A profound and hilarious send-up of life in the digital age!
Monday, August 30, 8:07 p.m.
When the phone rang at 6:40 this morning, I knew it was Jules and bad news was coming. How long had I known? Since late last night when Joey asked if someone was watching. While the others had argued it was out of the question, deep down I’d suspected they really were watching and our great little gang wasn’t long for this world. I’m saying the bad news didn’t come as a shock.
“Joey was right,” Jules said without greeting me first. “The cops are parked outside my house. They’ve been there awhile but haven’t come out. They must be trying to make me sweat.”
“Is it working?”
“I’m dripping, dog! I checked the backyard to see if it’s clear, but a huge armed cop’s standing next to the porch. That’s why I’m calling.”
“You think I should run?”
“Is there a cruiser outside?”
I checked the window. “Not that I can see.”
“That means you’ve got three minutes to decide. If I were you, I’d run for sure.”
“And leave you hanging? No friggin’ way!”
“This story’s big and will make the papers. And you know how they can play with the facts. If you want our story to come out straight, you’ll have to hide somewhere and write it yourself.”
“I’m not the writer type. And where …?”
“My dad should know the truth. Otherwise he’ll think I’m a psycho. Geez! They’re coming! You’d better get going!”
“I don’t know —”
“Just do it! The gang would agree!”
“Okay. I’ll do my best. But listen —”
“They’re at the door! I love you, man. Now get away as fast as you can!”
Before I could tell him what a pal he was, that was it; he disconnected.
When the line went dead, my hard side kicked in. I’m impractical, yeah, but there’s this tough side to me. It took me less than a minute to dress. I pocketed cash from our lawn-cutting business and stuffed some essentials into a knapsack. With this in hand I ducked outside, being sure to use our backyard exit. My thoughts were scattered like bits of loose change — how I’d never see my gang again, how it was cowardly to run, and how the news would come as a shock to my parents. With an effort I silenced them and crossed the lawn.
Just in time, too. Outside our house? I could hear cars braking and all hell breaking loose; within seconds the cops would have me surrounded. Normally, seconds don’t count for much, but just then they were the difference between freedom and jail.
I jumped a fence and got swallowed up. You see, our house is on a deep ravine overgrown with trees, ferns, and bushes. This exploding growth isn’t easy to walk through but can hide you in a flash if you don’t want to be seen.
I followed the ravine for two hundred yards and wound up in a park three blocks from my house not too far from a rusty swing set. Because I’d passed these swings every day of my life from the time I’d been a newborn, again my thoughts started shooting all over. What had happened to that fat-cheeked boy whose future had looked so bright and rosy? Where had all his innocence gone? Why was he joining America’s Most Wanted?
A horn honked nearby. It scattered these thoughts, and I ran forward.
Because we live in a gated neighborhood, there’s one way in and one way out. Naturally, the cops had blocked this exit. But in the park’s far corner, beside a metal slide, there’s a fence that divides us from the outside world, ten feet tall and smooth as glass. Still, I managed to climb the sucker and wound up in an abandoned car lot. I saw a rat skitter by and said out loud, “Welcome to your new life, Charles.”
Crossing a field and a rough-looking alley, I wound up on a busy street and the hard part was over. I walked a few blocks and boarded a bus. Twenty minutes later I reached Jamaica Center and rode the J train into the city, like any other felon escaping Long Island. In case you haven’t guessed, I was entering Manhattan, the best place on planet Earth if your aim is to become another face in the crowd.
The Port Authority is where the bus station is, and I bought a ticket for Bangor, Maine — with a brief stopover in Boston, Massachusetts. I knew where I was headed and it wasn’t Bangor. I wanted out of the city, that’s all, and that bus was scheduled to leave in ten minutes; it was also pointed in my general direction.
So where was I going? My parents have these friends, the Gothams, who’d bought a cottage up in Vermont on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. While they’d fixed it up and mentioned it often, they were way too busy to use it themselves. (He’s a doctor and she’s some kind of consultant.) My folks had been told they could use it whenever and kept directions taped to our fridge, even though they’d never found time to visit. The point is: one, I recalled the directions; two, the place was empty; and three, no one would dream of finding me there. It was the Mercedes-Benz of hiding spots.
