The traveling vampire sh.., p.26
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.26

           Richard Laymon
 

  “You really think they took her?” I asked.

  “It’s a possibility. But maybe Lee just went off without her purse, no big deal. She might’ve gone for a walk, gone on a ride with a friend, whatever, and she’ll turn up before long. I mean, you guys had me kidnapped or God-knows-what this afternoon just because you couldn’t find me for a couple of hours. Lee could be anywhere, perfectly safe, planning to get back here in plenty of time to take us to the show.”

  “We’re gonna miss the show if we don’t get going,” Bitsy complained.

  “Not that show, you wad. The vampire show.”

  Slim pretty much ignored them. “If she’d just gone off, though, she probably would’ve taken her purse and shut the front door. So maybe something happened that made her leave in a big hurry.”

  “An emergency,” I said.

  Slim nodded. “Maybe she ran out of the house to help someone. Or to get away from someone.”

  “Maybe she did get away,” I said.

  In my mind, I saw Lee fleeing out the back door of her house, Stryker and his gang in hot pursuit…chasing her with spears as she ran through her yard and down the long embankment toward the river.

  What if she didn’t make it?

  “Another possibility,” Slim said, “is that someone came into the house and took her away.”

  “Stryker?” Rusty asked.

  “He’s a likely suspect,” Slim said. “But maybe he isn’t involved at all. Look at what’s happened to us. Like how that car came after us on the way home from the drive-in a few weeks ago. And that weird guy in the sheet on Halloween last year. And all the troubles we’ve had over at Janks Field before today. They had nothing to do with the Vampire Show.”

  “Maybe,” Rusty said. “Maybe not.”

  “Get real,” I told him.

  “Who really knows?” he said, wiggling his eyebrows and trying to sound like Karloff. “Maybe it’s the ghost of Tommy Janks. He’s doing it all…pulling all the strings.”

  “Get bent,” Slim said.

  “I want to take a look out back,” I said and handed the bow back to Slim. “If someone did come after Lee, maybe she ran off.”

  “Out the back door?” Rusty asked, using his normal voice.

  “Yeah.” I walked toward it.

  “The front door’s the open one,” he reminded me.

  “If someone comes in the front door,” I explained, “what you do is run out the back and shut it behind you to slow ’em down…”

  “Or maybe so they don’t realize you went out,” Slim added.

  “Right,” I said. I stepped up to the back door and opened it. A warm wind blew in against me. I pushed on the screen door.

  It stayed shut.

  Because its inside hook was fastened.

  “Guess she didn’t run out the back,” I admitted.

  “So much for that theory,” said Slim.

  “She still could’ve gotten away.”

  “Maybe she didn’t need to,” Rusty said.

  “That’s right,” I said.

  “So what do you want to do?” Slim asked me.

  I shrugged. I had to do something, but didn’t know what. I felt miserable: confused, helpless, scared.

  Even as we stood in the kitchen chatting about theories, Lee might be running for her life with Stryker or someone hot on her tail. Or maybe she’d already been captured. Someone might be taking her farther and farther away. Or torturing her. Or raping her. Or killing her. Or she might be perfectly fine. Maybe she’d walked over to a friend’s house for supper or gone for a stroll to enjoy the wild, windy night.

  “I don’t know,” I muttered.

  Bitsy raised her hand as if she were in a classroom.

  “We know, we know,” Rusty said. “In your brilliant opinion, we should forget about Lee and go to the drive-in.”

  “Shows how much you know,” Bitsy said.

  “What is it?” Slim asked.

  Bitsy frowned and opened her mouth, but no words came out.

  “Spit it out,” Rusty said.

  “Shut up,” I told him. Then I looked at Bitsy. “Is there something you want to say?”

  She glanced around at all of us, then said, “Just that you shouldn’t be so worried about Lee. She just went somewhere, that’s all”

  Rusty smirked. “Thanks for the news flash.”

  Bitsy scowled at him, then looked at me and said, “Nobody’s after anybody. I mean, you’ve got it all wrong.”

  “About what?”

