“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

The Free Vacation

Sometimes the biggest adventures come in suitcases, stashed in ditches, handcuffed to severed arms. I mean that’s how we found this one anyway. Me and Rich Boy Robbie Lamont, driving his beamer down a gravelly road behind a construction site his dad owned, on our way to a cocaine pickup. Robbie’s deal, I had nothing to do with it, but he wanted me for backup and he bribed me with an expensive leather jacket. He’s driving along telling me this long story about why the best leather you can buy smells horrible. I interrupt him as we get close to the rendezvous point.

“So what are we, uh– what’s this Fat Anthony dude look like, then?”

“Whattayou think, Vern? He’s a fat guy,” Robbie laughed.

“Well, I don’t know. How’m I supposed to know? Some of these nicknames they got these days, you never know.”

“Well Fat Anthony is a fat guy. Real fat. In fact I don’t know how he stays in business, you’d think he’d have to run from the cops at some point.”

Now you may not know this if you haven’t met me, but I am kind of the visionary type of dude. You know, the type of dude that comes up with a lot of innovative ideas and fresh approaches, and I am always looking for a chance to propose them. And this was one of those chances for me.

“You know, I always thought if a fat dude wants to be selling blow or, you know, whatever, and he’s worried about cops, at least cops on foot, this is what he should do. You get a pair of rollerskates, right? And do all of your transactions on the top of a steep hill. ‘Cause I mean a guy that size, the momentum-”

And suddenly, a loud ass thump on the bottom of the car. The type of unexpected noise that scares twice as much shit out of you when you work in this particular business or associate with this type of individuals. So a second later it was a relief to realize it wasn’t a gun shot, all it was was this asshole Robbie had driven us right into a ditch.

Now, I don’t know if you remember this but when you’re a kid, you’re always hiding stuff in the bushes, or looking for stuff in the bushes. Burying stuff in the backyard or finding something buried. When you’re a 12 year old you know that there is always that chance you will find something good somewhere. Maybe a pocket knife if you’re lucky, or of course a big stash of pornos if you’re real lucky. Well in this case, it was the suitcase handcuffed to the, you know, the arm.

I mean jesus. There’s this gnarly white hand sticking out from under the wheel, wearing a big tacky ring on the – well, obviously, on the ring finger. And inside the case were our invitations to embark on the summer vacation of all time. I mean, metaphorically speaking. They weren’t actual invitations.

But hold on bud, let me give you some context here. Robbie was a lot younger than me, somewheres in his twenties, and the guy was a total prick. Fat, awkward kid. Maybe not as fat as Fat Anthony, I’m not sure I never met the dude. But Robbie is one of these spiky hair and whiney voice type guys, and he’s always offering to buy you shit. “Come on Vern, don’t leave. Let me buy you a couple bottles of wine.” “Come on Vern, I got coke.” “Come on Vern, I’ll get you a Rolex.” It was sad and pathetic and it worked every time. I knew he was buying my company but hell man, a motherfucker’s gotta eat.

The way I met the kid was I accidentally impressed him flapping my big yap at a hair salon. Sure taught me to keep my mouth shut and stay on the down low. Robbie wasn’t too good looking in my opinion but he aspired to be a pretty boy. He came in for a shampoo, highlights and some hair gel and we ended up side by side in the hairdryer chairs. Now one thing you gotta understand man, under non-emergency circumstances I’m strictly a barber shop man. I do not go for the fancy stylings and the perms nor do I care to be around them. But this one was a definite emergency type scenario so I start defending myself.

“Yeah I’m strictly a barber shop man under non-emergency circumstances you know. Yep, wouldn’t even be here but its an emergency yunnerstand. Only do this in an emergency.”
Robbie gave me this look like he didn’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. “Can’t understand a word you’re sayin, mister.”
I scan the parlor for anybody that looks like a potential cop or snitch, then I raise my voice over the hum of the hairdryers. Like a fucking jackass.

“Well I came for a mustache shave and a perm, you know, ’cause I need to change my appearance on account of a job we just pulled.”
He’s still looking at me funny. Raising his eyebrows like, “Whatever dude.”

“You know, a job? Like a job job? BANK ROBBERY? YEAH MAN WE ROBBED A… hahem, yeah we robbed a bank.”

