The Flying Babalooskis - Part 1

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Thanx & mega-huggles to Andrea DiMaggio for finding this, my "lost" novella...

Two kids find a satchel of money and decide to run away from home, which leads to an series of adventures, each more frantic and impossible than the last. While this isn't transgender fiction, with the disguises they adopt to avoid being busted as runaways it's tran-something, a strange odyssey that takes them a long way from the lives they knew, as they somehow manage to pass themselves off as a pair of tiny elderly adults, a married couple who had once been famous all across Europe under the name...

~~ A Fantasy of Sudden Wealth ~~


This story takes place in Los Angeles, California in the summer of 1998...


By now no one was saying a word. Ozwald Zengler sat in the cramped rear seat of the tiny import, fighting back the tears that had started to well up under his eyes. His mom's friend Mrs. Fisher rode up in front, sitting primly on the forward edge of her seat as she pretended to sort through the contents of her purse. She was no doubt wishing that she had driven her own car to the hospital that morning, or that she hadn't come at all...

Outside O.Z.'s little side window cars drifted backward in a silent stately waltz. His mother was driving like he'd never seen her drive before- aggressively, batting the turn-signal lever up and the down as she zigzagged across the freeway lanes, her furious glare defying anyone to get in her way. Now veering down the offramp just a hair too fast, hurrying to get him home to whatever punishment awaited him. This was horrible!

It had been the weirdest and ugliest day of O.Z.'s life. Grandpa issuing that sudden keening gasp and falling back, his mouth hanging open, unsprung; the light of awareness fading from his eyes.

Then that team of nurses bursting in and doing all their emergency moves on the old man, working around the boy like he was invisible, but then quitting all at once. They'd done all they could. His dying here at Port Angeles Hospital had been deemed pretty much inevitable since he was wheeled into the intensive care unit back in May.

After Mom signed the forms they stuck in front of her and some other grim details were taken care of, as he and she and Ellie Fisher had been leaving---crossing that strangely illuminated white-on-white lobby---he had tried to tell the two women about Grandpa's awakening. Mindful of his mother's grief, which he knew was a whole lot deeper than his own over this, he had tried to act properly respectful and somber when he said, "Grandfather spoke to me today."

O.Z. had no idea she would react the way she did. She stopped with a jerk and roared, "He talked to you?!"

"He did. We talked. When you and Ellie went down to the cafeteria to..."

To get something to eat. He didn't like the way she was staring at him.

"Oh for Pete's sake. What do you mean talked to you? How could he do that? They said he was practically brain dead!"

O.Z.'s eyes were pulled to a rectangle of swirling color out across the shadowless whiteness of the lobby. It was a large t.v. screen hanging on the wall, one of those new "flat screens" that were all the rage here in 1998, but the colors were all screwy. In a rainbow snowstorm a tall slender woman in an gown that showed off her long graceful magenta legs glided serenely up to a display of mud-colored appliances. Her hands made vague gestures at these dishwashers and microwave ovens, her enormous smile revealing a set of dazzling lime green teeth. The people sitting in the lobby's plastic chairs watched the game show as if there was nothing wrong with it. Dragging his eyes away from this garish image O.Z. stammered, "But he did, Mom! He was! We talked!"

"Ozwald, no. You hear me? There's no way. His brainwaves on that monitor looked like a damn ...... venetian blind! I can't believe you would go into one of your stories at a time like this!"

"I'm not, I swear! I was sitting there, coloring in my book. I felt like he was........ like someone was watching me and he was, Mom! He told me about when he was a police sergeant back in Queens and Bronkers and he-"

She gripped him by both arms, squeezing hard, "Honey, I know it was hard on you..... Seeing your Grandpa pass away right there in front of you must have upset you terribly. And somehow you're remembering some other time you and him talked about his days on the force, and you're just pretending it happened today. You know how you like to pretend."

"No. He woke up! He said all kinds of stuff. Like first he asked me 'Where am I?'; and I said, 'You're in the hospital, Grandpa-' "

"I think this has gone on long enough!"


