Chapter 13: SWEET DREAMS
The Fear Master sat on the mortuary slab and applauded.
Everyone applauded as Betty took her bow. She had just told the class how she had defended herself against the “killer clown,” thus overcoming a secret fear (of being attacked by a stranger), and had half-expected The Fear Master to cut her off in mid-story. But as she watched his shrouded figure (with the impression he was smiling beneath the blue latex mask that depicted a blue-faced strangulation victim) and mentally compared him to her assailant, she reflected that the clown had been shorter and heavier. The Fear Master was tall and solid, fairly fit. And while a costume might add weight and shoes height, you couldn’t make yourself shorter.
“Well, Betty, you know what Boris Karloff said – there is nothing quite as scary as a clown after midnight!”
“Actually, this was before midnight, but I take your point.”
“And you’ve no idea who the masked madman was?”
“At first … I thought it was you.”
“Me? Heaven forefend! Do you still thank that – that I …?” His eyes glittered behind the mask.
“No. I don’t. Maybe it was that guy who did the machine-gun thing in the auditorium – your assistant?”
The Fear Master got up off the mortuary slab. “I’ll have a word with my … assistant. But I doubt it was Larry.”
The way he said it, Betty wondered if he had known about the confrontation in the lift. Was that possible? If it hadn’t been The Fear Master who’d pulled the knife, it seemed logical he had arranged it. But what if he hadn’t? What if there was a copycat among them? Betty looked around the dark morgue and studied each of the Fear Leaders in turn. Everyone was there, even Debbie. Who could it be – which of them?
“In the words of Lizzie Borden, I’m sure I don’t know,” said The Fear Master, as if to answer Betty’s unvoiced question. “If there is a killer clown on the loose, better beware, everybody! Unless, of course, the clown is you. Then you can always plead insanity. It’s very fashionable. And as our old friend Norman Bates was wont to remind us, we all release our inner clown sometimes!”
Walking home (Stevie had made it impossible for her to accept a lift with Vic, and there was no way Keith was going to offer her a ride) and keeping an eye out for cruising hearses and chloroformed pads, Debbie reflected on how what had started out as fun had turned into an exercise in dread.
She should have accepted Stevie and Vic’s mutual attraction … should have kept her cool when the gun was fired down the phone line … should have gone to the Malice Place for the double feature … shouldn’t have pouted when he’d stuck her arm down the InSinkerAtor … and as she rubbed the bruise on the back of her neck, reflected that she never should have gone after Betty in that stupid clown suit.
Not that she’d meant it maliciously – well, not too maliciously – but the way that muscly-thighed thing had mocked her in front of others at The Fear Master’s place (not that they hadn’t all taken part in the ruse) had made it personal. And she, being Debbie Dawe, couldn’t just do nothing. She wanted to get back at Betty – and The Fear Master, the man in the clown suit – so … she’d rented a clown suit. Staked out Betty’s block. Found her to be a creature of habit. And that the building’s security door didn’t lock.
Then all she’d needed to complete the ensemble were some plastic teeth and a rubber knife. All she’d wanted was to scare the smug cow. Make her think The Fear Master was coming after her – reduce her to a screaming heap.
But she’d fought back. And Debbie was the worse for it. Maybe The Fear Master knew. Right now, he might be figuring it out. And The Fear Master, however clever he might be, was not the type to share the limelight, and if he thought someone was trying to steal his thunder – if he thought Debbie Dawe was trying to steal his thunder – she might as well go and hang herself from the nearest meathook. Next time, he’d said, he would cut her. Next time, it wouldn’t be a blender under the sink.
At least now, thought Debbie, she didn’t have a best friend to confide in; there was no one to betray her and nothing to give her away. If she kept her cool. So far, her little prank had elevated Betty to the rising star of the group, someone who not only faced fear but overcame it. And when The Fear Master found out who the clown had been – if he found out – he surely wouldn’t be laughing.
“Well,” Debbie whispered as she unlocked the front door of her dark house, “he won’t find out.” Laughing bitterly, she added, “I’ll take it to the grave!”
Watching a late-night talk show while nursing a cup of chamomile tea, Debbie kept expecting the phone to ring. She wondered what would be worse – ton answer it or ignore it. But when no call came, she headed off to bed.
Nobody lurked outside. Nothing reached for her from under the bed.
“He’s good,” Debbie muttered. The Fear Master had succeeded in making her afraid. Even when he’d done nothing, he had her living in fear of what he might do.
Suspense. Like waiting for the InSinkerAtor to come roaring to life. In a way, that was the worst of it – the waiting.
Or so she thought until she pulled back the bedclothes.
DON’T, read the note on her pillow. DON’T EVER INTERFERE AGAIN! I AM THE CLOWN. YOU ARE A CLOWN. I LEAD. YOU FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. SWEET DREAMS, TFM.
Debbie gave a choked-off gurgle and dropped the note. It fell onto her pillow. She slapped it away as if it was a cockroach. No way could she sleep on this pillow, not after that vile thing had touched it! Tears welling in her eyes, she threw the pillow across the room.
And gasped as she saw the bullet lying underneath it.
“My God – he is crazy! That’s what this is about. He invited us in – made us his guests like Norman Bates … and now he’s going to kill us!”