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The Hero Experience - Chapter 13

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 20, 2015 4:05 pm    Post subject: The Hero Experience - Chapter 13 Reply with quote


____________________________________________

Chapter 13

After dinner Friday evening I retired to my room and read the article about the traffic accident for the fourth or fifth time. I had lost count. It was an impressive plug for the Bowmen, especially in view of the fact that we had not phoned in the account ourselves. It had happened two days earlier, and I was still awed by the whole thing. The article contained quotes from people who were at the accident scene, testifying about how helpful and heroic we had been. Strangely, there was very little agreement among the witnesses concerning our descriptions. Our estimated ages ranged from late teens to earlier thirties. All four of us tended to be two inches taller than we actually were. An elderly lady swore that one of us was Hispanic. That was probably Doug with his black hair.

So much for eyewitness accounts.

The thing that impressed everybody the most was that we’d been the first ones at the accident scene, just seconds after it occurred, well before the police and medical personal arrived. It was a touch of magic for this mysterious group of valiant men. The article went into great detail about how we’d rushed to the rescue of the lady trapped in the burning car. Dr. Walter Goldenberg, DDS, stated that the Bowmen impressed him as gentle and caring individuals. I would have preferred dashing and heroic — but hey, you take what you can get.



Naturally, the article made reference to the way we had literally ridden off into the sunset after our work was done — just like The Lone Ranger and Tonto, leaving everyone to ask that age old question.

Who were those masked men? We wanted to thank ‘em!

By the time I had read the article the fifth time, I was actually in awe of myself. Good lord, how did I manage to do all that amazing stuff? I decided that if the other guys wanted to give up the project, I would continue it all by myself. I would become . . . The Lone Bowman!

All in all, the article did wonders to restore our public image. Our second adventure, the one behind the music store, had been a disaster with very little on the plus side — and with several broken laws on the negative side. Our third adventure had been a comic fiasco, but certainly not the kind of performance that would inspire public confidence.

But our appearance at the traffic accident had transformed the public's perception of the Bowmen. Suddenly we had become the talk of the town. Matt Daniels at the Journal-Constitution was obviously making the most of it.

As I lay on the bed in my room, reading the article until I could quote most of it, I could hear my mother in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner. My Dad was settling down in front of the television to watch the evening news. His only reaction to the Bowmen stories thus far was to shake his head slowly and say, “They’re going to end up getting shot.”

I had a hard time deciding what reaction would cause the least amount of suspicion. Should I pretend to be excited about these bold characters running around town acting like my heroes from the comic books? Or should I adopt a mature demeanor and say something about how people should not take the law into their own hands?

In the end I decided to keep quiet and make no comments on the matter at all. I made like Lamont Cranston, alias the Shadow. I clouded the minds of my family with hypnotic brainwaves that lulled them into a false sense of security. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

The Bowmen know . . .

By seven o’clock Mom and Dad were firmly entrenched on the sofa in the den, eagerly waiting for The Andy Griffith Show to start at 9:00 so they could chuckle over Floyd the barber’s earnest efforts to get both of Andy’s sideburns to come out even. Sometimes I felt an awful lot like poor Floyd. Getting the little things right can be a lot harder than it looks.

I peeked into the den to make sure my parents were totally mesmerized by the boob tube, then I snuck into their bedroom and closed the door. I dialed the number Matt Daniels had given us when I had asked him for it a second time, claiming I'd lost it. He answered on the first ring. I spoke in a slow and mellow voice.

“Hello, Mr. Daniels. Captain here.”

His voice went from tired-and-bored all the way to puppy-dog-eager in just under nothing flat.

“Hello there! I’d begun to worry. You didn't call to give me the inside story about that auto accident.”

I hemmed and hawed a bit, then I said, “Yeah, I'm sorry about that. But I wanted to thank you for the nice article you wrote. Very complimentary.”

“Just accurate reporting. The folks at the accident spoke highly of you guys.”

That had a nice sound to it. I carefully selected a humble answer. “We were just glad to help."

