Newton's First Law of
Dynamic Convergence states that for every action or force which separates two objects
there is an equal attracting action or force. His Second Law of Dynamic Convergence, which
since it has yet to be proven is technically a hypothesis, states that forces of
attraction are both random and constant. This helps explain the pushing, tugging,
intertwining and general bumper car-like motion of our lives and those around us. Well, to
a physicist or mathematician, anyway.
Newton and his laws were the
furthest things from Jets mind when he left the house the next morning, for even if
hed been aware that such laws of the universe existed they would have taken a back
seat to his desire to avoid Bobby Biggs, Timmy Padgett, Ralph Marconi and the rest of the
neighborhood gang who were engrossed in yet another of a long string of stoop ball games,
this one using a pink Spaulding ball Job had stolen from Davidson's Toy Store several days
Jet walked out the front door of
the house and slid off the edge of the stairs, dropping behind the big rhododendrons in
the flower bed, the plant's large leaves doing a good job of hiding him. He sidled along
the front of the house, his back scraping the pointy stucco wall, then inched around the
side until he arrived at the relative safety of the back yard. Sticking his head out from
between two anonymous evergreen bushes, he looked first to the left, then to the right.
The coast was as clear as it would get. He plowed through the branches and sprinted across
the back yard, clambering through the rotting split rail fence and slithering on his
stomach under the dense hedges to the safety of the Ranson's backyard.
He made his way to Broad Street,
where the day's traffic was starting to pick up. Most stores were open for business, and
those which weren't showed bubbling signs of life as they were being readied for another
shopping day. Things dont change often on Broad Street, which is as soothing as it
is unsatisfying. Old Man Cordin was putting his jewelry in the window, as he did every
morning. Ralph Brunkie was serving eggs for breakfast, a hot counterpoint to his night
time business of dishing out ice cream. And Marty Lopasi was selling newspapers and
cigarettes and lottery tickets, especially lottery tickets, at a steady clip.
But this morning something
different caught Jets eye, for overnight a structure had sprouted up at the point
where Broad Street ends by forming a "T" with Brookside Road. He stopped in his
tracks and stared straight ahead. Halfway down the block, sticking out like a mutilated
thumb in the parking lot of the long-vacant Two Guys store, was the biggest tent Jet had
ever seen, standing fully three stories high and covering an area the size of a football
field, its wide blue and orange stripes vibrating wildly in the distance. As twelve-year
olds are required to do by the immutable laws of nature, Jet had to investigate..
* * * * * *
"Jet-et! Jo-ob!" Erta
yelled out the front door. It was time for lunch and it couldnt start without the
boys, not so much because as a mother she was concerned about their nutritional needs, but
rather thats the way things were done in the Banker household. Meals were always at
the same timebreakfast at seven-thirty, lunch at twelve, dinner at six, and snack at
nineand everyone had to be present and accounted for.
"Where are those boys?"
she asked aloud.
"Here I am," Job said
as he hurriedly crossed the lawn. Missing a meal wasnt in his script.
"Where's your brother?"
"Well," Job said with a
sneer, "that makes one of you."
"Will you please go find
"Where?" he said
impatiently. "He's not with the gang."
"Is that the only place you
know to look?"
"Well, you'd better think of
somewhere else fast, because we're not eating lunch without him."
"Does Dad know that?"
"Let me worry about that,
young man. You just worry about finding your brother."
Job kicked the ground in
frustration, sending a clump of grass flying high as he stomped sulkily across the lawn.
"Ahem!" Erta said,
loudly clearing her throat.
Job turned and glared at his
mother. Then he walked over and picked up the divot, returning it to its rightful spot and
gently tamping it down with his foot. He looked up at Erta, who smiled gently.
"That's much better,"
she said as she turned and walked into the house.
Job stood where he was until the
front door closed. He counted to ten, then scanning the windows of the house to make sure
the coast was clear, reached down and picked up the divot. He turned and walked five
paces, then whirled around and threw the dirt-filled clump at the white wall of the house.
As soon as the missile left his hand he made a dash across the lawn, rounding the corner
of the house as the sound of broken window glass filled the air. For Job, luck was licking
the salt which was rubbed into the wound.
It only took thirty minutes, ten
of which was taken up by cleaning up the broken glass, for Erta and Jackson Robert's anger
at Job to shift to impatience. It was now twenty-five minutes after twelve and their
Pavlovian hunger was increasing geometrically, not to mention that this delay threatened
to throw off the rest of their day, a dreadful prospect for two people whose biological
clocks didn't have a snooze alarm, better yet a means of being reset.
Erta went to the front door and
once again called the boys, even though she was sure they were both way out of earshot. Of
course Job wouldnt have come even if hed heard, for he knew the song of the
maternal Siren would only lure him to certain destruction at the window avenging hands of
"Where could they have
gone?" Erta asked.
"Who knows," Jackson
Robert said. "Let's just go ahead and eat."
"We can't eat without
"You know I can't eat when
"There's nothing to worry
about," Jackson Robert said, hungrily eyeing the bowl of Erta's famous creamy-smooth
style egg salad, colored deep red from the overdose of paprika she'd accidentally dumped
into it. "They couldn't have gotten very far. Besides, they're both old enough to
take care of themselves."
"I can't help it if I'm a
mother, and mothers are made to worry. We can eat if you like," she said, causing her
husband to reach for the slices of Wonder Bread Erta had neatly stacked on a salad plate,
"but I won't be able to enjoy a single bite until I know our children are safe."
Jackson Robert dropped the slices
of bread back on the pile and sighed. "What would you like me to do?"
"Be a dear and go look for
Jackson Robert pushed his chair
from the table and stood up. He grabbed a slice of bread and tore off a big bite.
"You wouldn't want me to die of malnutrition while I was looking for the little
darlings, would you?" He took another slice of bread, folded it in half, and stuck it
in his pants pocket. "Just in case it takes a while," he said as he walked
towards the front door.
