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Authors: Richard Laymon

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She no longer struggled, just lay there sprawled out, sobbing and groaning.

Albert crouched down and slit open the front of her slip. He spread it, exposing her breasts. They were smaller than Betty’s.

More like Miss September’s.

“Nice tits, Mrs. Broxton,” he said.

He watched them rise and fall as she sobbed.

Cupping one of her breasts with a bloody hand, he felt its nipple push against his palm. He squeezed the breast. The blood made it slippery.

His penis was stout and aching in his jeans.

Holding the knife in his teeth, he pulled his zipper down and freed himself.

EIGHT

THE REQUEST

The roar of his Jaguar still rang in Ian’s ears after he was inside his dark house. He stepped cautiously through the kitchen.
Once in the living room with its glassed-in side facing the backyard and pool, he could see well enough to avoid collisions.

For a moment, he considered going outside and sitting quietly in the fog.

Enough time for that later.

He went into his study and turned on a light. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the sharp brightness. Then he
moved them slowly over the desk, the file cabinets, the card table, the two television trays, and the chair and lamp table
in the corner. “It’s gotta be somewhere,” he said.

A simple matter of spending the rest of the night searching through clutter.

What he should do is spend a while thinking.

He went to the easy chair, cleared its seat of three thick file folders, and sat down.

Now, reconstruct it. When was the last time you talked to him? Monday, from the faculty lounge. No, he called me. Wednesday?
I phoned him Wednesday from here. From where exactly? The desk.

Ian walked to the desk. The telephone didn’t seem to be on it. He stepped behind the desk and rolled the swivel chair back to the wall. There, on the floor, was the telephone. But not flat on the floor.

A frayed, black corner of his address book protruded from beneath it.

The phone bumped the floor and jingled once as he pulled out the book.

The index card with Arnie Barrington’s phone number jutted like a bookmark from the top of the address book.

Ian glanced at his wristwatch. One-fifteen. That made it four-fifteen in New York.

Much too late.

Or too early.

He propped up the card on the carriage of his typewriter and headed for bed.

But sleep wouldn’t come. He lay there looking at the darkness, thinking of Emily Jean who felt she had wasted her life and
of Laura who never got the chance.

Laura.

My God, was it really seven years? Had he actually survived so long without her?

He told himself to change the subject.

He thought about his work and became calm and sleep finally came.

When Ian woke up Sunday morning, he folded his hands behind his head and took a deep breath. The cool air smelled of autumn.
How does autumn air smell? Of burning leaves. But there was no aroma of burning leaves, so what made him think of autumn air?

Simply because he knew it was October? Or because he planned to see a football game at City College after lunch?

It had to be more than that.

The air had a silence to it. And a sadness. It had a quiet, mildly disturbing quality of loss. But of excitement, too.

Laura would have smiled and said, “You’re loony. California’s got no seasons.”

She didn’t last long enough to find out about them.

Ian glanced at the empty side of his bed. Then he got up fast and put on his old flannel robe. On the dresser, he found the
notepad that he’d taken with him to last night’s social committee meeting. He carried it into the study.

8:45. In New York, it would almost be noon.

Arnie oughta be up by now.

Ian picked the index card off the carriage of his typewriter and dialed Arnie’s suite.

He let the phone ring ten times.

Nobody answered.

Come on, Arnie, where are you? It’s Sunday morning, you
oughta be lounging around in your suite.

After swimming, Ian dressed and sat down at his desk with a cup of coffee. He wrote three pages of his novel. Then he fixed
himself a Bloody Mary and dialed Arnie’s suite again.

The phone rang twice before it was picked up.

A nasal, male voice recited, “Arnold Barrington Associates.” This obviously wasn’t Arnie’s secretary, Bernice.

Of course not, Ian thought. It’s Sunday. This must be Arnie’s current boyfriend.

“I’d like to speak with Arnie.”

“And who may I say is calling?”

“Ian Collins.”

“Oh,
Ian!
Evan Chandler, I presume?”

“That’s right.”

“Oh, it’s such a pleasure to finally
speak
to you. I simply
adore
your novels. They’re so
hunky
. And
Some Call it
Sleep
! What can I say? A marvelous book. I do hope the film does it justice.”

“Well, it better. Arnie and I are co-producers, so it’ll be our fault if the thing stinks.”

“I’m sure it’ll be absolutely wonderful. I’m Dennis, by the by.”

“How you doing, Dennis?”

“Oh, I’m just
super
. You’ve absolutely
made
my Sunday morning. But I’m sure you don’t want to spend all day chit-chatting with little ol’ me. I’ll call Arnie to the phone.
Hang on just a sec. Don’t go away.”

