Fiends ssc, p.13
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       Fiends SSC, p.13

           Richard Laymon
 
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  ‘All right. I’ll make it quick, then. I burst into the bathroom, pranced about to avoid mashing several kitties underfoot, and prepared to relieve myself. But when I looked down into the toilet bowl…’

  ‘Lazzy,’ Monica said.

  ‘Lazzy. Yes. Though, of course, that wasn’t her name at the time. At any rate, she must’ve climbed onto the rim of the toilet for a drink, and tumbled in. She was floating on her side, her little face down in the water. I had no idea how long she might’ve been that way. But she wasn’t moving at all. Not of her own accord. She was turning slightly as if being spun by a very slow, lazy whirlpool.

  ‘Well, I fished her right out and laid her out on the floor. She looked horrid. Have you ever seen a dead cat?’

  ‘She was not dead. She’s right there.’ Monica pointed, her arm so straight and stiff that it seemed to be bent just a bit the wrong way at the elbow.

  Lazzy lay on her side, head up, licking one of her forelegs.

  ‘She doesn’t look dead now,’ I agreed, ‘but you should’ve seen her shortly after I pulled her out of the toilet. She had that awful look -fur all matted down, ears flattened back. Her eyes were shut, so all you could see were dark slits. And she looked as if she’d died snarling.’ I bared my teeth at Monica to give her the idea.

  Monica was doing her best to appear bored and annoyed and superior to all this. In spite of her efforts, however, she had a rather slack look to her face.

  ‘The kitten was cold,’ I said. ‘Sopping. The feel of it sent chills through me. But that didn’t stop me from examining the poor thing. It had no heartbeat.’

  ‘I’m sure,’ Monica said. But she was definitely looking a trifle distressed.

  ‘The little kitten was dead.’

  ‘No, it wasn’t.’

  ‘It had drowned in the toilet. It was as dead as dead can be.’

  ‘Was not!’

  ‘Dead dead dead!’

  Monica pounded her fists against her thighs. Red-faced, she snapped, ‘You’re an awful person!’

  ‘No, I’m not. I’m a very nice person, because I brought the dead kitten back to life. I rolled her onto her back and covered her little mouth with my mouth and breathed into her. At the same time, I used my thumb to push at her heart. Have you ever heard of CPR?’ Monica nodded. ‘CPR was a robot in Star Wars’

  I was glad to find that she was not quite as smart as she thought she was.

  ‘CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It’s a technique used to revive people who…’

  ‘Oh, that!' She suddenly looked very pleased with herself. And very prim and very superior. Her head dipped from one side to the other while her shoulders oscillated. ‘So, the kitty wasn’t dead. Monica told you she wasn’t dead.’

  ‘Oh, but she was very dead.’

  Monica shook her head. ‘Was not.’

  ‘She was dead, and I brought her back to life with the CPR. Right there in the bathroom. Pretty soon, James came home. I told him what had happened, and he let me have the kitten I’d saved. So I named her Lazzy, short for Lazarus. Do you know who Lazarus was?’

  ‘Of course.’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘None of your business.’

  ‘Whatever you say. Anyway, I brought Lazzy home with me. And do you know what?’

  Monica sneered at me.

  ‘Lazzy never grew any larger after the day I brought her back from the dead. That was six years ago. She has been the size of a little kitty, ever since. So you see, she’s my pet. She’s not part of the litter I want to give away. She’s the mother of the litter.’

  ‘But she’s tinier than they are!’

  ‘And she’s been dead.’

  Monica stared at Lazzy for a long while. Then she turned to me, no longer looking the least bit shaken. ‘She isn’t either the mother. You made the whole thing up just so you could keep the cute one.’ She rushed over to the blanket, snatched up Lazzy and hugged her and kissed the dark brown M on her honey-colored brow.

  ‘Put her down,’ I said.

  ‘No.’

  ‘Don’t make me take her from you.’

  ‘You’d better not.’ She glanced at the kitchen doorway behind me. ‘You’d better get out of my way, or you’ll be in very very bad trouble.’

