Face to Face Once More
"General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee; how may I help you?" came the voice on the other end of the phone.
"Yes, my name is Kate McCallister; my son disappeared yesterday at O'Hare in Chicago, and I'm calling to see if you have him there in Milwaukee," Kate said over the phone, her hands shaking nervously, "Were any missing children found at any of your terminals?"
"One moment please," the airport receptionist in Milwaukee said matter of factually. Kate tapped her fingers on the desk, pleading in her head that there'd be at least some good news. Instead, however, the receptionist merely responded, "I'm sorry, we have not had any unattended children here recently."
"Well did anyone see anything? He may have passed through and gotten in a cab, or...!"
"I'm sorry, but you're looking in the wrong place for your son. Good luck with him, though," the receptionist hung up. Kate sighed miserably and hung back up, then hefted a pencil and crossed out Milwaukee on the piece of paper in front of her. Half of the cities that were also on the list had been crossed out as well, and her nerves were getting more and more shot with each elimination of where Kevin could be.
There was another click next to her as Mrs. Ostrowski, who had also volunteered to work the phones, hung up as well. "Anything!?" Kate spun towards her, hoping there was something.
"No," Mrs. Ostrowski shook her head softly, "They're not in Jacksonville either. I'm getting worried, Kate," she slumped her head against the desk, "What if they didn't get on the planes we thought they we did!? What if...we can never find them...?"
She started sniffing. Kate tapped her hand sympathetically. To her left, her husband's voice got louder on his own phone: "...how long has Mr. Lindhurst's meeting been going on!?" he was demanding out loud, "Well if you're his private secretary, then you have to have the power to contact him at a moment's notice. Look, I know he's a busy man, but this is his daughter we're talking about; she's been missing for close to twenty-four hours now, and I would hope he make the time to come back for her, that's all!" There was a long pause, during which his expression got significantly darker. "You know what, fine then!" he roared, "If Mr. Lindhurst can't interrupt his stupid business trip for his daughter when she's gone missing, then he doesn't deserve her back, and you tell him that as I said it! Yeah, and I mean it too, and since you're not doing anything to talk him out of it, you're really no better! Merry Christmas, for what it's worth!"
He slammed the receiver down. "Pompous jackass, Kate," he grumbled bitterly to his wife, "Can't even bother to pick up the phone himself even though he has to know his daughter's missing by now. Doesn't he realize that's as much abusive as if he hit her?"
Kate nodded grimly. "Too much money clouds the mind to what's important," she muttered out loud, "Well, anyway, he's not in Milwaukee either, Peter. I'm starting to..."
"Kate," at was Aunt Leslie behind her. The rest of the McCallisters had finally arrived. "Any news?" Kate's sister-in-law stepped forward.
"No," Kate shook her head, "And we've eliminated half the places he could have gone..."
"How did this happen again!?" Uncle Frank demanded, "It's like you want to torture us with this each year now, finding a new way to forget him so..."
"Frank, don't, please; we're not in the mood," Peter cut his brother off, frustration on his face. "You guys all right? We were a bit worried all of you couldn't make it," he approached his own family, giving each of them welcome hugs.
"If you call being stuck at the rest area on I-94 just outside the city all night because the plows couldn't bother digging out the interstate all right, then sure we're good," Buzz muttered in disgust.
"We're just fine, Dad," Megan added, giving her brother a disapproving look, "We got back just in time to read the note on the front door to come here before the airport shuttle came. Any idea where he might be at all?"
"We're working on it," her father tried to assure her, "Progress is coming slowly but...hey, what about those gate attendants!?" he flagged down the airport security chief, who was passing by, "Whose story fits the best!?"
"Sorry, Mr. McCallister, still can't say with certainty," the security chief told him, "They all only got a glimpse of the boy they thought they saw, so we can't lock in which one he got on."
"And you're just going to leave it at that!? Come on, sit them down and extract as much out of them as you can!" Peter goaded him hard.
"Mr. McCallister, we're doing what we can, trust me, but this is going to take some time," the security chief stressed.
"Well you've already taken almost twenty-four hours already; how much longer CAN it take!?"
