The traveling vampire sh.., p.29
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.29
 

           Richard Laymon
“Shut the hell up and go with Slim!”

  She gasped. Then she started to cry. When I let go of her wrists, she sort of sagged and stood there, sobbing.

  “Sorry,” I muttered.

  As I ran to catch up with Rusty, Slim called out, “Nice going, Dwight.”

  I felt like bursting into tears, myself. But I called, “I’m sorry,” and kept going.

  Chapter Forty-six

  Rusty and I trudged through the woods, staying away from the dirt road. With no path and very little light, it was slow going. And painful. We kept bumping into things, falling, getting scratched.

  After a while, I muttered, “We should’ve gone with the girls.”

  “It’s gonna be worth it, man.”

  “That’s what you think.”

  “Just wait’ll you lay your eyes on Valeria.”

  “Sure,” I muttered. No matter how beautiful Valeria might be, she couldn’t compare to Slim. I wanted nothing more than to be with Slim, but there I was—tromping through the woods with Rusty.

  We were both out of breath, panting for air. The night was hot, the air heavy and moist. No wind at all seemed to penetrate the forest. Sweat poured down my body. My sodden shirt and jeans clinged to me. Without the socks I’d given to Bitsy, my feet slid around inside my sneakers and made squelching sounds.

  Why am I doing this? I kept thinking.

  Not so I could lay my eyes on Valeria, that was for sure. Not really so I could keep Rusty company, either—though that must’ve been part of it. The real reason was Lee.

  No telling where she was or what had happened to her.

  Maybe she was okay. If so, she would find the note we’d left in her kitchen and come to the Vampire Show. I needed to be there to meet her.

  Maybe she had already arrived—if that had been Lee in the red pickup truck.

  Or maybe she’d been taken there earlier. She’d given Stryker the check with her address on it. Would’ve been so easy for him to pay her a visit.

  Then again, maybe her disappearance had nothing to do with the Traveling Vampire Show.

  Maybe she wasn’t even missing.

  If nothing happened to her, I thought, she’ll see the note and drive over. One way or another, Janks Field was where I stood my best chance of finding Lee.

  At last, we saw a pale glow of lights through the trees ahead of us.

  “That’s gotta be it,” Rusty said.

  “Guess so.”

  The grandstands of Fargus’s Folly were always brightly lighted at night to prevent the sort of mischief that often happened in the dark. But the grandstands weren’t straight ahead of us. Also, their lights didn’t move. Our way seemed to be illuminated, instead, by the headbeams of cars cruising Janks Field in search of places to park.

  I thought about how smart it had been to park Slim’s Pontiac off Route 3.

  I wished I were there.

  Slim and Bitsy had probably reached it already. If I were only with them…and if Bitsy weren’t, so it could be just Slim and me sitting together in the front seat, waiting for Rusty…

  But Bitsy is there, I reminded myself. If I so much as kissed Slim, Bitsy would want me to kiss her, too.

  Maybe I’m better off here.

  Soon, Janks Field came into sight through the spaces between the trees. Cars and pickup trucks were moving about, headlights pushing through the darkness.

  We crept closer and closer. With nothing more than a bramble between us and the field, we stretched out flat on the ground, side by side, our shoulders almost touching.

  Off to our right, a stream of vehicles poured into Janks Field from the dirt road. They were met by black-shirted members of Stryker’s crew who directed them toward the area of field in front of us. The place seemed to be filling up fast, but in an orderly way. Stryker’s gang knew how to do their job.

  I suddenly pictured them surrounding the one-eyed dog, poking it with spears.

  They had no spears now—only flashlights. Watching them, though, I felt chills crawl up my spine.

  Slim was smart not to come here, I thought.

  Cars and trucks kept lining up, stopping, shutting off their headlights and engines. Doors opened. People climbed out. Doors banged shut. In couples and small groups, people walked away from their vehicles and headed for the brightly lighted bleachers. I could hear their voices, their laughter.

  People I know, I thought.

  I had to know plenty of them…any who’d come from Grandville, at least.

  And they’ll know us.

  But I couldn’t actually recognize anyone because of the darkness and the distance.

