No doubt about it, JB needed a set of wheels.
It really hadn't been much of an issue up until recently since both he and Chris tended to need the car at the same time. Times like this, however, were just annoying enough to raise the issue again.
JB shook his arms out and again took his stance. He stuck out a bit of tongue and squinted down the road as he held a phantom bowling ball. He lined up his shot, envisioning the imaginary projectile slowly curving against the slope of the road and into the group of street dancers performing on milk crates. He took three quick steps and released the non-existant orb as he balanced on one foot.
He hopped slightly as he worked his body english against his own imagination. "Go. Go." he urged the ball toward it's mark.
'What are you doing?' Myron's voice asked in an unusually flat tone.
"Mime Bowling." JB replied as he shimmied left, attempting to alter the invisible bowling ball's course after he imagined it striking the sewer cover at an odd angle.
'Mime Bowling?' Myron asked in a tone that made it quite obvious that he was glad he wasn't actually standing next to this imbicile.
In his mind's eye, milk crates and spraypainted dancers went flying in various directions as the bowling ball crashed into the group with a satisfying clatter. Despite the chaos that played out in his mind, JB slumped his shoulders, "Dang it!"
"I got a spare."
The elderly woman seated inside the bus shelter continued to try to ignore JB. She would have appeared to be successful too, if she had not drawn a slash through the first of the set of nine boxes JB had drawn on the shelter's glass earlier. JB didn't acknowledge her act, but a smile played across his face as he reached for the imaginary ball return.
The frame ended early when the bus rounded the corner. JB helped the woman with her groceries and took a seat toward the rear of the bus. He figured he'd get a bit of Holiday shopping out of the way. Unfortunately, that meant that for the next two and a half hours, he'd be using a combination of almost every form of mass transit Boise had to offer.
If he had the car he could've been there in half an hour, but he didn't. So he simply convinced himself that sitting across from a guy muttering to himself about the government controlled rhubarb conspiracy was probably better for the planet anyway.
Chris was out of town. More specifically, Sandy had called in a favor. Although from either of their expressions, "favor" was probably not the right word.
Chris looked up the snowy driveway at the single level ranch perched atop the hill's crest. He realized that description made it sound much better than it actually was. The crest lay about twenty feet in and thirty feet up. Chris was certain that if things ever got bad enough, the residents could solve their trash problem by putting their can on a skateboard and aiming it down hill. By the time it hit the bottom of the five mile slope, the garbage would easily merge onto the freeway at about sixty or seventy and probably wouldn't stop 'til Greenwich.
The rental car scraped hard against the ice covered asphalt as Sandy gunned it up the drive. It was the first time that Chris had been to Massachusetts, and he was far from enjoying the experience. All he remembered was Sandy's last command. "Shut up and let me do the talking."
He wasn't quite sure what to make of the command, mostly because of the way it was said. Sandy wasn't angry or upset when she made the declaration. She simply said it the way that someone would ask for the salt or respond to a question about the time.
Amazingly, it worked.
Chris got out of the car and grabbed the luggage from the trunk.
"Sandra." a voice sang from the house entrance.
Chris guessed that would be the mother. He glanced around the trunk lid. Sandra's mother was shorter than she was but looked absolutely nothing like he expected. Chris pulled back a bit. He really had no idea what Sandy's mom would look like. His mind filled with hairpins and old Chuck Jones cartoons before he shook it out.
Mrs. McCovey was a rounded woman, but not well rounded. Her hair was done in a loose bun and she spoke with a hint of a German accent. She was dressed in a large sweater with a light shawl, sweatpants and house slippers. She spoke at Sandy more than with her. Actually Sandy and her mother seemed to be having two separate conversations.
"Need a hand with the bags, do ye?"
Chris was startled to see the person that he presumed was Mr. McCovey suddenly standing next to him. The man was thin, wirey and his face and hands were well weathered. He wore a tweed jacket with dress pants and a sweater. "Uh, no, I've got it. Tha.."
