The traveling vampire sh.., p.28
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.28
 

           Richard Laymon

  “Let’s hold up here a second,” I said. We halted, and I pulled off one of my shoes. As I peeled the sock off, I said, “You can wear my socks, Bitsy.”

  “Really?” She sounded surprised and pleased.

  “Sure.” I handed her the sock I’d already removed. Still balancing on one leg, I put my sneaker back on. Then I shifted legs and took off the other shoe and sock. I gave the second sock to her.

  “Thank you very much,” she said.

  As I put my shoe on again, Bitsy sat on the ground. She brought her knees up and spread them wide apart like a little kid. But she wasn’t a little kid and she was wearing a dress.

  There must’ve been a break in the clouds. Some moonlight made its way into the forest and she’d found a patch of it.

  Almost as if she wanted me to watch.

  I looked away and glimpsed Rusty staring down at her. He didn’t say anything, just watched.

  Being her brother, maybe he was used to seeing that sort of thing. I didn’t have a sister, so I wouldn’t know. But it seemed funny that he would stare like that.

  It made me wonder about Rusty.

  About Bitsy, too, for that matter. She had to know her brother was watching, but it didn’t seem to faze her.

  Bitsy was turning out to be more strange than I had ever imagined.

  Slim, keeping watch as if afraid someone might sneak up on us, didn’t seem to notice Bitsy’s secret show—or audience.

  After putting my socks on, Bitsy struggled into her sandals and stood up. She brushed off the seat of her dress. “Thanks,” she said again.

  “You’re welcome.”

  “Ready?” Slim asked.

  “Yeah,” Bitsy said.

  So we started off again, Slim in the lead, Rusty next. Instead of moving out behind her brother, Bitsy came over to my side and took my hand. “I wanta stay by you,” she said.

  “Sure.”

  She kept hold of my hand. Side by side, we made our way through the dark woods.

  “The socks sure help,” she said.

  “Good.”

  “They’re kinda sweaty, but I don’t mind. I kinda like it.”

  “Ah,” I said.

  “Car!” Slim warned.

  Off to the right and ahead of us through the trees, pale beams lit the night. A car was coming our way on Route 3. Slim stepped behind a tree trunk. Rusty crouched behind a bush. Pulling Bitsy by the hand, I gasped, “Come on,” and rushed over to a waist-high boulder. We ducked behind it, Bitsy clutching my hand and gasping for breath.

  Huddled together, we heard the car come closer. It sounded like a strong wind rushing through the trees. I felt one of Bitsy’s breasts pushing against the side of my arm. It moved slightly, rubbing me, as if she wanted to make sure I noticed. I noticed, all right. And it made me wish I was somewhere else: hiding behind the tree with Slim, for instance.

  Soon, but not nearly soon enough, the sound of the car faded like a sigh. We stood up. Slim waved when she saw us. Rusty shook his head. I tried to break contact with Bitsy. Though I got free of her breast, she kept her grip on my hand.

  Slim and Rusty waited for us. When we were all together, Slim took the lead again. Rusty trudged after her. Bitsy squeezed my hand and looked up at me. We weren’t in moonlight, so I couldn’t see the look on her face. Just as well.

  A couple of minutes later, we came to the dirt road.

  Slim waited until we were all there. Then she said in a quiet voice, “Let’s just stay on this and stick together. A lot easier than traipsing through the woods.”

  “What if a car comes?” Bitsy asked.

  “We’ll duck out of sight same as last time,” Slim said.

  Clustered together, we began walking up the dirt road toward Janks Field.

  Soon, a car came along from behind us. We heard it and saw the glow of its headlights in plenty of time to hide. It no sooner passed us than another was on the way. When both had gone, we returned to the dirt road.

  “Early birds,” Slim said.

  “After the best seats,” Rusty suggested.

  “Or the best parking places,” I said.

  “We’ve got the best parking place,” Slim said. “A good safe distance from the action.”

  “You still got the tickets?” Rusty asked her.

  “Yep.” She patted the seat of her cut-offs.

  To Bitsy, he said, “You sure you got plenty of money?”