“Sure. Thanks.”

He sipped hi s Bloody Mar y. It needed more Tabasco.

Dennis’s voice returned. “Arnie will be right along.”

“Thanks, Dennis.”

“Anywho, it’s been
splendid
talking to you. I’m
such
a fan. And I’m
so
looking forward to meeting you in the flesh, so to speak. We’ll
all
be at the premiere, of course.”

“Yeah. Probably see you then.”

“Here’s the man himself.
Ciao
, Ian.”

“So long, Dennis.”

“Ian?” Arnie said.

“Hi, Arnie. Sorry to bother you on a Sunday.”

“You’re never a bother, my friend. How are things in sunny Los Angeles?”

“Nice and sunny.”

“Oh, sometimes I could die of envy.”

“You’d probably die of boredom if you ever stepped out of New York City.”

“You’re so right, you know. I think I would shrivel up and blow away if I were exiled from this place. Of course, I have no
intention of that happening. What can I do for you?”

“I’ve got a big favor to ask.”

“And should I grant it, will you do me the favor of abandoning your foolhardy obsession with the bending of young minds—and
write
full-time?”

“But I
enjoy
bending young minds,” he said.

“We’d be able to
double
your income, you know.”

“So you keep telling me. But I think I’ll stick with teaching. At least for now.”

“It’s selfish, you know. Your public
hungers
for more books.”

“They’ll just have to be patient.”

“Don’t think I don’t
know
why you insist on staying in the classroom.”

He doesn’t know, Ian thought. He can’t possibly know.

“You simply can’t bear to tear yourself away from all those nubile young maidens.”

Ian chuckled. “That’s certainly part of it.”

It
is
part of it, he thought. the daily contact with the girls, not just with the nubile young maidens but with
all
of them, the cute and the plain, the sexy and the dumpy, the sweet and the snotty, the smart and the dull. Part of it, too,
was the daily contact with the guys: the studious shy ones, the wiseasses, the jocks, the know-it-all jerks, the sneering
bullies.

And part of it, too, was his contact with the faculty and staff of the school. There were the secretaries and clerks who generally
seemed much more friendly and down-to-earth than the teachers. And there were teachers of every variety: the eager, often-frightened
young ones; the dedicated pros; the loafers who spent most of their classroom time showing films; the arrogant pedants; the
kid haters; the tired and the surly and the disappointed.

The disappointed, like Emily Jean.

“Are you still there, Ian?”

“Huh? Yeah. Sorry. My mind wandered.”

“Daydreaming about your classrooms full of Lolitas?”

“Something like that. Anyway, the reason I called…”

“Ah, the favor.”

“I’m wondering if you might contact Hal for me. Or give me a number where I can reach him.”

“He’s already on location in Denver, you know.”

“Yeah, I thought he might be. Do you have a number for him?”

“Well, of
course
I do. We talk
daily
.”

“Ah, good. Next time you talk to him, could you mention that there’s a young actress I think might be perfect for the role
of Lilly?”

“One of your Lolitas?”

Ian smiled. “I don’t
have
any Lolitas, and you know it.”

“More’s the pity.”

“Her name is May Beth Bonner. She’s the daughter of a friend. She’s a slim, very attractive redhead, early twenties. She
is
Lilly.”

“But can she act?”

“I imagine so. She just finished a run of
The Glass
Menagerie
at the Stage Door Theater here in L. A.”

“Hal
has
been having a difficult time finding an appropriate Lilly.”

“Well, why don’t you let him know about May Beth? If he’s interested, he can give her a call.” Ian read the number from his
notepad.

“Got it,” Arnie said. “You do realize we begin principal photography at the end of the week.”

“I know. But I’d like to see her get a break, if it’s possible. I’d
really
like to see her get the role.”

“I’ll talk to Hal about it. We’ll see what we can do.”

“Real good.”

“I can’t guarantee anything.”

“I understand that. Just do what you can.”

“Will do. Now, how’s the new novel coming along?”

NINE

THE BIG GAME

Lester didn’t want to go to the City College football game. He wanted to spend his Sunday afternoon at home watching the Rams
on television. He told that to Helen.

“I thought you were a big fan of Buster Johnson,” she said. It sounded like an accusation.

“Who?”

“Buster Johnson. The quarterback you thought was so great last year.”

“We didn’t go to any College games last year.”

“He wasn’t
at
College last year.” She didn’t finish her statement with, “you stupid idiot.” She didn’t have to. The clipped impatience of
her voice said it for her. “He was at High School.”

“One of your students?”

Helen nodded.

“Isn’t everyone,” Lester said.

“Not everyone.”

“Everyone who counts.”

