Authors: Ed Gorman,Daniel Ransom
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Deirdre began to crawl backwards.
The man in the Goofy mask carrying the knife still walked toward her.
None of this should be happening to anybody whose world was filled with Clearasil and stuffed teddy bears.
As she crawled, keeping herself facing the man at all times, she could feel the concrete floor ripping the backs of her hands and legs.
She fought back tears of pain but she kept moving.
A single glance over her shoulder told her what awaited in moments.
She was running out of space. Another two or three feet and she would be at the wall.
Another few seconds and he would have her—and then only death would offer any kind of mercy....
Books by Ed Gorman ( Daniel Ransom)
Daddy’s Little Girl
Toys in the Attic
The Serpent’s Kiss
The Long Midnight
SPEAKING VOLUMES, LLC
Daddy’s Little Girl
Copyright © 1985 by Edward Gorman
Originally published under the name Daniel Ransom
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
For my parents
with gratitude and love.
And for Carol, of course,
Special thanks to Barbara Kramer for her help with my books.
Around ten p.m., inside the confines of the sprawling stone mansion, the sound came again.
The animal sound. The wailing sound.
For sixty-nine-year-old Ruth Foster, the noise ended all possibility of sleep for the night. Awake now, in that terrible half-state between nightmare and consciousness, she felt the animal sound stir the bitterest and most fearful parts of her soul.
Shuddering, pushing away the covers, she dangled her feet off the bed, searching for her felt slippers.
For a peaceful moment she let herself be caught up in the smell of apple blossoms outside her open window, let her eyes follow the track of the full moon as it rode a trail of silver clouds....
Beautiful night ...
Not a night when something this terrible should be happening ...
She found her slippers. Next she took her robe, which was draped over a nearby chair. Then the flashlight she kept on the nightstand.
Carefully, because she feared stumbling into something and breaking bones, she made her way to the door.
She pushed her small, white-haired head between a narrow crack between the door and the jamb and peered into the deeply shadowed hallway.
Almost instantly, she saw the apparition, a slender, dark phantom illuminated by a flashlight similar to her own. Even the robe, cut severely across the bosom and tapered at the waist, resembled hers.
The apparition continued to move down the hall, the beam of its flashlight a deep yellow as it cut through the darkness.
“I knew you’d be awake,” the apparition said as it drew near.
Ruth Foster opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.
“No need for both of us to lose sleep, Minerva,” Ruth said. “You go on back to bed.”
Minerva Smythe, the black fifty-eight-year-old maid who had been with Ruth Foster thirty years now, shook her head. “You’re the one who needs sleep, Ruth. I’ll sit up tonight. It’s my turn.”
From below, the sound came again. Feral. Rumbling. Ancient as a nocturnal jungle sound.
This time it was Minerva who shuddered.
“You go back to bed, Ruth.”
Long ago, because they were alone in the big mansion, because, despite their differing social positions, they had become friends, all formalities had been dropped. They were “Ruth” and “Minerva” to each other.
Above the beam of her flashlight, Minerva said, “Take a Valium from the bottle I left in your nightstand. I’ll bring you some warm milk.”
“It’s all right, Minerva, if I want milk, I can fix it for myself.”
Minerva touched her friend’s hand.
“You know how you get anymore,” Minerva said. Gently, she eased Ruth back toward her bedroom. “Just take the Valium, then I’ll bring you some warm milk, like I said. You can watch Burns and Allen on cable until you fall asleep.” Ruth Foster loved the old black-and-white TV shows. They reminded her of the long-ago days when her powerful, handsome husband Thomas had been alive, when the mansion had resounded from very different noises than those tonight. The sounds of lavish parties attended by governors, senators, even an occasional movie star or two ...
“Come on now,” Minerva said, pushing open Ruth’s door. “I’ll be right back up.”
“Minerva—” Ruth started to object. But then she saw the look of determination in her friend’s eyes and knew it was no use.
