"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" the scream exploded from inside Kevin like a volcano erupting. It couldn't be them, he thought in horror, the Bad Guys couldn't be here too! But nonetheless, there they were, right in front of him again. His scream proved so loud that every eye within a hundred yards turned in his direction, and both burglars jumped backwards in shock. "Dang it, Harry, he screamed," Marv remarked, looking surprised Kevin had.
Thinking quickly, Kevin slammed both of the boxes he was still holding down on the crooks' feet, making them yelp in pain. "RUN, RUN, RUN!" he screamed to the other children, seizing Nate and Sarah by the hands and taking off like a rocket for the front door. "Are those the guys who...!?" Nate started to ask him.
"Yes, that's them!" Kevin told him breathlessly, his voice high in fear, "I don't know how they got here, but we've got to get out of here quick!"
"Wow, what a small world," Nate glanced backwards, "Who'd've thought...?"
"GET BACK HERE, YA LITTLE CREEP! WE'RE GONNA RIP YA AND YER PALS LIMB FROM LIMB WHEN WE GET OUR HANDS ON YA!" came Harry's enraged threat from behind them. Kevin gulped fearfully. He shoved Excalibur's front door open and rushed out into the street, hoping they could get lost in a crowd. But there were too few people on the street at the moment for that to work, he could see. "Care to explain what these miscreants are upset with you for, McCallister!?" a glaring Danielle demanded of him, finally catching up to him on the curb, "Because if you've been keeping something from...!"
"I think those are the burglars that tried to break into Kevin's house two years ago; aren't they?" Ethan turned to Kevin for confirmation and got a nod in response. "But how did they get here?" the class brain inquired.
"EAT LEAD, KID!" came Harry's shout from the doorway, followed by the sound of a shot being fired. Kevin hit the deck quickly. "Never mind, just run!" he urged everyone, rushing out into the street despite the honking of horns from cars who had to abruptly stop to avoid hitting the children. "No, no, not back to the hotel!" Kevin grabbed Julian's arm as he started towards the Walley World resort, "We can't tip them off where we're staying!"
"Well then where are we supposed to hide from these guys!?" Julian shouted. Kevin glanced around, and noticed a bus coming up the street towards where they were standing. Run for the Luxor," he pointed to the giant pyramid nearby, "Find some place in the bushes. I'll stall them to buy time."
"Kevin, what are you...!?"
"Just go!" he pushed Julian off towards the Luxor. His mind was racing; his plan seemed foolish, but it was all he could think of at the moment, even though it would have to be timed just right. And so, against all his better judgment, he ran towards the burglars until he was standing in the bus's lane. "Can't catch me, guys!" he taunted them, sticking out his tongue at them.
"Come to papa, you little worm!" Harry yelled, lunging right at him with Marv right in tow. Kevin waited until he heard the bus's brakes squeal, then jumped backwards right as the crooks were about to grab him. They stopped in confusion just long enough for the bus to run over both their feet. "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW!" the burglars shouted in unison, hopping up and down in agony. "YES!" Kevin pumped his fist. He took off running for the Luxor, hoping he could find everyone in time to get hidden.
"Back here, Kevin," it was Ethan calling from some thick bushes behind the Sphinx in front of the hotel. Kevin quickly dove for them. "Stay down, stay quiet!" he ordered everyone, laying down as low as he could. Moments later, the burglars staggered up in front of their hiding place. "Where'd they go!?" Marv demanded out loud, glancing around in every direction.
"Musta gone into the casino. Come on, we don't wanna lose 'em!" Harry charged full tilt for the door to the Luxor, Marv right behind him. Kevin waited a good minute after they'd gone inside to make sure they weren't coming back out before waving everyone back out of the bushes. "Back to Walley, quick; we'll be safer there," he announced, breaking into another run.
"Might as well, anyway; just about time to report for the show," Nate declared, glancing at his watch. Kevin looked at his own. "Yikes!" he exclaimed; it was now two minutes to five thirty. He'd completely lost track of time between the Excalibur show and the run-in with his old foes. Hopefully they wouldn't be disqualified if they were late...
In a flash, they all rushed into the casino and ran as fast as they could for Soundstage 3. Reassuringly, Sidney was standing at the door backstage, conversing with the contestant coordinator. "Ah, here they come," he exclaimed upon seeing them. "Didn't I tell you they'd be here, Andrea?" he told her.
"Where have you been!?" the coordinator upbraided the children, "I had said five thirty...!"
"We ran into a situation outside," Kevin explained between deep breaths, "Otherwise's we'd've..."
"Never mind. Come on back here, and we'll get you all suited up for the show," the coordinator was at least forgiving. She led the way into the backstage area. "Julian, Danielle, stay close to Sidney," Kevin instructed them, "And stay safe."
