Quake, p.13
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       Quake, p.13

           Richard Laymon
 

  They resumed pulling, inching her out of her burrow in the side of the mound.

  'Is she dead?' Heather asked.

  'I don't know,' Pete called.

  'Let's not worry about it till we've got her out,' Barbara said.

  Above the waist of her skirt, the woman's back was bare. Barbara saw fresh, raw scratches on her skin. From crawling into the rubble? Or from being dragged out feet-first? 'Almost got her,' Pete said.

  They pulled some more, and met resistance.

  'Hold it. Let's not force her.'

  They stopped pulling. She was bare halfway up her back. 'Something's stuck.'

  'Her boobs are in the way,' Heather said.

  'Try lifting,' Barbara suggested. 'Raise her as much as you can, and I'll pull.'

  Hugging her around the belly, he pulled her upward. Barbara tugged her ankles and she suddenly came out so fast they both staggered, gasping with alarm and fighting to keep their feet. As Barbara tried to stay up in a moment that seemed to stretch on and on forever, she glimpsed the broad, black crossstrap of Mrs Klein's bra… vertical straps that disappear under the ivory fabric of her rucked-up blouse… blouse rumpled high across her back, still clothing shoulders and arms, shrouding the back of her head… speckled and splashed with shiny blood… arms still stretched out like a diver… blouse-hidden head coming out now… coming out of a dark gap in the mound… a squawling 'rrrroowwww!' that races a shiver through Barbara… a cat leaping out of the darkness, pouncing on the shrouded back of the head - a cat so drenched in blood that a glimpse of it reminds Barbara of Carrie on prom-night - and then it springs away, blood flying from its fur. The endless moment ended when Barbara heard herself cry out. Her own 'Yahhh!' drowned out whatever noises might've come from Pete or Heather, but she saw Pete lurch aside and stumble and drop Mrs Klein. Feet elevated by Barbara, the woman was about to smash her face into the alley pavement. Too late to help by letting go. So she flung the ankles at each other, made them miss, crossed them and thrust, twisting the body as it fell. The shoulder, not the face, struck the pavement Barbara was glad.

  But not for long. Mrs Klein flopped onto her back. Barbara glimpsed her shredded, eyeless face, her ripped throat. Whirling away, she dropped to a crouch and squeezed her eyes shut and clutched her own face with both hands. No no no no no!

  Then she felt hands on her shoulders. 'You okay?' Pete asked. She shook her head.

  'I guess that was Susie.'

  'Yeah.'

  'What a way to go,' Heather said. She sounded far away, and impressed. 'Good thing it wasn't one of us tried to crawl in and save her cat. God! Look what it did to her. Just look at that, will you?'

  ***

  Time to get back to Sheila. Way past time, Stanley thought. But he had to deal with Judy first. She was slippery underneath him. Slippery and sticky, motionless except for her breathing. He got to his knees, and stared down at her. Her skin was shiny with wetness. Smeared with blood here and there. Rosy where Stanley had used her roughly - places where there would soon be bruises. 'What a beaut,' he muttered.

  Saying that, he felt a small rush of guilt.

  'But not in Sheila's league,' he added. 'Not even close. He pictured Sheila in the bathtub.

  Gotta get back to her, get her out of there. But something had to be done about Judy, first. Don't wanta kill her, he thought. That wouldn't be good. Ruin her for later, in case something goes wrong the Sheila thing. Nothing better go wrong! 'Gotta get,' he reminded himself.

  Not without taking care of Judy, though.

  'First things first.'

  He climbed off the end of the bed. Bending over, he grabbed Judy by the ankles. He moved away, dragging her until her rump slid off the mattress. She bent at the waist and sat down hard on the carpeted floor. The abrupt landing made her breasts do a quick bounce. Stanley pulled her away from the bed. When she was flat on her back, he lowered her legs to the floor. She was unconscious now, or appeared to be. But she was sure to come out of it, sooner or later. He needed a way to secure her so that she wouldn't be able to run off and get help. How about pinning her down in her bathtub? The idea made him laugh. But right away, he realized that it was a very good idea. Sheila had sure gotten trapped in her tub. The thing was almost as good as a cage. Crouching, he shoved his arms under Judy's body. Her head dipped toward the floor and wobbled when he lifted her. He walked quickly across the bedroom toward a door that was open no more than a crack. He hadn't looked behind the door, so far, but he suspected that it belonged to a connecting bathroom. As he hurried along, Judy's limp body kept slipping through his arms, her hip sliding down his belly. Twice, on the verge of dropping her, he had to pause and give her a knee in the rump and readjust his hold. He bumped the door with her head to make it swing open. Then he turned her sideways and carried her into the bathroom and was amazed by the aroma that engulfed him. A rich perfume. Vanilla? Marshmallow? Cotton candy? Sweet and mouthwatering, it teased him with old memories. He squinted his eyes. He sucked the wonderful scent in through his nose, filling himself with it. Something from when he was a boy…

