Authors: Richard Laymon
She looked at him. “Did I miss something?”
“Hell, they were drooling all over you.”
Rick nodded. For a moment, he couldn’t see the three boys. Then they appeared on the other side of a rock cluster. “Looks like they’re leaving,” he muttered.
“Expect them to circle around and jump us?” She sounded amused.
“It’s a possibility.”
“My protector,” she said, and patted his rump.
Rick was tempted to lift his shirt and show her what was in his belt.
Protector, all right.
He fought the urge. If Bert found out that he had a gun, she would go into shock.
She’ll find out if I have to use it, he thought. Then she’ll be damn glad I was scared and crazy enough to bring it along.
“Want to stand guard while I pee?” Bert asked.
“Why don’t you wait a few minutes?”
The smile left her face. “They’re gone, honey.”
Frowning, Bert gently stroked his cheek. “I wish you wouldn’t worry so much.”
“There’s honestly no need for it. We’re perfectly safe out here. We left all the nutcases behind in LA.”
“I hope so.”
“Anyway, my teeth are floating.”
The trail looked deserted. There was no sign of the boys. “Okay, go ahead. But stay out of sight.”
She turned away and walked toward her pack.
Rick shifted his attention from the trail to Bert until she wandered into the trees with a roll of toilet paper in her hand.
The moment she was gone, he rushed over to his pack. After a quick search, he found a T-shirt. He wrapped it around his revolver and stuffed them in a side pocket of his pack. He zipped the pocket shut, patted it, and felt the hardness of the gun inside.
Now he’d be able to get at it without taking his pack apart.
Still wouldn’t be as fast as he’d like.
He only wished he could wear the gun on his hip.
Gillian took photographs of every room in Fredrick Holden’s house for her scrapbooks. When shooting the bedroom, she was especially careful to avoid catching her reflection in the mirrors. In the past, she had sometimes taken pictures of herself, either in mirrors or using the camera’s delayed timing device. Fortunately, she hadn’t done that at the Farnsworth house, where the family returned home early and she left everything behind, camera included. After that, she stopped taking self-portraits.
Once every room of Fredrick Holden’s house had been photographed to her satisfaction, Gillian began to investigate.
She started with the kitchen. The notes on the bulletin board by the phone provided no information about Uncle Fredrick’s trip. There were scribbled names and telephone numbers, nothing of much interest.
The refrigerator was well stocked, but Gillian noticed that it held no milk or cream. A good sign. Fredrick had removed the perishables, not wanting to return home and find his refrigerator stinky. He wouldn’t have tossed such things if he planned to be gone for only a couple of days. If Gillian could just find out the date he left ...
The freezer section was full of goodies: steaks, lamb chops, chicken breasts, bags of onion rings and Golden Crisp Potato Nuggets, two sausage pizzas, chocolate-chip ice-cream, a box of tacquito hors d’oeuvres, and a dozen TV dinners such as veal parmesan, lasagna, fried jumbo shrimp, and lobster Neuberg.
Gillian decided she was hungry.
She turned on the oven, tore open a box of pizza, and slid the frozen slab onto the oven tray. After setting the timer for ten minutes, she took a lamb chop from the freezer and set it aside to defrost for dinner.
The pleasant odors of the pizza stole her concentration as she inspected the drawers and cupboards. When the dinger sounded, she opened the oven door. The heat washed over her. She breathed deeply of the rich, spicy aromas. The tomato sauce and cheese bubbled, but the crust needed to darken some more. Leaving it in the oven, she went into the bar and got herself a bottle of Corona beer.
She checked the pizza again. The rim of its crust was golden brown, nearly black in places, just the way she liked it.
She cut out several large wedges, put them on a plate, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.
She ate outside, sitting cross-legged on the lounge chair with the plate on her lap. The sun felt uncomfortably hot on her bare skin. The pizza, in spite of its wonderful look and smell, was more of a disappointment than a pleasure.
If I’d wanted the taste of cardboard, Gillian thought, I would’ve eaten the box.
But the beer was cold and tasted terrific.
