The Flying Babalooskis ~ Part 3

The exciting conclusion! Our two "retired circus midgets" are outed as the runaway children they actually are, and leave for Florida with an unwanted and rather sinister travelling companion. At the airport things really start to go south. But will our heroes? [Again, certain elements may not be suitable for younger readers and PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED...]

~~ A Fantasy of Freedom ~~
[Note: The Flying Babalooskis takes place not in our current climate of suspicion and fear but back in those innocent carefree days of the 1990's, when airport security was a less diligent than it is today, and our story's concluding chase scene would have been somewhat more possible...]
O.Z. sat in bed, propped up against a mass of half-charred pillows. He wore his boxlike green sunglasses. Jade handed him a glass of water, which he drank, wincing at the pain that gripped his skull. His tone was utterly humorless, "Oh. My tongue ......... S'like a dead squirrel in there. My head hurts awful. And why'd you make me put this stupid gunk on my face again?"
"Byron's coming over with some Advils," said Jade, "Here, put on your wig."
He set it gingerly on his head. Advils. Take two Advils and call me in the morning ........ Anvils.
Take two anvils and kill me in the morning...
The windows gaped, revealling a grey drizzle. "What happened last night? Those guys had you! How'd you get away?"
"Spider, Skutch, Byron and Candice came in with baseball bats and ran them out."
"Not so loud," he grimaced. "Candice had a baseball bat?"
"No, she had the shotgun. Which was really what made them start behaving. But then
one of them tried to grab Byron's bat away, and Candice screamed and fired the gun off!"
"I was wondering what did that to the ceiling. That's what brought the cops?"
"The cops never got here. They were probably headed for here, but they wound up busting this freaky orgy or whatever it was at that spooky lady's place across the hall; after she came flying out of there naked and jumped on this paramedic, calling him 'My swarfy barbarian lover-man'!"
"I didn't hear any of that."
"Well I heard a bunch of ruckus out there, but I was pretty out-of-it too by then, and I really only got the details about it later. Byron and Candice and Skutch had got everyone cleared out. They took our shoes off and made sure you were in the middle of the bed and not gonna fall off, like you do when your dad is- well I guess not your dad. And as they left Skutch was looking at you kind of funny, and he said, 'Maybe the little dude's alright after all!' Did you and him have a fight or something?"
"I- Gee, I'm not sure! So it was all over by around one o'clock?"
"About that. I woke up later, and heard someone crying right outside our door. He was the one who told me about the whole thing next door, the cops and everything."
"You went outside?"
"I know we said we wouldn't, not by ourselves here at night, but the guy was out there crying and crawling around for like an hour. He was from that crazy party across the hall. He said it all kept getting louder and weirder, and he was really wanting to get out of there, but couldn't find his fake leg someone had took. That Jessi lady had them all riled up, like some psycho cult preacher. They were all jumping around and slamming doors and yelling like a bunch of spastic cannibals..." 
"I didn't think it would be possible, but that sound worse than what happened here!"
"They were drinking this poison kind of alchohol that you're not supposed to drink at all. And he would have left, but he was crippled! When the cop cars pulled up, and the bums started whizzing out of the window onto them, Hoppy crawled under the bags of garbage that filled her whole kitchen. He hid there, not making a sound, until they took everyone away! I helped him down to the sidewalk where we found his leg. You gonna be okay?"
"I guess so. Agggghhh! My back is all stiff! What's wrong with this bed? It's like big rocks or something under here!"
"Yeah, it wasn't very comfortable in there last- The toys!"
"Oh no! They must be pulverized!"
This hideaway bed would never fit back into the wall again. The box-like frame was broken, right on the floor instead of its little fold down legs, the panel at its foot leaning out at a weird angle, held on by one twisted nail. The mattress rose and fell like a model railroad landscape, the shattered plywood beneath it bearing down on the toys that had been tossed under it before the party. 
Jade reached down and yanked something out from under one corner. A large stuffed Bugs Bunny that didn't seem too badly damaged. She walked it up the bedspread until it stood on O.Z.'s neck, and said, "Gee Doc, you look like crap! Didja get the number of that truck that hitcha?"
"Knock it off!"
There was a soft tapping at the door and Byron came in. His hair was combed back neatly and he wore a long sleeve shirt and pressed slacks. His 'looking for work' clothes. He held up a white plastic bottle of over-the-counter pain medicine, "I brought you these."
He looked around the apartment. Everything in the place had been savagely demolished, and all of it .......... the busted plumbing, the smashed t.v., the toy arrows that had been sharpened and fired into the wall, had stemmed from his decision to throw a party for the Babalooskis. Byron wondered what in the hell was the matter with him. Why the things he did with the best of intentions always ended up like this. He handed them the pills and---with his self-confidence in low ebb---went out to find a job.
Using a pole lamp and a large chunk of the sink they were able to lift one end of the bed. Jade pulled down on one end of the makeshift lever while O.Z. scrambled under the wooden box of the bedframe and raked toys out with his hands. Most of them were still in their packages, smashed flat.
Someone knocked on the door. Assuming it was Candice, Jade yelled, "It's open!"
In walked a stocky woman of about forty, her short hair flat and shiny on her head, and with eyes so far apart they seemed to look in different directions. The eyes, the hair, and the amazingly wide, lipless mouth made her look like a large pompous frog in hoop earrings. She ushered in a young boy whose features bore a disturbing similarity to hers. Neither had any more of a neck on them than Humpty Dumpty did...
The boy was about six, but he was a bit taller than either O.Z. or Jade, and a lot more massive. Comparing himself to the kid made the fictitious Mr. Babalooski think: God, what if he really WAS destined to be a midget or something?! O.Z.'s parents had assured him that he still had plenty of growing to do, but he really only had their word for this…
The woman steered the child into the room by his shoulders, gripping them in a way which suggested that if she let go he might go careening around the room like a top, or that tazmanian devil from the cartoons. She did not release her grip until she had shoved him into a chair. She stayed positioned behind him as she sang the words, "Hel-lo? Remember me?"
"How could I forget?" smiled O.Z. as he wracked his brain for some memory of her.
"Such gracious hosts! I wasn't sure if you would. I was only at your lovely soiree schwa for a while. I had to get back and take care of little Adore here. And when those-"
She had pronounced his name AY-door. It seemed like such a ridiculous name to Jade that she almost burst out laughing. She faked a coughing spell.
"...and then when those hippies or punkies or grungies or whatever that sort are calling themselves these days had the gall to invade your charming little bon tempura, you can BET I went home! I'm sure you see now that you can't just fling your door open and let any and all just hoi palloi on in here! Not in this neck of the woods, Buster! I mean ........... Just LOOK at what they did to your place!"
O.Z. had taken an instant dislike to this phony overbearing woman, and an even greater dislike to the kid whose slick blonde hair she kept patting. He peered dully out at them from under the thick ridge of his brow with an expression of deep mistrust.
The woman wanted something, and all this parlay-voo lah-dee-dah chitchat was just a smoke screen. O.Z. said, with as much politeness as his hangover would allow, "So vat brings you here this morning, Miss uh..."
"Portelieu. Mrs. Thelma Portelieu. I just wanted to pay a little social call, under more haut gout circumstances than last night, with all those weird people and 'way out' music. Although that young neighbor of yours Candice was very nice, in a cheap sort of way. And when she told me about all your travels and munificent exploits, I just knew I had to bring Adore by to meet you. I also am from over there; Although---alas---I was not even Adore's age when I was brought here by my dear Pate and Matte. Yet we do share this distinction, being born in the Old World. A world of elegance and charm, with all those dukes and duchessess ........ And OH those grand balls on those lovely Vienesse nights!"
"Spare us za details about you and za knights!" puffed Jade under her breath.
"But you're right," smiled Mrs. Portelieu wanely, "That was so long ago! And poor Adore here has never been. So I was wondering if you would be good enough to watch him for a bit while I went to the salon de beautage. Perhaps you could tell him something of your lives. I do so want him to have a sense of how it was back on Zee Continent..."
The woman was quickly falling into the same dubious accent that the kids were using. Adore's vicious expression and brutish features went strangely with the sissy haircut. He looked like he might swivel his head around at any moment and take a bite out of the hand that was kneading the back of his fat neck. 
O.Z. stammered, "Mein golly, Mrs. Portelieu, we would love to. But I'm afraid we are being interviewed at ten-thirty by za man from WHAT IT IS L.A. magazine-"
"Ah! Well then! My beauty appointment is only at nine. So you see we shall be no trouble at all!"
Adore had not spoken yet. And when he did, it was in the exact voice that they'd imagined he would have. Bellicose and whiny and irritating and feeble-minded...
O.Z. tittered, "You see? The child would be much happier going with you."
"I know, Sweetheart," cooed Mrs. Portelieu (not to O.Z. but to the boy who had insulted him and Jade), "But Mr. Charles doesn't allow you- uh, children into his shop. He says my little snuggle-kins distracts him. Chuckie is such a high strung old goose! But seriously, I shan't take long at all. His salon is just over in the Greyhound station..."
She waggled a jangling armful of cheap bracelets at them and was out the door.
#.18 /// ADORE
The boy glared at them suspiciously, then seemed to forget all about them as he fell upon the pile of toys and games on the floor.
"Why didn't you stop her?" whispered Jade.
"Me? I TOLD her we couldn't watch him! Who would have thought she'd just go stomping off and leave him here?!"
They heaved a sigh of defeat together.
Adore shoved his hands roughly through the toys, playing tidal wave. His face twisted into a childish sneer, "These toys are all gross and busted! Where did you get these? From some retard's trash can?"
"Why? Do you recognize zem?" smiled O.Z.
"Yeah, I rec'nize them from some stupid retard's stupid trash can! A stupid retard named yoouuuuuu!" laughed Adore, proud of having dealt them such a witty put down.
Jade picked up the stuffed cartoon rabbit and tried to give it to the boy, "Here Adore. You can play with this. Here is a nice Mister Bunny!"
"What do I want with that junky piece of junk? I got a Bugs at home twice as big as that! And mine TALKS-"
"And I'm sure you and your bunny has hours of stimulating converzation togezzer. Now stop messing with our grandchilder's presents and go sit over there!"
