Authors: Richard Laymon
She covered her own plates with the stolen ones, and drove out.
She shivered as she drove. The tremors seemed stronger, less pleasant than usual.
Maybe this is too soon, Gillian thought. Maybe I’m pressing my luck.
Nothing to worry about, she told herself. You’ve never been caught, and there was only that one close call.
That, and the house on Silverston.
The “close call” had happened nearly a year ago. She’d been swimming in the pool at the Farnsworth house in Ran-cho Park when car doors thudded shut nearby. Thrusting herself out of the water, she ran dripping to the comer of the house. From there, she saw the roof of a van beyond the top of the gate. She heard quiet voices. The Farnsworths weren’t due home for two more days, but they must have cut their trip short. In seconds, they would find themselves prevented from entering the front door because of the burglar bar. When that happened, they were bound to come through the gate to try a back door. Gillian, choked with panic, raced around the end of the pool. At the rear of the yard, she sprang at the redwood fence, boosted herself up and squirmed over the top, scraping her thigh in the process. She dropped into the alley on the other side.
Fortunately, she’d left her car parked around a comer from the Farnsworth house, with an ignition key in a magnetized compartment under the rear bumper.
That wasn’t good fortune, she thought, that was good planning.
The good planning also paid off in that Gillian had taken nothing into the house that could be used to identify her. She lost her suitcase, clothes, security bars, purse and camera (along with a roll of film in the camera that must’ve given the Farnsworths food for thought if they had it developed), but nothing to give them any clues as to who the owner might be.
Still, it had been a narrow escape. She’d sworn off intrusions for good after that.
As time passed, however, the urge had grown. Three weeks later, she was inside another house. It had been scary for a while, but soon the fear of being discovered had faded and she’d had no more problems.
So why, tonight, was her usual anticipation tainted by a shadow of dread?
Gillian parked in front of the house. Light shone through the closed draperies of the living room, but that was normal; most people had timing devices to activate a lamp and make their homes look occupied while they were away.
She shut off her engine and headbeams, and got out of the car. As she walked around to the passenger door, she eyed the next-door houses. The one with the realtor’s sign was dark. The other had lights on, but no car in the driveway. The owners might be home, but there was a good chance they were out enjoying themselves.
Ten o’clock on a Saturday night was the ideal time for Gillian to make her entries: too early for most people to return home from movies or dinner parties; not so late that her arrival, if noticed by a neighbor, would draw much suspicion.
Especially not the way she was dressed.
Gillian opened the passenger door. She took out her purse and suitcase, and walked casually toward the front porch, confident that anyone who might spot her would assume she was a legitimate visitor. Burglars, after all, do not usually wear heels, a skirt, and a turtleneck sweater.
If questioned by a neighbor who’d been alerted that the owners were off on a trip, she would simply claim to be the niece who’d come to house-sit. That had happened a few times. Usually, they bought the story. If not, Gillian was ready to cover herself. “Uncle Henry insisted that I—”
“No Henry lives here.”
She would frown. “Sure. Henry Wadsworth.”
Assured that no Henry Wadsworth resided here, she would act perplexed and show the suspicious neighbor a slip of paper on which she had written Uncle Henry’s name and address. The neighbor would then explain that she was at the wrong address. “This is 8322, not 3822.” Grateful for having her error pointed out, she would depart.
Tonight, Gillian had no use for the slip of paper on which she had reversed the first two numbers of this address. Nobody questioned her. She saw no one on her way from the car to the porch.
The light above the front door was dark. She listened for a few moments and heard no voices from inside. Ringing the doorbell went against procedure. Though that was a good way to make sure nobody was home, the sound of a doorbell could sometimes be heard by neighbors. Also, it went against the logic of her cover, a niece coming to house-sit would hardly ring the doorbell.
Setting down her suitcase, Gillian opened the mailbox. It was empty except for a flier. She quietly lowered the lid.
The porch was an L-shaped concrete slab with a waist-high wall, and extended around the corner of the house. Its front was concealed from the street by a pair of geraniums. The house windows that looked onto the porch were dark.
