Companions of the night, p.1
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       Companions of the Night, p.1

           Vivian Vande Velde
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Companions of the Night


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Table of Contents

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Copyright © 1995 by Vivian Vande Velde

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any

  form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any

  information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher

  Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to:

  Permissions Department, Harcourt Brace & Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive,

  Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

  Illustration copyright © 1995 by Cliff Nielsen

  "Unchained Melody"

  Lyric by Hy Zaret

  Music by Alex North

  Copyright © 1955 (Renewed) FRANK MUSIC CORP.

  All rights reserved.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Vande Velde, Vivian.

  Companions of the night/Vivian Vande Velde—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  "Jane Yolen Books."

  Summary: When sixteen-year-old Kerry Nowicki helps a young man

  escape from a group of men who claim he is a vampire, she finds

  herself faced with some bizarre and dangerous choices.

  ISBN 0-15-200221-9

  [1. Vampires—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.V2773Co 1995

  [Fic]—dc20 94-30106

  Designed by Trina Stahl

  D F G E C

  Printed in the United States of America

  Dedicated with love to

  Allan and Barbara

  Gretchen and Bruce

  Herb and Donna

  Oh, my love, my darling,

  I've hungered

  for your touch

  a long, lonely time.

  Time goes by

  so slowly

  and time

  can do so much....

  —"Unchained Melody"

  (A. North / H. Zaret)

  Chapter One

  WHEN IAN CAME into Kerry's room to ask for a favor, it never occurred to her that her four-year-old brother could ask her to do something that might get her killed.

  "What kind of favor?" she asked, sticking a finger in her book to keep her place. It was almost eleven o'clock at night, her second period literature teacher had promised a test tomorrow, and she still had fifty pages to go, with the author seeming in no hurry to wrap things up.

  "I left Footy at the laundry," Ian said. Footy was Ian's stuffed koala bear.

  "Ian," Kerry pointed out—the same thing she'd pointed out the instant he'd entered her room—"it's the middle of the night. You're supposed to be asleep in bed, I'm supposed to be asleep in bed, Dad is asleep..."

  Ian's bottom lip began to tremble, and Kerry rested her forehead in her hand.

  "Don't cry," she said. Ever since Mom had left, Kerry couldn't take it when Ian cried. "Maybe you forgot him at Greg's"—Ian started shaking his head—"or in Daddy's car?"

  "No," Ian said. "I was playing under the counter where you fold your stuff. You know the pink stripy one that doesn't match the others?"

  Kerry didn't know, but she nodded to keep him going.

  "I was using the laundry cart as a fort. I know that's where I left him, under the pink stripy counter. Can't you go and get him?"

  Kerry shook her head. "I've only got a learner's permit, so I'm not allowed to drive unless there's somebody who has a license with me," she explained. "I'd get in trouble with Dad and the police. Footy will be fine one night without you. It'll be like a campout for him."

  If Ian had thrown a tantrum, he would have been easier to resist. But he stood there silently, tears running down his face. Then, very quietly, he said, "It won't be like a campout. Somebody will steal him."

  "Ian, munchkin, the kind of people who go to laundries in the middle of the night are not the kind of people who steal ragged little koala bears."

  "Footy's not ragged," Ian said. "And if it was Corny, you wouldn't leave her."

  Kerry looked to her dresser at the unicorn she'd had since she was two. Now that Kerry was sixteen, Corny rarely traveled farther than from the bed to the dresser, but Ian had made his point. "All right, all right." Kerry took her finger out of the book. "But you stand by Daddy's door and make sure you hear him snoring, or I'm not moving. And if Dad wakes up, tell him..." Tell him what? What story would he possibly believe? And what am I doing coaching a four-year-old to lie? Hadn't there been enough lies in this family in the year before Mom moved out? "Tell him I'll be back soon," she finished.

  She shooed Ian out of the room and pulled her jeans on, tucking in her If It's MORNING DON'T TALK TO ME nightshirt. She'd be wearing her jacket, and anyway, she thought, if anybody stopped her, she was going to be in too much trouble to be embarrassed by what she was wearing. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail without even checking in a mirror.

  This was all her mother's fault They wouldn't even have to go to the laundry if her mother hadn't abandoned them, moving from Brockport, New York, to Somewhere-or-other, Florida, to study to be a private investigator—and only one postcard since. She had left the car because the man she went with had a better one, but she'd taken the washer and dryer.

  What kind of mother leaves her family, letting her kids run the risk of losing their koala bears in laundries? Kerry asked herself. It was a dangerous question, because the answer was easy: a mother who doesn't like her kids.

  Still, once Kerry had tiptoed out of the house—and not counting the fear of getting stopped by the police—it seemed such a simple, safe little task.