It was almost as if he had waited until he and the boy were alone together to regain consciousness. The slack, expressionless face was now suddenly wise and mischevious and hard- a lot harder than O.Z. ever remembered him being, a shut-up-and-listen quality, as if he knew he that didn't have much time. Like in the movies, how they just managed to get the message out before slumping over...

His grandfather, a plainclothes detective, had been what they call a cop's cop. Stolid, red faced, potato-nosed, incorruptible..... who one day, seeing the opportunity, had stolen a large sum of money.

No, that's not right. Had "appropriated" the loot during a raid on a gambling operation in New York way back in the late 1950's. He'd picked it up during the confusion as the smoke was clearing and had calmly walked out and thrown it in the trunk of his big grinning Chrysler police cruiser. If any of the defendants had missed the money they didn't complain, since it only would have been used as evidence against them.

And then had held onto it, taking the money out slowly over the years, for things like those emergency loans to O.Z.'s folks that he somehow always managed to scrape together. Because your average (What had he called them? Gazelles? No-) goonzel who holds up a bank or something will invariably show how dumb he is when he suddenly starts living it up, buying himself a new Cadillac and rounds of drinks for all his buddies down at the local tavern. These are the ones who get caught, Grandpa had said. In fact it isn't even wise to tell those few people you're sure you can trust.

So Grandpa had told no one. Not even Grandma, in the years before she died, except in a very vague way; that she shouldn't worry about the bills getting paid. But now he was telling the whole tale to his nine-year-old grandson...

Who dutifully tried to tell his mother about it, but had barely started when she blew up, shouting, throwing a real fit! Oblivious to the scowls of the two old ladies who ran the hospital gift shop. She would not hear any crazy stories about her pop having been a crook!


He caught her watching him in the rear-view mirror. He had the overpowering urge to start again, to plead with her, to swear to God that it was true. But one look from her in the mirror told him him not to.

His mom's friend turned on the all-news station, low- a faint urgent barking backed up by the mechanical clattering sounds of a fake teletype machine. Everything seemed unreal. Cars and houses, gas stations and strip malls muddled by outside his window like back-projection in a film.

Had he even told her about the bag of money? If he did she hadn't been listening. She had been so quick to become indignant and cutting and sarcastic. It was so monstrously unfair! That his own mom was so ready to brand him a liar, a player of cruel and insensitive pranks!

O.Z. had found himself reduced to tears and childish whining, that: "He did! He did so! He did so talk to me!" But all that looking her straight in the eye and telling the truth had counted for nothing. He thought of that fat little cartoon guy from the beer commercials---bug eyed and sweaty looking, fidgeting uneasily with his necktie---and he had to grin ruefully at the the truth of the old man's trademark complaint. He muttered, "Don't get no respect, I tell ya!"

"What was that?!"

#.2 /// JADE

O.Z. lie face down across the foot of his bed, gazing down at the two dozen SPACE GOONS scattered across the floor. He had been so intent on collecting all ninetynine of them, nagging his folks to buy this one or that one for him, eating cereals he didn't even like if he could get one free inside; but right now he couldn't even say why this had been so important. He saw that---despite small variations in shape or the number of heads or hands or tentacles---they were all pretty much the same. All with that same constipated grimace and goggling eyes. Kid's stuff. Totally dumb. No wonder nobody took him seriously...

He sighed. He would go over to his grandfather's house, find the money and show it to them. Toss it right in their smirking faces! "One of my stories, huh? Here Mom, eat your salad! It's good for you-"

He startled guiltily as his door swung open and his mother leaned into the room.

"You have a visitor," she said flatly, and was gone.

His friend Jade Thompson came in. Jade was ten, a year older than O.Z. She had green eyes, fine red hair that fell to her bony shoulder blades, and a smattering of freckles. She lisped slightly from where she'd lost her two front teeth in a skateboard accident. Jade jabbed a thumb in the direction his mother had gone and wrinkled her nose, "What's the matter with her? I come over here to get away from that kind of stuff."

