The traveling vampire sh.., p.6
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.6

           Richard Laymon
 

  We sure had fun on his boat while it lasted, but I had even better fun on the roads with Lee.

  Being a school teacher, she had the summers off. She told me to drop by the house whenever I wanted driving lessons, so that’s what I did.

  The first time out, she told me to get behind the wheel of her big old pickup truck. She sat in the passenger seat, gave me a few instructions, and off we went. Their house was near the edge of town, so we didn’t need to worry much about traffic. Good thing, too. Even though the driving part of the operation turned out to be easy, I did have trouble keeping my eyes on the road.

  That’s because Lee was a knockout.

  You take a lot of beautiful women, they’re shits. But not Lee. She was down-to-earth, friendly and funny. I’d say that she was just a normal person, but she wasn’t. She was better than normal people. Way better. She didn’t seem to know it, though.

  When we went driving, she usually wore shorts. Not cut-off jeans, but real shorts. They might be red or white or blue or yellow or pink, but they were always very short and tight. She had great legs. They were tanned and smooth and very hard to keep my eyes away from.

  On top, she might wear a T-shirt or a knit pullover or a short-sleeved blouse. Sometimes, when she wore a regular blouse or shirt, I could look between the buttons and catch glimpses of her bra. I tried not to do it often, though.

  Mostly, I just stole glances at her legs.

  I would’ve tried to sneak looks at her face, too—it was a terrific face—but I could look at that without being sneaky about it.

  The first afternoon out with Lee, I learned how to drive. I didn’t really need any more lessons after that. She knew it and I knew it, but we kept it to ourselves. Two or three times a week, for the rest of the summer, I went over to her house and we took off in the truck.

  While I drove us through towns and over back roads, we talked about all sorts of stuff. We shared secrets, complained about my parents, discussed our worries and our favorite movies, laughed. We laughed a lot.

  It was almost like being on a fabulous date with the most beautiful girl in town. Almost. What made it different from a date was that I held no hope of ever having any sexual contact with her. I mean, you can’t exactly fool around with your brother’s wife. Also, she was ten years older than me. Also, she was out of my league entirely.

  All I could do was look.

  Lee knew I was sneaking glances at her while I drove, but it didn’t seem to bother her. Usually, if she noticed, she didn’t mention it. Sometimes, though, she said stuff like, “Watch out, we’re coming up on a curve,” or “Don’t forget about the road entirely.” She was always cheerful when she said such things, but I always blushed like crazy. I’d mutter, “I’m sorry” and she would say, “Don’t worry about it. Just don’t crash.”

  Then one day I crashed.

  For some reason, Lee wasn’t wearing a bra that day. Maybe they were all in the wash. Maybe she was too hot. Who knows? Whatever the reason, I noticed it the moment she walked out of her house. Nothing showed through her bright red blouse, but her breasts seemed to be moving about more than usual. They were loose underneath the blouse, no doubt about it.

  After noticing that, I tried to keep my eyes away from her chest as much as possible.

  Maybe ten minutes later, I was driving along a narrow road through the woods, Lee in the passenger seat, when I finally just had to look.

  I glanced over at her.

  Between two buttons of her blouse, the fabric was pursed like vertical, parted lips. Looking in, I could see the side of her right breast. Her bare breast, smooth and pale in the shadows. Not very much of it actually showed—a crescent maybe half an inch wide, at most.

  But much too much.

  All of a sudden, I couldn’t hear a word Lee was saying. I kept steering us along the road, smiling and nodding and turning my head to look at her—first at her face to make sure she wasn’t watching me, then at the curve of her exposed breast.

  I felt breathless and hard and guilty.

  But I couldn’t stop myself.

  Suddenly, she yelled, “Watch out!” and flung her hands out to grab the dashboard.

  My eyes jerked forward in time to see a deer straight ahead of us. I swerved and the deer bounded out of the way and I missed it just fine. But then I couldn’t come out of the turn fast enough. I took out a speed limit sign.