  Nodding, she patted her purse. She had let go of me while we’d been waiting for the cars to pass. Now she was over to the side and slightly ahead of me. The white purse, hanging from her shoulder, seemed to be floating by her hip.

  “You better have enough for a ticket,” Rusty warned, “or the deal’s off.”

  “I’ve got plenty.”

  We heard another car coming, so we ran for cover.

  Our way was blocked by a fallen tree. All four of us scurried over its trunk and ducked behind it.

  As we waited for the car to pass, I suddenly wondered why we were hiding and why we’d bothered to conceal Slim’s Pontiac. If we hoped to buy a ticket for Bitsy, use our tickets to enter the grandstands, then sit among the other paying customers, we were sure to be seen and recognized. We would probably be surrounded by people from Grandville.

  We started to rise, but then another car came along. It went by. As we began to climb over the trunk, another glow of headlights appeared so we dropped out of sight again.

  “I’m not sure why we’re hiding,” I said.

  Slim, crouched close to my left side, nudged me with her elbow and muttered, “So they don’t see us, Mr. Brain.”

  “A few minutes, we’ll be in the middle of them.”

  Was I the only one who’d thought of that?

  Slim turned her face toward me. I couldn’t see her expression, and she didn’t speak.

  “What’ll we do?” asked Bitsy. She was crouched on my right.

  “Should’ve brought disguises,” Rusty whispered.

  “It’ll be all right,” Slim said.

  “I don’t…” My voice stopped and I listened to the approaching engine. It had a powerful sound.

  Hands on the rough, moist bark, I eased myself upward and peered toward the dirt road. A pickup truck was speeding along the dirt road, shaking and bouncing.

  Its headlights ruined my night vision.

  There seemed to be only one occupant, the driver. But I couldn’t make out who it was—not even whether it was a man or woman.

  As the pickup sped away, however, I was able to see its color in the glow of its tail lights.

  Red.

  A red pickup truck, the same as Lee’s.

  “Was that her?” Rusty asked.

  We were all gazing over the top of the fallen trunk.

  “I don’t know,” I said.

  “Sure looked like her truck,” Slim said.

  “I bet it was her,” Bitsy said.

  “Did you see her?” I asked.

  “No, but I bet it was.”

  “I hope so,” I muttered. “Thing is, it’s not like she’s got the only red pickup in town.”

  “Did anyone see the driver?” Slim asked.

  “Nope.”

  “Huh-uh.”

  “I wish.”

  “Might’ve been her,” Rusty said.

  “She’s supposed to come,” I added.

  “Well,” said Slim, “we’ll find out soon enough, I guess.”

  Chapter Forty-five

  We walked for a couple of minutes on the dirt road, but then another car came so we hid again. This time, we crouched behind a clump of bushes about twenty feet from the roadside.

  “We’re never gonna get there,” Rusty said.

  “Maybe we’d better cut through the woods,” Slim suggested.

  “Have we gotta?” Bitsy asked.

  “We’d better,” Slim said. “If we keep hiding every time a car comes by…”

  “We might as well walk up the road,” I said. “Everybody’s gon
na see us when we get to the show, anyway.”

  Slim looked at me. She was silent for a few seconds, then said, “I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. But…”

  Rusty gasped out, “Holy shit!”

  The rest of us looked.

  The car bouncing up the road and just about to pass our hiding place was a huge old Cadillac. Slammed by fear, I ducked. Bitsy was still staring at it, so I clamped a hand on her shoulder and jerked her down.

  “What’s…?”

  “Shhh.”

  Hunkered low, we waited for the Cadillac to pass.

  It’s probably not even the same one, I told myself. But I knew better. Around these parts, Cadillacs weren’t nearly as common as pickup trucks. This had to be the one that had terrorized us after the drive-in.

  For the past month, all the cops in the county had been looking for it.

  Now, here it was.

  The sounds of the Cadillac faded, but not with distance. Its engine noise decreased because someone had taken his foot off the gas pedal. Its tires no longer crunched along the dirt road because they had quit moving.

  Cars stop for many reasons, but I knew why this one had stopped.