As soon as she heard the door
close, Erta took a piece of bread, coated it with egg salad, added lettuce and tomato, and
cut it in half. She was the Queen of the Open-Faced Sandwich, having only eaten a
two-slice sandwich twice in her life, the first being when her parents introduced her to
the food group and the second when she was in the hospital after giving birth to Job and
she was so groggy from Demerol she was barely aware she was eating, better yet that
someone had slipped her a sandwich with a secondand to her thinking, completely
unnecessaryslice of bread.
After finishing two open-face
sandwiches, a plate full of potato chips, and three Oreo cookies, Erta looked up at the
clock. Twenty-six minutes had passed since Jackson Robert had gone to find the boys, an
appropriate amount of time to elapse before worrying about where her family had
disappeared to, though nowhere near long enough to call the Missing Persons Bureau. She
walked to the front door and opened her mouth to summon them. She stood with her mouth
agape, then snapped it shut; not only did calling them feel awfully futile at this point,
but she was afraid that the power of her yell might propel her just eaten lunch from its
satisfied resting place in her stomach. She went down the steps to the sidewalk and looked
in both directions but didn't see a soul. She walked to the broken yellow line in the
middle of the street and looked, but still couldn't see anyone. She stood with her hands
on her hips and frowned. Walking back to the house, she went around to the backyard as if
expecting to find the three missing family members sitting in webbed lounge chairs
laughing riotously at their successful practical joke.
The yard was empty, as it should
Erta went into the kitchen and
picked up the bowl of egg salad. Tearing off a piece of Saran Wrap, she covered the bowl
and placed it in the refrigerator. She picked up her purse, fished around inside for her
car keys, and walked to the back door. Next stop: downtown. Stopping with her hand on the
doorknob, she bowed her head. "Lord, please protect my family, wherever they've run
off to. They may not be the best, but they're what you've given me, and I'm doing what I
can with them. I'm going to search for them in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ, so please
help bring us together. At least let us all be sitting in the same car before the
afternoons over. Amen."
* * * * * *
"If I can't find my shoes I
guess I just can't go," Hanner told her mother.
"They've got to be around
here somewhere," her mother said. "Think. Where was the last place you remember
"When I got home last week I
took them up to my room and hung them on the hook inside my closet door like I always
"Well they didn't jump off
the hook and dance away."
"You never know."
Hanner's mother raised her left
eyebrow and scowled. Hanner did an excellentand extremely
unflatteringimitation of her mother, which was neither a brave nor foolishly rash
thing to do since it was largely hidden from her mother's view by her sheep-doggish bangs.
"Okay, okay," Hanner
said, "I'll go look again. But I know they're not up there."
She trotted up the stairs to her
room and sat on the bed. Picking up a dog-eared copy of Tomorrow's World Science
Fiction Magazine, she leaned against the wall and brushed the hair from her eyes,
knowing it was a safe bet she could finish the story she'd been reading before her mother
finally gave up on the shoes and let her skip ballet class.
Hanner had taken her first ballet
lesson two weeks before her seventh birthday. From the very start she demonstrated
absolutely no talent, aptitude, interest, or curiosity in the dance; the only reason she
continued was her mother had once held aspirations to be a dancer and always regretted
having given them up to marry Hanner's father, and what was good enough to cause Mom's
frustrations was good enough to do the same to her daughter. Traditions, you see, are
often borne out of vindictiveness.
For five years shed been
sent to ballet class once a week, and for the first two years she actually went. After
that she dutifully carried her pink leotard, tights, tutu, and ballet slippers through the
front door of Miss Myra's Academy of The Dance and stood just inside until she was sure
her mother had driven away. Then she left the building, skipped the two blocks to the
Bowled Over Lanes where she proceeded to shoot pool for the next hournever walking
away with less than seven dollars in winningsand skipped the two blocks back so
shed be sitting on the front steps of the academy waiting patiently for her mother
to pick her up.
Hanner would have felt guilty
about both the elaborate subterfuge and the wasting of her father's hard-earned money were
it not for the fact that she wasnt paying Miss Myra for the unused dance classes. At
the beginning of each month her father gave her the tuition money in cash, for as the
president of a bank he felt strongly that cash was the only true representation of money,
resorting to checks only when money had to be sent through the mail and neverbut
absolutely neverusing a credit card. And each month Hanner would dutifully deposit
the money in a secret passbook savings account in a branch of her father's own Penultimate
National Bank, an unfailing discipline which would result in a balance of $2445.30
including interest compounded quarterly. At home, Hanner insisted on
"practicing" in private, and her parentswho had neither the time nor the
interestnever seemed to notice the lack of dance recitals.
But on this day Hanner didn't
want to go to ballet class or to shoot pool, for she felt like she was going to break out
in tears any second. It wasn't that she was upset, depressed, or in a bad mood, though in
fact she was a bit of all three; the truth was those feelings were the byproducts of her
soon-to-be bloating, cramping, and menstruating, for Hanner was on the precipice of
womanhood, a mere twelve hours short of experiencing her first period. Thus she devised
the famous lost ballet slippers ploy.
"Come on, honey," her
mother called from downstairs.
"I can't go," Hanner
yelled back, "I'll break my toes if I try to dance without my shoes."
"It's okay if I break my
toes?" Hanner said incredulously. "What kind of thing is that for a
mother to say?"
"No, honey, of course I
don't want you to break your toes," her mother said as she entered her bedroom,
dangling a pair of pink ballet slippers in front of her. "Look what I found."
"Well what do you know? My
"They were jammed up behind
the washing machine. How they got there I'll never know."
"Gee, me neither Mom."
"Let's get a move on or
you're going to be late," her mother said as she looked at Hanner's magazine and
shook her head disapprovingly. "And while were downtown remind me to buy you
something decent to read."