  Carnival midways? That's it! Midways he'd walked a few times with his parents. Always with his parents, and always in daylight. But oh, how he'd longed to explore them in the night, alone, with nobody to tell him no or stop him. Midways brilliant as Christmas with colored lights, dark and secret and mysterious in the shadows. Midways where forbidden rides could kill you with their thrills, where strange men promised to show you terrible wonders hidden in tents, where all the women seemed to be gypsies full of wild magic. He had longed to sneak in all by himself at midnight and become part of it. But, of course, he hadn't. Hadn't dared. What if Mother catches me? Stanley inhaled deeply again. He felt a smile float on his face. I've got my own carnival now.

  'Step right this way, folks. See the Amazing Limp Woman. She jiggles, she shimmies, she shakes.' He shook her, and smiled.

  But suddenly she reminded him of Sheila. 'Sheila the Woman of Steel, who…' Gotta get back to her.

  Stanley glanced around the bathroom. Except for a crack in one large mirror, it looked unharmed by the quake. It couldn't have gotten off this easily. Judy had obviously spent time picking up whatever had been hurled out of its medicine cabinet and cupboards including a bottle of wonderful perfume that must've broken or spilled. oughta check and see what's in the wastebasket, he thought. Later, he told himself. For now, I've gotta take care of Judy. He scanned the bathroom. A very nice bathroom. Twin sinks, counters that looked like marble, mirrors everywhere, a shower stall with a clear glass door (exactly like the one in his fantasy of Sheila when she showered after her morning runs), and a step-down tub. The tub looked like a miniature swimming pool. Only not all that miniature. Stanley stood above it, gazing down past the body cradled in his arms.

  Gleaming, royal blue tiles. What a great tub. So much nicer than the one at Mother's house. So much nicer than Sheila's. He wished he could fill it high, right now, with cool clear water. Damn quake. It's not a damn quake, he told himself. It's my friend the quake. Yes yes yes. wouldn't be here except for the quake. None of this great stuff would be happening. Just too bad it had to screw up the water system. Oh, how I'd love to take a bath in this. Judy on one side of me, Sheila on the other. We'd be all cool and soapy and slippery… Judy suddenly slipped down through his arms again. He planted his knee against the moist crevice of her rump, and struggled to hold on while he hurried down the tile steps. The bottom of the tub was as flat as a floor. He crouched and laid her down on her back, feet toward the faucets. Then he climbed out. He looked down at her. A tub this big wouldn't be much help in confining her. He wondered if there might be a guest bathroom with a normal tub somewhere in the house. I'm not gonna lug her around looking for one, he thought. This'll do. Long as she's tied up good and tight. With what? He doubted he would find anything useful in the bathroom so he hurried into the bedroom. He glanced from the bed to the dresser to the closet, considering what they might have to offer: beds
heets, pantyhose, scarves, neckties…? don't wanta be tying her with rags - nothing that's gonna stretch and rip. Belts?

  In the closet, he found a good collection of leather belts hanging by their buckles from a rack on the inside of the door. They were men's belts - her husband's, he supposed. He grabbed several and hurried back to Judy. She didn't look as if she had moved. Stanley dragged her closer to the faucets. The two chrome handles were slightly higher than his own knees, and about twenty inches apart. He twisted both handles. As he'd expected, no water came out. Would've been nice, though. Could've had a nice, cold shower. Just as well, he told himself. I've gotta get back to Sheila. He lifted Judy's right leg up between his own legs. He pressed its ankle against the side of the cold water handle, then squeezed his legs together to hold it in place, With both hands free, he wound a belt three times around her ankle and the faucet. He pulled it tight, then buckled it. He did the same with her other foot, binding it to the hot water faucet with a second belt. Legs elevated and separated as they were, she was probably secure. It would require a major effort to reach the belts, and Stanley doubted that Judy had the strength. Bet she can't, he thought. And he imagined how much fun it would be to watch her try. He could just see it! Fabulous struggles and contortions! Grunting and sweating and weeping, she would fight to sit up, strain to stretch her arms to the faucets and, failing, flop back down and resort to twisting and bucking and kicking. It'd be great! But Stanley knew he couldn't stay and watch. He'd already stayed too long. Can't leave her this way, though. Not for real. To leave her arms free would be tempting fate. When you tempt fate, you get screwed.

