Authors: R.L. Stine
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aul Nichols felt like killing someone.
He tapped both hands against the steering wheel and waited for the light to change. The stoplight glared at him, reflecting his anger, until the icy street and snow-covered trees and bushes seemed to glow red through the clouded windshield. Angry red.
The soft, familiar melody of “Silent Night” came on the radio, and he grabbed the dial and turned the music off with a bitter groan.
Less than two weeks before Christmas, Paul thought, staring into the red glow of the traffic light. Cold air blew over his feet from the broken heater. Why did he even bother to turn it on?
Nearly Christmas and he had no job. No money. No
“M-Merry Christmas to me,” he muttered under his breath. His stammer was back. It always came back when he was angry or tense.
The light changed. He floored the gas pedal, and the old Plymouth squealed into the intersection, the smooth tires spinning over the ice.
He had to slow down as he reached the center of town. Waynesbridge was known as “Christmas Town” because of its lavish decorations, which included a brightly decorated Christmas tree on every corner of Main Street.
The shimmering lights only darkened Paul's mood. He slowed to a stop, allowing a family of four to cross the street. They were smiling, their faces red beneath their wool ski caps. The two kids were pointing to the window of Toy Village, the big toy store on the corner.
Watching the father take the little boy's hand as they crossed, Paul thought of his family. Christmas was supposed to be a family time, after all.
But not for Paul. He hadn't seen his parents since he was sixteen, two years earlier. Not since he had dropped out of Waynesbridge High in his junior year.
“Hope they have a r-rotten Christmas,” he muttered, squeezing the steering wheel harder until both hands ached.
A few minutes later he parked the car at the curb in front of his apartment building and climbed out. The late-afternoon sky was scarlet, the red ball of a sun lowering behind the two-story brick building. Paul's sneakers crunched over the small piles of hard, dirty snow as he jogged around to the back.
The metal stairs clanged beneath him as he made his way to his apartment on the second floor. Shivering beneath his brown leather bomber jacket, he pushed open the door and stepped inside.
“Heyâ!” Diane Morris glanced up in surprise. She made no attempt to rise from the green vinyl couch.
Paul's expression remained blank. “Diane, you here?”
She let the copy of
drop from her hand. “Yeah. You don't mind, do you, Pres? My mom and dadâthey're tearing into each other, for a change. They're both so drunk, it's disgusting. I couldn't stay there.”
Paul grunted in reply. He tossed his jacket onto a chair and crossed the small room. An open bag of potato chips lay on the counter that separated the living room from the narrow kitchenette. He picked it up and stuffed a handful of chips into his mouth.
“Did you get the job, Pres?” Diane asked, sitting up.
He shook his head.
Her hopeful expression faded. She lowered her eyes to the floor. “What about the one at Pick and Pay?”
“I'm not going to deliver groceries!” he exploded, slamming the potato chip bag down on the counter. “I'm n-not a delivery boy!”
“Okay. Okay, Pres,” she replied softly. She crossed the room to give him a long, tender kiss. He pulled away impatiently, turning his back on her.
“Pres?” Diane pretended to be hurt. She had
been going with him for three years. She was used to his outbursts. “Let me see your sneer,” she asked, teasing. “Come on. Let me see it.”
He could never stay angry at her. He curled his lip and turned, giving her his best sneer.
Diane called him Pres because he reminded her of Elvis Presley. He had the same straight black hair, which he wore with long sideburns. He had Elvis Presley's dark, romantic eyes. And he had the Elvis sneer, which she had once caught him practicing in front of a mirror.
She laughed. “You could be a star, Pres. You really could.”
“You're really stupid, Diane.” He said it with a smile.
“Yeah. Because I hang around with you,” she shot back. She stuck her tongue out at him.
Diane rubbed her skinny arms through the thin pink sweater she wore over straight-legged black denim jeans. The light from the table lamp caught her white-blond hair, tied back with a pink band. The black roots formed a dark, jagged line along her forehead.
She studied Paul with her gray-blue eyes, her best feature. Before she had become a blonde, she had always thought of herself as mousy and plain. She was especially self-conscious about her two front teeth, which poked out. She
it when Pres called her Rabbit. He did it only when he wanted to annoy her.
Diane was seventeen, a year younger than Pres. She had graduated from Waynesbridge High the previous June with a solid C average. She could
have gotten better grades, but it was impossible to study at home since her parents were always drunk, always fighting. She spent most of her time at Pres's shabby apartment.
She hadn't been able to find a job either.
“Oh, sigh,” she declared, shaking her head. She dropped down on the couch. The vinyl cushion made a loud
She raised her eyes to his. “
what are we going to do? Did you see any other ads in the paper?”
Pres shook his head. He carried the bag of potato chips over to the couch and sat down next to her. He stared at the bag as if studying it.
“Well, we're broke,” Diane continued. She poked him in the ribs. “How are you going to buy that Jaguar you promised me?”
He sneered. “Don't make me laugh.”
Diane bent to pick up the magazine. “I was just reading about a man and a woman who robbed an armored truck. You know, one of those little trucks that carries money from banks. They parked their car so that it blocked off the street and pretended to have a flat. When the armored truck stopped, they both pulled out automatic weapons. They got six million dollars.”
Pres shook his head. “Wow. Good work!”
“Maybe we could do that,” Diane suggested seriously.
Diane had fantasies that the two of them would become big-time criminals. She was always coming up with schemes in which they performed wild, daring robberies, just like in the movies, and got away with millions.
At first Pres had thought she was joking, making up stories to amuse herself. After a while he realized that Diane was serious. She really believed they could get rich by pulling off a major crime.
“What have we got to lose?” she asked. A familiar question. That's what she always asked: “What have we got to lose?”
“Well, I've already lost one job,” he replied bitterly, his fingers playing with a tear in the vinyl on the arm of the couch.
Pres thought about the job he had for nearly two years at Dalby's Department Store. Being a stockroom clerk wasn't exactly a glamorous job. But the pay was enough to live on. And from time to time he had been able to steal some nice itemsâa leather bomber jacket, a watch, a portable TV.
Not a bad job at all.
But then one of the security guards had caught him with a portable cassette player under his jacketâand that was the end of the job.
Pres had been taken to Robert Dalby himself.
Dalby liked to lecture employees caught stealing before he fired them.
What a jerk!
Pres had been so angry, he couldn't even stammer out an excuse. Dalby's face turned red, bright red. And Pres had to hold himself back, had to keep his hands stuffed tightly in his jeans pockets, had to fight off the impulse to grab Dalby by the throat, to strangle him with his own silk necktie.