Authors: Richard Laymon
Tags: #Fiction - Horror
A smile broke across Dave’s face. “Where’s your humanity, partner?”
“I save it for the humans I occasionally meet.” She picked up the bag of fries. “You done with these?”
“I haven’t had
She waved the bag under his nose. “Go ahead and take one, big guy. They beat the hell out of bamboo shoots.”
When the meal was done, Joan gathered up the wrappers and Coke cartons. She carried them to a trash bin. The seat had left red marks across the backs of her legs. If the french fries went to her thighs, Dave thought, they sure hadn’t done any damage.
Put her side by side with Gloria, you’d have an advertisement for the health benefits of the very “poisons” that Gloria prided herself on denouncing. Joan was a foot taller than Gloria. She had sleek muscle and flesh where Gloria was bony. She had curves where Gloria was straight and flat. Her skin glowed; Gloria’s skin was pallid and dull. Joan radiated confidence and power, while Gloria seemed like a wraith animated by nervous energy.
“You plan to sit there daydreaming?” Joan asked.
“No. Huh-uh. Mind was wandering.”
They resumed their patrol.
He felt lousy. Ever since being teamed up with Joan, only two weeks ago, he’d been comparing the two and growing more dissatisfied.
Sure, there were problems with Gloria. But that came with the territory. You got intimate, you found flaws. The grass was always greener…till you got to the other side of the hill and saw it close up. Joan wasn’t perfect either. God help anyone who ticked her off.
One glance, and Dave knew that the four men grinning at Joan were sailors. They were out of uniform, but their bristly heads and boyish faces gave them away. They looked as if they were playing hooky from high school and having a great time of it.
“What can I do for you gentlemen?” Joan asked.
“Can we take your picture? Just one picture, okay? With each of us. You’d really be doing us a favor. What do you say? Okay? No funny stuff, just four pictures. We know you’re on duty and all, but we’re gonna be shipping out in a couple of days for the Persian Gulf, and…”
“Why not,” she said.
Dave couldn’t believe it.
Seeming neither embarrassed nor annoyed, she let the leader of the group stand beside her. He leaned against her, mugging for the fellow with the camera. And before the picture was snapped, Joan put her arm around him. The kid’s face blazed scarlet. When his turn was over, he backed away from Joan, blushing and shaking his head, then whirled around and flopped on the boardwalk. “I’ve died and gone to heaven, mates,” he announced.
The next sailor was a fat kid with pimples. Joan rubbed his brush cut. He rolled his eyes upward. She hugged him to her side and the scrawny kid with the camera caught it.
The third sailor was a grinning black giant. He stood beside Joan as if at attention, ramrod straight, chin tucked down. She leaned against him, reached across his back, and squirmed her fingers into his side. He doubled over, giggling like a woman as the picture was snapped.
Then the first sailor tried to take the camera from the gawky kid in glasses, who’d been taking all the snapshots. “Your turn, Henry. Come on.”
“Oh, it’s all right.” He shook his head. He made a sheepish smile. “We’ve pestered the lady enough.”
“Chicky chick chick.”
“Go on, boy, show some hair.”
“Henry’s scared of women.”
“Cut him some slack, guys,” Joan said. She looked at Henry. “You’re not scared of me. Come here.”
The color went out of his face. But he walked toward her.
His friends hooted and whistled.
He stood beside Joan. He was only as high as her shoulders. Bending down slightly, she tapped a fingertip against her cheek. The kid looked alarmed and delighted. He leaned in to peck her cheek. She turned her head and kissed him on the mouth, and the camera clicked.
His friends went silent.
When Joan stopped kissing him, Henry wrapped his arms around her and they held each other. Dave could see his face. His glasses were pushed crooked by Joan’s cheek. His eyes were shut, his lips pressed tightly together. He nodded, and Dave realized that Joan must be whispering to him. Suddenly a smile spread across his face.
He stepped away from Joan and returned to his friends.
“Lucky son of a bitch,” one of them muttered.
The black giant clapped him on the shoulder.
“Have a good tour, guys,” Joan said, holding up a hand in farewell.
They backed away in a group, waving, pushing each other, calling out thanks. Henry, silent, lifted an open hand and smiled sadly, as if he were leaving his best friend.
Head down, Joan unsnapped a leather case on her utility belt. She took out her sunglasses and put them on before turning to Dave. “Nice kids,” she said.
