The traveling vampire sh.., p.14
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.14

           Richard Laymon
 
“Want them?” she asked.

  Rusty shook his head.

  “We can throw them away when we get to town,” I said, holding out my hand. “I’ll carry ’em.”

  She was about to give them to me when Rusty asked her, “Don’t you want to wear one?”

  “Thanks anyway. They’re filthy. You want me to get infected?”

  “You can’t walk back to town looking like that. Everybody’s gonna wonder how you got all wrecked up.”

  I nodded. “You’d better wear a shirt.”

  She frowned at the shirts in her hands. “I’d rather let people see me…”

  “You can borrow mine,” Rusty said. He started to unfasten the buttons of the shirt he was wearing.

  Shaking her head, Slim said, “It’ll get blood on it. I’ve wrecked enough shirts for one day.”

  “I insist,” Rusty said.

  “No, really…”

  “You can wear Dwight’s shoes…”

  “Okay.”

  He pulled his shirt off.

  “Thanks,” Slim said. She handed the two ruined shirts to me, then stepped closer to Rusty. “You’d better put it on me, though.” She turned her back to him.

  He gave me a strange smile—somehow smug and embarrassed at the same time—then slipped the shirt up Slim’s arms and eased it onto her shoulders. “There you go,” he told her.

  Turning to face us, she fastened a couple of the middle buttons. “Thanks, guys,” she said.

  The shirt was way too large for her. It drooped over her shoulders. The sleeves reached down to her elbows. The single pocket hung below the rise of her left breast. The tails were so long that they completely hid her cut-off jeans.

  She looked so cute it hurt to look at her.

  I wished I could put my arms around her and hold her and never let go.

  Instead of giving it a try, I just stood there, staring at her and feeling like I almost wanted to cry.

  I don’t know what it was about Slim.

  I’d seen Lee a few hours earlier wearing my brother’s big old work shirt. Even though it fit Lee pretty much the same way as Rusty’s shirt fit Slim, even though Lee was probably the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, the sight of her hadn’t made me feel like my heart might break.

  Maybe because Lee wasn’t cute.

  Slim was cute; Lee was spectacular.

  I loved both of them. They both had ways of making me ache for them. But different ways. And different sorts of aches. In different places.

  “What’s wrong?” Slim asked me.

  “Nothing.”

  “Ready to go?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Let’s go,” Rusty said. He led the way, Slim walking behind him.

  I followed, staying a few paces behind Slim, watching her.

  With only my socks between my feet and the forest floor, I felt pokes and jabs with every step. I didn’t mind, though. I was glad that my own feet, not Slim’s, were the ones being hurt.

  When we reached the pavement of Route 3, I said, “Wait up.”

  They stopped walking. I checked the bottoms of my socks. They had picked up some dirt and debris, but they weren’t really damaged yet.

  “Want your shoes back?” Slim asked.

  “Nope. I’m fine.” I pulled off my socks, stuffed them into the pockets of my jeans and then we all resumed our hike back to town.

  Chapter Twenty-one

  As we entered the outskirts of town, I remembered about Bitsy. She hadn’t followed us, after all, probably so hurt by my betrayal that she’d gone back to her bedroom and cried. I once again felt rotten about ditching her…on top of everything else I felt rotten about.

  God, it’s hard not to feel rotten.

  I should’ve felt wonderful because we’d found Slim alive and well.

  But I didn’t. And I felt cheated because I had to feel lousy about Bitsy and about what we’d done in Slim’s house and about slugging Rusty and about the poor damn dog getting speared and about God-only-knows what else.

  On top of all that, it looked as if we wouldn’t even get to see the Traveling Vampire Show.

  Things could’ve been worse, though; at least we weren’t on our way to Slim’s house.

  When we came to Lee’s block, I saw her pickup truck in the driveway.

  “She’s home,” I said.

  “How about if we don’t tell her about the dog?” Rusty suggested, looking over his shoulder at us with a pained expression on his face. “Please? She doesn’t have to know everything, does she?”

  “She has to know about that,” Slim said.

  “We’re not going, anyway,” I pointed out. “So why not tell her?”