Sullenly obeying his elders, Adore took the toy cartoon rabbit and sat over there. Mr. and Mrs. Babalooski kneeled on the floor, sorting through the toys. Making a seperate pile of anything that looked salvageable.
But then the kid's tone changed abruptly. The two were as startled by the sweetness in his voice as they were by the question: "Were there really pirates here last night?"
Adore choked the stuffed animal absently as he said, "I saw them! They looked like a bunch of pirates going up here! And when I asked Mama about them she said they were bad people and to shut up!"
"Oh. Those pirates," grinned Jade, "They vas pirates all right. You betcha! Real cut-throats! Zey almost made me walk za plank!
"No way! You LIE!"
"How else to you think ziss place got so all wrecked up?" asked O.Z. solemnly. He pointed at the crater in the ceiling, "You see where one of zem took a shot at me? Jadellina pushed his musket up just in time!"
Adore looked up at it in awe. His babysitters got up and began walking with eerie slowness toward where he sat, O.Z. staring coldly at him from behind the strange green glasses, "And who shot all those arrows there if it wasn't pirates? Hmmmmm?"
"Indians?" gulped Adore.
"Indians don't do that shtuff no more. This was pirates," hissed O.Z. as they crept toward the boy, "Big ........ mean ......... ugly ......... PIRATES!"
"With HOOKS!" added Jade with a vicious hook-twisting gesture, making Adore jump back.
"And do you know what else vass in here?" croaked O.Z., pointing at the jagged, gaping hole in the glass face of the t.v. set, "MONSTERS! They came slizzering out of za television there, hungry for a nice, fat little boy. Like in Dimension of The Damned!"
Adore's lips curled inward and his whole head quivered for a second. But then he shouted, "Oh Baloney! You LIE! The pirates did that!"
"Well, I can see you are too slick for us!" chuckled O.Z. good naturedly, and they went back to sorting the toys. That at least had been kind of fun...
His new set of SPACE GOONS had evidently fared all right, although the cardboard "Orbitron Castle" they came in, with its rows of cellophane portholes, was smashed flat.
Adore lept from his chair, "WOW! You got the whole set!!"
"For zee grandchildren, yes. Go sit down!"
"Just lemme see it for a second!"
O.Z. held it behind his back and twisted back and forth, blocking Adore, "These toys we got is just a bunch of garbage for stupids. Remember?"
"You got #35 in there! That's 'Hatchet Face'! You can't get that one unless you get the whole set! Mama and me went to nine different stores lookin' for him! Lemme see!"
"I just wanna look at him! Come aaaaaawn!"
"I said no! Go sit down or ve'll tell your mother what a evil little rat you was!"
"I JUST WANNA SEEEEEEE-" shrieked Adore like someone in excruciating pain as he lunged and grabbed onto the box.
"Knock it off!" shouted O.Z., skipping backward with it, almost tripping over a smiling yellow toy steam shovel, "Let go, ya little twerp! They're mine!"
Adore slugged him in the stomach, making him grunt. "Give it!"
"Stop it! Stop it!" shouted Jade, as the cardboard space station came apart like a pinata and SPACE GOONS flew everywhere!
Adore went scrambling for them, but O.Z. managed to pin his arms to his sides. Just barely. This kid had twenty pounds on O.Z. and was completely berzerk! He spun wildly around in circles, dragging the older boy with him! When he got an arm free he dipped down and grabbed two of the toy creatures. O.Z. began punching him in the side- "You drop those! Drop 'em, or I swear I'll-"
Adore started to bawl, screaming in a voice that the whole building must have heard! Jade pulled O.Z. off of him, "Alright, that's enough! He's just a little kid!"
"Little? You try wrestling with him! He's like The Incredible Hulk!"
Jade went over to Adore, "You all right, kid?"
"I just wanted to see," he snuffled, the two plastic mutants clutched tightly in his fist.
He glared at her. Tears rolled down his reddened cheeks, and a bubble of snot expanded and contracted at the rim of one piglike nostril with each breath. Hatchet Face ...... He just wanted to see Hatchet Face. And these rotten kids wouldn't even let him-
O.Z. slapped himself on the forehead! Damn if he hadn't gone and done it again!
#.18 /// "PLAN B"
Suddenly Adore was howling, "YOU'RE NOT GROWN UPS! WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YA DOING?!"
"Just shut up," sighed O.Z.
O.Z. drew back a fist but realized that hitting him would just make the brat yell louder. "I'm older than you are. And this is MY apartment, so just shut your drool hole!"
It was a bad situation ........... Universal drunkenness and a wayward foam rubber football had smoothed over the previous night's threat to their masquerade, but they would never be that lucky a second time!
Jade said softly, "All right, we're kids. You caught us. There's no need to shout."
"No we didn't," smiled Jade, "We're just playing grown up. Just having some fun..."
"But we bought all these," said O.Z., "You want to see the receipts?"
O.Z. picked up one of the plastic figures and stuffed it into the large pocket of the boy's pajama-like shirt, "Here Adore, here's Hatchet Face. And you probably don't have #81 either- Professor Craniac. Isn't he neat? Just lower your voice a little..."
Jade found it and brought it to him. She said with conspiratorial warmth, "You know Adore, this could be a whole lot of fun for you ............ Think about it! We could be like your secret friends! Just imagine, if your mama never found out that we weren't really old folks, and if we told her how much we enjoy watching you ...........Then whenever she left you with us we could all just hang out and play and stuff! Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Adore hunched his furry eyebrows, deep in thought. "Could we torture bugs?'
"Sure," laughed Jade, "Me and O.Z. are old bug torturers from way back!"
O.Z. cursed inwardly, but it did seem like the only way out. In fact the more he considered her plan---her unspoken ~real~ plan---the more he liked it! The smile that spread across his face was one of love for his crafty quick-witted friend, but he pointed it toward Adore, "And when we get tired of that, we can always go buy some more toys! Because this is all about buying stuff, isn't it Jade? Buying us tee-eye-em-ee..."
Jade nodded, "Oh absolutely! That is one heck of a toy department they got there!"
They had slipped it into the discussion very casually, but the paranoid brat pounced right on it, "Hey, what are you spelling stuff for? You're trying to trick me, I can tell!"
"Not trick you. Surprise you is all. We wanted to keep your special present a surprise!"
"But spelling stuff ain't fair! And when Mama does it, it's always something bad like gettin' a shot! You're not my friends-"
"How do you expect us to be your friends when you keep threatening us?" snapped Jade, "I mean cripes, Adore! Here we are offering you somethng that any other kid around here would give his left foot for! We could even go out on day trips! Take the Amtrack down to Sea World!"
"I hate porpoises! Always smilin' like they think they're so damn smart!" humpfed Adore, not wanting to admit just how tempting her offer sounded. He tried to picture what a trip like this might be like. Cruising along, mile after mile, without having to endure Mama's constant fussing with his seatbelt, his hair; and without having to listen to her nonstop fantasies about the moral, cultural and hygenic faults of all the other drivers on the road. And Sea World did have that new Shark Attack Adventure exhibit.
With Tadzio and Ramona (his cousins, who were brought over every other Saturday and forced to play with him-) he made it a point to unequivocally turn down any plan or game that either of them came up with. But then those two simpering goody-gumdrops were only as much fun as he was bigger than them! They could never come up with anything like this ......... So maybe he would go along with these liars for a while. Take in a few of their trips and get a ton of toys before (Hyeaugh! Hyeaugh!) unmasking them in front of Mama! That would teach old hot-shot Ozzie to not even let him look at his stupid precious SPACE GOONS!
"Suuuure, let's be friends!" he smiled, his eyes two fat little slits. He shook hands with Jade and then with O.Z. The two boys grinned and squeezed, crushing each other's hands in a death grip.
O.Z. pounded on Adore's shoulder hard, "Say there, Buddy-o-Mine..."
"Yeah, Pal-o-Pal?"
"There's a bunch of toys in the closet over there. Go ahead and take any you want!"
Adore rushed off around the corner. O.Z. snickered, "Be ready to hit the road the minute the old bat takes him home!"     
Adore came running back, "I HEARD THAT, YA BASTIDS! HIT THE ROAD, HUH?"
"Whah?" asked O.Z. innocently, "Yes, hit the road! Go get that bicycle down at-"
The brat was screaming about his Mama again, going on and on and on... 
O.Z.'s headache was coming back with a vengance! That hideous voice seemed to fill the room, driving out all the oxygen. It was unbearable! Something inside O.Z. just snapped. He shouted out something about Adore and his Mama that made Jade gasp- "Oswald!"
"Well I'm sick of this little no-neck turkey! Mama-Mama-Mama-Mama! Wonderful! Great! By all means, tell your precious Mama! Because then there will be absolutely no reason for me not to kick your stinking butt from here to La Habra!"
"And so what's a little more trouble? They might ground me until I'm thirty, but at least I'll have had my fun! More fun than you'll ever have in that crummy room with your ridiculous phony mama!"
"Fun you could have too, if you'd just join us instead of fighting us!"
"Oh give it up, Jade!" snapped O.Z.
Adore looked from one to the other in confusion.
"No I won't give it up! You're talking like it's over already! Like you're ready to slink on back home just because of this horrible little- uh, obstacle. Maybe you've had enough of being The Flying Babalooskis but I sure haven't! We're going to go places, see the world! And if Adore here would just get off his weird trip-" she stopped. You could practically see the lightbulb appearing over her head. "Hey! Why don't we take him with us?"
"That is the most insane thing I ever heard!" laughed O.Z.
"No it isn't! He couldn't tell his mother if he was three thousand miles away, stuffing his face with cotton candy at Disney World, could he? I'll bet if he came along, and we show him what it's like to have some real fun, and have some real friends .......... I bet getting him away from Mama Porta-Potty would do wonders for him!"
O.Z. mulled it over. "I still say it's nuts, but I guess it's better than just giving up. What do you say, kid? You want to run away to Florida with us?"       
"I think you're still trying to trick me!"
"Listen, I'm doing this for her---Jade says to give you a chance---and I'm going to offer this exactly once. We can fly to Disney World, check into that big hotel that the monorail goes through, do our dwarf act down at the registrator's desk, and once we get our room we can all just go back to being our own age again! Get out of these costumes and this makeup. No one will notice an extra couple of kids running around the place..."
