Calm Before the Storm
"Sir, anything new!?" Peter grilled the security chief as he came back up the hall towards the waiting room, "Are the phones back up yet!?"
"We're still working on it, Mr. McCallister," the security chief said calmly, "A couple of gate attendants might have seen a boy that looked like your son; problem is, they were at four separate gates, so it's going to take some time to figure out whose story is the most accurate. The phones look to be just about fixed, so we should be able to call the airports he may have gone to soon. I'll have to ask, though, that you and your wife stay patient; this will take a lot of time."
"I'm trying, believe me, I'm trying, even though it's hard," Peter told him, his face nonetheless wracked with anxiety, "And I thank you for sending out the shuttles to get the rest of my family here; it's best if we're together. Again, once the phones are fixed..."
"Yes, yes, I know, Mr. McCallister; you and your wife can work the phones, if you accept we'll be in charge of everything. Excuse me, I've got more interviews to do," the security chief bustled away down the hall. Peter looked out the nearest window, where dawn had broken over the airport, but the snow was still coming in buckets; he guessed it was now a good twenty inches, which meant that even if they found where Kevin had gone soon, there was no way they'd be able to get to him until the runways were cleared, which probably would take all day. "We're trying, Kevin; don't lose hope," he said softly, hoping his youngest child could somehow hear him wherever he was.
With a low sigh, he walked back into the waiting room, where Kate was now seated next to a newer arrival. "Peter, this is Rachel Tafton; her daughter Sarah was one of the kids who went missing with Kevin," she introduced the newcomer to him.
"Nice to meet you, and sorry we have to meet like this," Peter shook her hand, "No news to report at the moment, but they're working on looking for your daughter. You doing OK?"
"No," Mrs. Tafton shook her head; it was clearly she had been crying hard at some point in the recent past, "Sarah's the only thing that matters to me, the only thing that gets me through each miserable day, and if I lose her, I don't know what I'll do."
She hung her head. "Sarah was so looking forward to this trip. She appreciates anything that gets her away from the dump we have to live in. You can only guess how it feels to be stuck in abject poverty with no way out. Ever since her father was murdered when she was four, we've had no way to go up. I've given everything I had for her, but it's hard when you can't get more than minimum wage. I just feel guilty that this had to happen on a night she was supposed to be happy, and here I am, powerless to bring my little girl back..."
"It's all right, it's not your fault," Kate hugged her close, "We know how you feel; we've," her face contorted uncomfortably, "We have experience misplacing Kevin, unfortunately. This is the...is the...is the..." she couldn't bring herself to say it.
"Uh, what my wife's trying to say is, we've lost track of Kevin three years in a row now," Peter picked up, looking uncomfortable himself at their past mistakes, "It's almost a McCallister family holiday tradition for..."
"Peter!" his wife cut him off again, pain on her face. Mrs. Tafton's face looked stunned. "Three years in a row? How does that happen?" she had to ask.
"It's, um..." Kate's attention was diverted as another new arrival came into the waiting room. "Janice, good, you made it," she greeted Ethan's mother.
"Kate," Mrs. Rhodes rushed to her, also looking worried, "I would have been here sooner, but with this blizzard running...thank God the airport sent the shuttle...any news on Ethan!?"
"Nothing concrete, but we're working on it; there are a few leads," Kate informed her, "Rachel Tafton's daughter," she pointed at Mrs. Tafton, "disappeared with Ethan and Kevin and the other missing kids, so if they..."
The waiting room door swung open again. "Sorry I'm late," Kate recognized Mr. Rhodes as entering the room now, "What's the latest on...!?"
"How dare you show up here!?" Mrs. Rhodes' expression darkened substantially, "You have no right to show up here after what you've done to Ethan and me with your cheating around...!"
"He's still my son, Janice, and you have no right to block me from him!" Mr. Rhodes was just as enraged with her, "And don't think I haven't known about you sleeping around with every man you've come across!"
"So what if I have!? You've done it more, and I will not let Ethan be hurt by you any longer!"
"Oh I've hurt him!? What about you ripping him up for bombing on that test recently!? You call yourself an upstanding mother after that!? I was willing to be reasonable with him...!"
