Saturday, March 2, 2013

Twenty-Four--A Valentine's Day Surprise

"What's going on?" asked Quincy.

"Some sort of surprise," Piotr answered.  Quincy could tell by the way Piotr responded that neither of them knew what the surprise could be.  All they knew was that they had each been given binoculars and told to watch out for the big surprise.

They stood together on the shore of the Death Star, the tiny island that Piotr had bought at Quincy's command after Quincy had won his first two million in the eighth grade.  Quincy looked around and had to admit that it wasn't much of an island, less than a quarter-mile from shore to shore in any given direction.  But once he had it paved and built his castle and moat, surrounded by a standing army wearing gladiator outfits and carrying crossbows, as well as a Round Table Pizza and a miniature golf course and maybe a shooting range--maybe bumper cars, or a live minefield--the place would be his new home.  It would have to contain enough diversions to fill his spare time while he wrote his second masterpiece, tentatively titled The Bible Part 3: World Cage Deathmatch with Hannah Montana and Polar Bears.

The waves were choppy, splashing foam into the air.  Quincy motioned to the water and said, "You'll have to do something about that."

Piotr gave him a look.  "I'll have to do something about the Atlantic Ocean?"

"Make the waves nicer."

"How am I gonna do that?"

"How should I know.  You're the chess master."

Piotr rolled his eyes.  "Your wish is my command, King Q."

Quincy checked his cell phone but had zero bars.  He'd need Internet out here and a cell phone tower, too.  He sighed heavily.  "Well whose surprise is it?"


"Oh no."

Barney had auditioned in Quincy's International Toady Competition last month.  First prize was employment as Quincy's Number One Official Toady at a salary of $8,000 per month.  The job description was simple: Do whatever Quincy tells you to do, no questions asked.  Eighty percent of the student body had tried out, but only a half-dozen had remained after the first challenge, which required participants to eat a live cockroach.  Of the six who had managed to get it down without throwing up, only Barney had seemed reflective about the activity.  "Huh," Barney had said, crunching the roach and trying to identify the flavor in a manner that made the only remaining female participant vomit onto her Vans.  He swished it around his mouth and swallowed.  "It tastes . . . awful."  Then he had nodded, pleased with his assessment, and reached into the bucket of cockroaches for another.  After downing a second one, he had peered into the distance, running his tongue over his teeth, and said, "Bitter too.  Cockroaches taste bitter and awful.  The legs get stuck in my teeth."  When Quincy had announced the second challenge, "Facepunch yourself till you pass out," Barney had, without any hesitation, knocked himself out cold with a single, crushing blow to his temple.  "We have a winner," Quincy announced.  Barney had received his first month's salary in a hospital bed, recovering from a hairline skull fracture.

"But Barney's the toady," Quincy had complained, staring out over the waves.  "He's not supposed to think.  That's my job."

"Look," Piotr said, lifting the binoculars.  "There."

Quincy peered through his own binoculars but could only see the dark blue of the ocean or the lighter blue of the sky.  Finally something white caught his eye.

"What is that?"

"Speedboat.  Looks like."

A flash of light caught Quincy's eye.  "Something metallic," he said.


"Lots of em."

"Hey!  There's Barney."

"Can Barney drive a speedboat?"

"Dunno, but he's coming awful fast."

"Is anyone with him?"

"I don't see anyone."

"Wait.  It's a cage!"

"What's a cage doing on a speedboat?"

"Well the only reason he would have a cage--" Quincy began, and then they both went silent, realizing the same thing at the same time.  Piotr refocused his binoculars.

"Oh shit."

"Oh no."

They saw her at the same time, Quincy's first true love, the girl who sat at the front of his row in history and algebra, the one he'd given five hundred bucks for Valentine's Day in eighth grade, two thousand bucks for Valentine's Day in ninth grade, and ten thousand bucks for Valentine's Day last year . . . the same girl he was planning to give the Death Star next year.  She seemed to be rattling the cage, her mouth wide open.

"Uh oh," Piotr said.

"I don't think she's happy."


Quincy found Barney with the binoculars.  Barney was holding up binoculars of his own, staring back at them.  When he realized that they were watching each other, Barney lifted his free hand and started waving maniacally.

"One hand waving," Piotr observed.  "One hand holding the binoculars."

"No hands on the wheel."

"And he's coming pretty fast."

The waves crashed into the sides of the speedboat, white tips of water exploding in foam.  The speedboat rocked back and forth violently, causing Barney to grab the wheel.  A monstrous wave crashed onto the front of the boat.  Barney seemed to accelerate through it.  A second wave, larger than the first, struck the speed boat from the left side, forcing Barney to overcorrect, and for a half-second the speedboat seemed to be rushing toward the shore sideways before the boat rolled and then leapt into the air like a flying fish.  With a thump that they could hear on shore, it landed bottom's up on the water.

"Oooooh!" exclaimed Quincy and Piotr together.

They saw the sun sparkling on the boat's shiny white hull, which shrank slowly, and then they saw nothing.

Quincy stared out over the waves, his arms at his side.  "They're not gonna make it, are they."  A statement, not a question.

Piotr thought about it.  "Well Barney never learned how to swim.  As for her--" Piotr didn't have the heart to state the obvious.

Quincy obliged, "She's in a cage."

"It's awfully hard to swim in a cage."

"Yeah . . .  Piotr, we're gonna need a dumber toady."

"Dumber than Barney?"

"He's out there . . . somewhere.  Once we find him, he'll be perfect."

Piotr thought, And on top of it all, I've got to locate Natalia Pertman as soon as possible.

Meanwhile Quincy was pointing toward the eastern part of the island.  "There."


"That's where the 7 11 will go, right on the shore, next to the dock."

Piotr followed him along the shore, thinking, Am I the sidekick to a villain?