The traveling vampire sh.., p.22
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.22
 

           Richard Laymon
“Ah, but I hadn’t. I always knew where I was.”

  “I guess so.”

  “I know so.” She laughed a couple of times. Then she said, “So what’ll we do about the drier?”

  After shrugging, I asked, “What’s wrong with it?”

  “It doesn’t go. Watch.” She went to the drier. As she bent over to shut its door, the tail of her blouse slid upward a couple of inches. I tried to look away. Before I could succeed, however, she straightened up.

  Before I could feel either relief or disappointment about that, however, she leaned over the top of the drier and reached for the control knobs and her blouse tail really slid up.

  “See?” she asked.

  I saw, all right.

  “It should be going. But it’s not.”

  I said, “Hmm.”

  She straightened up and turned around. I must’ve been as red as ketchup, but she acted as if she didn’t notice. She also pretended not to notice the front of my towel sticking out. “Why doesn’t it want to work?” she asked.

  “I’m sure it wants to.”

  She smirked, but I could see she was a little amused, too. “You know what I mean,” she said.

  “You sure you’re turning it on right?” I asked.

  “I know how to turn on a drier.”

  “I’m sure you do.”

  “And what’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

  I tried not to grin. “Oh, nothing.”

  She reached up with her right hand, flicked her middle finger and thumped the tip of my nose. Not very hard, but hard enough to make me blink and take a step backward. Also, my eyes watered.

  “Oh, no,” Slim said, suddenly looking appalled. “I’m sorry. God, why do I keep doing this stuff?” She put her hands on both sides of my face, drew my head toward her and kissed me on the nose. Then she kissed me on the mouth.

  I almost reached for her breasts. I remembered last time, and how they’d felt. But I also remembered the result.

  Taking her by the wrists, instead, I moved her hands away from my face. Her mouth went away, too.

  “I’d better take a look at the drier,” I said.

  Looking me in the eyes, she nodded slightly. “Good idea,” she said, her voice low and shaky.

  She stepped aside. I went to the drier. “Nothing at all happens when you turn it on, right?”

  “The drier?”

  “Right, the drier.”

  “Right. Nothing at all happens.”

  “Sounds like it might be a problem with the power.”

  “Sure,” Slim said.

  “Was it working before?”

  “Yeah. Mom did the wash a couple of days ago. It was working fine.”

  Holding on to my towel, I stepped around the side of the machine and looked behind it with high hopes of finding the power cord unplugged. But it looked secure in its socket.

  “It is plugged in,” Slim told me. “I already checked that.”

  “You did?”

  “I’m not an idiot.”

  I looked at her and grinned. “I know.”

  “So what do you think it is?”

  “It might be a dead outlet. Have you got an extension cord?”

  “Sure. Right back.” She whirled around. Her blouse fluttered and rippled behind her as she ran toward the doorway. The air flapped its tail.

  She leaped through the doorway and vanished into the other side of the garage.

  While she was gone, I squatted beside the machine, scooted it away from the wall, reached behind it and pulled the plug out of the wall socket.

  Slim came back with the coil of an extension cord dangling from one hand. “Here you go,” she said.

  “Thanks.”

  I took it from her and pushed the dryer’s plug into the extension. Holding my towel with one hand, I stood up and followed Slim to an outlet near the door.

  “Try this one,” she said.

  I pushed the prongs of the extension cord into the holes of the outlet.

  Slim said, “Ahhh” as the drier came to life.

  Chapter Thirty-five

  Leaving our clothes in the drier, we went back to Slim’s house. I led the way, using my left hand to hold my towel secure. Slim carried the beer bottles.

  In the kitchen, she set the bottles on the table. “Maybe you’d better give Lee a call.”

  “Oh, yeah,” I said.

  Slim swept her hand toward the wall phone.

  “Now?” I asked.

  “Don’t you think you should?”

  “I guess so,” I admitted. I frowned at the phone, reluctant to make the call.