She listened gravely as O.Z. told her about his day. He went on about it at great length, having had a lot of time to dwell on his injuries, and concluded with: "-And she didn't say, 'Well what if you're right?' To her there was never even one tiny..... speck of a chance I might be telling the truth! No, it was just 'Shut up your lying little mouth!' But no, it wasn't that! It wasn't even like she was calling me a liar. It was more like I'm stupid and crazy and don't know the difference between what's real and some cartoon show..."

Jade shook her head, "Your mom hates cartoons, except maybe those corny safety ones like Danger! Stranger! or Hypothermia Isn't Cool. Do you think you're in trouble?"

"I'm not sure. She was really mad about it, though. I don't think she would let me go out anywhere. I wouldn't even want to ask. So do you want to watch t.v.?"

"Sure. Put it on one-eleven."

Since Tony Spagnolini had moved away in October, Jade was O.Z.'s closest friend. He had never considered that he might end up with a girl for a best friend, but somehow they really hit it off. Jade could be very girly at times, but she was never sickening about it like some girls were. She also had a side that loved gross jokes and gory movies and monster trucks, and that would only take so much before she socked you in the nose; but without that edge of hostility---just looking for things to get all offended over---that his friend Tony had seemed to have. And her sense of humor was a national treasure, even if most people didn't get it. O.Z.'s mom and dad just loved Jade, and Jade's folks seemed to tolerate O.Z. about as much as they did anybody.

It was afternoon, the beginning of summer vacation. They watched the last ten minutes of X Files: The Animated Series, and then Bionic Barnyard Commandos. They talked about Grandpa's money, then about which of the technologically enhanced farm animals from the cartoon show they would want to be, and about what would be the ideal way to spend the long vacation ahead of them, if money really were no object.

Jade knew that under all his joking around O.Z. was still very upset. She had always envied him for having the family he did, parents who were sane and rarely screamed for no reason, accusing you of things that you had no idea what they were talking about...

But now she felt sorry for him, because she saw he had no inner defenses against this sort of domestic turmoil. For him this situation was something totally out of the blue and it was tearing him up. She listened, nodding along with him, knowing that this simple acknowledgement---that Yes your resentments are justified!---was what he needed right now. Jade had been the target of groundless accusations and mean spirited remarks for as long as she could remember. It had long ago forced her to accept the baffling illogic of adult behavior.

Ozwald talked about his grandfather's last few minutes, and how urgent he had sounded about this bag of money. Jade asked, "Did he say if it was for you, or your mom, or for who?"

"Yeah, and for my dad too. For all of us. But not to tell the I.R.S."

"Well I think you should get at least half of it, just because she didn't believe you and made such a stink about it. If it wasn't for you they'd never even find out about it."

"Hey, that's right!"


At about five o'clock he went around to the kitchen, the back way, trying to sneak them some graham crackers and chocolate milk. But his mom was there at the kitchen table, on the phone, with her back to him in a cocoon of cigarette smoke with the light shining through her mussed up hair. The fact that she didn't seem to care that she was breaking her own rule against smoking in the house showed how upset she was. She was talking to his dad---who would just now be finishing up his day at the lamps and lighting systems shop he owned---about this sudden worsening of their son's "problem".

O.Z. listened in shocked disbelief. What was she saying? How could she be telling
him that? She was distorting it all to hell!

It was true that he made up stories sometimes, about the mad scientist across the street creating hideous killer cyborgs out in his garage; stuff like that. But on a certain level he would always admit he was playing, expecting you to roll your eyes and grin at the wild tales he spun.

He listened in nightmare dread as she ranted on and on, inflating his readiness to invent situations---the "imagination" that his teachers had praised---into some awful mental disorder! How the boy was going to grow up like that loser, Uncle Jack, unable to hold a job and usually mooching off of whatever dizzy girlfreind he was living with at the moment.

She said that if Doctor Abrams could not straighten him out they should think about putting him in a structured environment. Maybe a military academy. Because whatever they were doing, they were doing it wrong. And of course now she had to bring up his "u.f.o. encounter" at summer camp last year, that had sent all his cabin-mates out, patrolling the grounds all night with baseball bats in defense against the brain sucking aliens that O.Z. had convinced them were out there in the dark, with one of the frightened boys clobbering a camp counselor who had come up on him too quietly.