Gillian carried her suitcase and purse around the comer and set them down. From there, she could see the high redwood fence that ran alongside the property. The next-door house had a single story, and only the very tops of its windows were visible above the fence. Lights shone through the windows.
It was all right, though. Not only were the curtains shut, but anyone inside would have to stand on a chair to see over the fence.
After slipping out of her shoes, Gillian stepped barefoot to the low wall and peered down. In the space between the house and the fence was a driveway that extended from the gate to a two-car garage. The porch was elevated leaving a drop of about six feet from the top of its wall to the driveway. There was no opening at the rear of the porch wall. She would have to jump.
Gillian opened her skirt and stepped out of it. She folded it, set it on the edge of her suitcase, then pulled off her sweater. Shivering in her gym shorts and tank-top, she opened her handbag and removed a small leather satchel. Then she climbed onto the side wall of the porch and pushed off. Her feet slapped the pavement, a quiet sound that could certainly not be heard inside the neighbor’s house.
She walked quickly up the driveway, noting that all the windows along this side of the house were dark. At the rear was a sliding glass door, then more windows. The concrete slab of the sundeck had a single lounge, a glass-topped table, a Weber grill, and a square platform surrounding the covered hot tub.
Gillian stepped around the corner of the house. She walked along the dewy grass strip between the wall and the fence, checking the windows and listening for sounds from inside. The last two windows showed light through their curtain, undoubtedly from the same source that illuminated the picture window she’d seen from the street. On this side of the house, there was no gate at the front.
Completing her rounds, Gillian felt sure that the house was deserted. She returned to the rear deck.
At the sliding door, she took a small flashlight out of her leather case. Shining its beam downward through the glass, she checked the runner. No rod had been placed there to prevent the door from being opened. She inspected the inside handle. It was one of those with a simple lever. A downward flick would disengage the lock.
With the flashlight clamped between her teeth, Gillian started to work. An open square of duct tape on the glass in front of the lock lever. A circle of tape stuck to the center for use as a handle. A careful line with her glass cutter along an inside border of the tape. Three more slices through the glass, completing the square. A few gentle taps at the edges. Finally, a pull at the tape in the center. The square of glass came out.
A cinch, Gillian thought.
She set the small section of glass on the table.
Reaching through the opening, she lowered the lock lever. She removed her hand and pulled the aluminum handle. The door slid open with a low, quiet rumble.
Gillian left her leather case on the table. She entered the house. The warm air had a closed-in, stuffy heaviness; one more indication that nobody was home.
Shining the flashlight around, she saw that she was in a den or recreation room. It had a couch, a couple of easy chairs, lamps and tables, a television with a large screen and VCR, a stereo, bookshelves along the wall in front of her and a built-in bar at the other end of the room. The floor was hardwood.
Very nice, Gillian thought.
Especially the bar and the VCR.
Pointing her flashlight at the bookshelves, she found that the owner had an extensive collection of tapes for the video recorder.
Gillian turned around and went through a doorway. Ahead was the dining room. To the right was another entryway. She stepped through it and found herself in the kitchen. After a quick look around, she backtracked, passed the door leading into the den, and entered a hallway on the left. A short distance down the hallway, she came to a wide arch that opened onto the living room. She switched off the flashlight. Then she peered around the corner of the arch. Satisfied that the room was deserted, she continued her search.
Just beyond the arch, she found a closet, then a bathroom. Farther down the hall, on the left, was a small room with exercise equipment. Squinting into the darkness, she saw a Nautilus, treadmill, rowing machine and weights, a mat on the floor and a wall of mirrors.
Then she came to the bedroom. Standing close to the open door, her back pressed to the wall, she held her breath and listened. No sounds came from the room. She wiped her sweaty hands on her shorts. Flashlight still off, she stepped away from the wall and moved in front of the doorway.
In spite of the closed curtains, the room had a dim gray glow. Gillian peered at the bed. Its cover was flat except for the bulge of pillows near the headboard.
That’s that, she thought.
Suddenly exhausted, she sagged against the doorframe.