“Do you want to go to the game or not? Buster’s first-string quarterback.”

“I’d rather stay here and see the Rams.”

“Do whatever you want,” Helen said. “I’m going to the game.”

“That figures.”

He watched her put on the brown sweater he’d given her for Christmas last year.

“If you’re coming,” she said, “you’d better get your shoes on.”

“I’m coming,” he muttered. He stepped into his loafers, found a sweater and walked out to the car behind Helen.

“Are you driving?” she asked. “Or do you want me to?”

“I’ll drive.”

He drove, but he didn’t talk. His stomach felt sick with emptiness, an ache that food couldn’t cure. Maybe nothing could cure
it. Helen had taken something from him. He didn’t know for sure what it was, but he needed it back.

Helen reached forward and turned up the radio’s volume. The music was John Denver singing, “Goodbye, Again.”

Lester wasn’t sure why, but he almost felt like crying.

Janet and Meg arrived at the City College football stadium in plenty of time to find good seats near the fifty yard line.

“Do you come to these games very often?” Janet asked.

“I come to them all. My duty, you might say. I know everybody and they expect to see me. I know most of the players and all
the faculty and all the administrators. Etcetera, etcetera. How would you like to hear the first eight bars of ‘Getting to
Know You’?”

“Oh, I’d love it. Maybe they’ll let you use the public address system. You can do the national anthem as your encore.”

“There’s a thought.”

“If you’re good enough, they might even forget the game entirely. We could have an open air Meg Haycraft concert.”

“Wouldn’t that be great? Fantastic publicity for the student store.”

“It might go to your head.”

“As long as it doesn’t go to my rear end. That’s where everything
else
goes.” She bounced on the seat. “Come the fourth quarter, though, I’m always glad to have the extra padding. The bleachers
get mighty hard. I pity all those skinny-ass babes who haven’t got anything to sit on but their butt bones.”

“You mean like me?” Janet shifted her weight, trying to get more comfortable. “I should’ve brought my…” She stopped and
thought about the foam-rubber pad that she always took with her to U. S.C. games. It was propped on a shelf in Dave’s apartment.

“Your what?”

“I used to…” Her throat tightened. She turned away.

“Hey, hey, cheer up! What’ve you got to be so down about? Smile!”

“Sure,” Janet said, and smiled for a moment. She couldn’t hold it, though. Shaking her head in frustration, she said, “Sorry.
Sometimes, you know, it just hits me. No more Dave. Like he died, or something. I go along feeling just fine, then bam! No
more Dave.”

“If you miss him, go back. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head.”

“Just to my baby’s.”

“Oooo.”

Janet tried to smile, but couldn’t.

“If I were in your shoes,” Meg said, “I’d go back to him so fast my head would swim.”

“You can’t stand him.”

“I know.” She unwrapped a stick of chewing gum, folded it into thirds, and tossed it into her mouth. “He’s everything I despise
in a man.” She chewed the gum, scowling. “But I’d go back to him, anyway.”

“Sure you would,” Janet said. “Back to the creep, the asshole?”

“In fact, truth is, I never would have left him in the first place. You see, hon, he’s a man. He’s everything I despise, but
he
is
a man. In case you haven’t noticed,
I’m
what’s called a ‘dog.’ As the old saying goes, ‘Bow-wows can’t be choosers.’ ”

“You’re not…”

“Don’t try to tell me I’m not a dog. I’ve seen mirrors. Shoot, my face
breaks
mirrors. I used to trick-or-treat without a mask.” She laughed and snapped her gum. “Always went as a troll.”

“Hey, come on, don’t put yourself down like that.”

The smile left Meg’s face. “The point is, hon, a gal might be glad to have a shit like Dave
if
she didn’t stand a chance in hell of doing better. But you’re no dog. Far from it. Fact is, you’re a fox. So be glad you’re
rid of that turd and get yourself someone better. You can do a
lot
better.”

Ian waited for “The Star-Spangled Banner” to end before heading toward the seats above the fifty yard line. He rarely had
a difficult time finding one seat, even in crowded theaters and stadiums; most people tried to keep one open between themselves
and whatever strangers were sitting nearby.

He nodded a greeting to Lester and Helen Bryant, several rows higher. They waved. Neither looked very happy.

“Is anybody sitting there?” he called down one of the rows. The people on either side of a vacant space looked at each other
and shook their heads.

“It’s empty,” one of them called.

Ian sidestepped down the row. Just as he reached his seat, the cheerleaders on the track below flung up their arms and yelled,
“Everybody up for the kickoff!”

Meg nudged Janet with her elbow, silently mouthed, “Look at
that
guy,” and wiggled her heavy eyebrows in a way intended to appear lecherous.

