The traveling vampire sh.., p.30
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.30

           Richard Laymon

  Chapter Forty-eight

  Parked close behind some sort of boxy delivery truck, the Cadillac took us by surprise. There it suddenly was, its front bumper close enough to touch.

  Rusty must’ve noticed it an instant before I did. He gasped and dropped to his knees. At first, I didn’t know what was wrong. I thought maybe someone had spotted us. Then I saw the hood ornament and felt as if my wind had been knocked out.

  I hit the ground behind Rusty.

  Twisting his head around, he whispered, “Is it it?”


  “You sure?”

  “Pretty sure.”

  “Anyone in it?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Rusty moaned. “What if they’re in it?”

  “Got your knife?” Even as I asked, I shoved a hand down the front pocket of my jeans and wrapped it around Slim’s folding knife.

  Rusty reached back under the hanging tail of his shirt and pulled out Slim’s sheath knife.

  I opened my blade. My hands were shaking. “They’re probably in the stands,” I whispered.

  “They better be.”

  I raised my head. The windshield had no glare. A pale glow from the grandstands lit up the rear window so I could see straight through the car.

  If I’d found the twins staring back at me from the front seat, I probably would’ve dropped dead. Or at the very least filled my jeans. Instead, I let my breath out.

  “It’s okay,” I whispered. “They’re gone.”

  Rusty took a look for himself. Then he muttered, “Thank God.”

  We started forward again, moving through the narrow space between the side of the Cadillac and the station wagon beside it.

  I suddenly got an idea. It sent a jolt of fear through me. Fear and excitement.

  “Rusty, wait.”

  He stopped and looked around at me. “Huh?”

  “Think it’s really their car?” I whispered.

  “Must be.”

  “Yeah. Look. I’m gonna check it out. Maybe we can find out who they are.”

  “But the show.”

  “Screw the show. Anyway, it’s not gonna start for a while. Wait here.” I switched the knife to my left hand. With my right, I reached up for the handle of the passenger door.

  “Are you nuts?”

  “Shhh. Keep an eye out. Yell if anyone comes.”

  The door wasn’t locked. I opened it. No lights came on. Cigarette stink filled my nostrils. When I climbed into the car, stuff slid and crunched under my feet. There seemed to be a lot of junk on the floor in front of the seat. Magazines or maps, bags, food wrappers, maybe some small boxes. I couldn’t see much in the darkness, but that was the impression I got.

  I sat down and opened the glove compartment. It was full. I took out some cigarette packs, matches, maps, napkins, rubber gloves like my mom usually wore when she washed the dishes.

  Rubber gloves.

  I kept on searching, pausing to look at papers, hoping to find the car registration. There didn’t seem to be anything of the sort, but I found an ice pick with a wooden handle.

  “Jeez,” I muttered.

  “What?” Rusty asked through the door.

  “An ice pick.”

  “Let’s get outa here,” Rusty said.

  I put Slim’s knife back into my pocket. Keeping the ice pick, I crawled out of the car. I eased its door shut and showed the pick to Rusty.

  “Nasty,” he said.


  “Gonna keep it?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “These’ve gotta be our guys.”

  “Oh, yeah.”

  “Find out who they are?”

  I shook my head. “There’s probably something with their names on it, but…too much crap in there. And it’s too dark to see anything. Maybe if we took everything with us…”

  “Forget it.”

  “Anyway, that’d take a gunny sack.”

  “Let’s just get going,” Rusty said.


  “Now what?”

  “We can make sure it stays here. The car, everything in it.” I grinned. “Maybe them, too. The twins.”


  Instead of trying to explain, I scurried over to the right front tire and rammed the ice pick into its side. The point punched easily through the rubber. I shoved the shaft in deep, then jerked it free. Air chased it out, hissing.

  “Terrific,” Rusty muttered.

  At the front of the Cadillac, I checked for a license plate. There wasn’t one. I opened the hood and propped it up. Leaning inside, I poked holes in all the hoses I could find. And I removed the radiator cap and gave it a toss into the darkness. Silently, I shut the hood.