Sighing, Ruth started back into her bedroom.
Just then another wait—of pain? delight? Ruth was never quite sure—shattered the silence.
She clutched Minerva’s hand and shook her head. Miserably.
And began to cry.
“He won’t always be popular,” Adam Carnes said to his sixteen-year-old daughter Deirdre, who sat on the passenger side of the Volvo as it cruised at sixty-eight miles per hour down the interstate. “At least not as popular as he is right now. Even the Beatles started to slip a little toward the end.”
“Well, sure,” Deirdre said, “the Beatles. That’s one thing. But we’re talking about Michael Jackson. They were never as hot as he is.”
Carnes smiled to himself, the smile that touched his angular face with something like handsomeness. Otherwise, he was a reasonably nondescript man of thirty-six. Dishwater-blond hair worn longer than was presently fashionable, friendly blue eyes hidden behind contacts, and a six-foot body kept in decent trim by three five-mile runs a week. The new Volvo and the Brooks Brothers button-down shirt he wore were the only conspicuous proofs that he was an advertising agency account executive. Much as he hated trendiness, he occasionally found himself guilty of it. His father, who had worked in an iron foundry, would have found it inexcusable to pay three times more than a shirt was worth just because it was a Brooks Brothers....
The Michael Jackson discussion had started half an hour ago, when one of the young singer’s songs had come on the FM.
Deirdre, who had been getting melancholy ever since the spring dusk had settled on the interstate, had started talking about Michael Jackson as if he were Jesus, Albert Schweitzer, and John F. Kennedy rolled into one. Carnes cursed himself for not perceiving what was going on here. Deirdre was frightened. This was her first extended leave with her father since the divorce two years ago. Her mother, who had married the man she’d been having an affair with during the last three years of her marriage, was nervous about this trip, anyway. Some of that anxiety had rubbed off on Deirdre. The sixteen-year-old was trying to reassure herself that this was a safe, knowable world after all—hence, Michael Jackson would always be popular. And, deep down, people were just as nice as they were in her favorite childhood book,
Carnes had been an insensitive boob not to see what was going on.
He reached over and patted Deirdre’s hand. “Maybe you’re right, hon. Michael may just be the first entertainer to stay popular forever.”
Deirdre smiled back at him, as if she understood why he’d said that, and was grateful.
Deirdre settled back in the seat, her knees against the dashboard, her arms folded across her breasts.
And breasts they had become, Carnes thought. She was a girl-woman now, ripe in her passions and enthusiasms as only a young girl can be, but deepening in her capacity to understand the world and herself. The divorce had brought about a bitter and abrupt growing-up. Despite what it had seemed on the surface, that her mother had destroyed the marriage by having a lover, both her parents had conveyed to her that if there were blame then it must be equally shared by each of them. And, while he had never had an affair as such, certainly Carnes had had other women, and long before Janet had strayed. Too, he had given himself too readily to his work, missing whole weekends with his family, preferring the hardball competitiveness of advertising.
Each of them had learned from the divorce—Carnes, Janet, Deirdre—but, while the knowledge was no doubt valuable, it had been acquired only through great pain.
Watching Deirdre now, her blond hair thrown back against the headrest, her frail hand tucked against her cheek, he saw the well-scrubbed beauty of her mother when she’d been younger, that combination of pertness and melancholy that made a woman irresistible. In her powder-blue sweater, her designer jeans, and with the blue ribbon caught in her golden hair, she had all the makings of a beautiful and intelligent woman, and Carnes couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with love and pride.
Seeing taillights in the distance, Carnes, vigilant about highway patrolmen, eased off the gas.
For the first time in nearly an hour, he allowed himself a studied look at the midwestern countryside. Everything was in bloom now that it was late April. Already the temperatures were averaging above seventy. Now, as he cracked the window, the sweet smell of cow manure was rife on the starry night. The darkness was filled with animal sounds, gentle and pleasant on the breeze. With his daughter asleep beside him, with the worries about the advertising business two hundred miles behind him in Chicago, Carnes felt a tranquillity he hadn’t known in years. Their destination was the Badlands, which neither of them had ever seen before. Carnes felt as if he were heading into a new life, one that would lift him from the loneliness of his post-marriage days, one that would fill him with an almost giddy optimism.
