Fiends ssc, p.22
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       Fiends SSC, p.22

           Richard Laymon
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  ‘If you have to, you have to. I’ll buy a new one.’


  She put her hands on his hips. He felt them shaking slightly. They squeezed him when he cut through each of the shoulder straps. Then he slid his blade under the narrow band between the cups of her bra. She closed her eyes. Her mouth hung open. He heard her raspy breathing. He tugged, severing the band.

  The bra fell away.

  Lynn opened her eyes. A smile fluttered on her face. ‘This is pretty kinky,’ she said, her voice husky.

  She shivered when he rubbed the blade’s blunt edge down the top of her left breast. In the glow of the nearest florescent light, he saw the smooth skin go pebbly with goosebumps. Her nipple grew. He pressed it down with the flat of the blade, and watched it spring up again. Lynn groaned.

  She tugged open his belt. She unfastened the button at the waist of his jeans, jerked his zipper down, feverishly yanked his jeans and underwear down his thighs.

  Can’t be happening this way, Charles thought. Never had anything like this happen. He wondered if he might be asleep, dreaming.

  But he knew that he was very much awake.

  Lynn’s fingers curled around him.

  ‘Do my panties,’ she whispered. ‘With the knife.’

  He cut them at the sides. The flimsy fabric drooped, but the panties didn’t fall. They clung between her legs until she reached down. A small pull, and they drifted toward the floor.

  ‘This is so weird,’ she gasped. ‘I’ve never… nothing like this.’ Her soft, encircling fingers slid on him. Up, and down.

  The knife shook as Charles moved it toward her chest. Just above her left breast, he pressed the point against her skin. Gendy. ‘Careful there,’ she whispered. ‘You don’t want to cut me.’

  ‘I do, actually.’

  Her hand slipped away. She stood up very straight, searching his eyes. ‘You’re kidding, aren’t you?’


  ‘But you hate cuts.’

  ‘I’m sorry. As a matter of fact, I love them. They… they do something to me.’

  ‘You mean like they turn you on?’


  ‘But that’s crazy!’

  ‘I guess so. I’m awfully sorry, Lynn.’

  ‘Hold on, now.’

  ‘I have to do it. I have to cut you up.’

  ‘Oh my God.’

  He shook his head. ‘You’re so beautiful, and… I guess I love you.’

  ‘Charles. No.’

  He stared at the knife point denting her skin. A slit all the way down to the tip of her breast…

  Lynn grabbed his hand, twisted it. As Charles yelped, the elbow of her other arm crashed against his cheek. Stumbling backward, he heard his knife clatter to the floor. His pants tripped him. He slammed the side of the study carrel and fell.

  Lynn scurried, crouched, and came up holding the knife.

  Charles got to his knees. He gazed up at her. So beautiful. Scowling at him, naked except for her white socks and sneakers. The blade of the knife in her hand gleamed.

  ‘Oh, Charles,’ she murmured.

  Tears stung his eyes. He hunched over, clasped his face with both hands, and wept.


  ‘I’m sorry,’ he blurted. ‘God, I’m so sorry! I don’t know why I… I’m sorry!’

  ‘Charles.’ Her voice held a note of command.

  He rubbed tears from his eyes and lifted his head.

  Lynn stared down at him. She nodded slightly. A corner of her mouth was trembling.

  She flicked her wrist. She flinched and grimaced as the blade cut a tiny slit. She closed the knife and lowered it to her side.

  Charles watched the thin ribbon of blood. It started just below her collar bone and trickled down. It ran along the top of her breast, split in two, and one strand began a new course down the pale round side while another made its slow way closer to her nipple.

  ‘Come here,’ Lynn whispered.

  Charles was embarrassed horribly the next day in the pharmacy.

  Lynn was giggling.

  She plopped three boxes of condoms down on the counter. The clerk, a young man, glanced from her to Charles. He looked amused.

  ‘You got something against safe sex?’ Lynn asked.

  The clerk blushed. ‘No. Huh-uh.’

  Charles wanted to curl up and die.

  ‘Ring these up, too, while you’re at it.’ Onto the counter, Lynn tossed three tins of adhesive bandages.


  A sound like footsteps outside the tent shocked me out of half-sleep. Another camper? Not likely. We were far from the main trails and hadn’t seen a backpacker in three days.