Hanner stood up and followed her
mother to the car, carrying her pink leotard, tights, tutu, and new-found slippers. She
winced as the walls of her uterus contracted, a mild precursor of what was to come like
clockwork every twenty-eight days for the next forty-three years. She knew she was going
to have to find something else to keep her occupied today, somehow she just didn't think
she was going to be in the mood to shoot pool.
* * * * * *
"Nice fuckin' car,"
Johnny sneered as he lit a fresh cigarette with a bent and diminishing butt.
"What the hell's wrong with
it?" the Turk asked defensively, steering the car with one hand while the other hung
out the open window.
"Listen to the piece of
shit," Johnny said, turning down the radio. "It sounds like it's gonna rattle
itself apart any second."
"Ya don't like it, ya don't
have to ride in it. I don't see us ridin' around in your hot shit wheels."
"That's 'cause they're being
"The fuck they are,"
the Turk said. "They're grounded for the rest of your fuckin' life and you fuckin'
"Hah, whada you
know?" Johnny said as he reached over and nonchalantly dropped his lit cigarette in
the Turk's lap.
"What the fuck?!"
The Turk frantically brushed at
his crotch trying to knock away the glowing ember which had come off the cigarette and
attached itself to his now burning Levi's. He raised himself from the seat, the fireless
cigarette falling to the floor as the hot burning tip rolled underneath him, wedging
itself in the crack between the seat back and the bottom cushion.
"Careful you don't burn that
little thing," Johnny taunted, "one day you might need it."
"What the fuck'd you do that
for, you airhole?"
"Airhole?" Johnny said
in mock insult.
"Hey, get that thing outta
there before it burns the damned seat."
"What do you care about the
seat for, anyway?" Johnny asked. "It ain't your car."
The Turk steered as he half stood
up, sneaking glances at the seat underneath him and brushing it with his right hand.
"Where the hell is it?"
"That's the same thing the
girls ask you, isn't it?"
"Real fuckin' funny,"
the Turk said, looking from the road to the seat and back again. "You're as funny as
a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward."
"Watch where you're
goin'," Johnny said as he grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it hard right.
"You tryin' to kill us or what?"
"Where's the fuckin'
Johnny reached down and picked it
up off the floor. "Here. Feel better?"
"The lit part, damn
"Sit down. You'll find
"Shit, I already burned my
pecker, I don't need to singe the hair on my ass too."
"You haven't got a
hair on your baby-smooth ass," Johnny mocked. "Just sit down and shut up."
The Turk took his eyes off the
road again, looking down at the seat as he twisted and arched his body. As he began to
untwist, the heel of his right foot slipped, ramming his foot hard on the accelerator. As
the car lurched forward, Johnny grabbed the steering wheel, forcing the Turk even farther
"Hit the brakes!"
"I can't!" the Turk
shouted, his foot wedged tight between the accelerator and the brake, pumping a steady
stream of high octane gas into the four-barrel carburetor.
The car jumped up on the
sidewalk, missing a parked car by inches. As it plowed through a wire mesh trash can and
onto the grassy lawn in front of TV station WMDP, Johnny thrust his foot to the Turk's
side of the console to hit the brakes.
"Oww! That's my fuckin'
ankle!" the Turk screamed.
"Well get it the fuck outta
Johnny hit the brake pedal with
all his might, releasing the Turk's stuck foot and in turn letting up the gas pedal. The
Turk plopped down in his seat and stomped on the brakes.
"You're breakin' my foot,
asshole!" Johnny yelled.
The brakes locked as the car
skidded across the newly resodded oh-so-perfectly-kept lawn, the tires digging deep as the
sod squares lifted up, popped out, and flew into the air behind the car. They steered hard
to the left, both of them gripping the wheel and trying to turn it farther than any
engineer had intended. The car skidded towards the retaining wall around the building, the
large aluminum letters "WMDP" looming large in the windshield.
"Jesus Mary and
Joseph!" the Turk yelled. "My ass is on fire!"
He pressed even harder on the
brake pedal as he stood up and brushed the embers from the seat of his pants. As he did,
his other hand grabbed the steering wheel, knocking Johnny's hand off. The Turk spun the
steering wheel around the other way, causing the car to spin 180 degrees. The rear of the
car smashed into the brick retaining wall, knocking the "W" and the
"D" from the wall while crushing the "M" and the "P".
The car convulsed hard, then
became perfectly still. Johnny looked over at the Turk.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I think so," the Turk
said tentatively as he patted his arms, legs, and head. "'Cept my foot's crushed and
my ass is burnt."
"Don't forget your
"How could I?"
"Everyone else has,"
Johnny said as he turned and looked at the rear of the car. "Lookin' good back
"Shit, now we've done
it," the Turk said. "What are we gonna do about the car?"
"Leave it," Johnny said
as he popped open the car door. "Whoever owns it is can get their insurance company
to cough up the bucks. Hell, that's what they got insurance for, right?" He got out
of the car, dusted himself off, and looked curiously at the large blue and orange tent
that had sprouted up on the next block.
"Besides, it was a piece a
* * * * * *
"It's a great little
car," Rubber Boots father said into the telephone. "It may be old, but
it's reliable. It's our only means of transportation and it's been stolen." He placed
his index finger next to his temple and rotated it in a circle.
"Those are the cops you're
calling crazy," Rubber Boots protested.
