V Fast Eddie’s Last Gas
V Fast Eddie’s Last Gas
A blustery wind picked up, galvanizing the leaves and tall grass into a cacophony of sound and conspiring against the pace of the five travelers. They were almost across the Wooded Fields. Their travel nearly passed without incident, save for Peter’s persistent paranoid glances over his shoulder, convinced that Max changed his mind, deciding to risk the Loose Drop in order to catch them from behind. He knew the folly of this line of thinking. It was bound to slow them down, especially since all his friends shared the same fear, stopping to see what Peter though he saw. Priscilla seemed the only focused member of their crew, nudging Peter along every time he slowed to see what mental illusion of his followed them and topping it off with a sour look, fairly uncharacteristic of her typical demeanor.
Eventually the oak trees began to thin and they emerged to the remaining open, scrub covered land leading to where Old Oak Highway intersected with Main St. Fast Eddie’s Last Gas would be in the crook of that intersection, a good regrouping point before their primary excursion into town. In addition, they had two bikes with flat tires that maybe they could implore with Fast Eddie to fix. They may need to leave their rides behind there. Peter’s awareness to the passage of times increasingly intensified. Would Max stop at Fast Eddie’s and ambush them? Or would he continue on into town, finding a suitable tree or alleyway to pop out of when they finally approached? At least one adult would be there at Fast Eddie’s: Fast Eddie himself. Peter doubted Aunt Gretchen could’ve turned Fast Eddie against them. But doubt to that doubt gnawed at Peter’s guts.
“I wonder what time is,” Peter stated more to himself than anyone else. Regardless, everyone stopped once again, looking at their wrists and patting their clothing in search of elusive timepieces. Nobody possessed one.
Doodle looked down at the ground, clearly defeated. “Bo Bo,” he said sadly.
“Oh my God!” Priscilla shouted in a crescendoing scream. “Where is Bo Bo? We left him! Oh, God, Peter, we left him with Max!”
An unnerving chill shuddered through Peter, starting at the top of his scalp and cascading down his body’s skin until it reached his feet, then made a return journey back to his scalp. A crushing feeling engulfed his heart; a feeling that if he possessed a clearer mind, he might associate with abject failure. In their mad rush to escape Max, they had abandoned a family member, one who could be singularly credited for that very opportunity.
“Oh boy,” Bug slapped his forehead with his free hand. His faced winced up with the thought of Bo Bo’s possible fate.
A squeak emanated from Leela and she immediately burst into tears. Priscilla turned fully around, facing the way they came. She began calling for the feline frantically, shrilly. The sound of her voice scared Peter. It vocalized the terror creeping through him. Peter couldn’t help but join in, but with less of a panicked tone. The others soon followed. As with any fatal error or unfortunate turn of events, the standard individual wants to take it all back, erase the series of events that led them there. It is within that vulnerable moment that the heart lays bare all of its pathetic and genuine glory, as if an honest plea of forgiveness could be heard amongst the clamor and chaos that is the regular unfairness of the world. But still the attempt is made for that once in a lifetime chance that either time will reverse itself or the reality perceived is not incarnate.
Bo Bo emerged from the taller grass, not fifty feet away from them, limping slightly. He was favoring his right front paw. Everyone let out a gasp of relief and started to shed tears simultaneously, at least those that weren’t shedding them already. Priscilla rushed forward and scooped him up carefully, holding the feline close to her chest, but mindful of the hurt paw. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she carefully touched and inspected it. She cooed in his ear softly, reassuring him. Bo Bo began to purr despite his injury. Everyone gathered around but kept a space around Priscilla and her cat out of respect for the circumstances.
“Poor kitty,” Priscilla whispered to Bo Bo. “You were so brave, tackling that evil Monkey and saving us. I can’t believe we forgot about you. I’ll understand if you’re mad at us. It’s okay. You followed us all this way the whole time. I’m so sorry, kitty. How’s your paw? Oh, is it tender? Oh, Peter, what are we going to do? He’s hurt!”
Peter reached out and softly touched Bo Bo’s hurt paw. Bo Bo winced slightly and withdrew it. Peter rubbed the kitty on the forehead for reassurance. He was at a loss. The paw wasn’t broken, but it might be sprained. At the very least, the cat needed to see a veterinarian. How could they go on with their quest? Everything seemed to be unraveling. Why hadn’t the Sooth Jewels depicted this? Was this some sort of test? Regardless, they needed to get moving.
“Hey, maybe we need to call this whole thing off. I mean, what are we doing here? Now Bo Bo is hurt. We need to get him to a Vet. Do we really know what we are doing here?”
