The traveling vampire sh.., p.27
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.27

           Richard Laymon
 

  “How about her dress?” Rusty asked.

  “Wrecked.”

  “Can’t you fix it?”

  “I could wash it,” she told Rusty, and glanced at me in a way that brought back memories of her laundry room. “I might be able to mend it, too…sew some new buttons on. But the first time your mother takes a good look at it, she’ll know it got wrecked. I mean, there’s fabric missing where the buttons got torn off.”

  “In other words, I’m fucked.”

  Almost pleased, I said, “Yep.”

  “Not necessarily,” said Slim. “There’s one way out.”

  “Suicide?” Rusty asked.

  “A little less drastic than that,” Slim explained. “As a matter of fact, it’s simple. All we’ve gotta do is win Bitsy over. You’re off the hook if she doesn’t tell on you.”

  “But what about the dress?”

  “She can say she was fooling around…got into a game of touch footfall or something and had a little accident.”

  “Better make it tackle football,” I said.

  Slim grinned at me. “Yeah.”

  Rusty shook his head. “She’ll never go along with it.”

  “It’s your only chance,” Slim said.

  “What you’ve gotta do,” I said, “is really kiss up to her.”

  “Barf.”

  Giving me a meaningful look, Slim said, “We’ve got to all be really nice to her.”

  “Never should’ve let her come with us in the first place,” Rusty muttered.

  Slim smirked at him.

  “Hey, moron,” I said, “it was the only way to get you out of the house.”

  “I could’ve snuck out.”

  “Sure. Maybe by around midnight. Which would’ve been a little late for catching the Vampire Show.”

  “Not gonna catch it anyway if we let Bitsy go home and rat on me.”

  “I shouldn’t have pushed her,” Slim muttered.

  “That was Rusty.”

  “You know what I mean. We wouldn’t be in this fix if I hadn’t given her the third degree.”

  Rising out of his worries, Rusty flashed a smile at me. “What the hell did she do in your room?”

  “Let’s drop it,” I said. “I don’t know and I don’t wanta know.”

  “Must’ve been pretty embarrassing.”

  Slim shook her head. In a low voice, she whispered to Rusty, “The kid’s in love with him—everything’s embarrassing.”

  I believe I snarled.

  “Well, she is,” Slim told me.

  “I know.”

  “That’s right,” Rusty said.

  At the sound of a door opening, we went silent and watched Bitsy step into the hallway. She was no longer crying. She seemed calm. Back straight, she limped toward us. She’d used a couple of safety pins to fasten the top of her dress together, but she hadn’t done a very good job with them. Her front was open to one extent or another all the way down to her waist.

  “How are you doing?” I asked her.

  “Not so good.”

  “We’re really sorry you got hurt.”

  “Yeah,” Rusty said. “I’m sorry.”

  “You know what?” Slim asked her. “We’re glad you’re the one who did that stuff in our houses. I mean, we figured we had those weirdos from the vampire show creeping around, so it’s a fantastic relief to find out it was only you.”

  “That’s for sure,” I said.

  It wasn’t a total lie. I was very glad we weren’t being stalked by Stryker and his gang. But the notion of Bitsy creeping through my house—while my mom was home—gave me a bad case of the creeps. I knew that Rusty and I had sneaked into Slim’s house that same day, but this seemed different. In fact, this seemed a trifle demented.

  What if she sneaks into the house when I’m there?

  I imagined her skulking through the hallways and rooms late at night, lurking in shadows, spying on me.

  “I’m sorry I upset you,” Slim told her.

  “And I’m sorry you fell,” Rusty said.

  I just smiled at her and shrugged.

  She smiled at me. A rather sad smile that used only one side of her mouth. “Anyway,” she said, “I don’t wanta go home, after all.”

  “Okay,” Slim said.

  Rusty looked as if he wanted to whoop for joy. He held it in, though, and simply sighed as if his death sentence had been commuted.

  “All I ever wanted,” Bitsy said, “was just to hang out with you guys. I didn’t wanta wreck anything.”

  “That’s real good,” I said, trying to sound sincere.

