Chapter Twenty-seven

We no sooner started picking up the pieces of broken glass than Slim said, “I’ll get my wastebasket.” She hurried off and came back quickly.

When she set it down, I dumped in a handful of glass and saw her ruined copy of Dracula at the bottom.

“Mom won’t be too happy about this,” Slim said.

“She doesn’t get home till tomorrow?”

“Probably not.” Frowning slightly, Slim started to gather shards from the dresser top.

“What if we clean all this up,” I said, “and get rid of the smell and replace the broken stuff? She’ll never have to find out anything happened.”

“Is that what you’d do?” Slim asked.

I looked up at her.

“If it was your mom’s stuff?”

“Maybe.”

“You wouldn’t, either.” A grin spread across her face. “You’re way too much of a Boy Scout for that.”

“Think so, do you?”

“I know so.”

I suddenly felt ashamed of myself for not living up to her ideas about me.

And I felt very glad she didn’t know everything.

“Anyway,” she said, “I don’t think we’d get away with it. We’d have to find a matching vase and perfume bottle….” She shook her head. “Even if we could lay our hands on exact matches, Mom would figure it out somehow. Then I’d be in trouble for trying to trick her.” She dumped a handful of glass into the wastebasket. “Only thing is, it’ll really scare her if she finds out somebody came in the house and did this stuff. It’d be nice if she didn’t have to find out.”

I dropped more glass into the wastebasket.

Slim continued to clean off the dresser top for a while. Then she blurted, “I’ve got it!” She grinned down at me. “How about this? First, forget about Dracula. She hasn’t got a clue about what I read. All we have to do is get rid of the evidence. As for this mess… I was just being helpful. I came in to water her roses, seeing as how she was having an overnighter with her boyfriend, and had a little accident. Knocked the vase over. It hit the perfume bottle, broke the perfume bottle and presto!”

Somebody applauded.

I looked over my shoulder and found Rusty standing in the doorway, clapping his hands. “Bravo!” he said. “Good plan.”

Slim obviously thought so, too. Beaming, she said, “Not bad, huh?”

“It’s perfect,” I said.

“You oughta be a writer,” Rusty told her.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She might’ve performed a full bow if her hands hadn’t been full of broken glass. All she did was duck her head.

I dumped more glass into the wastebasket, then said to Rusty, “Wanta give us a hand here?”

He started clapping again.

“Ha ha.”

“Did I miss anything?” he asked.

I remembered the way Slim had stared into my eyes. Feeling myself blush, I said, “Not much.”

“You almost missed your chance to help us clean this up,” Slim told him.

“I tried.”

“What’d you do in there,” I asked, “take a bath?”

His face flushed scarlet. “I had to go, okay? Thanks for bringing it up.”

Slim chuckled.

“Very funny,” Rusty muttered.

“You like it so much in there,” she said, “how about going back and getting us some paper towels? There should be a roll under the sink where the TP is. Maybe you can bring the whole thing.”

“Sure.” He hurried away.

Slim waited until his footsteps faded, then whispered, “Do you think Rusty had anything to do with this?”

I felt a blush coming on. Quickly, I asked, “What do you mean?”

“He’s acting sort of funny.”

“He is?” I hoped I wasn’t.

“Like he feels guilty about something.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. He seems okay to me.”

“Do you think he might’ve done this stuff?”

“Why would he chew up your book?”

She shrugged. “It’s Dracula and he’s all excited about the Traveling Vampire Show? Maybe he thought it’d be a cool trick to play… freak us out.”

“I don’t know,” I muttered. “I don’t think so. Anyway, he was with me.”

“Maybe he came in and did this on his way back from Janks Field. Before he went over to your place.”

As I shrugged, I heard footsteps coming down the hallway.

We went silent, but we both looked at Rusty when he walked in.

“What?” he asked, handing the roll of paper towels to Slim.

“Thanks,” she said.

“What’s going on?”

“We were just trying to figure out how all this happened,” Slim explained. She turned away, tore off some paper towels, wadded them up and started to mop the top of the dresser.

Rusty gave me an alarmed look.

I almost shook me head, but realized that Slim was facing the mirror and might see me.

“If none of us did this stuff,” she said, “who did?”

“How about ghosts?” Rusty suggested. The playful tone of his voice sounded forced. “I mean, you’ve gotta have ghosts in this place, everything that’s happened here.”

She stopped cleaning and turned around. Frowning, she asked, “Like what?”

“You know.”

“No I don’t. What do you mean, ‘everything that’s happened here’?”

Rusty seemed shocked by her tone. It shocked me, too.

“Like with your dad and grandfather.”

“You’ve gotta be dead to be a ghost,” Slim said, her voice sharp.