  I crouched by the left front tire, jabbed it with the ice pick, then hurried to the rear tire and gave it the same treatment.

  No back plate, either.

  I stabbed the right rear tire.

  Looking up, I saw Rusty shake his head. “Now can we go see the show?” he asked.

  “Yeah, I guess so.” I rubbed the pick with my shirt tail to get my fingerprints off its handle, then tossed it under the Cadillac.

  We moved on.

  Rusty led the way, and I kept an eye out for Lee’s pickup. We made good progress. Everything went okay for a while. But as we were sneaking alongside a Volkswagen, I glimpsed pale movement in its driver’s seat. Couldn’t see what it was, but I blurted, “Watch out!”

  Not knowing what the problem was, Rusty stopped and twisted around to look back at me. The twisting swept his face past the open window.

  “No! Get…!”

  But he kept turning, luckily. His right upper arm, not his face, caught the dog’s teeth. They clamped him through his shirt. He cried out in pain and lurched away.

  The dog, hanging on, flew out of the car window. Might’ve been a white poodle. What they call a “toy.” It looked like a toy, all right. Like a kid’s stuffed doggie doll. But it growled like a real dog.

  It swung by its jaws as Rusty twirled. “Get it off! Get it off!”

  I tried to grab it, but it swung by too fast. And then it lost its hold, sailed off, and slammed against the shut window of the Chevy that was parked beside the VW. The dog yipped, bounced off the window and fell to the ground at Rusty’s feet. He tried to kick it, but missed.

  To get away from us, it scurried underneath the Chevy. About half a second later, it screamed.

  If dogs can scream, that’s what this one did—as if it had run into a nameless horror on the ground beneath the car.

  One quick shriek, then silence.

  Rusty and I stared at each other. His mouth was drooping open. He held Slim’s knife in his right hand while his left arm was across his chest, hand clutching his wound.

  We didn’t say anything, just stared at each other.

  No sounds at all came from under the Chevy.

  Rusty suddenly whirled around and took off. I went after him. We cut to the right, climbed over bumpers and hurried through a narrow gap.

  Rusty leaped over the side of an old gray pickup truck. I didn’t, but I hung onto the side and gasped for air. Sprawled on his back in the bed of the truck, he held his chomped arm while he panted.

  We were both too breathless to talk.

  From where I stood, I could see that we’d made our way across most of Janks Field. There was only one more row of parked vehicles before the BEER—SNACKS—SOUVENIRS stand.

  The shack was open, its door-sized flap raised and propped up at each end. It was brightly lighted inside. Julian Stryker in his shiny black shirt stood behind the counter, apparently selling tickets for the show. There must’ve been twenty people waiting in line. I recognized about half of them.

  I saw no twins.

  Lee wasn’t in the line, either. But why should she be? She already had her ticket. Maybe she was already in the bleachers.

  Or dead in the back of the hearse.

  Where is the hearse? I suddenly wo

  The Traveling Vampire Show’s hearse, the black moving van and the bus were nowhere in sight. Maybe they’d been moved to the area on the far side of the bleachers.

  Normally, I could look all the way through the stands and see whatever was over there. Normally, though, the stands were empty. Not tonight.

  Tonight, the nearest bank of bleachers, about twenty-five or thirty feet high, was jammed with people. Through the spaces above and below the bench seats, I could see the backs of their legs. But I couldn’t see much of the arena or the stands on the other side.

  Down on the ground, the ticket line looked no shorter but had a few different people in it. Several customers were entering the stands. Others were heading for the ticket line from the direction of the dirt road where they’d probably left their cars.

  “Hey,” Rusty said.

  I looked at him. He was still on his back, still clutching his arm, but now he had his knees up.

  “What the hell’s goin’ on?” he asked.

  “Stryker’s selling tickets…”

  “The dog, man, the dog.”

  “It’s a bad day for dogs,” I said.

  “What happened to it?”

  “How should I know? How’s your arm?”