  “So can we all be friends?” she asked. “If I promise not to tell?”

  “Sure!” Rusty blurted.

  “And nobody tells on me, okay?”

  “A deal,” Slim said.

  I nodded.

  “What’s to tell?” said Rusty.

  Blushing, she looked away and muttered, “Nothing.”

  “Well,” said Slim, “I’m glad that’s all settled. Now we just have to decide what to do about Lee.” She asked me, “What do you think?”

  “I guess…since it was Bitsy who did the other stuff, maybe there really isn’t anything to worry about.”

  Rusty gave his sister a look of exaggerated suspicion. “You didn’t do something with Lee, did you?”

  Bitsy narrowed her eyes. “No.”

  “Anyway,” I said, “I guess we can either go on to the drive-in or wait here.”

  “There’s no point in the drive-in anymore,” Bitsy said.

  We all looked at her.

  “By the time we can get there…” She shrugged. “We’d just have to turn around and come back. Wouldn’t even get to see a whole movie. Not if we have to be here by ten-thirty.”

  “We could at least watch part of one,” I told her.

  “Nah.” A smile lifted her heavy lips. “Who wants to see a couple of stupid movies, anyway? I wanta go see the Traveling Vampire Show.”

  Silence crashed down on us.

  Slim, Rusty and I stared at each other.

  Bitsy watched us, a funny smile on her face that made me suspect she knew exactly what she was doing.

  Nobody else spoke up, so I did.

  “We’d like to have you come with us,” I said, “but we’ve only got four tickets.”

  She pointed at us, counting aloud. “One, two, three, four.”

  “The problem is, one of the tickets is for Lee.”

  “But she’s not here.”

  “Thanks for the news flash,” Rusty said.

  Slim gave him a dirty look, then said, “They’re Lee’s tickets. She bought them, and she’s intending to go.”

  “In fact,” I added, “they might not let us in without her. We’re all under age. Stryker only sold her the tickets on the condition that she’d come with us.”

  “How can she come with us if she isn’t even here?” Bitsy asked.

  “Well,” I said, “we’re hoping she’ll be back in time.”

  “So I won’t be able to go?”

  “I didn’t mean it that way. We’d like for you to come with us.”

  “Of course,” Slim said. “But with only four tickets, I’m not sure we’ll be able to manage it.”

  Lower lip bulging again, Bitsy said, “I guess I wanta go home now. If I can’t go to the vampire show…”

  “You can go!” Rusty blurted. “Jesus! Okay? No problem. We’ll get another ticket, that’s all.”

  “How are we supposed to do that?” I asked.

  “For all we know,” Slim said, “they might be sold out.”

  “Even if they aren’t,” I added, “they won’t sell us one for a thirteen year old.”

  “I’m going home,” Bitsy said.

  “No!” Looking frantic, Rusty raised his open hands and Happed them at us. “Just hang on a minute. Nobody’s going anywhere. I’ve got it all figured out. Okay?”

  “Let’s hear it,” Slim said.

  Calming down slightly, he patted t
he air in front of his shoulders and said, “We go now.”

  “Go where?” I asked.

  “To Janks Field. We take three of the tickets. Slim drives. We leave Lee’s ticket here so she can follow along later in her pickup. We leave her a note, too, so she’ll know what’s going on.”

  “That still leaves us a ticket short,” Slim pointed out.

  Rusty patted the air some more. “That’s why we go now. We get there good and early, find us an adult and pay him to buy us one more ticket.”

  “What’ll we use for money?” I asked.

  “How much we need?” Bitsy asked.

  “The tickets are normally ten bucks,” Rusty said, “but we might have to pay more. Fifteen or twenty, maybe.”

  “I got more’n thirty,” Bitsy said.

  I remembered her white patent leather purse. She didn’t have it now. When we first came into Lee’s house, she must’ve left it in Slim’s car.

  Rusty frowned as if he couldn’t figure out how his little sister had gotten her hands on that much money. But he played it smart this time and kept his mouth shut.

  “Great!” he said. “We’re in business.” He glanced at Slim, then at me. “Okay?”