  ‘Put down Lazzy. You may still take one of the other kittens, but…’

  ‘Get out of the way,’ she said, and walked straight toward me. ‘As soon as you’ve…’

  ‘Mr Bishop said, “Come into my house. I have a little kitty for you.” ’ She halted and leered at me. ‘But when Monica went into his house, he told her a urine story and he took off the towel he was wearing and he said, “This is the little kitty I have for you. His name is Peter.” ’

  I could only gasp, ‘You!’

  ‘And he told me to pet Peter and kiss Peter. I didn’t want to do it, but he grabbed me and…’

  ‘Stop it!’ I blurted, and stumbled sideways out of her way. ‘Take the cat! Take her and get out of here!’

  As she strutted by, taking away my Lazzy, she winked at me. ‘Thank you so much for the kitten, Mr. Bishop.’

  I watched her leave.

  Just stood and stared as she sashayed through the den and stepped over the threshold of the open sliding door. Immediately after setting foot on the concrete, she burst into a run.

  Apparently afraid I might find a smidgen of nerve and attempt to retrieve my cat.

  But I didn’t move a muscle.

  An accusation such as she had threatened to make… How does one disprove such a thing? One doesn’t. Such an accusation, once made, would cling to me like leprous skin for all the days of my life.

  I would forever be known as a pervert, a child-molester.

  So I let her steal my dear Lazzy.

  I stood frozen with terror and let her.

  And from outside came a familiar reeooow! followed by a quick harsh yelp - the sort of yelp a girl might make if the cat in her arms decided to claw its way to freedom - followed by a thudding splash.

  I still stood motionless.

  No longer terrified.

  Amused, actually.

  The poor dear. Fell and got herself all wet.

  Lazzy leaped over the threshold and came scampering through the den, fur abristle over the ridge of her spine, her tiny ears swept back, tail curled up in a small, bushy question mark.

  She slowed down, then rubbed her side against my bare ankle.

  I picked up my tiny little cat. I held her in front of my face with both hands.

  From outside came more splashing sounds.

  Cries of 'Help!’ and ‘Help!’

  Was it possible that Monica’s bag of tricks did not include swimming?

  I dared not get my hopes up.

  There were no more cries for help. I did hear some choky gasps and quite a good deal of splashing, however, before silence replaced the disturbance.

  I carried Lazzy out to poolside.

  Monica was at the deep end. Face down, arms and legs spread out, hair drifting above her head, blouse and jumper shimmering slightly.

  She rather looked like a skydiver enjoying a freefall, waiting for the very last moment to pull her ringcord.

  ‘I suppose I ought to pull her out,’ I told Lazzy. ‘Give her some CPR.’

  Then I shook my head.

  ‘No. Not a good idea - a man my age putting his hands on a ten-year-old girl? What would people say?’

  I headed for the sliding glass door.

  ‘Why don’t we go pay a visit to James? Who knows? Maybe someone will be lucky enough to find Monica while we’re away.’ Lazzy purred, her little body vibrating like a warm engine.

  THE BLEEDER

  The spot of wetness on the sidewalk at Byron’s feet looked purple in the mercury glow of the streetlight. It looked like a drop of blood.

  He squatted down and peered at it. Then he pulled a flashlight out of the side pocket of his sport jacket. He thumbed the switch. In the bright, somewhat ye
llowish shine of its beam, the spot appeared crimson.

  Might be paint, he thought.

  But who would be wandering around at night dripping red paint?

  He reached down and touched it. Bringing his fingertip close to the flashlight glass, he inspected the red smear. He rubbed it with his thumb. The stuff was kind of watery. Not gooey enough for paint. More like blood that had been spilled very recently.

  He sniffed it.

  He could only smell mustard from the hot dog he’d eaten during the last show, a smell strong enough to overpower blood’s subtle aroma. But it wouldn’t have masked the pungent odor of paint.

  Byron wiped his finger and thumb on his sock. Still squatting, he let the beam of his flashlight drift over the concrete ahead. He saw a dirty pink disk of flattened bubble gum, a gob of spit, a mashed cigarette butt, and a second drop of blood.

  The second drop was three strides away. He stopped above it. Like the first, it was about the size of a nickel. Sweeping his light forward, he found a third.

  Maybe someone with a nosebleed, he thought.

  Or a switchblade in the guts.