"We're working on it. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some more calls to make," the security chief bustled off. Peter slapped his hands to his temples and growled in frustration. "You see, we're fighting an uphill battle here," he told the rest of the family, "Why don't you all man the phones with us; we've got the cities he may have gone to, and we're trying to narrow it down."
"Why should I, when you lost him!?" Uncle Frank posed defiantly. Before his brother could say anything, however, two more people rushed into the room. "Ah, Clarence, Corinne, we were worried you weren't going to make it," Peter greeted Julian's parents, "You're the last ones willing to show up to show up."
"We would have been here sooner," Mrs. Clark gasped, out of breath, "We were taking Andy to on a college visitation trip; the snowstorm forced us into a motel until the roads were clear again. Do they know where Julian is!?"
"Well," Kate approached, his face contorting, "There's good news and bad news. The good is, we're narrowing it down where he and the other kids might be; the bad is, still no actual trace of them. We're calling all the airports the planes they might have been on all landed; we'd appreciate all the help we can get."
"I knew he shouldn't have gone on this trip," Mr. Clark grumbled, "I knew that some fancy pants nothing excursion to some fake Santa's Village outside of town wasn't worth it, but did anyone listen to me?"
"You know, Clarence, it's getting rather hard to listen to you anymore," Mrs. Clark rounded on him, frowning deeply, "Julian made it clear he wanted to go on the trip, even with you bent on talking him out of it. And the way you've been pushing him to do what you want him too, it's hard to blame him for wanting to get away."
"Why are you blaming me for this!?" Mr. Clark protested, "It's not my fault he disappeared! For God's sake, Corinne, I just want my sons to grow up to be men and not...!"
"And not what!? Pushing Andy to be a man was what landed him in detention for that incident with Larry Lester," she was glaring now, "And you've been hell-bent on making over Julian in Andy's image; he doesn't want to wrestle, Clarence, and you have to accept that. Screaming at him that he was chickening out before he left on this trip was no way to treat him right. Can't you accept he wants to be a writer instead!?"
"I am not the bad guy, Corinne! I just...I just want my son back safe," Mr. Clark hung his head, "The last thing I want to do is hurt him, or see him hurt..."
"Well, guess what, Clarence, you hurt him," his wife told him sternly, "Just like you hurt Andy with your pushing him to 'be a man.' So when we do find him, you'd better give him an apology outright."
"Whatever does get him back. Peter, what can I do?" Mr. Clark asked him.
"That phone right there," Peter pointed to the one he'd previously been sitting at, "I was going to try Nashville's airport next."
Mr. Clark quickly rushed to the phone in question and started dialing. "You'll have to forgive Clarence; he has a lot to learn," Mrs. Clark apologized to the McCallisters.
"Oh no need to explain, Corinne; compared to some of what we've seen the other parents here do, you're rather lucky it's only that he has an inflated ego," Kate glanced across the room at the Rhodeses, seated well away from each other and deliberately not looking in each other's direction as they made their own calls for their son.
"I just wish we could have taken him here, or come along as chaperones; maybe this wouldn't have happened," Mrs. Clark lamented, putting her face in her hands, "It's murder knowing my baby's out there all by himself, wondering how he's feeling..."
"Oh yeah!" Julian shouted in delight, applauding the knights clashing lances in the middle of the arena at the Excalibur. Kevin applauded as well; the show was much better than he had anticipated. "I can tell you're in heaven," he asided to his friend. Julian merely cheered at another clash of spears among the combatants. Kevin took another slurp of his tomato soup. "And I can see you're really enjoying the meal too," he told Sarah next to him, noticing she was almost finished her plate.
"It's been so long since I've had a really good meal," she admitted between bites of her biscuit, "Usually we have to make do with small amounts that still leave me hungry afterward."
"Well then, have some more," Kevin slid her the rest of his Cornish hen. "Thanks," she told him, rolling it onto her plate, "This has been a great day so far."
Kevin nodded, leaning back in his seat to watch the show. He had only been able to make the first call, to Alex to tell him to watch the Walley Channel that evening, for Nate had watched him like a hawk, as if suspecting he wanted to call Chicago again. He still had the extra quarter in his pocket, however, to be used at a later time. In the meantime, he'd vowed to enjoy the day regardless.