  We weren’t hurt, though.

  Next thing I knew, Lee and I were standing side by side in front of the truck, looking at its smashed headlight.

  “I’m really sorry,” I said.

  “That’s okay, honey,” she said. “These things happen.”

  “Danny’s gonna kill me.”

  She patted me on the back and said, “No, he won’t. We’ll just keep this between the two of us.”

  “But he’ll see the damage.”

  “Let’s you and I just forget you had a driving lesson today. Danny’ll think I’m the one who crashed. That’ll suit him just fine, anyway.” She smiled at me. “You know how he loves to whine about ‘women drivers.’”

  “I can’t let you take the blame,” I protested.

  “I insist.”

  “But…”

  “If he finds out you did it, he’ll tease you to death and he’ll broadcast it to everyone he knows. You don’t need that.” Then, giving my shoulder a friendly squeeze, she added, “Besides, it’s my truck. If I say I was driving it, I was.”

  Lee never told on me.

  For the next week or so, Danny had a lot of fun at her expense. I was tempted to confess, but then everybody would’ve known Lee had lied. That would’ve made things worse all the way around.

  Anyway, that’s the kind of woman Lee was. I could count on her to help me retrieve Slim and Rusty, and she wouldn’t blab about it.

  I just hoped she’d be home.

  Chapter Nine

  I stayed fairly calm most of the way to Lee’s house, but the sight of her pickup truck in the driveway turned me into a nervous wreck.

  She’s home!

  I felt a lurch of panic.

  Even under the best conditions, I sometimes chickened out about visiting Lee. That may seem strange, since we were such great friends. But you’ve got to understand how beautiful and special she was. As much as I liked being with her, I hated the idea of intruding on her. I wanted her never to think of me as a nuisance.

  I didn’t much want her to see me shirtless and sweaty and filthy, either.

  All of a sudden, I changed my mind about asking for Lee’s help. Instead of heading for her front door, I kept on walking.

  Maybe I would just go home. If I told Mom the truth, she would take me out to Janks Field. Then she’d tell Dad all about it, and he…

  “Dwight?”

  My heart jumped. I turned my head and saw Lee in the doorway, holding the screen door open.

  “Oh, hi,” I called as if surprised to find her in this neck of the woods. “What’re you walking away for?” she asked.

  I stopped. “I’m not”

  “How about a Coke?”

  I shrugged. “Okay. Thanks.” I hurried across her front lawn.

  She stood there, holding the door and watching me, a look on her face as if she knew everything but considered it more fun to play ignorant.

  Not dressed for company, she was wearing an old blue chambray shirt—probably one of Danny’s. The sleeves were rolled halfway up her forearms and the top couple of buttons weren’t fastened. Her shirt wasn’t tucked into anything. (Maybe she wore nothing it could be tucked into.) Her legs were bare, and she didn’t have on any shoes or socks.

  As I trotted up the porch stairs, she asked, “Where you been hiding yourself?”

  I shrugged and blushed. “Nowhere much,” I said.

  In the doorway, she gave me a hug. I didn’t often get hugs from Lee; only if we hadn’t seen each other for a long time. I put my arms around her. As she kissed my cheek and I kissed hers, she gave me a good
solid squeeze, mashing me against the front of her body. Her shirt was soft against my skin. By the feel of her breasts, I knew she wasn’t wearing any bra.

  It was just about the best hug ever.

  But we broke it up after a couple of seconds. Lee turned away, saying, “Come on, let’s get those Cokes.”

  I followed her toward the kitchen, watching the back of her shirt. It draped her rear end, then stopped. The tail fluttered slightly as she walked.

  “So what’ve you been doing with yourself?” she asked.

  I suddenly remembered.

  “Oh, yeah,” I said.

  That was all I needed to say.

  About one stride into the kitchen, Lee stopped and turned around and raised her eyebrows.

  “Maybe the Cokes better wait,” I told her.

  “What is it?”

  “I was sort of wondering if you’d let me borrow your truck for about half an hour.”