  “What’s wrong?”

  I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

  “We’d better make sure she’s all right.”

  “Yeah.”

  “And find out if she’s had any weird stuff happen.”

  “How about if we wait and call later?”

  “What’s wrong with now?”

  “I don’t know.” I happened, just then, to glance at Slim’s legs.

  She grinned. “It’s a phone call, Dwight. She won’t be able to see us.”

  “I know, but…” I shrugged.

  “Want me to leave the room?”

  “No!” The word burst from my mouth.

  Slim flinched.

  “Don’t leave,” I said, trying to make my voice calm. “You’ll probably vanish again.”

  “I told you, I haven’t vanished.”

  “That’s your opinion.”

  A glint of mischief in her eyes, she said, “I oughta know.”

  “Don’t go anywhere,” I told her.

  I stepped over to the phone, made sure my towel was secure, then lifted the receiver off its hook. I knew Lee’s number by heart. While I dialed it, Slim pulled a chair away from the kitchen table and sat down.

  Lee’s phone started to ring.

  With the table in the way, I didn’t need to worry about seeing anything lower than Slim’s belly.

  I listened to the quiet ringing and we gazed into each other’s eyes.

  It started out as that intense, curious, hopeful stare that we’d been giving each other so much lately. Our love stare, I guess. But then Slim’s gaze faltered, and so did mine. Soon, we were frowning at each other.

  “How many times has it rung?” she asked.

  “I don’t know, seven or eight.”

  “Give it a few more.”

  “She usually gets it in two or three if she’s home.”

  “Maybe she’s in the bathroom or something.”

  Maybe she’s busy, I thought, and doesn’t want to be bothered by a phone call right now and she’s wondering what sort of jerk is keeping at it this long.

  As I let it continue to ring, I began to hope Lee wouldn’t answer. She was one of my favorite people, not only beautiful but one of my best friends, so I hated to make a nuisance of myself.

  Finally, I hung up.

  “Well,” Slim said.

  “Yeah.”

  “I wonder what that means.”

  “Maybe she went somewhere,” I said.

  “Or she’s taking a bath,” Slim said. “If she’s running the water, she might not even hear the phone. Or maybe she heard it, but didn’t want to get out of the tub.”

  I pictured Lee lounging in her bathtub, wet and shiny.

  “I sure don’t get out to answer the phone,” Slim said, and I pictured her in her bathtub.

  Starting to get excited, I sat down at the kitchen table across from Slim.

  “Or she might’ve been on the toilet,” Slim added. “There’s no telling. Why don’t you call her back?”

  I didn’t relish the idea of standing up just then. “Why don’t we give her a while?”

  “Yeah. How about five or ten minutes? Maybe she’ll get done with whatever she’s doing.”

  “Good,” I said.

  “I’m sure she’s fine.”

  “I hope so.”

  “I mean, we had some weird stuff happen, b
ut nobody did anything to us. We might’ve gotten a little scared, but we didn’t get hurt.”

  I nodded in agreement.

  “While we’re waiting…” She went silent and let a smile spread over her face.

  It was a type of smile I’d seen on Slim before, but not very often. It had a slyness to it. It always meant trouble.

  “Uh-oh,” I said.

  Slim scooted back her chair. I tried to keep my gaze high as she stood up and turned around. Mostly, I succeeded.

  “Where’re you going?” I asked.

  Striding away, she looked over her shoulder. “Back in a minute. Don’t worry, I won’t vanish.”

  “Please don’t,” I muttered.

  I watched the black tail of her blouse drift against her rear end as she left the kitchen. When she was beyond the reach of the kitchen light, all I could see was a pair of walking legs. Soon, they were eaten by the darkness.

  I was tempted to stand up and go after her, but I still had a towel problem.

  “You okay?” I called.

  “Fine.”

  “What’re you doing?”

  “You’ll see.”

  On her way back, I saw her legs first. Then I noticed the pale shapes of her face and forearms. By her side, she was carrying something more pale than her skin.

