"Real nice, real nice," Harry remarked, staring around the Walley World Resort's lobby, "Yep, they'll have a load of dough to take."
"So I hope you do have a plan on getting to the vault, Harry?" Lenny leaned towards him, "Because I know from past experience that a good..."
"Not to worry, Lenny; I've got a plan. Watch and see," Harry strode up to the front desk. "Morning," he greeted Les, "I'm with United Vault Checkers Incorporated. We've come to inspect your casino's vault."
"Huh?" Les was completely confused.
"Got a call in that your safe might be unsafe," Harry told him, "My colleagues and I," he gestured back at the Wet Bandits Gang, "want to give it a look-over to make sure it's A-OK."
"Um," Les quickly typed in some information on his computer, "Well, Mr. Whatever You Said, uh, you don't seem to be in the call list..."
"That's OK; your boss said we could show up any time we wanted," Harry said quickly, "No need for any clearance; he said to just come in and do what we want. So if you'll just direct us to the vault, we'll give it our top grade inspection and certify it's a safe safe."
"Well, it is back there," Les pointed through the off limits door to the left, "But I should probably clear this..."
"Nah, we have special permission from the boss to do our job in there. So," Harry saw Les's code card in his tuxedo pocket and quickly swiped it. "Hey!" the desk clerk protested.
"Thanks; we'll give it right back when we're done," the leader of the Wet Bandits Gang told him, "Come on boys, let's go check out that safe," he waved the rest of the gang towards the door to the vault. He swiped the card and held it open for them. "I think you already got them suspicious, Harry," Sam grumbled at him.
"Not to worry, Sammy; we'll be in and out once we get a good look at the vault and how to blow it," Harry assured him. "Then we'll show up tomorrow and break it open. And there we are."
Already they could see the vault at the end of the corridor at the bottom of the stairs. The five escapees bustled up to the bars separating any guests from the vault door. "Hello retirement fund," Marv breathed excitedly, "OK Fingers, what does it look like?"
"Hmm," Fingers examined the vault door carefully, "Wish I could get closer for a better look, but it appears there's about four main bolts, and the steel's about eight inches thick. My best guess, I could probably open it in about a half hour with the proper tools."
"OK, first thing we do once we finish here is get all that stuff," Harry declared, "You saw all the posters about the latest Walley animated feature when we came in; everybody'll be busy watching that. We gotta come up with a way to distract security so we can get back here..."
"I could run around the lobby in my underwear," Marv proposed. Harry ignored him. "And then, make sure we keep them away till we got the loot out," he continued, "Lenny, since you've whacked a couple guys, you're gonna be the point guy," he told the mob enforcer, "Keep security away till we get all the cash out. Then we'll carry it out the back door and disappear into the night to make it to the border and live a happy retirement down in Mexico."
"And HOW do we get it out, Harry?" Sam raised his eyebrows, "Have you thought about a getaway vehicle? Or disguises to get back in here now that vault inspectors are off the table?"
"Look Sammy, I know what I'm doing," Harry said, irritated, "The plan's coming together with..."
"FREEZE!" came the sudden shout from behind them. Dozens of security guards were now rushing towards them, guns drawn. Marv's hands immediately shot up in surrender. "Get 'em down!" Harry yanked his partners' arms down. "Everything checks out, boys; ya gotta good safe here," he calmly told the approaching guards, "We'll just certify that..."
"Up against the wall!" the leader of the guards grabbed him and slammed him into the wall, "We checked; there's no 'vault checkers' coming here today. So what's the real story!?"
"Uh...we wondered if, being Walley, you were gonna give any free samples for Christmas?" Marv blurted out. Harry groaned in frustration. "All right, come on along," the head guard dragged Harry back up the hall, "You've got a lot of explaining to do to the boss."
"Time," the contestant coordinator on Stage 3 called out. Kevin dropped his pencil to the desk in front of him and handed in the written Splat Zone application test to a production aide standing nearby. "What do you suppose all that commotion outside was?" he asked Nate next to him; the sounds of security guards scrambling around shouting had interrupted the test taking a few moments ago.
"Who knows, probably some guy tried to run with a slot machine," Nate shrugged, handing in his test as well. "So how'd we do?" he eagerly asked the coordinator, a firm-looking woman.