“Lots of those folks were very grateful. But the policemen were sorry they didn’t get to meet you.” He chuckled. The thought of being arrested didn’t seem to tickle my funny bone, but I let it pass. He continued. “The witnesses said the lady in the burning car would have been dead in minutes if it weren’t for the Bowmen. And one lady said the tourniquet you tied around her husband's thigh probably kept him from bleeding to death.”

"Actually, Cowboy did that."

"Who?"

"Cowboy. We each have code names to protect out secret identities."

"Wow . . . " Daniels suddenly seemed at a loss for words. The conversation was wandering into Fantasy Land for both of us. I made an effort to bring the discussion back down to Earth.

"Well, like I said, we were just glad to help, Mr. Daniels.”

“And you took a helluva risk in doing so, too. You stayed right there and helped people, even though you knew the cops were on the way. That’s the part that puzzles everybody.”

My head was filled with mental images of an unpleasant situation. “If you’d seen how bad it was, with all those people injured and in pain . . . well, you know.”

Daniels sounded sympathetic. “Yeah, I think I do. I read the police report about the various injuries.” There was a long pause, then he said softly, “You guys should be proud of what you did.”

I felt my throat tighten for a moment, and I had to struggle to sound normal so I wouldn’t embarrass myself. “We appreciate that, sir.“

No need to thank me, Mr. White. That’s why I’m Superman. Just tell Lois to spell all the names right.

Daniels lowered his voice and spoke conspiratorially. “Listen, did you guys really just sneak off while the cops were busy with the victims — or did they decide to let you go?”

Uh-oh. A trick question. I kept it light and casual. “We just faded into the night, Mr. Daniels.”

“Uh-hmmm.” He didn’t sound very convinced, but he didn’t press it. “Well, do you have something for me tonight?”

“No, sir. I just wanted to thank you for the article.”

“You’re very welcome, Captain.” Then the tone of his voice shifted just a hair into the oh-so-casual range. “Hey, the police don’t know what to make of you guys. At first they thought you were dangerous, and then they thought you were crazy, and now they just don’t know what to think. Tell me something. How did you guys first come up with this whole idea?”

He was fishing for info, hunting for a handle on those bozos called the Bowmen. He didn’t want much — just things like our names and addresses and a quote from Sigmund Freud that explained why we ran around wearing masks and shooting phallic symbols at people. I admired his determination, but I figured if Superman could keep Lois Lane from figuring out he was really Clark Kent (a fact that didn’t make Lois seem too bright), I certainly wasn’t going to make it easy for Matt Daniels to unmask the Bowmen.

My voice sounded steady and confident as I said, “We’ll have to talk about that sometime, Mr. Daniels. I’m sure it would make an interesting story for your readers.”

I heard his sigh of resignation. “Right. You betcha’. Meanwhile, stay in touch, okay?”

“Right,” I said, smiling at the phone. As I hung up, my mother came to the door of the bedroom to tell me that Carl was out front, honking for me. I promised her we wouldn’t be out late, then I hurried to join the guys as they waited outside in the Jeep

Warm up the Silver Dart,Ichabod! Captain Midnight is blasting off!
_____________________________________________________________

One week later . . .

My lungs were in agony. They labored to pull in air, but I couldn't get enough. Despite my dizziness I plodded along with relentless determination. My legs were barely able to support me. They were weak and aching.

If I could only go a little further . . . just a little . . . further . . .

I veered off the street and slowed my pace as I started across my own front yard. When my foot dipped into a shallow depression I stumbled and fell, my wobbly legs collapsing beneath me. I crashed down onto the soft grass and lay there for several minutes.

Oh, Lord . . . I’m dying. Take my soul, please. Just leave my body. It’s useless. I ruined it.

Man, this jogging was rougher than I’d thought!

“Are you all right, Brad?” My mother stood on the front porch looking concerned for my health. I was still gasping for breath as I said, “Bury me . . . here, Ma. It will make the . . . grass grow better.”

