So Cal Summer 69

by Flip McHooter

Chapter 30

"Wait. What? Who took Jake? You have to tell me! Do you know who they are?" I screeched at the Dark Man, making him flinch. I knew right away that if I was going to get anything out of him, I better get tough. I clenched my fists and yelled, "Goddamnit, tell me. Tell me right now."

"No, no, no, no, NO! Oh hell no, I don't know. Whey-o. Go get your boy-o." He looked at me for a long time like he wanted to say more, blinking super-fast but holding firm my gaze. I guess he couldn't form the correct words or something. Maybe his transmitter had shut off or was broken. I wasn't quite sure what was up with him, but I had to know what he saw. He was rocking fast back and forth on the balls of his feet, trying to connect to some invisible rhythm. And even though he might be bigger than me, and he might have picked me up like a sack of potatoes the other day, I'd be damned if he wasn't going to tell me everything that he saw. And do it right freakin' now.

Changing tones, I asked calmly but forcefully, "What did you see?"

"Two times men, and four times door, equals men-times boy-o go. They say that's bad-o."

"Um … Okay, thanks, I guess," I said, kicking at the dirt and trying to figure out what that meant. "Is that all?"

He just stood there staring at me. I probably wasn't going to get any more out of him, at least anything that made sense, so I started to turn towards the house to go get some help. But before I could run, he grabbed my arm, looked directly into my eyes and said quite clearly, "Go get your boy-o. He needs you. This is the night. Satellites aren't out. The wavelengths are crystal clear. You must, you must." He broke his gaze, let go of me and started to shuffle back into the bushes.

"Thanks. Hey, wait a second. I don't even know your name," I shouted, but he either ignored me or didn't want to say. Oh well. When we got Jake back, I'd make sure to find out and maybe get him some help, or at least some clean clothes. But I couldn't think about that right now. Jake was the only thing on my mind. "C'mon Sloan. We've got to find Jake," I shouted.

I raced into the house and started yelling for Lisa. She and Jordy were both snuggled up on the couch watching television in the family room and eating Jiffy-pop. Patty Duke was ranting and raving like a mad woman on the TV.

"What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost," she asked.

"It's Jake. He's been kidnapped!"

"What? Good gravy Marie! That's impossible. What are you talking about? How do you know? Wait a second. You guys aren't playing some kind of stupid joke on us, are you? If you are, I'm gonna pound both of you to bits."

"No, I swear. Jake's disappeared."

"What's going on Ryan? I'm getting scared," Jordy said, looking over the back of the couch.

"There's nothing to be scared of, little man. We have to figure out who took Jake and where he is. Then we're going to get him back," I said with some serious conviction. I surprised myself that my only thought was for Jake and his safety.

"Okay, now you're starting to scare me too. Slow down and start from the beginning," Lisa said, standing up and walking to the backdoor to make sure this truly wasn't some kind of crazy joke we were pulling on her. When she didn't see Jake standing outside ready to barge in here and yell surprise, she locked the door and came back and stared me down. After I had told her about Sloan barking like mad, and looking out the front yard in time to see the green sedan take off blasting down the street, and talking to Mrs. Kravitz, I finished by telling her about my conversation with the Dark Man and his mysterious riddles.

"Oh, no. This is bad," Lisa said, as she slumped back down on the couch. "Truly bad."

"Who would want to take him?" I asked Lisa. "Do you think it's the guys from your old school? Maybe they found out where you guys are living now. Maybe they want to get even for the pictures you guys took."

"No, I don't think so. They would be mad at me and would want to do something to me, not to Jake. Nobody there knows that he was the one that took the pictures. It's not them, I'm sure of it. Maybe we need to call the police. We can't call the Lulu's or your dad because they're driving up north."

"The cops haven't been very helpful with the crap that's been going on around here lately. What makes you think they're going to do anything now, especially coming from a bunch of kids? They aren't going to believe us. They didn't even take the broken brakes on the microbus very seriously. And we told you how stupid that cop was that got killed."

"Yeah, you're right about the police. They're not much good lately. Anyway, I've seen a lot of crime shows, and they don't do anything until someone has been missing for twenty-four hours, I think," Lisa said.

"Yeah, I remember that too. Anyway, the Dark Man said I have to find him, and it has to be tonight."

"Why tonight?" Lisa asked.

"This sounds stupid, but he said tonight's the night. Also, the satellites aren't out, whatever that means. C'mon, think. We've got to figure this out." I said. I shoved my hand in my pocket and started to absentmindedly rub the gold coin Mr. Bailey gave me the day Jake moved in next door.

"Who would want to take Jake?" Jordy asked quietly. "He's a good boy. He's never hurt anyone."

"I don't know who'd do that, sweetie," Lisa said, rubbing the back of his head. I think she was starting to understand that this was bad. Really, really bad.

"I know!" I said, snapping my fingers. "It has to be your dad."

"What? What the hell are you talking about, Ry?"

"Before we buried Snakey, we were in your mom's bedroom looking for a scarf to wrap him up in like a shroud or something. Jake was digging around in her dresser looking for a cool one, and while he was doing that, I noticed some legal papers sitting on her old guitar case. It was called a proposition to the court, or something like that, and said he wanted Jake. I looked for another one for you but didn't see any, and I thought that was weird."