She started to cry. And then O.Z.'s father must have suggested that she was overreacting, because she stiffened up in her chair and barked, "You weren't there, Roger! That crazy story he told about my dad when Daddy...... I mean he wasn't even cold yet! Is that normal? Is it?! And then you should have seen the crazy tantrum he threw down in the lobby, when I oh-so-tactfully tried to talk some sense to him!"

O.Z. fled back to his room in terror.


Jade jumped up, "What's the matter? What happened?"

"They think I'm nuts! My mom wants to stick me in a military academy. My God- that's like the army!"

"No, In the army at least they pay you. It's more like jail. You mean she's serious?"

"I never saw her like this. Now I'll have to move away from you and from all my friends at school. Or else she wants to send me to some crazy-doctor. They'll put me on medication and I'll end up like Judy the Cootie!"

Jade distorted her posture and face to resemble Judy 'The Cootie' Wilson, the star outcast at John Ford Elementary School, and growled, "Den you getsa go spesh-shil clazzes, uhhuh-huh-huh-huh!!"

"That's not funny! Listen, Jade, we've got to get that money. We need that money so we can-"

"Run away!"

"Yeah! I mean NO! We'll come back here with it, and then show my folks that it wasn't just some story, and then-" he stopped. Stared at her. "What do you mean, run away?"

"Well we could, couldn't we? Then your folks couldn't have you put away."

"But once they see I was telling the truth it'll be okay."

"Maybe," said Jade darkly. "And they'll put your share of it away in the bank for you and only give you five dollars at a time after asking you a thousand questions about what do you need it for. And didn't you go to the water slides already last week? That's if they don't turn it all in to the police because it was stolen."

"But he took it from crooks! He said that's not like stealing from regular people, it's like the good people getting it back. And anyway there's this thing---some Statue of Lamentations or something---that makes it his money. I don't know, Jade. I don't think we should run away..."

"I don't mean forever, just for a week or so. It's what, the ninth? Run away until-"

"Yeah, but they'll worry!"

"And be sweet as lambs when you get back. My sister ran away five or six times, and my parents were always nice to her when she showed back up."

"That's not what I hear. They kicked her out when she turned seventeen."

Jade winced. She knew her household was the talk of the whole block but she didn't like to be reminded of it. She said, "Ivory turned into a real witch-with-a-capital-B there for a while. Messing around with drugs, stealing checks from them and trying to cash them and stuff. I'm never going to be like that. But just once wouldn't hurt. We could have a blast! Go anywhere, do anything. Fly to New York and ride horses in that park they got."

"Would they even let us on a plane? By ourselves, I mean?"

"My Dad says the joker who has the bucks can do any damn thing he wants."

"He also says the government faked sending those guys to the moon. And that fat people farting causes more pollution than cars..."

"Yeah, you're probably right. They wouldn't let us on. But we could go down to Pierpoint Landing and feed the seals. Or just hop on an RTD bus and see where it goes. There's a whole world out there."

O.Z. stood up, "What the hell. I'll pack."

"Don't bother, we can buy what we need along the way. Just write them a note."


When he realized that he was actually doing it, had committed himself to this, O.Z. felt a bit sick to his stomach. Hadn't his mom grieved enough already today? He wrote in his note that he would be careful out there, and not to worry.

They went out the back door, crept around the side of the house, and ran the five blocks to his grandfather's house. The small white wooden one story house had never seemed spooky before, but it did now. Three newspapers lie on the lawn: white, beige, yellow. He threw them into the trash can. Both he and Jade were small for their age, and could fit through the high little service porch window with ease. They climbed up the pantry shelves to the trap door that led to the attic.

In a way O.Z. had almost hoped the money wouldn't be there, beneath the last of the sheets of plywood that cut paths across the rafters in that cramped and stuffy crawlspace. But it was. A maroon suede satchel, no bigger than a gym bag but rather heavy, with a strap across the top, stuffed with bundles and bundles of twenties and fifties and hundred dollar bills. They couldn't tell by looking if it was a thousand dollars or a million. But an old discolored filing card with a column of tiny figures on it---he recognized his granddad's neat, bump-like penmanship---showed that there was just ninety-two thousand dollars left, down from $177,330 in 1965.

