Fiends ssc, p.23
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       Fiends SSC, p.23
 

           Richard Laymon
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  Charlie glanced toward the garage. Its side door stood open. In the darkness of its gap was the red glow of Lou’s cigar.

  He motioned frantically for Lou to join him.

  Quickly, he crouched at the corner of the fence. The wood jolted against his back, and he saw an arm hook over the top rail. After a gasp and a scuffling sound, a leg appeared. Then, in one quick motion, the man swung over and dropped to the grass. He landed silently on his feet, less than a yard from Charlie.

  Crouching, he lifted the body. He flung it over his shoulder.

  ‘Now,’ said Charlie, ‘you may kindly toss her back over the fence and take her away. Clutter someone else’s yard.’

  Still holding the body, the strangler turned to Charlie and said, ‘Huh?’

  ‘I said take her away!’

  ‘How come?’ he asked. He was younger than Charlie had imagined. His shaved head was shiny in the moonlight. In his tight T-shirt and jeans, his stocky body looked dangerous.

  ‘Because,’ Charlie answered in a subdued voice, ‘you’ve been putting them in my lawn chair.’

  ‘I thought you liked it.’

  ‘Liked it?’

  ‘Sure.’

  Charlie was relieved to see Lou ambling toward them, puffing vigorously on his cigar.

  ‘You took good care of ’em,’ the younger man continued. ‘You know?’

  ‘Why’d you bring them here?’ Lou asked.

  The man spun around. Charlie dodged the woman’s left heel. ‘Did you know about me?’ Lou asked. ‘Is that it?’

  ‘Know what?’

  ‘I’mThumbs O’Brien. The Riverside Strangler.’

  ‘No fooling?’

  ‘Did you read my book, kid?’ Lou’s voice was eager.

  ‘What book?’

  ‘Never mind.’ Lou sounded disappointed. ‘So how come you’re leaving stiffs in our backyard?’

  ‘Like I was telling this guy, you took good care of ’em. I mean, the first, I was bringing her up through the alley here. It’s dark, you know. So I just heaved her over the fence.’

  ‘How did she get in my chair,’ Charlie asked.

  ‘I got to thinking, you know? How comfortable can it be on the grass? So I hustled her over to the chair.’

  ‘Decent of you,’ Lou said.

  ‘You guys took care of her real good.’

  ‘Thank you,’ Lou said.

  ‘That’s why I came back. I figured I’ll let you take care of the others, too.’

  ‘Tell me this,’ Lou said. ‘Why’d you do it?’

  ‘I just told you, you took real good…’

  ‘He means,’ Charlie explained, ‘why did you kill them?’

  ‘Oh.’ He grinned. ‘She told me to.’

  ‘Who did?’

  ‘Isadora.’

  ‘Who?’ asked Lou.

  ‘Isadora Duncan. You know, Isadora! She wants ’em for her dance troupe.’

  Lou tapped a column of ash from the tip of his cigar. ‘They won’t do her much good dead.’

  Charlie groaned at Lou’s display of ignorance. ‘She’s dead,’ he explained. ‘Isadora is. Her scarf caught in the wheel of her car. A long time ago. In the twenties, I believe.’

  ‘No kidding?’ Lou nodded at the young strangler. ‘So you’re fixing her up with a bunch of dancers. I get it.’

  ‘May I ask,’ Charlie inquired, ‘how large a group she requires?’

  ‘Oh, big. Real big.’

  ‘How big?’

  ‘Fifty-two.’

  Charlie imagined fifty-two more bodies in the backyard on his lawn chair. ‘I won’t have it!’ he blurted. ‘Lou!’

  ' 'Fraid that’s too much, kid.’

  ‘Too much?’

  ‘Yeah. Sorry.’

  Charlie watched the woman fall. He watched the brief struggle. It was no contest, really. The kid didn’t have a scarf handy, but Lou had his thumbs.

  On a sunny, cool morning toward the end of the week, Charlie carried his coffee mug outside and stopped in surprise.

  ‘What are you doing here?’ he asked.

  Lou, in sunglasses and a Dodger ballcap, was sitting on his own lawn chair. A cigar tilted upward from his mouth. Propped against his upraised right knee, he held a spiral notebook. ‘How’s this sound?’ he asked. ‘Save Your Last Dance for Me: the True Story of the Swan Lake Strangler in his Own Words'

  ‘It sounds like a lie,’ Charlie said.