  It turned out to be a newspaper.

  I looked away and tried to seem interested in the clock while Slim sat down and scooted her chair closer to the table.

  Then I faced her and asked, “What’s the paper for?”

  “Time to put my big plan into action.”

  “What big plan is that?”

  “Operation Rescue Rusty.”

  I groaned.

  Slim chuckled.

  By the time she finished explaining, I no longer needed to worry about embarrassing protrusions of my towel. I sighed, pushed myself away from the table, and went to the phone. I was trembling slightly and my heart was pounding.

  I dialed, then turned toward Slim.

  She looked very pleased with herself.

  I showed her my teeth and she laughed.

  Over at Rusty’s house, someone picked up a phone.

  “Hello?”

  I cringed. “Hello, Mrs. Simmons.”

  “Hello, young man.”

  “Is Rusty there?”

  “I’m afraid he’s incommunicado at the moment.”

  “Oh. Yeah. I sort of thought so. I feel awful about what we did. You know, ditching Elizabeth.”

  “You have no idea how much you hurt her feelings, Dwight. Frankly, I didn’t except such behavior from you.”

  “I’m awfully sorry. Really. I just wasn’t thinking straight. I was so worried about Slim…”

  “Well, yes. I can understand your concern, but it was no excuse. Elizabeth fully expected you to wait for her.”

  “I know. I feel rotten about it. Anyway, I was thinking about doing something to cheer her up.”

  Mrs. Simmons was silent.

  “I thought maybe Slim and I might come over and take her with us to the movies.”

  Mrs. Simmons remained silent.

  “There’s a double-feature at the drive-in. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’s playing with The House on Haunted Hill.”

  “Haven’t you seen those movies?” she asked.

  “The House on Haunted Hill.”

  “I thought so.”

  “But that was a couple of years ago, and we missed our chance to see What Ever Happened to Baby Jane when it played at the Crown. Anyway, I’m pretty sure Elizabeth hasn’t seen either one of them, and Slim and I don’t mind seeing The House on Haunted Hill again. It was really good.”

  “I’m not sure I want Elizabeth to see that sort of movie. They’re both supposed to be dreadful. I don’t want her coming home with nightmares.”

  “Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are in Baby Jane,” I pointed out.

  “I’m well aware of that.”

  “They were really big stars in your generation.”

  That got a laugh out of Mrs. Simmons. “My generation, huh?”

  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, so I changed the subject slightly. “Anyway, I bet Elizabeth would get a kick out of going to the drive-in with us. We’ll pay for her ticket and buy her snacks and stuff.”

  “And who, exactly, will be driving?”

  “Slim. We’ll be going in her car.”

  “I see.”

  She trusted Slim. I figured we had it made.

  Then she said, “I don’t know, Dwight.”

  “I think Elizabeth might especially like spending some time with me after…you know, feeling so abandoned this afternoon.”

  “I suppose you’ll want Rusty to accompany you likewise?”

  “Doesn’t matter to us. It’s fine either way.”

  “He’s grounded, you know.”

  “He doesn’t have to come. The thing is, this is really for Elizabeth.”

  “I’ll have to ask her.”

  I heard some clatter that meant she was setting down the phone. Pressing the mouthpiece of Slim’s phone against my belly, I said quietly, “I think we’re in business.”

  Slim looked tickled. She also looked as if she’d known all along that her plan would succeed. Largely because her plans always succeeded.

  Almost always.

  After a while, Mrs. Simmons returned to the phone. “Dwight?” she asked.

  “I’m here.”

  “My husband and I have talked it over. We’ve also discussed the matter with Elizabeth, and she’s willing to forgive and forget.”

  “Oh. Good.”

  “So we’ll allow her to go with you.”

  “Great.”

  “Rusty, too. He’s still grounded, mind you. This will be the exception to the rule.”

  “Fine.” I grinned at Slim.