Mr. McCovey reached in regardless of the protest and easily hefted out the larger bag. Apparently he was far stronger than he appeared and he easily swung the weighty bag as if it were empty. "Ach, na' trouble a'tal. We'd best head inside before the women so we can get a moment's peace." He stopped and looked at Chris with a long suffering expression. "I've learned to cherish those moments when I find 'em."
Chris smiled as the two of them glanced toward the women who were blissfully wrapped in their own conversations.
"So, Can I get you a cup of tea to warm up?" Mr. McCovey asked as he set the kettle on the stove.
"Yes, please." Chris said rubbing his hands from the cold. As they waited, their conversation fell toward the weather, Boise, the fall of classical literary providence with the rise of post-modernism in America and other light topics. The old man was sharp and welcomed the banter easily.
Sandra and her mother entered as the kettle whistle blew. The two women were still engaged in their own conversations as they pulled cups, teabags and other bits from the cabinets. With their tea made they entered the living room to continue whatever it was they were talking about. The gentlemen were left to enjoy the emptied kettle and their own company.
"Does that happen often?" Chris asked.
"Over the years I have learned that it's best to make more than you need." Mr. McCovey said as he pulled two still steaming mugs from the microwave. "I prefer the water heated the way God had intended, but still one learns to make due. You care for anything in that?"
"No thanks, plain is fine." Chris smiled again. He was starting to take a real shine to the cagey fellow. Chris dipped the tea bag into the water and began to steep his tea.
"Ah, you're a good lad. But you'd forgive an old man if he ads a bit of sweetener." McCovey added a rather large dose of a liquid "sweetener" that he apparently kept in a whiskey bottle. McCovey gave a sly wink to Chris. "Not a word to the missus if y'will."
McCovey dispensed with wasting a teabag on his own beverage and returned the unused teabags to the cupboard. Chris smiled, "And why would I be telling her how you make your tea?" he deadpanned.
"Auch, I think I hear a lull in th' prattering. We should adjourn to join the ladies before they get thoughts of our mischief."
In the living room, McCovey sat by the low, crackling fire as Sandra and her mother sat on the sofa. Chris turned a chair from the dining room table and sat toward the edge of the room.
Mrs. McCovey suddenly stood with a flurry of hand waving. "And where are my manners? Sandra dear, who is our guest?"
Sandra remained seated on the couch. "Oh, sorry Mom, that's my current employer, Mr. Chris Reid. I hope you don't mind, but I invited him up here to get him away from work for a weekend."
Chris stood, politely shook Mrs. McCovey's hand, and exchanged quick pleasantries with 'Katrina'. He then turned and did the same with Mr. McCovey, who insisted to be called 'Mick'.
"Wait," Katrina asked the two, "didn't you to do that earlier?"
"No, we thought we'd wait so that we didn't ruin the surprise", was Mick's casual reply. Chris simply shrugged. Katrina and Sandra laughed.
'Ahh. I love the smell of commerce'
Karl, it should not be surprising to note, happened to have a deep seated love of the holiday shopping season. It might even border on wanton lust. JB just smiled and adjusted his earpiece. "Calm down Karl, you'll scare the children" JB said aloud.
JB found that with the heavy use of cellphones, crowds didn't seem to notice one more person talking to themselves. The earpiece was simply there in the off event that anyone might not be accustomed to the notion but it was less and less of an issue.
'This is a total waste of time.' Myron grumbled.
"No it's not. Look I need to pick up a few gifts for folks this holiday, plus it gets us out of the dang loft for a day."
'We should be on patrol and not sifting for overpriced baubles.'
'Aw will y'all give it a rest?' Becky Sue barked back. She, too, enjoyed the shopping season, but not for the same reasons as Karl. Still, she wasn't about to have her day ruined by the Detective's whining.
'Actually,' Roger chipped in quietly, 'this is probably the best place we could be.'
'Oh, really?', the Detective dripped sarcastically.
'Well, yes,' Roger continued, ignoring the undercurrent of hostility, 'we're in the busiest mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, right? Well, if anyone was going to try something, it would be here, where there are the most number of people.'
"Hey that's a darn good point!" JB chimed in. "The bad guys are all about show, right? Besides, if something were to happen up North, we could just hop a cab and be back in about half an hour."