“You sure made their day,” Dave told her.
“Let’s move it. We’ve got peace to keep.”
Jeremy Wayne coasted down the hill on his ten-speed Sch-winn, smiling into the wind, his open shirt flapping behind him. He felt free and excited.
He was on his way to the Funland boardwalk.
He’d been there last night after a full day of unpacking at the new house, but that was with his mother. “For a quick look-see,” as she’d put it. And that’s all it had amounted to. They’d strolled the length of the promenade, played no games, ridden no rides. “There’ll be plenty of time for that later,” Mom had said.
Later’s now, Jeremy thought.
Whipping around a corner, he left the residential neighborhood behind. He pedaled past the fronts of gawdy motels, souvenir shops, gas stations, markets and bars and fast-food joints. The cars on the street mostly seemed packed with teenagers, radios blaring. The people on the sidewalks wore swimsuits.
This was too awesome to be believed.
He’d been happy to move away from Bakersfield. The place sucked, anyway. The way he saw it, just about anyplace would be an improvement. But this!
This was a vacation place!
And he’d be living here, just a couple of miles from Funland and the beach.
June wasn’t even over yet. The whole summer stretched before him, endless days of doing whatever he pleased—exploring the boardwalk, lying on the beach,
looking at girls.
He pedaled alongside the huge parking lot. With no more buildings in the way, he swept his eyes across the long expanse of Funland. He saw the arch of the main gate topped by the grinning face of a clown; the walls that he knew were merely the backs of the shops, snack stands, sideshow rooms, rides, funhouses, arcades, and game booths that faced the boardwalk; the curving, swooping, ghastly high tracks of the roller coaster; the towering parachute drop; the top of the log ride’s slide; the upper reaches of the mammoth, spinning Ferris wheel.
Mom, last night, had said, “It’s pretty tacky, isn’t it?”
He’d said, “I think it’s great.”
He knew it was no Disneyland, no Knott’s Berry Farm, no Magic Mountain. He’d been to some of the best amusement parks in the country, and Boleta Bay’s Funland was small by comparison. Small and primitive and pretty darn tacky.
And all the more exciting because it wasn’t like the other places. It didn’t seem commercial, pristine, make-believe, and
Roaming its boardwalk last night, he’d felt a tightness in his chest, heat in his groin.
could happen here.
He felt the same excitement as he climbed off his bike at the front of the parking lot. He chained its frame to the bars of the bicycle rack and headed for the main gate.
He bounded up the concrete stairs.
He walked right in.
That was another thing about this place. You didn’t have to fork over twenty bucks or more just to get in. Sure, it cost you to
things, but you didn’t have to shell out a penny to enter.
He would be able to come and go as he pleased—every day.
Though Jeremy had close to thirty dollars in his wallet, he strode past the first ticket booth just for the pleasure of walking in free. On the boardwalk, he knew, there were always booths near at hand for buying tickets. He would just wait until he felt like going on a ride.
He patted his seat pocket, feeling the comfortable bulge of his full wallet. Then he buttoned the pocket flap.
Couldn’t be too careful, a place like this. From last night’s brief exploration, he knew that there were a lot of sleazy types around.
Heading down the boardwalk, he started seeing sleazy types immediately. A skinny, dirty guy in a straw cowboy hat that looked as if a horse had stepped on it, crushing its crown. A brown cigarette hung off the guy’s lip, and he looked as if he hadn’t shaved in three or four days. Jeremy saw a fat, bearded biker in saggy jeans. He was shirtless, wore a faded Levi jacket with its arms cut off, and his chest was tattooed with a skull that had a snake crawling out its eyehole. With the guy was a biker woman, skinny and mean-faced. She wore jeans and a fringed leather vest. The vest was loosely laced in front and she didn’t wear a bra or anything else underneath it. Jeremy glimpsed the sides of her breasts through the rawhide lacing, but he looked away fast. He didn’t want to be caught peeking. And what he saw wasn’t all that terrific anyway.
This sure wasn’t the kind of crowd you saw at Disneyland.
There were a few clean-cut family types, but he saw a lot of fat, dumb-looking people in drooping old jeans and filthy shirts. Tough guys with sneers and tattoos, many with knives on their belts. Swaggering gals in tube tops and tank shirts. Wild, laughing guys with crew cuts, who pushed each other and whooped and whistled when they spotted a good-looking gal. And bums. This place had more bums than skid row.
