Authors: Linwood Barclay
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense
TOO CLOSE TO HOME
EREK FIGURED, when the time came, the crawlspace would be the best place to hide. The only thing was, he hoped the Langleys wouldn’t take that long, once he was in position, to get the hell out of their house and hit the road. The last time Derek had played with Adam in their crawlspace, they’d been eight, nine years old. They’d pretended it was a cave filled with treasure, or the cargo hold of a spaceship, and there was a monster hiding in there somewhere.
Well, that had been quite a few years ago. He was a lot bigger now; Adam, too. Pushing six feet, already taller at seventeen than his father, Derek wasn’t looking forward to scrunching down in there for God knows how long.
He was hoping he could time it right. When he saw the Langleys putting the last of their bags into the trunk but still doing last-minute things in the house, that’s when Derek would say goodbye, make like he was going out the back door, let it slam, then tiptoe down the stairs, move aside the sliding door to the crawlspace, get in, pull the door back across. There wasn’t anything in the crawlspace, which was right under the living room, that the Langleys would be needing for their week away. Just loads of boxes jammed with Christmas decorations, family mementos not worth displaying but too important to pitch, old paperback novels, and years’ worth of legal papers belonging to Adam’s dad, Albert Langley. There was an old tent down there, and a Coleman stove, but the Langleys weren’t going camping.
Jesus, Derek thought, I’m getting a hard-on just thinking about it.
“I wish I didn’t have to go,” Adam said to Derek while his mother, Donna Langley, was taking some things from the refrigerator—a package of hot dogs, some beer—and putting them into a cooler.
She turned. It had been so busy around the house, getting ready to go away, it was the first she’d noticed Adam had his friend over. “Why, hello, Derek,” she said, almost formally, as if they were meeting for the first time.
“Hello, Mrs. Langley,” he replied.
“How are you today?” she asked.
“Very well, thank you,” he said. “And you?” Jeez, he thought, he was sounding like Eddie Haskell, in that show his parents watched when they were kids.
Before she could reply, Adam whined, “There’ll be nothing to do at this place. It’s gonna suck, I just know it.”
“Adam,” his mother said tiredly, “it’s a very highly recommended resort.”
“Jeez, stop being such a hurtsack,” Derek told him. “It’ll be fun. Don’t they have boats and shit? And horses or something?”
“Who cares about horses?” Adam said. “Do I look like somebody who cares about riding horses? Dirt bikes, if they had those, that’d be cool, but they don’t. You sound like you want me to go, like you’re on
“I’m just saying, if your parents are going to make you go, you might as well make the best of it.”
“Good advice,” Donna Langley said, her back to the two boys.
Adam said to her, “I wouldn’t do anything bad. I wouldn’t have a party here.”
“We’ve had this discussion,” Donna Langley said, adding an ice pack from the freezer to the cooler. Adam’s mother was pretty, especially for a mother. Brown hair down to her shoulders, a nice body, round in the right places, not like most of the girls at Derek’s school. They were like sticks. But looking at her, thinking about her like that, made Derek uncomfortable now, especially with Adam present.
“But you can trust me,” Adam said, a pleading tone to his voice. “Jesus, you don’t give me any credit for anything.”
“You know what happened at the Moffatts’,” she said. “His parents went away and word got out and a hundred kids descended on his place.”
“It wasn’t a hundred. It was only like sixty.”
“Okay,” his mother said. “Sixty. A hundred. They still trashed the house.”
“That wouldn’t happen here.”
Donna Langley leaned up against the kitchen counter, suddenly looking very tired. Derek thought at first she was just exhausted from arguing, but then it looked like maybe she didn’t feel so hot.
“You all right, Mrs. Langley?” he asked.
“Just . . .” She gave her head a small shake. “Just felt a little woozy there for a second.”
“You okay, Mom?” asked Adam, perhaps shamed into concern by his friend, taking a tentative step toward her.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, waving him away and pushing herself away from the counter. “Might be something I had for lunch. I’ve been feeling off all afternoon.”
Or maybe it was some of her medicine, Derek thought. He knew she took pills, stuff to help her get through the day. She could be up and down. Some sort of bipolar shit or something, Adam had said.
She composed herself. “Adam, go see if your father needs any help.”