O.Z. peered down into the open jaws of the satchel. He imagined their faces illuminated, as if by the glow from a pirate treasure. He looked at the money. He looked at Jade and grinned.

Jade arched an eyebrow. "Let's party!"


They sat at the base of the screen at the Monte Vista 12-plex, watching the credits scroll upward over shots of water blurring over wet round stones and down little waterfalls. A string orchestra played something sad and slow and majestic, like they might play at the funeral of some king. They could tell already that was going to be a great movie: Michael Bay's big budget remake of the 1950's monster classic The Crawling Eye.

The camera followed the stream higher and higher into the mountains, through snow and trees and jagged cliffs. A spotted doe stared into space, her ear twitching spastically...

O.Z. felt under the seat to make sure the bag was still there. He whispered, "Hey, what about your folks? Shouldn't you have left a running-away note too?"

"Why are we even doing this if you're just gonna worry the whole time? 'Cause if you are I'll just go run away by myself. Have a good time for free down at the beach!" Jade whispered back. Somewhere behind them a woman shooshed them. She could sense O.Z. starting to sulk there alongside of her, so she added, "Come on, this is gonna be fun! I'm sure your rents and mine have got together and figured it out by now. Pass me some Bon Bons, por fay-vor..."

O.Z. ran a hand over the zigarrut of paper boxes on the seat next to him until he touched a cold one. He pried it from the stack and rattled it at Jade until she took it. He smiled as the credits faded into...

Outskirts of a pretty Swiss village. Against a backdrop of pines receding into the mist two burly men in lederhosen and stupid little hats are cutting a felled tree with a huge two-man saw.

"Let's take a break Hans."

"Ja. Goot idea."

Hans stuffs the bowl of an elaborate hand-carved pipe with black tobacco. The camera glimpses something huge and wet and bulbous slithering around behind them. It stops, then slithers closer. The Alpine wind whistles...

"We sure bought a lot of candy," marvelled O.Z.

"We can save the rest for breakfast. Ooooh look it's gonna-"

Pounce. Schl-l-l-l-o-o-rk! AIIEEEEEEEEE!!!

They paid their way into the The Beanie and Cecil Movie, but the third film was R-rated so they had to sneak in. Which was just as well, because it was an absolute bore, and as far as they could tell had nothing to do with the title Is There Life On Mars?, and was about the farthest thing from a science fiction film that you could imagine. It started out with a woman committing suicide in her apartment to a sad song about a girl with mice in her hair and it went downhill from there, with all of her middle aged friends arguing and giving a lot of long speeches about how they all had lost their dreams; And when they weren't doing this they were suddenly ROCKING OUT- flailing around in an embarrassingly goofy fashion and shouting "Wooooo!" to a bunch of hoaky classic rock songs to show how they'd regained their zest for life.

The kids knew it had to be getting quite late, so they left before it was over, exiting down a catwalk mesh corridor behind the screen---where they lingered a bit to watch colored bits of the movie wash over them---and then down a disorienting little hallway that let them out onto the broad walkway that surrounded this unfamiliar mall.

Based on the time's that Jade's sister had run away, they had figured that any search for them would start in their own neighborhood, so they had ridden a bus to another suburb halfway across the Los Angeles basin. It was late. The vast floodlit parking lot was almost completely deserted.

"That Robin Williams was great as Cecil the Sea Serpent."

Jade giggled. "Yeah he was! So where are we gonna sleep tonight?"

"It's too bad we just can't stay at my Grandpa's house. But you're right, that would be the first place they'd look..."

"My sister lives over in L.A., I'm sure she'll put us up."

"Whereabouts in L.A.?"

"Downtown. The L.A. part of L.A...."

"Won't she just call your parents?"

"Not if we promised her it's just for a couple of days, and then we'll go home. She's really cool! And I'm sure she'd rather have us at her place than running around on the streets."

