Authors: Richard Laymon
He wrinkled his nose. He took another swallow. “It’s okay.”
He gave the bottle to Julie and she drank. “Nasty out there,” she said.
“I knew this was a bad place to stay.”
“I wasn’t too happy about it myself, but we didn’t have much choice. We would’ve had to go over another pass to get out of here.”
“I wish we had’ve.” Rick accepted the bottle, took another swallow, and handed it back. His cheeks felt a little numb and there was a mild, pleasant fogginess inside his head.
Though the wind still howled and shook the tent, it soon stopped bothering Rick. It was outside and couldn’t get in, couldn’t hurt them. In here, talking with Julie and sharing the bottle, his worries slid away. He even found himself feeling glad that he’d broken his leg; otherwise, he wouldn’t be here with her. Dad would be here instead, and Rick would be off alone in the other tent.
“When I get older,” he said, “I hope I get to marry someone like you.”
She smiled. “The booze must be getting to you.”
“No, I mean it. Honest. You’re really neat. For a mother,” he added, just so she wouldn’t get the wrong idea.
“You’re pretty neat yourself. Even if you don’t clean up your room.” After capping the bottle, she placed it near the head of the tent and said, “We don’t want hangovers in the morning. You think you’ll be able to sleep now?”
She took her parka and rolled it up. “Any more problems, just wake me up.” She leaned forward and kissed him gently on the mouth. “Sleep tight,” she said.
Rick settled down into his bag. He watched Julie reach up to turn off the lantern. A side of her T-shirt rose, showing a wedge of bare skin. He saw the way her nipples made the fabric jut. He felt a warm, heavy stirring in his groin.
The light went out. He closed his eyes. His mind held the picture of Julie reaching up toward the lantern. He knew he should feel guilty, but he didn’t. He felt only languid and peaceful and pleasantly aroused. Soon, he fell asleep.
The next day, the men came.
There were two of them.
Rick was in his swimming trunks and wearing no shirt. He had just finished soaking his leg in the frigid lake. Julie, crouched in front of him, was using belts to strap the splints to his shin. She had made the splints yesterday, soon after Dad’s departure, by chopping a length of dead branch into a pair of thin slats and padding each of them with one of Rick’s undershirts.
Rick didn’t hear the men coming. Suddenly, they just appeared among the trees behind the tent. He flinched. Julie looked up at him. “Someone’s here,” he said.
Julie made a final adjustment to the bindings, then stood and turned around.
“Morning,” one of the men said in a cheerful voice. He and his friend came forward. He had a thick, shoulder-high walking stick. He wore a faded Dodger cap with sweaty blond hair sticking out like spikes around its edges. He wore sunglasses with silver lenses that hid his eyes. He looked as if he hadn’t shaved for a couple of days. The sleeves of his filthy, plaid shirt had been cut off at the shoulders. A big sheath knife hung from the belt of his jeans.
His friend looked a couple of years younger, maybe eighteen. He was shorter and heavier, but not fat. His T-shirt bulged with muscles and was cut off just below his ribcage. For a hat, he wore an army helmet liner. Around his waist was a wide web belt with a canteen hanging at one side and a knife at the other. He wore plaid Bermuda shorts. He looked slightly ridiculous, but Rick didn’t feel like smiling.
“You got some trouble there?” asked the thin one.
“My son broke his leg yesterday.”
“Bad place for a thing like that.”
With the help of a crutch Julie had made for him after preparing the splints, Rick pushed himself up. He stood beside Julie, most of his weight on his right leg, using the crutch for balance.
“We’re getting along okay,” Julie said. “Did you come down from Windover Pass?” she asked.
“Nope. Heading that way. Mind if we rest up for a minute?”
They lowered their backpacks to the ground, but didn’t sit down. “Nice camp,” the lean one said. “Just the two of you?”
“My husband’s around here someplace,” Julie said. She looked off toward the outcroppings beyond Rick’s tent. “Dave?” she called.
Rick, already concerned by the presence of the two men, was frightened by Julie’s lie.
“I’m sure he’ll be along in a minute. He just went after some firewood.”
“Right.” The lean man turned to his friend. “Dave went after firewood. How many packs you see?”
