Quake, p.26
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       Quake, p.26

           Richard Laymon
 

  'What's your name?' the hairless one asked.

  'Sheila. Sheila Banner.'

  He squatted by the edge, and grinned down at her. 'Sheila,' he said. 'Sheeee-lah. I'm Eagle. My big buddy here, he's Crash. Our main bitch here, she's Weed.’

  Fucking freaks, Stanley thought.

  'Nice to meet you,' he heard Sheila say. '

  Why are you down there?' Eagle asked her.

  'The quake.'

  'But why?'

  'I… thought the tub would save me.'

  'Did it?'

  'Yeah. I think so. I didn't get crushed.'

  'But you're trapped.'

  'Yes.'

  'Why?'

  'What do you mean?'

  'Delve.'

  Sheila was silent for a few moments. Then she said, 'I just need someone to help me get out of here. Please.'

  'Is it a punishment?' Eagle asked her.

  'What?'

  'A punishment being visited upon you.'

  'No!'

  'It's gotta be,' Weed chimed in. 'Everything happens for a reason. '

  'And,' said Eagle, 'the punishment always fits the crime.'

  'Always,' added Weed. 'It's karma.'

  'Okay,' Sheila said. 'This probably is a punishment. You're absolutely right.' She sounded wonderfully calm. She's trying to humor them, Stanley thought, and smiled.

  'But maybe it's time for my punishment to end,' she suggested. 'I've been down here a long time. I'm… really sore. I hurt all over. And look at my leg. Look what he did to it. He did that with his saw. Like my leg was a board. You know? That's when I screamed. So don't you think all that's enough, and you can help me get out now?'

  'That would all depend,' Eagle said. 'On what?'

  'The nature of your offenses.'

  'Gotta confess 'em,' Weed said.

  'Confess,' Crash said as he sidestepped, probably hoping for a better view. He bent over and picked up the saw that Stanley had left behind for the strangers to find. Then he sat down where Stanley himself had preferred to sit - above the foot of the tub. Can't see her twat from there, Stanley thought. But she's probably got it covered with a hand, anyhow. Probably has her tits covered, too. She isn't gonna give freebies to these three freaks.

  'If I confess,' Sheila asked, 'you'll help me get out?'

  'If you're deserving,' Eagle told her.

  'What do you want me to say?’

  'The truth.'

  'You know why you're there,' Weed pointed out.

  'Sure I know!'

  Temper, temper, Stanley thought.

  And Sheila shouted, 'The goddamn earth shook like hell and the goddamn house fell down, that's why! Wrong time, wrong place, that's why. It's what I get for living in L.A., that's why.'

  'That's not why,' said Eagle. His voice was slick, oily. 'Tell us the truth.'

  'Start!' she suddenly shouted. 'You oughta get over here, Stan! You'll love these jerks - they're as buggy as you are!'

  'We're here to save you,' Weed explained.

  'Then do it!'

  'You haven't confessed yet,' Eagle said. 'If I confess, you'll get me out?'

  'If you don't, all hope is gone.'

  'Okay. Okay. It's gotta be poetic justice, right? Some sort of payback that got me pinned in the tub?'

  Eagle's strange, white head bobbed up and down. He continued to squat by the break in the floor, but Weed - on the side of him closer to Stanley - sat down and lowered her legs over the edge.

  'Tell us,' she said. 'We're all ears.'

  Something about that made Crash chuckle, but he didn't say anything.

  'Okay,' Sheila said again.

  Stanley wished he could see her, gaze down at her wonderful body, watch her face as she tried to con these three weirdos into helping her. But he couldn't see Sheila at all. From where he crouched, he had a great view of Crash's broad back and maybe half the face - all black, greasy hair and beard. Over Crash's left shoulder, he could see Weed and Eagle in profile. He wished he could see them better. But he liked knowing that they couldn't see him - not without turning their heads.

  'I'm trapped,' Sheila said, 'to punish me for being too independent. Okay? I like my freedom too much. I never allow myself to be restrained from doing whatever I want to do. Even if it means going against the wishes of other people, people who want to hold me down.'

  'You're held down now, aren't you?' Weed said. She was nodding, rocking back and forth, hands on her knees. 'Really held down.'

  'That's right.'

  'No good,' Eagle said. 'You don't get punished for being independent.'

  'Sure you do,' Weed objected.

  His hand flashed sideways. The back of it struck Weed's cheek. Stanley heard the sound of a clap, and saw her flinch. Yes! 'What'd you hit her for?' Sheila demanded.

  'You got a problem with it?’

  'Yes!'

  The back of his hand smacked Weed's face again. 'Damn it!'

