© 1999 by Edward Lee
cover art © 2006 Travis Anthony Soumis
this digital edition February 2010 © Bedlam Press
C. Dennis Moore
a Bedlam Press book
5139 Maxon Ter.
Sanford, FL 32771
Bedlam Press is an imprint of Necro Publications
also available as a trade paperback
For Doug Clegg
Stu and Sarah Billings simultaneously leaned up in bed; Sarah dragged the sheets up over her bosom, flicked on the lamp.
How’s that for timing?
Stu thought, flushed in embarrassment. He’d been out of town on business for two weeks, and this was the first time since then that he and Sarah had a chance to…
In the bedroom doorway stood their thirteen-year-old daughter, Melissa, tall and slim in her flannel nightgown. She was rubbing sleep from her eyes but also… quivering.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” her mother asked.
“You have a bad dream?” Stu guessed.
Their daughter just stood there for a few more seconds. When she lowered her fists from her eyes, it was obvious she’d been crying.
“I-I woke up,” she peeped, “and…”
“What, honey?” Sarah asked.
“There was a man looking in my window.”
Stu got up, hauled on his robe, then guided Melissa to the bed. “You stay here with your mother, honey. I’ll go check it out.”
“But, Stu,” Sarah fretted, “shouldn’t we call the police?”
Stu considered this, then tossed a shoulder. “Naw, it’s probably just one of those kids from down the road. They’re always cutting through our yard at night to drink beer behind the fence.”
Melissa sat next to her mother on the bed. “But, Dad, this wasn’t a kid. It was a man. He was bald.”
“A lot of those punks shave their heads, honey. It’s this Goth thing. Just stay here with Mom, and I’ll be right back,” Stu assured. “I promise.”
Sarah hugged Melissa. “Your father’s right, sweetheart. Everything will be all right…”
Stu thought. When neither Sarah nor Melissa were looking, he quickly slipped the Smith & Wesson revolver out of the dresser and stuck it under his robe.
First, to Melissa’s room. He peered out the window, saw nothing outside but the night.
Yeah, it’s probably those pinhead punks. They drop out of school, shave their heads and put all these metal studs and rivets in their faces…and throw their empty beer cans in my yard.
Of course, Melissa had probably just had a dream; she’d
of the face in the window. The counselor at school had told Sarah and him it was typical.
Melissa had been only three years old when her father had been killed in a plane crash; her mother killed herself a year later. That’s when Stu and Sarah had adopted her—immotile sperm had prevented them from having a child themselves. It didn’t matter to Stu, nor to Sarah. They wanted a child and they got one.
And after ten years, neither of them even gave it thought that Melissa was adopted.
She was a model child. Intelligent, courteous, perseverant. A straight-A student at Sligo Junior High.
But she was shy, too. Pensive. Too often, she seemed bottled up, uncomfortable about revealing her feelings. The counselor had told them that even though she didn’t
remember her early childhood and biological parents, there would indeed be some
conscious shadows. Ghosts of things that weren’t right, that weren’t the way they were supposed to be. Melissa felt haunted but by what she didn’t know.
Father dead, mother dead. Her whole world turned inside-out,
Didn’t matter that she’d only been three.
Of course that’s gonna have an impact on a kid, whatever the age.
Stu walked down the long hall to the living room, then turned toward the kitchen and laundry room. This was the first time he regretted buying a one-level rancher.
That’s just great, I’ve got these bald-headed Goth kids looking into my daughter’s window. Christ…
No one could be in the house; the ABC alarm would’ve gone off. In the laundry room, he stepped into his floppy yard boots, which he donned every Saturday to mow the grass. He turned off the alarm on the console by the door.
Then he went outside.
It was warm. Crickets trilled, making the air thrum. The darkness looked infinite.
Goth kids, huh?
They think it’s funny to scare my kid?
He pulled out the Smith revolver, a .44.
We’ll see who scares who.