The stocky one smiled. “Just two. I’ll just bet Dave hiked out to get help for the kid.”
Rick felt as if his lungs were caving in. He swayed on his one leg and crutch.
It’s okay, he told himself. They’re jerks, but nothing’s going to happen.
Julie shook her head. In a voice that sounded calm, she said, “My brother-in-law hiked out. Dave’s just over—”
“Hey Dave!” the heavy one yelled. “Yoo-hoo, Daaavy! Where arrre you?” He shrugged. “Gosh, Jiff, I don’t know where he could be.”
Jiff, grinning, took a step toward Julie.
Julie’s back stiffened. “Now don’t ...”
He barely moved, just reached his left hand across to the walking stick by his right leg and rammed it upward with both hands. The point caught Julie under the chin. Her head snapped back. Her arms flew up. She was still falling when Jiff pivoted and swung the staff at Rick. It smashed him above the ear.
There was a terrible, roaring pain in his head. He thought, I shouldn’t have drunk so much booze last night. If this is what it means to have a hangover ... Groaning, he opened his eyes.
He wasn’t in the tent. Above him, the leaves of trees were shivering in the wind. He lifted his head off the ground, felt himself spinning, and twisted onto his side. The sudden motion shot pain through his head and leg. Vomit erupted out of him.
Good thing I’m not in the tent, he thought vaguely.
When he was done vomiting, he wiped his teary eyes. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, blew his nose, and cleaned his mouth and chin. Then he sat up.
He saw Julie naked on the ground.
He looked around quickly, making his head whirl. The men seemed to be gone.
“Julie!” he yelled.
She didn’t move. She was sprawled on her back a few yards away. She still had her knee socks on. And one shoe. Her blouse lay in a heap near her head. Her shorts were on the ground dose to the shoe that was off.
Don’t look at her, Rick warned himself. She’s naked. God, naked. You might get turned on, and if you hadn’t been looking at her yesterday, trying to see up her shorts ...
As sick as he felt, and as guilty and frightened, he realized there was little need to worry about becoming aroused.
From where he sat, Rick didn’t see any blood on her. But she didn’t look right.
“Julie?” he asked again.
She’s just out cold, he told himself. Like I was. That’s good. Maybe she’d been unconscious while the men did things to her. They must have done things to her, or why were her clothes off?
When she woke up, she would know.
It’ll be all right, Rick thought. I’ll take good care of her. I’ll cover her first. That’s the first thing I’ll do, so I won’t keep looking at her.
Cringing as the pains in his head and leg punished him with burning throbs, he thrust himself up with his crutch. Another wave of dizziness came. He swayed, barely staying up as the ground tipped and turned. When the dizziness passed, he hobbled over to Julie.
She had a dark bruise where the walking stick had hit her under the chin. Her eyes were shut. Her lips and cheeks were crusted with something, as if white glue had been squirted around her mouth and dried. Rick wondered what it was. Then he knew.
Gagging, he turned his eyes quickly away from her face. But what he saw only added to his disgust and horror. The skin of her shoulders was bruised and dented from bites. Her breasts still held the imprint of fingers, as if they had been fiercely squeezed. Fingernails had left tiny, crescent-shaped impressions. Her nipples looked chewed. Rick covered his mouth and shut his eyes. But he had to look again. Lower, she was caked with dried blood and more semen. Rick had never seen that part of a woman before, just in a few pictures.
Embarrassment suddenly pushed its way through Rick’s other agony. Even though he wasn’t turned on, what if Julie woke up and saw him staring there?
He bent over and lost his balance. Though he waved an arm to steady himself, he knew it was useless. He flung the crutch from his other hand and reached beyond Julie as he fell. For a moment, he was braced above her like a bridge. But his left leg gave out as pain blasted up it. He collapsed. He fell on Julie.
He started to cry.
She was naked, and Rick had nothing on but swimming trunks, and he was lying on her. Her bare skin against him. He could feel the jut of her hipbone, her flat belly, her ribcage. He could feel a breast against this side, just below his armpit.
If she comes to now ...
There was no movement under Rick.
No rise and fall of Julie breathing.
Of course she’s breathing, he thought.
But she wasn’t ...