  'Just shut the fuck up down there,' Weed said. 'I'll jump on ya.'

  'Give us something else, Sheee-lah. Tell us why you're being punished.'

  She was silent for a few moments. Then she said, 'I wouldn't have the foggiest idea.'

  'Betcha I know why,' Crash said. He hoisted the saw like a kid eager to be called on in class.

  'Don't tell,' Weed said. 'She's gotta figure it out for herself.'

  'What's wrong with you people?'

  'Nothing wrong with us,' Eagle told her. 'You're the one stuck in a bathtub.'

  'You want us to set you free, don't you?' Weed asked.

  'My God,' Sheila blasted. 'People are supposed to pull together in times of crisis. Help each other. All I'm getting are a bunch of sadistic lunatics!'

  'What goes around comes around,' Eagle told her.

  'It's your karma,' Weed added.

  'My karma's just fine, thanks. Why don't you all just get out of here and take a flying leap!'

  Stanley wanted to laugh, wanted to clap, but he only allowed himself a grin.

  'You don't want us to leave,' Weed said.

  'I want you to get one of these beams off me, but you keep playing your stupid games.'

  'We only want the truth from you,' Eagle explained. 'As soon as hear the truth, I'll let Crash jump down with the saw and set you free.'

  'Just confess,' Weed told her.

  'Yeah,' said Crash. 'I wanta cut ya loose, but you gotta play along.'

  'Okay.' A few moments passed. 'Okay,' Sheila said again. 'We're looking for… my biggest sin, is that it?'

  'Sin has nothing to do with it,' Eagle said. 'Sin is mythical nonsense.'

  'You're full of it,' Sheila said.

  Eagle grabbed up a handful of debris, stretched out his ann, and let go. As his hand opened, Stanley saw dust, grit, a few chunks of stucco or plaster, and a small triangle of broken glass fall out.

  'Hey!' Sheila gasped.

  'Confess,' said Eagle.

  'What am I supposed to confess?' she blurted. 'If it can't be a sin…'

  'How about if we torture it out of her?' Crash suggested. 'If she won't cooperate…'

  'Pride!' Sheila cried out. 'My pride! That's what put me here! "Pride goeth before a fall," right?'

  'Go on,' Eagle said.

  'I take too much pride in my appearance. I tell myself that I'm more attractive than anyone else. And I work on it. When I should be doing other things. I could be… don't know, doing something useful. Like helping others, instead, I concentrate on my body. I run, I work out with weights, admire myself in mirrors, my body. Pride. It's too much pride. That's why I'm punished.'

  'Good,' Eagle said. 'Very good. Go on.'

  'That's it. What do you…?'

  'Explain the justice of your punishment.'

  'Isn't that obvious?'

  'Tell us.'

  'I'm stuck here naked. Where everyone who comes gets a chance to inspect this body I'm so proud of.'

  'Very insightful,' Eagle said.

  'And where everyone who comes al
ong gets a chance to damage it.'

  'Yes?'

  'And where all my muscles aren't doing me any good at all, and all my beauty is working against me because the creep who comes down the pike only wants to mess with me instead of help. Except maybe for that one guy, Ben, who pulled a disappearing act.'

  'Yes?'

  'Isn't that enough?'

  While Eagle seemed to be thinking, he asked, 'How come you got naked?'

  'I don't take baths with my clothes on.'

  'Oh. Me neither.'

  'You don't take baths,' Weed told him.

  He laughed, then said, 'Yeah, I do.'

  'You don't smell like it.'

  'How about sawing me out of here, now?' Sheila asked. 'I did what you wanted.'

  'What'd you think of her confession, Crash?'

  'I liked it. Yeah. I really liked the part where she says how she's so beautiful everybody wants to mess around with her. You know? 'Cause I think it's true. I mean, I know I wanta mess with her.'

  Nodding, Weed said, 'It wasn't too bad a confession. I've heard worse. But I bet we could get some good stuff out of her if we kept at it.'

  'I wanta get her out,' Crash said. 'You know?'

  'We know,' Weed said. 'Can I?' he asked Eagle. 'Go on down and do it.'

