“I’m just saying, children’s laughter is contextual.”
Bob, Zed, and Spencer sat together on the patio of Ruby’s, discussing the fine line between scary and cute. It was another symposium born from a standard slow night at a bar tucked into a neglected nowhere that nobody seemed to care about.
Zed demanded further explanation, “What are you talking about? How do you not like the sound of laughing children?”
Bob clarified, “I never said that I don’t enjoy the innocent laughter of a child. Let’s put it this way: sunny day at the park? Whimsical. Midnight while camping alone in a forest? Utterly terrifying.”
“Why would there be laughing children in a forest at that hour?” Spencer asked
“Why, indeed, Spence. Why, indeed.”
Zed took a drag of her cigarette, “They wouldn’t be up to any good, that’s for sure.”
“Zed gets it.”
“Bro, you hate camping,” Spencer pointed out.
This wasn’t entirely true. Bob enjoyed a good camping trip, but his enjoyment was predicated on the amount of alcohol available on said trip. He once dragged an entire cooler stuffed with beer and liquor for over two miles before convincing his outdoorsmen friends to abandon their intended spot and make camp on private property. Booze or no booze, he wasn’t going to hike another three miles. Hiking was dumb.
Bob sat back in his chair, “My position on outdoor activities is not what is at question here.”
“Speaking of creepy children, I’m not sure if I should get my son a dog,” Zed divulged.
“Wait, what?” Spencer laughed.
“Yeah, what’s the correlation here?”
Zed put her cigarette out and fetched another, lighting it underneath the glow of a neon bar light hanging in the window. The cloud of smoke taunted Bob. Damn, he really missed smoking.
“My son wants a damn dog! I don’t know if I should.”
“What’s the problem?” Bob asked.
She laughed, but it wasn’t a genuine laugh. It was one of those laughs that had a weight to it, an anchor to something very real and quite possibly disturbing, “I don’t trust the kid. The other day I walked into his room and the little fucker was beating his toys with a baseball bat.”
And so it was, disturbing.
“Oh, jeez!” Spencer was taken back, yet thoroughly entertained.
“Yeah, dude,” she continued, shell shocked and tired. “Kid scares the fuck out of me sometimes.”
Bob thought about it, “I wouldn’t risk it. Last thing you need is a little Dexter on your hands. Dogs are overrated anyway.”
Spencer tossed his crumpled straw wrapper at him, “Come on, now you’re against dogs too?”
Bob tossed it back, “I’m not against dogs. It’s just-”
“It’s just that you’ve been attacked by dogs your whole life,” he interrupted.
It was true. Bob had been a victim of at least five separate dog blitzes in the previous years. Some may have been his fault, others not. Nobody was counting, and neither was Bob.
“That’s not -” Bob languished, “that has nothing to do with it. Dogs are too much of an emotional commitment. You don’t have to earn their love, that’s what makes them so goddamn lovable. Doesn’t matter how deep of a puddle of shit you are, that furry little retard will keep coming back for more. Trust me, Zed, just get the kid a goldfish.”
Spencer shook his head in disbelief, while Zed smoked her cigarette in a way that only a single mother and full time bartender could, “I don’t know. Maybe you’re right.”
As they deliberated the nuances of dog-ownership, suddenly, a young girl ran onto the patio, out of breath and indifferent to their existence. The group took turns shifting their individual gazes from the little girl, then back to each other, unsure of how to manage their recently discovered circumstance. It was late, and normally unsupervised children didn’t just appear from nowhere on the patio at such an hour, or ever for that matter.
Following her arrival, a squad car pulled to a stop on the wrong side of the road, cherries and berries ignited. The police officer stepped out of the vehicle and appeared none too pleased.
“Come on, Dana. Let’s stop this already, it’s -”
Little Dana wasn’t having it, “Naw! Fuck you, pig! I ain’t goin back! Y’all can kiss my ass!” Her hand motions were aggressive and quite foul considering her age.
Bob sat frozen watching the scene develop before him. It was tense, and he was concerned for the kid. She was black. Not that it mattered – well, it did matter, because her life mattered – and should that life end at that moment, then Antifa, Qanon, someone would surely burn down Ruby’s, and that would be devastating. Not as devastating as the potential loss of an innocent child’s life, but devastating nonetheless. Bob’s anxieties began to get the better of him as he thought about the possibilities surrounding their predicament…
“Cut it out, Dana! I’m not going to tell you again! Come here, now!” the officer demanded.
