

  “She’ll turn up.”

  “I wonder if we should check with her mom.”

  “At Steerman’s?” Rusty asked. “Oh, great idea! And tell her what? ‘Gosh, Mrs. Drake, have you happened to see your daughter lately? She seems to be missing. We’ve already checked at your house, but she isn’t there.’”

  “We don’t have to tell her that.”

  “We go anywhere near her, she’s gonna know it was us in her bedroom.”

  I supposed he was right about that.

  “Anyway,” he said, “you think they’ll let us into that restaurant without our shirts on?”

  “We could pick up a couple of shirts at your house,” I suggested.

  “We can’t go to Steerman’s.”

  “But we’ve gotta find Slim! I mean, where the hell is she? How can she just disappear? Maybe somebody jumped her or something. You never saw her make it into her house and she isn’t in her house and she didn’t show up at my house and we haven’t spotted her on the streets—so where is she?”

  “She might’ve gone to the hospital.”

  At this point, we were only two blocks away from the police station. “I think I wanta talk to Dad about it.”

  “Your father? Are you nuts?”

  “Maybe he knows something.”

  “He’s a cop!”

  “That’s the point. If somebody grabbed Slim, the quicker we get the police on it, the better.”

  “What’ll we tell him about going to Slim’s house?”

  “Never happened.”

  Leading the way, I turned the corner toward the police station.

  Rusty reached out, clapped a hand on my shoulder and stopped me. “Hang on a minute.”

  “What for?”

  “You’ll get us all in trouble.”

  I turned around and faced him. “If that’s what it takes to find Slim…”

  He bared his teeth as if in pain, then said, “I know where she is.”

  “What?”

  “I know where Slim is.”

  “That’s what I thought you said. What’re you talking about?”

  “I didn’t exactly tell you everything before.”

  “Like what?”

  “We didn’t exactly walk home together.”

  “Right. You split up at her corner.”

  “Well, that’s not exactly the way it happened.”

  “Exactly how did it happen?”

  “We actually split up…back at Janks Field.”

  “What?”

  He shrugged his bare, freckled shoulders and held out his hands, palms upward as if feeling for raindrops. But there was no rain. “Thing is, Slim wouldn’t leave.”

  “What?”

  “Well, we were up on the roof of the snack stand, you know.”

  “Where you were supposed to stay,” I reminded him.

  “Well, that’s the thing. Slim did stay. But I didn’t. When we heard these engine noises, we looked over the top of the sign and pretty soon here comes this hearse outa the woods. I go something like, ‘Oh, shit, it’s them.’ But Slim goes, ‘Hey, all right!’ like she’s excited about it. The dog goes running over to bark at the hearse, so I tell Slim we’d better head for the hills while the gettin’s good. Only she won’t do it. She says there’s no reason to run away, and besides, you’ll get all bent outa shape if you come back looking for us and we aren’t there.”

  “So you ran away without her?”

  “She refused to leave. What was I supposed to do?”

  “Stay with her!”

  “Hey, man, it was her choice to stay.”

  “It was your choice to run.”

  “She told me to go on without her. ‘Don’t let me stop you,’ That’s what she said. She also said, ‘Maybe I can get a look at Valeria and see who wins the bet.’ So I jumped down and that’s the last I saw of her.”

  “Jesus,” I muttered.

  “She planned to wait for you, man. I figured that’s exactly what she did do. When you came driving up to your place with Lee, I figured Slim was gonna be with you.”

  “She wasn’t on the roof.”

  “Yeah, I know, I know.”

  “So why’d you lie?”

  “I don’t know.” His voice was whiny. “I figured…if you found out I’d left her there, you’d give me all sorts of shit about it…”

  I almost slugged him in the face, but the sight of my raised fist put such fear in his eyes that I couldn’t go through with it. I lowered my arm. I shook my head. I muttered, “You left her there.”

  “You left both of us.”

  “That was to get help, you idiot. Don’t you know the difference?”

  “Nobody made her stay behind.”

  “So where the hell is she?” I blurted.

  “How should I know?”

  “Damn it!”

  “I thought she’d be at her house by the time we got there.”

  “Well, she wasn’t,” I snapped. I gave Rusty a scowl, then started walking away. He stuck with me, walking by my side, his head down.

  After a while, he said, “Look, she’s gotta be somewhere. She wasn’t on the roof of the shack when you and Lee got there, so she must’ve jumped down sometime after I did. She probably ran into the woods…”

  “Then why isn’t she home yet?”

  “Maybe she hung around to keep an eye on things. And to wait for you to show up.”

  “But I did show up.”

  “Maybe she’d quit by then and started for home.”

  “Then where is she?”

  “On her way?” he suggested.

  “It’s not that far. Lee and I left Janks Field—must’ve been a couple of hours ago.”

  “Hour and a half?”

  “Whatever, Slim had more than enough time to get home.”

  “Maybe we just haven’t looked in the right place yet.”

  “She’d be looking for us! And she would’ve found us a long time ago if she’d made it back to town. Which means she didn’t.”

  “So what do you think happened?” Rusty asked.

  Shaking my head, I told him, “Somehow, she’s out of commission.”

  “Huh?”

  “Too weak to travel. Passed out. Trapped somehow. Maybe even a prisoner. Or worse.”

  “Worse like what?”

  “Do I have to spell it out?”

  “You mean like raped and murdered?”

  Hearing him speak the words, I cringed. “Yeah. Like that.”

  We walked in silence for a while. Then Rusty said, “I bet it’ll turn out that s
he’s fine.”

  “She’d better be.”

  Chapter Sixteen

  “We’re going to the cops,” I said, and turned a corner toward the police station.

  “Do we have to?” Rusty asked.

  “Yeah.”

  “Your dad’ll find out we went to Janks Field.”

  “I don’t care,” I said. I did care, but getting in trouble with my parents didn’t seem like much of a big deal just then.

  “He’ll ground you,” Rusty warned.

  “Maybe.”

  “What about the show?”

  “I’m not gonna be allowed to go to that no matter what. And at this point, I don’t give a hot crap about that stupid Vampire Show. I just want to find Slim. The best way to do that is to tell Dad everything that happened.”

  Rusty looked shocked. “Not about Slim’s house.”

  “We can say we rang the doorbell, but didn’t go in.”

  “No! That’ll be admitting we were there!”

  “We were there.”

  It went on like that for a couple more minutes, but we both shut up as we approached the front doors of the police station.

  I went in first. Right away, I regretted it.

  With everything else going on, I hadn’t given any thought to Dolly.

  The Grandville Police Department was comprised of six cops, my dad included. Two cops per shift, all of whom could be brought into action in case of an emergency.

  Since there were no actual police to spare for desk duty, civilians had been hired to act as receptionist/clerk/dispatchers. Dolly worked the day watch.

  She was a skinny, bloodless prude. Pushing forty, she lived with her older sister. She disapproved of men in general, and me in particular. The only times she ever seemed happy were when she got to gloat over someone else’s misery.

 
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