Jeremy felt some of his excitement slide into uneasiness.
Something could happen.
He began to wish he hadn’t come here alone. It had been all right last night, when Mom was with him.
Shit, he thought. I’m not a jerk-off kid who can’t go anywhere without his mommy. I’m sixteen.
And nothing’s going to happen.
Though a lot of the people looked grubby or rough or wild, there were plenty around who seemed normal enough: nicely dressed couples, families with their kids, scads of teenagers wandering around in pairs and groups.
A lot of nifty babes.
They all seemed to be having a fine time. They seemed oblivious of the creeps.
But they aren’t by themselves, Jeremy thought.
“Hey, cutie.” The strident voice pushed through the other noises. “You in the blue shorts.”
wearing blue shorts.
She doesn’t mean me.
Jeremy turned his head.
“Yeah, you,” the girl called. She stood inside a game booth, waving for him to approach. Behind her was a platform stacked with pyramids of metal bottles. Both sides of the booth were crowded to the ceiling with brightly colored stuffed animals. “Step right over here,” she said. “Come on, lover boy, don’t be shy.” She tossed a softball from hand to hand. One foot was propped up on the low wall at the front of the booth. Her legs looked sleek. A money apron draped her lap like a towel, hiding whatever shorts she must be wearing. Her breasts, loose under her tank top, swayed from side to side as she tossed and caught the ball. “A dollar buys a throw. Knock the bottles down, you win a prize. You can’t win if you don’t try.”
Blushing, Jeremy shook his head, mumbled, “No, thanks,” and hurried away.
Should’ve tried it, he thought. Shit. Now she’ll think I’m a dip.
I could’ve gotten a better look at her, too. Her face wasn’t any great shakes, but the rest of her…
Jeremy stopped fast as a bum sidestepped into his path and grinned brown teeth.
“Heya, bud. Gimme a quarter, huh? You’re a good kid, huh? Know what I mean?” He reached out a grimy hand. “A quarter ain’t gonna bust you, huh? Give a guy a break.”
Jeremy felt as if ice had been jammed against his groin. “I don’t have a quarter,” he said. His voice sounded whiny. “Sorry.”
“Gimme a buck, kid.” The bum’s waiting hand jiggled up and down. “You’re a good kid, huh? I ain’t had a bite to—”
“Fuck off, dog turd!”
Jeremy flinched and staggered backward as someone lunged past him and whapped the bum in the face with a cowboy hat.
“Get outta here! Get! Vamoose.”
The bum, ducking and covering his head, rushed away.
The kid—he looked about Jeremy’s age or a little older—frowned and brushed off the crown of his hat. “Now I’ve got his fucking cooties on it,” he muttered.
“Sorry,” Jeremy said.
“That’s how you’ve gotta treat these scum-suckers.” He mashed the hat onto his head and swept his hands along the brim to tighten its curl. Smiling, he held out a hand to Jeremy. “Name’s Gibson. George Gibson. My buddies call me Cowboy.”
Jeremy shook his hand. The kid gave it a hard squeeze. “I’m Jeremy. Jeremy Wayne.”
“Hey, Wayne—like the Duke.”
“Yeah. Thanks for getting rid of that creep.”
“No sweat, Duke. Mind if I call you Duke? Jeremy’s kind of a wimp name, but you already know that, don’t you. Just like George. I hate that name George. You with someone?”
Jeremy hesitated. The kid seemed friendly, but maybe he was up to something. Maybe he was even in with the bum, and this was some kind of a trick they pulled to get money out of suckers. Or maybe he wanted to get Jeremy off somewhere and mug him. Or maybe he was a fag.
“Hey, you’re here with your squeeze, just say the word. She in the can or something?”
“I’m here by myself,” Jeremy admitted.
Cowboy slapped his arm. “Hot damn, so am I. I’ll show you around. You look like a guy could use a friend.”
“I don’t know. I…”
“Let’s go. Head ’em up, move ’em out.”
Cowboy turned away and started walking, his boots clumping on the boardwalk. Jeremy stayed at his side. Why not? he thought. The guy seems okay. If all he really wants is to be friends…
“Where you from, Duke?”
“Well, I live here now. We just moved in.”