Everyone except Priscilla looked somberly at Peter, seeking leadership, but confused by his doubt. Priscilla’s eyes stormed over.
“What are you talking about, Peter? Dad is missing! We have to continue. Bo Bo is hurt because we got scared. We need to stick together and press on. Bo Bo’s okay. He can ride in your book bag, like usual. Just be careful. And everyone needs to remember everyone else at all times!”
It is an interesting point of fact that everyone in their little group considered Peter their leader, even Priscilla. They’d seen Peter doubt himself before, but the funny thing about twins (at least these twins) is that they complement each other. Whenever one felt weak or unsure, the other stepped in to provide support and strength. It’s as if neither wants to see the other compromised. One might question what would happen if both experienced insecurity at the same time. In those rare instances, another had always been there to guide them back to assuredness, such as Dad or Bo Bo. With Dad gone and Bo Bo not feeling so secure himself, the twins now traveled unchartered territory. Priscilla recognized this. She knew she could not let despair descend upon them. The others (either through character, upbringing, or circumstance) never developed the courage of a leader and so deferred to the twins, namely Peter. Priscilla also recognized this, which put her in the awkward spot of security revivalist for her brother.
Peter appeared shocked at Priscilla’s resolve, but was thankful for it. He realized how weak he must’ve just sounded. Scanning his friends’ expressions, he gauged that they remained unaffected by the lapse. “Right, right, P. Here, let’s put Bo Bo in my bag. Carefully, now. There you go, kitty.”
Everyone showed concern over Bo Bo’s condition, but they also expressed relief that the mission seemed back on schedule. Within a few minutes, the whole incident transformed itself into a bump in the road to their collective consciousness. They all turned towards their destination and trudged on. The gated community of Prudence was clearly visible now and a red rocket ship mounted sign that signified Fast Eddie’s gas station grew larger with every footfall. The anticipation over their destination’s proximity quickened their step and lightened their hearts, however briefly and unfounded that was to be.
Fast Eddie’s Last Gas beamed like a beacon at the crook of Main Street and Oak Street. Main Street led into town not a football’s field length away. The gas station appeared a small affair, just a two car service garage with aluminum roll-up doors attached to a tiny windowed office. A single folding chair in front of the office’s desk served as the waiting room. Behind the office was a restroom, accessible from the rear of the building on the outside. An aluminum siding overhang in the front sheltered two gas pumps with older mechanical displays rather than the modern digital. Except for the aluminum roll-up doors of the garage and the white face displays of the pump, the establishment was comprised of corrugated sheet metal, painted bright red with a big metal rocket ship sign mounted on the roof. White trimmed red lettering raced across the side of the rocket ship proclaiming “Fast Eddie’s Last Gas” and implying service of stellar, if not intergalactic, proportions.
Approaching the joint, the distant glamour wore thin as one surveyed the unpaved dustiness of the premises, the grease streaks on the windows and pumps, and the faded and peeling paint of the building itself. While well indeed Fast Eddie’s might be the last, if not the only, gas available within a considerable traveling distance, it was also reasonably apparent that the establishment was probably the last of its kind. Positioned at the entrance to town, the station was really “last” to only those leaving or perhaps bypassing the town altogether. Peter wondered how long it had been here and how long it would remain. “Last Gas” sounded awfully similar to “Last Gasp” and should a major gas retailer muscle in, Fast Eddie may find himself working from his home garage tinkering on old Studebakers and Opels.
Fast Eddie himself was a harmless fellow, if not the epitome of quirkiness, almost as if he had stepped out of the same time and dimension as his gas station. Tall and lanky, he seemed perpetually clothed in faded, greasy denim overalls sans shirt with ancient steel-toed leather work boots. His cap matched his overalls and never seemed to sit squarely on his head, but rather tilted to one side with the brim flipped up. His mannerisms seemed almost gawky, like a stork or some other ungainly avian. Fast Eddie wore his personality like an open book, which made him endearing for his simpleness, but additionally exposed his lack of sophistication.
As they approached the station, Peter mused that while Fast Eddie was quick to greet his clientele, there was nothing particularly fast about the gas jockey. He often stopped to jaw-jack about irrelevant topics and tended to over-diagnose the situation. Being the only gas around for miles, if not the last one, Peter figured Fast Eddie could afford to be leisurely regarding business. This brought to mind the question of why he didn’t name his station “Slow Eddie’s Last Gas?” Of course, that didn’t quite have the same ring to it and might not serve his business interests too well. “Casual Eddie’s Last Gas” contained a certain ring to it, but it failed to adequately serve the rocket ship logo. Peter stowed the idea for now, determined to consult with Fast Eddie in the future over a possible change in direction.