  Stanley waited while Crash climbed down, saw in hand, and scooted along the sides of the tub. When the big man bent over the beam, Stanley stood up and hurled a clump of stucco at him. The stucco was the size of a small brick. He aimed at Crash's head. And didn't wait for the results. As he launched the stucco, he charged Weed and Eagle. They both turned their heads and looked surprised. The stucco hit the back of Crash's neck. Weed, seated with her legs hanging over the edge, started trying to get up. Stanley swung his board with both hands. It whapped her across the back, just below the shoulders, bashing her forward. She grunted. She flung her arms out. From the look of things, she would land on top of Crash, who'd fallen across the beam and onto Sheila. Stanley didn't have time to watch. Even as he'd struck Weed, Eagle had leaped up and whirled to face him. Grinning. Slowly writhing, swaying, undulating. Hissing. Stanley lurched forward, going for Eagle's head with the backstroke of the swing that had knocked Weed from her perch. Eagle seemed to have all the time in the world. He swept downward, bending at the waist and knees. As the board passed above him, he stroked the top of his right boot. His rising hand showed Stanley what it had discovered there - a straight razor. The blade flashed blinding sunlight. Stanley lurched backward as the razor slashed up. It slit air instead of his belly and chest. Eagle's odd, white face looked puzzled as if he couldn't believe that he had missed. Stanley brought the board down from overhead with both hands. It broke in half across the top of Eagle's head. His eyes bulged. For an instant, the dead white skin of his face seemed to jump loose. It was still shimmying when his knees struck the floor in front of Stanley. The straight razor fell. He wavered on his knees, his arms hanging limp by his sides, the pupils of his eyes almost out of sight as if he were inspecting the undersides of his upper lids. Stanley glanced toward the tub. Weed was trying to climb off Crash. Nobody there needed urgent attention. Stanley tossed his broken board aside. As it landed with a clatter in the rubble, he took the scissors from between his teeth. He slipped his thumb into the ring handle, his first two fingers into the bow handle, then opened the scissors until their twin points were about an inch apart and punched them into Eagle's eyes. He drove them in deep. He expected a scream, but there wasn't one. Hope bird-boy ain't too stunned to appreciate this, Stanley thought. The bridge of Eagle's nose forced the blades farther apart. Stanley kept pushing until the crotch of the scissors met the bridge. Then he shoved hard enough to tumble Eagle away. As the silent body flopped backward, Stanley jerked the scissors out.

  One down, two to go. He faced the tub. Weed had her left knee in Crash's back, her right foot on the edge of the tub, her back to Stanley as she reached up about to grab the floor at the far side of the break. Crash, folded over the beam, was struggling to rise. Stanley jumped down. He landed with both feet on Crash's back. He heard a grunt from the man, a moan that must've been Sheila. As he flapped his arms, trying to catch his balance, Weed vaulted upward. She seemed to rise in a quick blur of tank top and tan back. Stanley tried for her with the scissors. They stabbed at the faded seat of her jeans. But somehow they missed and suddenly his wrist was pounded upward by her escaping foot. He kept his hold on the scissors. About to fall over backward, he dropped to his knees. He glimpsed a blur of vanishing boots. No! Can't let her get away! But he couldn't give chase. Not yet. The body under Stanley's knees started to rise. He reached down fast with his left hand and grabbed a hold of Crash's thick, greasy hair. He dragged at the hair as he fell. He landed on his side. Elbow digging into Crash's back, he reached out with his right hand and stabbed the scissors as hard as he could into the side of Crash's neck.Crash shrieked. His body lurched rigid. Stanley tugged out the scissors and stabbed Crash again and kept on stabbing him, over and over, going for the neck and mostly getting it but knowing from the feel that sometimes he was hitting jaw or teeth or cheek. Crash shrieked and grunted and bellowed while his body shuddered and bucked, and blood flew. Stanley wanted to stop. Wanted to leap from Crash's back and chase down Weed. But kept on stabbing Crash. Die die die, you dirty hunk of lard! She's gonna get away! At last, the blood stopped shooting and Crash stopped making noises and Stanley realized that the huge body was flinching underneath him only because he was punching it so hard with the scissors. He was worn out, breathless, dripping. But there was no time to waste. Without pausing for even a moment of rest, Stanley pulled the scissors out of Crash, pushed himself up, and climbed onto the floor. He struggled to his feet.

  He blinked, trying to clear his eyes of sweat - and maybe blood. Then he gazed out over the ruins of Sheila's house, her patio and back yard. Weed had taken off in that direction, but there was no sign of her now. Was she hiding nearby? Had she made her way clear of the rubble and run away across the yard? Had she circled around to the front? 'Weed!' Stanley yelled, trying to make his voice sound gruff. 'Weed, it's Crash! got the guy! Nailed the sum-bitch!

  Where'd you go off to? Hey, Weed!'

  She didn't answer. She didn't show herself. She'd have to be an idiot, he thought, to fall for a gimmick like that. Probably too far away to hear it, anyway.

  'Weed!' he called out, louder than before. 'Weed! It's Crash! Get back here, bitch!'