  We’d been seen.

  “Did they see us?” Rusty asked in a hoarse whisper.

  Slim went “Shhh.”

  Rusty murmured, “Jesus.”

  “Who are…?” Bitsy started to ask. I cupped an open hand across her mouth, catching the final word, dissolving it into warm breath. Though she didn’t try to say more, I kept my hand on her mouth. She breathed into it.

  I listened for the sound of a door opening.

  What if they’re already open?

  Through the thick foliage in front of me, I could see nothing of the Cadillac except the glow of its headlights.

  I wanted to rise and peer over the top, but I didn’t dare.

  Then a man’s thin voice sang out, “Weee seee youuuu.”

  I felt as if I had icy snakes in my bowels.

  The same voice, but without the sing-song, asked, “Want a lift?”

  I was afraid Slim might answer with a wisecrack, but she remained silent.

  “What’s the matter, kids? Cat got your tongues?”

  A moment later, I felt Bitsy’s tongue push gently against the palm of my hand.

  She’s licking me!

  I jerked my hand away from her mouth.

  “How about a ride to the Traveling Vampire Show?” the man asked.

  I rubbed my wet hand on the leg of my jeans.

  “Don’t worry,” the man said, “we won’t hurt you.” After a pause, he added, “Much.”

  His passenger giggled. That’s when I remembered that they were supposed to be twins.

  A matching pair of perverts.

  The blast of a car horn made me jump.

  “Be seeeeing you,” the guy called out. The engine revved. The tires hissed and crunched on the dirt road.

  Rising slightly, I saw that a pale station wagon now stood just behind where the Cadillac had been. It must’ve been the car that honked. As the Cadillac disappeared among the trees, the station wagon started forward. After it came a little sports car.

  “This way,” Slim said.

  On hands and knees, she scurried away from the bush. We followed her into the trees. When the dirt road was a safe distance behind us, we got to our feet.

  “It was them,” Rusty said.

  “Guess so,” Slim said.

  “Who?” Bitsy asked.

  “Never mind,” Rusty told her.

  Bitsy turned to me for an answer.

  The Cadillac twins were a well-kept secret. My dad and all the law enforcement agencies in the area knew about them, but hardly anyone else did. We’d been told to keep quiet. If the twins were long gone, there was no reason to panic everyone. If they were still around, the cops didn’t want them to know they were being sought. “They find out we’re after ’em,” Dad had said, “they’ll jackrabbit or go to ground.”

  So I said to Bitsy, “We can’t tell you who they are.”

  “But they’re very bad guys,” Slim added.

  “And they’re going to the show,” Rusty said.

  “Still wanta go?” I asked him.

  “You kidding? You think I’m gonna let a couple of pervs scare me off, you got another think comin’.”

  “You’re not the one they’re after,” I said.

  “Who is?” Bitsy asked.

  “Slim.”

  Rusty groaned. “Tell her everything, why don’t you?”

  As if taking up the suggestion, Slim told Bitsy, “They tried to pull me into their car a few weeks ago.”

  “What for?”

  Rusty said, “What do you think, dipshit?”

  “Cut it out,” Slim told him.

  To Bitsy, he said, “You better not breathe a word of this to Mom or Dad.”

  “I won’t.”

  “Sure you won’t.”

  Turning toward me, Slim said, “I’m not so sure anymore.”

  “About going?”

  “Yeah. It’s bad enough, Stryker and his gang. But now these guys. It’s getting a little too creepy.”

  Rusty went into his chicken impression, tucking his hands under his armpits, flapping his elbows up and down and going, “Bwok-bwok-bwok-bwok!”

  “Up yours,” Slim told him.

  “Meow!”

  “Shut up,” I warned.

  “I think maybe we’d better call it off,” Slim said.

  “No!”

  “Yeah,” I said. “I wanta see the Vampire Show as much as anyone, but it isn’t worth getting killed over.”

  “Well, I’m going. You guys wanta chicken out, that’s your problem. Fuck ya. And the horse y’rode in on.” He jammed an open hand toward Slim. “Gimme one a those tickets.”

  “You don’t want to go by yourself.” Slim said.