  I nudged Rusty with my shoulder. His head turned. “See anyone we know?” I asked.

  “Huh-uh.”

  “Me nei…” I gasped and flinched as someone flopped onto the ground beside me. The heat of her body seemed to wash over me. She was panting for breath.

  “I’m back,” she huffed.

  I jerked my head toward her.

  Bitsy’s hair was glued down with sweat. Her face was shiny and dripping…and smiling. She nudged me with her shoulder.

  “Shit, no,” Rusty said. “What the hell is she doing here?”

  Ignoring him, I twisted around and gazed behind me. No sign of Slim. “Where’s Slim?” I asked.

  “Goin’ to the car.”

  “Why aren’t you with her?”

  “She said it’s okay.”

  “Slim said you could come with us?” I asked.

  “Yeah.”

  “She did not,” Rusty said.

  “Did so.”

  Fat chance, I thought. Keeping it to myself, I asked, “How’d you get away from her?”

  Bitsy smiled. It gave me a creepy feeling. “I just said how I had to take a leak. That got her to let go of my hand, so then I ran away.”

  “Slim could’ve caught you easy,” Rusty said.

  “She did. And she ripped my dress and we fell down and I got hurt. So then she climbed offa me and said she was sorry.”

  That sounded like Slim, all right.

  “And I was crying and saying how all I wanted was to go see the Vampire Show like everyone promised, but she said I shouldn’t on account of I might get hurt and I said how I didn’t care. So then she was gonna make me come with her anyhow. She pulled me off the ground and I tried to get away again but she wouldn’t let go, so then I called her a name and she let go.”

  “Called her what?” I asked.

  “Nothing,” she muttered.

  “What?”

  Bitsy muttered, “A dirty whore.”

  “You called Slim a whore?”

  Her voice a quiet whimper, she said, “Yeah.”

  Back in those days, you never heard the “c” word. I didn’t, anyway. “Whore” was the worst thing anyone ever called a girl, and you rarely heard that. It’s a commonplace word now, used in everyday speech, in comedy routines, all over the place. But not then. Back then, it was a dark, vile word. Calling a girl a “whore” was as lowdown as you could get.

  I had a tight feeling in my throat—and an urge to punch Bitsy in the face.

  “What’d you wanta call her that for?” I asked.

  “Just to make her let go.”

  “She’s always been your friend.”

  In a stronger voice, Bitsy said, “I wanted her to let go of me.”

  “That was really lousy,” I told her.

  Softly, she murmured, “I know. I’m sorry.”

  “Real neat play, fatso,” Rusty said.

  “So what happened after you called Slim that name?” I asked.

  “She let go. She says ‘You wanta go with Dwight so bad, go. And go to hell while you’re at it.’ So then she let me have my ticket. I told her thanks and she said ‘Fuck you.’”

  “Sure she did,” Rusty muttered.

  “She did.”

  I’d never heard the word come from Slim’s mouth. I doubted she’d said it to Bitsy, but the worthless bitch had just called her a dirty wh
ore so maybe Slim had used that language back at her.

  “What happened then?” I asked. “After she called you that.”

  “Nothin’. I came looking for you.”

  “Where’d Slim go?”

  “I don’t know. Back to the car?”

  I just stared at Bitsy. It was a good thing there wasn’t enough light for her to see the look in my eyes. Turning to Rusty, I said, “I’ve gotta go and find Slim.”

  “Hey, no. Come on, man.”

  “You can’t,” Bitsy whined.

  I looked at her. “Wanta bet?”

  “You’ll miss the show,” Rusty said.

  “Screw the show.”

  Bitsy went, “Dwiiiight.”

  I pushed myself up to my hands and knees. As I started to back away, Bitsy clutched my right arm with both hands.

  “Let go,” I said, keeping my voice low.

  “Stay. Y’gotta stay.”

  “Bitsy, let go!”

  “No!”

  I wrenched my arm out of her grip, then whirled around on my hands and knees. Just as I was about to scurry off, a hand tugged at a seat pocket of my jeans and Bitsy said, “What about Lee?”

  I stopped.

  “You gotta find Lee, don’t you?”