  He remembered seeing a straight-backed chair someplace. Returning to the bedroom, he spotted it in a corner. His pajama pants were wadded on its seat cushion, where he must've tossed them at some point although he couldn't remember when. He flung the pants to the floor and carried the chair into the bathroom. At the bottom of the tub, he set it down on Judy. Its back legs fit nicely above her shoulders. The rungs pressed against the fronts of her shoulders like the straps of a peculiar wooden bra, and the chair's front legs touched her sides just above her hips. Squatting above her head, Stanley picked up another belt. He held it in his teeth, lifted both her arms over the padded seat, and forced her hands toward each other. Her arms weren't long enough. He couldn't get her hands to meet. Which meant he wouldn't be able to strap her wrists together with the bell. If just had some handcuffs. He could change his plan, he supposed. But he really liked the idea of fastening her hands together above the seat as if she were clutching the chair against her chest. She wouldn't have a chance of sitting up and going for the ankle restrained - not while she was hugging the chair. But a leather belt wouldn't work. There must be some sort of belt or tie or strap that'll do, he told himself. Something handy. Don't wanta go rooting through the whole house. Back in the bedroom, he returned to the closet. Maybe two or three neckties… Maybe Judy has a belt made out of rope, or…

  Nothing useful near the front, so he worked his way deep into the closet. He couldn't see much, and felt his way along. He liked the way some of the clothes rubbed against him. Maybe can find a robe, he thought. A terri-cloth robe like mine at home might have a belt that'll work. As he felt among the blouses in search of one, however, his hand collided with several empty wire hangers. Hangers. He snatched a few out of the darkness. Moments later, he was again squatting at the bottom of the tub. He swung Judy's arms up, pulled them toward each other above the seat of the chair, and slipped a hanger over both her hands. Then he forced them toward the sides until their wrists were wedged between the narrowing wires. 'Beautiful,' he muttered. He collapsed the middle of the hanger, trapping Judy's wrists at each end, then bent and twisted the wires to make his trap secure. Got her now, he thought. She'll never get out of this. He tossed the unused belts and hangers out of the tub. On his knees, he smiled down at Judy. Her face was upside-down. It looked strange that way; her mouth was where her forehead ought to be, her eyebrows under her eyes. For the first time, Stanley noticed that she had a few freckles on her eyelids. 'Yoo-whooo,' he said. 'You still out?' She didn't react.

  'I'm going away for a little while. You gonna miss me? Huh? Anyway, I'll be back, so don't worry. Just stay here and relax.'

  With his left arm for a brace, he eased down and kissed Judy's mouth. Her lips felt dry and scratchy, so he licked them. That seemed to soften them up some. He went on kissing her. While he did that, he reached his right arm around and under the chair and fondled her fight breast. It was slippery and sticky, but he enjoyed squeezing it. He tried for the left breast. He couldn't get to it, though, so he stayed with the right. He had his tongue deep in her mouth. He was hard again. He wondered what it might be like to fuck her the way she was tied like this to the faucets and chair.

  'It'd be fuckin' impossible,' he muttered, and laughed. He gave her nipple a final pinch, pulled his tongue from her mouth, and struggled to his feet.

  He climbed out of tub. By the side of the wastebasket, he crouched. He sniffed. Cotton candy. But a perfume, really. At the bottom of the plastic recepticle were wads of facial tissue, loose pills, pieces of broken bottles, a tooth brush. Stanley scooped out a handful of the tissues. They were still moist. He lifted them to his nose. He gave them a small, careful sniff.

