The traveling vampire sh.., p.35
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.35

           Richard Laymon
 

  “You okay?” I asked.

  She nodded, her cheek sliding against my face. “How about you?” she asked.

  “Guess I’m okay.”

  “Am I crushing you?”

  “Nah.”

  “Maybe we’d better stay here for a few minutes. Give the crowd a chance to clear out.”

  I almost told her that I wanted to get up and check on Rusty…but then I remembered my last glimpse of him in the lightning flash. It made me feel a little sick.

  Valeria obviously wasn’t a vampire, after all. Just a beautiful woman with a very strange and dangerous job. And she hadn’t been playing ’possum, after all. She’d been stunned or out cold.

  You don’t do things to someone in that condition.

  You just don’t.

  Not even if she’s gorgeous and naked and pretends to be a vampire.

  I knew Rusty was always horny, always making crude remarks, always talking (when Slim wasn’t around) about how much he’d like to “do it” to this or that girl. Or “jump her bones” or “give her a taste of the one-eyed monster” or so on. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a shock to catch him doing that to Valeria.

  But it was.

  How did he even know how?

  The way he’d been going at her, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe he’d had some previous experience.

  No. He would’ve bragged about it.

  Unless the girl was…

  From somewhere behind the bleachers came a scream.

  Looking back toward Janks Field, all I could see was a pale glow given off by headlights. I was too high in the stands for a view of the ground or even the vehicles.

  “Glad we’re not mixed up in that,” Lee said.

  “Yeah.”

  “How you doing?”

  “Fine.”

  “You’re not squished yet?”

  “Nah. I’m okay.”

  “You make a pretty good mattress.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Maybe a little lumpy here and there.” She squirmed as if looking for a more comfortable position.

  All of a sudden, I was acutely aware of being flat on my back with Lee on top of me.

  Through her soaked, clinging shirt, my hands felt her back—and no bra straps. Her breasts were mashed against my chest. The way her belly touched mine, I could feel each breath she took. Her groin was tight against my crotch. Though we were thigh to thigh, her legs were slightly apart and squeezing mine together as if to hold herself in place.

  I started to get a boner.

  Squirming, I pushed at Lee. “We’d better get up.”

  “I’ll try.”

  She reached up to the bench with her right hand, pulled at it, shoved at my shoulder with her other hand, unclenched her thighs and managed to sit up on me, straddling my hips, her legs dangling off the sides.

  If anything, this position was worse for me. Didn’t she realize what she was sitting on?

  Didn’t she care?

  Maybe she liked it.

  Lightning flashed.

  Lee flinched again.

  For just a moment, through the slanting streaks of silver rain, I saw her sitting upright on top of me with her head turned toward the arena. Her soaked hair was flat against her head. Her face, shiny as oil, streamed with water. So did her bare arms. Her drenched shirt was half unbuttoned. It adhered to her body and took on the shapes of her breasts. Her stiff nipples pushed out the clinging fabric.

  I saw all this in the starkness of the lightning, a glare that probably lasted no more than a second but seemed to go on much longer. And just before the darkness returned, I saw Lee’s jaw drop open.

  “Oh, my God!” she gasped.

  “What?”

  “He’s down! She’s on him!”

  My insides cringed. I tried to sit up but I couldn’t—not the way Lee was sitting on me.

  She began to climb off. Trapped between the bleacher seats, her legs dangling, it was a struggle. Finally, she freed herself.

  The moment she was off me, I lurched upright and looked for Rusty. Whatever cars remained on Janks Field, their headlights weren’t pointing in our direction. All we had in the arena was darkness and pouring rain. I could hardly see the cage, but there seemed to be pale shapes inside it. They might’ve been naked bodies squirming in a tangle, but I couldn’t be sure.

  Lee dropped onto the bench in front of me, twisted around, reached out and squeezed my arm. “Let’s get down!”

  She helped me climb out from between the bleacher planks. Then, side by side, we hopped carefully but as fast as we dared down the slick boards like a couple of hikers leaping from rock to rock in an effort to cross a stream.