  “How the hell y’think it is?” He took his hand away. The sleeve of his shirt, dark with blood, was clinging to his upper arm.

  “You’re gonna need rabies shots,” I said.

  “Awww, man. Don’t say that.”

  “And we’d better forget about trying to get into the Vampire Show.”


  “You can’t go in there. Not all bloody like that. The blood’ll bring vampires like chum brings sharks. You said so yourself.”


  “This morning. To Slim.”

  “Yeah, well…Screw that. I’m not gonna miss the show.” He lowered his knees, sat up and took off his shirt. Then he looked at his arm. “Can’t believe it,” he muttered. “Fuckin’ dogs.”

  I nodded, but he didn’t see me. He was too busy studying the holes in his arm.

  “What is it,” he grumbled, “a fuckin’ conspiracy?”

  I shrugged. “Just coincidences, I guess.”

  “A fuckin’ dog made your dad crash.”

  “Guess so.”

  “Not to mention the fuckin’ one-eyed wonder.”

  When he said that, I pictured that dog getting speared to death by Stryker and his gang.

  Where is his gang? I wondered.

  Looking around, I spotted a couple of them near the entrance to the grandstands, taking tickets. I didn’t see any others. Just those two, and Stryker in the shack.

  Rusty used his wadded shirt to pat the bite wounds.

  Just that morning, we’d tended to Slim’s wounds on the roof of the shack after escaping from a different dog.


  And if some other dog hadn’t caused Dad to crash his car, everything tonight would’ve happened differently. Much of it wouldn’t have happened at all.

  Including what went on with Slim and me.

  Very strange, I thought.

  “Y’wanta give me a hand?” Rusty asked.

  I softly clapped.

  “Har har.”

  So then I climbed over the side of the pickup truck and sat beside him. He thrust the bloody shirt at me. “Make me a bandage, okay?”

  “With your shirt?”

  “Why not? It’s wrecked anyways.”

  “It’s a day for wrecking shirts.”

  He frowned at me. “This has been a very weird fuckin’ day.”

  “You’re telling me.”

  I looked at his wounds. The poodle had left two small, curved rows of punctures near the back of his arm a few inches below his shoulder. Most of the bleeding was over, but they seemed to be leaking slightly. I tore a long strip off the back of Rusty’s shirt, then wrapped it around his upper arm. With another strip, I tied it in place. “There you go,” I said.


  I looked toward the shack. Stryker still stood behind the counter, but the ticket line had dwindled down to three people. A few others were straggling in from the area of the dirt road.

  “You sure you wanta go through with this?” I asked.

  As if there were any doubt.

  “You kidding me?” he said.

  “How’ll we get in?”

  “We got our tickets, man. Why not walk in like anybody else?”

  “We’re under age.”

  “BFD,” he said. I don’t think anyone says BFD anymore. In those days, it stood for “big fucking deal.”

  Chapter Forty-nine

  Rusty leaned over the tailgate of the pickup truck and stared at the ground. I knew why. He was thinking about the poodle, wondering what had gotten it and wondering if the same thing might make a try for him.

  So was I.

  “Whatever it is,” I said, “I guess it’s full.”

  “I don’t know, man. That was an awful small dog.”

  “Wanta stay here and listen to the Vampire Show?”

  He groaned, then leaped down. I jumped to the ground after him. Staying low, we rushed through the gap between a couple of cars. At the end of it, there were no more cars to conceal us. We stood up straight and walked toward the grandstands.

  Over to the right, people were still in line to buy tickets. More were on the way. Stryker seemed busy behind the counter. I wanted to watch him the whole time to make sure he never looked at us, but I had to keep glancing at the ground.

  In the glow of the stadium lights, the dirt looked pale gray. Broken glass glittered. Bumps and rocks cast dark shadows. Holes were blotches of blackness. I was looking for creatures. What I saw instead were cigarette butts, a mashed pack of Lucky Strikes, a flattened beer can, a dirty white sneaker…

  Slim’s sneaker?

