Chapter 20: Steal the Wheels
"Wow. Thanks. What the hell am I supposed to do with it, Kim?" said John. He picked up the little effigy Kim had tossed over her shoulder.
"Toy with it!" replied Kim.
We drove along Charles Avenue in Kim's new Cadillac Seville. Ben pointed to a side road ahead saying, "Turn there."
Kim ignored the directions. At the last possible second she turned the wheel violently. The car screeched around the corner. All the occupants slid together on the left. Ben and Kim giggled as Ben landed on Kim's lap. I hit John solidly with my hip and toppled across his lap. I clung for a moment, but John caught my eye and I withdrew.
"I always put on my seat belt before I get in an accident!" declared Kim as she put on her safety belt. Ben did the same.
"Um. Does this mean you're planning to have an accident?" I asked edgily.
"Oh, Janet, can't we have any fun?"
The car lurched to a halt. Rob jumped into the car and glanced back at his house.
"Are the cops after you?" asked John.
Rob slumped into his seat and began to giggle.
"What's so funny, Rob?" I asked.
"I can't believe what we're doing. Ha ha, we're about to open for a famous band. My parents think I'm watching TV! Ha ha ha, and we suck!"
"You sound nervous."
Before Rob could answer, Kim swerved violently to avoid an empty beer can.
"Geez!" yelled Rob, "What are you doing!?"
In the ensuing silence, Ben said quietly, "Stop being an ass, Kim."
We made our way out of the subdivision and back onto a main street in relative safety. "It's too bad Angela and Bill couldn't come see your debut as rockstars!"
Ben laughed and Kim made gagging noises in the front seat.
"Angela got grounded," said John.
"And it was all your fault, you fiend!" accused Rob.
"Uh, yes. I got her home late last weekend. After we dropped off Kim and Ben, we decided to go out for an early breakfast. But her curfew is midnight! I think that's too early. So what if she doesn't get home until five in the morning? It's not like she was in any danger."
"Five!?" I asked, "What were you doing until five?"
Rob looked upset, "You fiend!"
"It was a good breakfast. We had dessert, too."
"She's really an interesting person. Have any of you ever heard about the goat man?"
"Well, Angela had the weirdest experience when she was about fifteen years old. She was driving along with some of her older friends and it was really late. Actually it was only about 10 o'clock. But I guess that's pretty late for someone who has a curfew. Anyway, they were driving along and they came up to a bridge and there was this man, or something, standing in the middle of the road. There was a bright light behind it, or him. They pulled up close to this guy and the light got so bright they couldn't even see the bridge behind him, or it. And as they got closer they saw that the guy had the legs of a goat and horns!"
"This sounds like a bad movie," I said uneasily.
"Yeah, but it was real. She was there! Angela couldn't lie to me. And this goat dude walked up to their car and grabbed the bumper, lifted it up off the ground and started pushing it backwards!"
"That's incredible!" exclaimed Rob in awe. It's hard to tell when Rob is being ironic.
"Yeah, well... I dunno, but it's pretty weird."
"If you think that's weird, why don't I tell you about my past lives," said Kim conversationally.
"Sure, go ahead," chimed Rob and John.
"I went to see a psychic, and she told me that in my most recent life I was the daughter of a rich and affluent politician in England..."
"That's not really surprising, Kim" said Ben, "I was a turtle."
"When Nick was very young and just learning how to talk," I said, "he would lie in his crib and point at the ceiling and say 'Blue!' 'Blue!' We never had the slightest idea what he was seeing. Nick knew what the color blue was. He could pick a blue crayon out of a box. The ceiling was white, and he moved his finger as if there were a bug flying in circles above his head. He seemed so happy to see it. It was the funniest thing. Eventually, after the third or fourth time we'd seen him do it, Dirk and I just assumed that it was a guardian angel. Not long after that he stopped."
"Spooky." said John.
"I'm sure it was an angel!" exclaimed Rob, "They come in all different forms. You never know where you'll find them. I saw one! He told me some very important things."
"I wasn't done with my past life story," Kim interjected.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were. Why don't you finish and then Rob can tell his Angela, er - angel story," I said.
"I was the daughter of these rich people and it turns out that they were pagans. My mother was a witch and my father a warlock! When it was decided that I would marry a young Welsh duke, they became furious, because the man was a devout Christian. They locked me in the tower of their castle!"