  No one was in our way.

  The stands on both sides of the arena looked empty. It seemed that everyone except us had already fled. By the sounds of engines and car horns and shouts, many of them were still in Janks Field, fighting the traffic jam.

  What’re the Cadillac twins up to?

  I hardly got a chance to start worrying about them, however, before several dark shapes hurried into the cage with a gurney.

  Then several more came running toward Lee and me.

  We almost reached the bottom of the bleachers before they stopped us.

  The man blocking our way said, “Show’s over, folks. Time to go home.”

  “We’re not going anywhere,” Lee said. “Not without my son.”

  “Your son, right.” Though I couldn’t make out the details of his face, he was obviously the same man who had stopped us the last time. “Go on, get outa here.”

  “You can’t make us,” I blurted. I was angry and scared. I needed to get past these people and stop the others from taking away Rusty. “This is public property. And anyway, my dad’s the chief of police. So you’d better just get out of our way.”

  “Sure, kid.”

  “Please,” Lee said to him. “We only want to…”

  I broke to the side, my feet somehow not flying out from under me, and leaped. One of the gang tried for me. I shouldered him or her out of the way, but the impact knocked me crooked. I managed to plant one foot on the bottom row of the bleachers and spring off. In midair, I saw several dark figures moving inside the cage…rolling the gurney. A pale body was sprawled on the gurney. Someone else stood nearby, hands on hips.

  Balance gone, I landed on the ground with a splash, stumbled and started to fall.

  I was caught by strong hands. They clamped me just below my armpits and hoisted me upright. After I was standing, they didn’t let go.

  “What seems to be the problem here?”

  It was the voice of Julian Stryker.

  “My friend,” I blurted. “They’re taking away my friend.” In case he didn’t know who I meant, I said, “Rusty. The one who…”

  “I know who he is,” Stryker said. “He’s been hurt. They’re taking him to an ambulance.”

  The sky suddenly trembled with lightning.

  Stryker’s mane of black hair was plastered to his head, his stark white face dripping and shiny, his lips crimson. So much like a beautiful woman, but rugged and craggy like a man. His silk shirt was clinging like ebony skin to his powerful shoulders and chest.

  In the last moment of brilliant light, I saw past Stryker’s side—the gurney gliding by, weighted down by Rusty.

  Rusty, naked except for his white socks. Chubby, pale, shiny.

  His arm was no longer bandaged.

  Where his arm had been nipped by the poodle, he now had a mouth-sized patch of gory pulp.

  The blood’ll bring vampires like chum brings sharks.

  Thunder rumbled.

  Darkness clamped down and Rusty was gone.

  Chapter Fifty-seven

  “Let go of me!” I shouted into Stryker’s face.

  “Just settle down.”

  “They’re taking him away!”

  “Nothing to worry about.”

  “Where’re they going?”

  Stryker ignored my
question. He called out, “Bring the woman here.”

  Over my shoulder, I looked for Rusty. No sign of him or the gurney or those who’d been bearing him away.

  But I saw Lee being led toward us, members of Stryker’s gang clutching both her arms. Though she struggled to pull free, they hung on. I realized that the rain was no longer falling so hard. It still poured down, but with less force than before. I could see better…

  Lee’s chambray shirt, sleeveless and hardly long enough to reach her waist, was no longer buttoned. Down its middle was a strip of skin the same dusky shade as her bare legs. Her white shorts looked like snow on a cloudy midnight.

  Stryker released my sides. Before I could make a move, however, he grabbed my upper right arm. “Just take it easy,” he said. “Everything’s fine.”

  “Like hell,” I said.

  “Let her go,” Stryker told his people.

  They released Lee’s arms. Facing Stryker, she said, “Now you let go of Dwight.”

  Stryker’s teeth showed. They were as white as Lee’s shorts.

  “Giving me orders?” he asked. But his hand dropped away from my arm.

