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Authors: Matt Solomon

The Giant Smugglers (19 page)

BOOK: The Giant Smugglers
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He stopped when a businesswoman in a crisply ironed suit appeared in the doorway, her rehearsed smile offset by intense eyes. She held a tablet. The woman sighed as she paused at Fitzgibbons's bed—it was clear she had planned on talking to the scientist. She turned her attention to Hank. “I'm Gretchen Gourmand, with the Accelerton Corporation. Can we talk, Mr. Pulvermacher?”

“How do you know my name?”

Gourmand examined the beeping monitor that was attached to Dr. Fitzgibbons. “You know, I was skeptical. But he did it. Found his fairy tale and better yet, created one of his own.”

“What do you want?” asked Hank.

“Right,” sniffed Gourmand. “Let's get down to business. Where is it?”

“Where is what? I don't know what you're talking about,” Hank lied. He tried to sit up and his body rebelled in painful protest.

“The world gets smaller all the time. It must be terribly difficult for a giant to hide.”

Hank saw no use in pretending now. “I thought you already had a giant.”

In response, Gourmand selected a thumbnail on the tablet and played shaky helicopter footage of Giant Jamie at the dam. With the tornado bearing down, the chopper had released its giant cargo. The footage showed Jamie being sucked inside the twister, then chaos before the footage went black.

“Even Fitzgibbons's kid didn't deserve that.” Hank pinched his eyes shut and shook his head.

“Tragic, yes,” said Gourmand, her voice quiet out of respect for Fitzgibbons. “The body will turn up sooner or later, I expect. But our experts have concluded that the boy couldn't have survived. Which brings us to the matter of the other giant at the dam.”

Hank gripped the bed rail with a shaky hand. A shock of pain pulsed down his spine. “You'll never find him.”

“There are limited ways your giant could have left town in that storm,” said Gourmand. “By foot, though that's a very public exit. A few large dairy trucks managed to get on the road. And a certain carnival made the unusual decision to pack up and leave town right as the severe weather hit. Strange, yes? We're tracking all of them.”

Hank said nothing.

Gourmand considered his silence, then gave an imperceptible nod. “We will have our giant, Mr. Pulvermacher.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“For humanity, of course. We'll develop new drugs. New treatments. The giants' advanced physiology is almost guaranteed to provide the key for a number of discoveries that could improve the lives of millions, Mr. Pulvermacher. Doesn't that sound like a worthwhile achievement? Why don't you pick up your phone and call your friends? You can save everyone from unpleasantness that just doesn't need to happen.”

“I'm not calling anyone. I'm sure you've already got my lines bugged.”

“We're not the only interested party,” said Gourmand, gathering her leather bag. “There's a man from the defense trade, a business far nastier than ours, on their scent right now. A tornado couldn't stop him—it just slowed him down. That's why I was hoping you could help. He won't share my preference for negotiation. He just takes what he wants, and he won't care if your friends get hurt along the way. I'll ask one more time: Tell me where they are, and I'll promise to keep the giant and your people safe.”

Hank's silence served as his answer.

“Very well.” A gust of cold autumn wind blew in through the open window, but Gourmand did not shiver. “Then be prepared for the consequences when they come.”

 

26

Carnival trailers circled the Peoria Plaza Tire parking lot like a wagon train, creating an enclosure in which Bruce and Charlie huddled. A swollen moon hung low in the evening sky. For at least the next hour, they couldn't hide in the Creep Castle—the shop's mechanics were hard at work on some road force balancing, or whatever Juice Man had called it. Air wrenches zipped and whirred outside their inner circle.

Charlie and Bruce ate monstrous, greasy cheeseburgers that Wertzie had fetched from a place across the river called the Burger Barge. Charlie had never got the brat Adele had promised at the drive-in the night before, and he attacked his burger like a competitor in the World Series of Eating. Still, he was only halfway through it before Bruce had worked his way through ten. The giant eyed the rest of Charlie's.

“Don't even think about it.”

Bruce found a stray bag of onion rings and emptied it into his maw. He leaned back against the Gravitron trailer and belched. A low rumble came from the other side of the parking lot, and the giant peeked around the edge of a trailer to see what was causing the sound.

“What is it?”

“Wow,” Bruce whispered.

