Read Plague Online

Authors: Graham Masterton

Tags: #Horror, #brutal, #supernatural, #civil war, #graphic horror, #ghosts, #haunted house

Plague (11 page)

BOOK: Plague
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A new housing
policy changed all that, and overnight the area was designated suitable for a
new suburb. The Save-U Supermart attracted more and more customers as houses
and streets went up all around it. What had once been a wilderness of truck
stops and rough fields became a thriving cluster of chalet-style suburban
houses, with neat gardens and kids on scooters. Now Edgar Paston had a healthy
yearly profit, a four-bedroomed chalet, and two cars.

To look at, he
was a supermarket manager and nothing else. Thirty-nine years old, with thinning
hair, thick-lensed spectacles, a five o’clock shadow and a taste for plaid
short-sleeved shirts.

He finished the
peanut bar and tucked the wrapper in his shirt pocket. He never littered. It
was eight-fifteen. He would be back at the store in twenty minutes. That would
just give him time to unload the peaches, lock everything up, and go home for
his dinner. Today was his wife, Tammy’s, half-day at the telephone company, and
that meant a good hot supper with fresh-baked bread. Soon the wide lighted window
of Save-U Supermart appeared at the end of the block, and Edgar swung the
station wagon off the road, over the car park, and pulled up outside.
He-switched off the engine, and wearily climbed out.

He opened the
Mercury’s tailgate, dragged out one-of the boxes of peaches, and walked quickly
across to the supermarket entrance, and inside. The lights were bright in
there, and he blinked. His assistant, Gerry, was standing by the cash-desk
chewing a pencil.

Edgar put down
the box. ‘What’s the matter?’ he
said,
half-stern and
half-joking.

‘Your mother not feeding you enough?’

Gerry, a thin
and serious boy of sixteen with a beaky nose and short blond hair, looked
worried.

‘Hi, Mr. Paston.
It’s those kids again. They came in about
ten minutes ago, and they’re up to something, but I don’t know what. I daren’t
leave the cash desk, and they’ve been down by the freezers for quite a while.’

Paston peered
down the length of the store, past the shelves filled with cereals and cookies
and baby-foods. There were only a few late shoppers left now, trundling their
carts around and picking up TV dinners and canned drinks. The freezers, where
he kept the meat and the beer, were down at the far end.

‘Hold on,
Gerry. I’ll go and take a look.’

When he reached
the end of the supermarket, he saw exactly what was going on.

Four or five
teenage boys in denims and black leather jackets were sitting around on the
floor, drinking beer from a six-pack they had taken from the fridge.

‘Okay,’ said
Edgar sharply. ‘What the hell’s happening here?’

The kids looked
at him, and then looked at each other. A couple of them giggled.

‘Come on, get
your butts out of her, or I’ll call the cops.’

None of the
kids moved. One of them took a mouthful of beer and sprayed it in the air, and
the rest of them laughed.

‘All right,’
said Edgar. ‘I’ve warned you before. If that’s the way you want it.’

He turned away,
and walked towards the telephone on the wall. He was just about to pick it up,
when one of the boys called out, ‘Paston!’

He looked
round. He had seen this kid before. He was tall for his age, with a tight black
jacket decorated with zippers. He had a thin, foxy face, and greased-back hair.

‘Are you
talking to me?’ said Edgar, putting the phone back on the hook.

‘That’s right,
Paston,’ said the kid. He came up closer and stood only a couple of feet away,
his thumbs in his belt, chewing a large wad of gum with quick, noisy chews.

‘It’s Mr.
Paston to you,’ said Edgar calmly. The kid nodded. ‘That’s okay, Mr. Paston.

And it’s Mr.
McManus to you.’

Edgar adjusted
his glasses. ‘Are you going to leave the store now, or do I have to call the
cops and get you thrown out?’

McManus chewed,
and looked Edgar up and down. ‘Is that the way you talk to all your customers,
Mr. Paston? It seems to me that me and my friends, we’re just ordinary,
law-abiding customers, and there aint nothing you can do to get us out of
here.’ Edgar swallowed. The rest of the gang had now picked
themselves
up off the floor, and were lounging behind McManus in what they obviously
considered were cool and threatening poses. One of them started cleaning his
fingernails with a long-bladed knife.

‘You took
beer.’ said Edgar quietly. ‘You took beer and you drank it.’