  “Everything. That guy you keep talking about…Stryker? From the Vampire Show? He didn’t do any of that stuff. You know, sneak into your houses and chew on the book and do things with the roses.” Blushing fiercely and looking ready to burst into tears, Bitsy said, “I did it.”

  Chapter Forty-one

  I think my mouth fell open. I know Slim’s did.

  Rusty blasted, “You!”

  “I’m sorrrrry,” she brayed, and then started to bawl. Face red and twisted, tears rolling down her cheeks, she sobbed out, “I didn’t mean to! I’m sorrrrry!!!”

  “You little shit!”

  “Knock it off,” I told Rusty.

  Standing there, Bitsy lowered her face into her open hands. Her shoulders jumped up and down. She gasped and snorted.

  Slim started making faces at me and nodding toward Bitsy.

  I got the message. Stepping up to Bitsy, I murmured, “It’s all right,” and put my arms around her.

  Her arms whipped around me like a springing trap.

  I stroked her head with one hand and patted her back with the other while she shuddered and twitched. Her face was shoved against my chest. I felt her hot breath through my shirt. Soon, I felt wetness, too. From her tears. And, I’m afraid, from her slobber.

  I kept saying, “It’s all right” and “Everything’s fine” and “It doesn’t matter,” and so on for quite a while until Bitsy finally calmed down.

  Then Slim said softly, “Let’s go sit down.” She led the way. Bitsy and I followed her, Bitsy sniffing and clinging to my arm.

  In the living room, Slim pointed to the sofa. So I sat down on it, Bitsy still hugging my arm.

  Slim sank onto the front edge of a chair. She propped the bow on the floor between her feet and held it upright in front of her. She couldn’t lean back because of her quiver.

  Rusty sat in another chair, looking disgusted and shaking his head.

  “We’re not mad at you, Bitsy,” Slim said.

  “You’re not?”

  “No. Are we, Dwight?”

  “No,” I said. “It’s no big deal, Bitsy.”

  “No big deal,” Rusty echoed, glaring at her. “Fuckin’ psycho.”

  Bitsy gasped. From the look on her face, she was about to blurt, “I’m gonna tell!” But no words came out. Our warnings must’ve gotten through to her.

  Slim frowned at Rusty. “You’re not helping matters.”

  He rolled his eyes upward.

  To Bitsy, Slim said in a gentle voice, “What happened, anyway? What made you do it?”

  She gave Slim a pouty look, then whined, “I don’t knowwww. They ditched me.”

  “Rusty and Dwight.”

  “Yeah. I got sent in for my shoes, only when I came back out they were already gone. It was all just a trick to get rid of me.”

  “A pretty mean trick,” Slim muttered.

  Which made me feel crummy again.

  “Yeah,” Bitsy said. “It was really mean. I went after ’em. I could’ve caught up, too, ’cause I knew they were going to Janks Field to look for you. Only they didn’t want me with ’em, or they would’ve waited.” Bitsy looked into Slim’s eyes. “See, the thing is, you’ve always gotta have it just the three of you. Nobody wants me butting in. They’ve gotta have you all to themselves, and I guess you wanta be the only girl.” She pushed out her lower lip again. “Maybe you’re not the only girl around that wants to have fun sometimes.”

  I saw Slim’s eyes go shiny.
She swallowed, licked her lips, then asked in a soft voice, “You blamed me for the guys ditching you?”

  “Sorta,” Bitsy muttered.

  “And that’s why you went over to my house?”

  “I guess.” She lowered her head and continued. “It wasn’t locked or anything.”

  “It hardly ever is.”

  “I knew nobody was gonna be there, ’cause of how your mom works over at the restaurant and you don’t have a dad or anything…and the guys said you were over at Janks Field. So I just went in.”

  “Freak,” Rusty muttered.

  “Stop it,” I told him.

  “Well, she is.”

  “Leave her alone,” Slim said. Then she said to Bitsy, “Did you go in on purpose to wreck things?”

  “No,” she said. It was almost a whimper.

  “Why did you go in?”

  She shrugged with one shoulder. “I don’t know.”

  “But you went up to my bedroom and chewed on my Dracula?”

  “I guess so.”