  “But I want you to promise you won’t do anything to make us regret our decision.”

  “I promise, Mrs. Simmons.”

  “When will you be picking them up?”

  “Maybe in about half an hour?”

  Slim nodded her approval.

  “Very good. We’ll see you then.”

  “Great.”

  “And Dwight?”

  “Yes?”

  “This is a very thoughtful thing you’re doing. It goes a long way toward putting you back in our good graces.”

  “Thank you, Mrs. Simmons.”

  “See you soon,” she said.

  “Real good. Bye.”

  “Bye.”

  I hung up.

  Grinning, Slim began to applaud. “Bravo,” she said. “A fine performance.”

  “Thank you, thank you…”

  “While you’re on a roll, how about giving Lee another try?”

  I dialed Lee’s number. It rang and rang and rang.

  Chapter Thirty-six

  Slim picked up the two fresh bottles of beer and we went into the living room. On the foyer floor was Rusty’s shirt and the bag containing my dad’s two empty beer bottles—just where I’d left them before hurrying upstairs to stand guard on Slim while she brushed her teeth.

  At the time, I’d figured we would be out of the house in about five minutes.

  Funny how one thing leads to another.

  Or not so funny.

  Watching Slim squat by the bag to take out the empty bottles and put in the full ones, I could hardly believe what had happened after I’d followed her upstairs. There was a dreamlike quality to it. As if several of my fantasies—and dreads—had come to life. But I knew I hadn’t dreamed any of it; there squatted Slim in nothing but her blouse and here stood I in nothing but a towel. Our clothes were in the drier. All of it had actually happened.

  And we were still dealing with the consequences.

  Not to mention the consequences of drinking my dad’s beer.

  Drinking those two bottles of beer (and trying to conceal the deed) had led us back to Slim’s house…where she’d gone upstairs to br
ush her teeth and change into a dark blouse…and all the rest had happened.

  Consequences within consequences.

  But good consequences. Mostly.

  Standing up, Slim said, “You be in charge of the beer.” Then she walked over to the sofa. Her back was toward me, so I watched the tail of her blouse slide up as she bent over and pulled the sofa away from the wall.

  She crouched and took out the weapons: her bow, her quiver of arrows, and the two knives Rusty and I had carried while helping her search the house for prowlers.

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

  “Take ’em with us.” She raised her arm to lift the strap of the quiver over her head. When she did that, her blouse glided up a couple of inches. I kept my eyes on her face until the quiver was on her back and her blouse was down where it belonged.

  “Let’s go see if the clothes are dry,” she said.

  I picked up the bag, the two empty bottles, and the shirt I’d borrowed from Rusty.

  “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Slim asked.

  I must’ve looked puzzled.

  A smile spread across Slim’s face. “I only washed your jeans.”

  “Oh!”

  She laughed.

  I set everything down again, said, “Right back,” and headed for the stairway feeling a little stupid.

  I was about halfway up when Slim said, “Dwight?”

  I stopped and looked around. “You’d better leave my towel up there,” she said. “Put it back where you got it, okay?”

  Leave her towel?

  “Okay,” I said.

  “And check around the bathroom. We don’t want to leave any evidence behind.”

  “Okay.”

  “And could you check my bedroom, too? I think I left the light on.”

  “I’ll check,” I said and continued up the stairs. At the top, I looked back down at her and said, “Stay put, okay?”

  “I will.”

  “And yell if anything happens.”

  “I will.”

  On my way down the hall to her bedroom, the towel started to slip. I held it by the tuck…and wondered why I bothered. After all, she wanted me to leave the towel in the bathroom. What would I do then?

  Stepping into her bedroom, I was about to flick the wall switch when I saw that the closet light was also on. I walked toward it, striding over the place where Slim and I had been standing when she’d put my hands on her breasts. Then I was in the closet, standing where she’d stood when she took off her T-shirt. I looked down. The powder blue top of her bikini lay on the floor, just where she’d dropped it.

 
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