Finally his eyes lit up. “You’re a bank robber!?” He was in awe. And I’m thinking, what did I just say, man? You gotta spell everything out for these rich kids. They can’t read between the lines, they can’t even read the lines themselves. The more they don’t pick up on it, the more you wanna brag about it.

Wasn’t worth blowing my cover for, though, and to make matters worse he invited me for a beer and appointed me his official connection to blue collar crime.

So a year or two later, we’re stuck in this ditch with the suitcase. Due to my street smarts and years of experience in the industry, I was pretty fucking sure the whole handcuffed-to-a-severed-arm thing signalled valuable contents. Diamonds, money, maybe guns. Definitely a lot of something, and most likely something we could fence or stick in a safe. In my opinion.

But I gotta tell ya man my first instinct was to run like hell. I don’t wanna end up getting blamed for this arm business. Possession of stolen property is one thing, you don’t wanna get stuck with a murder rap especially if you never even met the dude. Even worse, a one armed dude thinks you stole his diamonds, his luggage and his arm? This motherfucker catches you he’s gonna take it out on your limbs, 100% guaranteed. And I couldn’t help but notice that the forearm was pretty thick. I’m guessing that other arm, the one that for all we knew was still attached, could do some damage. Well I don’t need that type of stress, so I told Robbie forget it let’s get the car out of the ditch and get the fuck out of here.

Robbie doesn’t say anything, gets in the car and starts spinning his wheels. I’m at the back, giving the beamer a push. Staring at this muddy suitcase and fucked up ex-arm wedged beneath the front tire, becoming more and more mussed up the more Robbie tries to climb out of the ditch.

With a sudden jerk and a roar of the engine the suitcase shot out from under the tire. The car jumped out of the hole and hit the case one last time with the back wheels. I looked at the suitcase, all scraped up and crooked and bent out of shape, wondering what was inside. I got a little shiver, then put it out of my mind and hopped in the car.

So, of course, that rich fuck Robbie puts the car in park and hops out again. “Whattayou think is inside that thing though, Vern?”

“Ah shit Lamont, let’s get the fuck out of here,” I yelled from the passenger seat. Through the rearview mirror I saw the kid scurrying back to where the suitcase laid.

“Hey Vern, this guy’s got a pretty big ring on,” he shouted.

“Yeah, already noticed that, bud.”

“Might be able to fence it. Whattayou think?”

“I think you should leave it, but whatever bud, let’s get going.”

“It has his name engraved in it, I think. ‘The Agonizer.'”

I mean, jesus.

“Better leave it then.”

“Hey Vern?”

I didn’t answer. I just wanted to go.

“What the fuck kind of a name is ‘The Agonizer’?”

“I don’t know kid. Let’s get going.”

In the mirror I could see him fiddling with the case. Then he squealed with delight. Apparently the car fucked the case up so bad the lock popped open, because I could make out Robbie opening it, peeking inside. He drags it across the gravel to the open driver’s side door.

“There’s money in here man, it’s completely filled with money. This is a lot of money man.”

And the kid had a point. The thing is, you don’t have much time to think these kinds of things through. I looked around for witnesses, just like I did back in the hair salon. (Old criminal trick.) I looked at Robbie.
Gave him a nod. Gulp.

“But ferchrissakes get rid of that arm first!”

He stood on top of the case and started pulling on the arm with all of his might. You do not want to know the sound it made when it finally popped out of the cuffs. He threw the two pieces in the ditch, the case in the backseat, takes the motherfucker out of park and burns out. Fuck Fat Anthony, he says, something else came up.

It was a left arm, by the way, not sure if that’s important.

So it wasn’t until we got to the parking lot in my apartment building that Robbie mentioned the catch. “You know, I didn’t think there was time to explain back there, but the money’s not American.”

“What!?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t get a good look at it but it must have been from another country. Don’t think it was green. Looked kinda colorful.”

“What? What country? What colors? Ah shit, Robbie. If you got us some kind of Columbian drug money or some shit like that–”

“Don’t worry, man. Even if it’s Canadian it’s, like, hella money.”

Inside the apartment, we open the thing up, and I’ll be damned. He was right, it wasn’t American, not exactly. Wasn’t Canadian either, or Mexican. There wasn’t a president on these bills, or a queen – not even a monument. Just a cartoon mouse.

We threw packet after packet on the floor, digging to the bottom of the case, looking for the real money.

