Read an Excerpt
By Richard Laymon
Copyright © 2004
All right reserved.
Neal Darden, alone in his car, took back roads to stay away
from Robertson Boulevard. He wasn't worried about too much
traffic on Robertson; he was worried about getting shot for no
After all, this was night in Los Angeles.
Anybody could get shot at any time of the day or night, but
night was worse. And the well-traveled boulevards such as
Robertson seemed more dangerous to Neal than the hidden roads
that twisted through quiet, residential neighborhoods.
His theory was simple: the fewer cars in sight, the less
likely you are to encounter a load of trigger-happy gangsters.
The very best way to stay alive was to avoid going out at all.
Especially at night. Especially late at night. He refused to
live that way, though. He was only twenty-eight years old, too
young to become a hermit. For safety's sake, he might make a
few concessions-but he wouldn't surrender and stay home for
the rest of his life.
You take precautions and you go anyway.
Even if it's just to return the video rentals.
Neal knew that he could've waited and returned the videos
tomorrow. There would be a late charge. Five or six bucks, he
supposed. A small amount to pay compared with the risk of
taking them back at this hour of the night. But there was a
larger price in waiting for daylight: apayment made in
freedom and self-respect.
On both sides of the road, embankments slanted down the
freeway. The lower areas of the slopes were thick with bushes
and trees. Then came the old railroad right-of-way. Unused for
years. Overgrown. Scattered with every kind of garbage.
Bordered by a ragged chain-link fence that obviously did
Neal didn't even want to think about what sort of people might
be lurking in there.
Not very long ago, a police officer had been murdered
somewhere in that odd little strip of wilderness. Late at
He looked both ways. He saw nobody wandering around. But
nearby streetlights showed enough dense foliage to hide a
legion of mad predators.
His car bumped over the tracks.
Time for another decision.
Make a left onto the back road and go straight ahead to Venice
Boulevard? If he didn't make the left here, he would find
himself at Venice on the wrong side of the video store. Also,
he'd have to turn into the drive-through lane of the Burger
Boy where that teenager had gotten murdered last month.
He shook his head and sighed.
One way was probably as bad as the other.
The back road would be more direct.
Narrow, much of it dark under trees that blocked the
streetlights, it ran for about half a mile alongside the
abandoned railroad right-of-way. Where God-knows-who might be
lurking. Where the cop had been gunned down.
Neal made the turn and stepped on the gas.
To his left, the wilderness. To his right, a row of shabby
Through his open window-mixed in with the mild night air and
the sounds from the freeway-came the far-off but distinct cry
of a woman shrieking, "Hellllp!"
Neal's stomach clenched.
He looked to the left.
For a moment, his view was blocked by a van parked across the
After passing the van, he saw the strip of wilderness leading
to the embankment. He slowed down and gazed out his window.
High in the distance, cars and trucks sped along on the Santa
Monica Freeway. He saw nobody by the side of the freeway,
nobody in the grass and weeds of the embankment, nobody in the
darkness among the trees and heavy bushes that cloaked the
base of the embankment, that spread out toward him over the
field of the long-abandoned right-of-way. He saw nobody on the
He saw no lights over there.
The yell could've come from anywhere, he told himself. He was
fairly used to hearing distant cries and screams. He would
sometimes step outside his apartment, glance around and listen
for a while. But he had never done more than that. Most such
cries, he suspected, came from kids goofing around.
Goosebumps prickled Neal's face.
He swerved to the left, swung off the road, hit the brakes,
killed the engine and headlights, and yanked his key out of
the ignition. Clamping the key case in his mouth, he used his
right hand to fling up the lid of his console beside his seat.
He fumbled through the compartment, reached under the notepad,
change purse, and a stack of napkins and snatched up is Sig
Sauer .380 pistol.
He thought about the spare magazine. Down there somewhere.
Couldn't afford time to search for it.
Keys still in his mouth, the pistol in his right hand, he
threw open his door with his left and leaped out of his car.
He rushed to a gap in the chain-link fence, ducked through it,
and ran straight for the deepest, thickest part of the
darkness at the bottom of the freeway embankment.
As he ran, he plucked the leather key case out of his mouth.
He shoved it into a front pocket of his shorts. Loose down
there, it whopped against his thigh with every stride.
His baggy gray shorts looked pale in the night. His legs
looked brighter than the shorts. His white socks glared. Only
his shoes and shirt were dark.
Should've worn black.
Yeah, he thought. Right. Gotta dress proper for my midnight
He couldn't believe he was doing this.
Must be nuts.
He had never in his life rushed to the rescue of anyone. The
opportunity had never come up.
The pistol in his console was meant for self-defense, a last
resort in case of attack. Illegal as hell, but worth the risk.
Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.
He wondered if he would be doing this if he didn't have the
Not a chance.
This is nuts, he thought.
But he kept on running, kicking out his legs, pumping his
arms, leaping over the dim obstacles of railroad tracks,
brambles, ruts, an old tire, a sofa cushion, a collection of
crushed cans that smelled of motor oil. He dodged the larger
bushes, and a car bumper, several trees, a toilet that smelled
as if someone had used it not very long ago, and an old door
that lay on the ground like an entrance into the dirt.
Then something snagged his foot.
A root, a strand of barbed wire, maybe an electrical cord from
a buried appliance.
He didn't know what, but it grabbed his left foot and held it
back. He fell headlong.
For a while, he was unable to move.
Then he pushed himself to his hands and knees, and stood up.
He couldn't stand up straight-too much pain for that. He had
to bend over, and it hurt to breathe.
This is what I get for trying to be a hero, he thought.
He felt as if he'd been clubbed in the groin and chest.
Warm trickles were running down from his right elbow and both
"Don't," he heard. "Please."
Not an outcry, more of a sobbing plea.
From somewhere in the darkness of the trees up ahead and off
to the left.
Eyes fixed on the area, Neal clenched his teeth and started
hobbling. He tried to be quiet about it.
Limping past a tree, Neal saw them ahead and still a distance
over to his left-maybe twenty feet away.
Dim, vague shapes that seemed to be facing each other. One
blacker than the darkness, one pale. Both mottled by random
flecks and dabs of light that reached them through the
The pale one, definitely the woman, was facing the dark one.
She didn't seem to be wearing any clothes. She had her back to
a tree trunk. Perhaps she was tied to it. Neal could see her
squirming. He heard her sobbing.
The man's dark arm reached toward her. He held something
shiny. A small tool of some sort.
"No!" the woman gasped. "Please!"
"Oh yes, oh yes," the man said.
The tool moved toward her body.
Excerpted from Body Rides
by Richard Laymon
Copyright © 2004 by Richard Laymon .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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