Read Festival of Fear Online

Authors: Graham Masterton

Festival of Fear (10 page)

‘But – we went our separate ways,' I told her. I chose oncology because I wanted to alleviate human suffering and Jack chose cosmetic surgery because he wanted to elevate women's breasts.'

‘You're a cosmetic surgeon?' Kylie asked him, and I could tell by the way she tilted her head on one side that Jack had half won her over already. A dishy cosmetic surgeon with a beautiful dog and mahogany knees. What did it matter if he didn't know any one liners?

‘How's Melanie?' I asked him. ‘Still as voluptuous as ever?' I gave him a sassy wiggle and winked. Come on – I was fighting for my very existence here.

‘Oh, Melanie and I broke up months ago. She met a divorce lawyer. A very rich divorce lawyer.'

‘Sorry to hear it.' Jesus – Kylie was even
that goddamned dog. ‘You – ah – who are you dating now?'

‘Nobody, right now. It's just me and Sheba, all on our ownsome.'

Kylie stood up. ‘Listen,' she said, ‘Bob and I were just going for a latte. Why don't you and Sheba join us?'

‘I thought you didn't want to go for a latte,' I told her. ‘I thought you wanted to stay on the beach.'

Kylie didn't take her eyes off Jack. ‘No . . . I think I could fancy a latte. And maybe one of those cinnamon donuts.'

The three of them walked up the beach ahead of me – Jack, Kylie and Sheba – and all I could do was trail along behind them feeling pale and badly dressed and excluded. Thank you, God, I said, looking up to the sky – Ye who giveth with one hand and snatcheth away with the other. Kylie turned around and smiled at me and just as she did so a seagull pooped on my shoulder.

The café was called Better Latte Than Never which I thought was bitterly appropriate. I sat at the table with Jack and Kylie and tried to be witty but I knew that it was no use. They couldn't take their eyes off each other and when I came out of the bathroom after rinsing the seagull splatter from my shirt, I saw that Jack's hand was resting on top of hers, as naturally as if they had been friends all their lives.

‘What a great
,' said Kylie, as we drove back along Sunset. ‘He's so interesting. You know, not like most of the men you meet.'

‘He's multifaceted, I'll give you that. Did he tell you that he knits?'

‘No, he didn't! Maybe he could knit me a sweater!'

‘I don't think so. He only knits blanket squares. They're not very square, either. I think it's some perceptual weakness he inherited from his mother. Did he tell you that his mother played the glockenspiel? She only knew one tune but it could reduce strong men to tears.'

‘You're jealous,' said Kylie. Her eyes were hidden behind large Chanel sunglasses – the same large Chanel sunglasses that
had bought for her on Rodeo Drive.

‘Jealous? What are you talking about?'

‘I can tell when you're jealous because you belittle people. You always make it sound like a joke but it's not.'

‘Hey, Jack and I go way back.'

‘And you're jealous of him, aren't you? I'll bet you always have been.'

‘Me? I'm an oncologist. You think I'm jealous of some tit doctor? Besides, his breath smells of cheese. That was one thing I always noticed about him, but I never liked to tell him. His girlfriends always used to call him Monterey Jack, but he never figured out why.'

‘You're jealous.'

I looked at her acutely, but all I could see was two of my own reflection in her sunglasses, in my crumpled lime-green T-shirt with the damp patch on the shoulder.

‘Do I have anything to be jealous
, do you think?' I asked her.

At that moment I almost rear-ended a dry-cleaning van and her answer was blotted out by the screaming of tires, so I never heard it.

Of course, I knew what it was. I took her out to 25 Degrees on Thursday evening for hamburgers. We sat in one of the black, leather-upholstered booths, which I thought would be romantic. It's incredible what a reasonably supple person can get up to, in a black, leather-upholstered booth. But she was unusually preoccupied, and she kept fiddling with her fork, around and around, and when our orders eventually arrived, she said, ‘I've been thinking, Bob.'

‘You've been thinking that you should have ordered the three-cheese sandwich instead of the turkey burger?'

‘No, not that.'