“What the fuck is this Robbie!? We’re risking a murder rap for funny money!?”

“No no no,” he said. “It’s okay, man. It’s not funny money. We can use this. This is–” and he went on to explain what it was, a special currency printed up expressly for use at a certain amusement park. Which was actually written on the money itself, if I had looked closer, so him explaining it to me was no big accomplishment. Anyway I don’t wanna step on any toes here so I’m not gonna say what the name of the park is. But let’s just say it rhymes with Pisneyland. I think you know what I’m talkin about man.

So Robbie continues: “It’s no use to us out here, but inside the park it’s as good as cash. I mean if we go down there we can buy all kinds of shit. Hats, posters, stuffed animals, change purses, you name it. We could live like fucking-well, not like kings, but you know. I mean, it would be fun.”

Better than nothing, I guess.

One painful two-day drive later we checked into a hotel basically right across the street from the park. It was late Thursday night and man was I glad to get there. If I had to hear any one of Robbie’s god damned mix tapes again (volumes 1-4, all with their own titles and unique covers he made himself and printed off on his Commodore) I would’ve strangled some motherfucker, preferably him. And if I strangled him I’d make damn sure I strangled him all the way because that boy can complain, I’m telling you. If I didn’t finish the job it would be, “Man, my neck hurts. I’m sore, we need to pull over. I need some aspirin. My skin is burned. Ooooooooh, my fucking neck.” All the way home. I hated that fucking kid.

But the tension eased up as we turned in for the night. I mean it was Christmas Eve for us. We knew the next morning it was Pisney time.

We got up early, loaded a backpack full of funny money and got there as the park opened. “Lines are shorter that way,” Rob said. We ran straight for the pirate ride and some other ride that was new. He was right about the lines, we had the run of the place. But I thought we should be careful. “Don’t be using the money at first,” I said. That lefty in the ditch back there meant this was serious, and I was all about caution. “We don’t wanna raise any eyebrows with this and if we do, we need crowds to disappear into.”

“Oh totally man, we’ll be smooth on this one,” he said. He even used American money when he bought his first churro. I bought me some mouse ears with my name on it, and pretended like I didn’t have enough Pisney dollars to cover it. “Oh damn, is it okay if I pay part of this in quarters?”

“No problem Vern.”

“Hey, how did yo-ahhhhhhh, ha ha, you stitched it in my hat there, that’s how you knew my name. Pretty slick there jack.” His name wasn’t Jack, though. I don’t know what the fuck his name was.

“He didn’t suspect a thing,” Robbie laughed as we walked away. Like I says we were real careful about the whole thing, real subtle.

But you know how these things go man. Two hours later we’re flashing our rolls at kids, tossing loose bills off the flying elephant ride, slipping packets in Snow White’s dress. We went on the baby rides and screamed our lungs out-“It’s too scary! Let us off!” Then we paid kids to do the same thing. We had lunch at the Golden Horse Shoe restaurant and we overtipped this gal every time she filled our water. She kept coming back and I know you could say it was the money but I think she was into me to be frankly honest. I mean if you were there you would have seen what I’m talking about and this gal was pretty good looking too in my opinion. I guess I’d have to go back there to prove it but I doubt she still works there I mean this was a while ago.

Anyway it was a big park, even back then and I doubt we saw all the rides, but in the areas we explored we were becoming a little too familiar. Even the customers started catching on that we were the guys with the funny money. Kids were coming up to us asking if they could borrow a few dollars to buy popsicles. Robbie especially was going buck wild with the stuff, because rich kids are into the whole power trip thing. I knew we were pushing it around the time he was flashing packets in the face of the gal in the Minnie costume.

“Look at that, you see that?” Robbie was saying, flipping through a couple wads to show how many bills he had. “You see that mouse? Who is that, your boyfriend? Your husband? Your husband is on the bills, but do you have this many? I don’t think so. I don’t think so lady. This is mine. I have the money. I have all the money. You make me sick.”

I put my hand on his shoulder. “Come on kid, let’s go. It’s not worth it.”

“No no, I got a proposition for this bitch. I’ll give you $1,000 to take off your mask in front of these kids. Come on.”