  FIVE MINUTES LATER, Kerry pulled up in front of the Quick-Clean Laundry. The street was dark but not deserted. Next door the Strand Theatre was all lit up. The movie must have just ended because there were people still coming out. Down the other way was a pizza place where the college kids hung out. She could smell the tomato sauce and hear the music.

  The laundry, of course, was always open. In a college town where half the kids lived off campus, there had to be a twenty-four-hour laundry.

  Her dad hadn't taught her parallel parking yet, and Kerry ended up a good three feet from the curb and overlapping two parking places. That left half a space behind her car before the corner, and a parking space and a half before the last of the cars from the movie crowd, but she told herself she was only going to be here a sec and didn't need to worry about getting ticketed.

  As she opened the door, she was greeted by the smell of warm wet soap. All the lights were on—she'd seen that from the street because the place was half windows—but nobody was there. Not even the little guy who ran the place, the one who made change and sold overpriced single-wash boxes of soap and fabric softener if you forgot to bring some from home, and yelled if he caught you leaving without cleaning out the lint tray. Kerry had known that the little guy couldn't be there all twenty-four hours that the place was open, but she was amazed there wasn't somebody around to make sure people didn't come in and pry open the
money boxes. She felt creepy being there all alone so late at night.

  Grab Footy, she thought, and then get home. Fighting a yawn, she realized she was way too tired to tackle her literature project. She'd just have to bluff her way through the test.

  She glanced around the shop and immediately identified the counter Ian had been talking about. The counters were all white with gold speckles except that one, last remnant of a previous decor or an addition from somebody's leftover something-or-other. She thought, Well, that was easy.

  Except, of course, Footy wasn't there.

  "Stupid bear," she muttered.

  She crawled under the counter just to make sure There was a paper pamphlet—probably one of the owner's Bible tracts that he was always trying to pass out—and maybe Footy could be hidden behind it The floor was gritty with spilled soap that stuck to the palms of her hands and, when she tried to wipe her hands clean, stung where she'd bitten the skin near her nails. She poked at the paper, wondering what the chances were of mice lurking around a place like this.

  No Footy, but at least no mice either. Only a razor blade, which someone had probably brought to open the boxes of detergent.

  Idiot! Kerry thought at whoever had dropped it, remembering how Ian had been crawling under here. Carefully she picked the blade up and backed out from underneath the counter.

  Her good deed paid off, for it wasn't until she put the razor down in the ashtray on the desk with the cash register that she noticed Footy sitting on top of the pile of religious pamphlets.

  "You, mister," she said, picking up the bear and shaking a finger at him. Then she dropped her voice to a whisper because the only other sound was the hum of the fluorescent lights. "You are in deep trouble, and you're grounded until you're thirty-seven. Whatever that works out to in bear years."

  She hadn't even lowered her finger when the back door burst open.

  The owner, Kerry thought as she whirled around to face whoever it was that was making such a commotion coming in. Mr. Quick-Clean. He must have stepped out to get a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza and then realized how long he'd left his place unattended.

  As she turned, Footy smacked against the cash register and slipped from her fingers to the floor Instinctively Kerry bent down to pick him up, knowing, even as she shifted her balance, that this was the last thing she should do. She should call out "Hello," step forward, let the owner see that she was here, look like a paying customer—or at least like someone who had a legitimate reason to be here and not like someone trying to hide or to break into the cash register.

  But before she could straighten, she saw the people coming in through the door: four men, three of them dragging one who was—Kerry felt her heart stop, then start again at a frenzied pace—gagged and bloodied, with his hands tied behind his back.

  Kerry dropped to her hands and knees under the desk.

  A drug deal gone bad, she thought. Or a gang fight. Not that there was much of that sort of thing in Brockport, but she'd seen enough cop shows to guess.

  And she was caught right in the middle of it.

  One of the men kicked the prisoner behind the leg so that he dropped to his knees and his face was momentarily on a level with Kerry's. Young, she saw, and scared, which was natural enough. It took a second for his eyes to focus on her, and then one of the other men jerked him backward by the hair so that his back was to one of the stainless steel laundry tubs. They began tying his already bound hands to the thick steel leg of the tub.

  Then the one who was doing the tying looked up and saw her. "What the hell—," he started.

  And in that moment, which Kerry recognized was probably her last chance to get to her feet and run to the front door screaming for help, she was too scared to move.

  The prisoner tried to break away while their attention was diverted, but the man in front knocked him back so that his head cracked against the side of the tub. The third man reached over and grabbed hold of Kerry's arm while the one with the rope returned to tying.

  Still holding on to Footy, Kerry was dragged out from beneath the desk and hauled to her feet.

  "She one of them?" one of the men asked. "Or just a thief?"

  "No," she whispered, unable to take her gaze off the young man, who looked on the verge of passing out. They were going to kill him. And then they were going to kill her for seeing them kill him. "I—1—I—"

  "Get the blinds down, you idiot," the other man said. "Do you want anyone passing down Main Street to see what's going on?"

