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Authors: Richard Laymon

Tags: #Fiction - Horror

Funland (4 page)

BOOK: Funland
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“Yeah? Where?”

“Here in Boleta Bay.”

“Yeah? Where?”

Does he want my address? “I don’t know,” Jeremy lied. “A few blocks from here. Up on a hill.”

“I live on Lilac Lane. There’s a wimp name for a street, huh? Lilac.”

Jeremy knew the street. It was one block north of Poppy. This kid was a neighbor. “Our place is on Poppy.”

“Well, I’ll be skinned.” He slapped Jeremy’s arm again. “What grade’ll you be going into?”

“I’ll be a junior.”

“Hey, me too!”

“Small world,” Jeremy said. He thought it sounded lame. If he wasn’t careful, Cowboy might get the idea he was a dork. He’d lived with that image long enough. Here was a chance to start fresh, to leave the old Jeremy behind, to be accepted as a regular guy. “Shit,” he said, “I’ve been hoping I’d find someone to do my homework for me.”

“Haw! Bite my butt. You had one of the waffle cones yet?”

Jeremy shook his head.

“Come on, I’m buying.”

At the stand, Cowboy dug a wad of bills out of his jeans, ordered two “Super-Waffles,” and paid for them.

Three-fifty each.

“Gosh, thanks a lot,” Jeremy said as Cowboy handed over one of the treats—a cone of crisp, sweet waffle at least twice the size of a normal sugar cone, and packed with ice cream that was drenched with chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream, jimmies, chopped peanuts, and a maraschino cherry.

“Can’t travel on an empty stomach, Duke.”

“Where to?”

“The dunk tank.”

They headed up the boardwalk, eating their Super-Waffles. Though he saw plenty of sleazes, roughnecks, and bums, he no longer felt threatened by them. He had Cowboy with him now. If anyone got funny, he wouldn’t have to face it alone.

Cowboy strode along, sometimes calling out to friends he spotted, including a few who were working the game booths. He seemed to know a lot of people—including girls. Plain girls, cute girls, and some who were totally beautiful. And they all acted as if they liked him.

This is great, Jeremy thought. If I can be his buddy, I might meet some of them.

He’d never had a buddy like Cowboy. His best friend in Bakersfield, Ernie, was a skinny, shy kid whose glasses were usually taped together from catching a ball in the face (one that any normal guy would’ve caught) or a fist (because something about him just
pissed off
every jock in school), and whose idea of a good time was raising Anchorage, Alaska, on his ham radio.

A nice guy, but a real loser.

According to Ernie, all the popular guys in school were inane assholes, glandular cases, or throwbacks. The good-looking girls were vapid twits who thought their farts smelled like roses.

With a best friend like that, you didn’t stand a chance. With a guy like Cowboy, though…

“Hey there, gorgeous!” Cowboy suddenly yelled, startling Jeremy from his thoughts.

A girl smiled at him and waved through the bars of a cage. She sat on a narrow platform, swinging her legs. Below her bare feet was a water-filled tank with a glass front.

Even as she waved, a pitched ball struck the bull’s-eye, knocked back the metal arm, and collapsed her perch. She squealed and dropped, splashing into the deep water. Through the glass, Jeremy saw her descend in a sudden froth of bubbles. Like a wind from below, the water pushed her T-shirt up her belly, lifted her long black hair above her head. She squatted for a moment at the bottom of the tank, cheeks bulging with trapped air, shirt and hair slowly drifting down, and shook her fist at the guy who’d dunked her. Then she stood. Water swirling around her shoulders, she waded to the metal-rung ladder at the side of the tank. She climbed up.

Her wet legs were shiny. Jeremy saw the outline of her panties through the clinging seat of her shorts. Her shirt was plastered to her back, her pink skin showing through the thin fabric. Her hair hung thick and glossy between her shoulder blades, almost long enough to reach the cross-strap of her bra.

Leaning away from the ladder, she raised the shelf. Its braces locked, and she climbed onto it.

“Just a lucky throw, hot stuff!” she yelled.

“Yeah? Watch this!”

“I won’t hold my breath.”

Hot Stuff threw the ball at the target beside her cage. It missed and whapped the canvas backstop.

She smirked at him and clapped.