"Mnyeahhhh, all right," said Adore, trying to shrug like it was all the same to him if he went or not, but he found himself grinning despite himself. Disney World! He had asked Mama about it once, and she had acted disappointed in him, shocked that he would even bring up something so declasse. Silly places like that were for the common rabble. And besides they couldn't afford it.
He would have to watch these two, they were tricky. But if they really meant what they said ........... This might even be more fun than the time he had forced Tadzio and Ramona to sample that concoction he had made in the blender out of grapefruit juice and raw eggs and chocolate syrup and gravy and vanilla extract and dirt and leaves, dish soap and taco sauce (etc.) when Mama and Aunt Vivian were down at the store. He said sternly, "Sure. But no more of your sneaky spellin' stuff!"
"Well okay-"
"I said no spelling!!"
Mrs. Babalooski swung her purse impatiently, "It's 9:53 already! Quit foolin' around, you guys!"
O.Z. and Adore had been able to raise the Murphy bed to a 45 degree angle and stuck the pole lamp under the end. The middle sagged precariously ......... They had set up a model village of boxes, cars, dinosaurs and those Space Goons that Adore hadn't pocketed. One end of a florescent pink nylon jump rope was tied to the lamp. Oz handed the other end to Adore and gestured for him to do the honors. Adore pulled.
"AAAAAH! DOOMSDAY METEOR!" hollared O.Z. as the bed slammed down- demolishing the unsuspecting village. The last of the framed photographs fell from the wall and shattered! O.Z. grabbed up the valise and they lit out into the hallway for the stairs.
"Yooooo-Hooooooo!" came a voice from the stairwell, and they spun around to go the other way. Mrs. Portelieu was down at the second landing, puffing and talking to herself as she climbed. Complaining about something or other...
"This way!" cried Adore, and led them down the hallway and around the corner to a door labelled FIRE EXIT. 
A narrow set of stairs angled straight down through the blackness toward a narrow strip of light where the door wasn't closed all the way. They warbled "Woob-woob-woob-woob-woob-woob!" like Curly Joe Howard as they clattered down the darkened steps! 
It was still drizzling. They sped down a series of L-shaped brick alleyways. Odd images loomed up briefly in the mist: A doorway buried in the gristly remains of mannequins, the rusted out front half of an ancient truck, a dry sagging skeleton of a Christmas tree with a cheap foil star on top. They got to the corner three blocks away where the taxi was supposed to meet them and waited.
"That was an awesome escape route!" laughed O.Z.
"Ahhhh, but of course!" exclaimed Adore in a comically pompous voice. Then he said, "Hey, lookit what I kin do!"
He stood on one leg and began hopping in circles with his eyes shut. It was so unexpected and so pointless a feat that the two found themselves laughing and cheering him on. They looked at each other and shook their heads as he hopped and spun. What a strange kid! Adore stopped and grinned dizzily, basking in their applause.
A homeless man came lurching down the street toward them. Jade grabbed Adore's hand protectively, the way her own mom did whenever she saw anyone of the wrong class or color. She thought this was a nice touch, but Adore struggled until he had freed it.
The man guffawed as he got closer, "Hey, it IS you! How the hell ya doin'?"
O.Z. shook his offered hand. The bum grinned, "Man, that was some party you guys had! Only Jessi throws a better party, but that's---well there's only one Jessi, no one can do what she does---and I was at yours until hers got going. This your little boy here?"
"This is our grandson, Adore," chuckled O.Z. proudly.
"Boy, that was some party! Out for a morning walk, huh?"
"WE'RE GOIN TO DISNEY WORLD!" shouted Adore gleefully.
"Right now? This minute?"
"So didja forget your luggage?"
"Well, I tell you. Ve have just a beautiful little summer house down zere. Everythink what we need is inside!" O.Z. shrugged, and held up the maroon bag, "Ve just bringink some few clothes for boy is all!"
"Wow, jet-setters! Must be nice," laughed the bum wistfully, just as a yellow taxi glided up to the curb. He chuckled as the trio slid into the cab's rear seat, "Good to see someone is getting out of this stinking town! Have fun in Florida! And ............ GREAT PARTY!"
# .20 /// SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!
As they pulled out into traffic Jade turned to Adore, who was sitting between her and O.Z., and said quietly, "That was perfect!"
Adore gave her a tight, controlled grin. He was still unsure if it was a good thing to become too friendly with these two. He missed being in charge, like he always was with Tadzio and Ramona. Also there was the way they tricked him with their old people act. To feel fondness for them would be the same as saying he forgave them for that. He had been fooled---humiliated---and that was unforgiveable!
Yet it was impossible not to admire how clever they were, so good at fooling people! He watched as O.Z. dealt with the middle-aged African American cab driver, in a cheery but slightly bossy tone of voice. The driver was nodding. This was like being in a movie or something...
In fact this was a lot like Mama's "Escape From the Iron Curtain" story, which he knew to involve lots of neat spy stuff like this, false papers and disguises and secret tunnels. But being six years old he also thought it involved a real iron curtain; this sinister thousand foot tall thing cut from the same material as the Statue of Liberty's dress, dividing the landscape as far as the eye could see- all flowers and dancing villagers on one side, gloppy grey mud and threadbare straw huts in perpetual darkness on the other.
The driver shouted back at O.Z., "Which terminal do you want at the airport?"
"Uh, I think some lunch first. Zat restaurant looking like it's from The Jetsons..."
"I know the one."
They thundered up a steep short ramp onto the freeway. Jade gazed into her compact mirror smearing on powder and making old lady kissy-faces at herself. Thinking that here, finally, was the real start of this game! Setting up house in their own apartment had been fun, but everybody gets to do that sooner or later. But taking a transcontinental airplane ride just for the heck of it was something that even adults didn't do very often!
Adore was scowling at the back of the driver's head. Jade put a hand on his knee, "Well Liebchink, ve are on our way! How exciting!?"
"I wanna see that space thing with all the rockets!"
"I'm not sure if they got a Tomorrowland at Disney World," said O.Z., "I think they has a E.P.C.O.T. instead."
"No! The SPACE THING!" demanded Adore at a near shout.
"What space thing?"
"I think he mean the Kennedy Space Center," suggested the driver.
"Yeah," snickered Adore, "Where that spaceship takin' off blew up with them people in it an' they all went 'A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A--A-A-A-A-aaaa-aaaaa-aaaaaa-aa-aaaahhhhh...."
"Jesus!" muttered the cabbie.
They looped through downtown toward the 405. The sky was clearing above this intricate diorama of rises and valleys covered in freeways, in blocky stucco apartment houses and fast-food places with brightly colored plastic roofs. Everything looked clean and toylike after the rains....
The sun was behind the last remaining knot of clouds. Dramatic shafts of light angled down to land on ancient factory buildings, their zigzagging skylight roofs peppered with whirling metal mushrooms. Distant clusters of glass office buildings shone like diamonds in the yellowy light. O.Z. couldn't see why his parents always spoke about this area with such irritation and loathing. It was all so fascinating .......... The vast freight yards with these strings of rail cars parallaxing together in the distance; the towering doors of a foundry bracketting a vast dim cavern that blazed with majestic geysers of sparks; and these rickety old wooden two story houses with ornate porches standing a mere foot beyond the wire fence here, where the freeway had carelessly cut these crabbed little hillside streets in half...
Shirts rocking on a clothes line. A man on a rooftop waltzing precariously with a giant ham radio mast. A sad looking girl in a plaid Catholic school uniform, blowing bubbles from a bright plastic wand on the stoop of a beat up old R.V. painted in big sloppy black polka dots. An indignant tom cat wearing a turban of bandages and a silly cardboard cone around his neck. Tantalizing snapshots from a thousand random lives, seen for an instant and then whisked away forever...
They soared up a flyover and down, onto the San Diego freeway, headed for the costal flatlands of Santa Monica and Inglewood. The driver pointed. Against the smogless blue Pacific sky they saw a jetliner, many miles ahead of them, dropping low across the freeway to make its landing at LAX. Another followed it seconds later.
At the sight of their destination O.Z. felt a vague fear edging into his excitement. Could they really pull this off? And how the hell were they going to ditch this awful brat?
Adore ignored the view entirely. He had found an old cigarette burn in the seat and was quietly at work, making it bigger with his finger, an expression of grim concentration on his face. O.Z. caught Jade's eye and nodded toward the kid. This was a bad idea...
Jade shrugged, holding her palms up in comic despair. I know, I know- I blew it! She felt stupid now for insisting they take him along. For here they were on the crowning adventure of their young lives, and she had shackled them to this vicious little bastard!
Adore startled. He knew some private exchange had taken place between them and he reacted by taking the offensive. He pointed, "Hey GRAMPA. Give me my suitcase!"
O.Z. put his hand on the satchel at his feet and stammered, "This? This isn't your-"
Adore didn't know what was in there, but he could tell they didn't want him anywhere near it. "You took that stinky ol' bum back there it was my stuff, so GIMME IT!"
The cab driver muttered something and tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
Jade said blandly, "Just sit there and be good boy and we'll have a nice surprise for you when we get to Florida."There is no need for you to be getting into your underwears now and messing zem all up. Unless you had another one of your accidents…"
"What kind of surprise?'
"A nice surprise."
"That don't tell me nothin'!" Adore said sullenly and gave the black rimmed hole in the seat a loud, sharp tug.
"What's he doin' back there?" asked the driver warily, and adjusted the rear view mirror to keep an eye on the boy.
Adore met his gaze in the glass. Asked him accusingly, "Are you on steroids?"
"Steroids? I'm fifty-nine years old and I drive a cab. So unless you count the cortison cream I use for my elbow-"
"Then what are ya STARIN' at me for?!!?"
Adore was making loud farting noises with his mouth, spittle flying everywhere...
The last couple of days posing as elderly midgets had been very strange, and very busy, but as he woke up that morning in the dead calm of that smashed up apartment, in that depressing neighborhood, and with the worst headache of his life, it occurred to O.Z. how much he missed his mother and dad. And now, when he thought about this cross-country trip they were taking, he was feeling more and more like he shouldn't be off whooping it up at some theme park while they were worried sick about him, waiting by the phone for some horrible news to arrive, which he was certain they were. Yes his mom had doubted his story the other day, and that had stung, but it really was a pretty unbelievable story...