His father stuck his hand inside
the front of his shirt and his tongue out of the corner of his mouth: Napoleon files a
stolen vehicle report. Rubber Boots started giggling. It might have been the Scottish
blood which dominated his veins, or it might have been a defensive response to being force
fed kilotons of organ-enriched haggis by a grandmother who was born without taste buds,
but the only thing Duncan took seriously was that nothing was to be taken seriously. Most
adults, including Boots' mother, would have been ranting and raving and demanding
immediate action. Duncan, on the other hand, had spent most of the phone conversation
patientlyand ramblinglyexplaining why locating an aging family car in dire
need of a ring job, transmission overhaul, and four new tires should be the top police
"I would dearly love to come
downtown and file a full report, but in order for me to do so you'll have to find and
return my car, which is, after all, my primary, secondary, and tertiary mode of
transportation," Duncan explained. He put his right hand over the mouthpiece of the
phone. "Tertiary: the big cage in a zoo where they keep the wild tershes," he
whispered to Rubber Boots. "A taxi?" he asked into the phone. "Why I don't
recall ever having the good fortune of seeing one of those beasts in this fineand
until today, amazingly law-abidinghamlet." He looked at Rubber Boots.
"Ever seen a taxi cab around here, son? You know, those big yellow things with a
light on top that only pick up riders in nice weather?" He spoke into the phone
again. "My son's never even heard of a taxi, though I must say I expect his ignorance
will only increase if he can never go to school again because his poor father no longer
has a car in which to drive the poor lad. So, you say you can send a policeman to come
take our report in the convenience and privacy of our own living room?...Of course you
didn't say that, and I'd never put words in your mouth. My motherrest her soul
whenever she may finally decide to dietaught me that was a very unsanitary practice,
and I hold my mother's teachings to be very very dear. It was merely a suggestion, and a
rather good one at that, should I be so humble as to say so myself."
Duncan put his palm over his
mouth to stifle a fake yawn as he closed his eyes and pretended to fall asleep. "So
where would you suggest I find one of these cabs of which you've been speaking so
highly?...The phone book...And I suppose the yellow pages would be the proper place to
find a yellow cab, is that correct?...There are no Yellow Cabs, only Paradise Cabs...Well,
thank you very much for your help, it's been a little teeny-tiny sliver of heaven. What
was your name again?...Josetti. Is that one word or two?...Excellent choice of a name,
Scottish, isn't it? I'll be sure to ask for you when we arrive at your place of
He hung up the phone and stuck
his tongue out panting. "Ho-ly Mo-ly! What you don't have to go through to talk to a
law enforcement officer these days. You'd think we were the robbers instead of the
"What now, dear father of
"Don your galoshes and pop
open the champagne, my boy, for today we are a-celebrating. You and I are about to embark
on an adventure to discover the wonderful world of Paradise Taxi Cabs." He looked
absolutely invigorated. "We're taking a trip downtown."
* * * * * *
"Shaftner goes to Guadeloupe
and I get to go downtown. That, my dear son, is what's known as the pecking
order." Neckless' mother sat in the driver's seat of her car speaking to no one.
"Honey, where are you?"
Neckless was slowly making his
way along the outside of the car, his left hand caressing the well-waxed sheet metal,
guiding him towards the front door. Fumbling for the handle, he pushed the button and
opened the door, climbing in next to his mother.
"I'm sorry, Mom. What'd you
"I said if you'd pull your
shirt down from around your head we could get a move on."
"That's not true."
"Why of course it is,"
she said as she started the engine. "The way you keep your face buried like that you
end up moving like a paraplegic snail, feebly groping your slowpoke way through life. And
besides that, it's next to impossible to hear a damned thing you say. Why in the world
would you want to handicap yourself like that?"
"That's not what you
"What's not what I
"Before I got in the car you
said something about Mr. Shaftner. I may not be able to see, but I'm not deaf."
His mother put the car in reverse
and backed out of the driveway, trying to set a new land speed record for accelerating
from 0-60 mph in reverse. Neckless' mother knew two driving techniques, hard acceleration
and locked brakes, making a simple trip to the store with her more nerve-wracking than
trying to take a nap on the track at the Indy 500.
"Oh, I don't remember,"
she told him. "Whatever it was wasn't important. What is important is that we
take care of this mess and get out of the station before we get trapped. You know how it
is down there; everyone and their grandmother has something that just has to have
my attention and it always has to be right away. Sometimes I think if I wasn't there the
station would just dry up and blow away."
"We almost there?"
"No, pumpkin. Do you want me
to tell you what we're passing?"
"At the rate you drive, it's
probably just a big blur," is what Neckless wanted to say, but instead he just
"We just went past the
library. I don't know why we even have to go down there. I mean, so what if someone drove
into the wall? What do they want me to do, rebuild it? The cops are there, they'll handle
the crime. The TV cameras are only twenty feet inside the building, so they've got the
storyif theres a story to be had. And the phone numbers of the brick masons,
gardeners, and maintenance people are all on Shaftner's Rolodex. Besides, no one will show
up to fix anything until Monday morning anyway, so what do they need me for?"
"One day you'll learn that a
person's indispensability is merely the reflection of everyone else's incompetency."
"So that's what it is
"Hey," she said in mock
insult, "who's side are you on, anyway?"
"Not you, buster. By the
way, we just passed some big orange and blue tent, so we're almost there."
"Orange and blue tent?"
"I dont put them
up," his mother said matter-of-factly, "I just report them as I see them."
As the car careened around the
next corner, tires squealing as usual, Neckless' mother let out a chuckle. "Holy
shit!...I mean shoot. Is that it? They called me down here on my day off for that?. Big
effin' deal. You ought to take a look at this, sweetie."
"That's okay," Neckless
She pulled into the parking lot
and jammed on the brakes. Neckless jerked forward, his head barely missing the dashboard,
then flopped back. There were four police cars, one paddy wagon, a mobile crime lab,
twelve copsincluding two canine officersand camera crews from two TV stations,
neither of which was WMDP. Neckless and his mother got out of the car.
"I'd better get a reporter
out here before we're scooped on our own front lawn," his mother said. "After
all, its obvious this is the crime of the century."
"Maybe it's got something to
do with the robberies," Neckless said.
His mother looked at him, raised
an eyebrow, and shook her head. "Out of the hidden mouths of babes..." she said
as she sprinted across the parking lot towards the TV station. "Don't wander
off," she yelled back to him, "I won't be long."