  Rusty stopped walking, turned around and raised his open hands to halt us. “Hold it up,” he said.

  We stopped.

  “What if we change our minds?” he asked. “It’s a long time between now and midnight. Maybe we’ll wanta go after all, but we won’t be able to if we’ve already spilled the beans to Lee.”

  Looking mildly amused, Slim said, “Oh, you think sometime between now and midnight it’ll turn out that they didn’t gang-stab the dog.”

  Gang-stab? Slim sometimes got creative with her language.

  “I just mean, you know, maybe we’ll decide to go anyway. Do we really wanta miss the Vampire Show on account of a stupid dog?”

  “It isn’t because of the dog,” Slim said. “It’s because what they did to it was heinous. These are heinous people.”

  Rusty looked annoyed.

  “Abominable,” I explained. “Shockingly evil.”

  He glanced at me. “I know what it means. I’m not stupid, you know.”

  “I know.”

  “Anyway, it’s not like they’ll do anything horrible tonight. They wouldn’t dare.” Eyes on Slim, he said, “I bet they wouldn’t even’ve done that to the dog if they’d known you were watching. They sure aren’t gonna pull stuff like that in front of an audience.”

  “Wouldn’t think so,” I said.

  “They’d have the cops all over ’em.”

  Slim shook her head. “I don’t plan to find out.” Not waiting for any more arguments from Rusty, she stepped past him. He turned to follow her, and I took up the rear.

  “Just because you don’t want to see the show,” he said to Slim’s back, “have you gotta ruin it for the rest of us?”

  “Leave her alone,” I said.

  We cut across Lee’s front lawn. After two miles of walking mostly on pavement, the soft, dry grass felt good under my bare feet. When we reached the porch, I took over the lead and trotted up the wooden stairs. The screen door was shut, but I could see through it. The main door was open. Instead of ringing the doorbell or knocking, I called out. “Lee? It’s Dwight. Are you here?”

  “Come on in.” Her voice sounded as if it came from somewhere deep in the house.

  I opened the screen door and we all stepped into the foyer. The stone floor felt cool but hard.

  The living room was just to our left. Lee’s voice hadn’t come from over there, but I looked for her anyway. She didn’t seem to be there. At least I couldn’t see her.

  Though all the curtains were open, the afternoon was so gloomy that not much light made it through the windows. The room looked the way it might look at dusk if nobody’d turned on any lamps.

  “I’ll be right in,” Lee called.

  “Okay.” I realized she might assume I was alone. Just to play it safe, I let her know, “Slim and Rusty are here, too.”

  “Good deal.”

  “Hi, Mrs. Thompson!” Slim called.

  “Hi, Slim.”

  “Hello again,” Rusty called.

  “Hello, Rusty.” After a small pause, Lee added, “Sit down and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll be in in a minute.”

  Rusty suddenly announced, “If this isn’t a good time for you, we can leave.”

  “No, it’s fine. Don’t go away. I’m almost done.”

  “Nice try,” Slim whisp
ered.

  Rusty grinned, then walked into the living room and plopped down on the sofa.

  Slim glanced at the bottoms of her shoes—my shoes—then entered the living room.

  “Take a load off,” Rusty told her.

  She looked around at the furniture, then shook her head. “Think I’ll stand. I’m a mess.”

  I checked the bottoms of my feet. They felt sore from the hike. They were dirty and even had a couple of dark smudges that made me suspect I’d stepped in a couple of oil drips. I didn’t see any blood or cuts, though, so I took the socks out of my pocket and put them on. Then I walked into the living room. The carpet felt good and soft.

  I wanted to sit down, but it didn’t seem right to leave Slim standing by herself.

  After a couple of minutes, Lee came in. “Sorry about that,” she said. “I was mopping the kitchen floor.”

  She looked as if she’d been mopping a floor: some hair drooped across her forehead, her skin gleamed with sweat, the sleeves of her big blue shirt were rolled halfway up her forearms and her feet were bare. The front of the shirt was tied together just below her breasts. She wore small, white shorts. Like her shirt, the shorts looked like what she’d had on when she drove me to Janks Field.