Dad occasionally talked fondly of Fast Eddie, especially after gassing up the Jalopy. Dad typically spent a few minutes to a few hours jaw jacking with the man whenever he stopped in. He would claim that Fast Eddie was the “Last Honest American,” which was odd, since Fast Eddie came from Australia. When Peter asked what that meant Dad would wink at Peter and profess: “Let’s just say that there were a lot of Fast Eddie’s pumping gas and fixing cars when I was your age.” That would prompt Peter to imagine several Fast Eddies in one place at one time, but he failed to hold the image for more than a few seconds. The idea simply remained beyond rational understanding. Maybe that was a good thing. Life remained unique with just one Fast Eddie inhabiting the space-time continuum.
Traffic was quiet as they got closer, but that wasn’t anything particularly unusual. Prudence’s location remained fairly removed from denser populations and usually only received the weekend travelers and sightseers. Most people worked within the gated community. Traffic usually increased after three-thirty, once school got out, which meant they had made good time, considering their route had been altered. Peter surmised that particular position on the clock approached soon enough. Max was nowhere to be seen. He must’ve bypassed the station altogether and headed straight into town for whatever purpose he planned to devise next.
Fast Eddie came sauntering through the open roll-up doors of his garage, wiping his hands free of grease with a grease saturated rag, tucking it absently into the back pocket of his overalls. He chewed enthusiastically on what must be a whole pack of gum, except the action was more of a ‘chaw’ than a chew. He adjusted his cap to no avail. It remained cockeyed on his nog as always. Fast Eddie possessed a great big smile on his face, genuinely pleased to greet any patronage of his vehicular servicing institution.
“Well g’day there, kiddies!” Fast Eddie beamed pleasantly. Everyone echoed a collective hello. Fast Eddie greeted everyone like he knew them but chances were, if you quizzed him to recall your name, he’d be hard pressed to recall it. But that realization didn’t dissuade the draw of his charm.
“How’s it going, Fast Eddie?” Peter asked. His friends echoed similar sentiments.
“A fair spot better than yourselves, I suppose. Looks like two of your bikey’s tires done plumb gave out on you.” In a surprise moment of sharp perception, Fast Eddie surveyed the path the kids had come from with one hand sheltering his eyes from the sun, even though the sun shone over his left shoulder. “Well, I’m not surprised trying to bike over that terrain. You’d need a mountain bike for that!”
Peter nodded, realizing as much. “So, do you think you can fix them?”
Fast Eddie looked at him a moment with a blank face, chawing on the wad of gum in his mouth with great vigor. Then he scrunched his eyes, brought his head down and started bopping his noggin with the palm of his hand. The kids all looked at each curiously, silently wondering if Fast Eddie was pitching some kind of fit that they would be wise to intervene… or not. Then Fast Eddie thrust his hand in the air and started snapping it to some unheard rhythm. The juxtaposition of his long slender fingers with his bulbous, gnarled knuckles lent a cartoonish air to the gesture. Fast Eddie looked like a scarecrow trying to pull off a disco move. Finally the gas station attendant and mechanic of all trades popped his eyes open and pointed at Peter, freezing the position. Peter finally understood.
“It’s Peter, Mr. Fast Eddie, sir.”
“Well so it is. Yep, I never forget a face or the name that goes with it! How’s your mom, Peter?” Fast Eddie had begun the task of inspecting the flat tires on the two BMX bikes, looking for ulterior causes. He spoke rather absently.
“Mom’s been dead over five years now.”
“Has she now? Done cactus, eh mate? How about your pop?” Fast Eddie continued to chomp away at his gum. Peter wondered if Fast Eddie crammed a whole pack in his mouth first thing in the morning or if he simply added pieces throughout the day. The latter would probably afford the most lasting flavor, but then flavor might not be what Fast Eddie was aiming for. Peter supposed the activity, like most habits, merely served to comfort or sooth a nervous condition.
“You don’t say. Gee that’s a bloody shame. Well, it looks like these tires ain’t salvageable. You see,” Fast Eddie held up one of the wheels, gesturing at the deflated tire, “what we got here is not your standard puncture. Normally, I could take out the tube and patch ’er up. But you see here? This tire has been bloody eviscerated. Like that? Sounds bloody diabolical, eh? Well, look here. It’s all slashed up… and so is the tube underneath. What’re you kids doing, riding on axes?”
A chill traveled up Peter’s spine. “We, uh, took a spill on some sharp rocks. And then, well, pushing them across the Wooded Fields didn’t help any.”