Neckless opened the car door and
slid across the seat. He pulled the rubber band from the top of his turtleneck and pulled
the shirt down just enough so he could peek out and get a glimpse of the blue and orange
tent theyd passed two blocks back.
"Take your time," he
said to himself. "I can keep myself occupied."
* * * * * *
Tripoli climbed into the red,
white and blue Jeep which sat in the Post Office parking lot. Behind the seat was a stack
of mail trays which had just taken him an hour and a half of sorting to place in the exact
order of his route. He started the engine and backed out of the space, driving through the
lot toward the guard house but turning right just before reaching it. At the far end of
the parking lot he pulled up behind a red Chevy Malibu convertible. He jumped out of the
Jeep and looked around, making sure no one was watching, then opened the trunk of the
Malibu and grabbed a brown grocery store bag. Nervously looking around again, he jumped in
the Jeep and made a quick U-turn.
Slowing down as he reached the
small guard house, Tripoli waved to the security guard as he drove by. In all the years
he'd been with the post office, Tripoli had yet to see the guard stop anyone from
entering, make anyone sign on their way out, examine a vehicle's contents, or do anything
to make him feel more secure other than wave and smile at each passing vehicle. Waving and
smiling. Here was a job Tripoli could set his career sights on: Homecoming Queen of the
United States Postal Service.
He pulled out of the lot and made
a left, the sun streaming through the windshield warming the inside of the Jeep. He made a
right on Broad Street and was headed towards the starting point of his route when he
spotted something out of the corner of his eye. Several blocks down Broad Street was a
large tent, the size of a good-sized circus, with wide blue and orange stripes. He
strained to see if there was a sign, but his efforts ended abruptly when the sound of a
car horn startled him. He looked in his rear view mirror, then noticed that the light had
changed and there were no longer any cars in front of him. He stepped on the gas and made
a wide U-turn.
He spun the car around and turned
left on Elmwood, pulling to the curb halfway up the block. The houses along this stretch
were set way back from the street, being surrounded by huge grassy lots which the owners
would never dream of personally mowing. He stopped the Jeep in front of the perfectly
manicured hedges which marked the property line between two houses. He opened the paper
bag, then looking around to make sure no one was walking a dog or mowing a lawn, he
unbuttoned his shirt. In less than three minutes he had stripped down to his underwear, no
mean feat considering how hard it was to take off his pants and shoes while sitting behind
the steering wheel, then neatly folded his post office uniform and placed it on the floor.
He pulled the fresh clothes from the brown grocery bag and put them on over the lacy black
tap pants and camisole he'd worn under his uniform.
Feeling rejuvenated, he drove to
the first house on his route, which was right down the block from the blue and orange
striped tent. As he stepped out of the Jeep, he looked at himself in the murky reflection
of the side window of the vehicle. He straightened the shoulder pads under the white
cotton blouse with the Peter Pan collar and adjusted the pleats of the dark blue wool
skirt. He leaned down and smoothed the wrinkles from his navy blue panty hose, then spit
on his finger and rubbed away a scuff mark on his deep blue flats. He'd really rather have
worn his new Papaggallo pumps but with all the walking he was going to have to do, he knew
hed made the sensible choice.
He reached into the Jeep and
pulled out a brown leather satchel, filled it with mail, and stepped back to admire his
reflection in the window of the Jeep.
"Damn it," he said to
himself as he slung the satchel over his shoulder, "I just hate carrying a brown bag
with a navy blue outfit; it looks so tacky."
* * * * * *
Nina at Nine wasnt a pretty
sight. Not this morning, anyway. Normally by nine oclock in the morning shed
already been awake for three hours, during which time she drank three cups of coffee, ate
a soft boiled egg (which she hated with a passion but ate religiously because the sight of
it made her husband sick and that meant delaying his company at the breakfast table by at
least twenty minutes), spent fifteen minutes with cucumber slices on her eyes to get rid
of the morning puffiness then another ten with tea bags to complete the impossible task,
and had her hair and makeup done at A Cut Above Hair Salon ("It'll look fine in two
weeks") on her way to the TV station.
But at nine o'clock on this
particular Saturday morning Nina stood in a strange bedroom, looking from the
sheet-covered figure lying in the bed to the dreadful image she presented in the
full-length mirror: eyes more swollen than toasted Sta-Puft marshmallows, hair spiking out
from her head at obtuse angles, and last night's make-up smeared into an otherworldly
fashion that even Vogue couldn't handle. She looked like hell's reject.
She sat down on the edge of the
bed, massaging the hangover from her temples.
"You want to go out for some
breakfast?" a voice asked.
"I really don't think my
stomach could stand any food right now," Nina said. "Besides, I can't go out in
public looking like this."
Crunchy Castleton sat up in bed
and began to gently massage Nina's neck. "I see blueberry pancakes with boysenberry
syrup and a big pot of coffee at the Waffle House coming into your life."
"Don't start predicting the
future again, I don't think I can take it this early in the day."
"But I was right, wasn't
I?" Crunchy asked as she lightly ran her fingernails along Nina's spine. "I said
you'd wake up in a strange place with someone new, didn't I?"
"And I said your sex life
would improve. Did it?"
"And I told you your TV show
would be syndicated very soon, right?"
"We'll have to see about
"Trust me," Crunchy
Nina thought about her husband,
still in Las Vegas at the National Association of Broadcasters' convention doing
God-knows-what with God-knows-who and God knows Nina absolutely didn't give a good
goddamn. She felt Crunchy's fingers softly massage her scalp.
"Come to think of it, going
downtown for blueberry pancakes with boysenberry syrup and a hu-u-u-uge pot of coffee at
the Waffle House sounds real good," Nina agreed as she turned and gazed mischievously
into Crunchys eyes. "For dessert."