The monotony of the interstate, the approaching hour of eleven o’clock, and the peaceful sight of Deirdre sleeping made Carnes think of turning in himself. He began searching for road signs pointing out upcoming motels.
Finally, around eleven-fifteen, lulled more than ever by the sweet spring breezes, Carnes saw a sign that mentioned both a Howard Johnson’s and a TraveLodge only a few miles away.
Taking the next exit, Carnes reached the Howard Johnson’s within ten minutes. He left Deirdre in the Volvo as he went inside the brightly lit office to register. Within sixty seconds he was back on the macadam, walking to his car.
The desk clerk had mentioned that a regional convenience food chain was holding a convention nearby. Both the Johnson’s and the TraveLodge were filled. He suggested going down the road to the outskirts of a town called Burton. A small motel could be found there, one that would likely have room for them.
He made the rest of the trip on a blacktop road that seemed nothing less than a ribbon to nowhere.
A few miles away from the Howard Johnson’s the land flatted out, silver and eerie in the moonlight. The mooing of the cows gave way to more feral sounds, vaguely disturbing ones, dogs or wolves, Carnes wasn’t sure.
After a “Welcome to Burton” sign (pop. 12,870), Carnes saw a small, one-story brick motel squatting on top of a hill to his right. He aimed the Volvo up the concrete incline. Through all this, Deirdre slept. He smiled to himself. Innocence was the best sleeping pill of all.
The motel was of the kind built just after World War II throughout the Midwest, with a central office and half a dozen units spanning out on either side. A dim electric light, almost a guttering candle, burned on the right side of the office window. Carnes would have suspected that the place was closed if he hadn’t seen the colorful glow of a TV set.
He parked the car, got out, allowed himself the luxury of stretching in the night air, then went inside. Deirdre still slept in the car, his blond angel.
The man who appeared out of the gloom behind the motel desk looked like a cranky character actor on a television sitcom. Gray haired, with a pot belly only partially concealed behind a flannel shirt and a ratty cardigan sweater, the man seemed irritated that Carnes had had the temerity to interrupt his viewing of the Carson show. A small scowl on his face, the man spun the registration book around and handed Carnes a ballpoint pen, all without as much as a nod of acknowledgment, let alone a greeting.
If the old guy hadn’t been in his late sixties, and if there weren’t something downright comic about his crabbiness, Carnes would have strongly considered hassling him.
Instead, he took the pen, signed his name and said, “Every place else is filled up.”
The old man looked at Carnes as if he were very dumb. “This is the only place in Burton.”
“The others, just off the interstate, they’re the ones filled up.”
The man’s scowl deepened, as he turned the book back around and looked at it. He shrugged. “Don’t make much difference to the folks in Burton how things are going other places.” A touch of pride came into his voice. “We keep to ourselves. And that’s why we keep out of trouble.”
“Nice place, is it?”
“Damn nice. I come back here after World War II and got me this job. Been here ever since.” Apparently when you touched this old coot’s civic pride, you couldn’t shut him up. “Long as the packing plant stays in operation, everybody’s in good shape.” He shook his white head thankfully. “Good shape,” he repeated.
Just then Carnes realized who the desk clerk reminded him of. His father’s favorite comic actor, the late Edgar Buchanan. No wonder Carnes had felt a soft spot for the old bastard, despite the man’s churlishness.
Carnes put his hand out.
The desk clerk stared at it as if Carnes were a beggar.
“Oh, yeah,” the old man said, his lips parting to reveal stubby teeth. “Gettin’ forgetful, I guess. Better start takin’ my cod liver oil again.”