As Kim spoke I looked ahead down the dimly lit road. Suddenly, I saw - or thought I saw - a figure dart out of the shadows directly in front of us. "Kim!" I cried. "Watch out!!" Kim swerved off the pavement. She ricocheted over the curb and ground to a stop in a ditch.
"Oh my God! Oh my God!" sobbed Kim.
"Is everyone all right?" I asked.
No one seemed to be hurt. We got out of the car to inspect the damage. All four of Kim's tires had blown out and it looked as if the rims were ruined.
"Shit!, Oh my God! My father's going to kill me. This is his car. I didn't even tell him I was going to borrow it. He'll be back late tonight... oh shit."
"Why don't we try to get it back onto the road and into a parking lot? There're lots of corporate parking lots around here. They'll all be empty." John said. "Then we can get a better look at the damage and maybe put on your spare. Kim, why don't you give me the keys and I'll drive. You look pretty shook up."
John got into the car and slowly pulled back onto the road. Then he crept along with the hazard lights blinking. A car zipped past and I wondered where the police were in regular, undramatic, hard times.
John turned the car into a large parking lot and got out. "Hey Kim, why don't we use your car phone and call a tow truck?"
"You've got a car phone? Why don't we call the police? They're supposed to be public servants."
"And a cop is going to fix the rims, too?" said Ben witheringly.
"I don't have the money for a tow truck, and I can't afford new wheels. I don't know what to do. I'm dead. When my dad finds out, I'm dead."
Rob started to laugh.
"Now what is it, Rob?" I snapped.
"Oh, ah, excuse me. This isn't funny at all. I can't believe it. Oh god, we're going to miss our big chance. We're ruined!" Rob giggled uncontrollably. Soon Ben and John were laughing, too, as the realization sank in.
"See here now." I was getting annoyed. I mean, fun is fun, but this was serious. "Let's get real. If we call a tow truck, we can get to my house and I'm sure we could still get to the show on time."
"Ha Ha! Oh God! It would never work! Ha Ha, you'd get in an accident, too. We're doomed. Destined for failure! Life is a constant disappointment. Ha Ha" The three Rikki Rocketts laughed hysterically. Kim and I were less amused.
Then Kim had an inspiration. "I'll call Bill! I'm sure he'll save me."
Bill held the phone to his ear as he laid on his old bed. He'd been talking to Angela for over an hour.
"It isn't fair. John can stay out as long as he wants and here I am, doing nothing!!! He's going to be playing for They Might Be Giants!!! Tonight!!! I should run away. This is totally unfair. I'm trapped in this house! I'm a prisoner, I'm missing the event of a lifetime...because...because, I was out late. Damn it all!"
"Angela, I told you I'd pick you up. I told you I'd give you a ride to the show. You're right. Maybe you were out a little late, but nothing is so bad that they should keep you from seeing the band play their first professional gig. It really is a once in a lifetime chance."
Angela's head was hanging off the edge of her bed. As the blood collected and her face turned red she looked up at the fluorescent stars glowing on her bedroom ceiling. "You're right, I know. I'm just afraid. I mean, John is great, and I love him, but... If I left... And was caught... If you think I'm in trouble now... I'd get myself sent to a private school."
"That would suck. I understand."
"I know you do, Bill. That's what's so great about you. You never try to force your beliefs on anyone else. You actually care about people. Sometimes I think that John, well, never mind."
"I know what you mean. You don't have to say it. He's my friend, too, but you can never be sure where John's loyalties lie." Bill shifted to his side.
"Why aren't you going? I mean, you've known John longer than me. You're pretty good friends with all the band members. You should be there! You have a car. If you don't leave soon you'll miss it."
"I know, I'd like to see it. But, who would you have to talk to?"
"Oh, Bill. You don't have to say that."
"No, really. You'd be stuck in your house with absolutely no one to talk to but your warden parents."
"I've got a good book to read. I'm not that hopeless."
"Besides, Kim's going to be there and I don't think I could..." Bill's voice began to waver, "It's just that she's so.. I dunno.."
"Oh, Bill. You really loved her, didn't you?" Angela sat up. Her head felt like a balloon.
"It's, well, I mean. Shit. She just blew me off like there had never been so much as a word between us. Like she didn't care at all. She kept telling me to forget it, there was nothing there. But there was! I know there was! I love her, and either she's... I don't know. I just don't know."