  I almost took off to go after Rusty, but changed my mind. With half a dozen of Stryker’s gang spread out close behind us, I wouldn’t have gotten far.

  “We want Rusty back,” Lee said.

  “I’m afraid he was seriously injured in the competition, but we’ll see that he gets proper attention.”

  “We’ll take care of him,” Lee said.

  “He’s already being looked after.”

  “We’ll look after him.”

  “Where is he?” I demanded.

  Stryker’s head turned toward me. By the way the white showed, he was obviously smiling. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” he said.

  “Yes!”

  He chuckled.

  Lee took hold of my hand. “Come on, Dwight.”

  “We can’t leave without Rusty!”

  “Come on.” Her voice was firm.

  I had an urge to jerk my hand from her grip and refuse to leave, but then I realized she probably had a plan. Lee wasn’t a quitter.

  Maybe she figured we should leave peacefully, then double back and spy on the gang.

  Or maybe the plan was to hurry into town and come back with the police. My dad was in the hospital, but Grandville still had a police department of sorts. If necessary, they could bring reinforcements from the county sheriff and even the state troopers. We could come back in force and rescue Rusty.

  “Let them go,” Stryker ordered.

  His gang spread out.

  As we walked away from them, I looked over at the parking area. The structure of the bleachers blocked some of my view. So did the BEER—SNACKS—SOUVENIRS shack. But I could see plenty of Janks Field, anyway.

  Just about the only people still wandering around over there appeared to be members of Stryker’s crew. Equipped with flashlights, they were busy directing traffic. From the look of things, they’d been doing a good job. Though a few cars and pickups sat motionless as if abandoned, the field was mostly empty. A line of vehicles inched toward the mouth of the dirt road.

  Not an ambulance among them.

  No sign of Rusty, either.

  “What’re we gonna do?” I asked.

  “I’m not sure,” Lee said.

  “We can’t just leave Rusty.”

  “I know.”

  “I don’t think they’re sending him to a hospital. Or the others, either. I haven’t even seen an ambulance.”

  “Ambulances couldn’t get out of here, anyway,” Lee pointed out.

  When we rounded the end of the bleachers, I had a clear view of Janks Field. I spotted Lee’s pickup truck, the disabled Cadillac and a couple of other cars. And then I heard the jangle of spurs behind us.

  Something seemed to crumple inside me. “Uh-oh,” I muttered.

  “Lee! Dwight!”

  We stopped and turned around.

  “What is it that you want?” Stryker asked, sounding almost as if he’d forgotten. But you could tell by his voice that he was playing with us.

  “Rusty,” Lee said. “We just want Rusty.”

  “How badly?”

  In a solemn voice, Lee asked, “What’ve you got in mind?”

  “You give me what I want, I give you what you want.”

  “And what is it that you want?” Lee asked.

  “You and Valeria. Five minutes.”

  “What?”

  “In the cage.”

  “You want me to fight her?”

  “That’s the idea.”

  “Why? The show’s over. Everybody’s gone.”

  “Not everybody.” Stryker placed a hand on his own chest. “I love a good contest of strength and will. Frankly, I feel cheated. The show usually goes on for a couple of hours, at least.” He shrugged elaborately. “It was especially disappointing that our only challengers were men. I love to see an attractive woman take on Valeria. Warms the cockles of my heart.”

  Lightning flashed again. All I noticed was Stryker’s dripping, grinning face.

  When the darkness returned, he said, “Take her on. I know you’ll give us a great show.”

  I pulled at Lee’s hand. “Let’s get out of here.”

  She stayed put. “What if I don’t win?” she asked.

  “If you don’t win, my dear, Valeria will suck your blood.”

  Scared that Lee seemed to be considering it, I pulled harder at her hand. “Come on!” She didn’t budge.

  Thunder grumbled through the night. It came from a distance. Rain continued to fall, but I realized the worst of the storm had moved on.

  “What about Rusty?” she asked.

  “What about him?”

