The traveling vampire sh.., p.31
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.31
 

           Richard Laymon

  “I see,” Stryker said. And the way he smiled…

  He knows everything, I thought. Knows it’s a lie, knows Lee isn’t coming because he’s already been to her house and knows exactly where she is.

  Glaring into his eyes, I thought, What have you done to Lee?

  Smiling into my eyes, he seemed to be thinking, Wouldn’t you like to know?

  He turned his smile on Vivian. “We’ll make an exception to the age rule for my two friends here. See that they have excellent seats, will you?”

  “Yes, sir,” Vivian said.

  “And stay with them until their friends arrive.”

  She nodded.

  “Enjoy the show, boys.” Stryker closed the door, shutting out the tight.

  “Come with me,” Vivian said.

  As we walked behind her, Rusty cast a smile at me. A very smug one, as if he had single-handedly made it possible for us to see the show.

  In a way, he was right.

  I wanted to slug him.

  “You’ve really done it now,” I muttered.

  “Hey, man, we’re gonna see it.”

  “Yeah, right.”

  “Valeria, here we come.”

  Didn’t he realize we were now prisoners? Didn’t he realize Stryker knew about Slim witnessing the death of the dog? She must’ve been seen, or why had Stryker thought to call her a spunky tomboy? And most of all, didn’t Rusty catch on that Stryker had been to Lee’s house? The bastard knew she wouldn’t be showing up tonight.

  What if he killed her?

  An image filled my mind of Lee down on her elbows and knees, naked, Stryker driving a spear…

  No, I thought. She’s fine. She has to be fine. Maybe she’s his prisoner and we’ll be able to rescue her. Maybe she’s tied up on the bus, or…

  “Oh, man,” Rusty muttered.

  We followed Vivian past the other ticket-taker and into the bright lights. With the noise, it was like entering a football stadium. A very small one. I walked beside Rusty, keeping my head down, hoping nobody would notice us.

  I guess you’d call it the ostrich principle; if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.

  Of course, I knew it was foolish. Even as we walked past the front of the bleachers, dozens of Grandville locals were certain to be watching us. Probably pointing us out to each other. Hey, look, there’s the Thompson boy. And Rusty Simmons, too. What’re they doing here? Didn’t anyone tell ’em this is “adults only” entertainment? You can bet your bottom dollar their FOLKS don’t know about this.

  Within a day or two, Mom and Dad would be hearing about it from everyone in town.

  I’d be grounded. Worse, I’d be humiliated. My parents had always trusted me to follow their rules. I often didn’t follow their rules, but I rarely got caught at it.

  This time, I’d be caught big time. Everything would come out. Well, maybe not everything, but enough.

  I heard my dad saying, This is a real disappointment, Dwight.

  My mom was saying, Of all things, to take advantage of your father’s accident that way.

  Lee yelling, “DWIGHT! RUSTY! UP HERE!”

  Lee’s voice was real.

  My head jerked up and turned. I searched the faces of the audience. Saw so many familiar ones. Neighbors, store clerks, teachers, friends of my parents…

  “DWIGHT! HEY, DWIGHT! UP HERE!”

  This time, I found the source of the voice.

  There stood Lee, about halfway to the top of the bleachers, waving her arms overhead.

  Chapter Fifty

  “Holy shit,” Rusty said.

  I couldn’t believe it, myself. But the woman in the stands was Lee, all right. When she saw that we’d spotted her, she lowered one arm and waved with the other, beaming a smile down at us.

  My eyes filled with tears, I was so glad to see her alive and free.

  Rusty tapped Vivian on the shoulder. She looked back at us. “Our friends are already here,” he announced.

  Vivian frowned.

  “Up there.” Rusty pointed.

  Vivian looked.

  “The blonde in the blue shirt,” Rusty said.

  Nodding, Lee smiled and patted herself on the chest as if to say, Yeah, it’s me. I’m their adult.

  “That’s your friend?” Vivian asked.

  “Yeah,” Rusty said.

  “That’s her,” I threw in.

  “I thought there was supposed to be a girl with her?”

  “She’s probably wandering,” Rusty said. “She’s my sister. A real pain in the butt.”

  The missing girl wasn’t his sister, she was Slim. The switch was just part of his lie, but it annoyed me. Maybe because I didn’t like to be reminded of Bitsy. Maybe because I wished Slim were with us. It was her choice to stay behind, I reminded myself. She never really wanted to see the vampire show, anyway.

  But I wanted her to see it…wanted her sitting beside me.