Minnie shook her giant head. I’m sure it was tempting for the girl inside. But the illusion of the cartoon kingdom was important to this gal, so she stood strong. She didn’t sell out. She knew that all that money would be fun, but it wouldn’t be worth the guilt she would feel looking in the mirror every morning for the rest of her life knowing that she had betrayed the children, ruined their fun, disgraced the park. She had a strong heart, so she knew something that Robbie didn’t: you can’t put a price on the dreams of children. Either that or employees just get all the shit for free anyway so what the fuck good is a wad of funny money to her.

For dinner Robbie took us to an exclusive rich people club called Club 33. It’s in a secret location in the park, most visitors don’t even know it’s there, and you gotta be some kind of corporate fat cat to get a membership. Robbie’s dad had a membership and he managed to get us in on it.

It wasn’t all that hot though in my opinion. Rich dudes aren’t like children, they don’t like imagination, and although the place was pretty swank and all it didn’t have that Pisney magic and attention to detail. I mean okay there’s a talking moosehead but it wasn’t as cool as the pirate ride or anything. I mean you can get that kind of thing at Chuck E. Cheese. Fuck Club 33 in my opinion.

But Robbie had heard this rumor from his dad, one of those legends that only a small percentage of the elite few whisper nervously in the shadows. He heard there was another club inside Club 33, that only a lucky few are allowed to enter or even know about. A secret within a secret. Robbie believed in it and he thought we could get in.

“Excuse me jack,” he said to the waiter (jack being a term of endearment the kid learned from hanging around me.) “How many of these do you think it would take us to get a good seat around here, if you know what I mean,” and he gestured to several packets of bills fanned out on the tablecloth. The waiter just frowned. We were out of there in two shakes of a walkie talkie.

The sky was getting dark, the scene was getting old and the authorities were catching on to us. But we wanted some souvenirs before heading back to the hotel. There are a lot of stores to choose from in that place, and they all have different fancy names and themes, but they mostly sell the same type of shit. And you can only see so many Mickey and Minnie nightgowns before you get sick of them.

“Who likes Mickey Mouse anyway?” I asked Robbie. “I always liked the Bugs Bunnies better in my opinion. I mean, who even watches Mickey cartoons anymore? You only like Mickey ’cause you’re supposed to like Mickey. But what is there to like about him anyway? Nobody knows.”

We were at the cash register buying Robbie’s Goofy slippers when we were apprehended by a large security guard.

“Robert Lamont, Jr. and guest?”

“Y-yeah,” Robbie gulped. (Fucker shoulda let me do the talking.)

“Come with me gentlemen.”

We looked at each other, then followed him to a hidden employees-only door. I don’t know what Robbie was thinking, but I wasn’t scared. I figured, what does Pisneyland security know about The Agonizer’s missing left arm? Worst they’re gonna do is throw us out for attempted waiter bribery. And we were leaving anyway. Might even be convenient for us, maybe we could get a ride out on a little security guard go-cart.

The back room was dirty and dank like a janitor’s closet, and smelled like piss. (Urine.) Not very magical in my opinion. The guard sat us down on a concrete bench. He always maintained eye contact, but wouldn’t say anything.

“Is this about what I said about Mickey?” I asked. “‘Cause it’s a free country you know asshole.” The guard just stared at me. “Ever heard of a little constitutional amendment called the first amendment? Well in my opinion free speech is one of the most important articles in that particular amendment. So if I like Bugs Bunny better I can damn well say I like Bugs Bunny better. Even on Walt’s turf.”

“If you know what’s good for you you’ll shut your damn mouth, Vern,” the guard said. Holy shit! He knows my name? He got Robbie’s name from the waiter, but how the fuck does he-oh yeah.

“You think you can scare me with that? I’m not a retard, jack, I know I’m still wearing the mouse ears.”

Apparently some higher up was supposed to come have a word with us, and we’d find out what this was all about. The guard was so tight-lipped and solemn I was starting to get nervous. Half expecting an angry one armed bastard named The Agonizer to storm in there at any minute. I eyed my surroundings, getting a handle on the available resources in case there was trouble. The most promising item was a fire alarm switch behind glass.

The guard kept looking at his watch. He seemed kind of embarrassed that it was taking so long. He looked at me and kind of shrugged.

“Make a fist,” I said.

“Wha-at?” He laughed nervously. But he did as I said. I grabbed his wrist and smashed his hand through the glass, used my own hand to pull the alarm.

