Authors: Richard Laymon
NEW YORK CITY
Up the stairs three at a time, snapping open the holster and drawing his .38, still at full speed when his shoulder hit the door.
Wood splintered and burst and the door flew open.
He ran for the bat-wing doors.
He dove through the doors, tumbled into the kitchen, came up in a squat and took aim.
He didn’t fire.
He didn’t know what he was seeing.
The woman in the red shorts was sprawled on the floor, faceup. Faceup? She didn’t have a face. A chin maybe.
Ron was hunched over her, his face to her belly.
No one else in the kitchen.
The cellar door stood open.
“Ron? Ron, which way did he go?”
Ron lifted his head. A bleeding patch of his wife’s flesh came with it, clamped in his teeth, stretching and tearing off. He sat up straight. He stared back at Jake. His eyes were calm. He calmly chewed. Then he reached back for the shotgun.
This book is dedicated to Dean and Gerda Koontz,
Who consistently top
The Laymon Times
Eddie, in his van, had the road to himself.
Except for the bicycle.
When he first saw the bike from the crest of the hill, it was below him and far ahead. At such a distance, he couldn’t tell much about the rider.
He knew it wasn’t a kid.
The bike was one of those high, streamlined jobs, not like you see kids pedaling around on. And the rider looked big enough to fit the bike.
Could be a teenager, Eddie thought.
Could be a gal.
Squinting, he leaned toward the windshield. The bottom of the steering wheel sank into his belly, filling the crease between his rolls of fat.
be a gal, he thought.
With the back of his hand, Eddie wiped his mouth.
He was halfway down the hill by now, picking up speed and closing the gap between his van and the bike.
The rider’s brown hair was somewhat long. That didn’t prove much. A lot of men wore their hair that long and longer.
But you don’t see a lot of guys in red shorts.
Eddie sped closer.
Close enough to see how the rider’s hips flared out from a small waist.
A gal, all right.
On both sides of the road were fields with trees here and there. No buildings. No people. The road ahead to where it curved and vanished was deserted. Eddie checked his side mirrors. Behind him, the road was clear.
“Her it is,” he said.
He pressed the gas pedal to the floor.
Though the rider didn’t look back, she must have heard the rising engine sound. Her bike moved to the right, gliding away from the middle of the lane and taking up a new position a yard from the road’s edge.
Eddie bore down on her.
She was hunched over her handlebars. She kept pedaling.
Her T-shirt was so tight that Eddie could see the bumps of her spine. Bare skin showed between the bottom of her shirt and the elastic band of her shorts.
Her left arm swung out. She waved Eddie by.
At the last instant, she looked back. Eddie was near enough to see that her eyes were blue.
She was very pretty.
He turned his van toward her.
I like the pretty ones.
Her front wheel jerked right.
Pretty and young and tender.
He waited for her to meet the windshield.
But she was being hurled the wrong way—forward and to the right. She was no longer on the bike. She was above it, legs kicking overhead, as Eddie’s van smashed through it.
No problem, Eddie thought.
She won’t go far.
I’ll get her. Oh, yes.
His right-side tires bounced over the gravel shoulder of the road and he was about to steer back onto the pavement when he came upon a bridge.
He hadn’t even noticed it before.
He glimpsed the sign as he sped past it.
Not much of a creek.
Not much of a bridge—but it had a concrete guard wall four feet high.
“Are you all right?”
She was sitting on the ground with her back to the road, her head turned to look up at him. Above her right eyebrow, the skin was scraped off to her hairline. The raw place was striped with beaded threads of blood. It was dirty, and a few bits of straw-colored weeds clung to the stickiness.
Jake sat down beside her on the edge of the ditch.
Both her knees and the front of her right thigh were in the same condition as her forehead. Her right arm hung between her legs, knuckles against the ground. She held the arm with her other hand while it shook. She didn’t appear to be trying to hold it still. The other hand seemed meant to soothe it the way someone might lay a hand on an injured pet.
“Do you think it’s broken?” Jake asked.
“I wouldn’t know.”
Jake took out a notepad. “Could I have your name?”
“Jamerson,” she said. The corner of her mouth twitched.
Jake wrote. “And your first name?”
She turned her head to look at him again. “Shouldn’t you be doing something about
Her eyes shifted toward the blazing van fifty or sixty feet to her left.
“The fire truck’s on the way. My partner’s keeping an eye on things.”
“What about the…driver?”
“We can’t do much for him.”
“Is he dead?”
A shish kebab, Chuck had remarked when he saw the driver’s remains hanging out the windshield.
“Yes,” Jake said.
“He tried to hit me. I mean it. He had the whole road to himself. I’m over by the shoulder and I signal him to go around, and I look back and he’s actually swerving right at me. He’s grinning and he swerves right at me. Must’ve been going sixty.” Her face had a puzzled expression as if she were listening to a bizarre joke and waiting for Jake to feed her the punch line. “That guy meant to kill me,” she said. “He creamed my bike.”
She nodded toward it. The bike with its twisted wheels lay in the weeds on the far side of the ditch.