But Albert Langley, a tall, broad-shouldered man in his early fifties with thinning gray hair, was already standing in the kitchen doorway. “What is it?” he asked his wife. Sounding slightly more annoyed than concerned. “Don’t tell me you’re coming down with something.”
“No, no, really,” she said. “It’s probably something I ate.”
“For God’s sake,” Albert said, “we’ve planned this thing for weeks. We cancel now, we’re not going to get our deposit back on this place, you know that, don’t you?”
Donna Langley turned her back to him, saying, “Yeah, well, thanks for your concern.”
Albert Langley shook his head in disgust and left the kitchen.
“Listen,” Derek whispered to Adam, “I gotta take off, you know?” He suddenly realized this was going to take a bit of choreography. He needed Adam to go off with his father, head out the front of the house, so he could pretend to slip out the back.
Part of him felt like a real shit, not telling his own best friend what he was up to, but it wasn’t like it would be the first time he’d kept something from him. And it wasn’t like anyone was going to get hurt or anything was going to be damaged. No one would even have to know. Not counting Penny, of course. Sure, the Langleys would wonder, when they got back, whether one of them forgot to lock one of the doors, to set the alarm system, but when they looked around and found nothing taken, they’d eventually forget about it. Next time they went away, they’d double-check things, that’s all.
“I wish you could come with us,” Adam said. “I’m gonna die without someone to hang with.”
“I can’t,” Derek said. “My parents would freak if I ditched my summer job even for a week.” The thing was, even if he hadn’t already figured out how to make the Langleys’ time away the best week of his life, spending seven days with them, that just wouldn’t be cool.
They’d moved out of the kitchen, down the hall, around the midpoint of the house. All Derek had to do was keep heading to the back, go down half a flight of steps, and there was the door. Round the corner, take the other half flight, he’d be in the basement.
“I don’t know if there’ll be anybody there to hang out with,” Adam said, still moaning, Jesus.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s only a week. You know what? When you get back, we’ll read the rest of what’s on that computer.” He and Adam enjoyed collecting old, junked computers. Some of the stuff you found on them, man, you wouldn’t believe it. Everything from school projects to kiddie porn. Some people, the stuff that went on in their heads. Looking through discarded computers, it was better than searching through somebody’s medicine cabinet.
Adam looked down at the floor. “Yeah, well, there’s a bit of a shitstorm about that.”
That caught Derek by surprise. “What?”
“With my dad. He kind of found out what was on it. The thing we were reading.”
“So what’s it to him? He thinks you don’t know about porn? And it’s not like it’s pictures. It’s just written stuff. It’s not even really porn. Not good porn, anyway.”
“Look, I can’t get into it now,” Adam said quietly. “I’ll tell you about it when I get back, or maybe I can give you a call about it during the week.”
“Don’t sweat it. If I want to read it, I’ve got the copy I made.”
“Shit, don’t let him find out about that,” Adam said. “He seemed really pissed. I don’t know why he got such a hair up his ass about it.”
“What, you think I’m gonna go up to your dad, say ‘Hey, Mr. Langley, I kept a copy’?”
“No, it’s just—”
“Adam!” It was Mr. Langley, sounding pissed, calling for him from the front step.
“Listen, man, I gotta go,” Adam said. “He’s already mad about my mom feeling sick.”
“Okay, yeah, sure, see ya in a week,” Derek said. Adam turned one way, Derek the other. Derek forced himself to call out, “Have a nice trip, Mrs. Langley!”
Everyone had to think he was leaving.
From the kitchen, a subdued “Bye, Derek.”
He bounded down the stairs for effect, opened the back door, and closed it hard, making the usual racket he always did when he left and cut across the yard and headed into the woods that ran along the edge of the lane.
But this time he didn’t leave the house. Once he’d closed the door with enough force for Mrs. Langley to hear in the kitchen, he was down into the basement in a second, heading to the far side and kneeling next to the couch in front of the sliding panel that led into the crawlspace.
Derek slid it to the left, crawled in on his hands and knees, the concrete floor hard and cold. He turned himself around, slid the door closed as quietly as possible, and held his breath for a moment as he became enveloped in darkness.
All he could hear was his heart pounding in his ears. Slowly, he exhaled, tried to compose himself. He knew there was a bulb on a pull chain in here somewhere, but he was afraid to turn it on. What if Mr. Langley happened to come downstairs for something at the last minute, saw light showing around the edges of the panel? He’d just have to sit in the dark here for as long as it took.