  Rusty sneered. “You don’t know?”

  “I guess I chewed on some book.”

  “Why that one?” Slim asked.

  “Just…I don’t know…I knew you liked it a lot.”

  “That’s why you chewed on it? To hurt me?”

  “I guess so.”

  “Why none of the others?”

  Another shrug. “I don’t know. I guess maybe I didn’t feel like it.” She raised her head to meet Slim’s eyes. “It made me feel awful, wrecking your book.” Her lower lip bulged, her chin shook and she started crying all over again. “I’m sorrrrry!” she blubbered.

  I started patting her back.

  Slim said, “It’s all right, Bitsy. Don’t worry about it.”

  “I’ll…buy you…a new one.”

  “Doesn’t matter,” Slim said. “But I don’t get it. If you suddenly felt so bad about wrecking Dracula, how come you went into my mom’s room and started breaking things?”

  Here we go.

  “I didn’t,” she blurted.

  Meeting my eyes, Rusty shook his head slightly.

  “You didn’t break the vase?” Slim asked. “Or the perfume bottle?”

  “They was…already busted. I just…I took the flowers, that’s all…They looked so…they was on the floor like…like nobody wanted ’em and they got thrown down…and they looked so sad.”

  Looking perplexed, Slim said, “But you didn’t break any glass?”

  Bitsy shook her head.

  Then Slim laid off the questions for a while and I patted Bitsy until she calmed down. When she was done crying, Slim asked, “So what happened after you picked up the roses?”

  “Nothing.”

  “Nothing else at my house?”

  “Huh-uh.”

  “So you left my house, and then what?”

  Lowering her head, she muttered, “I guess I went and gave a rose to Dwight.”

  “You went over to his house and sneaked in?”

  She nodded slightly.

  “What time was that?” I asked.

  She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

  “Wasn’t my mom home?”

  Again, the small nodding motion. Then the soft voice murmured, “I guess so.”

  “You snuck around in my house while my mother was there?”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Jeez.”

  Rusty looked pleased with himself. “Told you she’s a psycho.”

  “I didn’t hurt nothing,” Bitsy said.

  “What did you do in Dwight’s house?” Slim asked.

  “Nothing. Just gave him the flower, that’s all.”

  “You put it on my bed,” I said.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Good God,” I muttered.

  “What else did you do?” Slim asked.

  The way Bitsy’s face suddenly flushed crimson, I wished Slim had kept the question to herself.

  “Nothing,” Bitsy said.

  “Oooo, boy,” Rusty muttered.

  “What did you do?” Slim asked again.

  Once too many times.

  Bitsy’s head jerked up and she snapped at Slim, “Nothing! I didn’t do nothing! You can go to hell! You can all go to hell!” Then she leaped up and ran for the foyer.

  For a moment, the three of us were too stunned to move or speak. Then Rusty yelped, “Shit!”

  Slim called, “Bitsy, wait.”

  From where I was sitting on the sofa, I could see the girl hustle toward the front door. “Bitsy!” I yelled.

  Then Rusty pounded by.

  “Good God,” Slim said. She sprang up, dropping her bow to the carpet and struggling to pull off her quiver.

  I leaped up and went after Rusty.

  “Stop or I’m gonna cream you!” he shouted.

  His sister flung open the screen door and ran outside. The door, starting to swing shut, bounced off Rusty as he charged through.

  “Rusty!” I yelled. Hot on his heels, I swept the closing door out of my way, rushed across the stoop and leaped down the stairs.

  Bitsy was chugging across Lee’s front yard, short hair bouncing, skirt flapping behind her, Rusty closing in. Though he was large and clumsy and slow, his little sister was slower.

  “Rusty!” I shouted. “Let her go!”

  He reached out and grabbed a shoulder of her sleeveless sundress. “Gotcha!”

  They matched strides, linked by his arm.

  “Let go!” I yelled at him.

  “Stop!” he yelled at her.

  He didn’t let go. She didn’t stop.

  I reached out and grabbed the back of Rusty’s shirt collar. I was about to give it a sharp tug when Bitsy suddenly let out a squeal.

