Dark Lightning (Thunder and Lightning) (23 page)

BOOK: Dark Lightning (Thunder and Lightning)
6.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I’d only seen the parade a few times. I enjoyed it when I was younger, but as I grew older, I began to see it as a bit excessive. Still, it was perennially popular and had been running every day for over ten years.

“I need to make some phone calls,” I told Patrick. “You been calling anyone?”

“I’ve tried a couple times, but nothing has gone through.”

“Same here. I still feel too vulnerable here. Maybe we should—”

“I have an idea,” he said.

I followed him around one of the big floats. He ducked his head and walked under a part of it, then found a handle cleverly concealed behind what looked like a big stack of coins spilling out of a pirate treasure chest. A square hatch opened up, and I followed him inside.

It was pitch-black inside. Couldn’t see the hand in front of my face. I heard Patrick groping around, and then there was a click. A few small work lights came on.

We were in an irregularly shaped space, longer than it was wide. Steel ribs followed the shape of the external shell, and other braces held it all together. We were standing on a catwalk, and Patrick got moving again.

“I got to ride on one of these when the parade was new. Had on a silly costume and threw beads to the crowd. Mortifying. All my classmates were there, laughing at me.”

“Sounds like fun to me.”

“It was.” He grinned back over his shoulder. “I came to school the next day with more beads than anyone. That shut ’em up.”

The hatch had been about midway on the float. When we were close to the front, Patrick stopped and looked around.

“Is this private enough for us?”

It felt too close to me. I’m not claustrophobic, but when you’re hiding out, going to ground, you like to have at least two ways out. And it helps to be able to see outside. I told Patrick that.

“Okay . . . if I remember right . . .”

He moved to the side a little and took hold of the rungs of a steel ladder I hadn’t seen. He started climbing, and it seemed the whole structure rang like a gong.

I shushed.

“Sorry.” He planted his feet more carefully. When he was high enough, I started up after him. We reached a platform with just about enough room for both of us to sit.

“This structure telescopes up,” he said. “It’s the tallest in the parade, and it’s too tall for this warehouse. So they roll it out, then crank it up.”

I saw two round windows about two feet across. I realized I was looking out through the eyeballs of Rex, the King of Mardi Gras.

“This little door down here leads to a balcony where the guests who win the lotteries get to ride in the parade. We can get out here, if we have to, it’s not too far to the ground, and there are handholds. Or back to the way we came in. Where we are now is where the driver sits, looking out through these windows.”

I looked it all over again. The controls looked simple. The floor was a metal mesh, and below it I could see boxes of Mardi Gras beads, where they would be handy to people on the balcony when the full figure was extended.

“Looks good to me,” I said. “We can’t stay here long. The next parade is in . . . three hours. Let’s make our phone calls.”

Patrick had no luck at all with the phone, and I was only able to get through to Cassie for a short time. It hurt me to hear that Papa was back in a bubble, but like I said, it was probably the best place for him during a crisis. I wondered if she would be able to get back in the ship and if she would be able to meet me at the rendezvous we had set.

“I think it’s time we got moving now,” I said.

I heard a door opening, saw light briefly brighten the big glass eye I had been looking through. I held my finger to my lips, and Patrick nodded.

I kept very still and looked out of the eye at an angle. I spotted two people with flashlights. One was dressed in the uniform of a Fantasyland security guard, the other, a woman, in an ordinary pantsuit. They played their flashlight beams all around, up and down. I noticed a little latch on the eye window. I eased it open half an inch.

“Spooky in here,” the man said.

“We need to get some lights on and search the place.”

“Are you kidding? Two people? You could hide a regiment in here. It would take twenty people a few hours to look in every nook and cranny.”

“We’ll just have to bring in more people.” It seemed the woman was the boss.

“You know we can’t do that. The whole security detail is searching for those two. And I just don’t get it, anyway. For turnstile jumping? That hardly ever happens, but when it does, we just wait for them to leave when the park closes.”

“We have to find these people. I’ll let you in on something, okay? They are armed and dangerous.”

“Armed and dangerous? What does that mean?”

