Read All Around the Town Online
Authors: Mary Higgins Clark
Tags: #Fiction, #General
LL AROUND THE TOWN
Mary Higgins Clark
For her ninth sure-fire bestseller, Clark returns to what she does best: using a threatened child (this time, a regressive college-student traumatized by a childhood kidnapping) to grab you by the throat and shake well. Back in 1974, four-year-old Laurie Kenyon was abducted from her posh New Jersey home by Bic and Opal Hawkins, a pair of hippies who raped and terrorized her for two years before the heat got so close they turned her loose. Now she's an honor student at Clinton College who unwittingly harbors four personalities--sexy Leona, truculent Kay, four-year-old Debbie, and a nine-year-old boy--that she's developed to keep her childhood memories at bay. Meanwhile, her kidnappers have transformed themselves into TV preachers on the brink of stardom who keep putting scary photos, knives, and severed chicken heads in Laurie's way in case she recognizes them and wants to speak out. The flash point comes with the murder of personable prof Allan Grant, who'd just gone before the administration with proof that the steamy letters from ``Leona'' he'd been getting were typed on Laurie's typewriter. When Laurie finds herself standing over Grant unable to remember whether or not she killed him, it's up to big sister Sarah, fanatically dedicated to protecting Laurie, to quit the D.A.'s office, take charge of Laurie's defense, and incidentally begin a chaste romance with Justin Donnelly, who's trying to tease the truth out of all those alter egos even as Bic Opal step up their campaign from threats to violence. Not enough menace for you? Clark even throws in the mystery of who really killed Grant, though her heart's not in it: broad hints from the outset will tip off all but the most witless readers. No whodunit, then--but Clark's legion of fans, enthralled by her undeniable skill in pushing their buttons, won't even notice.
Ridgewood, New Jersey
TEN MINUTES BEFORE it happened, four-year-old Laurie Kenyon was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the den rearranging the furniture in her dollhouse. She was tired of playing alone and wanted to go in the pool. From the dining room she could hear the voices of Mommy and the ladies who used to go to school with her in New York. They were talking and laughing while they ate lunch.
Mommy had told her that because Sarah, her big sister, was at a birthday party for other twelve-year-olds, Beth, who sometimes minded her at night, would come over to swim with Laurie. But the minute Beth arrived she started making phone calls.
Laurie pushed back the long blond hair that felt warm on her face. She had gone upstairs a long time ago and changed into her new pink bathing suit. Maybe if she reminded Beth again...
Beth was curled up on the couch, the phone stuck between her shoulder and ear. Laurie tugged on her arm. "I'm all ready."
Beth looked mad. "In a minute, honey," she said. "I'm having a very important discussion." Laurie heard her sigh into the phone. "I hate baby-sitting."
Laurie went to the window. A long car was slowly passing the house. Behind it was an open car filled with flowers, then a lot more cars with their lights on. Whenever she saw cars like that Laurie always used to say that a parade was coming, but Mommy said no, that they were funerals on the way to the cemetery. Even so, they made Laurie think of a parade, and she loved to run down the driveway and wave to the people in the cars. Sometimes they waved back.
Beth clicked down the receiver. Laurie was just about to ask her if they could go out and watch the rest of the cars go by when Beth picked up the phone again.
Beth was mean, Laurie told herself. She tiptoed out to the foyer and peeked into the dining room. Mommy and her friends were still talking and laughing. Mommy was saying, "Can you believe we graduated from the Villa thirty-two years ago?"
The lady next to her said, "Well, Marie, at least you can lie about it. You've got a four-year-old daughter. I've got a four-year-old granddaughter!"
"We still look pretty darn good," somebody else said, and they all laughed again.
They didn't even bother to look at Laurie. They were mean too. The pretty music box Mommy's friend had brought her was on the table. Laurie picked it up. It was only a few steps to the screen door. She opened it noiselessly, hurried across the porch and ran down the driveway to the road. There were still cars passing the house. She waved.
She watched until they were out of sight, then sighed, hoping that the company would go home soon. She wound up the music box and heard the tinkling sound of a piano and voices singing, "'Eastside, westside...'"
Laurie hadn't noticed the car pull over and stop, A woman was driving. The man sitting next to her got out, picked Laurie up, and before she knew what was happening she was squeezed between them in the front seat. Laurie was too surprised to say anything. The man was smiling at her, but it wasn't a nice smile. The woman's hair was hanging around her face, and she didn't wear lipstick. The man had a beard, and his arms had a lot of curly hair. Laurie was pressed against him so hard she could feel it.
The car began to move. Laurie clutched the music box. Now the voices were singing: "'All around the town... Boys and girls together...'"
"Where are we going?" she asked. She remembered that she wasn't supposed to go out to the road alone. Mommy would be mad at her. She could feel tears in her eyes.
The woman looked so angry. The man said, "All around the town, little girl. All around the town."
SARAH HURRIED ALONG the side of the road, carefully carrying a piece of birthday cake on a paper plate. Laurie loved chocolate filling, an Sarah wanted to make it up to her for not playing with her while Mommy had company.
She was a bony long-legged twelve-year-old, with wide gray eyes, carrot red hair that frizzed in dampness, milk-white skin and a splash of freckles across her nose. She looked like neither of her parents---her mother was petite, blond and blue eyed; her father's gray hair had originally been dark brown.
