Fiends ssc, p.2
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       Fiends SSC, p.2

           Richard Laymon
 

  ‘He was sitting near the back.’

  ‘An old boyfriend?’

  She shook her head.

  ‘Was he an old boyfriend?’ Dan repeated.

  She looked at him. His eyes were on the road and the rearview mirror. He hadn’t seen her silent answer. ‘No’ she said. ‘Not a boyfriend. I don’t think I want to talk about it, okay?’

  ‘Fine,’ he muttered.

  ‘I’ll tell you sometime,’ she said quietly. ‘But not now, okay?’

  ‘Fine. I just wondered if it might be him in the car that’s following us.’

  Marty groaned. She twisted round and looked out of the rear window. She could see nothing except the curving two-lane road, most of it hidden in shadows cast by the tall forest on both sides. ‘Where?’ she asked.

  ‘About fifty yards back. No headlights.’

  She kept studying the road behind them. And finally she noticed a dark shape against the lighter darkness of the blacktop, moving along like a low, hunching shadow.

  3

  Near Gribsby, four hundred miles above North Glen, a young man paced the end of a creaking pier.

  ‘About time, huh?’ he heard.

  He looked toward the shore and saw Tina. She stopped beneath a light, waved, and ran up the pier to meet him. ‘Whew!’ she said. ‘I didn’t think I’d ever get away. Relatives can be such a pain in the butt, you know that?’

  ‘I know that, Brad said. ‘The good Lord willing, we’ll never be relatives.’

  ‘I didn’t mean that.’

  ‘I know.’ He held out his arms. Tina stepped into them and he kissed the tip of her nose.

  ‘Lousy aim,’ she said.

  He kissed her mouth. Her lips were warm and open, dry at first, then slippery. He moved his hands on her back, feeling her ribs through the soft thickness of the old sweatshirt that was far too big for her. The sleeves were cut off. He stroked her bare upper arms and slipped his hands into the sleeve holes and rubbed her shoulders. Tina hugged him more tightly.

  ‘I could stay like this forever,’ she said.

  ‘We wouldn’t get much fishing in.’

  ‘Creep.’

  ‘Ready to go?’

  ‘Nope.’

  ‘Yep.’ He kissed her forehead, then pushed her away. ‘Climb aboard.’ Squatting, he gripped the gunwale and held the boat steady while Tina boarded.

  ‘It’s a beautiful night,’ she said. ‘Get a load of that moon.’

  He watched Tina instead. She stood on the deck with her bare feet apart, her hands on her hips, smiling as she looked from the full moon to the bright path it made on the lake.

  ‘Isn’t it something?’ she said.

  ‘You’re something.’ Brad climbed onto the deck. ‘You look like a pirate.’

  ‘Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.’

  ‘Except for your fanny.’ He patted it.

  ‘What’s about my fanny?’

  He stepped back and inspected it, frowning thoughtfully like an artist examining the lines of a statue. ‘Nothing is wrong with it… exactly.’

  ‘Oh, thank you.’

  ‘But it’s not the fanny of a pirate. They’ve got big, broad butts. Yours is much to graceful and delicate.’

  ‘Sorry.’

  ‘I’ll just have to grin and bear it.’

  ‘Bare it?’

  The way she smiled made Brad pull her close, holding her lightly, kissing her, finally pushing his hand down the back of her jeans and feeling the cool smooth skin of her buttocks.

  Tina squeezed him tightly, and let go.

  ‘Shouldn’t we be shoving off?’ she asked.

  ‘Should we?’ he murmured against the warm curve of her neck. ‘The fishies are waiting.’

  ‘Very true. Thanks for reminding me.’

  He let her go. Together, they untied the mooring lines. Then Brad turned on the ignition key and pressed the starter button. The twin inboard motors thundered into life. Tina came up beside him. He gave her a swat on the rump.

  ‘If you break it, you buy it.’

  ‘How much?’ he asked.

  She held onto him as the boat lunged forward. ‘You probably can’t afford it,’ she said.

  The bow lifted above the waves.

  ‘You’re forgetting, I’m a wealthy man.’

  ‘Right. Your dad owns a bait shop.’

  ‘There are different kinds of wealth,’ he said, grinning.

  ‘You’re wealthy in worms.’