"Is something going on?" Sidney raised an eyebrow, concerned.
"Those guys I told you about this morning who tried to rob my house and who I stopped from robbing the toy store in New York? They're out there!" Kevin pointed outside, "I don't know how, but they're out there! We just managed to escape...!"
"Well, they wouldn't try anything in here, not in front of a live TV audience," Sidney assured him, nonetheless glancing warily at the front door himself, "And don't worry, your friends are safe here with me."
"Good. Wish us luck, and enjoy the show," Kevin told his two classmates in parting before rushing through the door backstage. Hopefully, he begged, Sidney was right and the Bad Guys wouldn't dare reveal themselves in front of TV cameras...indeed, hopefully they had no idea where he was staying in all of Las Vegas...
Twenty-five minutes later, suited up in the green team suit, he followed Nate, Sarah, and Ethan out onto the set to a cheer from the studio audience, mostly, he supposed of other hotel guests. Kevin gave them all a wave, taking his place at the fake snow-covered green podium on the left side of the set, which faced, at an angle, the large iron doors that the Splat Zone itself was behind. His eyes zeroed in to the front row, and was relieved to see Julian and Danielle safely next to Sidney in the front row. "Here we go," he said out loud softly, "We can do this..."
"Darn right we can do this," Nate was pumped up, "We're going to get that trophy and win the grand prize."
"And a week's vacation in space camp in Huntsville is something I'd be interested in," Ethan was also eager to get the game underway.
"Mmm," was all Kevin could manage, a vision of somehow being lost on the moon briefly passing through his mind. "Here comes the other team," he pointed out the orange team, consisting of four boys, most older than he and his classmates. He waved at them, but they did not give him the benefit of a wave back. Indeed, they glared haughtily at the Green team, as if they felt they were superior. "Hmm, not exactly the friendliest team," he mused. "OK, everyone set? You ready, Sarah?" he asked her.
"I just hope I can do well," she said nervously.
"You'll do just fine; you'll make your mother proud if she's watching," Kevin assured her, "OK, I've figured it out, when we get to the physical round, I'll do the first one with Nate, you'll do the second with Ethan, and we'll take the third one and the Chase for the Zone as it comes. If we win, I think..."
"Quiet on set," came the order from the floor director, "We're on in five, four, three, two, one..."
The audience broke into applause as the high-energy Splat Zone theme kicked into high gear. "Behind these doors lies the Splat Zone," rang out the voice of show announcer Harley, "The messiest, most extreme place in the entire world. And for one of these two teams will come the glory of entering this special realm and attempting to retrieve the special Victor's Trophy from atop Mount St. Splat Zone. Which will it be? Let's find out on todaaaaaaaaaaay's SSSSSSSSSPLAAAAAAAAT ZZZOOOOOOOOOOONE! And now, here's your host, the King of Goo, Kirk Caloo!"
Kevin applauded as Caloo repelled down from the rafters on a bungee line and swung over the audience. "Thank you, and merry Christmas!" he greeted everyone warmly after he'd landed on the stage and unhooked himself, "Welcome to our special live holiday episode of Splat Zone. And we're carrying the spirit of the season with us for today's special challenges, which our two teams will have to pass in order to enter the Splat Zone and retrieve the Victor's Trophy," he gestured at the iron doors behind him, "So let's go meet our teams."
He rushed to his host's podium between the two team stands. "First one my right, wearing green, we have the Shermer Strike Force," he gestured towards them, "And here we have Kevin, Nate, Sarah, and Ethan; you're all from Chicago, am I correct?"
"Yes," Kevin leaned towards his microphone, "We, uh, found out unexpectedly we'd be spending the holidays here, so we decided to try out, and here we are."
"Anything special holiday experiences you'd like to share with us?"
"Uh," Kevin debated what, or even how much if so, he ought to say, "Well, last Christmas, I was in New York, and managed to stop a robbery at Duncan's Toy Chest," he said into the camera, "I found out these two burglars were going to rob it, so I distracted them away from the store and kept them busy until the police could come."
"Isn't that impressive?" Caloo started applauding, which prompted the audience to do the same, "Some great competitors here on the green team. And on my left, in orange, we have the Ravishing Reggorfs, comprised of Ernest, William, Rodney, and Paul Reggorf. And I hear you boys are looking for a clean sweep here, that you've done all the other current kids shows and won?"
"Yes, Kirk, and quite easily," Ernest said with more than a little snobbery, "We have easily won Videodrome, Brain Teaser, Where on the Planet Is Calvin Atlanta, and Decathlon, and now we're going to complete it with Splat Zone. And I easily predict victory, given each of us has an IQ over one hundred forty and letter in four sports each."