“No! I’m not goin anywhere, bitch!” she yelled before looking at the group, her eyes lighting up in a way that suggested a poorly conceived idea, “In fact, I’m staying right here!” She produced a slingshot from her back pocket and loaded it with a nearby bottle cap, pointing it directly at them.
“Oh, fuck!” Spencer shouted.
Bob winced, “Easy with that thing!”
“Come on, kid, seriously?” Zed asked.
The cop sprung into overreaction and went for her handgun, aiming it violently toward the determined child, “PUT THE WEAPON DOWN!!”
Bob pleaded to the girl, “Oh, God, Dana! Put that shit down! This is how people end up on the news!”
“Fuck all that!” she shouted, nodding toward the door. “You three, inside! NOW!”
Zed shook her head and put out her cigarette while Spencer and Bob looked at each other, unsure if they should comply. They didn’t want to make the situation worse, but Dana seemed pretty serious, and they definitely didn’t want to get pelted in the face with a bottle cap.
The officer changed her tone real quick, “Okay, Dana, let’s be reasonable. Let them go. Don’t make this worse on yourself.”
Dana zeroed in on Bob, “Get going, pussy!”
He threw up his hands, “Okay – let’s – I mean, come on, with the name-calling?”
“MOVE!!” she demanded.
“ALRIGHT! We’re going! Take it easy!”
Spencer scoffed, “Jesus, she’s pissed.”
Bob shook his head as they stepped inside, “Yeah, no shit, Spence.” He paused for a moment, wondering if he should hold the door for her, but then became concerned that the gesture could come off as racist, or sexist, or maybe both. He didn’t want her to think that he was holding the door just because she was black, or a girl.
Oh, fuck it, he thought.
He held the door, and the little girl glared, “I can do it myself, dickhead!”
I’m an idiot.
He backed off, and Dana followed them inside. As she did, a shot rang out, going through one of the windows. She quickly slammed the door shut, but before it closed, Bob heard the officer outside curse herself, “Shit! Almost got her!”
Once inside, the group stood with their hands in the air, unsure of the nuances of hostage etiquette. The little girl turned to them and called out, “Yo! Bar bitch! Get the keys and lock these doors!” For such a young person, she seemed to have an extensive grasp on the ins and outs of the scheme at hand.
Zed shook her head as she fetched the keys, “That’s completely unnecessary, but okay.”
She did as she was told and locked the doors, while the little girl paced anxiously back and forth. Bob and Spencer kept their hands in the air as Zed took a seat at the bar, rubbing her eyes.
Bob couldn’t keep his mouth shut, “So, what’s the play here?”
“Zip it, whitey!” she scolded, aiming the slingshot between his eyes, before lowering it and checking the blinds. “Let me think!”
He was getting absolutely roasted by the tiny tot.
Spencer picked up on it, “Bro, are you okay?”
Bob was preoccupied with re-evaluating his entire life, “I don’t know, dude. She’s really mean.”
He patted him on the back, “Come on, let’s get a drink.”
“No! Nobody drinks!” the girl commanded.
For Bob, this was the equivalent of telling a child that not only was Santa not real, but if he was, he wouldn’t bring you shit anyway, because he hates you. His knees felt weak and his vision became spotty, “You’re sick,” he mustered. “Have you no soul?”
Zed spoke up from the bar, “Dana, why don’t you just let us have a drink, hon? Think about it, we all just want to get out of this. It’ll help, trust me.”
Her motherly sorcery seemed to capture the girl. For the first time, she appeared as the child that she was, looking softly back at Zed, “Fine, but I want a drink too.”
Zed got up from her chair and made her way around the bar with a kind smile, “Sure baby-girl, what do you want? Sprite? Coke?”
She pointed at Bob as he sat down at the bar, “I want what he’s having.”
He shook his head, “Why do you keep singling me out?”
“Cause you’re a loser.”
Zed began to protest, “I don’t know, sweetie, what he drinks is pretty strong, plus I’m not allowed to serve anyone under 21, so maybe -”
Bob interrupted her, “Zed, just get her the drink.”
Zed had the audacity to look at him with shock.
“Just get her the damn drink,” he repeated.