* * * * * *
"Where are they?" Jem
"In my office," the
slight, balding man replied.
"Can I talk to them
The man nodded as he opened the
glass-paneled door. Jem walked in and looked at her son Ralph, who stood next to his
friends Bobby Biggs and Timmy Padget, all lined up with their hands clasped behind their
backs and their heads bowed in fearful supplication.
"Exactly what is going on
here?" she quietly demanded.
The boys stared at the floor in
silence. Actually, there was a simple explanation which they could have offered up had any
of them wanted to spend the rest of his life raking leaves, washing dishes, and doing
every other menial chore his parents could dream upand Lord knows parents are
experts at that, having majored in Chore Assignment before getting their degree from
The boys had come to Davidson's
Toy Store for the express purpose of stealing a pink Spaulding ball to replace the one
which had so rudely rolled down the storm drain to join its 1,423 brothers and sisters.
Although Ralph pitched the ball, and Bobby hit it, they took a telepathic vote and decided
that Timmy would be the one to do the shoplifting since, according to them, he was the one
who should have caught the ball before it committed sewercide.
While they'd been suspiciously
roaming the aisles full of toys, Ralph handed Timmy a blue plastic maze filled with
mercury and told him to stick it under his shirt, glaring hard to let him know he didn't
have a choice in the matter. Not if he wanted to live to see thirteen, anyway. Then Bobby
walked up behind him and stuck a balsa glider under the back of his shirt. Timmy eyed the
gauntlet, more commonly known as the checkout counter, that stood between him and the
safety of the street when a bright red Crash-Mobile caught his eye. For months now, maybe
even years, he'd been dying to have one of the plastic cars that explode into a pile of
pseudo sheet metal body parts when it collides with a solid object like a table leg or a
wall, and hell, what's a little bigger heist in the budding world of adolescent petty
Looking around to make sure the
coast was clear, he quickly stuck the Crash Mobile down the front of his pants. Ralph and
Bobby were standing by the front door motioning for Timmy to hurry and make his getaway.
He took a deep breath and walked by the front counter as nonchalantly as possible, which
wasn't easy thanks to the pink Spaulding ball in his left pocket, the mercury maze under
the front of his shirt, the glider under the back of his shirt, and the Crash Mobile down
his pants which gave him the appearance of having a large, rectangular erection. Not to
mention sporting the guiltiest expression since Al Capone held a six-digit number under
his chin and said "Mozzarella".
As anyone with an ounce of sense
could have predicted, he was stopped. Within seconds he started crying. Before you knew it
he ratted on Ralph and Bobby. And for the rest of his life he would never live it down.
No one was home when the
managerglaring at the boys as if they were the brains behind a tri-state crime
ringcalled Timmy's house. Neither did he have any better luck at Bobby's. This being
Ralph's lucky day, his mother answered the phone on the second ring and made it to
Davidson's in less than ten minutes.
"I didnt come all the
way downtown for nothing," Jem said impatiently. "Now someone tell me what is
going on here."
The boys continued to stare at
"We were framed," Ralph
finally said without lifting his head. "I swear we were."
* * * * * *
"But why do we all
have to go?" Jets older cousin Jello whined from the back seat of the car.
"Because it will make your
mother happy," his father said, knowing that the more they could keep Aunt Doris
happy the better chance they had of not finding her in the kitchen with the gas on again.
"Well if shes so
happy, why do we have to see the shrink?" the younger cousin Jello said as she got
out of the car. His mother was standing on the sidewalk looking at the red brick Miland
Medical Center building.
"Come along," she said
as she started walking up the concrete steps. "I don't know why this has to be such
an ordeal every week. You'd think we were coming here to have a family root canal or
something. Tie your shoelaces before you trip and break your neck and button the top
button on your shirt, you're not going to play with your little school friends, you
know." She stood at the front door tapping her foot impatiently until Uncle Jello
came up and opened it for her. She barged into the hallway, followed by the three Jellos.
"The only reason I'm coming here today is because I need to get my prescription
refilled and he won't do it over the phone. He's so picky about that I just can't stand
it. It seems to me a phone's as good as a visit anyway, I mean it's not like he needs to
use some fancy equipment or anything, all we do is talk. I think it's all a plotall
doctor's do it, you knowthey make you come in for your prescription so they can
charge you for an office visit, take some blood and tinkle, and make you pay outrageous
fees to the lab that wouldn't be so high except for the huge kickback the doctor gets just
so he can buy another fancy schmancy new car while we have to drive around in that
ka-ka-mobile because someone I know can't seem to get ahead in his job."
She stopped in front of a wood
door and turned to wait for her family, who rather conveniently walked just far enough
behind her to be out of earshot. When they'd all straggled up, she shook her head and gave
them a dirty look, glaring at Uncle Jello until he remembered to open the door for her.
She marched right up to the receptionist-who-was-dressed-like-a-nurse who looked up in
surprise and dropped the copy of Proletariat Passion in St. Petersburg Prison she
"We're here to see Dr.
Kricko," Aunt Doris said, as if the receptionist hadn't seen them come in every
Saturday for the past three years.
"I'm terribly sorry, but the
doctor was called out on an emergency," the receptionist told her. "I tried to
call you several times, but I guess you'd already left because I didn't get any
answer." She looked at the blank stares. "I really did," she added
"What kind of an emergency
does a shrink get called out on," the elder cousin Jello asked, "a coming out
party for a schizo's new personality?"
"Thanks for coming to
my party Doc, but I think Id better split now," his sister said as they
both broke up laughing.
Aunt Doris glared at them,
burning huge, smoldering lobotomy holes through their foreheads with her eyes. They froze.
"Well, this is a fine
howdy-do," she said, "not that I'll miss having the appointment, but we did get
dressed and ready bright and early and now I won't even be able to get my new
prescription, which is the only reason we came here anyway."