  ‘You gotta take liberties,’ said Lou, ‘when you’re a ghost-writer.’

  SPECIAL

  1

  The outlaw women, wailing and shrieking, fled from the encampment. All but one, who stayed to fight.

  She stood by the campfire, a sleek arm reaching up to pull an arrow from the quiver on her back. She stood alone as the men began to fall beneath the quick fangs of the dozen raiding vampires.

  ‘She’s mine!’ Jim shouted.

  None of his fellow Guardians gave him argument. Maybe they wanted no part of her. They raced into the darkness of the woods to chase down the others.

  Jim rushed the woman.

  You get her and you get her.

  She looked innocent, fierce, glorious. Calmly nocking the arrow. Her thick hair was golden in the firelight. Her legs gleamed beneath the short leather skirt that hung low on her hips. Her vest spread open as she drew back her bowstring, sliding away from the tawny mound of her right breast.

  Jim had never seen such a woman.

  Get her!

  She glanced at him. Without an instant of hesitation, she pivoted away and loosed her arrow.

  Jim snapped his head sideways. The shaft flew at Strang’s back. Hit with a thunk. The vampire hurled the flapping body of an outlaw from his arms and whirled around, his black eyes fixing on the woman, blood spewing from his wide mouth as he bellowed, ‘Mine!’

  Jim lurched to a halt.

  Eyes narrow, lips a tight line, the woman reached up for another arrow as Strang staggered toward her. Jim was near enough to hear breath hissing through her nostrils. He gazed at her, fascinated, as she fit the arrow onto the bowstring. Her eyes were on Strang. She pulled the string back to her jaw. Her naked breast rose and fell as she panted for air.

  She didn’t let the arrow fly.

  Strang took one more stumbling stride, foamy blood gushing from his mouth, arms outstretched as if to reach beyond the campfire and grab her head. Then he pitched forward. His face crushed the flaming heap of wood, sending up a flurry of sparks. His hair began to blaze.

  The woman met Jim’s eyes.

  Get her and you get her.

  He’d never wanted any woman so much.

  ‘Run!’ he whispered. ‘Save yourself.’

  ‘Eat shit and die,’ she muttered, and released her arrow. It whizzed past his arm.

  Going for her, Jim couldn’t believe that she had missed. But he heard the arrow punch into someone, heard the roar of a mortally wounded vampire, and knew that she’d found her target. For the second time, she had chosen to take down a vampire rather than protect herself from Jim. And she hadn’t run when he’d given her the chance. What kind of woman is this?

  With his left hand, he knocked the bow aside. With his right, he swung at her face. His fist clubbed her cheek. Her head snapped sideways, mouth dropping open, spit spraying out. The punch spun her. The bow flew from her hand. Her legs tangled and she went down. She pushed at the ground, got to her hands and knees, and scurried away from Jim.

  Let her go?

  He hurried after her, staring at the backs of her legs. Shadows and firelight fluttered on them. Sweat glistened. The skirt was so short it barely covered her rump and groin.

  You get her and you get her.

  She thrust herself up.

  I’m gonna let her go, Jim thought. They’ll kill me, and they’ll probably get her anyway, but…

  Instead of making a break for the woods, she whirled around, jerked a knife from the sheath at her hip, and threw herself at Jim.

  The blade r
ipped the front of his shirt. Before she could bring it back across, he caught her wrist. He yanked her arm up high and drove a fist into her belly. Her breath exploded out. The blow picked her up. The power of it would’ve hurled her backward and slammed her to the ground, but Jim kept his grip on her wrist. She dangled in front of him, writhing and wheezing. Her sweaty face was twisted with agony.

  One side of her vest hung open.

  She might’ve had a chance.

  I got her, I get her.

  Jim cupped her warm, moist breast, felt its nipple pushing against his palm.

  Her fist crashed into his nose. He saw it coming, couldn’t believe it, had no time to block it. Pain exploded behind his eyes. But he kept his grip, stretched her high by the trapped arm, and punched her belly until he could no longer hold her up.