“What happened, I turned quick to get out of his way and it flipped on me. Just before he hit it, I guess. The van never touched me. Next thing I knew, I was landing in the ditch and there was this crash. Bastard. That’s what he gets, going around trying to…what’d I ever do to
“Did you know him?” Jake asked.
“I’ve heard of these guys, they’ll run down dogs just for laughs. Hey, maybe he thought I was a dog.” She tried to laugh and came out with a harsh sobbing noise.
“Had you ever seen the man before?”
“Did you do anything that might’ve angered him?”
“Sure, I flipped him the bird. What is this? Is it suddenly my fault?”
you flip him off?”
“No, damn it. I didn’t even see him till he was about a foot off my tail.”
“As far as you’re concerned, then, his action was totally unprovoked?”
“You say that you heard the crash just after you landed in the ditch?”
“Maybe I hadn’t hit yet. I really don’t know.”
“What happened next?”
“I think I conked out. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did. Then what happened, I heard your siren. That’s when I got up and…”
Jake looked over his shoulder. Chuck, fire extinguisher in one hand, was standing by the open rear door of the flaming van and waving him over. “I’d better see what he wants. Sit tight, there should be an ambulance on the way.”
Jake stood up, brushed off his seat, and walked over to his partner.
“Take a look-see here,” Chuck said, pointing to the ground.
The pale dirt of the road’s shoulder was speckled with a few dark blotches. Jake crouched for a closer look.
“Looks like blood to me,” Chuck said.
“Was the girl over here?”
“Not according to what she told me.”
“We better find out for sure. Cause if she wasn’t…know what I mean?”
Jake heard a distant siren. He saw a smear of blood on the gray asphalt of the road. The fire truck or ambulance wasn’t in sight yet, so he rushed across both lanes. Chuck trotted along beside him, still hanging onto the fire extinguisher.
“How’d someone survive a crash like that?” Chuck said.
Jake shook his head. “Just lucky.”
“Yeah, I guess it can happen. You hear about folks making it through airline crashes.
“I see it.”
A slick of blood on a blade of crabgrass.
Jake stepped into the weeds. He scanned the ditch and the field beyond it. Both were overgrown with weeds that had flourished and bloomed under the recent spring rains. The uneven terrain of the field was dotted with clumps of bushes. There were a few trees scattered around.
He saw no one.
Chuck cupped his hands to the sides of his mouth and yelled, “Hello! Hey, out there!”
Jake, standing beside him, could barely hear his voice over the noise of the siren.
The siren died. Chuck called out again. Jake heard the groan of air brakes, the tinny crackle of a radio. He looked back and saw the town’s bright yellow pump truck.
“How come you suppose he wandered off?” Chuck asked. “It was me got banged up, I’d stick around and wait for help.”
“Maybe he’s in shock and doesn’t know what he’s doing. More likely, though, he wanted to haul ass out of here. The girl says she was riding her bike along minding her own business and the van tried to run her down on purpose. Which would mean the guy’s not a model citizen. You take care of matters here, I’ll see if I can dig him up.”
“Don’t take all day, huh? I’m getting the hungries and my stockpile’s dry.”
The stockpile was the cache of Twinkies, chips and candy bars that Chuck kept in the patrol car.
“You’ll live,” Jake said. He slapped Chuck’s paunch, then climbed down into the ditch.
After looking for traces of blood, he climbed out of the ditch on its far side.
Back on the road, the firemen were blasting at the flames with chemical extinguishers. Chuck was walking over to Celia, who was standing now, though bent over a bit and still holding her right arm.
Jake wondered if she was from the university. She was the right age, and he probably would’ve known her if she was a local. Also, there was her wise-guy attitude.
Don’t hold it against her, he told himself. She was hurting.
A good-looking woman, even with her face scraped up.
Came damn close to getting her ticket canceled.
He turned away and continued searching.
Two in the van, one bought the farm and the other guy
got away. The dead guy was obviously the driver. The survivor must’ve been in the back of the van, or he would’ve gone out the windshield, same as the driver. And Celia didn’t mention seeing anyone in the passenger seat.
If he was in the back, maybe he wasn’t part of it.
part of it, or he would’ve stuck close to the van after the crash.
Wandering back and forth, Jake spotted a dandelion with a broken stem, a smear of blood on its blossoms. It was a few yards north of where he’d come out of the ditch. In his mind, Jake connected the two points and extended the line across the field. It led to a low rise a couple of hundred yards to the northwest. The high ground was shaded by a stand of eucalyptus trees. He headed that way.
From behind him came the blare of another siren. That would be the ambulance.
Nice response time, he thought.
He checked his wristwatch. 3:20
He and Chuck had spotted the smoke at 3:08. They’d reached the accident site two minutes later and called in. So the ambulance had taken ten minutes.
Good thing nobody’s life was depending on it.