“Thanks bud.”

Young Robbie jumped to his feet, beaming.”You see that, bitch? You don’t fuck with a couple of old vets like me and Vern. In two minutes time this place will be swarming with firemen. And prob’ly cops too to keep the guests calm. Oh, you’ve done it now. It’s over. You might as well let us go now.”

“Do you think you could drop us off by our car?” I added. “You got those little go carts, right?”

The guard was unimpressed. “We’re not letting you go. You forget this is Pisneyland. Do you think they’d let a fire truck or an ambulance come tearing down Main Street every time something goes wrong? Of course not, it destroys the atmosphere. Any emergency calls here are discreet. All we need to do is explain it was a false alarm and they’ll be out of our hair. And besides if we had to we could just pay them off.”

A few minutes later there was a knock. The guard gave us a threatening look and then walked over to unbolt the door. In walked four lanky park employees in their late teens and early twenties, flanking a man in a mouse costume. Can you believe that? Trying to pay for college playing bodyguard to a fucking mouseman.

There he was, the big man, the mouse with the big head, wearing some kind of mouse tuxedo like a cartoon mouse would wear in the cartoons. He looked back and forth between me and Robbie, and then he pointed at me. The college kids came up behind me and grabbed my arms to hold me in place.

The mouse stood staring at me with his unchanging smile. I couldn’t figure out where the eyeholes were on the thing, but I could hear the guy heavy-breathing inside. And then the fucker punched me in the nose with his three fingered cartoon glove.

“Ouch, man. Knock it off.” He punched me in the gut.

“Lay off him, man!” Robbie said. He sounded genuinely worried, like he thought I might not make it. Like I was too old to take this kind of abuse, even from a mouse. I yanked my arms away from the college kids and gave the mouse a good shove. His fiberglass head was too heavy for him to maintain balance. He fell on his ass and he couldn’t get up.

The kids leapt at me. I grabbed a guy with an earring, put him in a headlock and took a, you know, a bite out of his cheek. Nothing too bad, just a little nibble, but enough to spray blood and make a scene. Show business. When I let go of the guy, all four of them ran for the door. But Robbie, for once in charge of things, stood in their way. Not sure of his cheek biting abilities but not willing to risk it, they backed into a corner and cowered like cowards.

By this time the mouse had wiggled his way out of the mask. Not to sound gay but he was kind of a handsome kid I gotta admit, his hair all moussed up like Robbie’s. But I mean the mouse tuxedo looked pretty ridiculous.

“Oh you’ve really done it now,” he yelled. “Don’t you know I can snap my fingers and get as many cast members in here as I need? Don’t you know who you’re dealing with here? You don’t cross the Pisneyland Mafia!” But he didn’t say Pisneyland, though. It was something else, but I’m not gonna reveal exactly what. Anyway he pulled a walkie talkie off of one of the other kid’s belt. “Donnie, this is Trey. We’ve got our perps in the shack, we’re gonna take ’em to the mountain. We need backup. And bring…” He looked at me, all wide-eyed and crazy. “…the gun.” He smiled, pleased with himself.
“The gun!” I said. They only had one gun. These kids cracked me up.

Four or five minutes, and another lanky kid arrived with the gun. A tiny little thing but they were proud of it. They had us put our hands on our heads, which I think upset Robbie but mainly because he didn’t want to mess up the hair. They led us, at the-gunpoint, out of the room and out in the open, right through the park. It was dark now and nearly empty, apparently closed. There were a few straggling employees here and there cleaning up food stands or sweeping sidewalks. They looked at us curiously but didn’t seem to want to get involved. Some of them said, “Hey Trey,” and he’d say, “It’s Friday night. Better hurry up and get dressed.”

They led us to the Matterhorn ride and into an employees-only door and we began the long descent up the artificial mountain. The stairway smelled like oil and a recording of a female voice on an endless loop echoed throughout – Remain seated please. Something something seintados, por favor.

At this point, the rich boy starts to crack. Robbie started blabbering about his dad was rich and he could get them money, or goods, or whatever they wanted. They just kept telling him to shut his mouth, this isn’t about money. I never once heard them call him rich boy though so I’m thinking they were of upper middle class backgrounds or higher in my opinion.