"Well good luck to both you and the green team. And without further adieu, let's get down to the game!" Caloo declared to a loud applause. "Round one is a test each team's mental IQ. I'll be asking a series of questions; if you know the answer, hit the group buzzer in front of your podium. Or, you could ring in and challenge the other team to answer; the decision is all yours. Correct answers will give you twenty-five points; if the other team fails to answer a challenge, you'll get fifty points. The team furthest ahead after the seven minutes in this round will win one Medallion of Valor," he held up an example, "that will aid you against the monsters lurking in the Splat Zone. And we begin with this question."
He drew a Christmas card-shaped question from the tray on his podium. "It's known as the Christmas flower, and it was named for which U.S. Minister to Mexico?" he asked both teams. Kevin didn't know this one, and Ethan, who did, was beaten to the buzzer by the Reggorfs. "That would be Joel Poinsett, Kirk," Ernest said confidently.
"Indeed it is; twenty-five points to the orange team," Caloo told them, "Next: Silent Night was written by what Austrian priest?"
Again, the Reggorfs rang in first. "We challenge the green team," William announced.
"All right, green team, you have five seconds to answer; who was the priest?" Caloo inquired. The team formed a quick huddle. "Wasn't it Gruber?" Nate asked, looking unsure.
"No, he did the lyrics; it was Joseph Mohr," Ethan insisted.
"You sure? I heard Gruber as well," Kevin wasn't sure himself.
"Trust me, it was Mohr!" Ethan insisted fervently.
"I need an answer, green team," Caloo told them. Kevin, feeling Ethan would know it better than he, gave his friend a nod. "Joseph Mohr," the class brain answered into the microphone.
"Indeed it was; fifty points for you," Caloo commended them, "Moving along: Donner and Blitzen are key reindeer on Santa's team; what do their names mean in the original German?"
Again, Kevin didn't know the answer, but was bailed out when Nate hit the buzzer first. "Challenge," he demanded.
"All right, orange team, do you know the answer?" Caloo asked the Reggorfs.
"Indeed we do, Kirk; Donner and Blitzen are German for thunder and lightning, as too was the original Dutch names Donder and Blixten," Rodney said matter-of-factually.
"And you're right on both counts. Fifty points over here; we have a good match so far," Caloo said to applause, "Our next question..."
"Well, thank you anyway," Kate said miserably into her phone, "A merry Christmas to you too."
She hung up and crossed the last remaining city name-Phoenix-off her list. She turned to her left with pleading eyes as her husband hung up his phone as well. Peter turned to her and grimly shook his head. Kate moaned in agony and slumped her head forward onto the desk. "And you called everywhere around the airport; restaurants, gas stations, hotels...!?" she asked with a high, desperate voice.
"Everywhere," Peter said, frustration rife in his voice, "Everywhere he could possibly be around the airport. Nothing at all."
Kate buried her face in her hands and started sobbing. "Honey, honey, don't give up yet," Peter hugged her from behind, "It's possible he'll turn up at one of these airports eventually..."
"I've called them all on my list twice today! Still nothing! I can't take it, Peter; I can't take the agony of not knowing anything!" she lamented, "I've got to find him...!"
"We will, we will, I promise," her husband said, but his tone wasn't that reassuring, "Let's take a break for a moment; I can tell we're both exhausted. You want anything from the food stands on the concourse?"
"I'm not hungry, Peter," she told him.
"Kate, you and I haven't had a bite all day since we got the news..."
"I said I'm not hungry," she said firmly.
"OK, I understand," he said, stepping back, "I'm going for dinner; let me know if you change your mind."
He slouched out the door into the Cross American concourse, looking miserable himself. Kate hauled herself up and trudged out the door into the security waiting room, where the other McCallisters were now seated. Some of them now turned towards her with anticipation. Kate shook her head at them, then slumped to the floor and started crying again. "Don't cry, Mom," Jeff came over and put an arm around her, "You're doing your best."
"Then why haven't we found him yet!?" she half-shrieked, "Why does this keep happening to us every single year!?"
"It's not you're fault, Mom; it's not anyone's fault," Linnie offered her own advice, also giving her mother a hug.
"I don't know how much longer I can go on like this," she lamented, "We need a Christmas miracle to find him now..."
"KATE!" came Peter's sudden shout at the top of his lungs from outside on the concourse, "KATE, GET OUT HERE, QUICK, I FOUND HIM! HE'S ON TV, KATE; I DON'T KNOW HOW, BUT HE'S ON TV RIGHT NOW!"