There was a “wow” in the parking lot? Curiosity got the better of Charlie as well. He socked Bruce in the thigh and motioned for the giant to lift him up to see what was going on. Bruce picked up the boy in his fist and hoisted him just high enough to peek over the top of the Gravitron.

“Wow.”

A fireplug of a man with tattoos that sleeved his forearms worked a crane on his truck, emblazoned with flaming letters that advertised
Stan the Statue Man
. The crane lifted a seventeen-foot-tall ceramic lady into a standing position in the corner of the Peoria Plaza Tire parking lot. She was nearly as big as Bruce. A smile was frozen on her face, and Charlie supposed she was attractive, in a 1960s-president's-wife kind of way. She looked sort of familiar, in her red sweater and navy-blue miniskirt, though he couldn't say exactly who she resembled.

Bruce set the boy back on the ground and scooted around the trailer into the open. “The guy is going to see you!” Charlie said in a whisper-shout, but Bruce didn't respond. Charlie threw up his arms. This was going to be trouble.

Charlie ran out from the circle of trailers to see the giant crawling on his hands and knees toward the queen-size lady. Stan the Statue Man had his back to the ceramic figure for now, checking off something on a clipboard, but if he turned around, there was no way he wouldn't see the giant. His own long-bed truck, the kind that usually carried six or seven cars to auto dealers, was filled with more enormous figures—a replica of the Statue of Liberty, a lumberjack with an ax, a goofy rabbit in red overalls that read
Grady's
. Charlie sprinted over, trying to get to Stan before he could turn around and see Bruce.

“Hey,” said Charlie, scrambling for some way to distract the guy. “Um. Hi. Your truck? Wow. What is all this stuff?”

Stan the Statue Man looked up, but he didn't seem surprised. He probably got the question a lot. “The world's finest collection of colossal ceramic mascots,” he said with pride. “I design them myself.”

“That's amazing,” said Charlie, watching Bruce with his peripheral vision while trying to maintain eye contact with Stan. The giant stood next to the lady now, sizing her up. And that's when Charlie figured out who the woman reminded him of—the old-timey girl in Tim's peekaboo pen.

“That gal behind me, she's Vanna Whitewall,” said Stan the Statue Man, hooking his thumb over his shoulder. “Proud ambassador of Peoria Plaza Tire for forty years, but she gets dinged up from time to time. Idiots don't check their rearview mirrors before backing up right into her shins. Polished her up and snapped on her new winter outfit.”

“Tell me more about the rabbit!” Charlie blurted quickly, successfully diverting Stan the Statue Man's attention just as he was about to turn and point out more of Vanna Whitewall's finer features. “He's got to weigh a ton!”

“Just about,” nodded Stan the Statue Man. “He's on his way to Grady's Family Fun Park in Bloomington, about an hour from here. Kids love him; I think it's the bow tie.”

“Uh-huh, bow tie,” said Charlie, trying not to panic. Bruce had picked up Vanna Whitewall and was attempting to turn her upside down, just like he did with the girl in Tim's pen! Charlie shook his head frantically whenever Stan the Statue Man's attention was on the giant rabbit, trying to tell Bruce to knock it off. It wasn't working. And then, as if it was happening in slow motion, Vanna's winter sweater and skirt snapped off, revealing a fire-engine-red bikini. Bruce dove for cover as the clothes clanked against the pavement in a noisy clatter.

“What the…?”

Stan the Statue Man spun around. Bruce had ducked behind a carnival trailer and the giant lady was back in her standing position, posing in her summer bikini even as the front half of her ceramic sweater spun slowly on the asphalt. Passing cars honked their horns in appreciation. “That's impossible!” shouted Stan. “There's no way her clothes should just fall off like that! I fastened 'em myself!”

“Weird,” agreed Charlie.

Stan cursed and got back in his truck, working the crane to pick up the front half of the scuffed sweater and maneuver it back into place. Charlie whistled and walked backward slowly, disappearing into the shadows of the carnival trailers and then hustling back to the shielded spot where he and Bruce had been eating dinner. The giant was back, and so were Tiger and the Juice Man. They weren't happy.