'Half an hour' Myron sputtered.
"Yeah, you're right, chances are we'd get there faster than that what with all the traffic heading the other way. Oooh, pump action nose hair trimmers!"
Myron was silent for the rest of the shopping trip, notably when Roger was giving JB tips on proper birdcalls to make when flapping his arms on the escalator.
"So, this is Torryton?" Chris asked, feigning interest.
"Well, yeah, it's changed a little since when I grew up here." Sandra replied. They had wanted, ok, needed to get out of the house for a drive. The McCoveys were pleasant enough folk, but there were only so many times one can listen to the story of Margret DiPeccio's hernia operation, even if the neighbor's dog was psychic enough to warn Mrs.Edolowkwitz that her muscle and cabbage casserole might be done.
Sandra and Chris had spent the first part of the drive in raptured silence before Chris broke the silence.
"Still, there's a lot of charm in the town." Sandra added.
Chris looked out the passenger window at 'The Wasteland' head shop, filled with Def Leppard posters, located next to the burnt out shell of Gussard's Paint Shop. Off hand, Chris estimated the fire took place fifteen years ago. "Charm is a word for it."
Sandra slumped. "Ok, the town sucks. I admit it. It's a desolate hole in the dismal backwater of New England. When my sisters and I were old enough to get out of here, we left vapor trails. I've been trying to convince my folks to leave for years, but they've got too many obligations they feel they need to do."
"Look, it's ok" Chris said. "you don't have to impress me or anything." He slid a hand behind her neck and began to gently massage away the tension she was feeling.
It didn't work.
In fact it had quite the opposite effect.
Sandra was suddenly, quite uncomfortable. She pulled over to the side of the road, but kept her eyes fixed ahead. "Chris? What are you doing?"
"Sorry, and I rubbing too hard?"
"No, and yes." Sandra removed Chris' hand and placed it on his side of the car. "Look, I like working with you and all..."
Chris suddenly grew very confused, then started to laugh. "Ok, that's what I get for listening to my idiot little brother. He had me convinced that you and I were an item."
Sandra turned and looked at Chris with a very impressive Deer-in-headlights gaze, then it was Sandra's turn to laugh. "Us? Good Lord!"
"When I told him that you invited me up to Massachusetts for the holidays, he became convinced that we were there to meet your parents."
"Didn't you tell him how ludicrous that would be?"
"Of course, but once that idiot gets an idea in his head, it takes an act of Congress to get him to forget about it. Well, that or a new episode of Invader Zim."
"Look, I asked you to come up here because, as much as I love my folks, the thought of having to spend an entire weekend trapped in the house with them.. what can I say, I value my sanity." Sandra laughed again, "Us? Getting engaged? I guarantee that there'd be three arguments and at least one of us would be dead before the ring box had fully opened."
They both laughed again before trading a few quick verbal spars. Sandra headed the car back toward the house as Chris continued to look out the window and played with the small box in his coat pocket.
"Oh, I'm sorry about that Bob." JB said as he picked up one of the shopping bags that had bashed against Bob's side. He put the items back into the sack before suddenly leaping away as he realized what had just happened. He stood in a defensive position with a look of stark terror on his face.
Bob, however, paid no attention to him. JB turned his head to follow Bob's gaze.
The fog was just starting to fill in and whisps began to blur the streetlights. Still, it wasn't difficult to determine that something very large loomed just beyond their light. Actually, several somethings.
JB heard them before he saw them, and felt them before he heard them. The ground rumbled against the soles of his feet. The pattern was far to regular to be an earthquake.
The first thing to appear was a ridiculously small television on legs. It reminded JB of "Mike the TV" from ReBoot except for the fact that the monitor displayed a guy with a chrome beanie. The unit stood about three feet tall and was in no way responsible for the heavy thudding echoing through the fog.
That honor belonged to the much larger, mechanized war machines that emerged shortly afterwards.
JB was speechless. The machines were huge. They were the size of upright tanks with appropriate legs and arms. He could tell that they were heavily armored as well as heavily armed as each one had a number of blinking lights indicating the lethal force that they could easily generate. The fog showed the bright traces of lazer sites that were collecting on Bob. Of course the other very striking feature, as if there could be such a thing, of these heavy weapons was the fact that a number of them had huge arrow-through-the-head gags or were carrying obviously inflatable squeaky mallets.