Janet didn’t need the signals. She had already seen him. He was about thirty, tall and slow-moving, with windblown hair that
was shorter than most men wore. His face had a calm, confident look.

“Will you get a load of those dreamy eyes?” Meg whispered.

“Dreamy?” Janet laughed.

She didn’t watch the kickoff. She watched the man and wondered who he was.

He sat down directly in front of Meg.

The second cheerleader from the end had a way of walking that made Lester feel sad. Mostly, she skipped or did bouncy sidesteps
facing the crowd. But when she walked, she took long strides and swung her arms high with the joy of moving.

Nikki used to walk that way.

Nikki had been a great one for walking. During the five months Lester went with her, they had walked everywhere together:
to classes, to the student union, to movie theaters and coffee shops, through the park. The park most of all.

In the park, they always walked slowly and held hands.

They sat on swings in the sunlight, swaying just slightly as they talked. Or they perched atop the monkey bars. Or on fallen
tree trunks by the stream. Some afternoons, Nikki sat against the birch on the slope above the river and he lay there with
his head on her lap, smoking his pipe.

Several times, they made love in the park at night. The grass was nearly always wet. Except when there was rain, he spread
out his topcoat for a blanket. On rainy nights, he covered them with it. Nikki always liked making love in the rain. Afterwards, her
face was cool and wet and she would be smiling and holding out her tongue to catch the drops.

He glanced at Helen.

“Something wrong?” she asked.

“What could be wrong?” he said.

Helen turned away.

The cheerleader, bowing down and tiptoeing backward as she thrust out her open hands, was shouting, “Push ’em back, push ’em
back, waaaaay back!”

Twice, he’d had sex with Helen in the park. Then she had complained that the nights were too cold, the grass too wet, the
ground too hard. Besides, someone might come along and see them. Why not go somewhere safe and comfortable like a motel?

It was all right with Lester.

He’d never liked the park much, anyway, after Nikki left him for that minister.

He’d never again liked a
lot
of things so much.

Helen suddenly jumped up and waved. “Charles, over here!”

A boy with curly brown hair and a mustache waved back.

“Another former student?” Lester asked.

She gestured for the boy to join her, then said, “You’ve heard me speak of Charles. Charles Perris. He’s in my X-L class.
Remember the Halloween party last year? Emily Jean was telling us about him.”

“I don’t remember.”

“The poet,” she explained as Charles made his way toward them. “He won second prize in the state poetry contest?”

“I still don’t recall, but consider me impressed.”

“Go to hell.”

“A poet, huh?” He huffed out a laugh.

Helen looked at him with contempt and said, “Why don’t you try acting your age?”

“He looks like a queer if you ask me,” Lester said and smiled at the approaching boy. He tried to make his smile look friendly
when Helen introduced him. “How are you?” he said, and offered his hand.

“Just fine, thank you.” The boy’s grip was firm, not the feeble touch that Lester expected. “And you?”

“Pretty good.”

Charles sat down on the other side of Helen. They talked and laughed through most of the football game. Lester tried to ignore
them.

When the game ended, Charles shook Lester’s hand and said, “I enjoyed meeting you, sir.”

“Enjoyed meeting you, too.”

“Guess I’d better be off.”

Helen patted Charles on the back and said things to him that Lester couldn’t hear. The kid blushed and smiled. Then he wandered
off into the crowd.

“I could use a stiff drink,” Meg said. “How about you?”

“Sounds fine by me,” said Janet. She fastened her seat belt as Meg backed out of the parking space.

“Let’s have it—them—at my place. Then we’ll go hunting.”

“Hunting for what?”

“Men, of course.”

“On a Sunday night?”

“You’d rather go to a prayer meeting?”

“I’d rather stay home and read a good book.”

“Do that, you might end up old and alone and desperate.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“It’s your life, hon. We sure as shootin’ whupped those bums, didn’t we?”

It took a moment for Janet to realize that Meg was suddenly talking about the game. “Sure did.”

“But you know what we didn’t do?”

“I know.”

“Well, you’d rather read books anyway.”

“Maybe not
all
the time.”

“One of us,” Meg said, “should have nailed the guy with a knee.”

“That would’ve impressed him.”

“Or spilled a Coke down his back.”

“Better yet,” Janet added, “you or I should’ve tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing
your dreamy eyes.’ ”

“Oh, rich!” Meg blurted. “That would’ve been rich!”

Home from the game, Ian fixed himself a vodka gimlet and sat outside on a folding chair by his pool. The sun was blocked by
palm trees. A cool breeze wrinkled the water and raised goose bumps on his bare arms.

There was no smell of burning leaves.

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