The traveling vampire sh.., p.20
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.20
 

           Richard Laymon

  The cheeseburgers tasted great but they were very messy to eat. Juices and Velveeta dripped off their sides, ran down our chins, dribbled down our hands and fell onto the table. After just a few bites, I ran into the house to get napkins.

  We’d finished our beers and needed something to drink with our burgers. So I went to the fridge. I half intended to grab a couple more beer bottles, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I took out a couple of Pepsis instead.

  Then I hurried outside.

  Watching me, Slim said, “Ah, Pepsi.”

  “If you’d rather have more beer…”

  She shook her head. “This is just what I wanted.”

  I put the cans on the table, gave Slim a couple of napkins, then sat down.

  “Anyway,” she said, “we don’t want Rusty’s parents to smell beer on our breath.”

  “Why are they gonna smell beer on our breath?”

  She gave me a whimsical, tilted smile. “We drank beer.”

  “I know that, but…”

  “And we’re going over to Rusty’s house when we get done eating.”

  “We are?”

  “We want to rescue him, don’t we?”

  “I guess so.”

  “Well, we can’t exactly go in and kick butts, you know? I mean, this is Rusty’s family.”

  “Right.”

  Her smile spread. “What we’ve got to do is kiss butts.”

  When she said that, I suddenly remembered the wager about Valeria. Rusty had suggested that the loser would have to kiss Slim’s butt. And I’d imagined myself doing it. I imagined it now, too, and my face went red.

  “That’s a figure of speech,” Slim pointed out.

  “I know.”

  “Anyway,” she said, “if we were literally going to kiss their butts, we wouldn’t need to worry about beer on our breath.”

  “We’d have bigger worries.”

  We both had a pretty good laugh, and then we went on eating. When we were done, we carried everything into the house and cleaned up. Slim washed the spatula, knife and platter. I dried them and put them away. Soon, every trace of our supper was gone except for the two empty beer bottles.

  “What’ll we do with those?” I asked.

  “Find a sack. We’ll take them over to my place. We’ll put them with my mom’s empties, then grab a couple of fresh ones and bring them back here.”

  I grinned. “Good plan.”

  “Elementary, my dear Thompson.”

  My dear.

  She only said it to make a play on Sherlock Holmes, but the words gave me a warm feeling, anyway.

  “We’d better take care of that, first,” she said. “Get it out of the way before we try to liberate Rusty.”

  I found a grocery sack. The brown paper kind. (This was before anyone came up with the notion of “saving the trees” by providing plastic grocery bags—which now decorate the trees and fences and streets and rivers and never go away.) Mom used the grocery bags to line our wastebaskets and sometimes to wrap packages for mailing. So she had a good collection of them.

  I got one and held it open for Slim. With the empty bottles in her hands, she bent down in front of me, the top of her head almost touching my belly. The bottles clinked together as she set them on the bottom of the sack.

  Then she straightened up. We looked each other in the eyes. Smiling softly, she said, “Let me smell your breath.”

  I set the sack down beside me. Slim moved in close, very close. She put her nose in front of my mouth and sniffed. I expected a smart remark, but didn’t get one. Instead of commenting on my breath, she put her mouth against mine and kissed me. Her arms went around me. She pressed her body against mine.

  I thought about hugging her, but was afraid of her cuts. She didn’t have any cuts on her rear end, though. I could put my hands down there. I wanted to. But I didn’t dare. After all, that was below the belt.

  While I was still struggling to work up the nerve, Slim took her mouth away and stepped back. “Your breath’s fine,” she whispered.

  “Yours, too.”

  “Smells like beer and cheeseburgers.”

  “I thought you said it’s fine.”

  “It is,” she said. “Only thing is, Mr. & Mrs. Simmons are going to know you’ve been drinking.”

  “You, too.”

  She smiled. “Maybe if we don’t let them kiss us…”

  “They’d better not try.”

  “Why don’t you go and brush your teeth?”

  “I don’t think that’ll take care of it.”