“No, I don’t suppose it did,” Fast Eddie chuckled. “Crikey, Peter, you’re gonna catch a blue if you can’t get up from riding off cliffs and acting like a daredevil and such. Heck, one of these days you kids will realize you aren’t invincible. You all watch yourselves so that you reach that age, alright. Ah, you’re all good kids. I don’t gotta be telling you what your parents already twist your ears about all the time.” He gave them the smile of a champ and tussled Peter’s hair with a greasy hand.
“So do you have spare tires of this type?”
“Ah, yup. Tires and tubes. It’s a common model. But I can’t lie to you. It’s gonna cost you some. Forty clams… that’s dollars in mechanic talk, or quid as we like to say down under.”
“Oh.” Peter reached into his book bag, careful not to disturb Bo Bo, and searched for the hundred dollar bill from Dad’s Sooth Jewels letter. Then he realized that he had given the money to Priscilla. He turned towards her, but she already held it out to Fast Eddie.
The gas jockey whistled as he took the crisp bill and looked at it in the sun, bobbing his eyebrows up and down with wonder. Then he shoved a hand into the deep pocket of his overalls and removed a thick wad of wrinkly cash. In one graceful move, he folded the crisp hundred dollar bill in with the old ones and peeled off three tattered twenties. He handed them over to Priscilla, replacing the cash wad back into his pocket. Peter looked at Fast Eddie, confused about the amount of cash Fast Eddie had forked over to his sister.
“Forty clams total, Mr. Peter, sir. What, did ya think I meant forty each? Crikey, that’d be highway robbery, son! I got a business to run here and a business needs repeat business, know what I mean?” Fast Eddie gave Peter a knowing wink and nod, smacking his gum wad with great gusto. Peter nodded back, getting the main gist of Fast Eddie’s observations on business dealings but not entirely convinced they worked the way he figured. Fast Eddie, sensing he was losing his audience, closed the deal with: “Tell ya all what: I’ll throw in some ice cold pops and we’ll call it a deal. How does that sound?”
Everyone perked up as Fast Eddie grabbed the two wheel damaged bikes in each hand and walked them over to his garage. Setting them down just inside against the wall, he fished a key from a little pocket in the chest of his overalls and walked over to the large white cold case out front by the office entry. A cloud of cold condensation blasted out of the container upon opening. Fast Eddie’s torso was lost in the white cloud as he leaned over into the case. The crunch of shifting crushed ice and the clink of bottles issued from within. Then Fast Eddie emerged with frosted cola bottles and a frosted cap on his head. He popped the top off of each with a wall mounted bottle opener, handing a cold bottle to each kid. Apparently, cola was the only flavor available, but there was not a complaint among them as they greedily gulped the sugary carbonated liquid down.
“You kids gonna stick around a spell while I fix up these bikes? Won’t take but an hour, or so. I’ll grease up your chains while I’m at it. I think I’ve got a ball floating around here that you all could kick around; just mind the incoming traffic.” They all looked around at the empty gas station lot.
“We’ve actually got to keep moving on, Fast Eddie,” Peter said. “We’ve got to get Dad.”
“Oh, that’s right. It ain’t quite quittin’ time yet, is it? What’s the hurry? It’s only three forty-five. You got plenty of time. I can have these bikes ready by four-thirty and you can make it to his… er, office or whatever by five o’ clock, just as he’s punching out for the day.”
Peter decided the truth wasn’t going to go too far with Fast Eddie without spending considerable time on explanations… time they didn’t have.
“Well, we’ve got some errands to run. We’ll be back for the bikes later today or tomorrow.”
“Suit yourself.” Fast Eddie turned to the task of repairing the bike wheels. The group moved out into the gas station yard.
“Dudes,” Bug whispered, “did you see the way he was snarfing on that gum? Ridiculous!” They all nodded their heads in agreement that it was rather exceptional.
“Peter,” Priscilla addressed, “we’ve made good time.”
“Yes, better than I thought.” Peter turned to his friends.
“So what’s our next move, Peter,” Leela piped in. “I mean, Doodle has the only remaining bike. Maybe you or Priscilla could ride on the handlebars, but not both of you. Bug’s skateboard can barely support him…”
“Hey, snogs to you, squib knocker!” Bug’s lips smooched the air with a kiss in her direction.
“… which makes you a squib, remember?” Though Bug towered over Leela, she still managed to cast her eyes down at him by ticking up her eyebrows. “And my scooter is too small, as well.”
“Scout!” Doodle suggested.