"Hmm," the coordinator looked over the tests, "Seems reasonable enough for the written part. Now let's see how you do with the physical part."
She waved Kevin, Nate, Sarah, and Ethan over towards a series of chairs and large cardboard rolls set up as a rudimentary obstacle course. "Each of you will get a timed run through this to see if you're physically fit to run in the Splat Zone and to handle the qualifying round to reach the Zone," she explained, "If your times are fast enough compared to the rest of today's applicants, you'll be chosen for the show. Who's going first?"
"I'll do it," Kevin stepped forward.
"All right, just follow the arrows through. On your mark, get set, go," she hit the start button on her stopwatch. Kevin raced through the course as fast as he could, weaving around and under chairs, climbing up others and sliding down the rolls. Finally, he reached the finish line. "Fifty-three and a quarter seconds; not bad," the coordinator said without a trace of emotion, "Next please."
"Good luck," Kevin tapped Nate on the shoulder as his friend stepped into position for the next run. He bustled over to where Julian and Danielle were standing by the soundstage wall. "Did I look good, Coach?" he asked the former.
"Not bad, but I suppose I could train you and everyone else to be even better while we're going around Vegas later today," Julian was taking his role as de facto group manager rather seriously, "I'll whip you all into good shape."
"Oh, I think you guys are looking good already," came Sidney's voice from around the corner. The bellboy stepped around into sight. "Just wanted to check how things were going," he told the kids with a smile.
"Are you a creep or something to be following us around like you are!?" Danielle frowned at him.
"Easy, he's not hurting anyone," Kevin glared at her. Until Sidney actually made any kind of dangerous move, he felt he could trust the man; his past experiences with Old Man Marley and the pigeon lady had made him see adults in a better light. "What was going on outside that had hotel security all up in arms?" he asked the bellboy.
"Oh nothing major; some guys got into a restricted area, that's all. They'll probably be escorted out, and that'll be the end of it," Sidney laid it out for him.
"Ah," Kevin took a deep sigh of relief; if it was only that, it probably wasn't the Bad Guys. "So, do you always try and befriend all the kids around here?" he asked their big friend.
"Well, I do like kids a lot; you can learn a lot about life getting to know them. So I guess you're all enjoying yourselves here in all?" Sidney asked all the kids.
"You know it," Julian grinned, "In fact, we don't want to go home."
"You know, funny you should say that, because," Sidney bent down to his level, "Confidentially, you kids don't really have any adults here with you, do you?"
"No, of course we do," Julian went white at having the secret exposed, "Danielle's dad'll be in any...!"
"You don't have to make stories up to me. I'm not going to call the police," Sidney assured him, "But would you care to explain the real story?"
"Well, I...!" Julian stammered for an answer.
"Julian, might as well tell him," Kevin interceded. He could tell Sidney was on their side, so honesty would probably help here, he reasoned. He laid out for the bellboy the series of events that had led he and his friends to the resort. "I see," Sidney nodded when Kevin had finished, "Well, you did choose the right place to come, but I still think you probably should have let your folks know where you are."
"I tried a couple times, but my parents weren't in," Kevin admitted, "And now that we've used the credit card to check in, we can't call the police. I nearly got arrested in New York last year for the same thing."
"Last year?" Sidney looked confused. Kevin laid out his adventures over the last two years, including his stay at the Plaza, to the bellboy. He noticed his teammates approaching, looking winded from their efforts at the obstacle course. "How'd it go?" he asked them.
"Exhausting, but I think we did it," Ethan said, leaning against the wall to regain his breath, "Now if we do make it, we'll have to decide which two of us gets to run in the Splat Zone if we win."
"Well before all that, maybe you should finally let your folks know you're here," Sidney told him with a firm look.
"Huh!?" Ethan's head shot up, "How'd...but...!?"
"Oh, I was just able to put two and two together over the last couple of hours," Sidney explained to him.
"Look, you can't turn us in!" Nate begged him, "I don't want to go home; my parents made it clear they don't want me anymore! The rest of us don't want to go home either...!"
"Oh I'm not going to turn you in," Sidney told him, "But maybe you should realize that you are alone in a city not all that kind to kids outside of this casino, and now that you used someone else's credit card to check in..."