"I'm sorry, Bill. I hope you meet some one who can treat you as well as you treat everyone else."
"I'll never meet anyone like Kim. No, I don't think I'll ever fall in love again. I'm screwed. God, why?"
"Bill, you'll be OK. It may sound cruel of me to say this, but you were putting her on a false pedestal. She doesn't deserve you. I don't think Kim ever really cared. I don't want to hurt you but I know. She was just using you to get at Ben."
"Ben? I don't know. I guess you could be right. God, why? I loved her. I still do. I can't forget her face. Argh. The day before she stopped talking to me... she..."
Bill's voice broke. He paused and drew a shuddering breath. "It was the night after I told her I loved her. It was her birthday. We'd gone out with John and Ben and done some stupid things, it doesn't matter. I thought she had a good time that night. Then I told her I loved her and she said not to say that. But it was true, and I told her so. Was that a mistake? It was true. I did love her. I still do. Why? In my room that night, before I took her home, she jumped up into my arms. With no warning at all. She just did it. And she clung to me. For like, five minutes. With her arms and legs wrapped around me. I just stood there holding her. She didn't say anything. I thought she was about to tell me she loved me, too. But she didn't. She let go, and I took her home. The next day I had an argument with her at Ben's. She didn't want me to take her home. I haven't gotten a word out of her since. I don't know what to do. She acts like she hates me."
"Bill, you've got to let her go," Angela sighed.
"I can't. I just can't."
"She and Ben are, well .... I heard they were ... involved."
"What do you mean? Ben doesn't get involved. Ben is Ben."
"You can't tell anyone. I swore I wouldn't tell, but if anyone should know, it's you."
"I swear, I won't tell anyone."
"John would be really mad if he found out I told you this. He made me promise that I wouldn't tell. He specifically made me promise not to tell you."
"He'll never know. I promise. What?"
"John saw them having sex."
"He walked up to Ben's room to tell him something about a song, or something, I don't know. But when he got up there they were ... I guess they were doing it. Or at least that's what he told me."
"Ben and Kim?"
"No. Are you sure he was serious?"
"Well, yes. I'd believe anything he told me. John's never lied to me."
"You don't know John very well."
"Yes, I do! I'm going out with him. What are you talking about?! He wouldn't lie to me. At least he wouldn't lie to me about anything important."
"Like if he was having sex with someone else?"
"He wouldn't do that to me. Not while we were ... not while I was ... no. I trust John."
"I'm not trying to upset you, but I think that trusting John is a mistake. I've know him since he moved here. He manipulates everybody. He gets people right where he wants them and he's good at it. It's scary to watch him work. If he's upset with someone, rather than confront the person directly, he fixes it so someone else gets in a big fight with the person he's mad at. You're my friend, too. I don't want to see you get hurt. I'm afraid he's manipulating you, just like he does everyone else."
"You think he would lie to me?"
"If he felt like it. If he wanted something bad enough, yes."
"Angela, since this is the time for truth-telling, I have to tell you something."
"Remember his girlfriend, Kathy?"
"Can you hold on a second. My other line is ringing."
Bill rolled onto his back and took a deep breath before clicking over to the other caller. "Hello?"
"Bill?" Kim's barely audible voice murmured into his ear.
Bill instantly sat up. "Kim!? What..are.. Hello?"
"Kim? Are you OK?"
"I'm fine, Bill."
"Kim, I haven't talked to you in so long. How have you been?"
"Awful. I've been awful. And now I'm in big trouble."
"What happened? Are you OK?"
"Janet made me crash my car."
"You crashed again!?"
"It wasn't my fault. There was something in the road and Ben was poking me. Besides, I had my seat belt on. That's what they're for, aren't they?"
"Where are you?"
"Bill, you have to save me. If my Dad finds out, you know he'll kill me. All four of his wheels are wrecked. I need new wheels for his car before he gets home tonight. And I'm broke."
"No, problem. It's a Seville. Right?"
"Yes. Can you help?"
"Of course! Tell me where you are and I'll be right over."
"We're in The Northern Trust bank's parking lot on Diehl Street."
"Who else is there besides Janet? Were you taking the band to their show?"
"Oh, OK. Your car will be like new by the time your Dad gets back tonight. You can trust me. I'll be over as soon as possible."