  Slim on one side, Lee on the other.

  “Okay, guys,” Vivian said. “Go on ahead.”

  We both thanked Vivian. She stepped around us and headed away.

  Apparently, I’d been wrong about us being prisoners.

  I’d been wrong about a lot.

  Rusty and I trotted up the nearest section of bleacher stairs. When we were level with Lee, I stepped into the row and waded toward her, audience knees on one side, heads and backs on the other. A few people nearby said, “Hi, Dwight,” and “Hey, young man,” and so on. I smiled, nodded, and greeted some of them by name.

  Sitting two rows up was Dolly Desmond, the dispatcher. She didn’t say hi, though. Just glared at me and Rusty.

  We’ve had it for sure, I thought.

  But it suddenly didn’t bother me. Not very much, anyway. Trouble with Mom and Dad about coming to the Vampire Show didn’t seem very significant anymore. Kid stuff. Not worth worrying about, now that I’d found out Lee was safe.

  She had spread a folded blanket over about six feet of the bench to save space for us. She was sitting in the middle, her purse by her left hip. It was the brown leather purse we’d last seen in her kitchen.

  The one Slim had searched.

  I stepped past Lee, brushing against her knees, and sat on the blanket near her right side.

  Rusty sat on her left.

  She looked great. Her long, blond hair hung behind her in a ponytail. She had no makeup on, and looked about nineteen years old. She was wearing a blue chambray shirt, white shorts and white sneakers. The shirt didn’t have any sleeves. Its top couple of buttons were open, and it was so short that it didn’t quite reach the waist of her shorts. The shorts were white, small, and tight. Her white sneakers looked brand new, and she didn’t have any socks on.

  She watched the way I looked her over. “I’m glad to see you, too,” she said, smiling. Then she turned her head. “And you, Rusty.”

  “Thanks, Mrs. Thompson.”

  “I’ve been looking for you guys. Thought you would’ve been here before me.”

  “We walked in from the highway,” I explained.

  “To avoid the parking tie-up?”

  I nodded.

  “No wonder I got here first,” she said. Turning again to Rusty, she asked, “What happened to your arm?”

  “Aaah, nothing. Some crappy little poodle took a bite outa me.”

  “A dog bit you?”

  “Yeah. When we were coming through the parked cars.”

  “The same dog as this morning?”

  “Nah. Different one.”

  “It’s been a bad day for dogs,” I remarked.

  “I’ll say,” Lee said. “You’d better see a doctor about it, Rusty. You might need shots or something.”

  “Rabies shots,” I added.

  A disgusted look on his face, he said, “Yeah, I know.”

  “Are you all right?” I asked Lee.

  “I’m fine.” She spoke as if everything were perfectly ordinary. “Where’s Slim?”

  “Waiting in her car.”
<
br />   “What for?”

  “Just…she didn’t want to…where were you? We were over at your house and…”

  Nodding, she said, “I got your note.”

  “We thought something had happened to you.” I almost got through the sentence before my voice broke and tears again filled my eyes.

  “Oh, God,” Lee murmured. She leaned against me and put a hand on my back. “I was fine, honey. I just went out, that’s all. I never expected you to show up so early.”

  Sounding amused, Rusty said, “Dwighty here, he had you kidnapped and murdered.”

  Not trusting myself to speak, I nodded.

  “Your truck was still there,” Rusty explained. “Same with your purse.”

  “I…thought Stryker got you.”

  “Jeez.” She rubbed my back. “I’m so sorry. I just went down to the river, that’s all. It’s such a wonderful, windy night. I sat out on the end of the dock to enjoy the weather and have myself a little cocktail.”

  “My God,” I said. I’d almost looked for her there. “But the screen door was locked.”

  “The back screen? Was it?” She frowned and shrugged. “I must’ve gone out the front.” She was silent for a few seconds, then nodded. “Yeah, I did go out the front Sat on the stoop for a few minutes before I got the idea to see what the river was doing.”

  “Man,” Rusty said, and chuckled.

  Lee rubbed my back some more. “I’m so sorry, honey. I had no idea…”

  “That’s okay,” I said. “We shouldn’t have shown up so early.” Why had we gone to her house so early? It took me a moment to remember. Then I explained, “We were worried about you. That’s why we didn’t wait till ten-thirty. I was afraid Stryker was gonna try something…”

  “Because I gave him that check?”

  A few other reasons, too—but Bitsy, not Stryker, had turned out to be the culprit behind most of them. I didn’t want to get into all that with Lee.