  Blinking tears from his eyes, sniffing up blood, he let go. Her legs folded. She dropped to her knees in front of him and slumped forward, her face hitting the ground between his feet. Crouching, he pulled a pair of handcuffs out of his belt. Blood splashed the back of her vest as he picked up her limp arms, pulled them behind her, and snapped the cuffs around her wrists.

  2

  ‘That one put up a hell of a scrap,’ Roger said.

  Jim, sitting on the ground beside the crumpled body of the woman, looked up at the grinning vampire. ‘She was pretty tough,’ he said. He sniffed and swallowed some more blood. ‘Sorry I couldn’t stop her quicker.’

  Roger patted him on the head. ‘Think nothing of it. Strang was always a pain in the ass, anyway, and Winthrop was such an atrocious brown-noser. I’m better off without them. I’d say, taken all round, that we’ve had a banner night.’

  Roger crouched in front of the woman, clutched the hair on top of her head, and lifted her to her knees. Her eyes were shut. By the limp way she hung there, Jim guessed she must still be unconscious.

  ‘A looker,’ Roger said. ‘Well worth a broken nose, if you ask me.’ He chuckled. ‘Of course, it’s not my nose. But if I were you, I’d be a

  pretty damn happy fellow about now.’ He eased her down gently and walked off to join the other vampires.

  While they waited for all the Guardians to return with the female prisoners, they searched the bodies of the outlaws, took whatever possessions they found interesting, and stripped the corpses. They tossed the clothing into the campfire, not one of them bothering to remove Strang from the flames.

  Joking and laughing quite a bit, they hacked the bodies to pieces. The banter died away as they began to suck the remaining blood from severed heads, stumps of necks and arms and legs, from various limbs and organs. Jim turned his eyes away. He looked at the woman. She was lucky to be out cold. She couldn’t see the horrible carnage. She couldn’t hear the grunts and sighs of pleasure, the sloppy wet sounds, the occasional belch from the vampires relishing their feast. Nor could she hear the women who’d been captured and brought in by the other Guardians. They were weeping, pleading, screaming, vomiting.

  When he finally looked away from her, he saw that all the Guardians had returned. Each had a prisoner. Bart and Harry both had two. Most of the women looked as if they’d been beaten. Most had been stripped of their clothes.

  They looked to Jim like a sorry bunch.

  Not one stood proud and defiant.

  I got the best of the lot, he thought.

  Roger rose to his feet, tossed a head into the fire, and rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. ‘Well, folks,’ he said, ‘how’s about heading on back to the old homestead?’

  Jim picked up the woman. Carrying her on his shoulder, he joined the procession on its journey through the woods. Other Guardians complimented him on his catch. Some made lewd suggestions about her. A few peeked under her skirt. Several offered to trade, and grumbled when Jim refused.

  At last, they found their way to the road. They hiked up its moonlit center until they came to the bus. Biff and Steve, Guardians who’d stayed behind to protect it from outlaws and vampire gangs, waved greetings from its roof.

  On the side of the black bus, in huge gold letters that glimmered with moonlight, was painted, ROGER’S ROWDY RAIDERS.

  The vampires, Guardians and prisoners climbed aboard.

  Roger drove.

  Fiends

  An hour later, they passed through the gates of his fortified estate.

  3

  The next day, Jim slept late. When he woke up, he lay in bed for a long time, thinking about the woman. Remembering her courage and beauty, the way her breast had felt in his hand, her weight and warmth and smoothness while she hung over his shoulder on the way to the bus.

  He hoped she was all right. She’d seemed to be unconscious during the entire trip. Of course, she might’ve been pretending. Jim, sitting beside her, had savored the way she looked in the darkness and felt quick rushes of excitement each time a break in the trees permitted moonlight to wash across her.

  The other Guardians were all busy raping their prisoners during the bus ride. Some had poked fun at him, asked if he’d gone queer like Biff and Steve, offered to pay him for a chance to screw Sleeping Beauty.

  He wasn’t sure why he had left her alone during the trip. In the past, he’d never hesitated to enjoy his prisoners.

  But this woman was different. Special. Proud and strong. She deserved better than to be molested while out cold and in the presence of others.

  Jim would have her soon. In privacy. She would be alert, brave and fierce.

  Soon.

  But not today.

