Read an Excerpt
In the Dark
By Richard Laymon
Copyright © 2001
All right reserved.
Jane Kerry noticed the envelope when she stepped behind the
circulation desk. Her first thought was that it didn't belong
on the seat of her chair. She hadn't put it there. Had it
fallen from the top of the desk? She wondered if someone
might've lost it, and whether it contained anything of
She ignored the envelope as she checked out half a dozen
mysteries to old Agnes Dixon. Agnes was one of her regulars, a
retired school teacher, and the first person to make Jane feel
really welcome in her new job as head of the Donnerville
While they chatted in quiet voices, a few more people drifted
over to the circulation desk. Others wandered out the door. As
usual, the library was beginning to empty with the approach of
its nine o'clock closing time.
Jane slipped a dated card into the pocket of Agnes's last
book-a Dick Francis-flipped the cover shut, and set it atop
the woman's stack. Even as she said, "That's one of his best,"
she took a small step backward. Feeling the push of the seat's
edge against her right buttock, she reached down without
looking. She fingered the envelope and picked it up.
"Hi," said a teenaged boy who looked vaguely familiar. "I'd
like to get this, please."
He pushed a book toward Jane,cover open, and held out his
library card for her. She took it with her left hand.
She brought her right hand up and glanced at the envelope.
Handwritten in the center, in black, ink was one word:
She felt mildly surprised and perplexed, and a little bit
What could it be?
At least the envelope apparently hadn't been lost by anyone,
so she wouldn't need to worry about trying to catch its owner.
She tossed it back onto the seat, and returned to business.
She tried to focus entirely on the patrons, getting to know
them better, hoping to show them that she was friendly and
always ready to help in any way possible.
The mysterious envelope didn't preoccupy her thoughts.
Instead, it lingered just off to the side where her mind
seemed to glance at it from time to time, and wonder.
An invitation? A greeting card of some kind? A love letter or
poem from a secret admirer?
Maybe a bit of hate mail from someone I shushed.
Could be anything, she told herself. Don't worry about it.
You'll find out as soon as everybody's cleared out.
"If you like that one," she told a pony-tailed girl, "we've
got a lot more by the same author."
As the girl thanked her and headed for the door, Jane swept
her eyes over the remaining people. Quite a bunch. Maybe six
still lined up, a few on their way out, a dozen others
scattered about the main reading room. No telling how many
might be upstairs in the stacks. Nobody in sight seemed to be
paying any special attention to her.
Whoever left it will probably stay behind to see if I open it.
Hope he's cute.
Don't hope for cute, she told herself. Just hope he's not a
By the time Jan was done checking out books, only a handful of
people still lingered in the reading room. She recognized most
of them as regulars. They all seemed busy with their own
projects. Don, her assistant, was making his way among the
tables, gathering up books and periodicals that needed to be
She checked her wristwatch.
Ten till nine.
She picked up the envelope again. Holding it at waist level so
that the desk would hide it from the view of anyone who might
be watching, she flipped it over.
As she'd thought, nothing on either side except the
The envelope looked clean and unrumpled.
Its flap was sealed.
From the envelope's thinness, she supposed that it contained
nothing more than a sheet or two of folded paper.
She picked at a corner of the flap, tore it upward, thrust her
forefinger into the small hole, and worked her finger along
the seam, ripping upward.
As she tore at the flap, she lifted her gaze. Nobody appeared
to be watching.
Looking down, she removed a folded sheet of paper from the
envelope. Lined, three-hole paper of the sort that students
use for filling their looseleaf binders. It was folded into
thirds. She could see the raised, dark scribbles of the
handwriting on the other side. And a darkness within. A
darkness caused by an extra layer of paper. Paper the size of
a bank check or a dollar bill.
Somebody sent me money?
Suddenly, she felt like an idiot.
This was not a message from a secret admirer. Nor was it a
threat. This was nothing more than payment for a lost book or
an overdue fine.
Jane felt silly. A little relieved. And a little disappointed.
She unfolded the paper.
Inside was not a bank check, but a stiff, unwrinkled
Must've been a mighty expensive book, Jane thought.
She moved the bill aside and read the handwritten note:
Come and play with me. For further instructions, look
homeward, angel. You'll be glad you did.
(Master of Games)
Jane read it again. And again. Then she looked around. The few
people who remained in the reading room were paying no
attention to her.
"We'll be closing in about five minutes," she announced.
She refolded the note around the fifty-dollar bill and tucked
it back inside the envelope.
"Don, would you come here for a minute?"
The lanky graduate student hurried toward her. He looked
worried. Or guilty? "Is there a problem, Miss Kerry?"
Jane shook her head. "I don't think so." She raised the
envelope. "Did you happen to see anyone put this on my chair?"
He rolled his eyes upward as if an answer might be written on
the ceiling. Then he shook his head. "No. I don't believe so."
"Anyone hanging around the circulation desk when I was away
Again, he shook his head. "Not that I noticed."
She shook the envelope. "This isn't from you, is it?"
"Me? No. What is it?"
Jane hesitated. How much should she tell him? She'd known Don
for a couple of months, and she didn't really know much about
him. Only that he'd been a part-time helper at the library for
a year before her own arrival, he was going for a PhD in
English literature at the university across town, that he was
single and lived in an apartment a few blocks from the
library. She also knew that he was agonizingly shy and
apparently had no social life.
Maybe he's trying to start one up with me, she thought, by way
of a mysterious message and a chunk of money.
"It's an anonymous letter," she said, and decided not to
mention the fifty dollars.
His eyes widened. "From a secret admirer?"