Bob, still showed no signs of backing down, even against those odds.
The little robot spoke. "Ah, Bob. Good to see you. I'm glad that you've decided to join us."
"No, I haven't." Bob replied coldly. "In fact, I've come to ask you to leave."
"Leave?" The little robot chuckled. "Why would I do such a thing? Particularly after I've gone and gotten all of the paperwork authorized for this little excursion."
"I don't care why you're here. I only care that you're not going to be here much longer."
"Give me the one I seek and I'll happily be on my way."
"You know I can't do that Krullux." Bob replied. "There's far more at stake here then you're petty revenge."
The little robot, Krullux, laughed hard and gave a signal. One of the massive warbots leveled some form of cannon at Bob. Bob continued to stare defiantly down the barrel of the warming plasma core. Krullux calmed his laughter, "I don't believe you are in a position to make any form of demand. Besides, what were you planning on doing, sic'ing your toy dog against my warriors?"
"No." Bob replied. "Margie isn't here. I wouldn't risk her for something as foolish as this."
"Yet you risk yourself." Krullux began to laugh again.
"Krullux!" Bob shouted, "Hear me. I know what you intend and I know that you're being played for a fool. We haven't always gotten along, but I do respect you. Killing the Grylix would only make matters far worse."
The Grylix? Zrng? Was this about Zrng? JB's mind raced with the implications of what he was hearing. This army of warbots wanted to kill Zrng? Why? And why was Bob of all people defending him? What had Zrng really been up to? Five minds in one body began to pay the little diorama a great deal more attention.
Krullux stopped showing any form of amusement. "What do you know about 'worse'?" Krullux spat back. "My entire race has been devastated by that being. We have been denied the thing that we existed for! Worse, you say? I say then let it become worse. Let the entire universe know the pain that I've known for the past eighty of your years."
The robot stopped and collected himself. "Worse? You have no idea, but you are most fortunate, Mr. Malevolent. I will spare you from knowing how much worse things can get. General Carrot Top, you may fire at will."
"I KNEW you looked familiar!" JB shouted with the sudden burst of enlightenment. What's more, he suddenly became the most interesting thing on the battle field, which, as any soldier with a flamethrower will tell you, is not the best thing to be.
Countless targeting lights shifted onto Puppyboy as he smiled and pointed. Inside his head, JB ignored the sudden screams of protest and very active suggestions that he depart as quickly as meta-humanly possible.
"I knew it! You're Carrot Top, right? And your Gallagher?"
"Well, yeah." One of the suits of mechanical armor said. "I mean it's not a total 'Duh' considering I've got a freaking watermelon painted on the side here. But what about it?"
"Oh, man I loved the show you did four years ago at the Metro." JB said enthusiastically. "Are you guys going to be doing a joint gig anytime soon? Man, that would be fantastic."
Two of the robots looked at each other. Gallagher's Mellon Masher spoke up, "To be honest, we never really thought about it."
"You should." JB called back. "I mean prop comedy would pretty much sell out somewhere like Branson."
"Yeah, Branson, Missouri. They do a ton of shows down there all the time. I'm serious you guys could become headliners tomorrow if you announced it."
A third robot leaned over to Carrot Top's. It conferred for a few seconds, before Carrot Top asked, "What about, uhm, new talent."
"Hey, if Jim Stafford can make a mint off of his 3D thrill ride, I'm betting anyone you introduce will have more fans than air conditioner repairman in the wintertime."
The warbots again put their heads together in conference. They broke after a few seconds. "Commander Krullux?" The Gallagher-bot asked.
"Later." And with that the entire horde of warbots quickly ran off toward what JB presumed would be Missouri.
Krullux stood sputtering for a few seconds, then began screaming for the cowards to return.
Bob simply folded his arms and listened to the fading rumble.
Krullux spun around to face Bob, "You have not yet won, human! I will have my revenge!" And with that JB was engulfed in a beam of energy.
End of Book 2