  For today, the new arrivals would be in the care of Doc and his crew. They would be deloused and showered, then examined. Those judged incapable of bearing children would go to the Donor Ward. Each Donor had a two-fold job: to give a pint of blood daily for the estate’s stockroom, and to provide sexual services not only for the Guardian who captured her but also for any others, so inclined, once he’d finished.

  The other prisoners would find themselves in the Specialty Suite.

  It wasn’t a suite, just a barracks-like room similar to the Donor Ward. But those assigned to it did receive special treatment. They weren’t milked for blood. They were provided good food, not the slop doled out to the Donors.

  And each Special could only be used by the Guardian who had captured her.

  Mine will be a Special, Jim thought. She’s gotta be. She will be. She’s young and strong.

  She’ll be mine. All mine.

  At least till Delivery Day.

  He felt a cold, spreading heaviness.

  That’s a long time from now, he told himself. Don’t think about it.

  Moaning, he climbed out of bed.

  4

  He was standing guard in the north tower at ten the next morning when the two-way radio squawked and Doc’s voice came through the speaker. ‘Harmon, you’re up. Specialty Suite, Honors Room Three. Bennington’s on his way to relieve you.’

  Jim thumbed the speak button on his mike. ‘Roger,’ he said. Heart pounding, he waited for Bennington. He’d found out last night that his prisoner, named Diane, had been designated a Special. He’d hoped this would be the day, but he hadn’t counted on it; Doc only gave the okay if the timing was right. In Doc’s opinion, it was only right during about two weeks of each woman’s monthly cycle.

  Jim couldn’t believe his luck.

  Finally, Bennington arrived. Jim climbed down from the tower and made his way across the courtyard toward the Specialty Suite. He had a hard time breathing. His legs felt weak and shaky.

  He’d been in Honors Rooms before. With many different outlaw women. But he’d never felt like this: excited, horribly excited, but also nervous. Petrified.

  5

  Honors Room Three had a single large bed with red satin sheets. The plush carpet was red. So were the curtains that draped the barred windows, and the shades of the twin lamps on either side of the bed.

  Jim sat down on a soft, upholstered armchair. And waited. Trembling.

  Calm down
, he told himself. This is crazy. She’s just a woman.

  Yeah, sure.

  Hearing footfalls from the corridor, he leaped to his feet. He turned to the door. Watched it open.

  Diane stumbled in, shoved from behind by Morgan and Donner, Doc’s burly assistants. She glared at Jim.

  ‘Key,’ Jim said.

  Morgan shook his head. ‘I wouldn’t, if I were you.’

  ‘I brought her in, didn’t I?’

  ‘She’ll bust more than your nose, you give her half a chance.’

  Jim held out his hand. Morgan, shrugging, tossed him the key to the shackles. Then the two men left the room. The door bumped shut, locking automatically.

  And he was alone with Diane.

  From the looks of her, she’d struggled on the way to the Honors Room. Her thick hair was mussed, golden wisps hanging down her face. Her blue satin robe had fallen off one shoulder. Its cloth belt was loose, allowing a narrow gap from her waist to the hem at her knees. She was naked beneath the robe.

  Jim slipped a finger under the belt. He pulled until its half-knot came apart. Then he spread the robe and slipped it down her arms until it was stopped by the wrist shackles.

  Guilt subdued his excitement when he saw the livid smudges on her belly. ‘I’m sorry about that,’ he murmured.

  ‘Do what you’re going to do,’ she said. Though she was trying to sound tough, he heard a slight tremor in her voice.

  ‘I’ll take these shackles off,’ he said. ‘But if you fight me, I’ll be forced to hurt you again. I don’t want to do that.’

  ‘Then don’t take them off.’

  ‘It’ll be easier on you without them.’

  ‘Easier for you.’

  ‘Do you know why you’re here?’

  ‘It seems pretty obvious.’

  ‘It’s not that obvious,’ Jim said, warning himself to speak with care. The room was bugged. A Guardian in the Security Center would be eavesdropping, and Roger himself was fond of listening to the Honors Room tapes. ‘This isn’t… just so I can have fun and games with you. The thing is… I’ve got to make you pregnant.’ Her eyes narrowed. She caught her lower lip between her teeth. She said nothing.

 
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