Now I was in pretty good shape for my age at that point, I am not lying, but still walking up that many stairs is a chore. Especially since I’d been on my feet since the a.m., I mean Jesus, gimme a fuckin break. I was getting short of breath but these kids wouldn’t stop and even fat boy Robbie was doing better than me. I was looking for a way out of this but more than that I just needed some rest, and then I saw there was a little nook on the side of the stairway, an indentation on the inside of the artificial rock. It was about my size so I decided to give it a shot, wedging myself into it and refusing to leave. “What are ya gonna do now son, shoot me? Yeah, how about it kid. Why don’t you shoot me with the gun. That is if you remembered to bring the bullet.”

“Man, knock it off,” Trey said. “Get out of there.” Waving the little gun at me.

“Come on Vern,” Robbie said. “I think these fairies are serious.”

Trey turned to his four zit-faced goons. “Well? Do something!” he yelled. They each grabbed onto a limb and started yanking on me. But I gave them a struggle, hunching my shoulders and flexing my ass muscles, expanding my body to fill the space. They were pulling and grunting, and Robbie kept laughing nervously. They tried slapping me but they couldn’t muster enough strength to do any damage. I wiggled my arms around and they couldn’t keep a grip. They were falling all over themselves.

One of them gave up, let go, turned to Trey. “What are we supposed to do?” The other three followed suit. They were all looking at each other, angry that somebody couldn’t come up with a solution. They looked like they were about ready to cry and go home.

“Whatever,” I said. “Jesus.” And I pulled myself out of the cranny. Damn, it felt so good to sit down in that thing. But they had all given up and as every good Badass, or at least every good Badass from my particular school knows, making someone give up and then immediately conceding to their demands for no apparent reason is a great way to fuck with them. I had asserted my dominance by flexing my ass muscles.

Every time it seemed like we were almost there, we would find a whole new set of stairs waiting for us. “Where are you taking us anyway?” Robbie asked, but they didn’t answer. “Where are they taking us, Vern?”

“I think we have an appointment with the Wicker Man.”

Finally, there were no more stairs to climb and they unlocked a door and shoved us into a small room set up for playing half court basketball.

“Well gentlemen,” Trey said, trying his best to muster up the voice of a sarcastically laidback villain. “It’s Friday night. We’ve got social obligations to attend to. So you’ll just have to have a seat. When we come back, we’ll discuss why you thought it was okay for you to STEAL MY FUCKING MONEY!” He turned around to make his melodramatic exit, moving with complete confidence, totally in charge of the situation.

“I want to see your supervisor,” I said.
He stopped in his place, then jerked his head around and snapped “Shut up!” like a mom at the end of her leash. They all went back out the door, Trey taking up the rear this time. We followed and tried to make it through the door with them. Trey grabbed the door knob and tried to slam it shut, but we kept yanking on it.

“Come on man!” Robbie whined. “We didn’t do anything!”

“You can’t make us stay here,” I said.

“I can make you stay here,” Trey said. “And I will.”

“Cannot,” said Robbie.

“You show me some respect! Show me some god damned respect! I am in charge here, I am in charge! You, you’re a couple of thieves! And I’ve got you!”

“Don’t get your panties in a wad, kid,” I reasoned. Trey just snapped.

“SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” He started jabbing the gun through the door, waving it like a damn sparkler.

“Hold your gun straight, son,” I said. Which, in my opinion, he didn’t take in the spirit it was intended.

“LOOK YOU FUCKERS, IT’S MY WAY OR THE SKYWAY!” His face turning red, he fired the gun into the room but apparently wasn’t a good shot, since we were right in front of his nose and neither of us got hit. I couldn’t help but laugh. I mean buckled over laughter, the guy looked ridiculous. I lost grip of the door and it slammed shut. I jiggled the door knob, but we were locked in. I kept laughing.

“Jesus Vern, what are you ticklish? Why’d you have to laugh like that?”

“It’s okay bud,” I said. “I’m laughing at ‘im. Not with ‘im.”

It took us about 30 seconds to confirm that there was no way were were getting out of this place. Only one door, thick and metal and deadbolted. All there was left to do was sit and wait, or find something to do to kill time. Both at the same time, we spotted the basketball in the corner.

Just then the door opened and Trey speedwalked through pointing the gun at us. “I almost forgot. No playing for the fuckers who stole my money.” He snatched up the ball and left again.
Robbie looked more scared than ever. “I think they know about the money, Vern.”