  “Sure,” she said, not even hesitating to think about it.

  “Thanks.”

  I followed her through the kitchen. Her brown leather purse was on top of the table. She picked it up, reached inside, pulled out her keys and tossed them to me. I caught them.

  “Thanks,” I said again.

  As I started to turn around, she said, “I’ve got nothing to do for a while. Want me to come along?”

  I must’ve made a face.

  “Guess not,” she said and shrugged.

  “It’s not that. If you want to come along, it’s fine with me. I just don’t want to…you know, impose on you.”

  “When you’re imposing, I’ll let you know.”

  “Okay.”

  “And you’re not.” She gave me a quick smile. “Not yet, anyway.” The smile gone, she added, “You need some help, don’t you?”

  “Well, I need a car. But it’d be great if you want to come along with me.”

  “You sure?” she asked.

  “Sure.”

  “Where’re we going?”

  “Janks Field.”

  She let out a laugh, throwing back her head, then shaking it. When the laugh was over, she said, “That explains plenty.”

  “Still want to come?”

  “You bet. But what’s the problem?”

  “Slim got attacked by a dog.”

  Lee grimaced. “Slim being Frances?” she asked.

  “Right. Anyway, it didn’t hurt her much, but she fell down and got some cuts. I was afraid she’d bleed all over the place if she tried to walk home, so I left her there with Rusty. They’re on top of that snack stand.”

  “What about the dog?” Lee asked.

  “It was still there when I left. But it can’t get to them as long as they stay on the roof.”

  “So the idea is to drive out and rescue them?”

  “That’s it,” I said.

  “No problem. Just let me have a minute to get dressed. Go ahead and grab yourself a Coke. You look like you could use one.”

  “Okay. Thanks.”

  “If you want to wash up or something, feel free.”

  I nodded, and she left the kitchen. When she was out of sight, I sighed.

  Cheer up, I told myself. She’ll be back.

  But “dressed.”

  Sighing again, I stepped over to the sink. I washed the dried blood off my hands, then splashed cold water onto my face. I used a wet paper towel to clean the sweat and grime off my arms and chest and belly. After that, I took a Coke bottle out of the refrigerator and pried its cap off.

  I only managed a few swallows before Lee came in. She looked almost the same as before. Now, however, white shorts showed below the hanging front of her shirt. She wore white sneakers, but no socks.

  “Ready to go?” she asked.

  “All set.”

  “Want me to drive?”

  “Sure.” I tossed the keys to her. She caught them, then stepped past me and grabbed her purse off the table.

  On our way to the front door, she said, “We’ll come straight back here unless Slim turns out to need a doctor or something.”

  “Good idea.”

  Outside, Lee held the screen door.

  I reached for the main door, meaning to shut it behind me, but she said, “Let’s just leave it open. The more air gets in, the better.”

  So I left it open and stepped outside.

  The screen door banged shut as I followed Lee down the stairs.

  Walking ahead of me, she reached behind herself and hitched up the tail of her pale blue shirt. Both the seat pockets of her shorts were bulging. From one, she removed a white tin of bandages. From the other, she took a squeeze bottle of Bactine anticeptic. She dropped them into her purse as she walked.

  Over at the driveway, she pulled open the driver’s door of her pickup truck. I ran around to the other side. Still hanging on to my Coke, I opened the passenger door with one hand and climbed up.

  Lee’s purse was on the seat between us.

  Leaning forward slightly, she punched a key into the ignition. She gave it a twist and the engine chugged to life. Then she sped backward out of the driveway, swung into the street and started working the forward gears, picking up speed. “We’re off!” she proclaimed.

  “Sure are.”

  She grinned at me. “How about a drink of that?” she asked.

  “Sure.” I handed the Coke to her. She didn’t wipe the bottle’s lip at all, just raised it to her mouth, tilted it high, and took a couple of swallows. Through the pale green of the glass, the Coke was a rich brownish red color.

  There was still an inch of pop in the bottle when she handed it back to me. “Go ahead and finish it,” she said.