“That would certainly please your father,” she said with a chuckle. My attempt at humor had reassured her that I probably wasn’t as dead as I looked. “Hurry and get cleaned up. Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes.”

She went back inside and left me to die in peace. Mom was a good egg. Just a bit hard-boiled perhaps. Yuck, yuck. Gallows humor.

Slowly I got to my feet. My body felt like a thousand pounds of wet sand. I staggered inside and headed for the shower. I might as well die clean.

But once I was standing under the cool water, my spirits began to lift, bringing with them a token measure of strength. Then, a few minutes later, I caught myself singing as I dried off. My cheeks had a healthy flush when I looked in the mirror. I leaned close to examine my beard. Yep, no doubt about it. I’d simply have to shave — day after tomorrow. Boy, was I in the pink. Jogging was apparently beneficial after all, in spite of the fact that it was intensely unpleasant and gave me a strong urge to cut off one foot so I'd never have to jog again.

My appetite at dinner was just this side of voracious. Dad kept asking me questions like, “Did you skip breakfast?” and ”Do you have a tape worm?”

I told him that for breakfast I’d had three eggs with all the trimmings. As for the tapeworm, I informed him that my body was a temple, No Pets Allowed. He was not amused, but Mom got the joke. She was indeed a good egg.
________________________________________________________

“What’s in the sack?” said Doug.

Stan just grinned as he got into the Jeep. He placed the crumpled sack on his lap and said, “Drive on down the road a little ways, and I’ll show you.”

Carl pulled away from the curb. I was sitting next to him in the front seat, while Stan was in the back with Doug. Stan peaked into the sack and then smiled mischievously.

“Is this far enough?” said Carl, pulling over to the side of the road.

“Yep.” He looked at each of us one at a time. He was enjoying his little secret. “Well,” he began, “it’s been one whole week since the big traffic accident, and Carl hasn’t been arrested, so I think we can assume that nobody reported the license number of the Jeep.” He paused and gave us all a grave look — something Stan rarely did, so he definitely had our attention. “To make sure things stay that way, I went over to the used car lot across the railroad tracks from my house last night and played a little game of musical license plates.” He whipped a license plate from the sack and held it up proudly. “Ta-daaa!”

I stared at him with big dubious eyes, behind which was a brain that wondered if Stan was a certifiable lunatic or an evil genius. “You stole a license plate?” I said in amazement.

“I stole this one,” he said, implying that the one he held was somehow special, “after I switched around six others.”

We all just looked at him for a long moment, everybody waiting for somebody else to ask the question that would clear up the confusion. Finally, Doug took the plunge.

“Why?”

The question delighted Stan. He launched into his pitch. “To muddy the waters, my boy! Here’s my scheme. We switch the tag on the Jeep with this one. If the police do happen to get our license number, it will be the license number of this plate — which ain’t really ours. Right?”

The three of us were a bit slow on the uptake. We stared at Stan and struggled with his alleged logic. “Okay, we see that — ” I began.

"So then they contact the owner of the vehicle this plate is supposed to be on." Stan pointed to the tag he was holding, "They'll find out it's owned by the used car dealer, or whoever might have bought the car. Right?"

We all nodded. I said, “We see that too — ”

"But the used car dealer tells the police that the car still has it's tag. He might not even notice it's the wrong number, but even if he does, everybody will be confused."

"They aren't the only ones," Carl said, scratching his head. Stan forged on.

"If the used car dealer does notice the switch, he'll check all his other vehicles."

Carl seemed to have formed a rough of idea of what Stan had done. “So, how many times did you say you'd switched — ”

“Six times,” said Stan. “Six vehicles with the wrong tags on them — and none of them is a red Jeep.”

Doug had caught on, and he proved it with his next question. “So what do we do with the Jeep’s actual tag?”

“We hide it,” said Stan.

“Or throw it away,” I suggested.