And enjoyed it, they all had. They'd taken the monorail shuttle to the north end of the Strip and had gradually worked their way back down to the Excalibur, which was more or less across the street for the Walley resort. They had taken in several trapeze acts at Circus Circus, caught a magic show at Harrah's, rode the canal boats at the Venetian as Kevin had wished, visited the Mirage's Secret Garden, and in general had taken in the impressive hotel architecture (Kevin personally enjoyed Caesars Palace the best). And yet, part of him had felt a strange sensation the whole day, a feeling that they were being followed. And for a brief moment while riding the Venetian canal boats, he'd thought he'd seen the last two people he'd wanted to see atop a bridge over the canal. Although it had turned out not to be the burglars upon closer inspection, part of him still felt on edge, almost as if they were still somewhere around him even in the relative safety of the theater...
A loud humming to his left made him turn and frown. Along with his anxiety over the thought of being followed, the other down side to the day was that Danielle had taken the opportunity to shop up a storm in just about every resort they'd gone to. As such, her seat was bracketed with stacks of boxes. She was also uninterested in the show, writing an entry into what was apparently her diary. "You know, Danielle, for the money we spent for these tickets, I'd've hoped you'd at least try to enjoy the show," he told her firmly.
"And I've told you, McCallister, I don't care for boys' shows," she told him off without looking up.
"Which is your problem, because this is basically like Prince Tomino's final showdown with the Queen of the Night and her minions," Nate lambasted her as well, "And you'd said you liked The Magic Flute a lot."
"Walley films, yes; live action boys' shows, no, Ostrowski," she also did not give him the benefit of a glance, "I'd rather still be shopping if you'd ask me."
"Which brings up another point, Danielle; you spent too much," Kevin scolded her, "We could have used some of the card's credit for food more than presents, and you max it out before we have dinner..."
"And I reiterate, McCallister, it's MY card, and even when paying for all of your silly shows, I can still use it as I see fit," she hissed, finally glaring at him.
"You know, there's hundreds of starving kids out there who can only dream of holding a credit card, and all you can think of is presents," Kevin's blood was starting to boil, "That's as selfish as anyone can get."
"And nobody, least of all you, can tell me how to think, McCallister, because...!"
"Shhh, we're trying to enjoy the show-yeah, yeah!" Ethan started cheering along with Julian once the latest combatants got down off their horses and started engaging in hand to hand combat. Kevin turned back forward to watch the duel, too disgusted with Danielle's greed to press the point any further. "You're right," Sarah whispered in his ear, "Food should always come before anything. I wish we could afford presents, though," her expression crashed again.
"Well, consider this my present to you," Kevin pointed to the brawling knights on the arena floor, "A Christmas present of getting away from it all."
"Thanks," she grinned, "You still look worried, though."
"Well, he leaned close to her, "Not that I'm worried yet, but as much as Danielle insists there's no problem with her card, if we run it up too high, they might still phone the authorities on us; it looks suspicious if we spend too much, and unfortunately, Danielle's little shopping spree probably tipped somebody off that something's not right," he gestured with contempt at the stacks of boxes.
"Oh come on, pal, you're overreacting," Nate, having listened in, leaned over, "We're in no danger at all."
"Uh, Mr. Burke, I have some big news," Les ran into his superior's office inside the casino. He paused dramatically, his arms spread wide. "Yes, Murphy!?" Burke asked impatiently.
"I called around the casinos," his henchman told him, "Several of them reported those kids we were looking into making big purchases with the credit card they used to check in here. Moreover, I searched hotel records; Mr. Charles Lindhurst is currently booked into a room in Singapore, sir."
"I see," a dark look spread on Burke's face, "I knew we were right to suspect something was up with those unattended brats. Tell Stone to notify everyone with security to keep an eye out for those miscreants; the moment they show up in this hotel again, arrest them immediately. We're not supposed to be running a playground here, we're..."