The trouble was, he knew Jade had no similar desire to head back home. The farther she got from those poisonously burnt out and hateful parents of hers, the more alive she seemed. And he could sure see why!
Adore was kicking the back of the driver's seat...
If he told her he wanted to go home she would understand, and then would bid him goodbye. At which point she would find herself out in the world, ten years old and alone. And even if he gave her a good chunk of the money this just didn't seem safe for her. Not that at his size he was any great protector, but he was someone she could trust, another pair of eyes. "Safety in numbers" and all that...
Adore was giving the finger to the people in the cars beside them!
If only she had a home life more like his, O.Z. thought. She really deserved it. He smiled at the thought of how his parents interacted with Jade, the way her whole face would light up at some small gesture of appreciation or simple courtesy from them. How his mom could always make her laugh ............This wasn't nice, but sometimes he fantasized that her parents would get killed, or at least be taken off to jail, and then his own folks would do whatever it took to become her guardians. But she would more likely wind up in the care of that uncle and his wife from Simi Valley, who made his skin crawl...
So he couldn't abandoned his friend. But he would start sending postcards home---a couple per day---for as long as this journey of theirs lasted.
As they banked down the offramp onto International Airport Boulevard, Adore was bellowing that he wasn't going to eat at no restaurant. That Mama said them dirty restaurant people laughed and threw your food onna flooooooooooor!!
At the gates of the airport they pulled into the right lane, joining a long stalled line of taxis and sooty-rumped tour busses. Palm trees sprung from the banks of tropical fantasy
landscaping on either side of the entryway. Adore yelled, "What're ya doin' in this lane? 
Them cars over there are going good! Why are we in this lane? Go over there! That lane there! What are you doin'? Go over there!"
"SHUT THE HELL UP!" exploded the driver. He pounded rhythmically on the steering wheel,
George Higgens had always prided himself in his professionalism, and he was as startled by this outburst as his three passengers were ........ The circular yammering of drunks, the rude bruskness of self-important celebrities, even the unfriendly racist "kidding" of the occasional militant bigot didn't phase him much. But for some reason he wanted to strangle this evil little troll!
Oh well. Since he had already blown his chances for any kind of decent tip he might as well speak his mind. "You mean you're taking him on a vacation to Florida and he actin' like that?"
O.Z. gave the man a pained, apologetic smile, "I'm afraid ziss child has serious psycho problems! After Disney World we is putting him in a special koo-koo hospital what zey got for kids down there..."
"Sounds to me more like a plain old discipline problem. You shouldn't be letting him get his way all the time! It ain't good for them in the long run. Now I raised three-"
"ENOUGH!" roared Grandpa Babalooski. He handed the driver a wilted hundred dollar bill, "Whatever is left from this you have more than earned, my friend! Right here is fine! We must punish this rude-behaving little piggie at once!"
A string of signs on steel poles said NO STOPPING, but traffic in their lane was stopped anyway, so the driver just edged the cab over to the right a bit, a look of sublime satisfaction on his face.
"Keep going!" screamed Adore, "To them buildings up there! You gotta let us out where there's people around!"
The cabbie turned around to face him, and grinned broadly, "Your grandpa's the one who paid the fare. I think I'll listen to him."
"And I'll bet he was wishing that too right about now," grinned the man as he strolled around the car and opened the rear door with a courtly flourish.
Adore clawed to get away, but his guardians each held onto an arm and slid out with him, looking sad and embarrassed over his insane delusions as he howled, "THEY'RE NOT OLD PEOPLE! THEY GOT WIGS ON AND STUFF! THEY'RE GONNA KILL ME! HEY, LEMME GO!!"
The driver had stuffed an index finger in each ear---his elbows sticking out---and he sang, "I can't heeeeear youuuu!"
As the cabbie climbed back into the car he sang a flat little tune; about how he NEV-er listened to little monsters who scream .............. and had as little as POSS-ible to do with little monsters who scream ............. Singing and rolling up the windows as he pulled out of the line and sped toward the terminal buildings.
Adore jabbered and writhed and shrieked like some straightjacketed maniac! This didn't quite fit in with their plan of making a discrete entrance to the airport, but luckily they were out in the middle of this vast desert of parked cars, the banks of the windshields gleaming dully in the sun, and the boy's cries were lost in the roar and crash of overlapping jet sounds.
They got him quieted down surprisingly quickly with another bribe; O.Z. telling him that he could have all the ice cream he wanted if he would just cooperate...
On the sidewalk in front of the WESTERN/SMALL AIRLINES terminal a magician in mime's makeup was doing tricks involving scarves and an oversized top hat. Most people hurried on past, wary that his act might involve something more sinister than passing the hat for change (like suddenly haraguing them about the plight of the endangered Paiute Creek pupfish or the need to abolish the World Health Organization), but a fairly large audience had assembled. There were a lot of people with an hour or so to kill, and you could only do so much browsing at the gift shop. Adore bulldozed his way forward through the crowd, having forgotten all about his travelling mates.
"You're right, O.Z. He's a hopeless case," sighed Jade.
Adore bellowed at the magician, "THAT WAS SOOOOOOOO FAKE!"
Jade shook her head, "How did I ever think he would be grateful to us, or would mellow out, or ~whatever~ it was I thought! I guess I was thinking about what I heard about dogs on the radio..."
O.Z. watched a cop car roll by in traffic. It was the fifth he had seen in only four minutes. He asked distractedly, "Dogs on the radio? You mean Hooked on Barking Disco Beethoven?"
"No, not that stupid song! It's what I heard some dog trainer guy saying about dogs on one of my mom's talk shows. About how there are regular mutts, who know how to be around other dogs, and play and stuff; and then there's another kind, the little foofie-dog who lives his whole life on somebody's lap wearing some dorky sailor suit..."
"Those yappy little rat-dogs are useless," smirked O.Z. dismissively.
"Well any size dog. The ones that are screwed up in the head. And if some other dog gets near them they freak out and pee all over themself and want you to get them away from this thing! They got no idea about what being a dog is. And if they never get to know other dogs early on they just stay like that! And so I figured with Adore-"
"But I figured wrong," sighed Jade. "My dad says it never helps to try to help anybody. Something about 'The Arrogantness of the Do-Gooders'..."
O.Z. thought this was pretty strange coming from a guy who owed his parents ........... Well he wasn't sure how much money, but they had really come to hate Frank Thompson. How he would claim to need the loan to get something for Jade, like some front teeth, which she never seemed to wind up with. He frowned, "That's messed up. There's nothing wrong with helping people. Like we did Byron and Candice!"
"Well we did try! We gave the little fink every chance, and then some! Let's just ditch him. Right here!"
O.Z. nodded. Facing forward---as if watching the performance, and trying to make it seem like they weren't actually moving---they casually eased their way back through the audience, toward the wall of glass doors that fronted the terminal building...
"Shut up, kid!" hollared someone in the audience.
The mime rolled his eyes upward, imploring the heavens, then strained ferociously to reduce Adore to cinders with a lightning bolt. The crowd laughed and cheered!
"YOU SEE? THEY'RE LAUGHIN' AT YOU!" boomed Adore. And when the performer simply stuck out his tongue, he yelled, "HEY! HE CAN'T EVEN TALK! WHAT A RETARD! WHERE'D YOU GET YOUR MAGIC STUFF? OUT OF SOME TRASH CAN?!"
The Babalooskis reached the edge of the crowd and slipped into the terminal.
"Oh crap, here he comes!" O.Z. cried and started to bolt, but Jade grabbed his arm. She gestured toward the handsome young Latino cop in the stylish haircut and sunglasses, who stood flirting with the clerk at the far end of the broad Western Airlines ticket counter.
O.Z. swore, then suddenly smiled and started laughing evilly. "Not to worry! I know exactly how we can get rid of him! It is the absolute bitchenest, most brilliant plan-"
Adore flew in through the glass doors, his tennis shoes chirping on the linoleum as he skidded to a stop- "Hey! Where d'you think you're going?"
O.Z. snorted, "Pssssshhhttt! We came in to get us our tickets. Unless you want to watch Mikey the Magnificent all day instead of going to Florida."
"No way! That was so PHONY!" groaned Adore.
"Well alrighty then!" O.Z. grinned and boxed him chummily on the shoulder. They got in line.
O.Z. was noticing police and security people everywhere. He and Jade might have hoodwinked a few uncritical skid row neighbors, gaining acceptance by buying liquor for them all; but these cops' whole reason for being here was to spot the criminal and the deceitful. He hoped that when their turn came it would be with a ticket seller far down the counter from the loitering policeman talking to the girl at the end...
#.22 /// CRIME SCENE...
On his way to Jessi's place Leo was almost knocked over by a woman with an immense squat head who had gone flying down the hall screaming, "My baby! My baby!"
Weird. He rapped on Jessi's door for a while but she wasn't answering. She might have been under the bed, consorting with the dust balls like she sometimes did, so he decided to go sit in the dark untravelled back stairs and try again later...
Thanks to all this stairway's lightbulbs having been stolen, twenty feet from the top he was virtually invisible to anyone looking down from above. He had even slept here once, when the cops had busted up his little band's encampment beind the Pan Pacific Novelty Importers. He took out his plastic pint bottle of vodka and had a long pull…
After he'd sat drinking in the dark a while he began to wonder how much time had gone by. Then he reflected on whether it was true---as some professor had told him years ago, back in that other life---that time was unreal, could only be described in relation to the movement of things. Like a planet, the hands of a clock, or the chemical trajectory of a human lifespan ............ Or whether time was actually a sort of stuff- a medium of being, like water to a fish, and any motion would be impossible without it. Leo knew that Jessi would have some input on this philosophical puzzle, however cryptic her response might be...
There was a commotion up on the third floor. Blast it, what had Jessi done now?! He capped his pint of hooch and went up to help.
Only the problem wasn't at Jessi's place. They were in front of that oversized studio apartment across the hall from her. Leo hung back, watching...
The building manager stood at the door of the apartment, looking for the right key while trying to make some sense out of Mrs. Portelieu's hysterical screeching. He could tell that this wasn't one of her usual "emergencies", but he wasn't prepared for the raw chaos they found when he finally got the door open...