  “I guess it was mostly because of the check,” I told her.

  “I pay with checks all the time,” she said.

  “But Stryker’s so creepy.”

  She smiled gently. “Oh, I don’t know.”

  “He is.”

  “He’s a pretty bad guy,” Rusty affirmed.

  “And he…he likes you.”

  “That’s not so terrible. He probably wouldn’t have sold us the tickets if he hadn’t liked me.”

  “You know what I mean.”

  “Dwight thinks he’s got the hots for you.”

  “He does,” I said.

  Looking mildly amused, Lee said, “Well, that may be so, but he never tried anything. I haven’t even spoken to him since you and I were out here.”

  I stared at her.

  “And he hasn’t spoken to me. I did see him selling tickets on my way in, but he looked really busy so I didn’t bother him. And he didn’t bother me. I don’t think he even noticed me. I figured he must’ve already let you guys in…So why isn’t Slim here?”

  “It’s her time of the month,” Rusty proclaimed.

  I couldn’t believe my ears. I wanted to kill him.

  “She got it all of a sudden on our way over.”

  “Rusty!” I gasped.

  He leaned forward and smiled at me. “It’s all right, pal. I’m sure Lee knows all about this sorta thing.”

  “Does Slim need…anything?” Lee asked. She seemed a little flustered, herself.

  “You mean like a tampon?”

  Lee nodded.

  “Nah. She had some in her glove compartment. She walked off into the trees to put one on. Dwight and me, we waited in the car so as not to embarrass her.”

  If Slim ever heard about this, I wouldn’t have to kill Rusty—she would beat me to it.

  “So where is she now?”

  “Back in the car, waiting for us.”

  Lee looked at me, frowning. Apparently, she wasn’t completely buying Rusty’s tale.

  I shrugged.

  She gave Rusty a perplexed look.

  “You can’t go to a vampire show when you’ve got your period,” Rusty said, sounding exasperated by the need to explain something so obvious.

  Lee looked at him as if he were nuts. She said, “Huh?”

  “A vampire show? Your period? Blood! Get it?”

  “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Lee said.

  Rusty raised his right hand. “I kid you not.”

  “Jesus H. Christ,” Lee muttered.

  Rusty’s eyes bulged. “It’s not your time of the month, is it?”

  She choked out a laugh. “As if I’m going to discuss that with you.”

  “Well, if it is…”

  “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE?”

  Chapter Fifty-one

  Though the loud speakers hissed and crackled, I knew the voice. It belonged to Julian Stryker.

  For the first time since entering the stadium, I turned my eyes to the arena. There stood Stryker on top of a canvas object that looked like some sort of large, rectangular tent. About ten feet high, maybe twenty feet long and wide, it took up most of the arena. The wind shook the canvas walls with a sound that reminded me of sailboats on the river.

  It blew Stryker’s long black hair and fluttered his shirt. His loose black shirt, half unbuttoned, gleamed in the stadium lights. His black leather pants looked as if they’d been oiled. He held a microphone in one hand, and turned slowly like the ringmaster of a circus. As he turned, the microphone in his right hand picked up the jangle of his spurs.

  “WELCOME TO THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW!”

  Some polite applause came from the audience.

  “MY NAME IS JULIAN STRYKER. I AM THE OWNER OF THE SHOW AND YOUR MASTER OF CEREMONIES FOR TONIGHT’S EXTRAVAGANZA.”

  Lee nudged me, grinned, and said, “Extravaganza!”

  ‘“TONIGHT, YOU’LL FEAST YOUR EYES ON THE WORLD’S ONE AND ONLY KNOWN VAMPIRE IN CAPTIVITY…A DIRECT DESCENDENT OF THE GREAT COUNT DRACULA HIMSELF…THE GORGEOUS AND DEADLY VALERIA!”

  More applause, along with some whispers and titters.

  Stryker raised his arms for silence.

  When the audience quieted down, he continued, “NOT LONG AGO, VALERIA ROAMED THE WILD REACHES OF THE TRANSYLVANIAN ALPS, FALLING UPON PEASANTS AT NIGHT, SINKING HER TEETH INTO THEIR THROATS AND DRAINING THE BLOOD FROM THEIR BODIES. AT MY RANCH IN ARIZONA, I KNEW NOTHING OF THESE STRANGE, UNGODLY MURDERS. NOT UNTIL THE NEWS ARRIVED THAT MY OWN UNCLE AND HIS FAMILY HAD BEEN VICIOUSLY SLAIN IN THEIR HOME NEAR BUDAPEST. LEARNING OF THIS, I UNDERTOOK AN EXPEDITION TO BRING THEIR SLAYER TO JUSTICE.