  No, a real wound and there’d be blood everywhere. Byron remembered the mess in the Elsinore’s restroom last month. During intermission, a couple of teenagers had gone at each other

  with knives. He and Digby, one of the other ushers, had broken it up. Though the kids only had minor wounds, the john had looked like a slaughterhouse.

  Compared to that, this was nothing. Just a drip once in a while. Even a nosebleed, he thought, would throw out more gore.

  On the other hand, the person’s clothing, or a handkerchief, might have soaked up most of it - so that only a fraction of the spillage actually hit the sidewalk.

  Just a little drip now and then.

  Just enough to make Byron very curious.

  The trail of blood was going in his direction, anyway, so he kept his flashlight on and kept a lookout.

  ‘What, the streetlights aren’t bright enough for you?’

  He turned around.

  Digby Hymus, known to the gals who worked the refreshment stand as the Jolly Green Dork, came striding down the sidewalk. The thirty-year-old retired boxer had removed his green usher’s jacket. Its sleeves were tied around his neck so he looked as if he were giving a piggy-back ride to someone who’d been mashed by a steam roller. His arms were so thick with muscle that they couldn’t swing close to his sides when he walked.

  ‘Hate to tell you this, By, but you look like a goddamn retard with that flashlight on.’

  ‘Appearances are often deceiving,’ he said. ‘Take a gander.’ He aimed his flashlight at the nearest spot of blood.

  ‘Yeah? So what?’

  ‘Blood.’

  ‘Yeah? So what?’

  ‘Don’t you find it intriguing?’

  ‘Probably some babe sprung a leak in her…’

  ‘Don’t be disgusting.’

  ‘Hey, you’re the guy so interested in blood. You’ve got a real ghoulish streak, you know that?’

  ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it.’

  ‘Screw you,’ he said, and walked across the road to his parked car. Byron waited until the car sped off, then continued to follow the trail of blood. He stopped at the corner of 11th Street. His apartment was five blocks straight ahead. But the drops of blood went to the right.

  He paused for a moment, considering what to do. He knew that he ought to go on home. But if he did that, he would always wonder.

  Maybe the bleeder needs help, he told himself. Even a slow leak could be fatal if it went on long enough. Maybe I’m this person’s only chance.

  Maybe I’ll be a hero, my story will be on the news.

  Then guys like Digby - gals like Mary and Agnes of the snack counter - wouldn’t be so quick to poke fun at him.

  His mind made up, he turned the corner and began to follow the blood up 11th Street.

  The television. He could see it now. Karen Ling on the five o’clock news. ‘Byron Lewis, twenty-eight-year-old poet and part-time usher at the Elsinore theater, last night came to the aid of a mugging victim in an alley off 11th Street. The victim, twenty-two-year-old fashion model Jessica Connors, had been assaulted earlier that evening in front of the theater where Byron worked. Bleeding and disoriented, she had staggered several blocks before falling unconscious where she was later discovered by the young poet. Byron made the grisly discovery after following Jessica’s trail of blood. According to paramedics, Jessica was only minutes away from death at the time she was found. Her survival is being attributed to Byron’s quick actions in applying first aid and summoning paramedics. She is currently recovering, and extremely grateful, at Queen of Angels Hospital.’

  Byron smiled.

  Just a fantasy, he told himself. But what’s wrong with that?

  The bleeder will probably turn out to be an old wino who cut his lip on a bottle of rotgut.

  Or worse.

  You’ll probably wish you’d gone straight home.

  But at least you’ll know.

  Stopping at Harker Avenue, he found a spot of blood on the curb. No traffic was nearby. But Byron believed in playing by the rules. So he thumbed the button to activate the WALK sign, waited for the signal to change, then started across.

  If the bleeder had left any drops on the road pavement, passing cars must have obliterated them.

  He found more when he reached the other side.

  The bleeder was still heading north on 11th Street.

  And Byron realized, with some dismay, that he had crossed an invisible border into Skid Row.

  In the area ahead, many of the streetlights were out. They left broad pools of darkness on the sidewalk and road. Every shop in Byron’s sight was closed for the night. Metal gates had been stretched across their display windows and doors. He glanced through the checkered grating in front of a clothes store, saw a face at the window, and managed to stifle a gasp of alarm.

