Shadowland by Peter Straub Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Shadowland by Peter Straub Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Straub
fullback at Stanford. He smoked three packs a day. 'Mr. Ridpath isn't too bad, he's just not very subtle' — both boys grinned — 'but you ought to watch out for his son. Steve Ridpath. I remember him from the Junior School.'
         'He's worse than his father?'
         'Well, he was a lot worse then. Maybe he's nicer now.' Tom's mouth twitched in a pained, adult manner, and Del saw that his new friend doubted his last remark. 'He beat the crap out of me once because he didn't like my face. He was in the eighth grade. I was in the fifth grade. A teacher saw him do it, and he still didn't get expelled. I just sort of made sure I never got near him after that.'
         'This is the house,' Del said, still unable to refer to it as his. 'What does this guy look like?'
         Tom took off his beanie and folded it into a hip pocket. 'Steve Ridpath? His nickname is Skeleton. But don't ever say it in front of him. In fact, if you can help it, don't ever say anything to him. Are we going to go in, or what?'
         The door opened and a uniformed black man said, 'Saw you and your friend coming, Del.'
      'Skeleton . . . ' Del said, shaking his head, but Tom Flanagan was looking at the tall bald black man who had let them in. He was too surprised not to stare. A few families in this affluent suburb had live-in maids, but he had never seen a butler before. The first impression that the man wore a uniform gradually dissipated as Tom realized that the butler was dressed in a dark gray suit with a white shirt and a silk tie the same charcoal shade asthe suit. He was smiling down at Tom, clearly enjoying the boy's startled inspection. His broad face looked young, but the short wiry hair above his ears was silver. 'I see young Del is going to get on well at that school if he made such an alert friend already.'
         Tom blushed.
         'This is Bud Copeland,' Del said. 'He works for my godparents. Bud, this is Tom Flanagan. He's in my class. Are they in?'
         'Mr. and Mrs. Hillman are out looking at a house,' the butler said. 'If you tell me where you'll be, I'll bring you whatever you want. Coke? Iced tea?'
         'Thanks,' Del said. Tom was still wondering if he ought to shake hands with the butler, and while Del said 'Coke,' realized that the moment for it had passed. But by then his hand was out, and he said, 'Coke please, Mr. Copeland. I'm pleased to meet you.'
         The butler shook his hand, smiling even more widely. 'My pleasure too, Tom. Two Cokes.'
         'We'll be in my room, Bud,' Del said, and began to lead Tom deeper into the house. Cartons and boxes crowded what was obviously the living room. As they passed the dining room, Tom saw that it was nearly filled with a huge rectangular mahogany table.
         'If you just moved in, why are they out looking at houses?' he asked.
         'They're looking for a bigger place to buy. They want more land around them, maybe a pool. . . . They say this neighborhood is too suburban for them, so they're going to move somewhere even more suburban.' They were going upstairs; lighter squares on the wallpaper showed where pictures had hung. 'I don't even think they want to unpack. They hate this house.'
         'It's okay.'
         'You should see what they had in Boston. I used to live with them most of the time. In the summers . . . ' He looked over his shoulder at Tom and gave him an expression so guarded that Tom could not tell if it signified suspicion, fear of being questioned, or the desire to be questioned.
         'In the summers?' , 'I went somewhere else. But their place in Boston wasreally huge. Bud worked for them there too. He was always really nice to me. Ah, here's my room.' Del had been walking down a corridor, his black-haired head proceeding along at about the level of Tom's eyes with more

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