“No, we can’t throw it away.” Carl said firmly. “We hide it, like Stan said. And we put it back on the Jeep before we return home each time we go out — just in case my father notices the license plate number.”

I laughed at the idea. “Ah, come on, Carl! Who can remember his own license tag number?”

“My father can,” he said in a low voice. It wasn’t a voice a wise man would argue with, especially if he were discussing a person’s father.

“Do you like the idea?” Stan said.

“I love it," I proclaimed. Then I spotted a fly in the ointment. "Wait . . . won’t the police start tracing all this as soon as the used car dealer reports a stolen tag when he notices the car in the used car lot with no tag on it?”

“Nope,” said Stan. He was still wearing a very smug smile.

“Why not?”

“Because he'll just assume that one tag was stolen — not that five tags were switched around as well. The used car lot guys will report the tag stolen and get a new one. This tag, or course, is not the missing tag, just one of the switched ones.” He gave each of us a bright, freckle-faced smile.

“Good touch, “I told Stan. Everybody was nodding and smiling.

We switched the tags and stuck the original tag under the seat. The Bowmen were now sneaky and anonymous.
____________________________________________________________

It was eight o’clock on a Saturday evening, just minutes away from the late summer sunset, and we were cruising through the absolute worst part of the city. We didn’t expect to actually do any crime fighting in the area, but we thought we ought to see what this side of town looked like, just so we could brag to each other about it later.



“Hey, I got an idea,” Stan said from the backseat. “Let’s patrol on foot. In full uniform.”

Carl chuckled. It was a funny idea. The four of us wearing our masks, carrying our bows, ready for action, strolling down the street. Cocky, relaxed, and keen-eyed, we’d nod to the people we passed. Rest easy, folks. The Bowmen are on duty.

They’d either laugh us off the street or they’d rob us and leave us lying in an alley, stark naked and blushing all over.

Doug leaned toward his window and gawked at a strange sight as we passed it by. “Good lord, what an outfit,” He was pointing at a hooker. She was a generously proportioned woman whose age no one could guess because her face was hidden behind more makeup than Max Factor would recommend for three women, much less one. Her shoes were beyond high heels, just this side of stilts. She wore purple shorts that hugged her rolling hips like a good coat of paint. She had on a bright red, low-cut, pullover top with short sleeves. The overall effect was perhaps not what she had intended, assuming she intended to be attractive.

The strangely dressed woman was certainly not the only member of the world’s oldest profession to pound the pavement along 10th Street tonight. They tended to cluster around the intersections so they could work the traffic in four directions. I noticed that the men who haunted this sad little corner of the city tended to be the polar opposites of the females when it came to how they dressed. The men gave no thought at all to how they looked. Unlike the women — whose clothes were bright, tight, and gaudy — the men tended to wear clothes that were baggy, shabby, and drab.

I suddenly felt a wave of soul-sickness, and I turned away from the depressing view of mankind being paraded past the car window. Growing up in middle-class America during the 1950s, I had formed a bright and rosy picture of the human race based largely on optimistic predictions of the future presented by imaginative science fiction movies and television shows.

But lately I had begun to doubt all those claims that the future would be a shining new world filled with futuristic cities and brilliant, beautiful people. The assumption that mankind was becoming more intelligent through some mysterious evolutionary process might just be a large load of material best described as that smelly stuff which makes plants grow better.

This was quite a letdown for an idealistic seventeen-year-old who thrived on romantic dreams of humankind's destiny among the stars.

“Uh-oh,” Carl muttered.

I shook my head to clear the gloomy thoughts, then I turned to Carl and said, “What?”

“Don’t get caught looking, but a police car is on our tail and he seems to be interested in us.”

I couldn’t resist. I looked. The policeman was talking on his radio, probably relaying our bogus license number to the dispatcher — who would soon call back to say that the number on the Jeep was supposed to be on some other make and model automobile.

“We’ve been caught napping, guys,” Stan said. “Turn up the radio.”

I did, and the first thing we heard was the last few numbers of our newly stolen license plate. — L-228. Four white males. Over.