  “Can’t hurt. I’ll brush mine when we get to my place.”

  “Well…”

  “Go ahead, I’ll wait here.”

  I ran up the stairs two at a time and hurried into the bathroom. After brushing my teeth, I used the toilet. This was the tough part about wearing swim trunks instead of underwear; they had no fly. Usually, I tried to maneuver myself out through the leghole of the trunks and the zipper of my jeans. But I didn’t feel like struggling, so I just dragged everything down around my ankles. My skin was hot and damp from being trapped inside all those clothes. In front, I was slippery as if I’d been dipped in liquid soap. I could hardly hold on to take aim. But the air felt great on all those hot, wet places.

  Before flushing, I used a lot of toilet paper to dry myself. Then I pulled up my trunks and groaned at the way their hot, clammy lining clung to me. Quickly, I tugged them down again. I took off my shoes, jeans and trunks, then put my jeans back on. The dirty clothes hamper was next to the toilet. I dropped my trunks in, put my shoes on, then washed my hands and left the bathroom. Without anything on under my jeans, I felt dry and loose and free.

  I could stay like this, I thought. Nobody’ll ever know.

  But I knew I didn’t dare.

  In my bedroom, I shut the door and turned on the light. I unbuttoned Rusty’s shirt, took it off, turned toward my bed and gave his shirt a toss.

  On the pillow of my bed was a yellow rose.

  My stomach dropped.

  I leaped to my open closet, pulled a clean shirt off a hanger, then snatched Rusty’s shirt off the bed and ran to the door. I jerked it open.

  “Slim!” I shouted.

  “Yeah?” Her voice sounded far away. “What is it?”

  I slapped the light switch. As darkness collapsed all around me, I raced down the hallway to the top of the stairs and then I ran down the stairs.

  Slim was standing in the gloom of the kitchen, the grocery sack in her hand. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

  “Somebody’s been here.” Holding the two shirts in my left hand, I grabbed Slim’s arm with my right. I hurried to the back door, pulling her.

  I felt a little better the moment we were outside, but I didn’t actually feel safe until we’d reached the sidewalk out front. When we came to the end of the block, we stopped. I tried to put on my shirt, but it wasn’t easy with Rusty’s shirt in one hand.

  “I’ll hold it,” Slim said.

  I gave Rusty’s shirt to her, and put on my own.

  “So what happened?” she asked.

  “I went to my bedroom to change shirts,” I explained. “When I looked at my bed, there was a rose on the pillow. A yellow rose.”

  The left side of Slim’s upper lip lifted, baring some teeth. “Like one of my mom’s yellow roses?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Ooo.”

  “It was just lying there on my pillow.”

  “Everything else was okay?”

  “Far as I could tell. But I didn’t exactly hang around to find out.”

  Or put on underwear, I thought. But Slim didn’t need to know that.

  “I was afraid they might still be in the house. And I thought about you being alone in the kitchen.” I finished buttoning my shirt. Then I took Rusty’s shirt from Slim. “Figured I’d take this back to him.”

  She nodded.

  We stepped off the curb and crossed the street.

  “Are we still going
to your place?” I asked.

  “We have to,” she said. “Then we’ve got to go to your house again. If we don’t take care of the beer, you’ll get the shaft from your parents.”

  “Guess we never should’ve drunk it in the first place.”

  She smiled at me. “Can’t say I regret it.”

  “This is a lot of trouble to go through.”

  “The cover-up’s the price you pay for doing the crime.”

  I laughed. “Did you just think that up?”

  “I think so.”

  “Good one.”

  She slipped her hand into mine. We walked side by side through the quiet evening.

  Chapter Thirty-two

  When we came to Slim’s house, she set the grocery sack down on the stoop and crouched in front of the door.

  “The tape looks okay,” she said. “Stay here. I’ll check the back door before we go in.”

  I waited. A couple of minutes later, Slim opened the front door from inside.

  “Entre,” she said.

  The sack in one hand, Rusty’s shirt in the other, I stepped over the threshold.