Jake waded into Weber Creek, peering up and down the narrow band of water. On the other side, he stopped long enough to check the area for signs. The weeds were nearly knee-high. He couldn’t find any traces of blood or trampled foliage. Maybe the guy had changed course. Looking back, though, Jake could only make out the faintest sign of his own passage.
I’m hardly the world’s greatest tracker, he thought.
And if the guy had made any effort to be careful, he could’ve skirted the places with high weeds and stuck to areas where the ground cover was sparse. Or maybe followed the creek.
Maybe I already passed him. If he stretched out flat…
Sneaking up on me…
Jake whirled around.
His gaze swept over the field, then back toward the road. The van was still smoking, but he couldn’t see any flames. Chuck was standing close to Celia. An ambulance attendant was heading their way.
Jake continued toward the rise, but he’d begun to feel that he’d lost the suspect. He didn’t like that. In spite of the blood, it was apparent that the man hadn’t been severely injured. Hurt, sure, but not incapacitated.
A potential killer.
Jake didn’t want to lose him.
What kind of man pulls a stunt like that—tries to run down a total stranger in broad daylight? He wasn’t driving, of course, but he was an accomplice, Jake was sure of that.
Maybe they never intended to kill her, just run her off the road, rack her up enough to take the fight out of her, and snatch her. That Jake could understand. A good-looking woman, get her into the van, have their fun with her, dump her later on, maybe dead.
If Celia’s account was accurate, though, they actually tried to smash her with the van. It would’ve killed her for sure. And messed her up pretty good. Hardly your typical MO for a pair of traveling rapists.
They wanted her dead first?
Outlandish, too. There just aren’t that many necrophiles running around; the odds against two of them linking up must be staggering.
It could happen.
More likely, though, they just would have left her.
Combing the roads in a van, looking for suitable victims.
If I lose this guy…
Jake turned slowly, scanning the entire expanse of the field. He trudged to the top of the rise and made a quick cir
cuit around the trees. Nobody there. On the other side, the ground sloped down to a narrow road. Beyond the road, the field continued. The foliage and trees were heavier on that side. Plenty of places for a man to conceal himself.
Jake spent a long time watching the area. Turning around, he gazed at the field he had crossed.
You lost him, all right.
Get up a search party, go over the area inch by inch. The logical step, but not very practical. How do you get together enough men on short notice to do the job properly?
He leaned against a tree. He kicked a small rock and sent it flying down the slope. It landed in a clump of bushes, and he imagined his suspect crying out, “Ouch!” and making a run for it.
Dream on, Corey.
He looked up the side road. It led only to the Oakwood Inn. The old restaurant had been closed for years, but a couple from Los Angeles was planning to reopen it. He saw a station wagon parked in front. The folks must be there, fixing the place up.
I’d better warn them.
The damned restaurant only looked like it was a quarter of a mile away. Weary and discouraged—and gnawed by guilt for letting the creep slip away—Jake shoved himself away from the tree and made his way down the slope. He waded through the weeds. Once he reached the road, the walking was easier.
He kept a lookout, though he no longer expected to find the suspect.
Suspect, my ass, he thought.
This guy’s into wasting random victims.
And I lost him.
Maybe the accident, losing his partner, took some of the starch out of him.
I lost him and it’ll be my fault if he…
The distant sound of a car engine broke into Jake’s thoughts.
Chuck coming to fetch him?
He turned and realized that the sound came from the direction of the Oakwood Inn. He remembered the station wagon.
Snapped his head forward.
He was standing in a dip.
He saw only the road.
From the noise, the car was speeding.
And he knew.
He’d been slow—he should’ve guessed it the instant he saw the car sitting there, vulnerable, in front of the restaurant.
Your van is totaled, you’re on foot and hurt, you spot an unattended vehicle…
Heart racing, mouth gone dry, Jake Corey snatched out his .38, planted his feet on each side of the faded yellow centerline of the road, lowered himself into a shooting crouch, and waited.
He aimed at the road’s crest fifty yards away.
“Come on, you mother.”
Jake wished he had a .357 like the one Chuck carried. With that, he’d be able to kill a car.
Jake would have to go for the driver.
He had never shot anyone.
But he knew this was it. He couldn’t let the bastard get away.
Six slugs through the windshield.
That should do it.
The car burst into view, bounced on loose shocks as it hit the down slope, sped toward him.
Wait till he’s almost on you, blow him away, dive for safety.
Jake’s finger tightened on the trigger.
Brakes shrieked. The car skidded, fishtailed, and stopped thirty feet in front of him.
Jake couldn’t believe it.
“Let me see your hands!” he yelled.
The driver, a thin and frightened-looking man of about thirty, stared at Jake through the windshield.
“I want to see your hands
Grab the steering wheel
The hands appeared. They gripped the top of the wheel.
“Keep ‘em there!”
Jake kept his revolver pointed at the man’s face while he approached the car. The head turned, eyes following him as he stepped to the driver’s door.
No one else in the car.
Jake pulled the door open and stepped back. Crouching slightly, he had a full view of the man.
Who wore a blue knit shirt, and Bermuda shorts, and who didn’t appear to be injured in any way.