"Why didn't you mention this before? I been bustin' my brain trying to figure out where we could go."

"I was kind of hoping we would come up with something that was more, you know- an adventure, than to just go to visit someone we already know. Also I'm not a hundred percent sure how to get there. We went to visit her there once. I think I can find it..."

#.4/// SIXTH AND LOST...

A church tower bonged midnight. They'd been sitting at the bus bench in front of the MONTGOMERY WARD eating pumpkin seeds for almost an hour before realizing that this bus line was no longer running.

They called a cab company, and minutes later a taxi pulled up. Jade asked, "How much would it cost to go downtown?"

It crossed the cabbie's mind that they might be runaways, but they had none of the telltale stuff that somebody running away usually lugged around---the backpacks and sleeping bags---but just the one valise and a sack of junk food. "Civic Center? About thirty five bucks. You kids got any money?"

O.Z. cackled maniacally, "We got LOTS of money!"

"Yeah? And what are you doing out so late?"

"We went to the movies," said Jade innocently. "And when we came out we found out there weren't any more buses. Good thing we didn't buy that, uh..... anniversary present for our folks that we were shopping for. It's so hard to figure out what to get for someone, you know? So we do have about fifty bucks."

The driver mumbled something about these negligent jackasses letting their kids run around loose all damn night, then reached back and opened the back door for them. "Okay, let's go."

They went up the last bit of some tributary freeway to the I-5 and then on into downtown, but Jade found her memory deficient. She figured she would recognize the big square three story apartment building if she saw it---it was very old and very Spanish looking---but it didn't seem to be turning up amid all these dark industrial side streets and decayed storefronts bathed in weird orange light, that looked like the right neighborhood but then again might not be. She told the driver she might be able to find it if he drove back down the freeway a few miles and started over.

The cabbie had shut his meter off when he realized they were lost, but when the boy kept insisting they would pay him no matter how long it took he reactivated it. This whole deal was smelling fishier and fishier to him. He sorely hoped that they didn't try to stiff him for the fare after all this. He said in slow measured words, "You don't know where you live..."

"We just moved here," said Jade.

"Can you call them, maybe?"

"No. She doesn't- Uh, we don't really have a phone yet."

"Don't have a phone. And don't know where you live," he nodded. Pulled over to the curb and sat straight arming the wheel.

The jig was up.

"Let's just pay him and get out of here," whispered Jade. She was fairly sure that they could find her sister's place from here.

But O.Z. didn't like the looks of this neighborhood and didn't want to leave the safety of the cab. "Couldn't you just drive around and we could sleep in back? We'll pay. I bet we could find it in the morning if we had some sleep."

Jade punched him furtively in the ribs, "He's just kidding. We can walk home from here. It's right.... Well hey wouldja look at that? It's right over there! Pay the gentleman, Brother Dear."

O.Z. opened the satchel's mouth wide. "How much? Thirty-six dollars? Let's see ....... Here's a twenty. And another twenty- No wait, that's a fifty! It's dark in here, what's this? Wow, a thousand dollar bill! I never saw one of these before..."

Jade edged the door open and slid out. "Just give him two twenties."

"But he's been so helpful. Here Mister, take a fifty. And a twenty- that's your tip. You have a real good evening now."

"What the hell is going on here?!" shouted the driver.

O.Z. babbled, "We're rich kids, see? Very rich. Our father's a- He's a sheik! From over in uh, Jordan. Here, have some.... some of our almonds. We export these-"

He tossed the driver the box of candy and bowed several times, him palms pressed together like some fawning servant from... wherever it is they do that, he wasn't sure; before they turned and fled- into the orange vaporlampy jjjjjjj wackadoo *He^L^p mE cEc^I^L* no-telephone rich kid streets of 2:00 a.m. in the morning~~~~~>


They ran, leaping a series of tattered bundles that turned out to be sleeping people, and ducking behind a building into a weedy lot- where a dozen ragged silhouettes stood around an old 55-gallon drum with a fuming greasy fire pouring up from it.