  Maybe it was no one at all. Maybe a twig or pine cone had dropped from a nearby tree. Or maybe the smell of food had drawn an animal to our camp. A big animal.

  I heard it again - a dry crushing sound.

  I was afraid to move, but forced myself to roll over and see if Sadie was awake.

  She was gone.

  I looked down the length of my mummy bag. The unzipped screen was swaying inward. A cool damp-smelling breeze touched my face, and I remembered Sadie leaving the tent. How long ago? No way to tell. Maybe I had dozed for an hour, maybe for a minute. At any rate, it was high time for her to come in so we could close the flaps.

  ‘Hey, Sadie, why don’t you get in here?’

  I heard only the stream several yards from our campsite. It made a racket like a gale blowing through a forest.

  ‘Sadie?’ I called.



  She must have wandered out of earshot. Okay. It was a fine night, cold but clear, with a moon so round and white you could sit up for hours enjoying it. That’s what we’d done, in fact, before turning in. I couldn’t blame her for taking her time out there.

  ‘Enjoy yourself,’ I muttered, and shut my eyes. My feet were a bit cold. I rubbed them together through my sweatsocks, curled up, and adjusted the roll of jeans beneath my head. I was just beginning to get comfortable when somebody close to the tent coughed.

  It wasn’t Sadie.

  My heart froze.

  ‘Who’s out there?’ I called.

  ‘Only me,’ said a man’s low voice, and the tent began to shake violently. ‘Come outa there!’

  ‘What do you want?’

  ‘Make it quick.’

  ‘Stop jerking the tent.’ I took my knife from its sheath on the belt of my jeans.

  The tent went motionless. ‘I’ve got a shotgun,’ the man said. ‘Come outa there before I count five or I’ll blast apart the tent with you in it. One.’

  I scurried out of my sleeping bag.


  ‘Hey, can’t you wait till I get dressed?’

  ‘Three. Come out with your hands empty, four.’

  I stuck the knife down the side of my sweatsock, handle first to keep it from falling out, and crawled through the flaps.

  ‘Five, you just made it.’

  I stood up, feeling twigs and pine cones under my feet, and looked into the grinning, bearded face of a man who bore a disturbing resemblance to Rasputin. He had no shotgun. Only my hand-ax. I scanned the near bank of the stream behind him. No sign of Sadie.

  ‘Where’s the shotgun?’ I asked. Then I clamped my mouth shut to keep my teeth quiet.

  The man gave a dry, vicious laugh. ‘Take that knife outa your sock.’

  I looked down. I was wearing only shorts and socks, and the moonlight made the knife blade shine silvery against my calf.

  ‘Take it out slowly,’ he warned.


  ‘Want to see your wife again? If I give the signal, my buddy will kill her. Slit her open like a wet sack.’

  ‘You’ve got Sadie?’

  ‘Back in the trees. Now, the knife.’

  ‘Not a chance.’ I pressed my knees together to keep them from banging against each other. ‘You’ll ki
ll us both anyway.’

  ‘Naw. All we want’s your food and gear. See, we gotta do some camping. You understand, pal.’ He grinned as if a glimpse of his big crooked teeth would help me understand better. It did.

  ‘What did you do?’ I asked, trying to stall for time. ‘Rob a bank?’

  ‘That, too. Now are you gonna get rid of that knife or do I signal Jake to start cutting?’

  ‘Better signal Jake,’ I said, and grabbed my knife.

  ‘You sure?’

  ‘I’m sure. Just one favor, though. Do you mind if I tell my wife goodbye?’

  He grinned again. ‘Go on.’

  ‘Thanks,’ I said. Then I yelled, ‘Goodbye, Sadie! Sadie! Goodbye, Sadie!’

  ‘Enough.’ He came forward, holding the ax high, shaking it gently as if testing the weight of its head. All the time, he grinned.

  My knife flew end over end, glinting moonlight, and struck him square in the chest. Hilt first.

  He kept coming. Finally I backed into a tree. Its bark felt damp and cold and rough against my skin.

  ‘There’s no Jake,’ I said to distract him.

  ‘So what?’ he answered.

  I raised my hands to block the ax and wondered if it would hurt for long.