  I nearly always wiped off the lip of a bottle before drinking after anyone. But not this time. I put it into my mouth, knowing her mouth had just been there. She wasn’t wearing any lipstick, but I almost thought I could taste her lips.

  “So what were you three doing out at Janks Field?” she asked. “Looking for bones?”

  “Looking for a vampire,” I said.

  She turned her head and hoisted her eyebrows.

  “I know. Vampires don’t exist. But there’s supposed to be a vampire show at Janks Field tonight. One night only. The Traveling Vampire Show. Rusty says they’ve got fliers for it all over town.”

  “This is the first I’ve heard about it,” Lee said. “I haven’t been into town yet today. Danny’s off on one of his trips, so I slept in.”

  “Where’d he go?”

  “Chicago. One of those sales conventions. So tell me more about The Traveling Vampire Show.”

  “There’s supposed to be a real vampire…”

  “No kidding?” She looked at me and grinned. “I’ve never seen one of those, myself.”

  “Her name’s Valeria. I guess she’s supposed to go after volunteers from the audience.”

  “Cool,” Lee said.

  “Anyway, we can’t go to the show. It doesn’t even start till midnight and it’s adults only and I’m never supposed to go to Janks Field at all.”

  “So of course you went there anyway.”

  “Yeah. You know, just for a look around. We thought we might get a chance to see Valeria.”

  “In daylight? You kids need to brush up on your vampire lore.”

  “Oh, we know all about that. We’re not stupid.”

  She grinned at me.

  “We just wanted to see what was going on. We figured maybe it’d be like a carnival and we could watch them setting up for the show, something like that. And maybe we’d get a look at Valeria.”

  Gorgeous! Beguiling!

  I decided not to mention that Valeria was supposed to be a stunning beauty.

  A blush suddenly spread over my skin.

  Oh, God, don’t let Lee find out about our wager!

  “Thing is,” I said, “we didn’t seriously think she’d be spending all day in a coffin. You know? I mean, the whole thing’s gotta be a fake-out. We figured we might actually see her wandering a
round in the daytime. Then we’d know she’s a phony.”

  “So, did you see her?” Lee asked.

  “I guess we got to Janks Field ahead of the show. Nobody was there except us. And that dog.”

  Chapter Ten

  Lee drove down Route 3 at a safe speed just slightly over the limit but after the turn-off, in the seclusion of the dirt road, she poured it on. This didn’t surprise me. I’d ridden with her many times before and knew all about her reckless streak.

  I couldn’t complain, though. She’d never crashed.

  So I held my peace—along with the dashboard and door handle—while she ripped over the narrow, twisty road. The force of her turns sometimes bumped me against the door, sometimes threw me toward her.

  I was tempted to let go and fall against Lee, not to punish her for the wild driving but to have the contact with her. It might’ve been embarrassing, though. And it might’ve made her crash into a tree or something. I didn’t want to take the risk, so I held on tight.

  We jerked from side to side, shook and bounced all the way to the far end of the road and burst out of the dense forest gloom into the open gray gloom of Janks Field and Lee almost sent me through the windshield the way she tromped on the brakes.

  We skidded to a stop.

  Parked near the shack where I’d left Slim and Rusty were three vehicles: a truck the size of a moving van, a large bus, and a hearse. All three were shiny black, and unmarked—no fancy signs announcing this was The Traveling Vampire Show, no paintings of bats or fangs or Valeria. Nothing at all like that. As if the show wanted to keep itself secret as it roamed the roads on its way from town to town.

  Several people seemed to be unloading equipment from the truck.

  “Looks like the show has arrived,” Lee said.

  “Guess so. If that’s what it is.”

  “What else could it be?”

  “I don’t know,” I said.

  “I don’t see your friends, though.”

  “Me neither.”

  “Think they’re still up there?”

  “They might be. Maybe they’re lying down flat behind the sign.”

  “Let’s find out,” Lee said. She started driving forward.

 
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