“Half of downtown heard that skirt fall!” shouted Juice Man, shaking his meaty index finger up at Bruce. The giant gave him a sheepish smirk. “You think this is a joke? We're trying to protect you, moron!”

“And just where exactly were you?” Tiger turned to Charlie. She narrowed her eyes and Charlie felt himself squirm. “Why are you here if you're not going to help us watch him?”

“I was helping!” protested Charlie. “He snuck out to check out Vanna Whitewall…”

“Vanna Whitewall?” asked Tiger. “Really?”

“And I distracted the guy in the truck so he wouldn't see Bruce.” He looked up at his giant friend. “Tell them!”

“Bikini” was the giant's cheerful response.

“Now we've got to worry about
two
of them screwing this up. I am this close to getting my giant gold,” groused Juice Man, holding up his index finger and thumb to indicate just how close he was. He stomped off into the back of his generator truck and slammed the door. “Where's Tim? I want the kid gone! Now!”

“Tim's with the Creep Castle. I'll talk to him,” Tiger called after him. She didn't disagree with the Juice Man, Charlie noted. “Meanwhile, you two stay here.” She looked up at Bruce, and the barbed tone of her voice made even the giant shrink a little. “You do anything stupid like that again—and you answer to me. Got it?”

Bruce started to smile but thought better of it.

Tiger left to find Tim, leaving Charlie and Bruce to hide once more in the shadows of the trailers. The boy plopped to the ground and leaned against the Gravitron. “I'm mad at you, too, if that means anything. You're going to get me kicked out of here.” He picked up a handful of pebbles and threw them across the pavement. “And just so you know, not all girls' clothes fall off when you turn them upside down.”

Bruce shrugged. So far, experience had taught him otherwise.

 

27

Once the shop's mechanics had finished rejiggering the Creep Castle's suspension to accommodate extra weight, Tiger had sent Bruce and Charlie inside the trailer to wait. There wasn't a lot to do. Aside from the calamity with Vanna Whitewall, giant smuggling had turned out to be a lot of sitting around.

A voice outside the haunted house broke the monotony. When Charlie put an ear to the wall of the trailer, he could pick up bits of Tim's side of a phone conversation with their mom.

“… know I should have checked with you first but…”

“… sorry, but we hardly get to see…”

“… not going to miss more than a day or two…”

“… really think it's a good idea for someone to come all the way down…?”

Bruce wasn't interested, so he scoured the Castle for something to do. He started playing with Tim's peekaboo pen, but Charlie grabbed it and shoved it in his pocket. “You don't need any more bright ideas.” Instead, he poked through Tim's box of crap for some way to pass the time. The only promising item was the musty movie projector, and there was no way to plug it in. Or was there?

“I'll be right back,” Charlie said, cracking open the back of the Castle and checking to see if the coast was clear. Tim and Tiger were gone now.

“Go with you!”

“Dude,” Charlie sighed, “I mean
right
back. Like ten seconds. Just hang here, okay?”

Charlie slipped out the back, taking care to not make a sound when his tennis shoes hit the asphalt. He wasn't Bruce, but he could be sneaky, too, when he wanted to be. The narrow alleys between the carnival trailers were lit only by the moonlight, and the Juice Man's generator truck was parked just a couple down from the Creep Castle.

Charlie eased the back of the electric truck open and snuck inside. Two gasoline-powered generators hummed, providing the juice for charging power tools needed for assembling carnival rides. Atop the Juice Man's workstation sat a gizmo that Charlie guessed was a GPS device—it looked like the one in DJ's Hummer, except a lot more sophisticated. A digital map placed them squarely in Peoria. A surprising number of gas tanks, labeled
Helium
, were stacked in the back. For the Juice Man's advertising blimp, Charlie guessed. He grabbed a long orange extension cord that was coiled on a hook, plugged one end into a generator, and unspooled the cord back into the Creep Castle.

Bruce laughed when he saw what Charlie was up to. “Trouble!”

“Not me, dude,” said the boy. “You're the one who always gets busted.” He plugged in the film projector and a brilliant blue square of light hit the back of the trailer.

Bruce Lee whirred to life once more. His alter ego, Bruce the giant, broke into hysterics every time the martial arts master smacked a young student on the head, admonishing him for taking his eyes off his opponent.

BOOK: The Giant Smugglers
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