Jeremy thought it was too bad about her face. She was one of those gals who look terrific from behind, slender and shapely, but when you saw her from the front, she was a letdown. As if God had decided he’d blessed her enough from the neck down, so he skimped on her face. She wasn’t exactly ugly, but her eyes seemed too close together, her nose small and upturned and a little piggish, and her mouth too wide. Her front teeth jutted out of her gums like white marble slabs.

Another ball missed the target.

“Nolan Ryan you’re not, Bozo!”

The guy flapped a hand at her, put an arm around his girlfriend, and walked away.

“Come on,” Cowboy said. He stepped over to the man running the concession and passed his Super-Waffle to Jeremy. “Let me have three of those balls, Jim,” he said, handing the man three dollars.

“Couldn’t hit the broad side of an outhouse if you were inside it!” she called.

“Get ready to bite the drink, Lizzie!” He hurled the first ball. It slammed the metal target. Lizzie dropped.

Climbing out, she looked over her shoulder at him. “Nice shot, tenderfoot. Who’s your friend?”

Jeremy felt heat rush to his face.

“My pal Duke. New in town. We just met.”

“Nice to meet you, Duke.”

“Thanks.”

She sat on the platform. Cowboy threw. She hit the water again.

Cowboy smiled. “Only way to get her clean. She never takes a bath, filthy scrug.”

“Let Duke have a try,” she called as she climbed out.

Cowboy offered the last ball to him. “Oh, that’s okay,” Jeremy said. “You go on.”

“Don’t be a woos,” Lizzie yelled.

With a sigh, he gave the waffle cones to Cowboy and took the ball.

The beginning of the end, he thought. I’m going to miss by a mile and they’ll know I’m a dip.

He wound up and fired the ball.

Right on target!

It struck the bull’s-eye and bounced off.

Lizzie’s perch didn’t collapse.

She cackled and clapped. “Tough luck, Duchess.”

Shit!

“You’ve gotta throw it a little harder than that,” Cowboy said, smiling and shaking his head. “Give it another try.” He took out his money.

“No, no. That’s okay. Some other time. I’m really wasted today. Been moving furniture, unpacking.”

“Cowboy!” Lizzie shouted through the bars.

“Yo!”

“Give Tanya a message for me?”

“You bet.”

“Tell her about Janet. I want to bring her along tonight. See if it’s okay, huh? Give me a call later and let me know.”

“You got it. Adios. Don’t get your tits wrinkled.”

She suddenly looked as if she burned to punch out his lights.

Half a dozen people nearby started laughing. Jeremy was too stunned to laugh.

“Let’s move out, Duke.”

They hurried away. Jeremy gave a cone back to Cowboy and followed him across the boardwalk. They passed through an open space in the railing and trotted down concrete stairs to the beach.

Four

“Somebody sure knows how to pick a banjo,” Dave said. The quick, cheery music was barely audible behind the carnival tunes of the rides, the voices and laughter all around him, the screams of people on the high-swinging Viking Ship, the poomphs of the Bazooka guns.

It seemed to come from somewhere ahead. Dave saw a circle of spectators in the distance, near the north end of the boardwalk.

“Let’s check it out,” he said.

“Beats interviewing trolls,” Joan said.

Since lunch, they had approached a total of seven indigents. None could be coaxed into admitting knowledge of a man named Enoch. Asked if anything strange had happened last night, one told of being beamed up into a hovering spacecraft from the planet Mogo, where a creature like a man-size lizard stuck a tube down his throat and sucked out the contents of his stomach—which the creature drank as it sucked. One said he’d been grabbed by a pair of albinos who tried to drag him under the boardwalk and feed him to their pet spider. A woman had been visited by the Blessed Virgin, who gave her a rough gray stone and said there was a diamond inside. While the woman told her story, she gnawed the rock as if it were a walnut she figured she could crack open with her teeth. One man ranted incoherently. Another simply glared at them and muttered about assassins. Only one seemed fairly rational, and he claimed to have spent a peaceful night sleeping in the dunes.

Joan had spent a lot of time sighing and rolling her eyes upward. She’d told Dave that it would be a waste of time, questioning the boardwalk’s panhandlers.

But it hadn’t been a total waste.

After speaking to a few of them, he was half-convinced that Enoch “biting the weenie” had no more basis in reality than the diamond in the rock, the albino attack, or the peculiar feast of the lizard alien.