End of Phase One, she told herself. You’re safely in and nobody’s here.
Of course, someone could be here, hiding. It was unlikely, though. So unlikely that it wasn’t even worth worrying about.
Even if all the other indications were misleading, the stuffy air of the closed-up house was sure proof.
After a while, Gillian thrust herself away from the doorframe and walked toward the bed. She turned on her flashlight. Though it was aimed at the king-sized bed, a bright beam streaked across the ceiling.
She flinched and looked up.
Mirrors. Mirrors on the ceiling above the bed.
Well now, Gillian thought. Whoever lives here must be quite a sport.
Turning around, she found the light beam ricocheting off mirrors on the wall. Even the shut door of the closet had them.
Grinning, Gillian went to the bed, sat on it, and gasped as she sank into the mattress. Waves rolled back against her rump.
A water bed!
This is going to be terrific.
She flopped down on the undulating softness, felt herself rise and fall on the gently moving surface, stared up at her reflection in the mirrors.
She’d been in a few houses with water beds but none with mirrors like this. It would be strange, trying to sack out with images of herself on the ceiling and wall.
The sport who lives here must get quite a kick out of looking at himself... or herself. Could be a woman, she thought. But definitely not married. Definitely on the make.
Her curiosity aroused, Gillian went to the closet and opened it. The inside of the door had a necktie bar. On the floor were men’s shoes. The hanging clothes were shirts, slacks, and sport coats.
Our Narcissus, she decided, is definitely a guy.
Gillian shut the closet. Beyond the end of the bed was a bureau. She could inspect its contents later. Beside it was another television. This TV, like the one in the den, had a VCR attached.
Leaving the room, Gillian went to the front door. She opened it, looked around, then stepped out on the porch. She gathered up her shoes, clothes, purse and suitcase, and carried them into the house.
Then she headed back into the den. She spent the next few minutes gluing the square of glass into its original place in the door. She taped it there to hold it while the glue had a chance to set. Then she packed up her tool satchel and entered the house.
She locked the sliding door.
In the living room, she opened her suitcase and took out her burglar bar. She extended its telescoping rod, fitted its V-shaped end under the doorknob and jammed its other end against the carpet at a wide angle.
“All right,” she said. “The house is mine.”
Rick woke up. The tent was dark. He pulled an arm out of his mummy bag and fingered a tab at the side of his wristwatch to light the digital numbers. Eleven-fifty. He grimaced. He’d been asleep less than two hours, and now he felt wide awake.
Bert, in her own bag alongside his, breathed slowly in and out. She was deeply asleep, gone, and Rick felt abandoned.
Trying to find a more comfortable position, he rolled onto his side. The rubber mat under his bag helped a little, but it was thin and the cold earth was unyielding. Too much weight bore down on his shoulder, upper arm and hip.
They’ll fall asleep before I do, he thought.
He rolled the rest of the way over and crossed his arms beneath the makeshift pillow of his rolled coat. This was better; the ground felt fine under his thigh muscles. But he was pressing down hard on his lower ribs. His penis, sideways against his groin, felt mashed. He turned slightly to relieve the pressure. Now his knee pushed against the ground and there was more weight on the left side of his ribcage. After a while, the knee and ribs began to ache.
Muttering, “Shit,” he rolled onto his back again and gazed at the slanted walls of the tent.
This is madness, he thought. I could be home in my own soft bed, instead of out here in the wilderness scared out of my gourd. Like last time ...
He listened to Bert’s slow breathing, and resented her. This was all her fault.
“Get off it,” he told himself. “You didn’t have to come. And she’s been great.”
Rick wished he’d had a couple of shots before turning in. He’d been reluctant, however, to let Bert find out that he’d brought the bourbon along. She might not complain, but she would certainly disapprove. She did complain about her parents’ drinking, whose cocktail hour had stretched into two hours on the several occasions when she and Rick had dined at their house. She didn’t complain to them. She complained to Rick later on. By implication, her comments seemed directed at Rick since he had matched her parents drink for drink. “Can’t people have a good time,” she would say, “without trying one on?”