  “Might work,” Slim said.

  “Worth a try,” I said.

  Narrowing her eyes, Bitsy looked at her brother. “What if we can’t get another ticket?”

  Rusty stared at her for a long time, then said, “That happens, you can have mine.”

  Chapter Forty-three

  In the kitchen, I handed three of the tickets to Slim and left the fourth ticket on the table beside Lee’s purse. Slim slipped them down a seat pocket of her cut-off jeans.

  I found a pen and a pad of scratch paper by the phone. Back at the table, I wrote:

  Dear Lee,

  Sorry we missed you. We took three of the tickets and went on ahead. We figured we had better get there early and beat the crowd, as the parking has been known to get wierd.

  We took Slim’s Pontiac. Please come as early as you can. We well be looking for you and save you a seat.

  Love,

  Dwight

  I showed the note to Slim. She read it to herself, then asked, “Who ever taught you how to spell?”

  “What’s wrong with my spelling?”

  “Aside from it stinks?”

  Rusty chuckled.

  “Like you’re some kinda whiz kid,” I said to him.

  “Let me see,” Bitsy said, and plucked the note from Slim’s hand. Her head bobbed up and down as she silently mouthed the words. About the time she came to the end, her brow furrowed.

  “She’s my sister-in-law,” I explained.

  Bitsy said, “I know that,” but she looked relieved.

  After she gave the note to me, I folded it and placed it beside the red ticket. “All set,” I said.

  “You don’t want to correct the spelling?” Slim asked, a glint in her eyes.

  “Not really.”

  “Lee’s a teacher.”

  “I know that,” I said, suddenly sounding like Rusty or Bitsy.

  Rusty let out a laugh. To Slim, he said, “Dwighty’s hoping to get some private spelling lessons from her.”

  “Very funny,” I said. “Are we going?”

  “Let’s go,” Slim said.

  In the living room, she picked up her bow and her quiver of arrows. Then we left the house. Hanging back, I shut the main door after I was out.

  We crossed the lawn to Slim’s car. When we got there, she put her bow and quiver of arrows into the trunk. Then we all climbed into the car. I sat in the back seat with Bitsy. Slim drove. Within about a minute, we were out on Route 3 with woods on both sides and no other cars in sight.

  “What I think we’ll do,” she said, “is walk in.”

  “Huh?” Rusty said.

  “Walk?” asked Bitsy.

  “I’m not driving onto Janks Field,” Slim said. “For one thing, I don’t want the tires getting ruined. For another, we might be the only car there this early. We’re too young to be going at all, so we sure don’t want the whole crew watching us arrive.”

  “Good point,” I said.

  “Also, the place’ll probably end up jammed with cars later on. We don’t want to get stuck in the traffic.”

  “Hey,” Rusty said, “maybe they’ll have a riot like that other time.” He sounded as if he hoped so and wouldn’t mind participating.

  “If there is a riot,” Slim said, “we can just take off into the woods free and clear.”

  “Are we gonna have to walk through the woods?” Bitsy asked.

  “Just if there’s a riot,” I explained.

  “Or if we get chased by vampires,” Rusty added.

  “Quit it,” Bitsy said.

  “What we’ll do,” Slim said, “is park along the highway and walk in on the dirt road.”

  Bitsy moaned.

  “You wanted to come,” Rusty reminded her.

  “I know that.”

  “You don’t have to,” I told her. “We’ve still got plenty of time. We could drop you off…”

  “I wanta come with.”

  “That’s fine,” Slim said. “The thing is, Bitsy, we might see some really bad stuff happen. I sure did. What they did to that dog…These are bad people.”

  “You’re just trying to talk me out of it.”

  “No, I’m trying to warn you. You might end up wishing you’d stayed home.”

  “So how come you’re going?” Asking that, she sounded a little snotty.

  “Slim’s the judge,” Rusty said.

  “Huh?”

  “Dwight and I, we’ve got a bet going.”

  “What bet?” Bitsy asked.

  “I say Valeria’s a babe.”

  “Who’s she?”

  “The star of the show,” I explained.