Her hand was wet from the bottle. She rubbed it over her shoulders, sighing as the cool moisture soothed her hot skin.
I ought to get Jerry to invite me over for a swim, she thought.
Forget it. No fraternizing with the neighbors.
She looked over at Fredrick’s spa. The water in there was probably cool.
Later, she told herself. I have more snooping to do before I can flake out.
The second and third slices of pizza didn’t seem as awful as the first. Gillian supposed that they were no less awful; that they only seemed better because she was growing accustomed to the lousy flavor.
When her plate and bottle were empty, she stood up. She was streaming with sweat and the seat of her bikini pants clung to her buttocks. She plucked the fabric away as she walked over to the fence. On tiptoes, she gazed into Jerry’s yard. No sign of him. His pool looked delicious.
He should be in it, Gillian thought. I should be in it.
Back in the house, she peeled off her bikini, went into the bathroom, and took a brief, cool shower. It felt great. In the bedroom, she put on a lightweight sleeveless shirt that draped her thighs. She buttoned it at the waist, and returned to the kitchen.
She wrapped-the left-over pizza in aluminum foil and put it in the refrigerator. It would make a decent snack, cardboard taste or not, for tonight when she planned to watch movies on the VCR.
With another beer from the refrigerator behind the bar, Gillian sat down at a small desk in one corner of the den. The top of the desk was clear. She searched the drawers.
Fredrick had left behind his checkbook, which seemed a little odd. The balancing was up-to-date. His account had a total of $1,248.60.
The last check had been written on June 20.
He was still in town on Friday, day before yesterday. I got here yesterday.
He’d stopped his mail, tossed his milk so it wouldn’t go sour.
I bet I could stay two, three more nights. Maybe longer if I want to push it.
The check dated June 20 had been made out to “cash” in the amount of $2,000.00.
He took that kind of money, he might be gone weeks.
Just because he withdrew that much, Gillian thought, doesn’t mean he plans to use it all for his trip.
She looked at the earlier stubs. Most of the checks had been written to pay supermarkets, auto insurance, the monthly mortgage, utilities and credit card companies. None of the checks had been made out to an airline or travel agent.
So he’d probably used part of the two thousand dollars to pay for his transportation to wherever he went.
Unless he drove.
His car is probably parked at the airport, Gillian thought.
She snapped the checkbook shut and slid it back inside the drawer.
Awfully strange that he left it behind. Who would go on a trip without taking his checkbook along?
With that kind of cash, who needs a checkbook?
In the same drawer, Gillian found Fredrick’s savings account passbook. It showed a total of $156,835.46. “Not bad,” she whispered. She had twice that in her own passbook and nearly as much tied up in stocks and bonds, but not everybody gets two wrongful-death settlements to build up that kind of nest egg.
Whatever Uncle Fredrick does for a living, she thought, he does pretty well for himself. Maybe he’s a doctor or a lawyer.
He certainly had quite a modest house considering his income.
“You’d think he could afford a goddamn pool,” Gillian muttered.
She put away the passbook and looked through the rest of the drawers. They held nothing of much interest until she slid open the bottom drawer and found a .357 magnum Colt Python. Whistling softly, she lifted it.
The thing was loaded.
Obviously Uncle Fredrick was prepared to blast away intruders.
That’s me, Gillian thought.
Though she didn’t expect to be taken by surprise, she saw no point in leaving a loaded gun around where it might be used on her.
She broke open the cylinder and tilted the barrel up. The cartridges slid out, dropping into her palm. She dumped them into her shirt pocket and returned the revolver to its drawer.
Finished at the desk, she wandered over to the bookshelves. Three of the shelves were taken up by boxed video tapes. Though tempted to explore the collection, she decided to wait until later and check them out when she was ready to settle down and watch a few.
The books looked fairly normal. At first. The reference collection included a set of the World Book encyclopedia, several atlases, a dictionary, The People’s Almanac, Gray’s Anatomy, and a couple of motion picture encyclopedias. He had several books about body-building, but none that might indicate his profession. Unless he’s a photographer, Gillian thought. There were fifteen or twenty books on that subject, most of them expensive, large format and with glossy pages. Most of them featuring nude women.