Rick’s mind seemed to freeze. He shoved himself off Julie, rolled onto his side with his head resting on her outstretched arm. He saw his hand reach out as if it belonged to someone else. It curled around her throat. His fingers searched for the feel of blood pumping through arteries and veins below her jaw.
Then he was up on an elbow, sobbing as he shook Julie by the shoulder. Her head wobbled from side to side. He waited for her eyes to open.
They never would.
Gillian’s first task, after securing the house, was to determine the name of its owner.
On the coffee table were several magazines: People, Playboy, Los Angeles and Newsweek. They had apparently been bought in stores, and bore no subscription labels.
Gillian went into the den. She shut the curtains across the glass door, then turned on a lamp. On top of the television, along with two remote control units, was a copy of TV Guide. It had a label with the address of this house.
The owner, therefore, was undoubtedly Fredrick Holden.
So, she thought, I’m house-sitting for Uncle Fred. Or is it Unde Rick? I’d better just stick with Uncle Fredrick till I find out what he goes by.
With the lamp off, she stepped under the curtains and slid the door open. She carefully peeled off the duct tape she had used to hold the glued section of glass in place. She wadded it in her hand, shut and looked the door, turned on the lamp again, and tossed the tape into a waste basket she found behind the bar.
The bar had a refrigerator. Inside was a nice selection of soft drinks and beer, and a couple of jugs of wine. Gillian lifted out a jug of Blanc de Blanc. She chose a good-sized brandy snifter from a shelf of glasses, twisted out the bottle stopper, and filled her glass. She took a sip. The cold wine had a subtle, fruity flavor, and was not too sweet.
With the glass in one hand and her flashlight in the other, she went into the kitchen. The windows there faced the side of the house and the front porch, as she searched the kitchen in darkness except for the glow from outside. A bulletin board hung next to the wall phone. Some notes were pinned to it. Gillian decided to wait until morning to read the notes. Beside the bulletin board was a picture calendar. Flashlight tucked under her arm, she lifted the calendar off its small nail and carried it into the den.
She sat on a soft recliner chair, took a sip of wine, and studied the calendar. The top portion had a glossy color photo of a slender young woman posing beside a pool. She wore a string bikini and her skin was shiny with oil. Just what Gillian expected of a fellow who had mirrors on his bedroom ceiling.
The lower portion of the calendar was devoted to the month of June. Today was Saturday the 21st. The square block for the 21st had no writing on it. Neither did any of the squares for earlier in the week. On the 13th was written: “7:30 Stewardess; 9:05 Passion.” The 7th had similar notations: “7:10 Elena, 8:50 Crazy.” Gillian guessed that these were the starting times for double-features, the movie titles abbreviated. The rest of the dates for the month of June had no writing in their spaces. She glanced at July, then shook her head.
“You’re no help,” she muttered at the calendar.
Apparently, Fredrick Holden needed no reminders of when he was leaving on his trip or returning. Maybe Gillian would turn up some information later. She was in no mood to continue investigating the matter now. She wanted to settle in and relax.
One final chore.
After taking the calendar back into the kitchen, Gillian went to the front room. She stepped into her skirt again and pulled the sweater over her head, but decided not to bother with her heels. Car keys in hand, she removed the burglar bar and unlocked the door.
Outside, the night air was cool and fresh after the stuffy warmth of the house. The grass was dewy under her bare feet. Down the street, a car swung into a driveway. A man and a woman climbed out and walked toward their front door. Nobody else was in sight.
Gillian climbed into her car. She drove it to the end of the block, turned the comer, and parked at the first empty stretch of curb. She walked back to the house.
At the driveway, she stopped.
Something looked different.
She frowned. What was ... ?
Light no longer glowed through the living room curtains.
The nape of Gillian’s neck went tight.
Someone inside the house? Had someone been in there all along?
No. Probably the lightbulb burnt out.
But what if someone is ... ?
She suddenly knew. Shaking her head and smiling at her foolishness, she checked her wristwatch. Eleven o’clock. Though she hadn’t seen the timer, hadn’t even bothered to look for it, the living room lamp was obviously equipped with one. It would be set to turn on the lamp after dark and kill it around bedtime.
Nobody in there after all.
Hearing the grumble of a car engine behind her, Gillian looked around. A Corvette. Slowing down as it approached.