“This ain’t good,” I said. My heart started doing overactive things in my chest which 3 out of 4 doctors would not recommend. In a wild burst of forced optimism, I said, “Maybe he’s just going to write us a ticket.”

Carl gave me a look that made me regret I’d gotten up this morning. “Think about it, Jones. Dispatch will tell him that the license plate is not registered to a Jeep Wagoneer, so he’ll know we stole it.”

“As soon as he looks in the rear and sees the bows, we’re busted,” Stan said from the backseat.

“We should have thought of this,” said Doug. “Dozens of people saw us get out of a red Jeep at the accident.”

“Well, sure,” I said, “but after all that applause I didn’t think anybody would be rotten enough to turn us in.”

“Not everybody was applauding,” said Carl. “We were careless. The question is — what do we do about it now? Pull over and just let it happen? Or . . . make a run for it?”

Carl was asking us what to do, but he was the one who had to decide. If he tried to outrun the police and we got caught, the charges against him would be much worse than those against us. I thought it over for an endless few seconds, then I said, “This is your call.”

Carl nodded while his chest went up and down much more quickly than normal. His eyes shifted back and forth between the road ahead and the rearview mirror. None of us wanted to go to jail. But was it really possible to outrun the police? Or did that just happen in the movies?

Dispatch to 21, said the radio on the dash.

Go ahead.

Description fits the suspects, but the license number does not match the vehicle. Proceed at your discretion.

That was all Carl needed. The Jeep surged forward with alarming power. We squealed around a corner and shot down West Peachtree Street, headed south faster than I cared to be going. Behind us, the cop turned the roof of his cruiser into a rolling light show and took off after us in hot pursuit, dogging our tracks with professional ease. By some cosmic miracle, we passed three traffic lights in a row — all as green as the fertile hills of Ireland. The cityscape shot by on either side in a blur of motion. Carl wove the Jeep through traffic like the star of the New York ballet strutting her stuff in front of the Manhattan elite. The rest of us just sat there staring straight ahead and wondered if we’d ever live to see voting age.

West Peachtree Street was four lanes, all southbound, giving suicidal drivers like us plenty of room to get around all those sane people who weren’t wanted by the police. Carl wound the Jeep’s engine right up to the red line, and the speedometer read sixty miles per hour, bold as brass. I knew that what we were doing was probably the dumbest thing in the history of intelligent human thought, but I also knew that we had painted ourselves neatly into a very nasty legal corner. If we didn’t pull this off, our parents would disown us and gladly rent our rooms to Russian exchange students who were secretly plotting the downfall of western capitalism.

We were approaching the downtown area. Carl was bobbing and weaving through the traffic like a stock car racer. Somehow he managed not to blast through any red lights, but yellow lights caught us about half the time. Carl’s coordination was amazing. His judgment of speed and distance astounded me. It occurred to me that the patrol car’s blasting siren and flashing lights were actually helping us. As the cars pulled over for the approaching police cruiser, they were clearing the way for us as well.

There was a fork in the road ahead, with the beginning of Spring Street splitting off to the right and running parallel to the continuation of West Peachtree Street, one block over. Carl took the right fork, and we shot across the bridge that went over I-75 and plunged into the heart of the downtown area — the last place a fleeing bunch of fugitives wanted to be, but it was too late to do anything about it now. Carl seemed to have a plan, but we'd just have to wait and see what it was.

I looked over at Carl and watched his grim-faced profile for a moment. He was staring straight ahead, his left hand on the steering wheel, his right hand gripping the shifter that protruded from the steering column. He downshifted and upshifted every few seconds as our speed fluctuated because of the traffic ahead. While his right foot did the Rumba with the accelerator, his other foot danced back and forth between the brake pedal and the clutch like the left half of a square dance champion. He glanced at the rearview mirror every few seconds, checking the distance between us and the patrol car on our tail.