  To Slim, she said, “I understand you had some dog trouble this morning.”

  “Just a bit. Thanks for going out to rescue me.”

  “Yeah, thanks,” Rusty added.

  “Sorry we missed you,” Lee said. Concern coming into her eyes, she said to Slim, “I thought you went home afterward.”

  Slim looked puzzled.

  “You aren’t cleaned up and it looks like you’re wearing someone else’s shirt and sneakers.”

  “I haven’t been home,” Slim said.

  Lee gave Rusty a glance.

  He seemed to blush, cringe and shrug all at the same time.

  “It turns out Slim stayed behind,” I explained. “At Janks Field. Rusty left, but she stayed for a while. Rusty told us a little fib when he said they’d left together. We went back and found her.”

  “Where were you?” Lee asked her.

  “I ran off and hid in the woods,” Slim said. “I guess that’s how I missed you.”

  “That was a long time ago.”

  Slim shrugged. “I just stayed hidden. I didn’t want to walk all the way home because I’d lost my shirt and shoes. Besides, Dwight was supposed to show up.” She smiled at me. “And he did.”

  “We both did,” Rusty pointed out.

  To Lee, I said, “We figured maybe we could borrow some bandages from you.”

  She turned to Slim. “All right if I take a look?”

  “Sure.” Slim unbuttoned her shirt, took it off, then turned around.

  At the sight of her back, Lee pursed her lips.

  “Most of that’s from broken glass,” I explained.

  “You’d better come with me, Slim. We’ll get you cleaned up and bandaged.”

  Looking a little embarrassed, Slim nodded.

  “You guys wait here,” Lee told us. “We won’t be long.”

  We watched Slim and Lee leave the room. A couple of minutes later, water came on and rushed through the pipes.

  Rusty met my eyes. “Sounds like somebody’s taking a bath,” he whispered.

  “Or a shower.”

  “Who do you think it is?”

  “Who do you think?”

  A smile spreading across his cherubic face, Rusty said, “Wanta find out?” He started to rise from the sofa.

  “Stay put,” I said.

  He stood up. “I know we can’t look. As if they’d leave the door open. But maybe we can hear something.”

  “Forget it.”

  “Come on, man.”

  “Don’t you think we’ve screwed up enough for one day?”

  Looking disappointed in me, he said, “You’re such a chicken.”

  “If you say so.”

  “Come on. It’ll be cool.”

  “No.”

  “I tell you what. You wait here where it’s nice and safe and I’ll go listen.”

  “No you won’t.”

  He lifted his eyebrows. In a quiet, taunting voice, he said, “Slim’s probably nude in there, you know.”

  “Knock it off.”

  “Maybe Lee, too. Maybe she got in the shower with Slim to help wash her back.”

  I saw it in my mind. Rusty was obviously seeing it in his mind, too, and I didn’t like that. I stepped up close to him—so close that our stomach’s touched—and looked him in the eyes.

  “Okay, okay,” he muttered. “Forget it. Never mind.” He backed away and sank onto the sofa.

  After a while, I calmed down. I walked to the other side of the room and sat in an armchair.

  We both sat in silence.

  Rusty was careful not to look at me.

  The water kept rushing through the pipes.

  Chapter Twenty-two

  When the water shut off, Rusty lifted his head and looked at me.

  “What?” I asked.

  “Nothing.”

  “What?”

  “Nothing. You’re not so pure, that’s all. You’re no purer than me, you’re just scared of getting caught.”

  “Up yours.”

  “It’s the truth.”

  “Shut up, okay? They might be able to hear us.”

  He closed his mouth and gave me a smug, knowing smile. He knew he was right, and I knew he wasn’t far from wrong.

  We didn’t say anything else. After a while, we heard a door unlatch. Then came quiet footsteps and voices.

  Lee saying, “I’ll have to give him a try.”

  Slim saying, “I’ve got an extra copy of The Temple of Gold I can let you read.”

  “Great.”

  “I’ll bring it over sometime.”