It worried Sarah that John and Marie Kenyon were so much older than the other kids' parents. She was always afraid they might die before she grew up. Her mother had once explained to her, "We'd been married fifteen years and I'd given up hope of ever having a baby, but when I was thirty-seven I knew you were on the way. Like a gift. Then eight years later when Laurie was born---oh, Sarah, it was a miracle!"
When she was in the second grade, Sarah remembered asking Sister Catherine which was better, a gift or a miracle?
"A miracle is the greatest gift a human being can receive," Sister Catherine had said. That afternoon, when Sarah suddenly began to cry in class, she fibbed and said it was because her stomach was sick.
Even though she knew Laurie was the favorite, Sarah still loved her parents fiercely. When she was ten she had made a bargain with God. If He wouldn't let Daddy or Mommy die before she was grown, she would clean up the kitchen every night, help to take care of Laurie and never chew gum again. She was keeping her side of the bargain, and so far God was listening to her.
An unconscious smile touching her lips, she turned the corner of Twin Oaks Road and stared. Two police cars were in her driveway, their lights flashing. A lot of neighbors were clustered outside, even the brand-new people from two houses down, whom they hadn't even really met. They all looked scared and sad, holding their kids tightly by the hand.
Sarah began to run. Maybe Mommy or Daddy was sick. Richie Johnson was standing on the lawn. He was in her class at Mount Carmel. Sarah asked Richie why everyone was there.
He looked sorry for her. Laurie was missing, he told her. Old Mrs. Whelan had seen a man take her into a car, but hadn't realized Laurie was being kidnapped...
THEY WOULDN'T take her home.
They drove a long time and took her to a dirty house, way out in the woods somewhere. They slapped her if she cried. The man kept picking her up and hugging her. Then he would carry her upstairs. She tried to make him stop, but he laughed at her. They called her Lee. Their names were Bic and Opal. After a while she found ways to slip away from them, in her mind. Sometimes she just floated on the ceiling and watched what was happening to the little girl with the long blond hair. Sometimes she felt sorry for the little girl. Other times she made fun of her. Sometimes when they let her sleep alone she dreamt of other people, Mommy and Daddy and Sarah. But then she'd start to cry again and they'd hit her, so she made herself forget Mommy and Daddy and Sarah.
That's good, a voice in her head told her. Forget all about them.
AT FIRST the police were at the house every day, and Laurie's picture was on the front page of the New Jersey and New York papers. Beyond tears, Sarah watched her mother and father on "Good Morning America," pleading with whoever took Laurie to bring her back.
Dozens of people phoned saying they'd seen Laurie, but none of the leads was useful. The police had hoped there'd be a demand for ransom, but there was none.
The summer dragged on. Sarah watched as her mother's face became haunted and bleak, as her father reached constantly for the nitroglycerin pills in his pocket. Every morning they went to the 7A.M. mass and prayed for Laurie to be sent home. Frequently at night Sarah awoke to hear her mother's sobbing, her father's exhausted attempts to comfort her. "It was a miracle that Laurie was born. We'll count on another miracle to bring her back to us," she heard him say.
School started again. Sarah had always been a good student. Now she pored over the books, finding that she could blot out her own relentless sorrow by escaping into study. A natural athlete, she began taking golf and tennis lessons. Still she missed her little sister, with aching pain. She wondered if God was punishing her for the times she'd resented all the attention paid to Laurie. She hated herself for going to the birthday party that day and pushed aside the thought that Laurie was strictly forbidden to go out front alone. She promised that if God would send Laurie back to them she would always,
always take care of her.
THE SUMMER PASSED. The wind began to blow through the cracks in the walls. Laurie was always cold. One day Opal came back with long-sleeved shirts and overalls and a winter jacket. It wasn't pretty like the one Laurie used to wear. When it got warm again they gave her some other clothes, shorts and shirts and sandals. Another winter went by. Laurie watched the leaves on the big old tree in front of the house begin to bud and open, and then all the branches were filled with them.
Bic had an old typewriter in the bedroom. It made a loud clatter that Laurie could hear when she was cleaning up the kitchen or watching television. The clatter was a good sound. It meant that Bic wouldn't bother with her.
After a while, he'd come out of the bedroom holding a bunch of papers in his hand and start reading them aloud to Laurie and Opal. He always shouted and he always ended with the same words, "Hallelujah. Amen!" After he was finished, he and Opal would sing together. Practicing, they called it. Songs about God and going home.
Home. It was a word that her voices told Laurie not to think about anymore.
Laurie never saw anyone else. Only Bic and Opal. And when they went out, they locked her in the basement. It happened a lot. It was scary down there. The window was almost at the ceiling and had boards over it. The basement was filled with shadows, and sometimes they seemed to move around. Each time, Laurie tried to go to sleep right away on the mattress they left on the floor.
Bic and Opal almost never had company. If someone did come to the house, Laurie was put down in the basement with her leg chained to the pipe, so she couldn't go up the stairs and knock on the door. "And don't you dare call us," Bic warned her. "You'd get in big trouble, and, anyhow, we couldn't hear you."
After they'd been out they usually brought money home. Sometimes not much. Sometimes a lot. Quarters and dollar bills, mostly.
They let her go out in the backyard with them. They showed her how to weed the vegetable garden and gather the eggs from the chicken coop. There was a newborn baby chick they told her she could keep as her pet. She played with it whenever she went outside. Sometimes when they locked her in the basement and went away they let her keep it with her.