I turned around and saw the police car slam on his brakes as a foolish driver pulled out in front of him at the intersection of Spring Street and Baker Street. White smoke from the police car’s tires billowed up around it, and the two cars narrowly missed each other as the policeman swerved around the obstructing vehicle. The gap between the policeman and us widened.

A quick smile lifted the corners of Carl’s mouth as he saw what had happened in the rearview mirror. He uttered one word, barely audible.

“Bingo.”

The next intersection was Harris Street. The left lane was clear, and we managed to make the turn without plunging across the right-hand sidewalk and smashing into a building. We roared up a moderate incline toward the intersection of Harris Street and West Peachtree Street, at the crest of the hill.

Miraculously, the road ahead was clear and the light at the intersection was green. Carl tromped on the gas pedal and sent us all surging into the seat backs as the Jeep turned into a rocket and raced up the incline, aimed at the narrow piece of sky that was visible between the tall buildings on Peachtree Street ahead of us.

My eyes were so wide that the whites showed all around, and my hands had a stranglehold on the edge of the seat on both sides of my legs. We were seconds away from achieving Earth orbit in a Jeep Wagoneer — another first for the American space program. The Russians would have a hard time beating this one.

When the Jeep got to the top of the hill, it nearly left the ground. Harris Street sloped down on the other side of West Peachtree Street, and we raced down the hill, still going like a bat outta Helsinki. Ahead of us on the downward-sloping street was another intersection. At the next intersection ahead, Carl saw a sign pointing the way to I-75, indicating a right turn onto the Courtland Avenue. Behind us, the police car took the crest formed by Peachtree Street at the same speed we had.

We made the turn with the two left wheels firmly on the ground and the two right wheels threatening to secede from the union. Courtland Avenue was another one-way multilane street going south, with five lanes for Carl to choose from. He drove like he couldn’t make up his mind which lane he liked the best, sampling them all as he wove through the traffic. The drivers we passed played a symphony with their car horns, protesting our insane behavior. We all knew that at this point we had just two choices — get clean away or go straight to jail, do not pass GO, and kiss your college years good-bye.

I looked back to see how close the police car was. I was happy to see that the police car hadn’t done quite as well as the Jeep when it made the turn onto Courtland Avenue. The policeman had sideswiped another car and spun out. It was facing backward in the road.

The chatter on the police band radio was going fast and furious, and I couldn’t keep up with the radio codes that were being furiously thrown back and forth like political promises at a Republican National Convention. All I knew was that they were probably talking about us, and they weren’t saying anything nice.

The intersection of Courtland Avenue and Ellis Street was just ahead, along with a sign pointing left toward I-75. Carl raced up to the intersection like he had no intention of turning, and all three of his anxious passengers were pressing our left foot down so hard on an imaginary break pedal that the Jeep was in danger of becoming Fred Flintstone’s car, complete with the patented hole in the floorboard. At the last possible second Carl slammed on the brakes and sent us sliding into the intersection with tires screaming like Fay Wray and smoking like Humphrey Bogart. Carl yanked the steering wheel to the left, and we came so close to hitting the lamppost on the far side of Ellis Street that I glimpsed the rust flecks on the dull silver paint as it flashed past the passenger-side window.

I-75 was visible dead ahead, just past the intersection of Ellis Street and Piedmont Avenue. Ellis Street had a right-hand lane that branched off and curved to the right as it turned into an entrance ramp to the southbound lanes of I-75. It occurred to me that Carl might have actually planned our entire escape route to bring us to this conveniently placed access ramp to the freeway! Apparently there was a method to his madness when he'd driven us straight into the downtown area with a police car on our tail.

But when Carl reached the intersection of Ellis and Piedmont he shocked us all by making another smoking turn to the left onto Piedmont Avenue — and then swerving quickly to the right into the parking lot of the Wyndham Garden Hotel, a stone’s throw from the freeway. The parking lot was crowded with cars.

“What the hell are you doing?” shouted Doug from the backseat.