  Then a chilling, deep-throated howl shook the night. A mastiff splashed through the stream. Huge, brutish, black as death. The man had no time to turn. He only had time to scream before Sadie, snarling, took him down and began to rip his throat.


  ‘What are you doing here?’ Charlie demanded of the dead woman.

  She didn’t answer. She was leaning back in Charlie’s lawn chair, the very chair he wanted for himself, the chair he sat in every morning to drink his first two mugs of coffee. This was his favorite part of the day: so quiet, the air still cool and fresh from the night, the sun gently warming. But now, this!

  ‘Hey!’ he shouted.

  She didn’t stir. She simply sat there, hands folded on her lap, ankles crossed casually. Charlie sipped his coffee and walked around her. She wore a sleek, blue evening gown. Inappropriate wear, Charlie thought. A sun dress or swimsuit would be just the thing, but a formal, off-the-shoulder gown was unsuitable, even pretentious. Not that she could be held accountable.

  Charlie went into the kitchen for a refill of coffee. As he pushed through the door to the backyard and saw her still sitting there, the injustice of it overwhelmed him. He decided to nudge her off the chair and let her fend for herself.

  That’s exactly what he did. The woman flopped and sprawled, and Charlie took his seat.

  After a few moments, he moaned in despair. He simply couldn’t enjoy his coffee in front of her.

  Emptying his cup on the grass, he got to his feet and rushed into the house. He wanted to pound roughly on Lou’s bedroom door. That might rub Lou the wrong way, however, so he rapped lightly.

  ‘Knock off the racket!’ Lou yelled.

  ‘May I come in?’

  ‘Suit yourself.’

  Charlie opened the door and stepped into a room stinking of stale cigar smoke. Lou was in bed, covers pulled high so that only his face showed. The chubby face, flat nose and bulging eyes always reminded Charlie of a pug named Snappy he’d once owned. Snappy, who nipped anything in sight, generally had a sweeter disposition than Lou. Especially in the morning.

  ‘Get up, Lou. I want to show you something.’


  ‘Get up, get up!’

  Lou moaned and sat up. ‘This better be good,’ he said.

  ‘Oh, it’s not good, but you’d better see it.’

  Muttering, Lou climbed from bed. He put on his slippers and robe, and followed Charlie to the backyard.

  ‘See,’ Charlie said.

  ‘Who is she?’ asked Lou.

  ‘How should I know?’

  ‘You found her.’

  ‘Just because she was sitting in my chair doesn’t mean I know the lady.’

  ‘What was she doing in your chair?’

  ‘Not much.’

  ‘How come she’s on the grass?’

  ‘She was in my seat, Lou.’

  ‘You shoved her off?’


  ‘That was rude, Charlie.’ Lou knelt down beside her. ‘Nicely dressed, isn’t she?’

  ‘Certainly better dressed than you left yours,’ Charlie said.

  ‘I won’t quibble with that.’ He tipped her head back and touched her bruised throat. ‘A nylon stocking,’ he said. ‘Maybe a scarf. Not my style at all.’

  ‘I haven’t accused you of anything,’ Charlie protested.

  ‘No, that’s right. Thanks. You’ve gotta be wondering, though.’ Charlie shrugged.

  ‘You read my book, right?’


  In fact, Charlie had not read it. He hadn’t read any book since Silas Marner in high school. But Lou was proud of Choke ’em Till They Croak. The True Story of the Riverside Strangler in his Own Words. He had every right to be proud. The book, written during his last two years in prison, had been a hardbound bestseller. The paperback rights went for $800,000, and Ed Lentz was signed to play Lou in the Universal film.

  ‘First,’ Lou said, ‘if she wasn’t a blonde, I left her alone. Second, I took the clothes home to dress up my mannequins. Third, I didn’t use no scarf, I used my thumbs. That’s how come they called me Thumbs.’

  ‘Certainly, I know all that.’

  ‘Fourth, I didn’t dump ’em in other people’s backyards. That’s rude. I left ’em on the freeway exits.’ He poked her with his foot. ‘Not my style at all.’

  ‘But the police?’

  ‘Exactly. We’ve gotta get rid of her.’

  ‘What’ll we do with her?’ Charlie asked.