‘Let me see. You've been thinking that you hate this loose-weave sport coat I'm wearing? No, I don't believe that's it. Aha!
know what it is. You've been thinking that you and I should stop seeing each other because Jack has called you and asked you out on a date. A threesome. Him and you and the houndess from hell.'

She looked at me sideways and there was genuine remorse in her eyes. ‘I'm sorry.'

‘You're sorry because Jack has called you and asked you out on a date, or you're sorry you waited until our food arrived before you told me about it? Because I can't possibly eat a twelve-ounce cheeseburger while my throat is all choked up.'

‘I'm just sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you.'

‘Nobody ever does, Kylie. Nobody ever does. But I shall have my revenge. Jack may be good looking and he may be able to charm the turkey buzzards out of the trees, but you will very soon discover that Jack suffers from premature ejaculation and because of that, your love-making will last for no more than nanoseconds. Don't ever sneeze when Jack's making love to you, because you might miss it.'

Kylie looked away. ‘As a matter of fact, Bob, he's very good. He's tender, and he's creative, and he can keep it up for hours.'

I sat up very straight with my chin tilted upward and I didn't know what to say. I don't know what upset me the most: the fact that she had already gone to bed with him, and that he was obviously better in bed than I was, or the Australian way she said ‘tinder' instead of ‘tender.'

Eventually, I shuffled my butt sideways out of the booth, and stood up. The waiter came up to me and said, ‘Something wrong, sir?'

‘Yes. This isn't what I wanted, none of it.'

He frowned, and flipped back his notepad. ‘I think you will find that you have everything you asked for, sir.'

I shook my head. It isn't easy to argue when you're trying to stop yourself from crying.

‘You're going, sir? Who's going to pay?'

‘The lady will pay,' I told him. ‘She – ah—'

‘Bob,' said Kylie. ‘Don't let's end it like this. Please.'

‘How else do you want to end it? You want violins? You let me take you out for hamburgers and you'd already gone to bed with him?'

She shook her head.

‘Good,' I told her. ‘Have a nice life. Jack and you and that bitch of his. Hope he can tell the difference between you.'

I shouldn't have said that, but I had fallen for Kylie in a way that I had never fallen for any girl before. It wasn't only her fabulous looks, and the way that other men swiveled around and stared at her whenever we walked past together, although of course that was part of it. It was her utter simplicity, the way she trusted the world to take care of her, and her genuine surprise when it didn't. It was the way she propped herself up on one elbow when we were lying in bed, and stroked my hair, as if she couldn't believe I was real.

She was magical, in every sense of the word. And that evening, after she had told me that she and I were through, all I could do was creep back to my apartment like a wounded animal and lie with my face buried in her pillow, smelling her perfume.

The phone rang. After a long while, I heaved myself off the bed and answered it.

‘Bob? It's Jack.'

‘Jack? Not my best friend Jack? Not my old med school buddy? Both for one and one for both?'

‘Bob . . . I don't know what to say to you.'

‘I have a good idea. You could say, “Bob, I'm going to go to the top story of Century Park East and I'm going to jump off”.'

‘Please, Bob. Don't joke.'

‘Who the fuck is joking? You think I'm joking? I put a curse on you, Jack! I swear to God! You and your fucking Great Dane! I curse you!'

There was a lengthy pause. Eventually, Jack said, ‘Can't say I blame you, buddy. Stay well. Don't be a stranger forever.'

I hung up. There was so much I could have said, but most of it would have been obscene, and what was the point?

Six weeks and three days later my curse worked.

It was a Saturday morning and I was driving east on Olympic, on my way to see my friend Dick Paulzner for a game of squash. I pulled up at the intersection of Western Avenue and who should be waiting at the traffic signal right ahead of me but Jack, in his fancy-schmancy Porsche Cayenne SUV. Sitting much too close to him, with her fingers buried in his hair, was Kylie, in a pink baseball cap; and hunched up in the back seat like somebody's Hungarian grandma was Sheba.

My Jeep was burbling away like it always did, on account of a sizeable hole in its muffler, and it wasn't long before Jack checked his rear-view mirror and saw that it was me. He said something to Kylie and Kylie turned around and gave me a little finger-wave.

I ignored her. But then she took off her baseball cap and waved it wildly from side to side, and I could see that she was laughing.