Bug was impressed. “Look at the big brain on Doodle! Doodle, my man, don’t take off that derby or you are liable to expose us as the pleebs that we are! Doodle is absolutely right on. You see, our destination is just down ‘The Grey Gravel Road’ ahead. It won’t take you more than ten or fifteen minutes to cross the park on foot from here, being careful and all. You’ll be at Red’s by four or so, no sweat. And us mobile folks can scour the park as your lookouts. You’ll need some scouts with people all out and about in Swenson Park.”
Peter mulled this over. It made sense. “Look, I’ve gotta take a whiz before we press on. Anybody else need to go?” They visually checked in with each other, but apparently Peter was the only one needing to go. “Okay, we’ll settle it when I get back. I think that idea might work.”
“Hey, Fast Eddie!” Peter called out.
“Yo!” Fast Eddie’s voice echoed deep within the garage from behind car carcasses and spare parts.
“Do you have a bathroom?”
“Around back of the building… it’s unlocked!”
The others finished their sodas and jaw jacked while Peter headed around the station to the back where the restroom was located.
Peter opened the banged up metal door of the gas station’s restroom. At first he couldn’t see a thing, but as he stepped in further his eyes adjusted to the dim light emanating from the single frosted window high on the wall to the right. It slightly helped, but only in the main area near the two sinks. The stalls and urinals were bathed in peripheral shadow, a blessing judging by the smell of the room. A large, cracked mirror hung over the two sinks gave the room an eerily spacious feeling and somehow accentuated the darkness. The sound of slow, dripping water echoed all around. The floor reflected wetness mixed with dirt and grime. Peter couldn’t quite discern whether the tile of the restroom was grey, green, or black. Maybe it was a combination of all three, a kind of grime camouflage to mask the grime. He heard people did it with carpets to mask the dirt tracked into their houses.
A flickering, buzzing light suddenly cast the room in a ghostly stroboscopic glow. Peter nearly jumped out of his skin before he realized that it came from a faulty neon bulb overhead. The fixture gave out two more feeble bursts before retiring. His eyes needed to readjust to the muted light coming through the frosted window.
He waited for a second to see if the spastic neon bulb awoke again. It didn’t. Peter decided to just make this pee trip quick. Thank goodness he didn’t have a turtle head poking out of his poop shoot otherwise he would embarrassingly have to go back and ask Fast Eddie for a flashlight. Who knows what filth lurked in and on the toilets in those stalls.
Peter carefully stepped over to the nearest urinal. Despite the condition of the restroom and the dim lighting, he was relieved that nobody shared its usage. He possessed a slight discomfort over relieving himself in front of others. The feeling was difficult to explain, elusive even to his sensibilities. The only logical reasoning he could concoct in the matter was that nobody’s house that he knew of contained a urinal. He understood that girls sat down to pee and therefore needed a proper toilet bowl, but he stood up at home and relieved his number one in a toilet bowel as well, as did every other guy that he knew. So why were guys expected to pee in a urinal in public restrooms? It was a fathomless question that he’d never approached Dad about, but he vowed to consult him on the matter if… when he found him. Still, if nobody shared the same restroom with him, the act became tolerable enough.
The closest urinal had something in it, a shoe it appeared. How odd, Peter thought. Well, his policy about not pissing on shoes remained in full effect and he dreaded removing it with his hand. He moved to the far urinal. All clear. He reached down to unbutton his jeans, thinking about their next move. Swenson Park would be swarming with kids and adults alike on such a nice day as this. He wondered who would be out looking for them. Maybe Aunt Gretchen at this very moment scoured Main Street in her giant navy blue Grand Marquis, trolling for her delinquent niece and nephew. Maybe others served her cause now, too.
The stall door behind him exploded open and a heavy weight smashed him up against the wall, pressing his chest against the urinal’s flush valve. Water cascaded down the urinal’s concave face and gurgled in its drain, threatening to douse Peters hanging shirt. Someone big leaned against his backside with an elbow stabbing into his ribs and a hand against the back of his head, flattening one side of his face against the soiled wall tile. Peter’s face looked out on the rest of the room and he saw Max’s mountain bike role rider-less across the slick floor until it clattered against the restroom entrance door. Peter became aware of Monkey’s excited chattering near his ear.
“I got you now, you little pleeb,” Max grunted, breathing heavily against Peter’s neck and pressing his torso deeper against him. His struggle against Max’s bulk and brute strength was almost futile. He could barely move.
“Guuuhhg,” Peter managed.
“You got no friends to protect you now, as if they even mattered at all!”