  Then they walked into the living room. Lee, dressed the same as before, was carrying my sneakers, Rusty’s shirt, and a brown paper grocery bag with its top crumpled shut.

  Slim, with nothing in her hands, had the clean, fresh look of someone who’d just taken a bath or shower. She wore clothes that must’ve belonged to Lee: a loose white T-shirt, red shorts, white crew socks and white sneakers. The T-shirt completely covered her shorts, but I could see through it enough to tell their color. I could also tell where bandages had been applied, and that she no longer wore her bikini top.

  Her bikini and cut-off jeans were probably in the grocery bag Lee was carrying.

  Evidently, Lee didn’t own a bra in Slim’s size.

  When I realized I was staring at Slim’s chest, I quickly turned my eyes to Lee. “How’d it go?” I asked.

  “I think she’ll live. But since she refuses to see a doctor, I guess she’ll have to go stitchless.”

  “My cuts aren’t that bad,” Slim said.

  “They aren’t that good, either.” Lee dropped the sneakers in front of my feet, stepped toward the sofa and tossed the shirt to Rusty.

  While I put on my shoes and Rusty put on his shirt, Lee set the grocery sack on the coffee table. Then she sank onto the sofa beside Rusty, settled back against the cushion, swung her legs onto the coffee table and crossed her ankles. She sighed as if relieved to be off her feet.

  Still fastening his buttons, Rusty turned his head and stared down at her.

  Life was suddenly good again for him.

  Lee glanced at him, smiled, then said to all of us, “The kitchen floor’s gotta be dry by now. If anyone wants a Coke or something, feel free. I’m not moving, though. You’ll have to help yourselves.”

  None of us spoke up.

  Slim walked past me. She smelled like a strange, wonderful combination of lemons and marshmallows. Through the back of her T-shirt, I saw eight or ten bandages. She went to a wicker chair near the lamp table and sat down. Perched near the front of the seat, she folded her hands on her lap and kept her back straight.

  Glancing from Slim to me, Lee asked, “So, all set for tonight?”

  Slim hadn
t told her about the dog?

  “Not sure yet,” I said.

  “We’re still working on it,” said Rusty. He gave Slim a perplexed look.

  Slim’s shoulders moved slightly.

  Rusty returned his gaze to Lee’s slumped, lounging body. “Any ideas?” he asked her.

  “Nothing spectacular. Anyway, I think you should work it out for yourselves.”

  Looking at me, Rusty said, “I can get permission to sleep over at your house. Your mom and dad still go to bed at ten?”

  “Around then.”

  “So we wait till they hit the sack, then we sneak out.”

  “I don’t know about sneaking out,” I said.

  “It’ll work. It’s always worked before.”

  I could’ve killed him for saying that in front of Lee.

  She looked at me and lifted her eyebrows. She seemed amused and curious.

  “We didn’t do anything much,” I told her.

  “Hey, don’t worry about it. I won’t tell.”

  “I know.”

  “But I’d like to hear about it sometime.”

  “Sure.”

  “And I’ll tell you about the times I used to sneak out at night.”

  “I’d like to hear that,” Rusty said.

  She lifted a hand off her belly, reached over and patted him on the leg.

  His face went crimson.

  Mine probably did, too.

  “We’ll see,” she told him.

  “If we have to sneak out of someone’s house,” I said to Rusty, “why not yours? Why does it always have to be my house?”

  “I’m already invited for supper,” he pointed out.

  “What’s that got to do with it?”

  “I’ll already be there.”

  “Right. So then I explain how you’ve asked me to spend the night at your place. And then we go over there after…”

  “Just can’t wait to see Bitsy again, huh?”

  I grunted as if I’d been slugged in the stomach. “Oh yeah,” I muttered.

  “I’m sure she’d love to see you…”

  “Never mind.”

  “Here’s how to work it,” Slim suddenly said.

  I gaped at her.

  Rusty actually went, “Huh?”

  “Dwight, you tell your parents you’ve been asked to spend the night at Rusty’s house. Rusty, you tell yours that you’re invited to stay at Dwight’s. Then you both come over to my house.”

 

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