I could go to confession three times a day for the rest of my life and still not be forgiven for what I did next. I saw scarlet. All of the hurt and all of the rejection and all of the anger, they all boiled up inside of me, and I went temporarily mad. That was supposed to have been
life, sitting in that SUV in front of me. That was supposed to have been
happiness. Instead of that, I was sitting alone in the vehicle behind, being laughed at by the girl of my dreams.

I pressed my foot down on the gas, and rear-ended the Cayenne with a satisfying

I could see that Jack and Kylie were both jolted, and Sheba was knocked right off her seat and on to the floor.

Jack and Kylie turned around and shouted at me, although I couldn't hear what they were saying. I shrugged, as if I didn't understand what they were shouting for, and then I pressed my foot down on the gas again. There was another
! and the Cayenne was shoved forward three or four feet.

Now Jack was really mad. He climbed out of the driver's seat and came storming toward me swinging Sheba's metal-studded leash. Just to annoy him one more time, I slammed my foot down and rear-ended the Cayenne again.

This time, though, there was no loud impact. Jack's foot was no longer on the brake pedal and he must have left the Cayenne in neutral. My Jeep barely nudged its rear fender, but it rolled forward another ten or twelve feet, well past the traffic signal.

Without any warning, a huge red Peterbilt semi came bellowing across the intersection and struck the passenger side of the Cayenne. The collision was so devastating that the SUV was pushed all the way across Olympic and on to the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, demolishing a mailbox.

Even today, I can't recall the noise of that crash. It must have been deafening, but the way I remember it, there was no noise at all, only the silent crumpling of metal and the glittering explosion of glass.

When my hearing suddenly returned, however, I heard the screaming of twenty-two tires on the blacktop, and Jack screaming, too, as if he were trying to drown them out.

I jumped down from my Jeep and ran across the road, dodging around the traffic. The truck driver was climbing down from his cab, too – a heavily-built Mexican in a red T-shirt and baggy green shorts, and a Dodgers cap screwed on sideways. He stared at me with bulging brown eyes, and said, ‘There wasn't a damn thing I could do, man. I stood on everything, but there wasn't a damn thing I could do.'

The passenger door of Jack's Cayenne had been crushed in so far that it had bent the steering wheel. The tangle of metal and plastic was almost incomprehensible, but I could see blonde hair and blood and one of Kylie's hands reaching out from a gap in between the door and the front wheel-arch – unmarked, perfect, with silver rings on every finger – as if she were reaching out for help.

‘Kylie!' Jack was begging her. ‘Kylie, tell me that you're OK!

He climbed up on to the side of the SUV and tried to wrench open the passenger door with his bare hands, but it was wedged in far too tight.

Somebody call an ambulance
!' he screamed. ‘
For Christ's sake, somebody call an ambulance

Of course, somebody already had, and it was only a few minutes before we heard the whooping and scribbling of a distant siren. Jack stayed where he was, leaning against the smashed-in door, pleading with Kylie to still be alive.

‘I stood on everything,' the truck driver repeated. ‘There wasn't a damn thing I could do.'

‘I know,' I said, and gave him a reassuring pat on his big, sweat-soaked shoulder.

Two squad cars arrived, and then an ambulance, and then a fire truck, and the police made all of us spectators shuffle across to the other side of the street. The fire crew started work with cutters and hydraulic spreaders, trying to extricate Kylie from the wreckage. I could see sparks flying and hear the arthritic groaning of metal being bent.

Jack was sitting on the back step of the ambulance, with a shiny metallic blanket around him. A paramedic was standing beside him, with one hand raised, as if he were giving him the benediction.

‘I can't afford to lose my license, man,' said the truck driver. ‘I got all new carpets to pay for.'

But I wasn't listening. Instead, I was frowning off to my left, further along Olympic. About fifty yards away, I could see Sheba, Jack's Great Dane. She was standing by the side of the road, quite still, more like a statue of a dog than a real dog.

Looking back at the smashed-up Cayenne, I could see then that the rear offside door had burst open in the collision, and that Sheba must have either been thrown out, or jumped out. I was just about to tell one of the police officers that she was loose when Jack turned around and saw her, too, and sent the paramedic off to bring her back.

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