“What’s that? What’s that, little sissy boy? Little sissy boy!” Max pushed his pelvis up against Peter’s rear end. Coupled with Max’s heavy breathing and harsh whispers against his neck, Peter felt decidedly uncomfortable in a way he had never experienced before. Max felt foreign and creepy against him, in addition to the pain he inflicted. Peter desperately pushed back against Max, trying to keep his clothes out of the rushing torrent of urinal water. The maneuver only seemed to encourage Max to press against him harder. To his utter horror, Peter realized that Max was hard down there. Peter felt hopeless and weird. A ball of fear dropped in his gut and his legs felt fluid.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, sissy boy,” Max growled deeply.
Whether from surprise of the attack, the pain in his face and chest, or the terror over Max’s unknown intention towards him, Peter experienced a lightness of perception. Darkness crept into his peripheral vision, tunneling inward. Monkey’s chatter and Max’s disturbing voice and breathing faded into a distant echo. Oddly enough, the pain he felt subsided, becoming flat and dull. The sensation welcomed Peter, calling him to succumb, to just let go and drift away. Peter would float away, allow his body to collapse, allow Max to do whatever he intended to do and maybe time travel would carry Peter to a better future. Max’s voice kept him hanging on the precipice of the abyss.
“Is that your purse, sissy boy? Huh? You like purses? Are you a girl? Nah, you’re just a little sissy boy; a sissy boy who wants to be a girl carrying a purse! You got the jewel in there, sissy boy?”
“Whaah?” Peter started to come back. “The jewel?”
“You got it in there, pleeb? You got the Sooth Jewel, sissy boy?”
Peter barely believed his ears. How in the world did Max know about the Sooth Jewels? He renewed his struggle. Max returned the force. He fumbled at Peter’s book bag. Peter tried to twist away, but Max locked his legs with his. Max’s beefy hand found its way under the bag’s flap. Sensing victory, he shoved it all the way into the bag.
Bo Bo ignored his hurt paw and latched onto Max’s hand, claws fully extending into the soft flesh and fangs sinking deep into the muscle and sinew. Bo Bo did not hold back. His jaw locked and then compressed unrelentingly.
The shrill scream that issued forth from Max’s open maw sounded alien, inhuman. In all his life before and in all his life yet to be, Peter never heard a scream quite like that one. Nails scraping against metal or a chalkboard served as a close analogy. And the sound escalated as, sensibilities and reasoning escaping him, Max yanked his arm out of the bag with all his strength. The flesh of Max’s hand yielded to Bo Bo’s multipronged vice grip, leaving deep ravines that swiftly filled up with blood. Max fell back into the open stall that he had emerged from, holding up his wounded hand with his other as his butt splashed into the toilet bowl. Blood poured from the gapping shreds in the boy’s hand and flooded down his arm. Monkey skittered around the floor, fearful of the noise his master was making and overall unsure how to proceed.
Adrenaline kicked back into Peter’s mind and body with ferocity. Bo Bo had given him a window and he planned to jump through it. He also needed to escape the horrific shrieking coming from Max. Peter started forward, but found his legs wobbly from the brief but intense struggle against Max’s pressing bulk and the ensuing fear. He stumbled and nearly slipped on the slick tile floor, but caught himself by shoving an arm out with palm flat. He kept himself propped off the floor like that for a couple seconds while he let his legs gain their bearing. Max’s screaming was subsiding into great heaving moans and banging from the stall confirmed that he was trying to get out of the toilet bowl.
Monkey appeared before Peter and hissed in his face. Peter garnered his legs beneath him and swatted Monkey with his free hand, sending the primate sprawling across the room. He hoped he hadn’t hurt the animal, but he didn’t stop to check.
Max’s mountain bike leaned against the door. He grabbed it, prepared to toss it aside, when the opportunity of the moment suddenly struck him. Struggling with the awkwardness of trying to quickly handle a complex object with weight to it, he took the front of the bike under his arm and let the back wheel roll on the floor while he maneuvered himself into position to open the door. Light blasted his eyes as he swung it open, but he pressed on and threw himself forward along with the bike. Luckily he didn’t fall and was able to stable himself against a fortunate lean of the bike and the twist of its front wheel. The door closed swiftly behind him and he lost no time.
The bike was slightly large for Peter, but he managed to mount the frame and his feet reached the pedals as long as he didn’t sit full on the seat. Unfamiliar with bicycle gears, he struggled against the current settings. Flicking the gear on the right handle bar eased up the tension a bit and he headed as best he could around the side of the station, yelling out all of his friend’s names. They rushed out to greet him, their faces filled with deep concern. Peter almost ran Bug and Doodle down as he fumbled with the hand brakes. He skidded to a stop half on, half off the bike. He was used to the single gear, back pedal braking system of the BMX.