"You stayed quiet then to make me look bad, Allen, just like you always do!" she roared in his face, "You're so bent on making me the heavy to him, you'll do anything! Well when do find him, he's staying with me, and I'll get a restraining order filed on you...!"
"You get the damn restraining order, and I'll press kidnapping charges, Janice!" he roared back, "You want to play dirty, I'm game!"
"I know you are, you cheating coward!" she gave him a hard shove.
"And you're unfit to be Ethan's mother, you slut!" he shoved her back.
"You come near my son again, and you're a dead man, you piece of...!"
"STOP, JUST STOP IT, BOTH OF YOU!" Kate bellowed, jumping between the two of them, "I don't care which of you did what to who; your son is missing, and both of you should be working together on that, even if your marriage is over!"
"I'm not doing anything with her!" Mr. Rhodes jerked an accusing finger at his soon to be ex-wife, "I'll find Ethan myself, without her help or anyone's help, and when I do, I'm filing for full custody and...!"
"You file for his custody and I'll make sure you never hold another job as long as you live!" Mrs. Rhodes threatened back.
"You can't do that and you know it! And by the way...!"
"I SAID STOP!" Kate slapped both of them in turn, "If you're both going to act like this, then you should both leave! If you're not willing to put Ethan first, neither of you is fit to be his parents!"
"My wife's right," Peter joined her, glaring sharply at both Rhodeses, "This is no time for personal problems. Your son should trump all of that, and if you can't do that, then frankly neither of you belong here."
"You're right, you're right," Mrs. Rhodes took a deep breath, "Ethan comes first. And I'll put everything into finding him. But not with him," she turned her back to her husband.
"Good, because I don't need you, Janice," he did the same, "I only need Ethan, and I'm getting him now."
He stormed out of the waiting room. "You can go to hell, Allen!" Mrs. Rhodes shouted after him. "Sorry, but it's been rough the last few weeks," she admitted to Peter and Kate, "I can guess Ethan appreciates getting away from everything Allen's put us through."
"I can tell," Kate said grimly, "But I don't think Allen's the only one at fault."
"Don't blame me, Kate; he's the one who slept around on me and Ethan like there was no tomorrow," Mrs. Rhodes refused to let go of the vendetta, "Because of that, Ethan's grades have suffered..."
"You know what, we don't want to hear it, because like we said, it's not important right now," Peter coldly cut her off, "You're still not putting your son first."
"I'm just saying it like it is...Kate, you know it is!" her pleas fell on deaf ears, for the McCallisters were walking away from her. "Right now I feel soooo glad we have what we have, Peter," Kate told him gratefully.
"So do I," he pulled her close and gave her a kiss, "For all the mistakes we've made, at least we haven't become them."
"Mr. McCallister, just want you and everyone to know, the phones are back up now," an airport security guard stuck his head in the waiting room doorway.
"Good, finally," Peter breathed a sigh of relief, "Listen, I wasn't able to get through to the rest of our family last night; I'd like to call them first and make sure the airport shuttle picked them up."
"Right this way, then," the guard gestured him out of the room. Kate plopped back down next to Mrs. Tafton. "Sorry you had to witness all that," she apologized to her, shooting another glare at Mrs. Rhodes pacing on the other side of the room.
"Don't be; you and your husband are right," Mrs. Tafton absolved her, "Children should come first."
"I know," Kate nodded, "And don't feel like a bad mother because this happened; as long as you make the effort to get back to your child, you're still a worthwhile parent. It's the suspense of not knowing that's the killer," she exhaled softly, "But at least he's only lost and not in any actual trouble...I hope..."
"Here we are, boys, Vegas," Harry proclaimed grandly, gesturing at the familiar Welcome sign at the top of the Strip passing by the RV, "Didn't I say we'd make it safe?"
"Well, looks like your plan was a great one in the end, Harry," Fingers commended him, grinning at the resorts looming in the distance, "I've dreamed of doing the ultimate job of nailing a casino."
"Well, dreams come true in Vegas," Marv rubbed his hands excitedly, "Not to mention there's loads and loads of pretty women to get to know better..."
"Marv, make out time comes later; we got work to do," Harry glared at him, stifling a yawn of his own. He was admittedly worn out after having been driving full tilt all night. He and his gang had stopped only twice, to ditch the airport shuttle in Iowa, and to dump their prison uniforms, snatch new clothes, and pick up some extra weapons and tools just west of Denver. Adrenaline, however, was keeping him awake at the moment, and the knowledge the biggest payday of his life was within reach.
