Live And Let Dry
I dove too far. In order to catch Ray by his armpits before he could fall into the hole, I had to go over the edge with him.
My usual shoes are more flexible, developed for Millwright operatives, made of thinner material than the clunky ones I had worn that morning to blend in at the Catholic school. It would have been a piece of cake to hook my toes on the ledge with my Millwright shoes. Encased in lumps of approved uniform leather, it was a struggle. I was able to hook one foot on the ledge. Any slight movement would dislodge us. Within seconds, my toes and foot were cramping, threatening to release us into the pit.
Ray looked straight up at me and started balling. Probably better that he was looking up at me and the room above, because my view around him was the dark, stainless steel shaft, at least fifty feet to the bottom.
Lisa came up behind my balancing foot, stepped within an inch of it. "I'll pull you both up and let you go. If you tell me where the Psychic Jewel is."
Ray shouted, "No!" He had been waving his little arms at his sides a moment ago. Now he clamped his tiny fingers on my wrists. "Gus, let me go. Save yourself! The Psychic Jewel is too important. Don't let her have it! Let go of me!"
"Hey, the little bugger can talk!" Lisa laughed. "What'll it be? Will you do what's right for the cause even though it means certain death for your brother and yourself, or will you turn over the Psychic Jewel for me to enslave the entire tri-state area!"
"Never!!" Ray shouted. For a second I thought he was reverting to his old speech pattern. "Don't tell her, Gus!"
No gadgets would save me this time. No drink later would spare me from thinking of my little brother broken at the bottom of that pit, if I survived long enough to dwell on it. She'd probably try to kill us even if I gave her the jewel, but at least it would put us in a better position to fight back or escape than dangling over a pit.
I said, "Pull us up! I'll tell you where it is!"
Lisa backed away. A sheet of glass slid across the shaft about five feet below Ray, then it rose to meet us and lifted until we were even with the main floor.
Offering a hand to help Ray up, Lisa said, "That counts. He said he'd give it up. You lose!"
"That doesn't count!" Ray screamed. "He might have been tricking you. He might have had some plan that would have gotten him out of this. Anyhow, no fair talking about the bet in front of him! You forfeit by talking about it, so I win."
"I beg your pardon, Master, but he gave up. He asked me for help." Lisa crossed her arms. She uncrossed them a second later to block Ray from slapping at her.
"OOoooooo, I will eat your nose! I'll have you drawn and quartered!" Here's my two and a half-year-old brother slapping at a girl almost twice his height. "No one talks like that to the Master of the Fowlerville Chapter of Ordo Templi Orientis and lives!"
I said, "Ray, quit clowning. What are you talking about a bet?"
"It's not even her fault," Ray said, "It's your fault! I thought you were a team player. I thought you'd never let sentimental crap get in the way of your mission. It should have been a safe bet that you'd let your brother fall to his death instead of surrendering some priceless weapon to your enemy. How could you, Gus? I lost three grand because of you!!"
It wasn't sinking in. "You made a bet with Lisa Reinhart?" My crazy little brother. The one who could only say two words. The one who had not yet mastered pottying. "You made a bet with the most dangerous person in Fowlerville? The girl who runs OTO?"
Lisa said, "I don't run OTO, silly. Ray does."
Ray said quietly, "How many heads do I need to leave rotting on pikes across the countryside," building up to his little shriek, "before jerks like you start obeying me?!"
"Okay, Ray, then why would she dangle you over a pit if you were really Master of the local chapter of OTO?"
"Because if you get a really thick foam rubber pad and spray paint it silver and put it at the bottom of a pit, then your big brother will think it's a steel floor, because he's a moron and he didn't inherit any of the brains in the family like I did." Ray turned to Lisa and snatched the remote control from the where she had tucked it into her belt. "Here's something to help convince you." He pressed the remote into my gut, pushed one of the buttons, and something exploded in me. The remote flew backwards out of his hand from the recoil.
The wound looked smaller than some pistol shots I had seen, but it was the first time I had been shot. Probably a .22 shell rigged inside the remote.
I cried. Come on, I was a little kid. It hurt. I said, "You are totally cheating! Nobody uses guns anymore! I thought you were above that."
Lisa said, "Under new management now, man. You weren't counting on how low Ray could go. He brings a fresh, common sense perspective to everything we do. I don't want to say childish, but child-like. Logic and rules don't hold him back, because Ray doesn't know them. We get our best brains, tenth graders with straight-As to plan how we can sneak into a police station and steal weapons, drugs, explosives and computer stuff. They'd show us their foolproof plan and Ray would say why don't we just bribe the desk sargeant? Or take his wife and kids hostage until he gives us what we want, then ice them? Simple yet brilliant.
"That's why I haven't killed him and become the real master of OTO. I still have so much to learn from him." She patted Ray on the head.
Ray pushed her hand off. "I'd like to see you try!" He wiggled his butt at her and sang, "That'll be the day-ay-ay when you die!"
High school guys came in, stripped me down to uniform shorts, scanned me to find any last concealed weapons. They took the PDJA. They tied my arms and feet, letting me bleed.
One of them found the box with the Psychic Jewel inside. They handed it to Lisa. She walked to a couch with toys on it and picked up a faded She-Ra action figure with a gray shield. Three little tabs stuck out from the shield. They clamped around the Psychic Jewel perfectly when Lisa pressed it home. She held the shield up to her forehead and said in a quavery voice, "I predict that Gus… is stupid! Ha ha ha ha!" Then she tossed the figure and its jeweled shield back onto the couch with the other old, scuffed toys.
Lisa waved her hand over the wall and a section slid away. Before she and Ray stepped through, I moaned, "Wait! How did you know?"
She turned and waited.
"No one in the Millwrights knew I had been drinking. I never told anyone. Plus you knew I had been trying to stay sober for two weeks. How did you find out?"
She laughed and laughed. "No way! You mean like beer? I can't believe it!"
"But - the poem."
She looked at the domed ceiling and laughed. "Yeah, what about it?"
"You were probably kidding when you called me terrifying and a warrior, but how did you know about my drinking problem? And why did the Bronson Twins put your note in my shirt pocket if they thought the dog was going to kill me?"
Ray said, "No wonder you were so sloppy. I never would have made that bet if I had knowed he was drinking! Do over!"
Lisa said, "That poem wasn't for you. It was for Ray. Somebody would have found the poem on your corpse, and everyone in OTO and the Millwrights would have heard about it, including Ray. It was just my way of rubbing it in Ray's face when I won the bet. See, at that point we were just betting whether you could survive the Bronson Twins. Then later we made the bet about whether you'd choose to protect the Jewel or save your bro."
I coughed. That really hurt. "But you said dry. Ray quit drinking too?"
Lisa said, "No, silly! His diapers. He hasn't wet them or messed them in ten whole days." She picked him up and tried to carry him on her hip, but she wasn't big enough to hold him like that, so she just squeezed him, saying, "Who's my little dry master? Who's my terrifying dry warrior?"
They gagged me. Carried me through the exit, past the guard station, down a long corridor to the main house, through a bookcase in the downstairs study, out the back door, then dragged me over the dirt, through an open gate to the furthest, muckiest corner of the empty pasture. They dug a hole, tossed me in face down, gradually filled it back in over top of me.
Then I died. Then I wrote this.
(c) 2005 by Rob Northrup