"That's my father's card, you fat buttinski, so it's perfectly all right," Danielle told him smarmily, making Sidney wince uncomfortably at being called fat, "And I'll be perfectly all right; if we get in a pinch, I can simply call Daddy and have him clear me, and he'll send Frain to come pick me up. Everyone else here can take the fall."
"Oh no we won't!" Nate rounded on her, enraged, "You're as much a part of this as everyone, and...!"
"Excuse me," the talent coordinator was approaching them, "If I'm not interrupting anything, what was the name you had suggested for yourselves if you'd made it?"
"Oh, uh, the Shermer Strike Force," Kevin told her; he'd felt the title would be a good way to honor their hometown. "Did we make it...!?"
"Congratulations, Shermer Strike Force; you have been approved for tonight's taping of Splat Zone," she commended them.
"YES!" Kevin pumped a fist in delight, embracing his teammates. "We go on the air live at six; be here no later than five thirty to be fitted for your team uniforms. And good luck," the coordinator gave them some final instructions.
"Thank you," Kevin nodded at her. "Well, we did it," he exclaimed, high-fiving Julian as well, "We've got to call and let..."
"No, no calls," Nate firmly stepped into his path, "We're not calling anyone."
"...call Alex and let him know we're on," Kevin iterated sternly, "You know how much he likes the show; maybe that'll cheer him up from being under the weather."
"OK, Alex is fine-as long as you make it clear he can't tell anyone," Nate warned him, "Well, now that we made it," his expression got brighter, "We've got a whole day ahead of us, so let's go celebrate on the Strip!"
The rest of the children cheered and rushed for the soundstage exit. "I'll be along in a minute," Kevin called after them. "Oh, Alex is another friend; he's home sick, so he couldn't make this trip, otherwise he'd probably be here with us," he explained to Sidney.
"Ah," Sidney nodded, "I would still let your families know this is where you are," he advised Kevin firmly.
"I've been trying to, but like I said, no luck so far, and as you can see, the others are enjoying it too much here-and they have too many problems at home they want to keep away from," Kevin sighed, "I've tried to tell them how much I've learned about how important family is, but they won't listen to me on it."
"Well, I'd say to keep trying," Sidney told him, "Because I do like you kids, and I don't want you getting in trouble with the law or anything."
"We'll try not to. Well, are you going to watch us on the air tonight, then?" Kevin asked him.
"Oh, I think I can probably maneuver the porting schedule around so I can sneak in a seat in the audience," the bellboy grinned.
"OK, see you then," Kevin started to leave, then turned again. "Uh, can I have two quarters? I'll pay you back later if I can; I'd like to make two calls if they'll let me..."
"No need," Sidney dug out two quarters and flipped them towards him, "Martin Walley told me how kind you were to give money towards what we're giving to charity tomorrow. So no need to pay me back."
Well, if you insist. See you later, then," Kevin rushed out of the soundstage, hoping he wouldn't be watched by the others when he made the calls he wanted to.
"I knew I should have stayed back in Joliet," Sam muttered in disgust inside the windowless holding room the Wet Bandits Gang was locked in, "Anything was better than following you two idiots and getting more time slapped onto my old sentence...!"
"Hey, we ain't sunk yet, Sammy," Harry told him curtly, "We just explain this was a misunderstanding, and they'll let us go no problem."
"Do you even hear yourself talk some times!?" the former transient continued ranting, "It's a miracle you and Marv even managed to pull any successful jobs in the first place!"
"Don't talk about Harry like that; he's a criminal genius!" Marv protested, putting a supportive arm around Harry.
"A genius whose idea of attempting to rob a bank is to stumble into the bank with a garbage bag with no eyeholes over his head so by the time he reached the counter, everyone's too busy laughing to be afraid!?" an equally frustrated Lenny growled at him.
"That would have worked just fine if they'd taken us seriously!" Marv argued.
"Which was awfully hard to do when you walk up to the drive thru window with whipped cream sprayed all over yer head and demanding all the money from there!" Harry glared at his partner, "I coulda scared them into handing it...!"