“I know, but…”

“And Jimmy Drake isn’t.”

“I didn’t say he is.”

“You said his ghost…”

“He might be dead, right? I mean, he left town and you’ve never heard from him again. So he could be dead, couldn’t he?”

Seeming calmer, Slim looked at Rusty with narrow eyes and said, “I guess so.”

“Anyway,” Rusty said, “it was just a thought.”

“A lame thought,” I told him, wishing he hadn’t brought up the subject of Slim’s father. “You don’t even believe in ghosts.”

“This just seems like the sort of thing a guy like Jimmy Drake might do,” Rusty explained. Then his eyes widened. In a hushed voice, he said, “Maybe he was here. Maybe he came back… you know, from wherever he went… and did this stuff.”

Slim stared at him.

“In the flesh,” Rusty said. “Not a ghost or anything, but him. What if he’s back?”

“He’s not,” Slim said.

“How do you know?”

“If he came back, he wouldn’t piddle around chomping on books and breaking a couple of things. It’s not his style. They’re just things. They’re not people. They don’t…” She turned away and resumed wiping the dresser top.

“I think it has something to do with the vampire show,” I said—partly because that’s what I really thought, partly to get the subject off Slim’s father because I knew she didn’t like being reminded of what he’d done to her and the others. “Maybe it’s a warning.”

Nodding, Rusty added, “To keep our mouths shut.”

“I don’t know,” Slim muttered.

“What I think we should do,” I said, “is finish cleaning this stuff up and then go over to my house. We can have supper there like we planned, but maybe we shouldn’t come back here afterwards.”

“They might be waiting for us,” Rusty pointed out, smiling as if he thought it were a joke.

“Where will we go?” Slim asked.

“I don’t know yet. We oughta think of a place where nobody’ ll be able to find us. But the main thing is, we should stay together from now on.”

Slim turned around. Finally smiling, she raised her eyebrows. “From now on?”

“Cool,” Rusty said.

“At least till the vampire show leaves town,” I explained.

“What about tonight?” she asked. “I’m not going to the show. I’m not stepping foot in Janks Field till those creeps are long gone.”

“Well I’m going,” Rusty said. Eyes on Slim, he shook his head. “I’m not gonna miss it just because you’re a chicken.”

“Hey,” I said.

“Well, I’m not. We don’t even know it was them. It might’ve been anyone.”

“It isn’t about this,” Slim said. “It’s about torturing and killing that poor dog.”

“That poor dog went after you like a hunk of raw meat.”

“Let’s not start this again,” I said. “Let’s just finish and get outa here before something else happens.”

It took about half an hour longer to complete the clean-up: vacuuming the carpet, wiping it with a damp sponge to take away some of the perfume, dumping the wastebasket in Slim’s garbage can in the alley behind her house and throwing in some old newspapers to hide the book and bits of glass, then finally putting everything away.

Back upstairs after returning the wastebasket to her bedroom, Slim brushed her hands against the front of her cut-off jeans. “I guess that does it.”

“Guess so,” I agreed. “Anything you want to take with you?”

“Depends on what we’ll be doing.”

“Going to the vampire show,” Rusty said.

“Maybe you are.” To me, she said, “Anyway, I guess I’ll just leave everything here for now. We can always come back and get stuff, depending on what we decide to do.”

“Go the vampire show,” Rusty repeated. This time, he grinned.

“Yeah, sure,” Slim said.

Downstairs, we hid all the weapons on the floor behind the living room sofa where we could get to them quickly if we needed them.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. Leaving us there, she hurried toward the back of her house. She returned a couple of minutes later with an inch-long strip of Scotch tape sticking to her fingertip.

“What’re you gonna do with that?” Rusty asked.

“Old Indian trick,” she said, and ushered us out of the house.

Standing in the entryway, she pulled the front door shut. Then she squatted down and I realized what she was doing. Not exactly an “old Indian trick.” More like a James Bond trick. She was sticking one end of the tape to the door’s edge, the other end to the frame.

When she stepped away, I glanced down but couldn’t quite see the transparent tape.

Neither would an intruder, more than likely.

Opening the door would either break the tape or pull it loose at one end or the other. Then we’d know that someone had entered Slim’s house.

“Did the same to the kitchen door,” she announced.

“Good idea,” I said.

Smirking, Rusty said, “Why not balance buckets of water on top of the doors and really nail ’em.”

She looked at him and raised her eyebrows.

I said, “Make it holy water.”

“There’s an idea,” Slim said.

Rusty frowned. He didn’t get it. So we both tried to explain to him about vampires and holy water while we crossed to the sidewalk and turned toward my house.

When we finished, he said, “I knew that.”

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