  “Yeah,” Rusty said. “You left her a note and everything. You can’t just not show up.”

  Bitsy gave my pocket a couple of pulls. “Slim’s just going back to the car, anyways. She doesn’t need you.”

  Chapter Forty-seven

  I looked around at Bitsy. She was on her knees, leaning toward me, left arm bracing her up while her right arm was extended toward my rear end. Behind her, a few cars were moving slowly toward their parking places. People were walking toward the bleachers. I saw a couple of the black-shirt gang waving flashlights.

  Nobody seemed to be aware of us.

  “Take your hand out of my pocket,” I said.

  She took it out. “Don’t go,” she whispered. “Please.”

  “Rusty, you’re the one who’s so hot to see the show. Why don’t you and Bitsy go ahead? Keep an eye out for Lee. If you find her, stick with her. I’ve gotta make sure Slim’s okay.”

  “Slim’s fine,” Bitsy insisted.

  “I’ll know that when I see her.”

  Rusty suddenly said, “I’m not gonna go to the vampire show with my sister. Screw that. I’m coming with you.”

  “No,” Bitsy whined. “Never mind Slim. We gotta see the Vampire Show.”

  “Forget it,” Rusty said.

  Next thing I knew, all three of us were crawling through the forest away from Janks Field and the Traveling Vampire Show.

  Fine, I thought. Now nobody gets to see it.

  We never should’ve tried in the first place, I thought. The whole thing had been a rotten idea from the very start and we’d been in trouble of one kind or another all day long because of the stupid show.

  I was glad we wouldn’t be seeing it.

  When we were a safe distance from Janks Field, we stood up. I led the way, moving carefully though the dark woods. Bitsy walked close behind me and Rusty followed her.

  “Hold up a minute,” Rusty said.

  I stopped and turned around.

  So did Bitsy.

  Rusty said, “Here’s good.”

  “Good for what?” I asked.

  “This.” He leaped forward, grabbed Bitsy by the front of her dress with one hand and smashed her in the stomach with the other. The sound was like punching a raw steak. Her breath whooshed out and she started to fold over. “Nuffa you!” he blurted, and slugged her again.

  “Rusty!”

  “Stay outa this.”

  Before I could make a move to help her, Rusty drove his fist into her belly again and again, very fast. Then he let go and staggered backward. Bitsy sank to her knees. Doubled over, she whined and sucked air. Her head was almost touching the ground.

  “Jesus, Rusty,” I muttered.

  “She had it coming.”

  “God!”

  “She asked for it. She’s been askin’ for it all day. Got no business messin’ with us.”

  “You didn’t have to do that!”

  “Yeah, yeah.” He stepped behind Bitsy, grabbed her hair and pulled. With a squeal, she struggled to her feet. She and Rusty looked vague in the darkness, but I could see that Bitsy’s dress was open, hanging off one shoulder. Her skin was a pale shade of gray, her nipple a black smudge. “Wanta take a swing at her?” Rusty asked me.

  “Hell, no. Are you nuts?”

  “Come on, man. She called Slim a dirty whore. You gonna let her get away with that?”

  “I’m not gonna hit her.”

  “Chicken,” he said.

  “Leave her alone.”

  “Sure. Soon as she leaves us alone.” He jerked her hair. She squeaked and went up on tiptoes. Mouth close to her ear, Rusty said, “You gonna leave?”

  “Huh-uh.”

  “Wanta bet?”

  “Rusty,” I said.

  “It’s okay, pal. She’s gonna go back to the car. Aren’t you, Bitsy?”

  “No.”

  “Yes you are.”

  “No I’m not.”

  “You’re not coming with us.”

  “Am, too.”

  “You’re gettin’ one chance,” Rusty said. Turning her so she faced the general direction of Route 3, he let go of her hair and shoved her. She stumbled a few steps, then fell to her hands and knees. “Now go!”

  She stayed there for a while, her head drooping toward the ground. Then she pushed herself up and turned around.

  “I don’t see you leaving,” Rusty said.

  “Dwiiiiiight.” Though she spoke my name, it sounded as if she were saying, “Why are you letting this happen to me?”