“Okay…fine. Spence, can I get you anything?”
“Yeah, just a water,” Spencer seemed to have been through this before, just drifting through the situation like some emotionless abbot.
Zed poured and distributed the drinks. The group observed Dana as she grabbed the whiskey glass and put it to her nose, cringing at the aroma. Her reaction brought Bob a modest amount of satisfaction, but then she took the shot down like a professional. He was empty once more.
Dana shivered and slammed the glass down on the bar, “Damn! That’s some good loser-juice! I’ll give it to you, whitey, you know how to drown your problems!”
“Who the fuck is this kid?” he whispered, before taking the shot and tapping the glass for another.
As he waited for Zed to pour, a striking voice came from outside, projected by a megaphone, “THIS IS OFFICER BARNES OF THE MESA POLICE DEPARTMENT. I’M SPEAKING TO THE LITTLE GIRL, DANA.”
The development seemed to shake Spencer from his possible trauma-driven trance, “Holy shit, that’s loud!”
“That’s what gets to you?” Bob asked, dumbfounded.
Spencer shrugged, “Yeah, dude. It’s jarring.”
The voice continued, “DANA, WE DON’T WANT ANYONE TO GET HURT. WHY DON’T YOU COME OUT AND TALK TO ME? LET’S FIGURE THIS OUT TOGETHER.”
She peeked through the blinds and kicked at the wall, “Shit! They’re everywhere!”
“Sweetie, why don’t you just talk to him? It wouldn’t hurt,” Zed suggested, once again taking advantage of her maternal instincts.
Somehow Zed had the Midas touch, as the girl gave way to that sweet fucking look again and agreed, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Thank God,” Bob murmured.
“But he’s coming with me.”
We all know who she targeted.
Bob sighed, “God dammit.”
Zed passed him the keys as he slid reluctantly out of his chair and made his way toward the door, “You know, if you were older, I would make you pay for my drink.”
The girl scoffed, “Why don’t you cry about it, bitch? Get moving.”
Bob looked back at his friends, “Do I really have to take this shit?”
Dana pushed at him, “Ay! Ay! They can’t help you, Mr. Seaver! Now get your white ass out there.”
“Okay, really?” Bob argued. “A Growing Pains reference? How do you even know about that show?”
“I’M NOT GONNA SAY IT AGAIN!!”
“FINE!! I’m going!” Bob’s patience was wearing thin, but was clearly in no position to argue. He unlocked the door before being pushed outside by the girl, who crouched behind the wall, leaving the door cracked open just enough to point the slingshot at the back of his head.
She wasn’t kidding, there were police EVERYWHERE.
“Oh, dag, that’s a shit load of cops,” Bob observed.
The man with the megaphone called out, “DANA, THIS ISN’T NECESSARY. COME ON OUT AND CHAT WITH ME.”
Bob chuckled, “I don’t think that’s gonna work, bud.”
“WE CAN TALK LIKE THIS, PIG!” she shouted from behind the door.
Bob gestured toward the door, “Yeah…I’m gonna be honest with you fellas, this one is a real handful.”
“You want a bottle cap to the skull, white boy?” Dana threatened.
Officer Barnes spoke up, “OKAY, DANA, THAT’S FINE. I JUST WANT TO HELP. WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE FOR YOU TO LET THESE PEOPLE GO?”
Dana kept her aim steady and pondered the question. Bob just stood with his hands in his pockets, assuming he would somehow die in this mess.
“OKAY!” she shouted, “I WANT A HELICOPTER!”
Bob looked back, “Jesus Christ, a helicopter?”
“SIR, PLEASE STAY QUIET. I’M SPEAKING TO DANA.”
“I can’t believe this shit,” he mumbled to himself.
“Yeah,” Dana agreed, “Pipe down Chevy Chase.”
She continued, “I WANT A HELICOPTER! AND I WANT TO GO TO HOGWARTS!”
There was a moment of strenuous silence before the officer responded, “OKAY, I MAY BE ABLE TO GET THE HELICOPTER, BUT…”
“Don’t,” Bob pleaded under his breath.
“…I FEEL I’M OBLIGATED TO INFORM YOU THAT…HOGWARTS? IT’S NOT A REAL PLACE, DANA. IT’S JUST A SETTING IN A WORK OF FICTION.”