McManus raised his
eyebrows. ‘Is there any law says you can’t consume food and drink on the
premises, provided you pay for it when you leave?’

‘Yes, there is.
Until you’ve paid for it, the stuff belongs to me, and if you drink it, that’s
theft. Now, you’ve got ten seconds to get the hell out.’

McManus didn’t
move. ‘If you’re saying I’m a thief, Mr. Paston, you’d better call yourself a
cop and prove it.’

Edgar looked
around the loutish faces of McManus and his gang, and then nodded.

‘Okay,’ he said
tightly, and picked up the phone. The gang watched him with remote curiosity.

He spoke to the
police, and then laid the phone down again.

‘They said a
couple of minutes,’ he announced.

McManus
shrugged. ‘Seems to me they take longer every time,’ he said, and his cronies
all giggled.

It wasn’t long
before they heard the sound of a siren outside, and the crunch of car doors
being slammed. Edgar looked towards the front of the store, and saw two police
hats bobbing towards him behind one of the rows of shelves. Round the corner by
the dog-food came Officer Marowitz, and his partner Officer Trent. They were
big, weatherbeaten local patrolmen, and Edgar knew them well.

‘Hi, Mr.
Paston,’ said Marowitz. He had a broad, swarthy face and a drooping mustache.
‘Looks like you got Shark trouble.’

‘Witty,’
sneered one of the kids.

Marowitz
ignored him. ‘McManus,’ he snapped. ‘Have you been bothering my friend Mr.
Paston?’

McManus
grinned
a foxy grin. ‘Mr. Paston here says I’m a thief. I
drank some beer in the store, and he says I stole it. Look, I got my money all
ready to pay, and he says I stole it.’

Marowitz
sniffed. ‘Do you want to bring a charge, Mr. Paston?’

McManus said,
‘I didn’t steal it, man. The money’s here. I was thirsty, and I opened a couple
of cans, that’s all.’

‘You shut your
mouth, McManus. Do you want to bring a charge, Mr. Paston?’

Marowitz
repeated.

Edgar Paston
bit his lip, and then sighed. ‘I guess not. Just get them out of here.’

Marowitz
shrugged. ‘It’s up to you, Mr. Paston. If you want to bring a charge, you can
do so.’

Edgar shook his
head. ‘For a few mouthfuls of beer, it isn’t worth it. But if there’s any more
trouble, McManus, I know your face and I’m going to have the law on your tail
so fast you won’t know what’s hit you.’

McManus
grinned, and saluted. ‘Jawohl, mein Fuhrer,’ he mocked.

Marowitz closed
his notebook. ‘All right, you guys – scram. Next time you won’t be so lucky.’

Giggling and
larking about, McManus and his gang shuffled out of the store, and then amused
themselves for a few minutes by pressing their faces against the glass of the
window, pulling grotesque faces.

‘They’re only
kids,’ said Marowitz. ‘Weren’t you the same when you were a kid,
Mr.

Paston??
Edgar looked up at him. ‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘I
wasn’t.’ Marowitz grinned.

‘Well, don’t
you
worry.
Different strokes for different folks. You
have to remember these kids have got nothing to do in the evening around here.
There’s no dance halls, no movies, and most of them are banned from the
hamburger joints. It’s natural they’re going to raise a little hell.’

Edgar picked up
the beer-cans that were strewn on the floor, and went to fetch a damp doth to
wipe up the mess. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have one of those cans of beer going
spare, would you?’ Marowitz asked.

Edgar stared at
him. Marowitz said, grinning, ‘It gets kind of dry, patrolling around all
evening.’

Edgar reached
into the refrigerator and took out a six-pack of Old Milwaukee. He handed it
over, and said flatly, ‘That’s one dollar and eighty-five cents. You can pay at
the desk.’

Marowitz took
the pack without a word. He muttered to Trent, ‘Come on, we got more friendly
places to visit,’ and walked out. Just by the cash desk, he banged his money
down in front of Gerry, and called out loudly, ‘Support your local police
department!’

Edgar watched
them drive away, and then went out into the car park to fetch the rest of his
canned peaches. The night was growing cooler now, and there was a soft wind
from the east. A couple of trucks bellowed past on their way to Jersey City,
and one or two cars, but mostly the roads were empty and silent.