The Portelieu woman had convinced herself that there had been a gas leak (although there were no gas lines into the individual units), and that her child was in here unconscious and dying! She caroomed around the apartment with a hanky clamped over her face before announcing, "THEY'RE NOT HERE!!!"
She swooned, dropping into the recliner chair...
Dave-the-manager picked up the shattered picture of a teddy bear javelin thrower, and said, "Looks like they had one heck of a struggle here!"
"A struggle?" Thelma Portelieu had seen this apartment in about the same shape as this earlier, but she had been so intent on talking the couple into looking after Adore it hadn't registered. Now as she looked around, it did! "A STRUGGLE!"
"Somebody must have seen that little old man flashing that big roll of bills around, came up here and robbed them! But where are they? That's what-"
Leo cleared his throat in the doorway.
Dave whirled around, "I thought I told you to stay the hell out of this building!"
"You're talking about the dwarves and their little grandson, right?"
"GRANDSON?!" cried Thelma as she bolted upright.
"Yeah. The boy was named somethin' like Day Star, Ray-Doo ........... Something goofy like that, like the brand name off of an old refrigerator or somethin'. I met 'em as the three of them were getting' into a cab. Flying down to Florida on vacation."
"Well that certainly puts an interesting slant on events," pondered Dave. "I wonder what they're up to..."
"KIDNAPPERS!" shrieked Mrs. Portelieu. She sprawled back in the chair, her wrist across her forehead, crowing hopelessly, "And they seemed so nice..."
"They always do, Sister! They always do," jeered the manager as he strode over to the phone and started dialing. "Kidnappers, of course! And apparently not very bright ones, trying to collect a ransome for somebody who lives in this dump ............ Hello, Police?"
Despite what the people glaring at her from inside the switchback of velvet ropes seemed to think, Susan Weller was not goofing off. She wished she had one of those gate things like the bank tellers had, to let them know that she hadn't just taken it on herself to ignore them, but that her station at the end of the service counter was not open. She was putting address stickers on these envelopes stuffing them with some newsletter her boss wanted mailed today. And while it was a thing that she could do as easily while chatting with her friend Raul as not, their conversation really made it look like she was just slacking here...
Officer Raul Ochoa was telling her how he wanted to quit the LAPD and open up an expensive men's shop. She laughed and said she couldn't picture him as a tailor.
"Everyone says that, except my mom and my pastor. It's dangerous being a cop! I don't have anything to prove. I didn't join the force like a lot of my brother officers, their heads filled with dreams of shoot outs and high speed pursuits. I mainly wanted to help people. And there's all different ways of doing that..."
"Maybe it's bad out in some places, but this doesn't look too dangerous." She indicated a chubby family wearing plastic leis and sunburns, huddling together laughing for a snapshot. "You don't get the gang wars and things!"
"No, here you get the federal crimes. Highjackings, bombings- airports attract the real loonies! Like those midgets over there. Probably a paramilitary hit squad, gonna shoot somebody in the ankles!"
"You're terrible, ha ha! But do you think you would get any real satisfaction doing that kind of thing? I mean year after year?"
"Oh absolutely! I mean, take for example some overweight shlub, he doesn't have much confidence, doesn't think much of himself, is kind of a dud with the ladies. But then he gets a decent haircut and you put him in a nice suit that maximizes the features he does have ............. He sees himself in the three-way, and suddenly he realizes, well he's still not so handsome, but he's commanding now. He hikes up those slump shoulders and he thinks, 'Gee, maybe there is hope for me after all! Maybe I won't go into work today armed to the teeth and- Well, maybe that's an extreme example, but it stands up in principal ......... The police mostly catch people after they say 'TO HELL WITH IT ALL!' and go do something stupid. And yeah, you need that. But I think the real victories are in the area of prevention!"
"I guess that sort of makes sense. You got a name for your shop?"
"Yeah, it's ah........... It's......"
His eyes had been drawn to the strange threesome. The tiny old man kept sneaking ashen looks in his direction. Maybe he was just an old guy from some corrupt, liberty-deficient country, where a phobia about cops was well justified ............ Or maybe the narcotics traffickers were employing midgets these days. Nobody poured off more animal fear than a first-time smuggler. And while it was true that far more dope was smuggled into L.A. then out, he was considering sauntering over that way to see how they would react...
...when there was a bleeeeeeblooble-oop noise from his belt.
He unclipped his radio and had a short conversation, then told her, "Oh God, here we go! Someone complained about Mikey the Magnificent. I have to go roust him! I told him the airport doesn't care if he pulls Hare Krishnas out of his hat as long as he doesn't ask for money, but the jerk says it's 'part of the tradition'..."
"Be careful out there Raul! He might turn you into a rabbit, ha ha!"
"Disneyworld? That would be Orlando. I'm sorry, the last of the morning flights just left. The next one won't be until-" the beautiful Hindi woman with a dot on her forehead checked her monitor and frowned, "Five o'clock tonight..."
O.Z. was growning edgier with every passing minute. He didn't like the idea of hanging around this airport for another seven hours one bit.
"But one of the other airlines should have something coming up soon," she smiled brightly, clicking at the computer keys, "Let's try Florid*Air. They have that deal, you know, where kids seven and under fly free. And it's not a bad airline, just kind of- Well lucky you! Their next Orlando flight leaves in thirty-five minutes. They're down there at the far end of the building, let's reserve your seats to make sure. There's no charge for that, by the way. And your name is?"
"Name?" O.Z. looked around the big indoor space for ideas, "Uh, Domino's ......... Dominique ......... Starbu- Starr! Dominique Starr!"
Getting their tickets at the FLORID*AIR was a breeze. The employee there had hardly glanced at them, and had been mostly focused on the information on her screen. Jade and O.Z. were each given a paper sleeve with their ticket in it, and Adore got a sticker of a smiling airplane with the words I'M A FLORID*AIR FREEBIE FLYER, which seemed to please him as much as if he'd been awarded the George Cross.
O.Z. was glad that he hadn't had to buy a ticket for the kid, who had a much shorter itinerary in store for him. Heh heh! It was time to set his little trap.
But there were just too many cops here. The same free-floating sense of apprehension that had caused O.Z. to reserve his flight under a new alias was telling here not to try to ditch Adore right at this terminal. They had a half hour, that should be plenty of time. He nodded in the direction of the building's front entry. "Come on, you guys!"
Jade didn't know exactly what was up, but nudged Adore into motion and followed him toward the tall glass doors.
O.Z. said in an awkward, embarrassed tone, "You know Adore .......... I guess we kind of got off on the wrong foot here today. I'm ........... Well no one likes to admit they were wrong, but as I get to know you better I can see that you're just like the coolest dude!"
"I know. Mama says I get all my blood from the King of Europe!"
"And because you're so cool, I want to.......... Well you know that present we said we had for you when we got to Florida? Well actually, we have another present for you right here at the airport!"
"Neato! What is it?"
As he swung the door open for them he pointed west and smiled, "You'll see! It's just over in this next building here…"
But when they got out on the sidewalk he saw that the next building in that direction WASN'T right next door as he had assumed. There had been these four big terminals right in a row, but here was a gap of some two blocks between here and the next one...
It had just been a dumb fifty-fifty choice that made him point left instead of right, but suddenly changing directions after he had sounded so certain might raise a warning in the ever-suspicious Adore, so he led them that way- toward what the bold logos affixed to its flank showed to be the CONTINENTAL/UNITED terminal. They would still have time to do this. Barely...
The sidewalk here ran alongside a chain link fence, beyond which was the airfield itself. Miles of concrete runways interspersed by grassy fields in the shape of rectangles, rhombuses and triangles of various sizes...
The taxiway in the foreground crawled with fat colorful passenger jets. O.Z. was surprised by how clumsy and poorly designed they looked when you saw them down here on the ground, out of their normal element. Like hippos might seem, waddling along, unless you'd ever seen how gracefully they can swim.
Adore ran along thirty feet ahead of them, dragging his hand along the fence, intrigued by the sensation of his fingers growing numb as they thrummed against the strands of wire.
Jade reached into her purse for the bottle of Gatorade she'd had in there since yesterday.
She took a big thirsty gulp of the greenish drink and passed it to O.Z. It was pretty awful warm like this, but at least it was wet.
"So tell me about this big plan of yours," she asked. "How we gonna ditch him?"
"Oh you're gonna love this! What we do is- wait, nevermind, here he comes!"
Adore had turned and was running back toward them, twisted sideways, doing the numbing thing against the links of the fence, but with his face this time.
Jade whispered, "Doesn't that hurt?"
"Seems like it should. Maybe he doesn't feel pain quite like we do."
The boy ran up to them, out of breath, his face all ruddy and smudged from the fence.
"Having fun?" asked Jade. Adore nodded happily as he skipped alongside of them.
And there it was again, thought O.Z. The innocence, the simple friendliness of a six year old. If only he could be like this for more than a few seconds at a time...
But then he rallied: Don't go getting soft now .......... He's the one put us into this mess; and he WILL turn on us again, and in the rottenest way he can think of, the second things aren't going his way! .......... Even Jade thinks so, and she's a lot nicer person than I am!
They were approaching the CONTINENTAL/UNITED building, when abruptly the rudimentary logic circuits in Adore's brain flickered to life: "Hey wa-a-a-ait a minute! How didja put a present for me in here if you just met me this morning?!!"
"I uh.........." O.Z. came to a stop. It was an excellent question. It took him a second to concoct an answer. He snorted, "Well duh! We didn't put it here for you. This was gonna be for me and Jade! It was way too valuable to keep at that apartment, so we stashed it here where no one could get it."
"Valuable? REALLY?! Wow! What is it?!"
O.Z. smiled blandly at him from behind his big green shades, "I'll give you a hint ......... It's black-"
Officer Raul Ochoa was arguing semantics with the street magician ("How the hell could I be soliciting? I never said a word!") when the radio on his belt squawked again. He listened gravely as a flat voice read a bulletin adressed to ALL PERSONNEL...
Other voices cut in, asking the dispatch to repeat that, assuming they had mis-heard the description of the suspects, or even suggesting this was some kind of ill-conceived joke, but Raul remembered the midget couple. He shook his head at the street performer---gotta go!---and sprinted back into the building and to the Western Airlines counter.