“Don’t tell her that!!” Bob wasn’t able to contain himself, “Is this your first fucking day on the job?!
“SIR, PLEASE. I’VE ASKED YOU ONCE, AND I’M NOT GOING TO ASK YOU AGAIN. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM TALKING. I’M TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH DANA.”
Bob gave up, “Please, excuse me! Have at it!”
Dana wasn’t phased, “I’M NOT STUPID, BARNES!! I KNOW HOGWARTS ISN’T REAL!! I’M TALKING ABOUT THE THEME PARK!! UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!!”
Bob wondered what Spencer and Zed were thinking about the cavalcade of madness taking place. He looked back into the bar to find that they were laughing at sports bloopers playing on the screen inside.
That’s fitting, he thought.
“OKAY, WE CAN WORK WITH THAT,” officer shit-for-brains confirmed, “IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE?”
Dana scratched her head before lighting up, “OH, YEAH! I WANT THE COORDINATES TO CANDY MOUNTAIN!!”
Bob was astonished to see the officer cover the megaphone and turn to one of his colleagues, “Shit, she knows about Candy Mountain.”
He returned to the megaphone, “DANA, I’M GOING TO BE HONEST WITH YOU, I TOO WOULD LOVE TO GO TO CANDY MOUNTAIN. I REALLY WOULD. BUT THE TRUTH IS, WE JUST DON’T KNOW WHERE IT IS.”
Dana was unsatisfied.
She tugged Bob back inside and shouted wildly, “NO DEAL!!”
Dana slammed the door shut behind him, he locked it and walked back to the bar. He took his seat next to Spencer as the little girl raged, knocking over chairs, punching walls, it was a real mess.
Spencer looked to Bob, “What happened, dude?”
“They wouldn’t give her the coordinates to Candy Mountain.”
“Hold up,” Spencer said, “There’s an actual Candy Mountain?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Another drink?” Zed asked.
Zed poured, but appeared concerned for the child, who finally calmed down and was sitting on the floor behind them covering her face. She was crying. Bob looked back and rolled his eyes. Not at her, but at the fact that he actually felt bad for the girl. She really thought she was going to see Candy Mountain.
He turned back to the group, “I don’t know, guys.”
They were curious.
“What?” Zed asked.
“What’s on your mind?”
Bob scratched his head, “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, considering what a little shit she’s been, but I think we should help her get out of this.”
“How do you figure?” Spencer asked.
Bob nodded, “I have an idea. Zed, you still have that fog machine and strobe light setup from that “club night” promotion?”
She gave a superficial chuckle, “Yeah, what a disaster that was.”
“What are you thinking?” Spencer asked.
Bob drank his shot and took a deep breath, “I think it’s time to go Beast Mode, gang.”
Zed and Spencer looked at each other with approval, and unanimously agreed, “Let’s do it.”
“Sure Shot?” Zed suggested.
“No,” Bob had a vision, “I think it’s time to give those cops a little something, if you know what I mean.”
Spencer smiled and nodded, “Here’s A Little Somethin For Ya? Let’s do this.”
Zed slapped on the bar, “I’ll get the equipment.”
The boys stepped out of their seats and walked over to Dana. She was crushed, surrounded, and stripped of hope, and thankfully for Bob, her bite.
She wiped her eyes and looked up, “What do you want, Christian Slater-lookin mother fucker?”
Well, maybe not all her bite.
“You know what, Dana? I’m gonna go ahead and look past that,” Bob said. “I know we’ve had our differences, but we’ve got a plan to get you out of this. Are you in?”
She sniffled and wiped her eyes once more, “What’s the plan?”
Bob and Spencer looked at each other and smiled.
“Hear us out, Dana. This shit is gonna slap,” Spencer assured.
Outside, the horde of police and reporters waited, lit by emergency lights and television cameras. The rigid atmosphere seemed to balance itself on a needle, occupied by nervous whispers and the occasional shuffle of feet seeking the latest update.
Officer Barnes stood behind ribbons of police tape, adjusting his glasses and wondering if he would make it home in time for Rose’s meatloaf. A young rookie came running up from behind, winded and eager, “SWAT is on their way, sir.”
“Good, what’s their ETA?”
“Approximately ten minutes, sir,” he answered, catching his breath.