  ‘How about ten bucks? Is that enough?’

  ‘Plenty.’ She smiled up at him. ‘You get a discount ’cause I love you so much.’

  Brad put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Have I wished you happy birthday yet?’ he asked.

  ‘No. What’re you waiting for?’

  ‘Happy birthday. The big seventeen.’

  ‘Yeah. I’m ancient.’

  Brad throttled down. The roar of the motors diminished to a sputtering whisper and the boat slowed, its bow slowly lowering into the waves. ‘Time for your party,’ he said, and killed the motors.

  ‘We’ll let her drift for a while.’ He lifted Tina onto the pilot’s seat. ‘Just sit tight on your priceless fanny.’

  ‘Ten bucks isn’t priceless.’

  ‘Right back,’ he said, and went below. In the galley, he opened his ice chest. Two glasses were tucked into the crushed ice along with two bottles of champagne. He left one bottle behind and hurried topside. Tina grinned. ‘Hey! Champagne?’

  ‘Happy birthday.’

  ‘Shouldn’t you have a towel to wrap round the bottle? They always have towels.’

  ‘A towel, a towel. Good idea. Hold these.’ He gave the bottle and glasses to Tina, then rushed below and found a beach towel. It was still damp and smelled of sun tan oil. He tucked it under his arm and picked up a flat, gift-wrapped box. As he reached the top of the steps, he heard a pop. A cork shot past his ear. It thumped the window. ‘Almost gotcha!’ Tina blurted.

  ‘Good thing you missed.’

  ‘Yeah?’

  ‘How far can you swim?’

  ‘Far. Very far.’ She scanned the shores. The nearest was at least a quarter mile away. ‘I could make it,’ she said.

  ‘This wouldn’t.’ He tossed the gift sideways. Tina gasped, but he snatched it out of the air with his other hand.

  ‘What if you’d missed?' Tina asked.

  ‘I never miss.’

  ‘But what if?’

  ‘Seriously?’

  ‘Seriously.’

  ‘I would’ve dived in after it. There’s no way I’d let this get away. No way in the world.’

  ‘It’s something pretty good, huh?’

  ‘It’s something wonderful.’

  ‘Gonna give it to me?’

  ‘Later. First, we’ve got to toast the birthday girl.’

  4

  ‘Why would he want to follow you?’ Dan asked without looking away from the dark, twisting road.

  ‘I don’t know,’ Marty said.

  ‘You’d better tell me. I’ve got to figure out how to handle this.’

  ‘Can you lose him?’

  ‘Maybe. For tonight. But he can always go after you tomorrow. He can wait around till he finds you alone. Do you want that?’

  ‘Of course not.’

  ‘Then tell me what he wants.’

  ‘I don’t know what he wants. I testified against him once. He went to prison.’

  ‘What did he do?’

  ‘Never mind.’

  ‘Thanks for all the information. At least we know one thing; if it is your friend back there, he probably doesn’t plan to shake your hand.’

  ‘That’s for sure.’ She looked out of the rear window and gazed down the road, searching the shadows.

  ‘I’ll take you to my place,’ Dan said.

  ‘No, not your place.’

  ‘I’ve got a gun.’

  ‘No!’

  ‘Why the hell not?’

  ‘You want to shoot him? That’d be great.


  Dan glanced at her, smiled with one side of his head. ‘It might not come to shooting.’

  ‘But it might.’

  ‘In that case, may the better aim win.’

  A few minutes later, he slowed down in front of his house. ‘Keep driving,’ Marty said. If you get your gun, someone might end up getting killed.’

  ‘Damn right.’

  ‘Keep driving, or you can just let me out and I’ll take my chances walking home.’

  He made a snorty sound, then muttered, ‘I just hope your friend isn’t armed.’

  ***

  Two hundred yards farther, he swung the car sharply onto the narrow road leading to Wilson Lake.

  ‘What are we going to do?’

  ‘I’ve got a little plan.’

  ‘Dan?’

  ‘Nothing to worry about.’ He looked at her and grinned. ‘Dan’s plans never fail. What does this guy look like?’

  ‘Let’s go to the police.’

  ‘I can take care of it He slowed down and peered into the rearview mirror until the other car turned. ‘He’s following us, okay.’

  ‘Dan!’