  Just a mannequin, he told himself, hurrying away.

  He made a point to avoid looking into any more windows.

  Better just to watch the sidewalk, he thought. Watch the trail of blood.

  The next time he looked up, he saw a pair of legs sticking out of a tenement’s recessed entryway.

  The bleeder!

  I did it!

  Byron rushed to the fallen man. It was a man, unfortunately. A man with holes in the bottom of his shoes, whose grimy ankles were blotched with scabs, whose trousers were stained and crusty with filth, who wore a ragged sweatshirt that had one empty sleeve pinned up.

  No left arm.

  His right arm was folded under his head like a pillow.

  ‘Excuse me,’ Byron said.

  The man kept snoring.

  Byron nudged him with a foot. The body twitched. The snoring stopped with a startled gasp. ‘Huh? Whuh?’

  ‘Are you all right?’ Byron asked. ‘Are you bleeding?’

  ‘BLEEDING?’ The man squealed and bolted upright. His head swiveled as he looked down at himself. Byron helped by shining the light on him. ‘I don’ see no blood. Where? Where?’

  Byron didn’t see blood on the man, either. But he saw other things that made him turn away and try not to gag.

  ‘Oh God, I’m bleedin’!’ the man whined. ‘They musta bit me. Oh, they’s always bitin’ me. Why they wanna bite on of Dandy! Where’d they get me? They after ol’ Dandy’s stump again? Jeezum!’

  Byron risked a look at Dandy, and saw that the old man was struggling with his single arm to pull his sweatshirt off.

  ‘Maybe I’ve got the wrong person.’

  ‘Oh, they’s after me.' The shirt started to rise. Byron glimpsed gray, blotchy skin of Dandy’s belly.

  ‘Gimme yer light, duke! C’mon, gimme!’

  ‘I’ve gotta go,’ Byron blurted.

  He staggered away from the frantic derelict - and saw a spot of blood farther up the sidewalk.

  Dandy wasn’t the bleeder, after
all.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Byron called back. ‘Go back to sleep.’

  He heard a low groan. A voice sunken in fear and disgust said, ‘Aw, looky what they’s done to me.’

  If only I’d left the guy alone, he thought.

  Real neat play. I should’ve gone on home.

  But he’d come this far. Besides, he couldn’t turn back without passing Dandy. He might cross to the other side of the street, but that would be cowardly. And he was no less curious than before.

  The drops of blood led him to the end of the block. He waited for the traffic signal to change, then hurried into the street. This time, the trail continued over the pavement. A good sign, he thought. Maybe the bleeder had crossed so recently that no cars had yet come by to wipe out the spots.

  I’m gaining on him. Or her.

  Oh, he did hope it was a woman.

  A slender blonde. Slumped against an alley wall, a hand clamped to her chest just below the swell of her left breast. ‘I’m here to help you,’ he would say. With a brave, pained smile, she would say, ‘It’s nothing. Really. Just a flesh wound.' Then she would unbutton her blouse and peel the bloody side away from her skin. She wore a black lace bra. Byron could see right through it.

  He imagined himself taking out his clean, folded handkerchief, patting blood away from the cut, and trying not to stare at her breast. His knuckles brushed against it, though, as he dabbed at the wound. ‘Excuse me,’ he told her. ‘That’s okay,’ she said. ‘Come with me,’ he suggested. ‘I’ll take you to my apartment. I have bandages there.’ She agreed, but she was too weak to walk without assistance, so she leaned against him. Soon, he had to carry her in his arms. He wasn’t huge and powerful like Digby, but the slim girl weighed very little, and…

  ‘Hey you.’

  Startled, Byron looked up from the sidewalk. His heart gave a quick thump.

  She was leaning against the post of a streetlamp, not against a wall. She was a brunette, not a blonde. She wasn’t holding her chest.

  Her hands, instead, were roaming slowly up and down the front of her skirt. The skirt was black leather. It was very short.

  Byron walked toward her. He saw no blood on her shiny white blouse. But he saw that most of the buttons were undone. She didn’t wear a black lace bra like the bleeder of his fantasy. She didn’t wear one at all, and the blouse was open wide enough to show the sides of her breasts.

 
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