An Escape and a Wrong Plane
All right, line up, men!" the head Joliet guard barked at the knot of orange jumpsuit-clad prisoners standing in the courtyard before the armored transport bus, "On board when we call your name. Lyme..."
"Right here," the short, bald man at the front of the line grumbled, trudging on board the bus. "Murchens," the head guard barked again.
"Huh?" the tall man with the wild hair and goatee further back in the line asked, looking up confusedly.
"Marv, on board, now," the shorter prisoner snapped from the top step of the bus.
"OK, back in the back, Lyme," the driver jerked a finger to the seats behind the bar. The prisoner sat down on the driver's side and stared determinedly at the other prisoners being loaded on board. Overcrowding at Joliet had recently led to a prison-wide decision to transfer several prisoners south to another jail near Carbondale. Two groups of prisoners had already been shipped out, and he and his partner had been chosen to be among this the third transfer...
"Well, here we go, Harry," the taller prisoner plopped down next to him, "So when do we make...?"
"Shhhhh!" Harry hissed furiously at him. After Marv had basically guaranteed that extra time would be added to their previous sentences last Christmas in New York by stupidly blurting out a spontaneous confession upon their arrest in Central Park, he wasn't going to take any chances of a repeat happening, not until his next plan came to fruition.
He turned his gaze back to the front of the bus. Once word had gotten around the prison grapevine that he and Marv would be among the next group being transferred, he'd taken care to get the entire group's identities. They had then all met during lunch earlier in the week and finalized a collective working agreement of sorts. The guards didn't know it, but they were now outnumbered, and the bus wasn't going to end up at Carbondale as planned.
Slowly, the rest of his accomplices filtered on board. First came the squat, weasel-faced Robert "Fingers" Hawley, a major Chicago area safecracker who'd knocked off numerous banks and jewelry stores before he'd been caught. Next was huge, hulking Lenny Snygg, alias the Bruiser Boy, a low level mob enforcer who'd specialized in making sure those in debt to the mafia paid up or else. Finally came long-haired "Switchblade Sam" McGurk, a former transient who'd rode the rails from town to town robbing everything he could, until he'd been caught down in southern Illinois after a run-in with a smart aleck kid-a fate Harry could sympathize with completely. Together they were now in essence the "Wet Bandit Gang." And if all went well, very soon they'd be working together to enrich each other...
"That's it," one of the guards climbed on board as well and locked the door to the prisoners' area. "Murchens, further in the back; no intermingling that close," he dragged Marv away from his partner and dumped him into another seat further back. "All right gentlemen, you're ours for the next three hours," he announced to the prisoners, "Everybody stay seated and don't do anything you'll regret," he hefted his shotgun to emphasize this point. "Take them out, Floyd," he instructed the driver, who pulled forward towards the main gate. Harry leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, wanting to savor his hopefully final minutes inside the too-familiar confines of Joliet. By this time last year, he'd been hoping the same thing after he and Marv had escaped in a massive prison riot and made their way to New York. But before they could leave the country, they'd run into...HIM. And thanks to Him, they'd been sent right back to Joliet in June after having been convicted of robbing Duncan's Toy Chest on Christmas Eve, adding an additional twenty years onto the thirty year sentences they'd already been serving for Chicago area robberies. Indeed, Harry's only regret was that, if the escape went perfectly, he wouldn't have a chance to get even with the kid. Oh well, he figured, one couldn't have everything in life.
He breathed a sigh of relief as the bus chugged out the main gate; part one was complete. Now they had to wait for the right moment. He glanced around the bus at the other prisoners. Each quickly winked at him in turn. They were all set. Satisfied, he turned to the window and watched the scenery go by. As time inched on, they moved past suburban houses, then Joliet's downtown business district, and finally took the turn onto the interstate. Harry perked up in his seat. Now they just had to wait until they were far enough out of the city...
The minutes continued to drag on. The Chicago skyline appeared in the distance, rose tall as they passed it, then receded. Finally, as the bus approached the airport, Harry knew it was time. He checked up front. The guard was having a casual conversation with the driver and not noticing his prisoners. Perfect. He winked at each of his cohorts, then turned to Marv and nodded. Marv, however, frowned in confusion. Harry rolled his eyes in disgust and mouthed, "Now!" Marv's face lit up in realization. "Hey Guard, can we stop?" he spoke up loudly, "I gotta go the bathroom!"
"Too bad, Murchens, you should have gone before you left," the guard told him off curtly.
"I did; I gotta go again. Come on, stop the bus!" Marv whined, hopping up and down in fake agony.
"I'm warning you Murchens, you'll face a load of consequences if you don't sit down and hold it," the guard warned him, rising up and brandishing the shotgun.