"Would have loved to have been here when the syndicates still ran the town," Lenny mused, staring at the Stratosphere looming off the right side of the RV, "They'd probably give guys like us a discount if we buttered up to them enough."
"Well, I hate to rain on everyone's parade, but I'm not sure we have what we need to break into a casino vault just yet," Sam argued from the very rear of the RV, flicking his brand new switchblade open and closed, "So if our fearless leader here can't come up with something to..."
"Hey Sammy, we agreed I'd be leading our happy outfit, so don't push yer luck," Harry warned him, tapping the gun in his pocket, "So if you don't want in on this..."
"Of course I want in, Harry; I live for challenges, and a casino vault's the ultimate challenge of all," the thieving transient said firmly, "It's just that I don't charge blindly into each job; I think out the best way to get the loot..."
"Which I have done too, for yer info," Harry abruptly braked to a stop as the light turned red in front of him, "Now we all know casinos vaults are guarded night and day with everything the brass's got. But the newer ones need time to become impregnable. Because they just started up, they ain't watched as tightly. Of course, there's still millions if not billions inside..."
"The point being, Harry...!?" Sam cut him off again.
"Point being, boys, who's new in town, and making a mint, that nobody's going to think to rob?" Harry posed to his gang.
"Thurston Howell III?" Marv guessed off the top of his head. Noticing Harry glaring at him again, he quickly revised his answer to, "Thurston Howell IV, Harry?"
"You can come out of Lalaland any time ya want, Marv," Harry rolled his eyes in disgust, "I meant, that," he pointed down the street, where Marty Moose's face looked down from the Walley World Casino. "Ah. I knew that," Marv said quickly.
"Sure you did," Sam was equally disgusted at Marv's thickness. "We'll have to check it out first, just to make sure Fingers can blast through it with what we do have," he declared.
"Hey, they haven't made a safe or vault yet I can't crack," Fingers bragged, "And this is Vegas; they blow stuff up here all the time. I can get more explosives or drills anywhere in this city."
"So like the man said, let's case the place first," Harry accelerated towards the casino, "If we're lucky, this'll be easier than it looks for us..."
"Thank you; you were one of the most entertaining parts of The Ramayana," Kevin told the costumed Hanuman the monkey god, taking an autograph from him, "Mr. Walley should really consider giving you a spin off project at some point."
Hanuman merely shrugged and wandered off to the next table. Kevin took another bite of the pancakes before him on the dining room table. "I really enjoy the concept of character breakfasts," he told his classmates.
"Same here, Kevin. Thanks, Thomas," Julian took his own autograph from Marty's friend Thomas the turtle, "Who else is here?" he scanned the room for more characters. "Orville," he waved the opossum over next.
"Princess Sita," Sarah was eagerly trying to get Prince Rama's bride over as well-and indeed Sita came bustling over. There was a soft sigh from Nate, who leaned close to Kevin's ear. "Not that I'm complaining, but what is it with girls and princesses?" he had to ask his friend.
"Always putting princesses down, aren't you boys?" Danielle snorted. She was not partaking in the autograph signing, chewing away on her waffles without looking up. "Never mind you're all obsessed with your silly superheroes and knights and everything, and that's even worse," she retorted.
"Hey, knights stand for the best in the world," Julian protested, shaking Orville's hand after getting his signature, "They uphold the code of chivalry, help the poor, fight for what's right, and all that."
"Well, the best of them did; the worst burned and pillaged and killed anyone they wanted to during the Middle Ages," Ethan pointed out to him, getting his own autograph from Prince Rama himself, "Just so you know."
"Sometimes I think fiction's better than real life," Julian mumbled, turning back to his notepad and his own knight story. Kevin shook his head softly. "OK, so we'll have to draw up the schedule for today," he told his classmates, "Anyone know what they want to do, so we can work it around the Splat Zone taping if we make it?"
"Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur," Julian said without a second thought.
"I kind of wouldn't mind seeing the museum at the Tropicana with all the historic artifacts," Ethan offered.
"Do they offer motorcycle jumps over the fountains at Caesar's?" Nate inquired.