  He inhaled deeply, then rubbed his face with the tissues, smearing himself with the wonderful aroma. When he was finished, he put the tissues back inside wastebasket for safe keeping and headed for the bathroom door. He stopped and glanced one more time at Judy. She looked like the victim of an exotic, failed contraption. 'I shall return,' Stanley said, and left the bathroom. He pulled the door shut, crossed the room and stepped into his moccasins. They felt mushy and slick under his feet, as if they'd been lathered inside with lard. Barefoot was better, but he had to wear something on his feet when he went outdoors. He found his pajama pants, stepped into them and pulled them up. They stuck to him. They seemed to trap the heat against his skin. He supposed he could probably find a pair of shorts to wear, instead. Something of Herb's. But then Sheila was gonna know he found clothes.

  'Can't have that,' he said.

  He liked the idea of shorts, though. So he went into Judy's kitchen to hunt for something sharp. He'd been through the kitchen when he carried Judy into the house, but he hadn't noticed much about it. Now, he realized that it seemed untouched by the quake. Maybe Judy had already picked up all the things that had fallen. Sure, she had. Must've started scurrying around and cleaning house the second the quake stopped - even before rushing out to check on the neighbors. Busy girl, Stanley thought. Or maybe the kitchen had simply gotten off easy, the way some places do for mysterious earthquake reasons.

  He started looking in the drawers for a sharp knife. But he found a pair of scissors, first. He took off his pajama pants, snipped off both the frail legs, and put the pants back on. Much, much better. He started to set down the scissors, then changed his mind. They might come in handy, later on. What else? he wondered. There's a whole house full of stuff here, and it's all mine. Food? Probably plenty of good stuff in the fridge. He wasn't hungry yet. Besides, he could come back whenever the urge might strike him. Sheila shouldn't be needing food yet, either. We'll have a little party after get her out. Maybe even come over here. Yeah, bring her here. Judy and Herb were drinkers, he knew that. He'd seen their empty bottles in the recycling bin that they put out to the curb once a week for trash day. I'll offer Sheila a nice, tall vodka and tonic. We'll sit cocktails together on the sofa. He pictured Sheila sprawled on the sofa, naked, smiling sipping her drink, beads of icy condensation falling off the bottom of the glass and splashing her breasts, sliding down them, dripping off her nipples. He groaned. He wandered through the kitchen, checking cupboards. The cupboard doors had either stayed shut during the quake - which hardly seemed likely - or Judy had gone around and closed them afterward. She must've done some tidying of the kitchen, it couldn't have gotten off this lightly. After tugging open the doors of sever
al cupboards, he found the liquor supply.

  'This'll be great,' he said. He shut the cupboard. He hurried to the refrigerator. Planning to check for ice, he reached toward the handle of the freezer compartment. No no no no no! Don't open it, you'll let out all the cold. The voice inside his head sounded a lot like his mother the Bitch. He grinned.

  'Just can't get rid of you, can I?'

  No no no no no. In this case, however, he appreciated the warning. Judy and Herb were certain to have plenty of ice in their freezer so there was no reason to look. The only question was how the ice might last with the power down. It would last longer if the door stayed shut. Stanley turned away from the refrigerator.

  'Okay,' he said. 'Anything else?' Bet Sheila could use some sun block. He laughed.

  Then, with the scissors in his hand, he stepped outside. The sunlight made him squint, but he liked how it felt on his body. He took a deep breath. He smelled smoke, but he also detected a fresh scent of the ocean air, and the sweet candy aroma of Judy's perfume. In the driveway, he bent down and picked up the saw and the plastic jug of water. The jug was dripping. It left a wet place that looked brown on the gray concrete. With the saw and scissors in one hand, the jug in the other, he made his way down Judy's driveway. As he walked, he rubbed the jug against his chest. Its wet plastic was slightly cool. Too bad it wasn't ice cold, the way it had been when Judy brought it out. That was a long time ago, Stanley told himself. I'm lucky the water isn't hot enough to boil eggs by now. He crossed Judy's front yard. On his own driveway, he stopped and looked at the door of his mother's house. My house. He wondered if anything needed to be done inside. Go in and give the Bitch a kick for good measure. One to grow on. Laughing and shaking his head, he walked up his driveway. The garage in front of him was a collapsed ruin. At least I've still got half a house, he told himself. Too bad can't change houses with Judy, he thought. Hardly fair, hers getting off with nothing more than a few broken mirrors and windows while mine is half destroyed. can change houses with her, he realized. At least for the time being. Who's gonna stop me? When he came to the cinderblock wall at the back of his yard, he turned sideways and raised his arms and started ease himself in between two of the rose bushes. A thorn snagged his shorts. He stopped. He glanced at the saw in his hand

 
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