  It might’ve been one of those Rusty had thrown at the one-eyed dog. I was tempted to pick it up. But it looked as if it had been run over. No telling what else had happened to it—maybe a spider had crawled in. Maybe if I reached down for it something would spring at my hand. Besides, what good would one sneaker do Slim?

  If Rusty saw the sneaker, he either didn’t recognize it or didn’t care. He kept on walking.

  I caught up to him.

  Just in front of us, a man and woman were about to encounter the ticket-takers. The man turned slightly and extended two tickets to a black-shirted member of Stryker’s crew.

  Rusty nudged me with his elbow, leaned toward me and whispered, “It’s Hearn.”

  Sure enough, the man in front of us was Mr. Hearn, a history teacher from our high school. I didn’t recognize the woman beside him, but figured she was probably his wife. Though we hadn’t taken any classes from Mr. Hearn, we’d seen him around school and knew who he was. He probably knew who we were, too.

  Everybody knew everybody.

  He hadn’t seen us yet, but…

  Recognizing someone from our town came as no surprise to me. I’d expected it. It was inevitable. Before, however, it had been inevitable in some sort of distant, abstract way. Now, it was real.

  Too real.

  Even if plenty of spectators had come to the show from places like Clarksburg and Bixton—from all over the county—we were bound to be surrounded by people from Grandville who would recognize us and spread the news.

  We’re gonna get in so much trouble!

  I stopped dead. Even as I reached for Rusty, he handed his ticket to one of Stryker’s gang.

  She was a slender, pale woman with straight black hair down to her shoulders. She wore a shiny black shirt and black leather pants. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she took Rusty’s ticket. Her lips were bright red. She smirked and said to Rusty, “You’re a big fella.”

  He nodded.

  She slid a fingertip down his bare chest. He squirmed and grinned. “Not eighteen, though, I bet.”

  “Sure I am.”

  She turned to me. “
And you.” Still smirking, she shook her head. “I’m sorry, boys, but this event is for adults only.”

  Thank God, I thought.

  Nodding, I was about to turn away.

  “We have special permission from Mr. Stryker,” Rusty said.

  Away went her smirk. To the other ticket-taker, she said, “I’ll be right back.” Then she stepped past us. “Come with me, boys.”

  Rusty started to follow her. I put my hand on his shoulder. His bare skin was hot and moist. He scowled back at me and kept walking.

  I tried to speak, but felt choked at first. Then I forced it out. “We don’t have to see the show, ma’am. If it’s a problem…”

  Rusty gave me a murderous glance.

  “If you’ve got Mr. Stryker’s okay,” the woman said, “it’s fine with me. They’re his rules.”

  Rusty’s turn to smirk.

  I gave him a murderous look. Didn’t he know we were being taken to see Stryker? Had he forgotten what Slim had told us? Or didn’t he care that this was the same guy who had rammed his spear up the butt of the one-eyed dog, picked it up with the spear and delivered it to the hearse?

  I glanced toward the parking area.

  If I made a run for it, would they come after me?

  Probably not. Not with all these people around. The trouble was, Rusty might not come after me, either.

  He really wanted to see the show.

  So I stuck with him. The woman led us to the side door of the shack and rapped on it with her knuckles. A moment later, it was opened by Stryker. Light spilled out around him. He frowned as if annoyed by the interruption.

  “Vivian?” he asked.

  “I’m sorry to bother you, Mr. Stryker, but these boys claim they’ve got your permission to see the show.” She stepped out of the way.

  Stryker’s eyes swept up and down Rusty. Looking somewhat disgusted, he shook his head. But when he saw me, his heavy black eyebrows slid upward and he smiled. “Ah, it’s you.”

  I nodded. My heart was thudding. I wanted to whip around and run like hell, but I just stood there.

  “Where are the others?” Stryker asked.

  I just gaped at him and struggled to breathe.

  “The lovely Lee Thompson and the spunky tomboy?”

  I collapsed inside.

  “They’re on their way, sir,” Rusty said. “We had to park pretty far off, so they sent us on ahead to save seats for ’em.”


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