While the clerk went back to get a key from a rack, Carnes glanced over the office. With its lumpy couch, kitchen table, and TV set, the area behind the desk was like a mini apartment. There was even a hot plate in the corner. Carnes wondered if the old man lived here in addition to working here.
The man came back and put the key on the desk. “Connie, she’s the cleaning lady, she likes to have everything done by nine a.m., because she’s got another job over to Wolverton’s Pharmacy and Doc Wolverton sure don’t like it if she’s late.”
Carnes grinned. “Meaning we’d damn well better be out of our room by eight o’clock at the latest.”
The old man shook his head. “You sure wouldn’t want to get crosswise with Connie.”
“Doesn’t sound like it.” Fortunately, Carnes had planned to be up shortly after dawn and driving again, anyway. He looked forward to telling Deirdre about the desk clerk. Carnes was a good mimic. She appreciated his impressions of the people he encountered.
Carnes put the key in his pocket, nodded a good night to the clerk, and set out of the door.
He paused again on the macadam, stretching his arms, touching the small of his back.
Fifty yards away a restaurant glowed in the darkness. Actually, it was more of a diner, with stools along a counter. He saw no room for tables. The place was empty, except for a bored-seeming waitress leaning against a cash register and a lone man drinking coffee at the counter.
Carnes, stretching his shoulders this time, walked back to the Volvo and peered in for a look at his blond daughter.
It was then that he realized she was gone.
His first reaction was to lean against the car and wait for her. Despite the uneasiness any parent with a suddenly vanished child would feel, he saw no reason to panic. He assumed she was in the restaurant, using the toilet. Her pea-sized bladder was a running family joke, one that used to force them to stop a great deal when the three of them had gone on vacations.
Five minutes went by.
No sign of Deirdre.
He ambled over to the restaurant, fighting back a certain urgency that was working its way up his chest, causing him to sweat despite the cool breeze.
The waitress, who was twenty pounds overweight and wore enough eye makeup to cover an entire line of Rockettes, smiled when he came in. Not in any sexual way. She just seemed glad for the prospect of some company. The man in the coveralls eating a piece of pie and drinking coffee was deep into his newspaper and obviously didn’t want chitchat.
“Hi,” Carnes said to the waitress.
“I’m looking for my daughter.”
The waitress laughed. “I know how that goes. I’ve got one of my own. Nine years old in a week.”
“This one’s a little older. Sixteen.” Carnes described her. “I thought maybe she’d come over, to use your bathroom or get a drink or something.”
The waitress shook her head. Sympathy tucked at her mouth and shone in her eyes. “I’m sure she’s all right. Probably just stretching her legs.”
“Yeah,” Carnes said. “Well, thanks.”
He went back outside, the greasy smell of fried food following him.
The first thing he did was check the Volvo. Maybe the waitress was correct. Maybe Deirdre was just stretching her legs.
The Volvo was empty.
Unreasonable terror gripped Carnes now. His heart began slamming against his chest. His bowels tightened to the point of pain.
He went back into the motel office.
The old man was just as slow getting up this time. No matter what his resemblance to Edgar Buchanan, the old man no longer amused him.
“My daughter,” Carnes blurted, “have you seen her?”
“What daughter?” the clerk said. “Hell, mister, you didn’t list no daughter on the registration.” He nodded solemnly to the book.
Which was true. Carnes had listed only himself. Somehow it just hadn’t seemed important to list Deirdre.
“Do you have a public toilet that she might have used?”
“Nope. Only johnnies we got are in the rooms, except for the one behind me. And I didn’t see her, mister.”
Carnes stared at the old man as if he were trying to divine some secret in the clerk’s face.
But there was nothing to learn from the Edgar Buchanan visage, except that here was a man who didn’t give a damn about anything else around him. Not as long as Johnny Carson was on the air.
Carnes burst out of the motel office, back to the macadam and the Volvo.
Hoping against hope, he jerked open the back door and searched under the luggage piled on the seat.