"Nope, not without a license," Kevin shook his head, "I'd like the gondola rides at the Venetian myself..."
"Come on, we've got to try for the thrill rides," Nate pressed, "I know we can beat the height requirements."
"If we have time, maybe, and if we're not over budget," Kevin cautioned, "We should really be back here before dark; I kind of don't want to be out on the Strip after dark."
"Because you're afraid, that's why," Danielle taunted him. Kevin suppressed a yell. "Because I know some bad people come out on the streets here after dark," he told her as calmly as he could manage, "And for the record, Danielle, if we're doing everything we want to do, you're going to have to share the credit card with us."
"I'll do whatever I want with it," she remained firm, "I'll go along with you because I have no choice at the moment, but don't think I'll enjoy any of it."
"Good, because we're not going to enjoy your company either...Papageno," Nate waved down The Magic Flute's birdman for another autograph. "All right then, concerning Splat Zone," Kevin returned to the itinerary, "We know it's four players per team. I promised Sarah she'd be on the team, so she is. Ethan really should be too given his IQ; we need all the help we can get in the first round. I really want to do it too, so Nate, Julian, who's willing to sacrifice?" he asked them, feeling a little guilty to have to posit this to them.
"Not me," both of them said simultaneously. They frowned at each other. "Sure you won't reconsider...?" Nate pressed Sarah.
"I want to be on TV," she said, looking eager to be.
"And a promise is a promise, Nate," Kevin reminded him. Nate sighed in resignation. "OK," he pulled out a dime and held it up to Julian, "Heads it's me, tails it's you."
"Deal," Julian leaned forward in anticipation. Nate flipped the dime in the air. "Heads, I'm going to be a star!" he pumped his fist in delight.
"But of course, you can be our manager and trainer, Julian," Kevin quickly cut in, not wanting Julian to feel left out at all.
"Guaranteed equal cut of whatever our winnings are?" Julian pressed.
"Guaranteed," Kevin nodded.
"All right," Julian didn't look completely placated, but at least it was clear he wasn't going to press furiously for a spot, Kevin rationalized. Glancing across the dining room, he saw Martin Walley sitting down at the table in the corner, looking somewhat depressed. He slid down off his chair and walked towards him. "Good morning," he greeted Roy Walley's son. Martin looked up. "Oh, hello," he greeted Kevin softly, "Did you have a good night's sleep?"
"Reasonably good; the beds are pretty nice here," Kevin told him, "Are those people OK from last night?"
"A couple aren't," Martin shook his head grimly, "They had to be taken to the hospital. This'll mean more lawsuits for sure."
"Did you find out what was wrong with the Jorinde and Joringal float?"
"Something went wrong with the wiring or something. It almost looked like it got tampered with, but I don't know how..." Martin slumped his head forward onto the table, "How did I get myself into this!? Right now, I'd give anything to be a thousand miles away from all this..."
"Is it hard being Roy Walley's son?" Kevin inquired.
"Kind of," Martin looked up again, "I mean, I know he loves me, and I love him, but...he has big footsteps, for everything he's done, and I don't know if I can fill them...I want to fill them-I don't think Mr. Burke's the answer to the succession, personally, but..."
"What about me!?" it was Burke himself, striding over to the table with a smug expression, "You realize, of course, your father has placed full confidence in me at the moment, and since I do outrank you right now, you ought to be careful what you say to my face."
"Mr. Burke, please, now is not the time," Martin frowned at him, "Let's just get the Jorinde float fixed, the rest of the fleet inspected, and see what we can dole out to the families as compensation."
"It happened on your watch, so that's your job," Burke told him off, "And let me reiterate my feelings that I oppose donating half this casino's revenue to charity..."
"Mr. Burke, that has already been decided, and you know it," Martin rose to his feet, "You were there in the boardroom when we hammered out the compromise to opening this casino; exactly half of what we take in during the year goes to charitable organizations. If we're going to be running a casino, we're going to do so for the benefit of the public."
"And let me say that was a stupid compromise," Burke muttered, "But if you want to go ahead with it and send this resort down the drain, don't let me stop you-and don't think the board'll back you and the old man up if anything were to go wrong."