"This is tyranny. We don't have to take this, right guys?" Marv asked the other prisoners, "Let's go on strike now: Attica! Attica! Alcatraz! The Bastille...!"
"That's it, sit down, Murchens!" the guard stormed towards him. Harry ever so carefully stuck out his foot and tripped him when the guard passed his seat. He nodded to Lenny, who quickly pulled a sharpened lead pipe from under his pant leg. "OK Lyme!" enraged, the guard turned towards him, "That's...!"
He didn't get a chance to finish, as Lenny leaped up and walloped him in the back of the head with the pipe, then drove the sharp end through the guard's back. "Get the guns, get the guns!" Harry shouted, tossing the mob enforcer the shotgun, and pulling the guard's pistols out of their holsters. "OK pal, stop the bus right now!" he ordered the driver, leveling both pistols at him.
"No way!" the driver jammed his foot on the accelerator instead and reached for the bus's radio. Harry fired at the radio, exploding it in a shower of sparks. He then jumped aside as Lenny fired shotgun blasts at the driver, who managed to squirm around in his seat and avoid them-but in so doing lost control of the bus, which swerved off the exit ramp ahead of them, then zoomed sideways off the ramp and crashed hard into an electrical substation, causing blinding flashes of light and showers of electricity. Harry rolled hard into the door, but found himself basically unharmed. "Everybody OK?" he asked the other prisoners.
"Just fine, Harry," Fingers called out in the darkness.
"Good. Get the keys, and let's get outta here," Harry urged him impatiently. People would have seen the crash and would be coming to help any victims. "Hurry up, hurry up, let's go!" he shouted as Fingers fumbled around unlocking his own chains.
"I'm going as fast as I can, Harry!" the safecracker protested, but then tossed Harry the keys anyway. Harry quickly unlocked his own chains, then opened the door to the front of the bus. Quick, quick, and watch any juice out here," he warned the others, pointing at several sparking generators near the door. He checked the driver, who was slumped against the wheel, unconscious now. Perfect, he thought, jumping to freedom, his plan had gone perfectly...
"We did it, Harry!" Marv was ecstatic as he joined his partner on solid ground. He hugged Harry hard. "We're gonna be...!"
"Marv, let go now, or I'll rip yer lungs out," Harry warned him, shoving the keys into Marv's hands. Marv shrugged and started unlocking himself. "See Sammy, I told ya Harry knew what he was doing," he told the transient, who was next off the bus.
"We ain't clear yet," Sam snarled, snatching the keys off Marv, "I don't see an escape vehicle..."
"Wrong, there's our escape vehicle, Sammy," Harry pointed triumphantly at an airport shuttle not fifteen feet away. "Everybody double time, double time!" he barked at the rest of the gang, rushing out of the wreckage of the bus, "Fingers, you know how to hot wire these things; get it hot!"
He kicked the driver's side window in with a shattering of glass and pulled up the lock. "In, in, everybody in!" he threw open the van's sliding door. The convicts all piled in. Harry slipped into the front seat, glancing impatiently around the area. No sign of anyone coming, which was good. Perhaps no one had seen the crash yet...
"Harry, look," Marv was staring out the passenger window, "Looks like we knocked out all the power to the airport. See?"
Indeed, all the terminals appeared to be pitch black. But Harry had little time to contemplate this, as the sound of the shuttle's engine starting signaled the completion of Fingers's hot wiring. "Great job, Fingers. Move back, I'm drivin'," the shorter crook slid into the driver's seat and stepped on the gas. The shuttle zoomed out the shattered gate, across several lanes of traffic to the honking of horns, and back up the ramp onto the interstate. "And here we go!" Harry declared, jamming his foot down hard on the accelerator until they were over a hundred miles an hour, "Next stop, West Coast. And good work, gentlemen," he extended a hand for his partners to slap, "The Wet Bandits Gang is now officially in business."
"STICKY Bandits Gang," Marv corrected him, "We changed the name, remember?"
Harry ignored him. "OK, we'll ditch this baby once we're in Iowa, and get some new wheels and studs," he told the other crooks, not taking his eyes off the road, "Then we'll pull one last big job before we leave the country, and there ain't nothin' gonna stop us this time..."
"When are they going to get the lights back on!?" Julian protested in the pitch-dark terminal, squatting down hard in his seat, "And what's going on here in the first place!?"
"I have no idea, Julian, but I think they'll get them back on quick," Kevin tried to rationalize. He glanced around in the darkness. The power had gone out without any warning and had been off for about ten minutes now. All around him, total chaos was reigning, as regular passengers and airport officials were running pell-mell everywhere, trying to get everything straightened out. He could hear Mrs. Ingram somewhere behind him, trying to urge the fourth graders to all stay together. Hopefully, he thought, they'd be able to, as this had the possibility of portending something disastrous...