  ‘Don’t worry, everything’s fine. How about getting me a flashlight?’ He pointed to the glove compartment. Marty opened it, took out the flashlight and snapped the compartment shut.

  The flashlight had a ribbed metal casing.

  Near the shore, the road widened into a parking lot. Dan steered onto its hard dirt. As he cruised past several dark cars with couples inside, he kicked off his sneakers, reached down and pulled off his socks.

  ‘Going for a swim?’ Marty asked.

  ‘You never know.’ He stopped beside a pickup truck and cut the engine. ‘Place is sure crowded tonight.’ He slipped his bare feet back into his sneakers and stuffed one of his socks into his pants pocket. ‘Okay, lets go.’

  ‘Go where?’

  ‘Out there. For a walk. Too many people around here, even if they are too busy to see anything. Hand me the light, honey.’

  She gave it to him, shouldered open her door, and stepped onto the dirt of the lot. The ground felt nice and cool under her feet. But she put her sandals on, anyway, feeling too vulnerable without them. For a moment, she even considered putting her sweater back on, though the night was balmy and her clothes were sticking to her back and buttocks.

  ‘Shall we take a stroll along the shore?’ Dan asked.

  ‘Are you kidding?’

  ‘No.’ He looked over his shoulder. Following his glance, Marty saw the dark car turn slowly onto the parking lot. ‘Let’s go,’ Dan whispered, and pulled her hand. ‘Don’t look back. We don’t want your friend to know we’re onto him.’

  At the edge of the lake, Dan turned on the flashlight.

  ‘What’s that for?’

  ‘To see where we’re going.’

  ‘There’s plenty of moonlight.’

  ‘Your friend has to see where we’re going, too.’

  ‘Could you stop calling him that. My friend? He isn’t my friend.’

  ‘If you say so.’

  She pulled her hand away. It was wet. She wiped it on her skirt. ‘What if he’s got a knife?’ she asked.

  ‘That’ll be his tough luck.’

  ‘I like your confidence.’

  ‘No, you don’t.’ He led her onto a path. To their left, down a steep grassy slope, the water lapped against the shore. The woods pressed close on their side, forcing them to walk single file. They had to duck under low branches.

  ‘Couldn’t ask for a better place,’ Dan said.

  ‘To hide?’

  Dan chuckled, then swung the flashlight so its beam swept across the water. ‘Think he saw that?’

  ‘How could he miss it?’

  Dan turned off the flashlight and began to unscrew its base. ‘What’re you doing?’

  ‘Taking it apart.’

  ‘Nice,’ she muttered.

  ‘Here, let’s get into these bushes.’ He dropped two batteries into his palm and pushed Marty. ‘You get over there behind that tree.’

  ‘Where’ll you be?’

  ‘Right here.’

  ‘Dan-'

  ‘I’ll just have a chat with this guy. What’d you say his name is?’

  ‘Willy. You aren’t going to do something stupid, are you?’

  ‘Me?’ He laughed and patted her back. ‘Get over there and hide, and don’t make a sound. If things get out of hand, try and sneak back to the car. I left the keys under the front seat.’

  ‘Whatever you have in mind… ’

  ‘Over there. Hurry.’

  Marty hesitated. Dan took a quick step toward her, so she turned away. She stepped through the underbrush, feeling its damp leaves cling to her legs, until she came to a birch tree. She crouched behind it to wait, but couldn’t see Dan. So she stood up and leaned against the trunk to watch.

  Dan was busy doing something with the flashlight and sock. Dropping the batteries into the sock. Knotting it.

  Suddenly, he stopped.

  Marty heard nothing but the usual summer sounds of crickets and frogs.

  Without a sound, Dan stepped into the path. His right hand, down at his side, swung upward. The flashlight glinted moon like the broad blade of a knife as it plunged upward into the man’s belly.

  5

  Something shiny swept up out of the darkness. Willy slashed at it with his knife, but missed. A cold, numbing force crushed his breath. His arms dropped. His knees hit the shoreline path. Dirt and gravel scraped his hands. He tried to gasp, ‘Shit!’ but couldn’t. No air.

  No fucking air at all.

  6

  From behind the tree, Marty saw Dan kick one of the arms. It collapsed, and Willy fell face down.