He went silent as the door was unlocked behind him. "Gentlemen, I'm Mr. Stone, head of security for this casino," the head guard walked in, "I'd like you to meet Mr. Chuck Burke, Chairman of the Board of Roy Walley Entertainment, who is overseeing critical aspects of the resort at this time."
He gestured Burke into the room. Burke, however, was grinning as he sat down at the only empty seat around the table the convicts were seated at. "Good afternoon, gentlemen," he greeted them all, "I would like to start out by assuring you that nothing in this room is being recorded at this moment in time. Now would you care to explain why you were snooping around near this casino's vault, as Mr. Stone here told me you were?"
"Looking for free samples?" Marv dug up his old excuse again.
"There's no need to lie to me, sir; I can tell from the security feed the five of you intended to rob that vault if you'd had the chance," Burke leaned towards them, "But I want you to know that I'm not going to press charges against any of you. In fact, no one will know about it. Because, since breaking into that vault was clearly your objective, I would in fact like to hire you all to do so."
"Huh?" Harry frowned, "What's this all about?"
"Allow me to explain," Burke gestured for Stone to close and lock the door, "There's a lot of money in that vault that's being diverted to organizations I don't want to see it diverted to tomorrow night-a decision by Roy Walley that I don't like. But I can get rid of Walley if he and his son are made to look bad. So I would like to offer you gentlemen a deal: you break into the vault before the money's loaded onto trucks to be given to charity tomorrow, and you can keep as much as you want."
"Is this a trick!?" Lenny demanded, "I've seen guys fall for something like this before."
"No tricks, my good man. In fact, to show I'm on the level with you all..." Burke dug several large wads of cash out of his tuxedo pockets and handed them to each convict, "Ten thousand dollars for each of you just to show my appreciation. I've been looking for men to handle this job, and it looks like the five of you might be it. Moreover, if you successfully pull off the robbery, I can arrange for a getaway vehicle and transport to a country without an extradition law, and no one will ever know anything. What do you say, gentlemen?"
"One moment, please," Harry waved his associates into a group huddle. "OK," he told Burke when they'd finished, "We're gonna be watchin' ya to make sure this ain't no trick. But if ya do uphold yer end, then you can count on the services of the Wet Bandits Gang. And that's a promise from Harry Lyme himself-me," he extended his hand.
"Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Lyme," Burke shook Harry's hand, "All right, now that we have an agreement, I'll arrange for lodging for you gentlemen until this operation off property-I think a penthouse at Paris might do well, since I know the owners there. I'll call it in for you men now; a man will meet you there tonight with more specific instructions on when to arrive for the job tomorrow. And remember, not a word to anyone about any of this."
"Don't worry, Mr. Burke, our lips are sealed," Marv made a zipping motion over his lips and mumbled with his mouth closed. "Right. Well, anyway, you're free to go, gentlemen," Burke waved for Stone to unlock the door, "Be here sharp at the appointed time; we'll take care of the rest for you."
"And security...?" Fingers still looked unsure.
"Don't worry about security; most of security's with us on this," Stone assured him.
"Great. Well, catch you later." Harry gestured the rest of his gang to follow him. "It's the jackpot, boys!" he whispered excitedly to them once they were back out in the lobby, "We get the whole vault, and a luxury room to go with it!"
"If only there was some way we could confirm this guy's on the level," Sam still looked suspicious.
"Ah, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it, Sammy. OK boys, take five," Harry informed Fingers and Lenny, "You've got the preliminary payment; go enjoy the town with it. We'll meet at our hotel at nine and wait for his messenger."
Pocketing their money, the two new members of Harry's gang bustled for the door, Sam following close behind. "Well, where to now, Marv?" Harry asked his original partner.
"Wherever there's showgirls," Marv declared, eagerly running his fingers through his own wad of cash, "I wanna be with as many pretty ladies as we can...Harry?"
Harry's eyes were widening as he stared towards the lobby's front door. A group of children were exiting, and in the rear, rushing to catch up...
"Marv, look," he pointed, "I think that's HIM!"
"Him!?" Marv squinted towards the door, "Ya know, it kinda did look like him a little, Harry..."
"Look? I know it was him, Marv," a dark look was spreading on Harry's face, "I wouldn't forget his face anywhere. And it looks like he's all alone again. Come on, let's follow him; we'll get him when he don't expect it..."