Theme parks are scary at night. They’re pretty creepy in the daytime too if you ask me, but at night they’re invaded by shadows and an eerie quiet that makes the décor, so perpetually cheerful in the light of day, seem especially bizarre and threatening. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, take a drive out into the country sometime, spend the night alone in abandoned farmhouse in an isolated part of the woods, and read Stephen King’s “IT” by candlelight in one of the empty rooms on the second floor.
The feeling’s close to that.
The tourists were gone for the day and the maintenance workers were the only ones in sight, sprucing and cleaning for tomorrow. That was pretty creepy too; kind of like in West World when they came out at night and cleaned up all of the dead robot cowboys? Except it wasn’t quite the same since everyone on the maintenance crew here had headphones strapped to their heads and music cranked up so loud we could hear it. Somehow, knowing that they were all listening to Snoop Dogg or Justin Timberlake took the edge off a little and made them all seem not nearly so sinister as the West World guys.
I know that many people are quite frightened of tall black rappers and boy-band graduates, but luckily, we are not. (Tall white rappers however, are a completely different matter; a chance encounter with Vanilla Ice outside a KFC several years ago made Jimmy shit his pants on the spot and gave Simon & I anxiety attacks for weeks afterward).
We were overlooking the Magic Kingdom from a wooded hill on the Eastern side. Those of you who’ve been to the Magic Kingdom may be thinking something stupid right now, like “there is no wooded hill next to Disney on the Eastern side”. It always amazes me how tourists can come down for a couple days and suddenly think they know everything. So if you’re one of those people, just let me say this: There is most definitely a wooded hill next to the Magic Kingdom, it’s just very cleverly disguised as the sky, so you don’t notice it unless you know it’s there. You don’t. I do. So shut up and hop on I-4, smart guy.
We were just finishing the final touches on our camouflage face paint. I glanced at my partners and made a mental note to hold training on proper camouflage techniques with both of them at some future date. Jimmy had accidentally applied Sex Wax instead of camo, so although his face had a nice healthy glow and would provide good, non-skid footing should that be needed, it really didn’t do much to hide him. Simon had actually done the face painting fairly well, and looked quite satisfied with himself, but the bright pink polo shirt he was wearing didn’t exactly make him Mr. Invisible either.
As I picked up the binoculars and made another sweep of the park, Jimmy and Simon decided this would be a good time to argue about call signs.
“You were Red Leader One last time,” said Jimmy.
“That’s because I’m always Red Leader One,” Simon replied. “You’re Goldilocks.”
“I don’t want to be Goldilocks,” Jimmy whined. “Goldilocks is a girl call sign.”
“It is not,” Simon assured.
“Oh yeah? Then you be Goldilocks.”
“I would if I could, Jimmy,” Simon said, “ but I can’t.”
“Because I’m Red Leader One.”
“That’s not fair.” Jimmy looked in my direction and decided it was time to appeal to a higher authority. “Dick, Simon says I can’t be Red Leader – ”
“Hey, hey, hey, with the call signs already,” I said, holding up my hand. “I decide who’s who.”
“Well, okay,” Jimmy said. “But he was Red Leader One last time.”
“I’m always Red –”
“You,” I said to Simon, “will be Maverick this time.” I pointed to Jimmy. “And you will be Goose. You know, like Top Gun?”
Simon looked like he’d taken a slight demotion until I reminded him that Tom Cruise had been a “Maverick” too. He brightened up then. Jimmy didn’t appear to be ecstatic about ‘Goose’ either, but hey, it was better than Goldilocks, so he didn’t say anything. Even so, I decided to sweeten the deal for him a little.
“Hey, Jimmy,” I said.
“You know who Goose’s wife was, don’t you?’
“Yeah?” he said, suddenly perking up. “Really?”
“So Dick, are you going to be Red Leader One?” Simon asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m Iceman.”
“Whooooa, that’s cool,” Jimmy said. “Iceman. Sweet.”
“Can I be Iceman next time?” Simon asked. “I call dibs.”