  “Dwight says she’ll be a loser, but I happen to know she’ll be gorgeous. If I’m right, Dwight has to shave his head.”

  “Slim shaves my head,” I reminded him.

  “Oh, yeah, right. Anyways, Slim’s the judge.”

  “That isn’t why I’m going,” Slim said. Turning her head to the left, she said, “There’s the way in.” She started to slow down. “We’ll turn around…” she muttered.

  “Then why?” Bitsy asked.

  “Huh?”

  “How come you wanta go if it’s gonna be so horrible?”

  “Gotta watch out for my guys,” she said. Slowing almost to a stop, she made a U-turn. “Anyway, my mom’s away for the night and I didn’t much want to stay by myself.”

  “Especially since she had a prowler today,” Rusty added, and glanced back at his sister.

  “I said I was sorry,” Bitsy muttered.

  “Here’s the turn-off,” Slim announced.

  As she drove slowly past it, I glimpsed a couple of Traveling Vampire Show handbills and the makeshift cardboard sign on trees near the narrow dirt road. They were dim shapes in the darkness. If I hadn’t already seen them a couple of times in daylight, I wouldn’t have known what they were.

  I thought, Nobody’ll be able to find the place.

  Then I realized it was a stupid thought. Everyone for miles around knew the location of Janks Field. Almost everyone avoided it whenever possible, but hardly anyone would have trouble getting there, even in the dark.

  Slim eased her Pontiac off the road. We dipped down into a shallow ditch, then climbed out of it and rolled through some deep grass.

  “What’re you doing?” Rusty asked.

  “Parking,” Slim said.

  The car shook as she steered it over the rough ground. Bushes squeaked against the sides. Fallen twigs crackled under the tires. But not for long.

  Slim stopped the car behind some trees, killed its headlights and shut off the engine.

  “Jeez,” Rusty said.

  “We don’t want everybody seeing our car.”

  By “everybody,” I’m sure Slim meant more than just people wishing to do us ha
rm. She also meant any residents of Grandville who might drive by—either on their way to the show or going elsewhere. Because if anyone should see the huge old Pontiac, word would get around. Soon, everyone in town—including our parents—would know that Slim’s car had been spotted out near the Janks Field turnoff the night of the Traveling Vampire Show.

  The night of my dad’s car accident.

  The night Slim’s mom had her overnight date on the river.

  The night the parents of Rusty and Bitsy thought we’d taken their kids to a double-feature at the Moonlight Drive-in.

  I suddenly had a bad thought.

  “Rusty,” I said.

  He looked around at me.

  “What time are you and Bitsy supposed to get home?”

  “What time do you think?”

  “Midnight?”

  “Good guess.”

  “We can’t be back by then,” I said. “That’s when the show begins.”

  “No sweat,” Rusty said. “My folks’re never awake by midnight We’ll just sneak in real quiet when we get home. They’ll never be the wiser.”

  Maybe he was right. He had certainly gotten away, many times, with sneaking in and out of his house late at night.

  “If we do get caught,” he said, “I’ll just say we had car trouble. And anyway, by then it’ll be too late. We’ll already’ve seen the show, right?” He chuckled. “Let ’em ground me. See who cares.”

  Chapter Forty-four

  With the rest of us standing nearby, Slim opened the trunk of her car. Then she just stood there as if staring in.

  “What’re you waiting for?” Rusty asked.

  Slim shook her head. “I’d better leave this stuff here,” she said. “We might need to blend in with the crowd. Can’t exactly do that if I’m armed like Robin Hood.” Leaving her archery equipment inside the trunk, she shut the lid.

  We started back toward the dirt road, staying in among the bushes and trees in case of traffic on Route 3.

  “Nobody said we’d have to walk,” Bitsy complained.

  “You’re the one that wanted to come,” Rusty reminded her.

  “But I got sandals on.”

  “So wait in the car.”

  “Nobody’s going to wait in the car,” Slim said.

  “My feet are getting all scratched.”

  “Tough toenails,” Rusty said, and chuckled.

  “Ha ha. That’s so funny I forgot to…”

 
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