  Rusty’s body blocked my view of her. When I saw her again, she was careening sideways out of control. Rusty must’ve jerked her shoulder.

  I heard Slim yell, “Jesus!”

  Letting go of Rusty and trying to slow down, I twisted my head around and caught a glimpse of Bitsy spinning like a frenzied figure skater. Her arms were flung out Her skirt was twirling high.

  I lost track of her for a moment as Rusty and I nearly collided.

  By the time I saw her again, she must’ve just crashed to the ground. She tumbled wildly, flipping over a couple of times, and came to rest on her back.

  We hurried toward her.

  She was gasping for air. Her arms and legs were spread out as if she hoped to make snow angels in August The top of her sundress, buttons ripped open down to her belly, was hanging off one shoulder and showing her bare right breast. Her skirt had gotten shoved up so it covered nothing below her waist. I thought at first that she was wearing some sort of tight, skin-colored underwear. Just as I realized my mistake, Slim crouched beside her, blocking my view. She shut Bitsy’s dress top and lowered the skirt just before Rusty and I got there.

  Rusty scowled down at her. “Y’okay?” he asked.

  She just kept gasping.

  “It’s your own stupid fault,” he said. “I told you to stop.”

  In a gentle voice, Slim said to Bitsy, “There was no reason to run away.”

  “Yeah,” Rusty said. “We weren’t gonna hurt you.”

  I glared at him. “Why’d you have to throw her down?”

  “All I wanted to do was make her stop running away. She wasn’t supposed to get hurt.”

  “Fucker.”

  It wasn’t a very nice thing for Bitsy to call her brother, but I was glad to hear it. For one thing, I felt the same way. For another, I didn’t think she’d be making cracks like that if she had sustained any really serious damage.

  Rusty scowled down at her for a while, then said, “Look, you weren’t supposed to get hurt. Okay? I’m sorry. It was an accident.”

  “Like fun,” Bitsy muttered.

  “Why don’t we get you off the ground?” Slim said to her. “We can go back inside and see if you need to be patched up. I happen to know Lee has a medicine cabinet full of
first aid supplies.”

  “No,” Bitsy said. “I don’t wanta.”

  “I know,” said Rusty. “You wanta go to the movies.”

  She shook her head. “I wanta go home.”

  Chapter Forty-two

  “Go home?” Rusty said. “No way.”

  “Wanta bet?” Using one hand to hold the top of her dress shut, Bitsy shoved at the ground with her other hand and managed to sit up.

  “I’ll drive you home,” Slim said. “But you don’t want your mom and dad to see you looking like this. Let’s go in the house first, and…”

  “Huh-uh. I wanta go home. Right now.”

  Rusty looked pitiful. “Man, it’s gonna be my ass.”

  “Should’ve thought of that,” I said, “before you threw her down.”

  “It was an accident. Anyway, if you hadn’t grabbed my shirt…”

  “Oh, so now it’s my fault.”

  With Slim holding her steady, Bitsy rose to her feet. “Let’s go in the house,” Slim said.

  “I don’t wanta.” She tried to pull away, but Slim held on.

  “You’re not going home looking like this,” Slim said, her voice firm. “We’ll clean you up first and see if you’ve got any injuries. Then we’ll do something about your dress. Then I’ll take you home. Maybe.”

  I almost applauded.

  Hobbling toward the front door in Slim’s custody, Bitsy started to cry again.

  Rusty and I stayed back. By the time we entered the front door, they were out of sight. Soon, we heard water running.

  Rusty shook his head. “I’m really gonna get it,” he muttered. “They’ll ground me so long I’ll be gray before they let me outa the house.”

  “You should’ve kept your hands off her,” I said.

  “She was trying to get away. She was gonna run home. It would’ve wrecked everything.”

  Slim came striding into the foyer.

  “How is she?” I asked.

  “Really upset. I mean, God.” Slim shook her head. “At least she’s not hurt.”

  “She’s not?” Rusty asked. He seemed surprised and pleased.

  “Not much. Mostly, she’s grass-stained. She has a few little scrapes and scratches, but that’s about it. I told her to wash up.”

 
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