  “FOR THREE LONG YEARS, MY TEAM AND I SEARCHED FOR THE VAMPIRE KNOWN AS VALERIA. GUIDED BY REPORTS OF EACH NEW ATROCITY, WE SLOWLY CLOSED IN ON HER. AT LAST, WE TRACKED VALERIA TO HER MOUNTAIN LAIR. WE ENTERED AFTER DAYLIGHT AND FOUND HER SLEEPING—AS IF DEAD—INSIDE HER COFFIN.

  “THOUGH I HAD EVERY INTENTION OF PUTTING VALERIA TO DEATH, I FOUND MYSELF OVERWHELMED BY HER BEAUTY AND WAS UNABLE TO PERFORM THE DREADFUL TASK. STILL, SHE HAD TO BE STOPPED. I COULD NOT ALLOW HER TO CONTINUE HER RUTHLESS CAMPAIGN OF MURDER. AT LAST, WITH THE AID OF A WISE MAN WELL VERSED IN THE ARTS OF MESMERISM, I GAINED CONTROL OVER VALERIA’S MIND AND THUS ENSLAVED HER TO MY WILL.

  “AND SO I REMOVED HER FROM HER NATIVE TRANSYLVANIA AND BROUGHT HER TO MY OWN COUNTRY…OUR COUNTRY, YOURS AND MINE, AMERICA.”

  Good patriots, most of the people in the bleachers cheered and applauded.

  When the noise subsided, Stryker continued his speech. “UNFORTUNATELY, DUE TO HER BLOOD-THIRSTY NATURE, VALERIA IS NOT A WELCOME GUEST IN OUR LAND. LIKE THE WANDERING JEW, SHE MUST FOREVER CONTINUE HER TRAVELS, NEVER STOPPING LONG ENOUGH TO REST, NEVER FINDING A HOME. AND SO WE ARE HERE TONIGHT, PAUSING BRIEFLY ON OUR JOURNEY TO PROVIDE YOU GOOD FOLKS WITH A CHANCE TO VIEW AN ACTUAL VAMPIRE…VIEW HER AND MORE!”

  While he paused, I heard whispers hissing through the audience.

  Then he said, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I’LL MAKE YOU WAIT NO LONGE
R. HERE SHE IS! THE WORLD’S ONLY LIVING VAMPIRE IN CAPTIVITY! THE LOVELY! THE LETHAL! THE MOUTH-WATERING TEMPTRESS OF TRANSYLVANIA! VALERIA!”

  He flung his arms high and the audience erupted. As we clapped and cheered, several members of his black-shirted crew hurried into the arena. For the first time, I noticed that ropes were hanging down the canvas walls…three on my side of the enclosure and three (I assumed) on the opposite side.

  Each of the ropes was picked up by a member of Stryker’s crew. I spotted Vivian in the arena with the center rope from our side. She and the others walked backward, pulling. The ropes came off the ground, lifted away from the canvas, and stretched taut to the place where they were secured on top of the enclosure.

  Stryker swung his arms down. It was a signal.

  Vivian and the others tugged their ropes.

  “VALERIA!” Stryker cried out.

  All around him, crackling and whapping, the sheets of canvas fell to the ground.

  Stryker was standing atop a steel cage. Its roof and every side were made of thick bars like a jail. It was raised a couple of feet off the ground on cinder blocks. It seemed to have a floor of some kind—maybe wood over more bars. Whatever the floor was, it seemed to be covered by a foot-thick layer of dirt.

  Near the center of the floor lay a simple, wooden casket. Its lid was shut.

  I took my eyes away from the coffin for a moment and looked around. Every spectator seemed to be staring at it.

  For a while, the only sound came from the wind blowing through the trees around Janks Field.

  Hands on hips, Stryker gazed down through the bars.

  “VALERIA!” he shouted. “ARISE!”

  The coffin lid flew off as if kicked. I flinched. So did people all around me. Most of the audience seemed to gasp. A few people let out startled squeals. The coffin lid flipped over a couple of times and hit the dirt floor. Dust drifted up and blew away.

  Valeria sat up very slowly as if in a trance.

  At first, I could only see her in profile. Then, very slowly, she turned her head away. She seemed to be studying the audience in the bleachers across from ours. While she did that, I studied the thick, black hair flowing down her back.

  Slowly, her head turned to the front, then to our side.

 
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