The receptionist handed her a
slip of paper. "The doctor left this for you and said he was really sorry he couldn't
be here, but you're more than welcome to go into his office and talk among yourselves if
"I don't think that'll be
necessary," Aunt Doris said, "but thanks for the offer. No, since we're already
downtown and dressed up I think we can find something better to do, don't you?"
Uncle Jello raised his eyebrows
and shrugged his shoulders. The elder cousin Jello made a face and shook his head
no. His sister Jello practically jumped up and down as she nodded her head
energetically. Aunt Doris walked to the door and waited for Uncle Jello to open it for
"Surely there must be something
else to do downtown on a Saturday afternoon," she said.
* * * * * *
The cream colored van made a
right turn onto Broad Street. Perched on the roof were four grey metal loudspeakers,
lashed together with electrical cord so one faced in each direction. The driver was very
clean cut in his short hair and dark blue suit. He reached over and switched on the tape
recorder that sat next to him on the car seat.
"Do you ask yourself, 'What
is happening to thiS world that I Know and love?'," the smooth, accentless voice
blared, jolting the driver as he grabbed the volume control and turned it down. "Do
you wonder why the very foundation of our society appears to be crumbling beneath our
weary feet? Are you afraid that the insidious creeping of moral decay is taking hold like
the roots of an evil weed that grows at a wild rate and takes over everything in its path?
Do you go to bed at night and lie awake wondering whether there is an answer to the
questions THAT we ask? Well, tonight you WILL BE ABLE TO sleep better, for you will BE
SAFE IN THE KNOWLEDGE that there is INDEED an answer."
Jose Rosenbloom stood at the side
of the road and watched the van. It didn't look or sound like it belonged on Broad Street,
but then again, at the moment neither did Jose. He'd been on his way to his grandmother's
house for what had developed into a Saturday tradition: mowing the grass, raking the
leaves, shoveling the walk, or any other chore his grandmother could dream up that he
could complete in about two hours in exchange for $10 in good old American cash.
Since no one was home to drive
him, he walked the two blocks from his house to the bus stop. He sat on the bench,
drifting off to sleep, his humongous head dropping to his chest. Jose had been up late the
night before futilely trying to convince Lockjaw Jamison that French kissing didn't
qualify as "going all the way". Suddenly, Jose was jarred awake by the sound of
a bus driver releasing his air brakes. He jumped up and clambered aboard, riding with his
eyes closed while his hands massaged away the agonizing crick that can develop in a neck
that sustains the weight of the Earth's Largest Head.
When Jose opened his eyes and
looked out the window he discovered the sights of Broad Street, a sure sign he'd gotten on
the wrong bus. He pulled the cord above his seat and got off at the next corner. As he
walked down the street towards the blue and orange striped tent he put his hand out with
his thumb cocked hoping to catch a ride, for Jose had blown the last three coins of the
previous week's chore money getting on the wrong bus.
* * * * * *
"THE ANSWER IS NOT
DIFFICULT," the voice blared from the speakers on top of the van. "The answer is
not a classified secret. The answer is as refreshing as an ice-cold glass of lemonade
AFTER mowing the lawn on a hot summer's afternoon. It's as simple as a new-born baby's
smile, yet as all- inclusive as the twenty-volume set of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. It
can slip through your fingers like the sands of life, or be saved up and earning interest
like the Rockefeller's bank account. Yes, the answer is right before your eyes and it's
yours for the asking."
"Did you see that?" Old
Man Cordins wife asked as they drove past the van.
"See what?" he asked in
"You saw it, didn't
you?" she asked Whitey Heppelwhite, who was sitting in the back seat.
"You mean the van?"
"What van?" Cordin
"The one we just
"I missed it. I was
Whitey said. "You just keep your eyes on the road."
"I wonder why it had those
big loudspeaker things on the roof."
"Probably so the driver
wouldn't have to yell at all the idiots on the road," Cordin said.
"Now that sounds like a good
idea," Whitey agreed.
"Or maybe some kids put them
there as a prank and he doesn't even know it yet."
"You two are both
crazy," Mrs. Cordin said, shaking her head.
"May be, but we're also cute
as the dickens," Cordin replied.
The three of them had been at a
meeting of the Central Merchants' Association, a social group masquerading as a civic
association which included most of the town's store owners. They made it a point to get
together in the so-called banquet room of the Thrif-T Motel once a month, generally
getting no more accomplished than if they'd stayed home and slept, except of course that
this way they had the pleasure of not accomplishing it together. As the CMA's motto
declared, "United to Sell, Dividing the Profits."
This month's non-meeting had gone
beyond unproductiveness and ventured into a new frontier called nonexistent, which fit
right in with Whitey's long-standing feeling that there are only two types of good
meetings: postponed and canceled. It seems that CMA president Babe Davidson, who owned the
eponymous toy store on Broad Street where Ralph and his friends were presently under house
arrest for shoplifting, had changed the meeting to the coming Wednesday night because it
was to be their first ever awards banquet. Although he dutifully mailed the notices to the
members, no one got them, for the stack of sixty-four envelopes had been used by a clerk
at the post office to temporarily replace a caster which had fallen off his sorting cart.
He wouldnt remember them until Monday morning, at which time he cast them into the
ever-flowing mail stream, leaving them to arrive one day before the dinner and three days'
after Saturdays canceled meeting.
Thus everyone showed up for the
meeting except Babe and the six other people on the awards dinner planning committee. When
they couldnt reach Babewho was in his office preoccupied with Jem, Ralph,
Timmy, and Bobbythey adjourned the meeting before it was called to order, for there
wasnt a single officer in attendance who was capable of holding the meeting.
"Well, at least we got away
from work for a little while," Whitey said optimistically as they passed a young
hitchhiker with an oversized head trying to catch a ride down Broad Street.