Barnes stole a glance at the young officer and smiled, patting him on the shoulder, “Ease up, new blood. It’s Mesa. This kind of shit happens all the time.”
Then, the lights in the bar went out.
He narrowed his eyes, “What are you up to in there?”
“Sir?” The rookie was concerned.
Barnes waved him off, “Hold on, kid.”
Suddenly, the inside of the bar lit up with flashing lights, and from their position, they could see what looked like smoke rising inside.
“Oh, shit. Is the fire department on stand by?”
“Yes, sir, they’re ready to go.”
The patio speakers bursted to life, blasting the sounds of cowbells and synths, followed by a wicked boom-bap beat. In his twenty years on the force, Barnes had never experienced anything like it.
“What the fuck is this?”
The rookie cop spoke up, “I believe it’s the Beastie Boys, sir.”
Barnes scoffed, “I know the song, rook!” He squinted his eyes. “Okay, let’s see what you got.”
The door to the patio swung open, and little Dana crouched low, holding it, revealing three silhouettes in the doorway, forming some sort of Voltron stance amidst flaring lights and fog.
“There she is!” Barnes shouted.
The rookie was as new to this as anyone else, “What are they doing, sir?!”
“Just keep your eyes on the girl!”
Then the main verse hit:
The snare snapped, slipping into the verse and launching the silhouetted group onto the patio. The fog spilled out behind them as they gyrated to the beat, throwing their arms around viciously. They took turns jumping all over the patio and mouthing verses in full-on orange jumpsuits, really dedicating themselves to the routine.
Barnes was horrified, “OH-MY-GOD.”
“WHAT DO WE DO, SIR?!” The rookie screamed.
“KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE GIRL!!” he shouted into his walkie-talkie.
A cracked and garbled voice came back, “WE’VE LOST SIGHT OF HER!!”
Barnes slammed his fist onto the squad car and looked back at the sea of officers spread across the street, appalled to discover that they were all taking part in the dance party, hopping up and down, encouraging the whole fucking performance.
“GOD DAMMIT!! THEY’VE FOOLED US!!”
“Dude, are you seeing this?”
Spencer slapped Bob on the knee and forced him out of his abstraction. In his mindless absence, he hadn’t noticed that the girl’s parents had arrived on the scene. Everyone was captivated. The father was in the midst of pleading to his daughter.
“Dana, sweetie. Please, come home.”
Tears were streaming down Dana’s face, “No! Why do you have to get divorced? Why can’t we just be a family?”
Bob could see the anguish on her father’s face.
“I know it’s tough, sweetheart. But sometimes people drift apart, and the feelings that were once there just aren’t there anymore. Love is tough, honey. It’s nobody’s fault, especially not yours. I’ll always love your mother, she gave me the greatest gift in my life: you. We love you so much. We are still a family, nothing is going to change that. The circumstances may be different, but we will always be here for you, and you will always be our world. I promise you, even though we won’t all be living under the same roof, we will still spend time together – Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays – because you are the most important thing in our lives. Please, Dana, it’s time to come home.”
Dana was hesitant, she wiped her eyes before finally breaking down and running over to her parents, jumping into their arms, “I love you mom and dad!”
“We love you too, sweetie!” the mother said, holding her tight.
Dana was crying, her parents were crying, the cop was crying, Bob looked over and saw that even Zed and Spencer were crying. No weatherman could have forecasted this rain. The police officer returned to her car and drove away as the parents took their daughter home, as a family.
Bob, Zed, and Spencer were alone on the patio once more.
“That turned out well,” Zed observed.
“Yeah,” Spencer agreed, “that was heartwarming.”
The two looked at Bob, sitting quietly and distracted by thought.
“What’s with you? Why are you so quiet?” Zed asked.
Bob looked up, “Hm? Oh, yeah, that was beautiful. Very touching.”
Spencer was suspicious.
“We were surrounded weren’t we?”
Bob lit up, “Yeah! We had to do a Beastie Boys dance routine to distract the cops.”
Spencer nodded, “Knew it.”
“We had the orange jumpsuits and everything.”
Zed chuckled, “Nice.”
Bob scratched at his beard, “Yeah, it was pretty cool.”
They sat in silence for a moment, taking in the cool weather of the evening.
“I think I might be racist, though,” Bob added.
Spencer and Zed spun their heads.