  ‘Roll over,’ Dan said, barely loud enough for Marty to hear. After giving the command, he waited a second. Willy didn’t move except to squirm on the ground. ‘I said to roll over.’

  The gasping shape still didn’t do it.

  Dan swung the sock with the batteries in its toe. He whipped it against Willy’s shoulder. It made a dull thump, and Willy cried out. ‘Now, roll over.’

  This time, Willy obeyed.

  ‘Why were you following us?’

  Willy gasped something that Marty couldn’t make out.

  ‘Flattery won’t get you anywhere,’ Dan said. He walked around to Willy’s side and knelt down to look him in the face. ‘God, you’re an ugly asshole. Why were you following us?’

  Willy raised his head, but only for a moment because Dan pushed it back down with the bottom edge of the flashlight. ‘Don’t move.’

  ‘You’re gonna…’

  ‘I’m gonna what?’

  Marty couldn’t quite hear the answer.

  ‘Is that so?’ Dan smashed the head of the flashlight against Willy’s face.

  ‘I’m gonna cut off your…’

  Dan stuck the bottom edge of the flashlight under Willy’s nose. ‘Sharp, isn’t it? If I ever run into you again, I’ll put your nose where the batteries go.’ From the squeal of pain, Marty thought he was already doing it. ‘You understand?’

  Willy muttered something.

  Then shrieked.

  Then, sobbing, said, ‘I understand.’

  ‘Good. Very good.’ Dan stood up, wiping the edge of the flashlight on his pants. ‘Just remember, okay?’ He whirled the sock until the weighted toe picked up momentum, then crashed it against Willy’s head. ‘Good night, now,’ he said. Willy looked unconscious. ‘Come on, Marty. Time to go.’

  She stepped out from behind the tree, shaking.

  ‘That should give Willy some second thoughts,’ Dan said.

  ‘You bastard,’ Marty said. ‘You didn’t have to… torture him!’

  ‘I wanted him to get the message.’

  ‘God, Dan…’

  ‘You think I liked doing that?’

  She gazed at his face. It was pale in the moonlight. Reaching up, she brushed his messy hair away from his eyes. His forehea
d was hot and damp under her fingertips. ‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘I think you liked it. A lot.’

  Dan made a sound that was almost like a laugh.

  A nasty laugh.

  Then he untied the knot from his sock and dumped the batteries into his hand. He slipped them into the metal cylinder and screwed the bottom into place over them. With his thumb, he flicked the switch. Nothing happened. ‘Look at that,’ he muttered. ‘The fucker broke my flashlight.’

  Marty walked behind Dan, staring at the ground to keep from stumbling even though her mind paid no attention to the dips and turns and sudden rises of the trail. She didn’t hear the water caressing the shore, or the summer night sounds of small animals. She didn’t see the lightning bugs that drifted among the bushes, silently glowing and fading. She knew they were there; they always had been. But now she didn’t care.

  When Dan opened the car door for her, she muttered, ‘Thanks’ and climbed in.

  ‘Amazing,’ Dan said, sliding into the driver’s seat. ‘A person could get murdered here and nobody would even notice.’

  ‘They’re busy,’ Marty muttered.

  Dan pushed the key into the ignition, but he didn’t turn it. Instead, he stared at the dashboard. Marty wondered what he was waiting for. She said nothing, though. She felt as if he’d turned into a stranger.

  Letting go of the key, Dan moved toward the middle of the seat and put his arm across her shoulders. When she faced him to protest, he kissed her.

  She pushed him away. ‘Cut it out.’

  ‘What the hell’s wrong with you?’

  ‘Wrong? You just beat a man senseless.’

  ‘So?’

  ‘And you enjoyed it.’

  ‘Yeah?’

  ‘Yeah!’

  ‘I didn’t exactly enjoy it. More like, it gave me a nice feeling of accomplishment. You know? Like throwing a touchdown pass.’

  ‘This isn’t football.’

  ‘That’s right. Maybe I’d better go back and finish him off.’

  ‘Great. Wonderful. Why don’t you just do that?’

  ‘He wouldn’t ever scare the hell out of you at the movies again.’

  ‘That’s a great reason for killing a guy.’

  ‘What did he do to you?’

  She said nothing.

  ‘How did he make you so afraid of him?’

 
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