"Hey! Meat for the stew," cheered a gravelly voice.

They heard the chorus of scary laughter that followed, but weren't within earshot long enough to hear: "Ernie, ya twisted bastard. That was mean!"


The rosy fingered dawn was sending up tendrils of color into the night sky behind the ancient looking factories to the east of them when they found Jade's sister's place; having survived a long night full of lunatics and robbers and murderers (real and imagined) as well as escaping from that patrol car that kept doubling back to get a better look at these two obviously scared waifs, but could never seem to find them when it did.

It was with great relief that they trudged up the stairs and down the dim hall to #337, where Jade's finger on the buzzer summoned a man she had never seen before; a stubbled, roly-poly face peering over a few inches of brass chain like a chin strap.

"Who? Ivory Thompson? No, I never- Oh, her! She rented this apartment, moved out about a month ago. I hear she got a job up in Ventura somewhere, galley girl on a fishing boat. If you find her, tell her to file a change of address with the post office. I'm sick of getting her junk mail! I gotta sleep-" he said and abruptly closed the door.

O.Z. leaned wearily against the peeling plaster wall. "He was nice enough, considering we woke him up. Now what do we do?"


At a quarter past ten they came across a public library, the largest one they had ever seen. Ancient and forbidding with ornate woodwork and sinister black wrought iron chandeliers high overhead. But it had a cozy children's section (the strips of plaster wall between the tall, narrow windows painted with enormous grass blades and yellow flowers, pudgy caterpillars and bees and lady bugs, all smiling madly...) where they found a pair of vinyl mats and took a long nap, after first scattering open books around themselves so they would look like legitimate library patrons.

They woke up hungry. This at least was no problem. They walked, searching for a McDonalds or something. The gritty boulevard was rumbling with dozens of giant yellow trucks, hauling dirt away from what would be a new stretch of the Los Angeles subway system...

"We need a place to sleep tonight," said Jade. She pretended to sniff her armpit, "And I need a bath!"

"We could get a room. At that neat hotel from the last of those movies we saw- remember that? Where the one guy went to have an affair while his wife was dying in the hospital, with the peacocks in the lobby and those glass elevators with the lights all over 'em going up and down like rockets. It was the best thing in that whole dumb movie. I'm so glad we didn't pay to get into that one."

"Yes I know you hated that movie. This is only like the tenth time you mentioned it! So now I know what to get you for Christmas when it comes out on video. And I didn't really think it was that bad. You had to feel sorry for.... well a couple of those characters anyway."

They had come to a stop outside an antique shop. Jade was carrying the bag now. She shrugged her bony shoulders, "I don't think they'd let the two of us check in to that hotel. Even though we got all this money were like fugitives or something. Sooner or later the cops will grab us, just because we're kids! It's like the whole world has an eye out for kids being out on their own or are doing anything strange."

Suddenly O.Z.'s eyes grew big and he yanked wildly at her sleeve, stammering, "That's it! That's it! That's it! LOOK!"

In the window of the antique shop, up on a pastel green sheet of pegboard behind a shimmering neon jukebox, was a poster from the end of the 19th century; an ad for a circus showing a photograph of a pair of dwarves, a man and a woman, both in strange Viking outfits and bullet-shaped helmets with horns, and the words:

In Our Midway Pavilion see the famous Crebari's-
Emil and Rosa

performing HIGHLIGHTS from
1s 2d


Jade read it twice, but still couldn't figure out what was so special about it. "What? You want to go to the circus? That we go sleep at a circus?"

"No! We are the circus! We could be dwarves! We could say we're with the circus, or we work in the movies. Grown up dwarves, or midgets or whatever you call 'em-"

"Little People. You call them Little People," said Jade, "I hate to say it, but that has to be just about the dumbest idea I've ever heard!"

"Why not? We're both small for our age. We'll just have to talk like-"

"But we don't look anything like those two. Our faces, I mean. We just look like kids."

"Not if we wore a whole bunch of makeup, like them, and had on old people's clothes! I wear some weird out-of-style slacks up to here," O.Z. drew a line across his breastbone, "You could wear a wig, and I could wear one of those little man wigs, so we'd have gray hair..."