“What the blazes, Peter?” Bug scrambled back onto his feet and grabbed his skate board.
“Blazes!” Doodle echoed, picking up his derby, dusting it off, and cramming it down on his head.
Leela and Priscilla rushed over to help Peter right himself. “What the brear is going on, Peter?” Priscilla asked. “How’s Bo Bo? Where did you get that bike? Is that…?”
“Yes, it’s Max’s. He ambushed me in the restroom. Bo Bo’s fine. In fact, he may have saved my life.”
“Max is here?” Terror filled Leela’s eyes.
“Yes. Him and Monkey. I think Bo Bo hurt him real bad.”
“Monkey?” Priscilla asked.
“Way to go, Bo Bo!” Bug clapped his hands, sending his mop hair into fluid bounces.
“Bo Bo!” Doodle cheered, jumping up and down with his hands in the air.
“I stole his bike.”
“Way to go, Peter! You are THE man!” Bug started laughing heartily.
“Peter!” Doodle continued bouncing around, this time in circles.
“My hero!” Leela genuinely swooned, lightly touching Peter’s arm. Peter noticed and an odd tickle ran through his lower belly, but he squelched the feeling. They were under the gun.
“Look, we are under the gun. Max is still very much alive and will probably be coming out of that bathroom and around that corner any second now, ready to brawl. Remember, he has that axe.”
“What do we do?” Leela worried.
“We ride. Bug, Doodle, Leela… get on your rides and book it to the gates of town. Priscilla and I will be right behind you on Max’s bike. We will regroup there. Max doesn’t have a ride, so we will have time to figure out how we will cross the park. Now go!”
Bug mounted his skate board, stood straight up, turned dramatically toward Peter and pointed his finger at him. “You better be behind us or I’m coming back to getcha! Get it?”
“Got it, Bug.” Peter rolled his eyes.
“Good.” A wry spark twisted up one corner of Bug’s mouth. Then he struck one foot to the ground, pushed, and was off. Doodle tipped his derby at Peter and Priscilla and followed Bug on his BMX.
“Hurry, you guys,” Leela implored, looking into Peter’s eyes the whole time. Peter nodded, feeling slightly embarrassed. It was Priscilla’s turn to roll her eyes. Leela turned and took off on her scooter.
Priscilla began to mount the mountain bike behind Peter. He grabbed her arm hard, forcing her to look up at him. “Ow, Peter! What the hell are you doing?”
“He knows!” Peter whispered harshly.
“Knows what?” Priscilla looked at Peter half confused, half annoyed.
“He knows about the Sooth Jewels!”
“He referred to them by name!”
“He referred to them by name and reached into my bag to get them!”
“I’ll KILL you, sissy boy!” Max came stumbling around the corner of the station. He was holding the hand that Bo Bo flayed. It was wrapped several times over in paper towels, but dark splotches of blood blossomed through. Bo Bo had hurt him bad. Peter sensed an escalation of events unfolding, as if the future called to him, warning him that no matter what transpired from here on out it would supersede his worst imaginings. It was like feeling you had a grasp on reality only to suddenly realize reality had a grasp on you. Things were spiraling out of control.
“Hey, you kids alright out here?” Fast Eddie came out of the garage towards them, just in time to catch Max by his uninjured arm as he lunged at Peter and Priscilla. “What the bloody loop do you think you’re doing, bloke? Where did you come from?”
“Thanks, Fast Eddie! See you later!” Peter helped his sister up onto the bike’s seat, adjusted the gears one more time, and rode of shakily down the road.
“Hey! That’s my bike!” Max called.
“Shut your gob, mongrel!” Fast Eddie grabbed Max by the backpack with both hands and started dragging him towards the station’s office.
“You remember what I said, Sissy Boy!” Max bellowed after the twins.
“Quit struggling, ya bloody no-hoper! What happened to your arm? What were you doing to those kids? Get in there; I’m calling your folks…” Peter heard Fast Eddie trail off. A feeling gnawed at him that before the day was over, they would see Max again. He hoped the feeling was wrong.
Fast Eddie hauled Max by the boy’s backpack into the garage’s adjoined office and sat him down in the customer’s chair opposite his desk. The office resembled the workplace of a person vastly more interested in working on cars than tending to office work. Dust and cobwebs frosted the corners of the window panes much like snow does in colder climates. The large L-shaped desk was laden with stacks of paper stuffed file folders and reams of invoices. Maintenance tickets met their fate haphazardly upon a number of paper spikes. A large metal cabinet in the far corner of the room was curiously held shut by a large chain and padlock. A note taped to one of the doors warned: “Keep Closed.”