He didn’t
realize what had happened at first. But when he reached into the back of the
car, he noticed how low down it seemed to be. He frowned, and looked around the
side. All four tires had been slashed into black ribbons, and the Mercury was
resting on its wheel hubs.

Edgar stood
there for a while, feeling utter frustration and despair. Then he slammed the
tailgate angrily shut, locked it, and walked back to the supermarket.

Gerry was just
counting up the day’s takings. ‘What’s wrong, Mr. Paston?’ he asked.

‘Someone
slashed my tires. I’ll have to take the pick-up. Let’s get this place closed
down for the night, and leave it at that.’

‘Do you think
it was Shark McManus?’

‘Is that what
they call him?
Shark?’

‘I guess it was
after Jaws. He’s a kind of a wild kid.’

Edgar almost
laughed. ‘Wild? He’s a goddamned maniac. I mean, what kind of a person goes
around stealing beer and slashing tires? What the hell’s it all for?’

Gerry shrugged.
‘I don’t know, Mr. Paston. I guess they get kind of frustrated.’

‘Oh yeah?
Well, I wish they wouldn’t take their half-baked
frustrations out on me.’

He went to
check the cold shelves and the meat, to make sure that everything was kept at
the right temperature for overnight storage. Then he swept up the rubbish,
while Gerry restocked some of the canned goods. He did everything quickly and
superficially, because he wanted to get home. He could always get up early and
dean the place more thoroughly tomorrow.

He was almost
finished when he thought he heard a tap on the store window. He looked up,
frowning. There was another tap, louder. Then, right in front of his eyes, the
huge plate-glass window smashed, and half-a-hundred-weight of glass dropped to
the sidewalk with a shattering, pealing sound.

Edgar ran to
the front of the store and stared out into the night. It was silent, and dark.
The wind blew fitfully into the store, making price tags flap on the shelves.
He crunched across the sea of broken glass, still staring, still searching.

In the
distance, he thought he heard someone laugh. It could have been a dog barking,
or a car starting up. But the sound of it was enough to make him shiver.

 

 

THREE

M
iami was always quiet in the small hours of the morning, but
tonight that silence seemed to be sultry and threatening. As Dr. Leonard Petrie
drove through echoing and deserted streets, he sensed in the air the beginning
of something new and frightening and strange. Two or three cars and an
ambulance passed him as he drove downtown. Out on the expressway, lines of
traffic still shuttled backwards and forwards from the airport, and trucks and
cars still traveled up and down US, heading north for Fort Lauderdale or south
for the Keys. It could have been any night of any year in Miami. The radio was
playing country music from Nashville, and the hotels along the Beach glittered
with light.

Dr. Petrie
swung the Lincoln left on West Flagler and 17th. For the first time, he saw the
spreading effects of the plague. There were four or five bodies lying on the
sidewalk, sprawled-out and motionless in the light of a store window. They
looked as if they were fast asleep. He drew the Lincoln into the kerb, and got
out to take a look.

It was a
family. A father – middle-aged, with a small mustache; a middle-aged mother;
and two small boys, aged about eight and ten. It was so unbelievably odd to see
them here, on this warm and normal night, lying dead and pale on the sidewalk,
that Dr. Petrie was moved to prod the father’s body with his toe, to see if he
were sleeping.

The father’s
hand slipped across his silent chest, and rested on the concrete.

A police-car
came cruising up 17th in the opposite direction, and Dr. Petrie quickly stepped
across the sidewalk to flag it down.

The cop was
wearing orange sunglasses, even though it was night-time, and a handkerchief
over his mouth, bandit-style.

‘I’m a doctor,’
Petrie said. ‘I came around the block and saw those people. They’re all dead,
I’m afraid. I guess it’s the plague.’

The patrolman
nodded. ‘We’re getting cases all over. Six or seven cops down with it already.
Okay, doctor, I’ll call headquarters and notify them about the dead people.

Between you and
me, though, I don’t think they got enough ambulances to cope. It won’t be long
before
it’s
garbage trucks.’

‘Garbage
trucks?’ said Dr. Petrie. He was appalled. He looked back across the street,
and the family was lying there, pale and still. The children must have died
first, and the mother and father died while trying to nurse them. ‘You mean...’

The cop said,
‘They don’t have enough ambulances, doctor. It’s either that, or we leave them
to rot in the streets.’

BOOK: Plague
10.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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