I’m not sure how long we were stuck in there. Maybe two hours? At first it was boring as shit, worse than the car ride although at least I didn’t have Robbie’s mix tapes to deal with. But then he started telling me stories about his dad. Real funny shit about hookers, cocaine, employees caught masturbating on security cameras. I started telling him my philosophy about the Universe, and stories he hadn’t heard about some of my previous capers, things I hadn’t thought about in years. It was like when you’re living in an apartment building and the power goes out, suddenly you really value conversation and you get a much stronger sense of community and friendship. You end up sitting in the hallway with a couple candles, shooting the shit with all the other people on your floor. I mean really shooting the shit, shooting it harder then you ever shot it before, because you’ve never really sat down with them like this, you’ve been too wrapped up in your record collection and cable TV and electric heating.

But then all the sudden the lights go back on. You stop mid-story, blow out the candles, give a little sigh and stretch out your legs. “Good talking to you man.” And you go back inside and watch Three’s Company or Mama’s Family or some stupid shit like that and you never talk to your neighbors again.

So I’m right in the middle of this great story, and Robbie interrupts.

“Wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute. You’re telling me that’s the worst threesome you ever had?”

“Hey, cool it now Robbie. Please hold all questions til the end. The experience itself wasn’t the worst, I mean Jesus it was fucking great. But in order to understand what I’m talking about here you have to understand what happened the next day, when I ran into an old acquaintance, guy by the name of Pie-in-the-Sky Murphy. I hadn’t seen or spoke to or even thought about this dude in like five years. But he sees me, I swear to god, just looks at my face and first thing out of his mouth, he says, ‘You fucked her, didn’t you?'”

“No! No way! How did he know?”

“I don’t know man, he just knew, that’s what’s so fucking weird about it. So I says, ‘I don’t know bud, was she a blond or a brunette? ‘Cause I did one of each last night.’ And of course he says, ‘That’s my fucking wife you’re fucking!’ So I said I was sorry and he said, and I swear to you this is word for word what the man said, ‘It was her ass, wasn’t it? You just like her ass. You prob’ly don’t even know her name, assman.’ And he pulled out a gun and pointed it at my head. ‘Tell me her name, bitch’ or whatever.”
Robbie laughed, so I laughed. It didn’t seem so funny when it happened though. Because of, you know, I wasn’t sure I could get the question right.

“See, I didn’t know for sure which girl he was talking about. I mean, they both had good asses in my opinion. So I’m thinking damn, which one would marry a guy like this? Where do I know Murphy from anyway? I think I met him at some bar – yeah, but I met both of these chicks at a bar too. That doesn’t help. Did they have rings on? Which one of them had a wedding ring on? I couldn’t remember.”

Robbie’s eyes lit up. I thought I had him in suspense here. Then he interrupts.

“Holy shit Vern you wanna see something awesome?”

“Uh… okay.”

He reaches into his collar and pulls out a thin gold necklace. On the end of the necklace is a familiar ring. The one with the engraving ‘THE AGONIZER.’

I punched him in the gut. “You piece of shit! You took that off the body? You have it with you? Get rid of that fucking thing!”

“Jesus Vern, I thought you of all people would appreciate it.”

I paced back and forth across the basketball court, then sat down and buried my head in my arms, thinking.

“Jesus christ kid, I can’t believe you. Carrying something like that with you. Gonna get us killed.”

“Come on Vern, it’s cool. I’m being cool about it.”

“Yeah, that’s what you say, but you know what they say about actions speak louder than words.”

He shook his head.

“No, what do they say about it?”

“I don’t know man, it’s a saying.”

I looked up. He was pouting. Then he says, “So how did you know which girl was the guy’s–”

Suddenly the door swung open and we hopped to our feet. It wasn’t Trey or any of the people we’d seen before, and it wasn’t The Agonizer judging from the two arms on this one. It was a woman, a pretty young gal with deep black hair, smooth white skin and luminous blue eyes. In that first second looking at her she seemed so concerned, so warm, so caring. She was there to help us, but I knew in my heart that there was a danger in trusting her. The park had to be closed by now, we had no choice but to be suspicious of anyone still allowed inside. And it was obvious to me, just by looking at her, that she was one of them, that she worked at the park. I mean I guess I should probaly mention she was dressed as Snow White.