  'Get him off me, Stan - please?' The soft, muffled voice came from behind him, came from Sheila.

  He turned around. She was down there somewhere, underneath Crash and the beams and all that blood. But he saw nothing that he could recognize, for sure, as Sheila. 'Stan?' she said again. 'Shut up.'

  'You've gotca get him off me. Please.'

  'I don't gotta do shit. It's your fault these freaks came and found you in the first place, you and your big fucking mouth. Now I gotta go and find the one that got away.'

  'No! Don't leave me here under him! Stan! You can't! He's dead.'

  'You'd better just shut up,' Stanley said. 'Unless you wanta have more visitors and get them killed, too. I killed that Ben fella, by the way. Your pal, Ben? There wasn't any girl trapped under any chimney. That was just a story to get him where I wanted him. And then I sawed his head off. Thought you oughta know.'

  He wiped the scissors on the side of his pajama turned around, and began his hunt for Weed.

  ***

  The sudden pounding on the bathroom door startled Barbara. She gasped, then asked, 'What?'

  'You gonna take all day?' Earl complained. 'What the hell're you doing in there, taking a bath?'

  'I've got the trots,' she said.

  'Well, shit. Get a move on. We got stiffs out here. It ain't pretty.'

  'Wait outside if you want,' she told him.

  'Oh yeah, sure. So the neighbors can get a good look at us. Come on, would you? Let's get going.'

  'I'll come out as soon as I can.'

&nbs
p; 'We oughta leave without you.'

  'Feel free,' she said, knowing they wouldn't.

  'This whole fuckin' mess is your fault.'

  'I know, I know. Go away and quit bothering me, or I'm never coming out.'

  'Leave her alone,' she heard Pete say. His voice was quiet, barely audible. 'I think she's pretty upset about all this.'

  Damn right, she thought.

  'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' Earl muttered. From the sound of his voice, he was still standing just outside the bathroom door. 'Wipe your butt and get outa there, Banner, or I'm coming in after you.'

  'Don't talk to her that way, Earl.'

  'I'll talk to her any way I want. What're you gonna do, shoot me?'

  'Just be nice, okay?'

  'Woos.'

  'Quit it, you guys,' Barbara called. 'And no talk shooting anyone. Calm down. I'll be out in a minute.'

  'We don't have all day,' Earl said, then walked off.

  I shouldn't have stayed so long, Barbara told herself. Should've just peed and gotten out. But she'd peed, and stayed. Maybe it was having her pants down. Maybe it was the feel of the toilet paper. Fuck the guy and we walk out with a gun… Lee'd be balling you, instead of lying here with his brains on the floor… About to get up from the toilet, she'd suddenly been pounded by the knowledge that Earl had been right. If she had agreed to his deal and gone to bed with Lee, she would probably still be with him in the bedroom. Nobody would've shot anyone. Lee and Heather would still be alive. What's your pussy worth? Not their lives. Nobody's life. I should've said, 'Yeah, sure, why not, a gun'll come in handy and what does it matter anyway?' But I didn't and now he's dead and Heather's dead and it's all my fault… And then she'd come apart there on the toilet, crying, making too much noise. To muffle her noise she'd reached out and pulled a bath towel off the rod where it was hanging, and she'd buried her face in it. The towel had been slightly damp. Still damp, she'd guessed, from a shower or bath that Lee must've taken before the quake. Back when he'd still been alive. She'd imagined him rubbing his wet body with it - maybe humming or whistling a cheerful tune - and had cried all the harder. By the time she'd been able to quit, her throat and lungs had felt tired and achy, and she'd had the familiar, tinny odor behind her face that comes from crying too hard or catching a fist in the nose. She'd lifted her face, checked the wadded towel for blood, found none, and pushed her face into it again. I've gotta get up, she'd told herself. Get up and get going. They're gonna think I fell in. I'll say I've got the trots. Cute, she thought. Real cute. So, who cares? What'll Pete think? Who cares? I do. The hell with it. Just tell the truth - you fell apart. You got Lee and Heather killed because you wouldn't give up your stupid virginity, and so you fell apart. Earl would love that. Anyhow, I didn't get anyone killed. Not really. That's Earl's big idea, and it's a big damn lie. It was the quake and everything else that made us end up in Lee's apartment, and it was Earl with his stupid plan for getting the gun, and it was the bad luck of having a crazy, jealous lunatic like Heather with us, and it was Lee's own fault for leaving a loaded weapon in her reach. Not my fault. Too bad for Lee and Heather, but not my fault. Just the way the ball bounces. The way the cookie crumbles. Any one of a thousand things might've gone differently and they'd still be alive.

 
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