He finally noticed Kevin standing nearby, frowning at him. "Do you have a problem, kid!?" he told him sternly, "And aren't you the brat who checked in unattended up the hall from me?"
"The name is Kevin, Mr. Burke," Kevin told him firmly, "Yes, I am, and no, we're not unattended."
"Really? Well then, where's the Mr. Charles Lindhurst in who's name your room was booked, as per this hotel's records?" Burke dared him, "Going by what I've learned from the overnight staff, no one by that name came into the building at all between the time you and your friends checked in and now. Care to explain, young man?"
"Um..." Kevin frantically tried to think of an excuse that would stick, "He, uh, um, he...he wasn't coming here now. His, uh, meeting lasted into this morning, but he booked us in and told us to make ourselves at home. He might be in later today, after, uh, it's all done."
"I certainly hope so, for your sake," Burke glared at him. "And I hope you know what you're doing, because you don't have the board's backing anymore," he warned Martin before storming off. Roy Walley's son exhaled in relief once Burke was gone. "I'm regretting that we ever hired him," he mumbled out loud.
"I can see," Kevin turned towards him, his mind racing on how to throw the clearly suspicious Burke off their scent in the near term. "So, you said the casino's money's going to charity?" he asked.
"It was part of the compromise in agreeing to open it," Martin explained to him, "My father made it clear that if we were going to do it, the public was going to benefit from us doing it. Tomorrow night after Jorinde and Joringal's premiere, we'll take exactly half of the accumulated total out of the vault and ship it off to several charitable organizations: Make a Wish, March of Dimes, MDA, you name it. And we've taken in enough so that they may be getting close to half a billion in all."
"I think that's a really good idea," Kevin commended him. On a whim, he pulled out his wallet and dug through it. All he could find, though, was a single twenty dollar bill. He hadn't anticipated being stranded like this, he knew. Still, it WAS Christmas, and it WAS a good cause...
"Here," he dug out the bill and handed it to Martin, "It's not much, but you can add it to the grand total that gets sent out."
"Oh no, I can't take this..." Martin tried to push it away.
"Please, I insist," Kevin pressed it into his hand, "There are people who need it a lot more than I do out there. And we should always try and do good deeds at Christmas."
Martin's face broke into a grin. "It's times like this I still feel good about the way the world is," he commended Kevin, slipping the bill into his pocket, "All right, we'll add it to the grand total. And we'll make sure your name's listed as a contributor."
"Thanks, but that won't be necessary," Kevin told him, "Just being able to help's good enough. Well," he glanced at his watch, "Probably should get going; we do have a busy day ahead."
"Hope you enjoy it, Kevin. Oh, wait, before you go," Martin stopped him before he could leave, "You had said last night you were interested in being on Splat Zone's holiday show tonight? They moved up the auditions to ten; talent coordinator had some commitments before lunch, so they rearranged everything to accommodate her."
"Ten?" Kevin glanced at his watch, which now read quarter to ten. "Well thanks for the warning. We'll head over there now; Studio 3, right?"
"OK. Thanks for everything," Kevin told him in parting. He rushed back to his own table. "Change of plans; they're auditioning for Splat Zone earlier," he told everyone, then laid out the specifics. "Well then, let's get going," Nate rose up, "Stardom awaits now."
IF we make it, Nate," Kevin reminded him, following Nate and the others out of the dining room, "I think we will, but just to..."
He abruptly came to a sudden stop. A strange, ominous feeling was suddenly washing over him, as if an evil presence was somewhere nearby. His head shot around to the left, where the feeling seemed to be emanating from. And for a moment, he thought he caught a glimpse of a dark blue wool cap and wild brown hair in the crowd, before scores of people swarmed in and blocked the view out. He blinked hard once they had all passed, but what he'd thought he'd seen was no longer there...if he'd seen it in the first place...
"Hey Kevin, you all right?" Julian was leaning into his face, concerned.
"Oh, uh, yeah, Julian; just thought I saw something there for a moment," Kevin continued staring into the crowd, but still couldn't see anything noteworthy. Julian followed his gaze. "Well, there's nothing there now," he remarked, "Come on, let's book it."
He dragged Kevin towards Studio 3. "Get it together, McCallister, it was only your imagination," Kevin tried to tell himself, "The Bad Guys are safely back in jail; there's no way they could be here now..."