She hung up before Bill could say goodbye. Bill grabbed his wallet and hung up the phone. It rang again as he was running out his door.
"Damn! I forgot!" He answered hurriedly, almost out of breath with excitement, "Yeah??"
"Bill? What about Kathy?" said Angela.
"Angela, I've got to go. It's an emergency. I've no time to explain. Don't worry, I'll call you later."
Bill hung up and rushed out of his room.
Rob watched John replacing one of the four ruined wheels with the spare tire. Ben was holding hands with Kim. I paced. Ten minutes had passed since Kim called Bill. It was beginning to look like Rob's prophecy would come true. I could hardly bear to watch him standing nonchalantly by the side of the road while his chances of meeting his favorite band and actually playing his music for them slipped away. How could he laugh at a time like this? And what good would one spare tire do? I haven't the slightest idea what Kim and Ben were thinking as they stood quietly snuggling. I was about to ask Kim if I could use her phone to call Dirk when Bill showed up in his dad's van. If I'd used my head and called Dirk earlier we would all be at the concert by now. Of course, Dirk would have said "I knew something like this would happen." Dirk always knew when something awful was going to happen, although he never bothered to mention it to anybody until disaster had already struck. I kicked a can and said a very short, very bad word. I was supposed to be the grownup here. I had to get a grip. While I was pondering exactly what to get a grip on, Bill took charge of the situation.
"Oh! That's wonderful, John. Are you going to drive on one wheel?"
"I always say, one is better than none."
"You're an idiot, John." Bill grabbed the jack out of John's hand and put it away.
As Bill began unloading the van, John muttered to himself, "Especially when one is all I've got."
Bill jacked the Seville onto concrete blocks. Handing John a tire iron he commanded, "Help me take off the wheels." We all watched as Bill and John quickly removed the four wheels. Bill put the four ruined wheels into his van and the spare tire back into the Seville's trunk. "Your rim's are shit, Kim. We've got to get new ones." No one responded and I was afraid that this was the extent of Bill's rescue plan. Then he ordered us all into the van. Ben and Kim climbed into the back seat, Rob and I followed, leaving John and Bill in front.
As Bill started up the van, Ben proclaimed, "Hey, Kim, I've got some rims for you right here!" Kim giggled but the rest of the car was quiet. Then there was a rustling sound and a sharp gasp. Bill hastily turned on the radio.
Bill drove us straight to Eagle Hills High School. We pulled into the nearly full parking lot and stopped next to Leon Busboom's familiar car. A Cadillac Seville. I remembered with dread tonight's PTA meeting.
Finally, John broke the silence, "Great, Bill. You've taken us exactly where we wanted to go."
"Shut up and help me get the jacks and blocks out of the back."
I immediately understood Bill's plan. It was bold, it was daring, and, if unsuccessful, it was certain to be the end of all of us. Especially me, the putative grownup, the responsible party. These were my students, under my care, my subjects, and right under my nose they were stealing my boss's wheels.
Did I speak up? Did I say, "Stop!" Did I even think to stop them? No, indeed I did not. My heartrate was faster than cross country skiing had ever accomplished. I felt transformed. I forgot to be an adult. I was having the time of my life.
Rob blurted out, "Now, not only will we miss playing for They Might Be Giants, but we'll also end up in jail! Ha ha! This is great!"
I nodded. "You're right, Rob. This is just about perfect. Oh, Leon! Come over here, Leon."
John grinned but Bill shushed me. I snickered into my coat collar.
"Did I remember to tell you that I've got some rims for you right here, Kim?" Ben repeated and Kim giggled again.
Finally, Bill and John loaded the last wheel into the van. I looked up and saw the front doors of the school still closed. "Oh, well," I said. "I suppose this is for the best."
Rob turned to Ben. "We've already missed our show. Now you know what would be really funny? Oh God! We should put Kim's old tires back on that car." He pointed out the window at Leon's wheelless car, which was still supported on Bill's concrete blocks.
The van was quiet for a second until Bill said, "I would like to keep those blocks. Let's do it!"
I lost my nerve. "No!" I squeaked. "They'll be out any second! We've got to get out of here."
"We can do it," said John, "and besides, Rob's right. It would be hilarious!"