At least he could see what time it was. He reached into his pocket for his cell phone, made sure the ringer was off, and checked the time, the tiny screen the only source of light. Nearly eight o’clock. The Langleys
to be going soon.
He couldn’t talk, but he could send a text message. He typed out “
W8ING 4 LANGS 2 GO HIDING NOW
.” He pressed Send.
The idea of having his own little fuck palace for a week, it had to be the best thing he’d ever thought of. Okay, maybe not a “fuck” palace. Penny might be ready, but maybe not. But everything short of that, for sure.
He listened for house noises. Sitting cross-legged on the cement floor, jammed in between boxes of Christmas bulbs and a toboggan Adam probably hadn’t used in five years, Derek could sense Donna Langley moving around in the kitchen. A house, it was like a living thing. You stepped on the floor in one room, and it was like a pulse went running along one of the studs underfoot, and then, when it met another beam, it kept on going, like that song Derek’s mom used to sing to him when he was little, about the thigh bone connected to the hip bone, the hip bone connected to the—
“For Christ’s sake, let’s go!”
Adam’s dad. Jesus, he could be a bit of a prick, Derek thought. His own dad could sure be a pain in the ass, but he wasn’t the dick Adam’s dad was.
He could hear a bit of shuffling upstairs. Someone walking to the back door, checking to see that it was locked. Then the sound of another door, opening and closing. The front door. Derek, not daring to breathe, thought he could even hear the turning of a key in a lock.
A couple of moments later, car doors opening and closing. The engine of the Langleys’ Saab SUV coming on. Tires on gravel, perceptible at first, then receding.
And then nothing.
Derek swallowed, decided to stay in hiding a couple of minutes more to be sure. Long enough for the Langleys to get far enough away that if they realized they’d forgotten something, they’d figure it was easier to buy it along the way. His heart was starting to slow down now, things were looking good, all he had to do was—
Jesus Christ what the fuck was that crawling down his neck holy mother of God!
A spider! A goddamn spider had slipped below his collar. He went into a spasm of slapping at himself in the darkness, the side of his neck, the top of his shoulder, through his shirt. The spider had made him jump and he’d walloped his head on an overhead beam.
“Fuck!” he shouted. He threw back the crawlspace panel and practically tumbled out onto the carpeted basement floor. He reached under his collar, felt something small and mushy, pulled the shirt over his head and slapped away at his neck, desperate to get rid of the spider’s remains.
His heart was ready to explode out of his chest.
Once the spider crisis had passed, he took another moment to pull himself together. The basement was almost dark. There was probably only a half hour of light left outside, but he didn’t dare turn on any lamps. For the whole week, he wouldn’t be able to turn on lights. Maybe, here in the basement, he could put the TV on. No one would notice that from the outside, especially with the house set back so far from the main road.
But really, who needed lights for what he planned to do? He could feel his way around in the dark.
He was surprised Penny hadn’t responded to his text message. But it was time to get in touch again, let her know the house was empty. First, though, he should do a walk-through, make sure everything was okay.
He slipped his shirt back on, went up the basement stairs, saw that the deadbolt had been thrown on the back door. There was still enough light to see easily as he wandered the first floor. The front door was locked. On the wall in the front hall, the security system keypad. Derek had been in the house so many times with Adam, watched him engage and turn off the system, he knew the code. All he had to do was enter it, flip the deadbolt on the back door, and he could come and go as he pleased. It meant leaving the house unlocked, but around here, on the outskirts of town, hardly anyone ever had break-ins.
The house felt totally different, as he walked through it for the first time all alone, no one knowing he was here. He felt a charge, checking out the whole place, realized his heart was pumping overtime, his palms sweating.
He reassured himself he knew the layout well enough to manage it in the dark, even the places where he didn’t plan to spend any time, like Adam’s parents’ bedroom, where he was standing now. Big king-size bed, thick white duvet, en-suite bathroom with a shower and one of those tubs that had the jets in it. He’d love to hang out in here with Penny—maybe she’d take a bath in there with him, with bubbles and everything, just like people in the movies—but no, that seemed a bit risky. The basement couch would more than do the trick. It wasn’t so much where they did it in the house. The main thing was privacy, no interruptions.