Robbie jumped and gave a little gasp, then tried to act casual as he tucked the ring back under his shirt.

“Please,” said Snow White. “Come with me, before it’s too late. I’ll get you out of here.” Robbie started to follow her. I wasn’t so quick.

“Hey, how do we know you’re not one of them?”

“Please, sir, you’ll just have to trust me. Come with me.”

“You hear that, she called me sir,” I said.

“Okay then, come with me, Varn. Is that right?” She squinted as she stared at my head. I took off the mouse ears… sure enough there was a hole right through the beanie, obscuring the letter e, a few strings of thread splayed haphazardly around it. It was a pretty shocking sight and I gotta be honest with you I was really taken a fuckin’ back. That bullet must have missed my head by a few molecules.

“Fuckin’ kids,” I said. “Used some of my own money to buy them ears.”

And that’s when I started to appreciate the fact that, professionals or hobbyists, these motherfuckers could have easily taken my life. I had been pushing my luck no matter how you looked at it and this was most certainly not the most glorious way for an outlaw like myself to bite it. I mean you know the ways – hail of gunfire, blaze of glory, hell, even a fiery plane crash and/or car wreck. Executed by theme park employees is not high on the list.

I mean for all anybody would know my death was totally clean. I’d just be one of those statistics you hear about every once in a while, how many dudes were killed by rollercoaster malfunction or drowned ’cause they hid on some island after the park closed and tried to swim their way out. And hell man Pisneyland tries to keep those incidents under wraps, chances are people wouldn’t even hear lies about my death. And who would really miss me, anyway? I’d made a few friends, had a lot of sex, but I’d lost my family and had no old ladies or little kids to bring on the teacups. I mean how much more pathetic can you be than to die at an amusement park with no kids other than your 24 year old coke buddy?

We followed Snow White through the door and back down the stairs we came up.

“What you stumbled on is the Pisneyland Mafia,” she explained. “Secret organization of employees here at the park, most of them males, and young, like in their twenties. Started out as a social clique, employees sneaking around, bribing security to set up after hours parties, dressing up like gangsters, swing dancing, gambling. After a while they got addicted to the lifestyle, one thing led to another, eventually they had people running scams on the concessions or the souvenir shops, skimming the pot during the day to fund what goes on at night. These guys are amateurs–”

“Yeah thanks lady,” I said. “We’re not retards. We figured that much out.”

“-but they are dangerous. You caught them on a Friday, that’s the night of the ball. Everyone’s here. So you better take off. I don’t know what you did to piss off Trey, but trust me, you just want to leave it alone. These guys are deep into the role playing. They want to be gangsters so bad, they’ll hurt you just to feel authentic.”

It felt good to get out of that fucking Matterhorn. But we stepped out into a whole different world, like cartoon mardi gras. Laughing and live music drifted through the air and everywhere you looked there was some type of debauchery or what not. The train went by and there were about a dozen naked gals on it, cheering. The guys all cheered back and sprayed beer on them and then gave each other high fives. There were young guys in tailored suits and fedoras, dancing, some of them even wearing zoot suits. They had obviously gone great lengths to get all the period details right. Their shoes were all polished up. They had pocket watches and fancy cigaratte holders and the little stirrups that hold your socks up. They looked like a bunch of retards.

As we got closer to the exit, there was some kind of orgy going on in the garden where the flowers are shaped like a giant Mickey head. A guy wearing a Goofy mask and nothing else, humping a gal. Another gal completely wrapped in cotton candy, and two or three girls licking it off. I never seen anything like it before or since. Although, I suppose I’ve done a few things similar but not exactly.

When I turned to Robbie to compliment the scenery, Trey was holding a gun to his head.

TO BE CONTINUED

at some point

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 26th, 2000 at 12:51 pm and is filed under Vern Tells It Like It Is. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “The Free Vacation”

  1. I got no idea how much of it is true, but I fucking love that story. I hope you ever found the time to continue it. I will search for it.

  2. I have been waiting ten years for the conclusion to this bad boy – 2011 is going to bring Tree of Life to the world, I sure hope it also brings the conclusion (or at least continuation!) of The Free Vacation. I just reread this and it’s even better than I remember it being. Fingers crossed, Vern!

  3. I want to launch a Kickstarter to raise money for Vern to finish this. It’s got great potential!

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