“It means they have guns and have shot at police officers.”

There was an extended silence, then the man laughed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I’m not kidding at all. Now let’s start looking.”

“No, you misunderstand me. I’m not stupid enough to go looking for them if they might shoot at me.”

“You have to. It’s your job.”

“I like this job, but I can live without it. You got a gun? Can you shoot back? I didn’t think so, and who cares, anyway? I’m not getting in a gun battle. You can take this job and shove it up your ass. I’m outta here.”

And he turned and walked back toward the door they had entered by.

The woman watched him, looking frustrated. The door slammed loudly, and she sighed. She looked around. Then she turned and, with her back to me, started talking on her phone. She was too quiet for me to hear what she was saying. She got angry for a moment, but I still couldn’t hear her. Finally, she said a nasty word and cut the connection. She headed for the door, looking back over her shoulder. I heard it slam again.

“Well, we scared them away, and I didn’t even have to reach for my gun.” I told Patrick what I had seen, and he smiled faintly.

“Sometimes you don’t even need to shoot them, I guess.”

“We’ve got a reputation now. But, Patrick, we really have to get moving. We need clothes that don’t stand out so much, and I—”

The door opened again, slamming against the wall this time, and I heard voices. A lot of voices. I looked back out through the eye. Seven or eight people had entered in a group. Boys and girls, high-school or college age, laughing and larking about.

“It’s the cast members getting ready for the parade,” Patrick said. “Oh lord, what if they find us here? The driver will be in sooner or later.”

“Okay, okay, okay, we don’t want to panic. How many people are involved, do you know?”

“At least a hundred. They’re students earning a little extra income. They commute a couple of times a day, just for the one hour. Some of the dancers have to audition, but most of them just ride the floats and throw things. Confetti, beads. They come and go.”

They come and go. That phrase circled around in my head for a few seconds and then came in for a landing.

“It’s not a tight-knit crew.”

“No, I wouldn’t think so.”

“Someone new wouldn’t stand out too badly?”

“Probably not.”

“Then this is our shot.”

We headed back toward the middle of the float. I took a deep breath, looked at Patrick, who looked twice as scared as I felt. I winked at him, and dropped through the hatch.

I saw a lot of people passing in both directions. A few of them looked at us as Patrick came out, and we got a variety of knowing looks, and one whistle. It was clear everyone thought they knew what we had been doing in there. I felt myself blushing, and realized that was a good thing. When we were out from under, I grabbed Patrick, threw my arms around him, and kissed him passionately on the lips, putting a lot of body language into it. He was stiff for a moment, then got the gist and responded. And you know what? So did I. Even nervous as I was, I felt a genuine rush, a thumping in my chest.

A few people clapped. We broke the kiss and a guy patted Patrick on the back as we headed toward where most of the people were going. I realized that our disheveled condition could only contribute to the notion that we’d had some pretty wild sex up there in the head of Rex.

“Where are we going?” Patrick whispered.

“I have no idea. Follow the crowd.”

We did that, and most of them were heading for some wide doors on the opposite side of the warehouse. A few were getting into the floats. The drivers, I presumed.

“Fifteen minutes to showtime, boys and girls,” an older woman was shouting. I spotted her by the doors, a matronly figure with silver hair and a tad too much makeup, in my opinion. I stared at my feet as we shuffled closer with the crowd. I was hoping we could squeak on by and figure out our next step from there. No such luck.

“Hey, you two. Who the hell are you?”

“Uh, we’re new,” I said.

“I can see that. What have you been doing, mud wrestling? Why don’t they keep me up to date on these things?” She sighed heavily, and it was plain this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

“Did they give you assignments?”

“No, ma’am.”

She sized us up. She didn’t seem pleased at what she saw when she looked at me. Her expression changed considerably when she looked Patrick up and down. The bitch.

“I can always use another clown. You’ll walk in front of the Circus float.” She tore her eyes away from him and looked at me.

“Showgirl. You’ve got the height for it, the legs. We can do something to make the boobs look bigger. You’ll walk in front of the Vegas float. Now go on with you, shoo, shoo! Twelve minutes to showtime.”