"A toupee? I don't know about this, O.Z.," droned Jade. She wasn't sure that little people, boy little boy people, even movie star boy little people went around in heavy pancake makeup. But since there weren't exactly a lot of them running around town, maybe nobody else would know this either. She was still very sleepy and wished she was thinking more clearly. "But wouldn't people notice we don't act like adults?"

"Not if we acted like some crazy rich big shots. I mean look at Michael Jackson. He acts like some weird kind of kindergartner. I heard he paid cash once for a toy store and kicked everyone out so he could play. It's like what your Dad says about the joker with all the bucks. I mean did you see the way that cab driver got all quiet when I paid him double what the fare was?"

"I think he was more confused than anything."

"Well then once we're big shot movie star circus dwarfs we can confuse everybody!"


At the Salvation Army Thrift Shop they found some great outfits. They got a toupee for O.Z. and a Jane Meadows wig for Jade, and a big drawstring bag full of old cosmetic odds and ends in various stages of dessication.

They found an ugly black metal hospital-issue type cane, which they fought over, each hobbling down the aisle to the sock bin and back, arguing about which of them could use it more realistically, then wound up not buying it after all. But it did remind them of how they would need to remember to move rather slowly, and to walk sort of hunched over...


O.Z. had reluctantly left the satchel at the front counter when the lady had said that they
couldn't take it around the store with them. But now there was a different woman at the register, who insisted that they couldn't get it back without their ticket. The green "check ticket" that Bernice must surely have given them.

Black dread blossomed in the pit of O.Z.'s stomach. He knew something terrible would happen the instant he let go of the satchel!

The woman swung the maroon bag up over the counter and more or less dropped it onto him. She laughed and swayed like a motorized funhouse dummy as she rang up their purchases- "Boy! I really had you going, ah haw haw haw haw! (Two dollars.) You shoulda seen the look on your face- HA HA HA HA HA! (Fifty cents.) Ho ho hee hee har!! Oh mercy! (What's this? Used Makeup? Yuck, they shouldn't even be selling that! A buck for the whole bag...) Ah ha ha ha ha!"

She really did look crazy. As they left she was screaming to someone at the back of the store about the look on the little putz's face when she pulled the old "check ticket" bit on him.

Out on the sidewalk, O.Z. brandished the satchel like a weapon. "I'm going to buy that stupid place and fire her stupid ass!"

"I don't know if you have enough money to do that. Not if you want that sailboat," Jade grinned. She said consolingly, "But that does go to show you that we shouldn't worry too much about how we act. She sure wasn't acting very adult"


Some of the clothes were still too big for them so they went to a tailor, tipping him heavily to rush their order ahead of all the others, saying that they were going to be in a play that afternoon at the fancy private school they attended up in Bel Air. Being rich was wonderful!

O.Z. had a fringe buckskin cowboy jacket and a ruffled Mexican tuxedo shirt to go with his checkerboard slacks, and a string tie with a brass clasp (an bass relief of the mission at San Juan Capistrano) that must have weighed two pounds. Jade wore a black lace shawl and a long black dress with a hundred buttons down the front, and a hat that seemed to be made entirely out of feathers- which all combined made her appear somehow both exotic and frumpish.

They made themselves up in the alley using a jagged section of mirror jutting up from a trashcan. Jade did herself up in kabuki white, with lipstick ranging upward almost to her nostrils. Then she painted O.Z. from his collar to his hairline with this bronze stuff so that he looked like- well they weren't sure what, but it did look old, like something artificial and weathered, and seemed like an attempt to cover up some even worse condition that it wouldn't be polite to mention. And with his toupee parted down the middle, and with his eyes completely hidden behind the sort of massive green angular wrap-around disposable sunglasses that eye doctors give to patients whose eyes have been dialated, and with Jade pursing her lips, showing off her two missing front teeth they were pretty much able to obscure their childlike features.


And they did it. They rented an apartment for a week, in the same building that Jade's sister had moved out of, for $165.



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