  “Oh, no? Y’wanta bet?”

  “Hey, man,” I said.

  “Go to hell.”

  “Let’s just all go back to the car and get out of here,” Slim said. “We can go to the drive-in.”

  Rusty shook his head. “Not me. I’m going to the Traveling Vampire Show…with or without the rest of you chicken-shit pussies.”

  “You want to go, go.” Slim jammed a ticket into his hand. “No skin off my butt.”

  “Thanks,” Rusty muttered.

  “It isn’t worth it,” I told him.

  “I’m not scared.”

  “The hell you aren’t.”

  Slim said to him, “You don’t have to prove anything.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “Yeah, you do,” I said.

  “Fraid not.”

  “Yeah, right.”

  He gave me the finger, then headed for the dirt road.

  I muttered, “Damn it.”

  “You’d better go with him,” Slim said.

  “Huh?”

  She called out, “Rusty, wait! Dwight’s going with you.”

  “I am?”

  Rusty stopped and turned around. “You coming?” he asked.

  “Just a minute,” Slim called. To me, she said, “We can’t let him go by himself.”

  “Sure we can.”

  She shook her head. “Besides, what about Lee?”

  Lee had temporarily slipped my mind.

  “Whether that was Lee in the pickup or not,” Slim said, “she’ll probably turn up at the show sooner or later and she’s expecting us to be there.”

  “She can hook up with Rusty,” I said. It sounded feeble even to me.

  “Suppose the Cadillac twins decide to go after her?”

  Grimacing, I nodded. “Yeah,” I muttered. “Maybe I’d better go. I don’t want to, but…”

  “Duty calls,” Slim said. In the dim grayness of the forest, she seemed to smile at me. “Anyway,” she added, “I know you want to see the Vampire Show.”

  “Don’t you wanta see it?”

  She s
hook her head. “Not hardly. Look, you go to the show and take care of Rusty. I don’t think the Cadillac twins are likely to bother you guys if I’m not with you. They might not even recognize you. So just go on ahead. Find Lee. Enjoy the show. Bitsy and I’ll wait for you in the car.”

  “I don’t know,” I muttered.

  “Yes, you do.”

  “What if something happens to you and Bitsy?”

  “We’ll be fine. The car’s well hidden. It’ll be a hell of a lot safer for us than going to the Vampire Show, I know that much.”

  “Maybe you should drive on home.”

  She shook her head. “We’ll wait.”

  “We’ll wait,” echoed Bitsy.

  “Here’s your ticket,” Slim said. She held it out for me.

  As I took it, she stepped in against me. She put an arm around my back, pressed her slender body against mine and kissed me. I felt the warmth of her belly, the soft push of her breasts, the gentle pressure of her lips. But only for a moment. Easing away from me, she whispered, “Be careful.”

  “You, too,” I said.

  “What about me?” Bitsy asked.

  Slim stepped aside for her. Bitsy put both arms around me and tilted back her head for a kiss.

  Slim gave a little nod.

  So I hugged Bitsy.

  She writhed against me, moaning. Her heavy, open lips mooshed against mine and squirmed like a pair of slugs.

  When I eased her away, she whimpered.

  “See you later,” I said.

  As I lifted a hand in farewell to Slim, Bitsy grabbed my other arm. “I’m coming with,” she said.

  “You’ll be safer with Slim,” I told her.

  “But I wanta come with you. You promised! Everybody promised. If you’re goin’ to see the vampires, I getta go, too!”

  “It’s too dangerous now,” Slim explained. “I’m not going, either.”

  “But they are! If they get t’go, I get t’go.”

  “You coming or not?” Rusty called to me.

  “Hold your horses,” I answered.

  Slim patted Bitsy on the back and said, “Come along with me, Bits. We’ll head back to the car.”

  “But I don’t wanta!”

  I jerked my arm out of her grip. She reached for me again, but I leaped out of range. So then she lurched toward me, reaching with both hands.

  I caught hold of her wrists. In a voice that wasn’t exactly gentle, I said, “Cut it out and go with Slim.”

  “But I wanta…”

 
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