The phone on his desk rang. "Damn, the old bat again," Burke grumbled at the sight of Roy Walley's name on the called ID line. He forced a smile as he picked up the phone. "Good evening, Mr. Walley, how is everything?"
"That's what I was going to ask you, Chuck," came Walley's voice on the other end, "I heard there was another accident at the resort last night. What's going on out there?"
"I really don't know, Mr. Walley, and I think that would be your son's responsibility more than mine," Burke offered innocently.
"I'll reiterate, Chuck, that I trust Martin implicitly to run the resort. I'd just like all the mishaps stopped. Is everything set for Jorinde and Joringal's premiere?"
"Um, as good as we could get it, Mr. Walley," Burke said, rolling his eyes in disgust towards Les and miming choking, "The red carpet should be out and ready for you tomorrow now; the big screen's set up in the courtyard for everyone who drew the VIP tickets..."
"Now come on, Chuck, I said I wanted everyone to be able to see it," Walley protested, "This premiere is an open gate event."
"As you wish, Mr. Walley. What time can we expect you to arrive?"
"Barring any setbacks, I'll be landing at the Las Vegas airport at six tomorrow night, so have everything set up for me then. Oh, and tell Martin not to let any of what's happening get to him; he's going to make a fine company president some day, I just know it."
"I'm sure he will, sir. See you tomorrow night, then," Burke hung up. "This premiere is an open gate event," he derisively mocked Walley out loud, "How does he expect to maximize profits if he lets the stupid public in for free!?"
"Well, not to complain, sir, but that is the way the company has been operating since..." Les tried to explain.
"Don't start, Murphy, or you'll jeopardize your seat on the board once I'm in charge," Burke warned him sternly. "Anyway," he rose from his seat and stared out the window at the courtyard, where seats were being set up for Jorinde and Joringal's premiere, "Now that we know when the old fool's coming, we can work our timetable around that. We'll just have to find a way to keep him at the airport until those professionals we hired empty the vault and we've sufficiently framed his spawn for the robbery."
"I suppose we could start the diversionary part of the plan early," Les suggested, "Tell him that he has to stay at McCarran until everything's cleared."
"Perhaps, Murphy. Now we've got to pass along the timetable to those goons-where did they get to anyway...?"
"Should be comin' outta there any minute now, Marv," Harry said, his voice rife with anticipation. He and his partner stood in Excalibur's lobby, staring intently at the doors to the Tournament of Kings theater.
"So what's the plan, Harry?" Marv asked, his eyes wide with excitement at what was to happen very soon now.
"We catch him when he comes out, drag him and the other brats he's with outta here as quietly as possible, find a nice quite alley, and plug him good. And if they put up a fight, we'll plug them too," Harry reached into his coat pockets and fingered the guns in each of them. Each had more than enough ammo to finish both the kid and his friends five times over, he knew. There'd be no escape for the little creep this time, he swore darkly.
He clenched the gun in his left pocket as the theater doors swung open, signaling the end of the show. He and Marv had followed the kid discreetly all day, and neither he nor his friends had noticed them at all. Now their paths were finally about to converge at last-and sure enough, a familiar voice rang out from just inside the nearest theater door, "...I swear we're taking some of this back, Danielle!"
"If you want me to go along with this, McCallister, you'll just cork it and keep carrying all my gifts," one of the girls with the kid retorted. Harry grinned in triumph at confirmation it was in fact their mortal enemy that he and Marv had been trailing all day. And now, the kid himself came into sight, staggering under the weight of several boxes, which obscured his view. Harry nodded to Marv, who hefted his crowbar with a menacing glare. The two burglars slowly approached the group of children, who still hadn't noticed them. "I'm not going to let you keep running up the bill on us, Danielle! This is a group trip whether you like it or not, and we need to eat, not to mention pay for the airline tickets to go back home if our families don't come here for us!" the kid continued the argument, "And I'm not going to lug all this junk back to the hotel when there's starving kids all over the world, even in this city!"
"Let me take it off your hands then, kid," Harry bent down and snatched the boxes out of his foe's hands, leaving them face to face once again. "Merry Christmas, little buddy," he growled, "Don't even think about screamin'."