"I just want to be on the plane and out of here; now this has to happen!" Nate complained loudly next to him, "Why did I just know this was going to happen...!?"
"We'll take off, Nate, so just relax," Ethan assured him, "If this is just a power failure, they'll get all the planes off the ground as soon as it's back on-if they can sort out who goes where..."
Kevin's attention was diverted elsewhere nearby, by the sound of someone else sobbing. He recognized the voice, and could make out the silhouette in the darkness. Cautiously, he rose from his seat and crawled over. "Sarah, it's me, Kevin," he whispered softly, so as not to startle her. Sarah Tafton was in a number of his classes-and he knew she came from one of the poorest families in Shermer, one that lived in a shack by the railroad tracks. Indeed, he could make out how shabby her clothing was in the darkness, and how malnourished she appeared. "Don't you like the darkness?" he asked her gently. A loud sob was all he got for an answer. "It's all right. Come on over with me; there's more light by the window," he took her hand and gently let her over back to his seat. "Hey, what're you bringing a girl over here for, Kevin!?" Nate protested the newest addition to their group, "She's not..."
"She needs company, Nate," Kevin glared at him. "There's no need to be afraid of the dark," he gently told Sarah, helping her into his own seat, "I realized a few years ago there's nothing to worry about."
"Bad people move around in the dark," Sarah mumbled worriedly, her eyes darting around the terminal in fear, "We were robbed in the night last year..."
"Well there's no one bad around here now. And I've come to see you've got to face your fears to be a better person," he comforted her. "So, anyway, are you excited to see Santa's village once we do get in the air?"
"I don't know," she seemed melancholy, "Santa never gives us anything anyway. I don't know if he's even real..."
"Believe me, he's real," Kevin said firmly, "When I asked him to bring my family home after they'd accidentally left me behind the other Christmas, he made the wish come true."
"What?" she looked puzzled and worried, "Your family left you behind!?"
"Not deliberately. If we get a chance, I can tell you all about it on the plane," he told her; she hadn't been one of the people he'd told his adventures to yet.
"And it's an interesting tale he has to tell too," Julian explained to her as well. "But seriously, Kevin," he frowned at him, "How can you still believe in Santa at ten years old? Half the rest of us knows he doesn't exist."
"And where's your proof he doesn't, Julian?" Kevin raised an eyebrow at him, "I know the ones you see in the stores and street corners only work for him, but just because they..."
It was at this moment the lights came back on in the terminal to a loud cheer from everyone. "Finally, thank God!" Nate exclaimed, jumping back to his feet, "Now let's get this show on the road!"
"Um, maybe not so fast, pal; looks like the computers are scrambled from the failure," Ethan pointed towards the check-in desks, where the arrival and departure computers were just booting back up, "It'll probably take them a while to get it all reset."
"I can't wait; I want to get out of here!" Nate whined.
"Relax, Nate, we'll get on board soon," Kevin tried to assure him. He glanced around at the group of fourth graders all around him, trying to be herded together by Mrs. Ingram-who was tapped on the shoulder by an airport employee and gestured towards the counter. "Now what's going on?" he frowned.
"Looks like something about the flight being switched due to the blackout; can't quite make out what they're saying for sure," Ethan squinted at the two adults.
"I want to hear this," Kevin bustled towards his teacher-but was cut off as a large group of passengers abruptly disembarked from a nearby gate, blocking his path. "Excuse me please, I want to get through!" he protested, trying to weave through the crowd...
"You there, young man," came another adult's voice to his right. A well-dressed man was towing a rack filled with luggage towards him. "You look strong enough; carry some of Miss Danielle's luggage for her," he instructed Kevin.
"Look, I'd rather not..." Kevin found he had no choice, as the man dumped several heavy suitcases into his arms. He staggered around, trying to keep his balance. "Thanks for volunteering, McCallister," a snooty girl's voice now chimed in behind him.
"I didn't volunteer, Danielle," Kevin rolled his eyes in disgust. Diametrically opposite of Sarah in almost every way was Danielle Lindhurst, daughter of one of Shermer's richest men. And she showed it now, for she was wearing a fur coat and several pounds of jewelry around her neck. "Find several other boys to carry the rest of it, Frain," she instructed her consort, "Tell them we'll tip good for it."
"As you wish, Miss Danielle. You there, come carry some of Miss Danielle's luggage too," the valet strode over to Nate and dumped several more suitcases into his arms. Like Kevin, Nate grimaced and staggered under the weight. "What is this!?" he demanded to Danielle, "I'm not a butler...!"