He heard applause from the banjo-picker’s audience. Only a couple of people wandered away from the edges of the circle. Most stayed. Several passersby joined the crowd. A few people moved inward, apparently to contribute money in appreciation of the performance.

As Dave and Joan approached the group, the next number began. “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The melody twanged out, strong and lively, with such complex chords and runs in the background that Dave decided there must be at least two banjos. He was listening to a duet, or even a trio of street musicians, banging out a version of “Saints” so fine that those in the audience who’d been clapping along at the start went silent to listen.

Joan stayed at Dave’s side while he roamed the perimeter of the group, searching for a gap so he could watch the performance.

A couple of grubby bikers, seeing that they were cops, broke away from the circle and wandered off. Dave and Joan stepped into the opening.

Not a trio. Not a duet.

All that music was coming from the banjo of a lone girl who looked no older than eighteen.

She stood straight-backed as if at attention, her weight on one leg, her other leg forward, heel on the boardwalk, toe tapping as she played. The banjo looked heavy, bigger than some Dave had seen, with thick shiny metal surrounding its tambourinelike body. It hung against her belly by a broad, brightly colored strap. Its neck was tilted upward at a jaunty angle.

The banjo case, open a short distance in front of her, was littered with coins and dollars. Beside the case rested a backpack.

“Saints” ended. Applause exploded from the audience. The girl bowed her head and dropped her arms to her sides. While the clapping went on, several people (mostly kids on behalf of their parents) hurried forward to toss money into the banjo case. Though she kept her head down, Dave heard her murmur thanks to each of those who contributed.

When she raised her head, she stared straight at a kid standing near Dave, wiggled her eyebrows at him, and began playing “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”

“Damn good,” Joan whispered.

“I’ll say.”

The girl’s left hand flew up and down the banjo’s neck, fretting and sliding with astonishing quickness. Her right hand hung nearly motionless while its fingers picked the strings. Except for her tapping foot, her body was rigid and motionless. She gazed straight ahead as she played.

All through the song, the pink tip of her tongue protruded from the right corner of her mouth.

To Dave she seemed very young and very vulnerable.

The backpack showed that she was a wanderer.

He scanned the people gathered around her, trying to spot someone who might be with the girl. Nobody quite seemed to fit the role. That didn’t necessarily mean she had no companion, but Dave suspected that she was traveling alone.

Probably hitching rides. Probably sleeping outside.

Sooner or later, a sure victim.

It would be dangerous enough if she were male. The fact that she was female increased the risk tenfold.

From a distance, she might be mistaken for a male. Her blond hair was cut very short. She had a slim body, and her breasts were apparent only because of the way the banjo rested against her shirt, pulling it taut. Her face hardly looked masculine, but it might be the face of a smooth-cheeked, pretty guy who was short in the hormone department.

On second thought, Dave realized, her slender, boyish appearance was a dubious advantage. She might fare worse on the road if the wrong sort took her for a sissy instead of a girl.

She’s lucky she made it this far, Dave thought.

Then he wondered what kind of luck that was, making it into Boleta Bay.

She was not a troll. She was a street musician, a roaming minstrel playing for her daily needs.

But the kids might not make such fine distinctions.

And she wasn’t exactly dressed for a Rotary banquet.

She wore hiking boots, ankle-high, scuffed and dusty. Her faded blue jeans were frayed at the cuffs, and one leg had a rip that gaped like an open mouth, showing the skin of her thigh. For a belt she wore a brightly colored woven sash that matched her banjo strap. It was knotted at her hip, and the ends of it draped the side of her leg and swayed in the breeze. The sleeves of her old blue shirt had been cut off at the shoulders. The top buttons were undone. A necklace of small white shells hung across her chest. She wore a red bandanna around her head.

The teenagers here in Boleta Bay might very well take it as the costume of a troll.

And act accordingly.

This gal’s begging for trouble, he thought as she finished “Puff.”

While the audience clapped, he made his way forward along with some others. He took out his wallet and dropped a five-dollar bill into her banjo case. She thanked him. He stepped around the case and stopped in front of her.

She met him with calm, questioning eyes. “Officer?”

“Where’d you learn to play like that?”

“My dad.”

“You’re great.”

BOOK: Funland
12.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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