  “Do we get him even if I lose?”

  “Certainly.”

  “No!” I blurted. I wanted Rusty back, but not if it meant Lee getting ripped up by Valeria. “Are you crazy?”

  Lee turned her head toward me. “I’m the reason Rusty came here tonight. I bought the tickets, remember?”

  “I know, but…”

  “And I’m not leaving without him. Not if I can help it.”

  “Then we have a deal?” Stryker asked.

  “We have a deal,” said Lee.

  “You can’t fight her!”

  She gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze and said, “It’ll be all right.”

  “Leeeee!”

  “Don’t worry, honey. Please.”

  Stryker stepped away and spoke to some of his crew. Three of them went hurrying off through the rain. Two others came over to me.

  While Stryker stayed in the arena with Lee, I was led up the empty bleachers. My two guards were Vivian and a muscular man with a crewcut. They chose seats in the middle, about halfway up, and positioned themselves on both sides of me.

  From there, we would have the best view possible of the activities inside the cage.

  Vivian patted my leg. “This is gonna be good,” she said.

  I didn’t respond.

  “So who’s the lucky gal? Not your mom, is she?”

  I shook my head.

  “Didn’t think so. She looks way too young. What is she, your big sister?”

  I had no reason to tell this woman the truth, so I said, “Yeah, my sister.”

  “Good lookin’ gal,” said the guy on my right.

  Go to hell, I thought. But I didn’t say it. I’m not that stupid.

  “Your mom know you’re here?” Vivian asked.

  I shook my head again.

  “Bet your folks think you’re home in bed, don’t they?”

  “Maybe.”

  “Glad you came?”

  I frowned at her. “Not very.”

  “Bet your friend Rusty had himself a good time. For a while there, anyway…till Valeria put the bite on him.”

  Her attempt at humor angered me. I opened my mouth. Mostly, I intended to tell her to shut up. But different words came out. “Is she real?” I heard mys
elf ask.

  “Real? Sure she’s real.”

  “I mean, a vampire.”

  Vivian let out a harsh laugh. “What do you think, kid?”

  “Is she?”

  “Nah. She’s the tooth fairy.”

  The guy laughed. “Good one,” he said.

  Off ahead of me, behind the other stand of bleachers, three sets of headlights lit the night. I couldn’t see the vehicles behind them, but figured they must be the Traveling Vampire Show’s hearse, bus and truck.

  The beams of the headlights reached through the stands. In their pale glow, I saw Stryker and Lee standing together on the ground, and Valeria alone in her cage.

  She no longer wore her boots. Totally naked, she was leaning back against the bars, arms and legs spread out, stretching and writhing as if she relished the flexing of her muscles and the feel of the rain on her bare skin.

  When the light beams shifted, I looked away from Valeria.

  One pair of headlights continued to aim at the arena, but the other two sets slid away through the rainy night.

  In the jittery glare of a lightning flash, I caught a glimpse of the vehicles. The hearse remained in place behind the opposite bleachers. Moving slowly to the right was the large black truck. Moving to the left was the black bus.

  Where’re they going? I wondered.

  Is Rusty in one of them?

  We had no guarantee that Stryker would keep his part of the bargain.

  What if they’re taking Rusty away?

  Through the sounds of their engines and the hiss and patter of the falling rain came a soft rumble of thunder.

  The truck and bus rounded the ends of the bleachers, then turned. They weren’t leaving, after all.

  They drove straight toward each other until the bright beams of their headlights filled the cage. Then they stopped. I heard brakes squeak.

  Now, headlights reached through the night from three directions. All of them met in the cage.

  Stryker climbed the steps and entered.

  Lee walked in after him.

  Valeria let go of the bars. Still stretching and writhing in a languid way that seemed almost catlike, she glided toward the middle of the cage. Her sleek black hair was flat against her scalp and clinging to the sides of her face and neck. In the glare of the six headlights, her skin looked like alabaster gleaming and dripping with baby oil.

 
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