"Hey Susan! Those two with the kid who just bought tickets from- Oh hell, where did Vasanti go?"
"On her lunch break, why? Hey, you can't use that! What's going on?"
Raul tapped the keys of Susan's computer, quickly bringing up the passenger list, "They're kidnappers, are supposed to be headed- Damn it, what did I expect? Nothing booked on here under 'Babalooski'. Let's hope she remembers what name they used!"
Grandpa Babalooski looked around the bustling lobby and---finding what he had hoped to---clapped his hands together. "Und now ve go get your present! It's back there in one of zose lockers!"
Jade groaned in sudden comprehension, "No O.Z.!"
"Too late," cackled Adore. "He said it was mine! And YOU can't play with it!"
They made their way to the maze of lockers. Adore skipped circles around O.Z. as he read off the numbers in the corner of each steel door, "Here's J-57, and K-57, K-68. So it's gotta be down this way. One of these big ones along the bottom..."
Jade shook her head gravely, "I don't think we should do this..."
"Don't listen to her! Give it to me! Let me have it!!"
O.Z. clapped his hands, "Ah, here we are!"
As he and fed six quarters into the slot and swung the door open.
Adore's eyes glazed over in lustful anticipation as the fake old man fed six quarters into the slot and swung the door open. He hunched forward, ready to pounce on his prize...
"Awwww, there's nothin' in there! HEY!!", he yelped as O.Z. ripped the airplane sticker from his shirt and shoved him hard!
Adore---being strong for his age---was halfway out again ("Ver-r-r-y funny! Now where's my-") before they had managed to coordinate their actions! O.Z. brought his fist down on the fingers curled around the edge of the opening---causing them to withdraw---and Jade drove her shoulder against the door; until they managed to get their victim stuffed into the locker and click the door shut! O.Z. twisted the funny plastic-handled key and yanked it out of the lock.
"But he could suffocate in there," objected Jade.
"No, see these vents?"
"Let me outta here," came a muffled cry.
"What if he starves or something?"
"We can call and tell them once we're in Florida. From a payphone, and quick so they can't trace it. Now let's go!"
O.Z. tossed the key and Adore's boarding sticker (which had his flight and seat number written on it in felt pen) into a nearby trash can, and they set out at a brisk walk toward the lobby's front doors.
They need not have worried about Adore being stuck in there long enough to die of starvation. He must have managed to turn himself around in there, because his voice no longer sounded the least bit muffled. If anything it seemed amplified somehow! It boomed out from the locker area- "HAAAAAAAALP! LEMME OUTTA HEAR, YA CAKE SNIFFERS! HELP! SOMEBODY! POL-I-I-I-I-I-ICE!!!!"
Airport patrons were looking around in confusion.
"I don't think your 'absolute bitchenest plan ever' was very smart!" huffed Jade. They quickened their pace…
"We can do this. It took us nine minutes to get here. If we get back there in seven that leaves us-" on a big cylindrical plastic kiosk was an ad for some upscale store, a woman's high heel shoe on a background of shiny smooth silver. O.Z. glanced at their reflection in its surface, noting how it distorted with the curvature of the kiosk. Then he caught sight of who was behind them! His voice cracked, "Run!"
Jade looked back. A couple of airport cops had noticed their guilty, hasty walk and had fallen in nonchalantly behind them, about twenty meters back. One spoke with calm precision into his walky talky.
"Don't run. You're supposed to be old!" she cried, but O.Z. was already way ahead of her.
Jade ran! The cops ran!
"There's the kidnappers- STOP!"
They ran for the glass doors of the entryway, what had to be a pair of plainclothes detectives walked in through them. The man in a blazer with his hair just covering the top third of his ears, the woman in a drab and sexless tweedy outfit. Both of them were looking around with intense, watchful eyes. The woman held a radio to one side of her head.
Caught between the two pairs of law officers, they turn and ran the only way they could, sideways across the big square lobby. Over at the locker area O.Z. noticed a crowd was gathering, to witness the miracle of the talking locker. Even out here you could hear Adore bellowing, "I GOTTA GO TO THE BAFFROOM!!"
Then they spotted a wide portal with a big sign over it that said
...and sprinted through it. The corridor beyond angled shallowly downward and then levelled off underground. Jade gasped as they ran, "Did you hear that? They think we're kidnappers!"
"It's some kind of mix-up. But once Adore explains the truth about everyth- Oh God we're gonna get the chair! RUN!!"
A deep voice boomed from behind them, "STOP! POLICE! CLEAR THE WAY, ALL OF YOU!"
A wave of yawning lethargic people with carry-on luggage poured up the corridor toward them. The two kids were managing to slip through this crowd faster than the pursuing cops, but they were running up a dead end! Soon they would arrive at the metal detectors, manned by guards, and their tickets were no good for the planes that lie beyond it!
But just before the tunnel angled upward again there was an intersection---which they nearly shot past---a broad corridor stretching off to the right and left for what looked like miles. They had discovered the ring of passenger tunnels that connected the airport's various terminals...
The one on the left was labelled WESTERN / SMALL AIRLINES. They darted down it, toward their flight!
A voice over a loudspeaker echoed from way up the corridor that their flight was now boarding. But it was a long way ahead, so long that they could not clearly make out the intersection at the far end. These tunnels were equipped with moving sidewalks, rolling rubber strips contained by waist high metal walls topped by escalator handrails that moved along with them. Eastbound and westbound sidewalks were seperated by a wide central linoleum aisle, which was trafficked by the more dedicated walkers, and continuously beeping flatbed electric carts.
The rubber strip only moved about two miles an hour, but Jade and O.Z. appreciated any extra speed they might gain by running with the motion of the walkway. They shoved through the clusters of people, apologizing with winded monosyllables...
At the intersection the cops split up and went three ways. It was the woman detective who hopped onto the moving sidewalk and began fighting her way foreward...
Was that the suspects way up ahead there? A whole busload of boisterous tipsy fat men in cheap suits and tassled fez hats blocked her view. Members of the Fraternal Order of Electric Eels lodge, they kept reaching out and giving each other their "secret handshake"- grabbing hands, and then both thrashing around like they were being electrocuted!
The officer brought her radio up to her ear to ask if anyone had spotted them, but the security-band relay antenna up in the ceiling must have been out, and all she could hear was static, and the men in front of her laughing and going "Dddddddddzzzzzzzttttt!!!"
They had finally extricated Adore from the locker, and were questioning him in the security office. "What happened, Sonny? Who did this to you?"
They kept trying to explain to him that he was the victim here, and did not need a lawyer because he wasn't being charged with anything.
It was like running in a dream. The ease with which he passed the people walking in the concrete center aisle made O.Z. feel like he had some modest degree of superpowers. As they wormed through the groups of standing riders they spotted the policewoman behind them, as she finally broke through the pack of rowdy conventioneers.
Then they looked ahead, and saw two LAPD coming up the tunnel's center aisle from that direction. The two cops were decked out like science fiction centurions---in visored helmets and what looked like kevlar-panelled uniforms, their belts laden with every imaginable sort of cop gear---assidiously checking out everyone coming their way!
O.Z. and Jade just stood there as the moving sidewalk dragged them slowly toward the helmeted officers. There were not going to be any more side tunnels- they were trapped!
O.Z. whispered, "Maybe we should just give ourselves up! I think they'll go easy on us once they see we're just a couple of kids."
Jade gasped excitedly! She took a firm grip on O.Z.'s bolo tie and dropped beneath the level of the moving sidewalk's waist-high metal enclosure, taking him down with her, until they were sitting on their butts. With his, O.Z. could feel the rubber flooring undulating across the steel rollers beneath it.
This part he got, hiding down here from the approaching STAR WARS storm troopers. But now Jade was frantically trying to pulling his jacket off...
"Have you gone loco?! What are ya doing?!!"
"I'm doing what you said! Kids! If all they see is a couple of kids, they might not see us at all. We won't be who they're looking for ........... We can do this! We can get away!"
"Oh wow, that's right!" exclaimed O.Z., and quickly shrugged out of his buckskin jacket.
Jade took out the bottle of Gatorade and dumped it out all over the jacket. Then they each grabbed an end and started scrubbing their faces hard, taking off their makeup as best they could this way ............. They dropped their wigs, Jade's shawl and purse, and O.Z.'s string tie into the soggy smeared up jacket. Jade pulled the bobby pins out of her old lady bun and let her hair fall free, down onto her shoulders...
O.Z. stripped down to his t-shirt, a laughing Albert Einstein printed in brilliant psychedelic colors, and gave Jade his tuxedo shirt to wear, which with its ruffled front would kind of look like a blouse. The boy averted his gaze as she quick changed into it, and added her blouse and bra and the two grapefruit to the stuff in the coat...
The well-dressed man and woman standing behind them on the moving sidewalk, a pair of ethnologists about to make the long flight back to Sweden after attending a sociology symposium at UCLA, would debate for years about the meaning of the bizarre ritual they'd just witnessed.
As he and Jade stood back up---debabalooskified---O.Z. chucked the whole soggy bundle onto the back of a battered yellow Cushman cart going past carrying bags of trash. And looking around, they saw that they had gone right past the two cyborg cops.
Fifty feet behind them the plainclotheswoman had hopped over the railing and was conferring excitedly with them, gesturing with her radio back toward the Continental/United terminal. The three of them loped off that way...
O.Z. and Jade bolted from the mouth of the people-mover and dashed up the ramp. At the intersection at the top they turned right, down the hall to the SMALL AIRLINES departure gates.
And as they ran toward the metal detector they yanked all the change out of their pockets and let it clatter all over the floor. They waved their tickets at the airport security attendant there, "OUR PLANE!"
The attendant knew there was something major going on right now in this part of the airport---the FBI had just shown up---but whoever all the uproar was about it wasn't a couple of children late for their flight! Grinning in amusement, he stuck out his hand, slam-dunked their satchel through the X-Ray machine, nodded his official benediction as they failed to set off the metal detector portal, and forward-passed the bag to the running boy all in one fluid motion!
They sprinted across the glass walled waiting room to Gate C-7, where a man was clipping a stiff naugahyde snake across the opening of a rubber-lined accordion gangway tunnel that had obviously been closed and retracted.
"Flight 413?" wheezed O.Z.