  “You’d better go back and wait in the car,” I said.

  “But I wanta…come with.”

  “It isn’t safe. That’s why Slim changed her mind.”

  “You’re going.”

  “We’re guys. It’s different.”

  “Now get your fat ass outa here,” Rusty said, “or you’re really gonna get it.”

  She slowly shook her head.

  “That’s it,” Rusty muttered. He started toward her.

  “Dwight!”

  “Just go,” I told her.

  “No.” She raised an arm and pointed straight at Rusty. “Better not,” she said. “I’m gonna tell.”

  “Famous last words,” Rusty said.

  “Dwight!”

  I just stood there and let it happen. It was her own fault. We’d told her to leave. And told her and told her. So I just stood there. It made me feel a little sick, just standing there and watching, but she had it coming. On top of everything else, she’d called Slim a dirty whore.

  When Rusty was done, Bitsy lay sprawled on her back, wheezing and sobbing.

  He stood over her. Gasping for air, he said, “Want more?”

  She didn’t answer. Probably couldn’t. He turned around and staggered toward me. “Let’s go, man.”

  Side by side, we headed for Janks Field. I looked back a couple of times. The first time, Bitsy was still flat on the ground. The next time, she was propped up on her elbows, watching us.

  “Don’t go ’n leave meeeeee,” she whined.

  Stopping, I called, “Go back to the car.”

  “I wanta come with!”

  “No.”

  “But Dwiiiiight!”

  I kept going, and hurried to catch up with Rusty.

  “Dwiiiiight, don’t leave me! Pleeeeese.”

  I called over my shoulder, “Shut up!” and sounded a lot like Rusty.

  “Bitch,” Rusty muttered.

  I slugged him in the arm.

  “OW!” He cringed away, clutching where I’d punched him. “What’d ya do that for?”

  “Just felt like it,” I said.

  “Jeez.”

  “Bastard.”

  “Got rid of her, didn’t I?”

/>   “You didn’t have to beat her up.”

  “Got the job done.”

  “You’re gonna be in so much trouble. You and me both.”

  “Yeah, well, screw it. She asked for it and I gave it to her.”

  “There’s no way she’s gonna keep her mouth shut after that.”

  “Let her tell. It’s what she’s good at. But you know what? Nobody’s gonna nail us for it tonight. By the time she blabs, we’ll already’ve seen the Vampire Show…without her.”

  As we came to Janks Field, I noticed that it didn’t seem as bright as before. I ducked behind a tree and peered around the trunk. In the few minutes we’d been away, so many cars and pickups had shown up that the field was almost packed. Soon, there would be no more space. The dirt road would end up jammed, maybe all the way out to Route 3. Just like the night of Fargus Durge’s boxing spectacular.

  “Come on,” Rusty said and stepped out of the woods.

  “Wait.”

  He didn’t wait.

  Nobody seemed to be nearby, so I went out after him and we rushed in among the parked vehicles. They were crowded close together. Staying low to avoid being spotted, we couldn’t see where we were going. I simply followed Rusty. He led us through a dark, narrow labyrinth, gravel and bits of broken glass crunching under our shoes.

  When we came upon a pickup truck, I wondered if it might be Lee’s. It seemed to be a dark color, maybe red. But as I crept past the open passenger window of its cab, out came a reek of stale cigarettes.

  Lee didn’t smoke. The cab of her pickup always smelled as good as she did.

  At the rear of the truck, a VW van blocked our way. We cut to the left and climbed over some bumpers before coming to another straightaway.

  Crouched low between a couple of cars, Rusty looked back at me. “We’re home free now,” he said.

  “Huh?”

  “Bitsy’ll never find us now. If she even tries.”

  “You think she’d try?”

  “Wouldn’t put nothin’ past her, the dumb twat.” He chuckled quietly, then moved on.

  Every so often, we came upon pickup trucks. None seemed to be Lee’s, though. Which didn’t mean her truck wasn’t there. So far, we hadn’t even stumbled upon the red pickup that we knew had arrived. We saw nothing much except what was beside us and straight in front of us.

  About halfway through the labyrinth, we came upon a big old black Cadillac.

 
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