Carl didn’t answer as he drove quickly through the parking lot and then turned in behind the hotel. We went past the pool area, then turned a corner and headed down the service lane behind the hotel. On our right was the backside of the hotel, and on our left was a fence which separated the hotel service lane from a grassy area that bordered I-75, where we desperately wanted to be — racing home so we could hide under our beds until the statute of limitations ran out for the crimes we had committed in the last twenty minutes.

The service lane came to a dead end, and Carl swung the Jeep into a littered area just past a bank of battered trashcans near a door at the back of the hotel. He cut the turn a bit too close and grazed two trashcans, causing them to bang into several others, knocking them down like bowling pins. The Jeep came to a halt just inches from the wall of the motel, and we all sat there motionless, petrified with fear as we stared at the service door, expecting it to crash open and spew out a mob of angry hotel employees who would order us to sit right there until the National Guard arrived.

The door remained closed — but the nice view we had of the freeway to our left gave us plenty to look at. Just a few hundred feet away we could see the entrance ramp to I-75 that we had been so near when Carl drove us into this ignoble trap behind the hotel. We all lurched with surprise when three police cars flashed by on Ellis Street and raced out onto the freeway, the sounds of their combined sirens slicing the air with impressive volume.

Seconds later, a fourth patrol car followed them, its dented left side identifying it as the very same patrolman who had been hot on our trail just minutes earlier.

The pack of patrol cars raced southward down I-75, obviously thinking we had made it onto the freeway and were just ahead of them. The traffic on I-75 parted like the Red Sea ahead of the police cars’ flashing lights, and the sound of their sirens dwindled into the distance.

I looked over at Carl. He was staring straight ahead and his breathing was way too fast for someone so young and with so much to live for. He didn’t look a bit happy about what had just happened, even though he should have been grinning like the winner of the New Jersey Lottery. I heard no sounds at all from the backseat, so I glanced back just to be sure Stan and Doug hadn’t fainted. They hadn’t, but their faces looked unnaturally pale. I turned back to Carl and spoke quietly, choosing my words carefully.

“That was . . . miraculous.”

He didn’t answer for a long moment, still staring straight ahead and looking less than joyful. Finally he spoke in a slow, barely audible voice.

“I scratched . . . the Jeep.”

It certainly wasn't what I thought he would say. It took us all a moment to come up with a reply that didn’t sound like something Gracie Allen would say to George Burns. I was the first to reply.

“Yeah, but . . . we got away.” I waited for a reply, but when I didn’t get one I tried a new approach. “You did a great job. Thanks.”

Still nothing. So I said, “I’m sure your folks won’t notice a few scratches.”

Carl took a deep breath and let it out in an undeniable sigh of resignation. Still speaking very quietly, he said, “You don’t know my father.”

Apparently we didn’t — at least not the way Carl did.

After a moment, Carl decided to let us in on a little secret. "I knew this hotel was here. I knew it would be a good place to hide."

After a long, puzzled pause, I said, "You did?"

"Yep. Last week I came downtown and spent a few hours riding around, figuring out a way to keep from getting caught by the police if we ever got spotted in the downtown area. After I found the hotel here, so close to the expressway, I plotted routes from different directions that would get us here quickly from wherever part of town we were in when the police recognized us. The trick, of course, was to get here ahead of them and duck into the hotel parking lot so they would think we had made it onto I-75."

Stan spoke from the back seat with quiet awe. "And it worked. Carl . . . you're a genius."

"I know," Carl said, smiling. "Now all we have to do is wait here until it get's dark before we try to leave."

So, we all sat quietly behind the hotel for over an hour, just to be sure the FBI hadn’t secretly surrounded the place. When we finally got up the nerve to leave our place of concealment, Carl cranked up the Jeep, and we drove home at a very sedate speed.

That night, Stan snuck over to the used car lot and pulled another switcheroo, exchanging our false tag for a different one. We knew it had worked, so we stuck with Stan's plan.

And I was now fully convinced that both he and Carl were, in fact, evil geniuses.

____________________________________________



_________________
____________
Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
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