"Awwww ............. I'm sorry," the steward cocked his head and treated them to that exaggerated pout of sympathy that people gave to young children. It seemed strange and artificial after their three days as adults.
He pointed throught the tinted windows at the plane with the FLORID*AIR logo on its tail, at the back of a long line of jets that curved across the taxiway to where the runway started. Several minutes until actual takeoff, but it might as well have been orbiting the third moon of Saturn for all the good it was going to do them now. So much for Disney World...
"The next flight is at 2:15. I'd better call whoever is waiting for you there, so they don't worry," said the man, but they were gone.
They sped down the sloping exit corridor and past the long side tunnel they had just come from, toward the Terminal proper. Toward that street out front, where some cab driver was going to get the biggest tip of his career if he could just get them safely out of this place!
# .26 /// SECURITY ANNEX #3
Two large men in black suits and narrow ties stood grimly down by the portal into the lobby, airport patrons streaming around them like surf around a pair of dark forbidding rocks that they had no choice but to navigate close to...
"This'll be okay. All we need to do is act casual," said Jade, but she didn't sound too convinced.
A half hour ago she would have walked up to the two FBI men and bugged them with dumb kid-type questions until they ran the both of them off. But since Adore started yelling inside that locker they had been running blindly, falling back on progressively weaker and hastier back-up plans. And now they had missed their plane.
Hoping to blend in with them, they moved in close to a large family that was circled around a tough-looking bald old man. Six children were shouting for the man's attention ("Unca Louie! Unca Louie!"), and his 42-year-old kid brother was arguing with him over wanting to help him with his two heavy bags.
"I never said you were an invalid, Louie. I just meant that you're on vacation, and might let somebody help you with something for once..."
The brothers compromised, each taking a bag, and the clan continued on toward the two unsmiling men and the freedom that lie beyond. The oldest of the children turned around and made a face at Jade and O.Z. like she had been sucking on lemons all day, "What are you doin', following us? Are you pickpockets?"
"Pickpockets?" exclaimed O.Z., "Heck no! We're um..."
The agents they were stopping groups of people, asking them if they had seen the suspects, gesturing "about so high" with a palm turned downward.
The row of glass doors just past them beckoned to O.Z. like the surface of some hellish lagoon he was trapped in, so near yet so far, lungs burning for air, his leg held fast by a murderous giant clam. (Should have heeded those signs: *DON'T TEASE THE CLAMS*, he thought dereriously...)
The girl was about to alert her father to their presence when O.Z. meekly apologized, and explained that he and his sister were orphans, whose parents had been decapitated by a poorly-installed ceiling fan, when it had fallen on them in that Olive Garden restaurant in Encino. Right in front of their eyes. And for the past year they had lived in this miserable barracks-like orphanage, where you were all called by a number instead of a name.
"You feel like you're hardly a person," added Jade.
...And so on their one "Free Day" each week they liked to come down here, to just hang out on the edge of scenes like this, and bask briefly in the warmth and love of other family's vacations, and fond reuinons like this!
They couldn't tell whether the girl was buying this or not. They were about three car lengths from the two serious looking men in suits...
"That's them!" said Agent Charbydis urgently. He pointed at the laughing and bantering family.
"The two in the funny clothes!"
"Those two kids?" asked Agent Scylla. "But the bulletin said seventy, maybe eighty years old..."
"Somebody screwed up, then. They just don't fit in with that bunch somehow. And remember the velour bag they were supposed to be- THERE THEY GO!!"
When they saw the man pointing they bolted!
They ran past the glass fronts of shops- Orange Julius, Oakley Sunglasses, See's Candy ........... In the space between a Barnes & Noble and ROUTE 66 GIFTS an ugly plain looking door with a wire mesh window in it buzzed and clicked and opened. The man emerging through it yelled as they muscled past him- "HEY!!"
They skittered down a stark empty corridor lit by a strip of bare florescent tubes down the middle of its high ceiling. At first they passed the back doors of shops and offices, but then there was nothing but these cinderblock walls painted a gooey gloss beige. They were clearly in AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY country...
A wall loomed ahead of them. They bounced off the cement bricks with their hands as the passage made a right turn-
...and emptied them into a small office where two policemen sat in swivel chairs, each of them staring at a grid of small t.v. screens. The room---Security Annex #3---resounded with the whine of jet turbines, which poured in through a door that they had propped open with a riot baton.
The guards had to almost shout to hear each other over the engine noise. They had neither heard the children enter nor noticed them stealing across the room behind their backs, toward the open door, trying to gasp for air as quietly as they could...
Baffled voices squawked from the police radio:
"Anybody got a twenny on the perps?"
"That's a negative. Where the hell did they get to?!"
A tumbleweed skidded past the open door. A bit farther out an emerald green jet rolled slowly past the opening in the opposite direction. O.Z. had a perverse impulse to let out a whoop or kick one of the men in the ass. Who said he didn't have impulse control?
One of them dug his illicit ashtray---a dixie cup half full of sand---out of a drawer, and lit a cigarette. "I don't see how we could have lost them."
"These cameras suck, that's how! There's no kind of organization to how they have them set up! I mean what's this one supposed to be, the inside of a cow? Now Dallas/Fort Worth, there's a surveillance system!"
Our heroes had almost made it to the outside, to that vast plain of concrete, when their two pursuers thundered in: "GRAB 'EM!"
The seated men spun around and saw Jade and O.Z., "What are you kids doin' in here?!"
"It's them, idiot! It's who you're supposed to be looking for!"
The children shot out through the door, kicking out the black plastic weapon that held it open.
"That ain't them. That's just some kids," said one of the monitor watchers.
"They were running from us! It sure is somebody!"
The other seated man said slowly, "Even if it's not they sure as hell shouldn't be out there .......... Blakely, go help them!"
As the three men pushed out through the door he grabbed the microphone on his console,
"All units-"
The three men peered out across the airfield. There was no one running out on the windswept expanse of the runways...
"Must have gotten back inside somehow," puffed one of the FBI men, before heading left down the steel flank of the building to a door a hundred feet away.
The other went right, toward the squat tower of a boarding area, a disk of windows and rubber skirted hatchways perched atop a shed-like bay where men were tossing luggage onto a flat trailer behind a sort of tractor...
Blakely scanned the windy taxiway again, making absolute sure that they hadn't gone in that direction, before starting up the caged ladder that led to the roof of the terminal. This didn't seem very likely, but it was better than standing around here like some indecisive dummy...
The green AIR TONGA jumbo jet rolled slowly forward on tires the size of dinner tables. O.Z. and Jade jogged along, crouched behind one of them, out of view from the door of the security station.
"You're not serious about this, are you?"
O.Z. pointed at his ear, then at the huge engines hanging over them. "WHAT?!!"
Jade screamed hoarsely, "I said we can't possibly get on that jet!"
"Probably not. But since we're out here we might as well try."
The 747 came to a stop, having joined the long line of parked jets. Now it began revving up its engines, testing them- a wavery cone of kerosene scented air blowing out behind them. Even here, well forward of the blast zone, it felt like someone had opened the door of some mammoth oven. Not the safest place to be. Their Florid*Air plane was the third from the front now, out where the procession curved out onto the start of the runway itself.
Jade shouted into O.Z.'s ear, "But how would we climb up there?"
"For a five hundred dollar tip they'll find a way! That's our flight dammit, we've got tickets for it!"
"No O.Z., we're not doing that! They're gonna think we're highjackers or something! And even if we did get on that plane they might figure out that we're the ones who did that to Adore, and have someone waiting in Florida to arrest us for kidnapping! But if we can get to the far side of these runways without them seeing us," Jade gestured through the bulk of the plane, toward where she imagined the air control tower was. "I don't think they'll have the south end of the airport covered too heavy."
Three parallel runways extended away from them across the flat plain. By some trick of perspective they seemed to stretch all the way to the green hump of Palos Verdes Peninsula, twelve miles to the south. And off to their left a bit, seemingly at the foot of that hill but probably no more than a mile from where they stood, was an area of hangars, machine shops and office buildings. There were air cargo companies, a shop that reupholstered seats from jetliners, a FORKLIFTS ETC. rental place- all the usual obscure businesses that spring up around large airports. And all those cars and trucks encircling them meant there had to be a road out, which would eventually lead them to a bus stop.
The Florid*Air plane was now at the front of the long line. O.Z. resigned himself to taking a loss on the tickets in his pocket, although it might be fun to try to give them to the bus driver, acting like some dimwit who doesn't know a bus from an airplane. Duh, where'd yer wings go?
"What's so darn funny?" asked Jade crossly.
"Nothing. Probably just the fumes. Let's get out of here!"
They left the cover of the 747's vast wing and lit out for the grassy strip that seperated two of the runways. A man in the control tower had caught their hunched over scrambling out of the corner of his eye, but figured it was just a pair of coyotes.
They ran crouching through the waist deep grass, which was a fortunate by-product of these rare summer rains the southland had been getting the last few days. Whenever one of the jets went roaring past---building up speed for takeoff---they ducked down.
They had covered over a third of the length of the airfield, and could see the red metal racks topped by blinking lights that signalled the end of these runways. The airport businesses park was farther off to the left than they had originally though. They would have to start moving sideways somehow. Across these big runways. Jade pointed and O.Z. gestured in agreement.
Up ahead of them, just off to their left lie a large rectangular field, big enough to safely seperate the jet runways from the starts of some shorter ones for smaller craft, running perpendicular to these three. The field they needed to get to had been plowed under recently and wouldn't provide a whole lot of cover...
But angling across it was a concrete storm drain, a narrow trench surrounded by a chain link fence. If they could just get across these three runways to it, it would hide them from the control tower. And if it continued in a straight line after it disappeared underground it would lead them straight to their goal; the business park, which they could see much more clearly now. Hangers and big glass helicopter showrooms. An old wooden sea plane with a huge gaping hole in its hull leaned against some rusted scaffolding like it had been shipwrecked there. Surrounded by a random array of limp bedraggled palm trees in wooden boxes, it was quite a picturesque sight, and made O.Z. wish he had his camera...
They dropped to the dirt as another jet thundered past. And got back up to see it lifting ponderously from the ground, much closer to the end of the runway than looked safe. It would be another fifty-five seconds before the next one came.