  Slim shut the door and locked it. “If anyone came in while we were gone,” she said, “they didn’t use the doors.”

  “I guess that’s good news,” I said.

  She seemed amused. “Vampires, of course, can turn into bats or wolves…or even a mist. You go turning into mist, you can get in just about anywhere.”

  “It’s not dark yet,” I pointed out.

  She smiled. “Not technically. Of course, if we want to get picky about it, vampires can’t enter anyplace without an invitation.”

  “That is good news.”

  “But people can.”

  “Not so good.”

  “I want to brush my teeth. Why don’t you put that stuff down and come upstairs with me? You can stand guard. Just in case.”

  “Okay.”

  We went upstairs together. She turned on the bathroom light, then said, “I’ll be out in a minute,” and shut the door.

  She didn’t lock it, or I would’ve heard the ping.

  It was good to know that she trusted me.

  Standing outside the door, I heard water start to run.

  Night hadn’t yet fallen, but the hallway was almost dark. I thought about taking a walk to the other end for a quick look into the bedrooms. But I wanted to stay close to Slim. And I really didn’t want to see the bedrooms: what if they weren’t the same as when we’d left?

  What if someone was hiding in one of them? Hiding in silence, waiting for us…

  It didn’t seem likely. If I’d had to put money on it, I would’ve wagered that nobody was in either of the rooms, nobody was in the entire house except me and Slim.

  Still, I felt chills crawling up my back as I stared into the gloom at the end of the hallway.

  I wished Slim would hurry up.

  Finally, she shut the water off. I expected the door to open, but it didn’t.

  Then I heard a steady splashing sound.

  Oh.

  Not wanting Slim to come out and wonder if I’d been listening to her, I walked away from the door. The sound diminished. Though I could still hear her, I stopped a few strides down the hall.

  And stared toward the two bedrooms.

  Nobody’s here, I told myself. They were here before, but then they left and went to my house.

  And to Rusty’s? I wondered. He’d been at Janks Field the same as us.

  I heard the toilet flush.

  Soon after that, the bathroom door opened, light spilling into the hallway.

  “Dwight?”

  “I’m here.” I hurried to the door.

  Slim looked a little worried. “Where’d you go?”

  “Nowhere. Just over there.” I nodded to the side.

  Stepping out of the bathroom, she looked down the hallway. “Did you hear something?”

  I shook my head. “Not really. I was just…waiting for you.”

  “Let’s go to my room,” she said.

  “Okay.”

  My heart suddenly pounding, I stayed by Slim’s side and we left the lighted doorway behind.

  Hurrying at the last moment, she entered her bedroom ahead of me and flicked the light switch. We stood motionless. Only our heads turned.

  “Looks fine,” Slim whispered.

  “Yeah.”

  She turned toward me.

  Nobody’s home and we’re in her bedroom…

  “I’ve made a decision,” she said.

  Oh, God.

  I was almost too nervous to ask, but I managed to say, “What?”

  “I’m going after all,” she said.

  “Huh?”

  “To the Traveling Vampire Show. If you guys are going to it, so am I.”

  “But I thought…”

  “Yeah, well…things have changed. If I don’t go with you, where am I supposed to stay that’s safe? They’ve been here—somebody has been, anyway.”

  I almost confessed, but stopped myself. Rusty and I had been in her house, all right, and we’d broken the vase and perfume bottle in her mother’s room. But we hadn’t chewed her book or taken the yellow roses.

  “And they’ve been to your place,” Slim continued. “Your parents are at the hospital. My mom’s away for the night. I’m sure as heck not going to stay here by myself. Or at your place. I wouldn’t stay at Rusty‘s, since I happen to not be able to stand his parents.” She shrugged. “Maybe at Lee’s, but…”

  “Not there,” I said. “Julian has her address on the check she gave him.”

  “As if he needs addresses,” Slim said.

  “But why are they doing this?” I asked. “If it is them? I just don’t get it.”

  “To scare us, I guess. So we won’t talk.”