Well! I never.

We entered a scene of controlled mayhem. People were rushing around all over the big room. All the walls were taken up with makeup tables, mirrors surrounded by lightbulbs, just like in the movies. The rest of the room was crammed with rack after rack of costumes. It was a whirl of color and motion and sound. I wished I could have been less frightened and able to enjoy it all. It looked like it might be fun. People were chattering with each other, helping each other out with costumes.

“Looks like clowns over there,” Patrick said. “I guess I should join them. But I know nothing about clowning.”

“Just watch everybody else and do what they do. That’s what I’m planning to do. If I can find the showgirls in here . . .”

“Over there.” He pointed over my shoulder, and sure enough, I saw a bunch of tallish girls and a lot of feathers.

“Good luck,” he said, and was gone.

I shoved my way through the crowd and joined the half dozen other girls getting fitted out for the Las Vegas float.

Oh, my.

Some of them were almost done, and they were a sight to behold. Starting from the bottom, they were in four-inch spike heels, bespangled with gold glitter. After that was fishnet black stockings. Gold gloves that reached above the elbow, and a . . . I guess you’d call it a swimsuit. It had a huge cutout over the belly that was filled in with sheer nylon and sequins and made a deep V right down to the crotch.

But that was the easy stuff, and not the first thing I noticed. There were two girls who were fully outfitted and electrified. The most stunning parts of the outfits were two things. There was a fan of peacock feathers, three feet wide on each side, that attached to the small of the back. And there was a hawklike gold mask with a beak that stuck out almost a foot and covered the face from the lips up. Exploding out of the top of the mask was a crown of fiber-optic filaments that added another three feet to their height before bending back toward the ground like a water fountain. The peacock fan and the swimsuit and even the stockings were festooned with white mini-LEDs that sparkled like a snowstorm in a spotlight.

“Hey, spacegirl,” someone said. “You’re running late. New here?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know what I was getting into, I guess.”

“Here, put this shit on. Stockings first, suit second, shoes at the last possible moment.” She tossed me those items and was gone.

Oh, well. The things you’ll do to rescue your family from pirates.

I skinned out of my clothes. The other girls were hanging theirs on the racks. I never wanted to see these again, so I quietly dropped them on the floor and kicked them under a rack.

I got dressed—if dressed was the word—quickly. I’d worn high heels a couple of times, at fancy parties, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with them. But I tottered around, trying to get into the absurdly tiny, one-size-fits-all suit. I managed to stretch it out enough to feel like a sausage, then addressed the problem of the fan and headdress.

“Five minutes, whoever you are.” It was my helper from before. She attached the fan to a socket in my ass. The headdress fit tightly over my head, with an almost invisible strap to hold it in place. My helper let it go, and I almost fell on my face. It was a lot heavier than the fan.

“Remember, rookie, you’re about eight times wider than you normally are, and a lot taller. Don’t knock off the hat. They’re expensive.”

I promised I wouldn’t. No one ever did anything about my boobs. I felt they filled out the top adequately.

People were pouring through the doors and out into the float warehouse. I was never able to count the floats, but I estimated there were around a dozen of them. I joined the other showgirls and followed them to the Las Vegas float. Off to my left were a dozen clowns, and I realized that I had no idea which one was Patrick. They were wearing size 32EEEE shoes and fat suits and weird hats and wigs and, of course, clown makeup. He could have been any of them.

I realized he probably wouldn’t recognize me, either. Most of my face was covered. We had both achieved the anonymity we had been seeking, and now what? I hoped he remembered the plan we had worked out. There was no point in parading in the full circle and ending up back at the warehouse.

The Las Vegas float was second in line, after one that was themed as a zoo. People were dressed up as all sorts of cute animals. I stayed with the other girls and we all scrunched up behind that float. All of them were fully lit up now, almost bumper to bumper. The zoo float rolled and started up some sort of jungle music. When all the girls stepped out, I stepped right along with them, looking left and right to see what they were doing.

BOOK: Dark Lightning (Thunder and Lightning)
6.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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