His hardbound fiction ran toward best-sellers by Joseph Wambaugh, Robin Cook, Lawrence Sanders, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and so on. He had rows of paperbacks, mostly suspense and horror novels.
And one entire shelf of non-fiction that made Gillian wonder about Fredrick Holden. She felt a chill on her back as she inspected the books: volumes about Jack the Ripper, Albert Fish, Ed Gein, Charles Starkweather, Richard Speck, the Boston Strangler, the Manson family, John Wayne Gacey, the Skidrow Slasher, the Hillside Strangler, and Theodore Bundy. Many of the books contained photographs of the dead victims.
What’s with this guy? she wondered.
Maybe he’s a suspense writer, she told herself, and just had these books around for reference.
Then where’s his computer?
Maybe he’s a true crime buff, into police procedure and that kind of thing.
Sure. What he is, he’s crazy about homicidal maniacs.
And he’s got a water bed. And mirrors all over his bedroom.
“I really picked a good one,” Gillian muttered.
After sliding a copy of Helter Skelter back onto the shelf, she headed for the bathroom to wash her hands.
She was reminded of the Benning house, where Bill and Andrea had shelves of sex manuals, stacks of nudie magazines, an assortment of dildos and vibrators, various devices for which Gillian could only guess at the purposes, numerous oils and lotions, and erotic wardrobes: transparent negligees, G-strings (Bill’s with a leopard-cloth pouch that opened like curtains), loin cloths, frilly garter belts, leather undies and bras, and bras with open fronts.
Gillian had inspected the Bennings” collection, intrigued and a little embarrassed. Though she’d considered trying out some of the devices and clothes, she’d found the idea more repellent than exciting.
She’d washed her hands after touching the things, just as she was washing her hands now.
All you touched this time were books, she thought as she rinsed off the suds. Hardly the same.
But what kind of person would enjoy reading that kind of junk?
Gillian recalled the uneasy feelings she’d had last night before even arriving at the house. Were they premonitions? Nonsense.
How about the way she reacted when the telephone rang? Phones had rung at odd times when she was staying at other places, but she hadn’t panicked.
It was as if a shadowy comer of her mind knew she’d picked the wrong house this time.
“Bullshit,” Gillian-said. She dried her hands and stepped into the hall. “So what if the guy’s a little bent.”
That’s what keeps it interesting, she told herself. Discovering the hidden quirks.
She took her Minolta from the bedroom and returned to the den and touched the books again. After arranging them on the floor with their front covers showing, she snapped a close-up. She put them away. Just to be thorough, she then grouped the photography books on the floor for a shot, then the body-building books.
That, she thought, takes care of his peculiar reading habits.
In books, at least.
The search for Fredrick’s magazine collection took about two minutes. She found it in the bedroom in the bottom drawer of his nightstand, pretty much where she expected it to be. The magazines were neatly arranged in two stacks. True-crime magazines.
Kneeling on the floor, Gillian lifted out half a dozen. Most of the covers featured a woman in peril, usually sprawled at the feet of a man. Only the back of the man was shown. The woman invariably gazed up at him with terror in her eyes. She was dressed in scanty undergarments or a revealing negligee or a torn blouse. More often than not, her hands were tied.
Gillian looked through a few of the magazines. The stories had lurid tides: “Weird MO of the Sorority Killer,” “Death of the Gang-Sex Beauty,” “Rampage of the Peeper.” There were grainy photos of murder weapons, cops investigating cases (usually in wooded areas), apprehended killers and their victims (before and after).
The advertisements seemed as strange as the stories. They pushed pamphlets revealing the secrets of how to build the body you’ve always wanted, how to earn big bucks at home in your spare time, how to become a detective, how to hypnotize girls Secretly!” so they’ll obey your every command. There were several ads for trusses. Other ads urged readers to buy pellet guns, tear-gas guns, “authentic badges” and “durable, reliable” handcuffs.
Gillian had seen such magazines at news-stands, never suspecting they contained such garbage: stories to titillate you with the details of sex killings (including hints on police procedure to help you avoid capture), followed by those ads.