"What!?" her heart rate shooting up, Kate charged full tilt out the door onto the concourse. "OH MY GOD!" she shrieked when she'd screeched to a halt in front of the TV screwed to the wall above several aisles of seats. Sure enough, there was Kevin-there was no way she'd mistake him for anyone else-on the Splat Zone set, apparently playing the current match with several of the other missing children. "OH MY GOD!" she repeated again, ignoring several of the nearby airline customers shouting at her to be quiet and stop blocking the set. "EVERYONE, WE FOUND THEM!" she ran back to the door to the airport security office and screamed inside at the other parents, "THEY'RE CONTESTANTS ON SPLAT ZONE!"
There came the shuffling of footsteps as the other parents and the rest of the McCallisters rushed out to join her. "NATE!" Mrs. Ostrowski shrieked herself upon seeing her son on TV, "How'd they get there!?"
"I don't know; I was walking past this set, and all of a sudden I heard Kevin's voice, turned, and there he was," Peter pointed at the set right as Kevin answered a question correctly.
"Where's Julian!?" Mrs. Clark scanned the set frantically, "Why isn't he here too...!?"
"He's probably somewhere in the audience, Corinne; they probably all stuck together," Kate tried to assure her, "Now where is this filming at...!?"
"Where've you been, miss?" a little boy a few seats down spoke up at her, "They've been taping Splat Zone live at the Walley World Resort in Las Vegas since it opened."
"Las Vegas? But we called Las Vegas's airport and asked...oh, it doesn't matter. Sir," she noticed the airport security chief coming out of his office and waved him over, "We found him; he's on TV in Las Vegas," she pointed at the screen, "When's the next flight there!?"
"Let me check, Mrs. McCallister," the security chief walked away for a moment, talking into his radio. "OK," he said once he returned, "Nearest we've got is a United at ten thirty tomorrow morning."
"That's too long a wait!" Kate protested, "We need to get there now!"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. McCallister, but we can't just divert regularly scheduled planes for special purposes much I as understand how you're feeling," the security chief told her firmly.
"What about a plane with stops along the way!? It'll be worth it...!"
"No, unfortunately, none of those either. I'm sorry, but you're going to have to wait until the flight tomorrow morning."
"What about a private plane!? This is the busiest airport in the Midwest, for the love of God; you've got to have a spare one laying around somewhere...!"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. McCallister. All I can do at the moment is contact McCarran and let them know of the situation," he turned to leave. Kate noticed his gun hanging out its holster, and grabbed it in a flash. "Now listen!" she barked at him, taking aim at him despite the screams of everyone around her, "I have been on edge here for over twenty-four hours wondering about where my son is, and NOBODY is going to keep me from him now that I do know, least of all you!"
"Mrs. McCallister, please put the gun down and calm down..." the security chief protested, turning white.
"I AM CALM!" Kate roared at the top of her lungs, "YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE ME WHEN I'M UPSET!"
"Honey, come on, brandishing a firearm at the nice man when he's gone above and beyond the call of duty to help us isn't going to help the situation," Peter begged her, trying to push the gun downwards, "There's a better way to do this..."
"No Peter, there's no other way right now!" she shouted back at him, "So," she turned back to the security chief, "are we going to get our plane to Las Vegas now, or is there going to be trouble!?"
Pale, the security chief activated his radio again. "Um, Tower Four, be aware that we're setting up a special flight for the parents to go to Las Vegas to get their kids," he meekly told Air Traffic Control, "Try and arrange for it to dock here at the Cross American concourse as soon as possible."
"Roger, will get the plane ready at the nearest convenience," Air Traffic Control confirmed his request. "Good," Kate handed the man his gun back, "And make sure it's as quick as you can get it."
"You realize I might have to arrest you when you get back for threatening an officer of the law, Mrs. McCallister," he told her, the color starting to return to his face.
"I'll take the risk; just get me the plane so I can get to my son," she demanded.
"All right, we will. So you know, though, we still haven't completely cleared the runways of all the snow yet, so it'll take some time after you board till you get to take off."
"Just whenever you can get it, sir," Peter interceded, "And sorry about all this, really."
The security chief gave Kate a worried look before rushing off to clear a plane for them. "Are you sure you're all right, Kate?" Peter put a hand to his wife's head, "I've never seen you snap this bad..."
"I'm perfectly fine, Peter," she snapped, "We're going to be at his side by dawn, and that's all that matters."
"Yes, but why don't we sit down for the time being and relax," he gently led her to a seat facing the TV Kevin was on, "and just watch Kevin in action till the plane's ready?"
Kate nodded softly. "We're coming, Kevin," she told her son's image on the screen, "Just hold on there and don't go anywhere; we're on our way."