"Why dont we stop for
a cup of coffee before we go back to work?" Old Man Cordin asked. He took the silent
response to mean they liked the idea, when in fact they were preoccupied by the large blue
and orange tent they spotted off in the distance.
* * * * * *
"BUT YOU MUST ASK, OR YOU
WILL NOT RECEIVE," the voice continued from atop the van, "for while the answer
is available to every man, woman, boy, or girl, it is only FOR those prepared to accept
it, to take it in, and to nourish it. You must welcome it with open arms. You must be able
to say to yourself, 'I am ready to hear and accept the answer.' Then, and only then, will
you learn the truth."
Miss Hellstrom looked up at the
van, broadcasting its message to everyone within earshot, regardless of whether they were
receptive, interested, not paying any attention, or just sonically assaulted. She looked
at the piece of paper in her hand which held the only answer she needed this morning.
She'd waited all week for this moment. Because of her school schedulewhich due to
faculty meetings, department meetings, planning sessions, etc. wasn't the simple eight to
four o'clock job everyone thought it wasshe'd had an impossible time trying to set
up this appointment. And because of the desperate need she felt to keep it, she had
absolutely no compunction about taking up her normally cherished Saturday morning leisure
She stopped in front of a narrow
doorway sandwiched between the Randy Bar and the Help, Grape! wine shop. She looked at the
piece of paper, then back at the door; this was the place, okay. She took a deep breath,
smiled to herself, and reached for the doorknob. It wouldn't turn. She pushed hard on the
door, but it wouldn't budge. Looking futilely for a doorbell to ring, she knocked hard on
the wood door while rattling the knob.
After several minutes of banging
and turning, she took a step back and looked at her watch. She was positive this was the
time they'd agreed on, and this was definitely the place, for the sign on the door read:
We don't find new jobs,
we start new lives"
Frustrated, she kicked the
door as hard as she could, then looked around to see if anyone had been watching. She
turned and walked away, surely she could find something to do on Broad Street to waste a
little time before coming back to try again later.
* * * * * *
"MANY PEOPLE CLAIM TO KNOW
THE TRUTH, CLAIM THEY KNOW THE ANSWERS," the voice continued over the loudspeakers,
"but few of them do. Most are false prophets, misguided malcontents, or your
run-of-the-mill know-it-alls. How do you know the truth when you hear it? You just do;
it's as simple as that. The truth will make you feel good. The truth will make you smile.
The truth will set your mind at ease and relax your body. The truth is the tonic that
cures iron-poor blood and the sedative that makes you sleep like a baby. The truth will
not only set you free, it will blast you into a rapturous orbit like a rocket ship. The
truth is your freedom and the guided missile of life."
A white car with the large
letters "WMDP-TV" on the side drove past the van.
"What the hell was
that?" Steady Steadman, cameraman and reporter's chauffeur asked Christie Enhart.
"An early form of
radio," Christie told him with a straight face, "from back in the days when very
few people had receivers."
"Damn. If that had caught on
I wouldn't have me a job."
"Nah, you would've been
okay; a few years later they added the visuals to it."
Steady laughed. "I can't
believe we're covering this thing," he said.
"You know how it goes, some
joker calls and says it'll be worth our while and the powers-that-be don't want to take
the chance of missing a story," Christie said as she lit another cigarette.
"Besides, it's a slow news day."
Steady heard a horn honk and
looked over to see a van pull up beside them with the letters "WKHK-TV6" painted
on the side.
"Someone must have spent a
busy morning on the phone," Steady said.
* * * * * *
"THE TRUTH WILL BE TOLD TO
THOSE WISE ENOUGH TO ACCEPT IT," the voice continued over the loudspeaker.
"Health for the infirmed, faith for the sick at heart, an uplifting experience for
young and old alike."
Officer Milo Jenkins picked up
the microphone in his unmarked police car. "Dispatch, this is Jenkins, patch me
through to the D.A."
"Hang tight," the
disemboweled voice replied, "I'll put you through."
After a brief pause, assistant
District Attorney Mary Charles Scott's voice sputtered across the airwaves, "What's
the emergency, Jenkins?"
"No emergency, M.C., I need
some expert legal advice."
"You've called the right
person," she said. "What's up?"
"I need to know if a van
driving down Broad Street with loudspeakers on top blaring some obnoxious tape recorded
shit is violating any laws. I'm figuring on disturbing the peace, but I wanna know if
there's something more specific."
"I'm amazed you're
calling," she said. "I thought S.O.P. was to pull 'em first and ask questions
"It is," Jenkins said
with a smile. "But since Ive already gone ahead and pulled them, I figured it
was time to find out what to charge them with."
"TODAY THROUGH WEDNESDAY
ONLY," the tape went on, nearly drowning out Jenkins' radio conversation. "in
the parking lot of the old Two Guys store. Look for the big blue and orange tent. It's
wholesome fun for the whole family!"
A car pulled to the side of the
road across the street from Jenkins. A man jumped out holding a Nikon camera with a long
lens. He leaned up against his car and waited for Jenkins to get out of his car and
approach the van with the blaring loudspeakers.
"This'll make a great story,
even if the photo's kinda weak," the photographer said to himself. "But they can
always retouch a name on the side of the van. I can see the headline now: 'God Pulled For
Spreading The Gospel'. Shit, the Scene'll love it!"
Jenkins spoke to the driver of
the van, pointing towards the blue and oragne striped tent in the distance. The van pulled
away from the curb, the police car following close behind. The photographer jumped in his
car and made a sharp U-turn, falling in behind the police car.
"YOU'VE SEEN HIM ON TV, now
witness him in the flesh," the loudspeakers trumpeted. "Come praise the Lord at
an old fashioned revival featuring the Quite Reverend John Joseph Matthew Paul III, live
and in person."
* * * * * *
As it so often does on light
gravity days, Newton's Second Law of Dynamic Convergence was working overtime.
[ Chapter 27 ]