  “About the dog?”

  “I don’t know. They might be afraid the cops’ll come if I tell. Maybe they’ve got a lot to hide. I mean, you know?”

  “If they’re so afraid we’ll tell on them, why don’t they…” Not wanting to say it, I shrugged.

  “Take us prisoners?” Slim suggested. “Or kill us?”

  “Something like that,” I admitted.

  “I don’t know,” Slim said. “But that’d be awfully drastic. If they’re trying not to draw attention to themselves, killing some kids doesn’t seem like a brilliant way to go about it.”

  I almost smiled. “You’re right about that.”

  “On the other hand,” she said, “if they’re trying to scare us, why did they give us tickets for tonight’s show?”

  “They didn’t give them to us. They sold them.”

  “And got their hands on Lee’s address,” Slim said. “But why do they need her address? They didn’t need ours. They just followed us, or something.”

  I shrugged. “Maybe in case they hadn’t been able to follow us? That sort of thing doesn’t always work. They might’ve lost us. But if they did, they’d still know where to find Lee.” When I said that, I got a slightly sick feeling inside.

  “I wonder if she’s had any visitors,” Slim said.

  “Maybe we’d better call her.”

  “Yeah. In a minute. I want to change first.”

  “Huh?”

  “Like you.”

  I blushed and raised my eyebrows as if I didn’t know what she was talking about. Which was pretty much true.

  “The dark shirt,” she said.

  “Oh.”

  “It’s a good idea.”

  “Thanks.” I hadn’t worn a dark shirt on purpose. After seeing the rose on my pillow, I’d just grabbed it. But I saw no harm in allowing Slim to think I’d chosen a dark shirt for purposes of camouflage.

  She walked to her closet, turned on its light and began to search through the clothes hangers.

  “I’d better wait in the hall,” I said.

  “You don’t have to.” The words were hardly out of her mouth before she pulled off her T-shirt. Her back was toward me and she had her bik
ini top on, along with about a dozen bandages. Then she reached behind her. “Don’t get worried,” she said, and untied the back string. As she untied the neck string, she said, “It’s just too hot.”

  She let her bikini top fall to the closet floor.

  I stood there gaping at her naked back, stunned and thrilled and scared, hardly able to believe that she had actually taken off her top in front of me.

  This had never happened before.

  Maybe because we’d never been alone together.

  She spread some hangers apart. As she reached out for a blouse with her right arm, she turned her body slightly. Just in front of her armpit, and a little lower, was a pale, smooth slope—the side of her right breast.

  She probably didn’t know I could see it. And I only did see it for a moment before she pulled the blouse off the hanger and turned away again.

  Turned away so that both her breasts were facing the closet. I couldn’t see them, but I sure knew they were there.

  They’d be in plain sight if only I were standing in the closet.

  Or if she turns around.

  Please turn around, I thought. Please.

  I suddenly hoped something would happen to make her turn around. Maybe a sudden noise. Like the telephone ringing? Or a shout?

  I could shout.

  But I didn’t. As much as I ached for Slim to turn around, I didn’t want to do anything that might make her think less of me.

  She turned around.

  Her blouse was already on, however, and most of the buttons were fastened.

  I hoped I wasn’t blushing too badly when she looked up at me. “How’s this?” she asked.

  Her long-sleeved blouse was black and made of a shiny fabric. Somewhat too large for her, it hung down so low it almost hid the front of her cut-off jeans.

  “That oughta keep you from being seen,” I said.

  “Does it look weird?” she asked.

  “Looks great.”

  “I mean, with my shorts. A long-sleeved blouse…”

  “Do you have a black skirt?”

  She made a face at me. “I have one, but I’m not about to wear it.”

  “Long jeans?” I suggested.

  “It does look weird.”

  “It’s fine.”

  “How about if I do this?” She rolled the sleeves halfway up her forearms. Then she turned her back to me, unfastened her cut-offs and tucked in the tails of her blouse. Zipped and buttoned, she faced me again. “Better?”

 
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