The only wall adornments hung about were a plain round wall clock that you might find in a classroom, a frayed and faded army recruitment poster with the visage of a grim Uncle Sam pointing an accusatory finger at his target audience, and a calendar of pin-up girls posted on the inner door to the garage turned to Miss November 1945. Miss November straddled a large missile and seemed proud of the fact that she wore no clothes.
“Alright, bloke,” Fast Eddie said, pausing dramatically to light an unfiltered hand-rolled cigarette. It protruded from the corner of his mouth long, uneven, and bent. The smoke floated up into his eyes and he winced, jutting his jaw out and otherwise maneuvering his head about to find a reasonable position so that he could smoke comfortably without taking the cigarette out of his mouth. At last it appeared he found an acceptable compromise. Holding the position steady, he carefully sat down in his office chair, leaned back, and put his feet up on the desk in the one area devoid of paperwork.
“Seems you’re in a spot of trouble, eh mate? What say?”
Max glared blackly at Fast Eddie.
Eddie removed the cigarette, spit out some residual tobacco, and leaned forward on the desk. “Look, mate, I want some answers. Who are you?”
“Max Shraeter,” Max intoned carefully with a slight hiss.
“Well, that’s funny. We got a Mayor named Maximilian Shraeter. Any relation?” Fast Eddie chuckled, taking a slow drag off of his cigarette and looking at Max sidelong. Max’s demeanor shifted instantly, readily joining in with Fast Eddie’s jocular mood.
“Why yes,” Max beamed with a big grin. He removed a small white card from a small pocket on the side of his backpack and handed it to Fast Eddie. “He’s my father.”
Fast Eddie’s face drained of color as he took the business card and read it. His fingers trembled lightly as the cigarette fell from his mouth onto the desk. It was the Mayor’s business card. “Y-y-you’re pop… is the m-Mayor.”
“Yes,” said Max, using the sensible voice he adopted around adults, this time laced with saccharin sweetness and malevolence. “And he is going to wonder why a goddamn grease monkey manhandled his only son into this piece of shit office after a bunch of indigent hooligans cut his hand to shreds, pushed him into one of your crap-filled, urine coated toilets, and stole his $3,500 Giant mountain bike. My Monkey is still trapped in that fucking cesspool you pass off as a restroom picking up who knows what diseases. How ’bout that, MATE?”
“Uh-uh… sorry. How’s your h-hand?” Fast Eddie gulped and blinked spasmodically.
Max held up his blood soaked, paper towel wrapped hand. “Bleeding, mate.”
“Right. I-I should call your pop.” Fast Eddie fumbled for the old, black rotary phone on his desk while attempting to crush out the smoldering cigarette without losing the Mayor’s business card. Finally, he positioned the receiver in the crook of his neck and inspected the business card, unsure of which number to dial. “Uh-uh…”
“Uh-uh,” Max mocked, “It’s the number in red, his direct line.”
Eddie glanced at Max, nodding vigorously. He dialed the rotary phone carefully, silently mouthing the numbers. The phone rang once on the other end before a man picked up.
“Mayor Shraeter.” The voice was cold and business like.
“S-sir. Fast Eddie here, sir.”
“Fast who? Is this a prank? How did you get my number? This line is tapped, my friend.”
“F-fast Eddie from Fast Eddie’s Last Gas?”
“Are you sure? Because you don’t sound too sure.”
“No, sir… I mean yes, sir. I am sure, sir. I hate to bother you Mayor, sir. But I have your boy here at the station.”
“WHAT.” It was a statement, not a question, plain and simple.
“He’s alright, sir. He just got in a tussle with some of the local kids. He’s got a bit of a scratch on his hand and it seems they stole his bike.”
“Listen very carefully, Ed.” Mayor Shraeter sounded cold and it chilled Fast Eddie to the core. “You pay attention to my son. You make sure he is safe and you get him whatever he needs. I am sending someone to collect him. My son Max will let me know how he was treated. You will do well to keep that in the forefront of what passes for your mind. I don’t want to hear anything out of your mouth right now except that you understand.”
There was a pause. Eddie realized that he’d just been given a command from the Mayor. “I understand, Mr. Shraeter.”
“Did you see the kids that took my son’s bike?”
“I…” Fast Eddie could not finish.
“That’s what I thought.”
There was the click of the phone hanging up on the other end. Eddie softly replaced the cradle in the receiver with two unsteady hands, as if it could break. He looked up at Max nervously. Max returned the gaze with a wide smile and a dark glimmer in his eyes.