  Lou pulled a cigar out of his robe pocket. He peeled off the wrapper and tossed it into the grass. He poked the cigar into his mouth and lit it. ‘What we’ll do,’ he said, ‘we’ll deposit her at the bank.’

  They stored her in the trunk of Charlie’s Dodge until after dark that night. Then they went for a drive. Charlie, a former wheel man who drove getaway cars during numerous successful robberies and one failure, stole a Ford Mustang from the parking lot of an apartment building in Studio City. Lou followed him in the Dodge. On a dark, curving road in the Hollywood Hills, Lou picked the lock of the Mustang’s trunk. They transferred her into the trunk, and left the Mustang behind the Santa Monica branch office of Home Savings and Loan.

  ‘That was certainly a chore,’ Charlie complained afterward.

  ‘I got a kick out of it,’ Lou said.

  Two days later, while reading the morning paper, Lou announced, ‘They found our body.’


  ‘ “Dancer found slain,” it says. “The body of twenty-nine-year-old ballet dancer Marianne Tumly was found late Sunday night, the apparent victim of strangulation. Miss Tumly, understudy of Los Angeles ballerina Meg Fontana, disappeared Friday night after the company’s performance of Swan Lake. Her body was discovered in the trunk of a car abandoned in Santa Monica, according to police officials.” ’ Lou began to mumble, apparently finding no more worth sharing.

  ‘You don’t suppose they’ll connect us, do you?’ Charlie asked.

  ‘Not a chance.’

  For several days, Charlie drank his morning coffee in the backyard, enjoying the fresh air, the sunlight, the silence and peaceful solitude. On Saturday, however, he found the body of a lean brunette occupying his chair.

  He stared at her. She stared back.

  ‘This is ridiculous,’ he said. ‘Well, you’re not going to ruin my day this time!’

  But she did.

  Though Charlie sat in Lou’s wicker chair, back turned so she was out of sight, he could almost feel her studying the back of his head. Irritated, he went inside to refill his mug. As he poured steaming coffee from the percolator, he got an idea. He went to the linen closet. Before resuming his seat, he covered the woman’s head with a striped
pillow case.

  That almost worked. Unfortunately, Charlie half expected her to peek out from under the pillow case. Every few seconds, he looked over his shoulder to check. It finally became too much for him. He rushed into the house and barged into Lou’s bedroom. ‘Lou!’ he cried. ‘There’s another one!’

  Lou’s scowl turned to a grin. ‘A busy man, our strangler.’


  Late that night, they put her in the trunk of a stolen Firebird. They left the Firebird in a parking lot at Los Angeles International Airport.

  Though the newspaper ran stories for several days about the disappearance of a dancer - another member of the troupe performing Swan Lake - her body wasn’t found until Thursday night. It made the Friday morning paper.

  After reading the article aloud, Lou lit a cigar. ‘We did real good on that one, Charlie. If we’d wrapped her up better to hold in the aroma, she might’ve gone another week. Know what I’d like to do, I’d like to put the next one..

  ‘What next one?’ Charlie demanded.

  ‘We’ve had these gals two Saturday mornings in a row. Number three’s gonna pop up tomorrow, you can bet on it.’



  ‘Let’s lay for the strangler. If he comes along tonight with another corpse, we’ll nab him!’

  ‘What then?’

  ‘We’ll make him take it away.’

  Lou watched his smoke float toward the ceiling. Then he said, ‘Good idea. Excellent idea. I’d like to meet the guy.’

  Charlie, sitting on a stool near the backyard fence at midnight, heard a car in the alley. It stopped just on the other side of the fence. He heard the engine die, then the quiet bump of a closing door.

  So this is how he does it, Charlie thought. Just drives up the alley and brings her in. But the rear gate? It’s always locked. How…?

  Behind Charlie, something thudded against the redwood fence. He turned and looked up. A blonde woman grinned at him over the top. He heard a grunt. The woman seemed to leap. She towered over him for a moment, then folded at the waist. Charlie jumped out of the way. He gaped at her. She hung there, swaying slighdy, like the body of a gunslinger draped over a saddle. Another grunt came from behind the fence. Her legs flipped high, slender and pale in the moonlight. Then she dived to the grass. She performed a somersault, and lay still.

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