His jaw dropped. "Not a threat, I hope!"
"No. Just a ... strange sort of message. But you haven't seen
anyone wandering around with an envelope like this, or acting
in any way furtive near the circulation desk?"
"I certainly haven't." He eyed the envelope. "May I?"
"Thanks, but ... I don't think so." Seeing the dejected look on
his face, she added, "It's rather personal."
"Personal?" He suddenly blushed. "Oh. Well. Never mind. If I'd
known it was personal ..." He grimaced and shook his head.
"Don't worry about it, Don. Really."
"I ... may I have your permission to leave? I haven't quite
finished picking up, yet, but ... I'm not feeling especially
well. My stomach." He pressed a hand against it.
"Sure. Go on ahead."
"Oh, thank you." He scurried around the end of the circulation
desk, entered the office, reappeared moments later with his
briefcase, gave Jane a cramped smile and a wave, and hurried
for the library doors.
"Hope you feel better," she said.
Then he was gone.
Jane wondered if she'd had a hand in causing his sudden
Not unlikely. After all, she was his boss and a woman, on top
of which she had almost (but not quite) accused him of
perpetrating the anonymous letter. Plenty to give a person of
Don's temperament a nasty case of upset nerves.
Describing the letter as "personal" had apparently been the
Shouldn't have told him that, she decided. The thing isn't
what you'd normally call personal. Didn't ask my income,
didn't get sexy.
It's not personal, it's just plain screwy.
She glanced at her watch. Five after nine. "We're closing up
now," she announced. "Time to hit the streets, folks."
When the last was gone, she locked the front doors and
returned to the circulation desk. She knew that she ought to
go upstairs, make sure nobody was lingering in the stacks, and
turn off the lights. She wasn't eager to do it, though.
Neither she nor Don enjoyed that particular task. Just too
creepy up there when you went alone.
Too quiet. Too many shadows. Too many hiding places.
Just plain spooky.
But made a great deal worse because you knew about old Miss
Favor, the librarian, Jane's predecessor. She'd died up there.
Dropped dead from a bad heart. Dropped dead while she was
alone, closing for the night. And there she'd remained until
morning when a part-timer had opened the library and
discovered her body. According to Don, a rat or two had "been
at her." He knew the unlucky worker who'd stumbled onto Miss
Favor. "Oh, she was totally freaked out. Totally. She hasn't
set foot in this library ever since."
The upstairs stacks weren't so bad in the daytime. They
weren't so bad at night, either, as long as a few people were
up there searching the shelves or working at the study
carrels. But they were usually deserted when you went up at
Through some sort of unspoken acknowledgment of their mutual
fears, Jane and Don had fallen into the habit of accompanying
each other on that special job. It helped. A lot.
But tonight, Jane would need to do it alone.
Thanks a heap, Don.
Well, there was no hurry.
Back behind the circulation desk, she picked up the envelope.
She removed the note and the fifty-dollar bill, and studied
She had rarely seen any denominations higher than twenty
dollars. The fifty seemed a bit alien. On one side was a
portrait of President Grant, on the other a rendition of the
U.S. Capitol. She supposed it was real.
She also supposed that she was meant to keep it. After all,
the thing had come in an envelope with her name on it.
Why would anyone want to give me fifty bucks?
Was it supposed to be a gift? she wondered. Or maybe payment
for some real or imagined services?
Payment in advance?
Cute, she thought. Maybe now he expects something from me.
Figures I've taken the money, so I owe him.
That's what he thinks.
She read the note again:
Come and play with me. For further instructions, look
homeward, angel. You'll be glad you did.
(Master of Games)
The "come and play with me" sounded sort of like the eager
request a child might make. Will you come out and play?
Of course, "come" was also a rather vulgar euphemism for an
orgasm. "Play with me" also carried some strong sexual
implications. Maybe this was an invitation-payment enclosed-to
mess around with its sender.
He wants to fuck me.
The idea blasted away Jane's composure. Anger, humiliation,
fear, revulsion, and an unexpected surge of desire seemed to
hit her all at once, stealing her breath, making her heart
race, surging heat through her body.
"The bastard," she muttered. Here's fifty bucks, now come and
play with me.
Maybe that isn't what he means, she thought.
And maybe it is.
She suddenly looked up. She turned her head, scanning the
She saw nobody. What she saw were countless hiding places: in
among the rows of bookshelves, down low behind the tables and
chairs, behind any of the several shoulder-high card catalogs,
behind the photocopy machine.
In front of my desk.
She pushed her feet against the rung of her chair and raised
herself off the cushion. Hands pressed against the desk top,
she leaned forward and gazed past the edge.
She settled down onto her seat again.
I oughta get of here, she thought.
Then she thought, How dangerous can a guy be if he's giving me
Also, he must be familiar with literature. The "look homeward,
angel" business was definitely an allusion to the Thomas Wolfe
novel-one of Jane's favorites.
She read that part of the note again. "For further
instructions, look homeward, angel."
Further? He sees this note as the initial instruction. He has
more for me. Maybe the further instructions will be given face
Maybe I'm supposed to go home and look in my mailbox for the
further instructions. Look homeward. Maybe I'll find an
envelope with another note inside-and another fifty dollars.
Maybe I'll find it in the book.
Tucked inside a copy of Look Homeward, Angel.
The library's copy, if not checked out or misplaced, should be
on a shelf in the fiction section.
In the upstairs stacks.
I need to go up there anyway, she reminded herself. I'll just
take a quick look at the book.
What if he's waiting for me there?
Excerpted from In the Dark
by Richard Laymon
Copyright © 2001 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.