“You can’t call dibs yet,” Jimmy shot back. “You can’t call dibs until we’re done with this mission. That’s against the rules. In fact – new rule – if you call dibs before the end of a mission it actually counts as an anti-dib. So I don’t even have to call dibs now because I’m already ahead of you.”
“Oh yeah?” Simon said. “Well I’m going to do a pre-new rule retraction of my dib, so – ”
“Shut up you two,” I said. “I see him.”
Zodar was moving in the shadows, building to building, staying out of sight as only a moose could. There was no sign of Portia; I imagined her gagged and tied up somewhere, frightened eyes darting left and right, struggling against her bonds, hoping against hope that she would live to see another day and not be partially submersed in an acid bath and then fed to sharks, or be shredded to bits by the Thunder Mountain Railroad and then have her remains dehydrated into commercial grade beef jerky to be sold for profit by certain less than reputable small town grocers, or possibly even . . . um . . . well, probably just those two things.
And she was probably somewhere high.
I kept my eye on Zodar, trying to gauge his moves, figure out his game. Up to this point he had just been skulking, staying out of sight from the random employees crisscrossing the park. And then suddenly, as he was moving from his hiding place behind a lovely topiary shaped like a duck towards the old abandoned 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride, he disappeared completely.
I pulled the binoculars from my eyes, blinked, and then re-set them firmly against my face and looked again. He was gone. Vanished.
I swept the area back and forth, looking for a logical explanation, a clue, or maybe even some homeless guy that might have seen where he went and would cop him out for a dollar. Sometimes I get lucky that way, but not today. The only things around the spot I last saw him were some big fake rocks, a couple of benches, a trash can with towel racks hanging off the side, a face painting kiosk, and another one of those topiaries, this one not quite so lovely and shaped somewhat like a moose.
I turned to Jimmy and Simon, hoping that maybe they had caught something that I hadn’t. Luckily, they had both been diverting all of their focus into not paying any attention at all, and were actually having a quiet conversation that they had decided to take off-line:
“You know that Goose dies, right?” said Simon in a hushed voice.
“Dude, that is so wrong,” whispered Jimmy. “Why do you have to be like that?”
“Like what?” Simon replied, feigning innocence. “I’m just telling you the way it is. I thought you should know.”
My partners. I almost wished bullets would start flying just so I could see if my theory that having them along statistically reduced my chances of being shot was actually correct.
Wait a minute.
I jerked the binoculars back up to my face.
The topiary! That wasn’t a real tree, it was Zodar!
“Jimmy! Simon! Come on, were moving in!”
Normally, one would assume that giving orders in an excited yet clandestine manner would impart the feeling of urgency to those at which the communication was directed, especially in circumstances where your very survival demanded total concentration, nerves of steel, and split second timing. Simon and Jimmy obviously felt that the current situation was clearly not normal at all, was in fact devoid of any danger whatsoever, and thus felt no need to get overly worked up about it. However, I will give credit where credit is due; they did at least stop their conversation for a moment.
“Who us?” they chimed in unison, looking at me with blank faces.
“Yes! He’s right there! We can take him, but we’ve got to move now!”
Simon finally got it. “Roger that Iceman,” he said, “Red Lead – I mean, Maverick – online and standing by.”
“Oh, okay,” Jimmy said, “Goose is ready. I’m Goose.”
“Roger Goose,” said Simon, “reading you five by five.”
“What?” Jimmy said,
“I said, I’m reading you – ”
“Will you guys knock it off!” I yelled.
A silence descended so complete that for a moment I thought I’d killed them both. Jimmy & Simon stared at me with eyes wide and mouths shut.
“Do we have hedge clippers?” I asked Simon finally.
“Yes,” he said. “Well, you and I do anyway. I brought safety scissors for Jimmy.”
“Good thinking. Let’s break ‘em out then. Lock and load,” I said. I took to my feet and stood tall, staring down the hillside with a defiant gaze.
“It’s time to do some landscaping.”