  "I—," Kerry said as, behind her, she heard the blinds crash down, one after the other, then the doors being locked, both front and back. "I—"

  The one holding her pulled her in for a closer look. He was a black man, the only one of the group who was. He was also about twice the size of anybody else there. Taller. Broader. Kerry's arm, even padded by her jacket, was lost in the massiveness of his hand. "She's just a kid," the big guy said, which sounded encouraging, except for the fact that he was practically breaking her arm.

  Kerry nodded emphatically.

  "This other one's barely more than a kid. They make 'em when they're still kids?"

  Nobody said anything, and Kerry wasn't sure what was the right answer. She didn't even understand the question. No, she suspected. Under the circumstances, no to everything except the suggestion that they send her home.

  Before she could get her voice working again, one of the other two grabbed a handful of hair, and her head was forced around to face him. "I didn't do anything," she managed, which seemed an even safer answer. "Please don't hurt me."

  The black man, still holding her arm, used his free hand to feel over her arm.

  Kerry felt her knees start to buckle. Better to be passed out for this anyway, she thought.

  But the man was moving down her arm, which was an unexpected direction, to her hand, which he jiggled as though to see how well it was attached. Then he crunched her fingers together; but when she winced, he stopped. "I don't think she's one of them," he said.

  "I don't think I'm one of them either," Kerry agreed.

  "Shut up," said the man who was still holding her hair.

  "Why are you here?" the third man asked, the one who'd been in charge of tying their prisoner.

  And it was only when Kerry shifted her gaze to him that she recognized him: the little guy who ran the place. Mr. Quick-Clean himself, who sat there all day reading the Bible and trying to get people to read his religious pamphlets.

  "Why are you here?" he repeated, sounding even more menacing than before.

  "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I just came to get my little brother's bear." She tried to indicate Footy, but he was in the hand whose arm was being slowly pulled out of its socket.

  Footy dropped and landed with a soft plop.

  "You've seen me here before," she continued. What's he doing? she thought all the while. Drug dealers and gang members don't encourage people to read the Bible. "You know me," she insisted. "My name is Kerry Nowicki I come here with my father, Stephen, and my brother, Ian. My father always buys a helium balloon at the Lift Bridge Book Shop before we come here, and he ties it to Ian's wrist so that we don't lose track of him because he's shorter than the machines." She couldn't tell from the man's face whether he recognized her or not. "We were in this evening after dinner. Ian forgot his bear under the counter near the door. But you must have found him, or somebody did, because when I came in, he was up here by the cash register."

  The man looked from her to the bear. Finally, finally, he nodded. "Yeah." He nodded again. He told the others, "They come in once or twice a week."

  "Always after dinner?" asked the one with his hand still in her hair.

  Whatever the significance of that question, the laundry owner looked straight into his eyes. "No. Saturdays, too, sometimes. Saturdays, it's mornings or afternoons."

  The one loosened his grip on her arm, still holding on though she no longer had to stand on tiptoe; and the other let go of her hair e
ntirely. That one said, "Bad timing now, though."

  You can say that again, Kerry thought.

  Instead, he said, "She could've become one of them since last Saturday."

  Kerry's heart sank at the look this possibility brought to the owner's face.

  "Maybe," he said.

  "One way or the other," said the one who still had her arm, "we can't let her go, not till this is over."

  "This" had to be their prisoner. "This" probably meant killing him. She saw that he hadn't lost consciousness after all. She was tempted to promise that if they let her go she wouldn't go to the police, she wouldn't tell anybody what she'd seen. But she couldn't do that with him looking right at her. And they wouldn't believe her anyway.

  "Don't be afraid," the owner told her. "Not if you're what you say you are."

  What? Kerry wanted to scream at him. I haven't SAID I'm anything. What do you THINK I am? But it was probably best not to say anything that might be construed as argument.

  The owner said, "Nobody wants to hurt you."

  She had serious doubts about that, but she forced herself to nod.

  "We're just going to keep you here till morning. Then we'll bring you home ourselves."

  "What are you going to do to me between now and morning?" she asked, her voice quavering uncontrollably.

  "Nothing," the owner assured her. "Sit here quietly and don't give us any trouble, and we won't even have to tie you up."

  Her voice got even more quavery as she looked at their prisoner "What are you going to do to him?"

  The one who'd been pulling her hair answered, "That's none of your damn business."

  The owner gave him a be-quiet look. To Kerry, he said, "If he behaves himself, we won't lay a finger on him either."

  "We won't need to," the hair puller said.

  "Let her go, Roth," the owner said to the man still holding her arm.

  And slowly, as though ready to grab again if she even thought of trying to escape, the big black man, Roth, loosened his grip.

  "See," the owner said. "We can be calm and reasonable. Sit down"—she sat immediately, on the floor, right where she'd been standing—"don't talk, don't interfere. There's more to this than you could ever understand."

 
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