"You're here now, and that's all that matters," she told him off, "That will be all, Frain," she instructed the valet, "I should be back within four hours; have some additional suitcases ready for what I buy."
"As you wish, Miss Danielle; enjoy your trip," the valet nodded at her and bustled off down the concourse. "We're only going on a four hour trip; how much are you bringing!?" Nate continued protesting to Danielle.
"I always come prepared for Christmas shopping," she remained aloof towards him, "Daddy says I have free reign to buy whatever I want, so I always bring..."
"Quiet, quiet," Kevin waved her off. An announcement was coming over the PA system: "...all flights scheduled over the last ten minutes are now departing from their respective gates; this is final call for all flights over the last ten minutes." "So if we're switching, which flight is it!?" he glanced up at the counter, but Mrs. Ingram was leaving it, and he couldn't hear what she was saying to the rest of his class. And it became impossible to hear, for a very large group of people suddenly rushed full tilt towards the concourse, and soon Kevin found himself lost in a massive crowd. "Hey, hey, where is everyone!?" he desperately strained to look around, but the crowd was too thick to show any of his classmates-and it was only getting thicker as additional passengers rushed out of other gates. "Anyone!?" he called out, desperate to be heard over the cacophony. He couldn't be left behind again...!
"Nate!? Julian!? Anyone!?" he cried out for his friends, scanning the mass of humanity for a familiar face.
"Kevin, over here!" Nate was calling out to him. Kevin could just make out Nate's hand waving through the crowd. "Forget all this," he grumbled, tossing Danielle's luggage to the floor; she could carry it herself if she wanted it, he thought to himself.
He noticed Sarah to his left by the seats, also looking lost and worried. "Here, come with me," he took hold of her hands, "We'll find my friends and hope we know what the right flight is. Nate!?" he called out again.
"Here!" he could see Nate waving again. He pulled Sarah forward through the crowds. "Which gate, Nate!?" he asked when he was face to face with his friend again.
"How should I know!?" Nate complained, looking wildly around for anyone their age, "There's too many people here...!"
"Hey guys, over here!" Ethan was waving from Gate 69 further down the concourse. Kevin and his friends rushed over. "Is this the right one, Ethan!?" he grilled the class brain.
"I think so," Ethan said, but he didn't look one hundred percent certain, "I think I just saw Mark Flaherty and Mike Todd go in here..."
"Are you absolutely sure!?" Kevin pressed the point, "I don't want to get on the wrong plane two years in a row...!"
"Hurry guys, they're about to shut the door down here!" Julian shouted from up the gangway. Kevin glanced around the concourse, but still couldn't see anyone familiar in the crush of people at all. "Guess this is it, then," he reasoned out loud. "Come on, let's hurry," he told Sarah, still holding on to her as they followed Nate and Ethan down the gangway into the plane. "Take your seats immediately, please, the flight is about to take off," the stewardess abrupt cut him off when he tried to ask which flight it was. Shrugging, he rushed for the nearest open seat. "Well, we made it, I guess," he remarked, out loud, scanning the cabin for any more familiar faces.
"Yep, I think that's Mark and Mike up there," Nate pointed a few rows up. And Kevin did think the kids in question did look like his classmates. "Well, that's good, I think," he breathed a sigh of relief.
"McCallister," it was Danielle again, and she was frowning at him in the aisle, "Where's my beauty trunks?"
"Oh, nice and safe back on the concourse, Danielle. If you want them, go back and get them," Kevin smirked, glad to tell her off for once.
"How dare you, McCallister!?" she shrieked at him, "That was my personal...!"
"Please take your seat, miss; we're about to take off," the stewardess approached her.
"Let me off now; this riffraff left my luggage outside!" Danielle protested, pointing accusingly at Kevin, "And don't turn me down, my father's richer than you can dream...!"
"And I don't care how rich he is; take your seat now," the stewardess dragged her up the aisle. Kevin smiled in satisfaction. "She's asked for it for a long time," he told an equally smiling Nate.
"Yep," Nate pulled out his Walkman and put the headphones to his ears, "Let me know when we're descending, Kevin."
He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. "Well, here we go," Kevin leaned past Nate to tell Sarah, "Trust me, you'll like what comes next."
"I hope so," she said softly, still not looking certain, "So, you said you'd been left behind?"
"Oh yeah. Well, it's an interesting story," Kevin quickly buckled his seatbelt as the plane started moving away from the gate, "I guess you could say it started two years ago. My family was going to Paris, and they were starting to drive me crazy..."
He was in fact so caught up in telling her the tale that he failed to notice the film now playing on the TV monitor above his seat, which was saying, "Welcome aboard Cross American flight 666, traveling non-stop to Las Vegas, Nevada. Please listen to these special instructions..."