John and Bill exited the car again and Rob hopped out to give them a hand. I watched the front doors of the school in horror. Sounds of laughter and clinking tools from outside the car jingled loudly in the quiet van. I tried to shut my eyes, but whenever I did so, I imagined I heard the doors opening and parents spilling into the parking lot, so I focused my eyes on the front doors and relentlessly shut off my thoughts.
I thus hypnotised myself, staring so intently at the school's main entrance, so that I never noticed when the doors swung open. Parents and teachers streamed onto the parking lot, eager to get home. Bill, John, and Rob dove into the van which rocked unsteadily in response.
"Can't we go now?" I hissed, sure that Bill was about to start up his car and leave. He didn't respond.
Whispers of, "Hurry up, Bill" and "Let's get out of here!" came from Rob and John. Bill found his keys and started up the van, but before he could pull out, Ben said, "Kim, I adore you. Will you go to Prom with me?"
We all waited for Bill to put the van into gear but he was listening for Kim's answer.
She murmured, "Ben, you're such a cutie! Of course I'll go to the Prom with you!"
Bill pulled the key out of the ignition. Someone made a noise. Probably it was me.
Bill leaned back, "I've got an idea. Everyone get down."
We all ducked below the windows and waited as people got into their cars and drove away. I wished desperately to be among those people. What had begun as a joyous prank had deteriorated into certain capture, all because of the whims of a heart-sick, lunatic daredevil.
"You guys are digging my grave," I whispered.
The minutes passed like hours while we waited crouched on the dirty floormats of Bill's van. The sound of cars driving off dwindled. Bill peeked over the dash and peered at the school. Busboom's Cadillac was still sitting next to us. There were only a few cars left.
"Here he comes!" whispered Bill.
I began to wheeze, as I do in times of stress. Also it was dusty. John turned to look at me and whispered, "Are you OK?"
I nodded and rummaged in my purse for my inhaler. The door to the Cadillac opened, then closed. The engine came to life and clunked into gear. There was a horrible metallic death noise. Leon turned off his engine. The van trembled with suppressed mirth and anxiety. Leon got out of his car, slammed the door again and cursed. His voice dopplered off toward the school. We all carefully poked our heads out to see Leon disappear into the building. I didn't know what to think. Were we safe? Had I lost my job? Did Leon smell me and walk back inside to rip up my contract? I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and did a little of both.
Bill started the van and, without turning on his headlights, crept out of the parking lot. It was over. Now for the sweet rewards of successful crime.
We drove back to Kim's car. John and Bill efficiently replaced her wheels. Once the job was finished and her car back on the ground, Kim got in and waited for the rest of us.
"So, I guess you guys missed your show. Too bad," said Bill.
"Yeah, well, we're pretty fired up. I think we'll work on some news songs, or something. Maybe we'll make a new album." said John. Rob and Ben agreed and they all got into Kim's car. Bill and I stood outside as Rob leaned out the window.
"Do you want to come with? I'm sure we'll be great!"
"I think I've put my karma through all it can stand, thanks. I feel like I've been turned inside out. I think it's time for me to go home and look normal, just in case Leon drops by for a chat."
"OK, let's ride!" shouted Rob, and with that they left us standing in the parking lot.
Bill stood silent, fidgeting with his greasy hands. He looked wild. For the briefest instant I thought he might turn on me. But he didn't. He just stood there watching Kim drive away.
"Well, Bill. It's been quite a night. Now if you don't mind, I'd really like to get home."
We got into his van and he drove mutely to my door. Bill turned off his van. We looked at each other for a long moment. It was obvious he was in pain. I reminded myself that it was my job to help with this sort of thing.
"You seem to be upset about something."
"She totally ignored me."
"Yes, she did. I'm sorry, but it seems as if she's getting involved with Ben."
I really didn't feel professional. I felt like a mastermind, or possibly an idiot. "Is there anything I can do to help you with these feelings?"
"OK. I need to get inside before Dirk begins wondering what I'm doing sitting out here."
"OK. Take care of yourself, Bill."
I got out of the van and watched as Bill drove away. Then I walked triumphantly up the walk and opened my front door.
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Subject: Your recent message
I read your email with some consternation. If I understand you correctly, you have been involved in some very - questionable - activity. Janet, you don't sound like yourself. I wonder if your recent head injury was more serious than you perhaps realize. I urge you to seek medical advice. Janet, I am very concerned about your well-being.