He backtracked the opposite direction. If there really was a peeping tom, this would be his probable direction of escape. Stu’s unlaced, booted feet took him around the back yard, across the patio, and then along the west side of the house.
He honestly expected to find nothing. What he found instead—
—was a tall, bald-headed man standing beside the azalea bushes.
“Calm down,” the man said in the softest tone.
” Stu yelled, and all at once the sensation shocked him: snakes churning in his stomach. He jammed the gun forward. “You were staring into my daughter’s window!”
“Yes, I was,” the man said.
“You’re a goddamn pervert! You get off looking at kids!”
“It’s not that at all, nothing like that at all,” the bald man said.
“Oh, it isn’t?”
A stare-down in the warm noisy night. Mosquitoes buzzed about Stu’s head. He pointed the revolver out straight, its sights lined directly onto the bald man’s night-shadowed face.
“Let me give you some sound advise,” the man offered. His voice flowed like some smooth liquid. “Never point a deadly weapon at someone you aren’t fully prepared to kill.”
The man held his hands half-up. Stu was sweating but maintaining his bead.
The man’s hands moved in a blur, snapped the revolver out of Stu’s grasp.
“It’s nothing like you think,” the man said.
“I’ve got money, I’ve got two cars, credit cards, some jewelry,” Stu said. “I’ll give you whatever you want.”
“To spare your life?”
“No, to spare my daughter and my wife.”
The man wasn’t pointing the gun back at Stu, he was just holding it. “And if I say that’s not good enough?”
Stu thought again. “Then I’ll…fight you.”
“Oh, a tough guy, huh?”
“I’m no tough guy,” Stu said. “Christ, you just took a gun out of my hands in less time than it takes me to blink. But let’s be real. I’ll give you everything I have to leave my family alone. But the only way you’re walking into my house is over my dead body.” He didn’t know where these words were coming from. In his terror he could barely think, and he was so scared he’d already pissed himself. “You got the gun. But if you miss, I’ll gouge your eyes out, I’ll bite your face off. I’ll do
to defend my family.”
“Right answer,” the man said. “Relax. Civilians don’t handle stress very well.” He handed the big pistol back to Stu.
“My name is Willard Farrington,” the man said.
Wait a minute,
That’s right,” the man added. “I’m Melissa’s real father. That’s the reason I was looking in her window. I just wanted to see her.”
“There’s no time for that,” the man said. “No time for explanations.” He passed Stu a pale-blue piece of paper. “That’s a routing number and an account index. I’ve deposited $500,000 in a trust for Melissa. You can’t ever touch it. She can’t touch it until she’s eighteen. I can only hope that, as her father, you’ll guide her to do the right thing with it. It’s for her future, college, things like that.”
Stu stared at the sheet.
he thought. “They said you were killed in a—”
“There’s no time for that,” the man repeated. Then he looked at his watch. “They’re on their way. I can’t be here when they arrive.” Then the man tossed Stu what looked to be a shoebox. “This is for you and your wife, to help out. Don’t be assholes with it. Take care of Melissa.”
Stu, now in total disbelief, opened the top of the box. It was stuffed with bands of $100 bills.
This must be a couple hundred grand,
“I—wait,” Stu said.
“No time,” the man said again. He lifted up the cuff of his left pant leg. A metal band lay atop his ankle. “It’s a direction-finder. I’ve got to get out of here.” The bald man stared at him amid the cricket cheeps. “You’re a good man, I can tell.”
Stu stared back.
“Take care of my daughter,” the man said. “And don’t ever tell her about this.”
The pistol felt like dead weight in Stu’s hand. Crooked under his elbow was the box of money.
A reef of clouds drifted away from the moon. Suddenly white light filled the yard, spilling onto the intruder’s form. Stu noted the tears streaming down the strange man’s face. He also noticed—
The man seemed to be wearing mittens.
Mittens, in summer?
But that was it.
Stu couldn’t think of anything to say as the bald man disappeared across the yard into the darkness.