They ran across the runway and into the next strip of field. This field was somewhat wider. Jackrabbits hopped around, foraging, carefully keeping their distance from these two-legged intruders.
It was an amazing place. Now that the weren't quite so desperately on the run O.Z. could enjoy it, this new chapter in their adventure ........... Exploring an area that few ever got to visit, except fleetingly, from behind a tiny oval window high in the side of a hermetically sealed tube. Somehow it was like being in the part of the amusement park you were never meant to see...
Jade pointed to where a fat rodent reared up, sniffing the air at the mouth of its burrow.
"A prairie dog!"
"Hey!" yelled O.Z. as he clapped his hands at it- "HEY! HEY! HEY!"
It didn't even blink. Living amid the incessant scream of turbines had made it stone deaf.
Blakely, searching for the two suspects amid the maze of ducts and blowers on top of the terminal building, looked out to see them shambling across the field toward Airstrip #14.
He reached for his radio.
They approached the next runway, its clouded concrete surface striated with layer upon layer of overlapping black skidmarks.
"O.Z., stop!" hollared Jade, and pointed at the approaching aircraft, its headlight hanging in the sky above Hermosa Beach like a bright fat star. Laden down with industrial hardware, the oversized Soviet-era Russian cargo jet needed this extra long runway to land on. Since it was coming in from the direction the passenger jets usually took off in, all take-offs had been suspended from the adjoining strips until this thing had landed...
"He's miles away!" Laughed O.Z. and started across the concrete at a trot.
There was a tiny patch of oil a third of the way across. As small as it was, it was large enough to send O.Z.'s foot snapping violently upward, his shoe flying clear across the tarmac!
He fell, slid, rolled...
losing the satchel...
the satchel opening...
"THE MONEY!" he shrieked in mid-roll!
The money tumbled out across an area the size of a large blanket. O.Z. hobbled, oblivious to his smashed knee as he wildly stuffed the money back into the bag.
The plane had grown from the size of Venus in the pre-dawn sky to the size of a seagull. Most of the cash was still in bundles, but they had done so much spending lately, and enough of the ancient rubber bands had shattered that a lot of it was in loose bills. Jade ran out to help him scoop up the money!
The seagull was now a winged minivan. It was as improbable a machine as humankind had ever designed and flown. Jet engines like massive oil drums tacked on just about everywhere you could put one, its banana yellow fuselage a mass of meaningless-looking bulges. An airplane like Dr. Suess might have dreamed up, which might have been fun to look at if it wasn't barrelling down on them.
"Leave the rest!" yelled Jade as the swollen jet bore down on them.
O.Z. nabbed the last two bundles and was going for the $5000 in loose bills. Jade grabbed the satchel's straps and attempted to drag him off the runway by it.
But at the same time O.Z.---who had also concluded they were out of time---started running in the other direction. Each thought they were pulling their insanely stubborn friend to safety, until they had used up the two or three second they'd had to escape in. The yellow behemoth filled the sky, in the cockpit they could see a bearded man yelling frantically as he pulled back on the stick-
They crouched, and as the plane swooped over them they could see every rivet on the great craft's belly, the various dings and scratches and oddly shaped little doors with blocks of googly Russian lettering stencilled on them!
They were bowled over by the jetwash! O.Z. curled himself around the bag protectively as they were rolled down the runway by the draft from those enormous wings! Hard to believe that mere moving air could do this to you, some calm part of his mind reflected.
Slowly, and with what seemed like great effort the ungainly cargo plane started to climb. It cleared the building by less than ten feet!
The loose money had risen up like a cloud of leaves and blew toward the terminal in its wake. The kids staggered to their feet and watched it swirl and dance through the air...
Some seconds later people poured from the terminal building, many spilling out of high doors that they had to jump from, tripping the alarms on the emergency exits. Their cries and the jangling of the alarms sounded oddly faint and shrill from this far away. Like a riot of cartoon insects!
They watched briefly---mesmerized by the distant melee---before starting off again. O.Z. ached all over now as he ran. He sensed an ominous change in the air, some disturbing new quality that he couldn't quite put his finger on-
"It's so quiet!" panted Jade as they ran for the grey trench three blocks away. She hadn't had to shout at all. Every one of the taxiing jets had shut of their engines, and none were coming in. It was like the eerie lull in the film's soundtrack just before the atom bomb detonates.
Atop a nearby bush a small bird took note of the opportunity and belted out his song for all it was worth: "Chirpitty-chirpitty chir chir che-oop pee wheep!"
Suddenly The leaden air was pierced by a wail of sirens and the throaty roar of car engines being gunned. Jade started sprinting for the trench, but O.Z. couldn't help looking back...
A long string of police black-and-whites, a white FBI sedan, and three blue Airport Security wagons---their light bars strobing frenziedly---were howling up the runway that the kids had just crossed. A fire engine and some kind of large ambulance with airlocks for doors---the HAZMAT wagon---raced toward them from a different angle!
"Run O.Z.!" groaned Jade exhaustedly.
O.Z. ran, but he was laughing. A bleak laugh of futility. This field had been mowed to a stubble and there was not so much as a post to hide behind. Seeing their chances of success dwindling like a snowball in Hell, he began to slow up. Saw that other cop cars were now in pursuit of the people grabbing at and fighting over the money...
Jade threw herself forward, like a runner approaching the finish line. Her bedroom at home called to her: Thought you could get away, did you?
There wasn't much in that windowless nine-by-twelve enclosure that really felt like it was hers. Her books. Her fish tank, burbling empty since Gil died. Her pop band and tennis star posters strove in vain to transform the room into her space, but it never could be ........ It belonged to them, those hateful warring voices booming through the wall, sucking all the air from the tiny space. Yet to leave the door open was to risk being hit by crossfire.
The narrow bed with that ugly pumpkin-flesh orange and pea-soup green bedspread on it. The even uglier printed cardboard dresser. The hollowly smiling Barbies that her mom bought her on every gift giving occasion, because she had always coveted these dolls.  (Jade liked dolls, but as she had tried to explain---back when this seemed to matter more---,she prefered ones that were cuddly, that had some warmth about them...) And any lack of enthusiasm for these totems of Pearl Thompson's vision of ideal womanhood---such as not displaying them prominently on top of the dresser---was perceived as a profound betrayal, provoking a torrent of disjointed and contradictory insults...
One minute calling her a spoiled, stuck-up princess, too dainty and refined for what was good enough for Every Other Girl on Earth ("Sorry, your Highness, but they didn't HAVE no gold Cartier dollies at Toys R Us!") and the next second shrieking exactly the opposite- like that insane tirade about buying Jade a jock strap, implying that she was some inter-gender freak in training!
Her dad, off on Planet Vodka, had laughed loud and long over that one; as if the whole hateful display had been nothing more than some twisted sitcom being aired for his amusement.
All of this flashed through her mind in an instant. The memory of that humiliating incident---just five days ago, and right before they ran away---acted on Jade like some huge wall of fire at her heels, driving her across the lumpy field. She screamed out, "We've got to get to that ditch!"
But O.Z. was shaking his head. It was still two blocks away. The cop cars were closing fast. So unless they could run at 45 miles an hour...
"No! We can do it! We beat 'em so far, and we can do this! We're the Flying Babalooskis, damn it- we just started!"
O.Z. trotted to a stop. "Come on Jade. We'll never make it!"
"There's the ditch right there! Disappear under the city ........ they'll never find .......... RUN!!"
O.Z. had never seen his friend like this. She was screaming now, babbling crazily, "We can live, we can hide, build a stronghold- No that's stupid! We'll go to my sister's! Get Byron to say he's our dad, take the train with us! This will work. You like trains! She can get that place ............. start her restaurant! She'll enroll us in school up there, it'll be close to the ocean. We can learn to surf for real, not just boogie boards. Like you always said-"
"We can't. They got us."
Jade gripped him by the shirt and shook him, tears streaming down her cheeks, "Okay, okay- we got maybe seventy thousand. But it's enough to start with if your smart. Buy some good stocks, invest it, and just travel. Buy a boat. A boat!"
"Oh God, Jade," was all O.Z. could say. He had never hurt so much for someone else in his life.
"But a boat, I mean it's perfect! Go anywhere! Take it clear up the Amazon! Hang gliding off the Rock of Gibralter! Mountain bikes on the Wall of China! The world, O.Z.! Oh please run..."
The screeching of tires. A bullhorn barked something unclear but very threatening about "ARREST" and "HANDS UP"...
An astonished voice exclaimed, "Hey, Deidrich was right! It's just a couple of kids!"
More vehicles brakes screeched. More doors flew open.
"Come on Jade. Put up your hands," coaxed O.Z.
Jade raised her hands.
~~~THE END~~~
EPILOGUE: Luckily they got their story straight before the cops seperated them. When the detective asked O.Z. where they got the bag of money O.Z. said that they'd found in the shadows under a bus bench on La Vista Boulevard, and Jade followed along. They basically told the truth about everything else, and weren't faced with kidnapping or any other serious charges. They were each in trouble for a long time at home, and the remaining money (after no one claimed it and it was returned to him) was put away for O.Z.'s college education.
But a year later his parents surprised him with a vacation to---of all places---Disney World. And when they invited Jade along all her parents wanted to know before they gave their approval was how much this was going to cost them...
Byron Brown started to "clean up his act" in ways he never thought himself capable of.  He got a good job maintaining and repairing city buses, and the last thing he ever stole was a pregnancy test kit that Candice asked him to get from the local drug store. The prospect of being parents meant the party was over for them in some ways, and yet in so many ways it had just started. The two of them were minor celebrites around the building for a week or so after O.Z. and Jade's story hit the news---and they were interviewed by reporters a few times---but they would never see our two young heroes again.
But somebody else would ......... On their first day after arriving in Orlando on their Florida vacation they were standing in line for a ride when they heard a familiar voice shouting, "FAKER!!YOU'RE NOT A REAL MOUSE!! I CAN SO TOTALLY SEE YOU IN THERE! WHERE'D YOU GET THOSE STUPID RED SHORTS? OUT OF SOME TRASH CAN?!"
(to be continued?)


Mel Brooks in short pants

Such a good story, I'm sad that it's over. Laughing out loud so much my dog thought I was barking and joined in. :)

- Joyce

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