Linwood Barclay

Too Close to Home


Derek 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 her side.”

“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.”

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