But I did suffer doubts on the bus ride to Bangor. As we drove the length of the Lincoln Tunnel, I pictured the chaos I was leaving behind: the gang in cuffs, the cops in my house, my parents’ shock, and a dirty bowl in the sink. Last night we’d been swimming over at Jenny’s; now I was bolting as my gang got arrested. My place was with them, or so I thought.
And when we stopped in Boston? These doubts grew stronger; my guilt did, too, and I was ready to turn myself in. Spying a cop nearby, I moved toward him. The words were on my tongue already: how I was a wanted man, how I’d fled New York City, and how, along with my gang, I’d attacked the System, causing damages in the tens of billions. But as I walked, I spotted a newsstand with papers — the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Times, Wall Street Journal — and recalled Jules’s words that I should write our story and not leave it to reporters who’d play loose with the facts.
I stopped and turned away from the cop. If I hadn’t known it earlier, I knew it now: because I had my freedom still, I owed it to Jules, the gang, as well, to tell our tale as it had really unfolded, without cutting corners or spinning the truth. With this decided, two things happened — a decent and a lousy one.
The decent one was this: I sat down with a pen and paper (the paper came from this pad I’m using) and wrote a note that ran as follows:
Dear Mom and Dad,
You should know the cops are after me. Everything they say is 90% true, but the remaining 10% makes all the difference. I’ll explain this later when we meet next time. Right now I have to go into hiding, at least until I’ve finished a job. (Don’t worry, I promise not to break any laws.) When it’s over, I’ll surrender myself. In the meantime, please don’t worry. I’m safe and sound and everything’s fine. And I wasn’t trying to destroy your world. I was trying to make it better, that’s all.
Lots of love, Charles
P.S I’m sorry I didn’t wash my bowl. I left in a hurry.
At the newsstand I asked for an envelope and stamps. As I handed the vendor a five-dollar bill, he eyed me with suspicion. “You ain’t gonna do nothin’ stupid, are you?”
“Why do you say that?”
“What kinda kid buys an envelope these days? If you wanna talks to folks, you’re always usin’ the phone.”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“A kid your age not havin’ a phone! Now ain’t that peculiar! Just tell me I don’t gotta worry ’bout you none.”
“You don’t. I’m fine. But thanks just the same.”
“Okay then. Good luck to you, son.”
So much for the decent step. How about the lousy one? Admitting it was lousy doesn’t make it any better, but I want you to know I knew it was lousy.
It’s pretty frantic in that part of Boston. Cars and trucks keep coming and going, and crowds are rushing to get somewhere. It was just a matter of time, that’s all. In fact, it happened maybe a minute later: a car pulled up to an ATM and a blonde jumped out with her purse in hand. Carelessly, she left the engine running. Seeing this, I climbed on in and quickly put the car in drive. By the time she noticed, I’d driven three blocks; five minutes later I was on the highway.
I have no license and was nervous driving; but I focused hard, thought about my mission, and was able to handle the traffic just fine. And, yeah, I did feel bad about stealing.
After consulting a map that was in the car, I drove awhile on the I-89, filled up with gas in a town called Grantham, then continued to Burlington where I picked up the 2. After that I took the 7, then the 127, which was a winding road with fields on both sides. Eventually, I pulled into a ragged clearing and parked the car in an overgrown thicket, concealing it expertly with branches and shrubs. There was no way to spot it even from a few feet off.
With the car safely stowed, I walked for hours, always keeping the lake on my left. The sun was low when I reached a road called Beecham’s Alley, so I jogged the next two miles until I stumbled on a pine grove. By now the light was barely a twinkle. Rounding a curve, I spied a handsome cottage, just as the directions said I would, and on it was a wooden sign: BOB AND SHEILA GOTHAM. I’ll bet folks heard me whoop from as far away as Kansas.
I picked the door’s lock (I’ll mention later how I got this skill). Using a flashlight, I looked the inside over: I couldn’t see much, but it was clearly ideal. I got the water running, found some soap, and washed myself. Happily, there was food on hand: cans of corned beef, ham, and spaghetti. After drawing the curtains so no eyes could look in, I cooked up a feast using candles to see by. And once I’d eaten and tidied up? I wrote down everything you’ve read so far, explaining how I wound up in the middle of nowhere.
And there you have it — my escape from the city. Tomorrow I’ll introduce myself. Right now I’ve got to get some shut-eye.