"Are you for real? What a shit for brains fuck head," Lisa said.

"I know. Anyway, Ace didn't even act like he missed you guys when your mom and dad got in that big fight a few weeks ago. I was going to tell Jake about it, but I thought I should talk to my dad first because I didn't know what it was and I didn't want to scare Jake if it didn't mean anything. I didn't want to scare him if it turned out to be something bogus, you know? And I didn't want to believe that Ace would take Jake away from us. I also thought Ace might think I was doing something with Jake that I shouldn't be doing and that might have made him mad."

"Aww, sweetie. That's not it. Don't even think like that."

"I know, but what do I know?" I said.

"Petition. It's called a petition" she said, getting back on track. "Anyway, I can understand why my dad doesn't want me. I hate him, and he knows it. There's no way I'd go live with him, that peckerwood. I'd be sure and make his life miserable. Besides, I'm going to be eighteen soon, and he can't do anything to me. I can't understand why Lulu didn't tell us about this. Shit, sometimes my mom is such a bubblehead."

"So do you think Ace took him? Maybe he had some of his friends from downtown do it. I forgot to tell you this, but when we went to see Enzo's dad downtown, the guy from the tattoo parlor was coming out of his office. Somehow, all these people know each other: Enzo's dad, your dad, and the guys at the porn … well, you know. It's weird. And I get the feeling that whatever it is that they do, maybe it's not so legal."

"Why do you say that?" Lisa asked me.

"Because the guys looked, I don't know, slimy maybe. Like guys you'd see in a bad gangster flick or something. Some of them had guns tucked inside their jackets. The strange thing was that neither Jake nor Enzo seemed worried by it. I thought it was kinda odd, though."

"Who had guns?" she asked.

"The old guy in the elevator and a couple of guys outside of Crash's office. Maybe they were undercover security or something."

"I've always wondered what my dad does might be shady. We never knew where he worked or what exactly he does. Ace never talked about it. He said he was off on business trips. But then again, we honestly didn't care since he wasn't around much for us anyway, and it was always better when he was gone," Lisa said.

"Okay. So, let's assume it was Ace or one of his cronies who took Jake. How do we get him back? Are we going to have to come up with some ransom money like they do on TV?" I asked.

"No, no. I don't think so. Ace knows we don't have any money. Everything has been going to the new house. I'm pretty sure Lulu doesn't have a bunch of money lying everywhere. I would have known about it because I'm always snooping around. Besides, I don't think he wants money. If he petitioned the court, then he definitely wants Jake. Maybe the court sided with Lulu over his custody, and that's why he grabbed Jake. I wouldn't put it past him."

"So help me out here. If Ace took Jake, where would he take him? And how do we get him back? I'm not going to give this up and let him get away with it," I said, starting to get pissed. "We are going to get Jake back, I promise you that."

"Me too, Ry. We're gonna get Jake, and I'm gonna help," Jordy said.

"Thanks, little man. Jake would be proud to hear you say that."

"I think my dad has been sleeping in his office. Or at least he used to. I don't think he has a regular place to stay right now. He'd need a place to hide Jake where people wouldn't see him and wonder what was going on. It would have to be someplace secure where Jake couldn't get away. You know Jake, when he gets mad, look the hell out. And unless they drug him, Jake's gonna try and get away." Lisa let out a long sigh and said, "I don't know where that might be. That could be anywhere."

"Crap. That's not gonna help us find him. There has to be someplace that Ace would have taken him. Think guys. Think really hard." The three of us were lost in thought as the gravity of the situation started to sink in. Then I had a thought. "You told me once that the football jock you, um, dated, and his girlfriend set up your dad with her mom? Could Ace be staying there with them?"

"No. After I had busted up that bitch's nose, she didn't want anything to do with either him or us. I don't think anybody in San Pedro wants anything to do with any of us," Lisa said sadly.

"Okay, what else? C'mon guys, think. Think again."

"Could they have taken him to fight in Vietnam?" Jordy asked. "Those people are always fighting with the cops on TV. Is that why they do it? One of my friend's big brothers got taken to Vietnam, and he got killed."

"No, Jordy, that's not how they do it. That's something completely different, and it's not that simple and a bit complicated. I think you're old enough to understand it, but I'll explain it to you later, okay?"

"Sure, Ry. I'm just trying to help."

"I know you are, little man. That was an excellent thought, though. Good job. Keep thinking."

"Has Jake said anything to you recently that seemed weird or out of the blue? You boys are always together so he might have said something. Maybe something in passing that you didn't pay any real attention to?" asked Lisa.

"Well, let's see. We talk a lot, but it's about swimming and sports and stuff like that. And when we're doing that other stuff we like to do, we don't always talk, if you know what I mean."

"I don't know what you mean," Jordy asked.

"Just hanging out in the treehouse, Jordy."

"Oh."

We went quiet, lost in our thoughts. Suddenly, I thought of something. "Here's something strange, but maybe it might lead us to him. You know we've been doing this meditation thing at school as part of our swim training, right? Jake has been telling me about these vivid visions that he gets when the Coach's girlfriend Samantha walks us through some guided imagery exercises. He says when he's meditating he sees water and boats and fish almost every time we do it. Me and the other guys always see different things, like trees and birds and other shit, but Jake says his are always the same thing. We were trying to figure out what they meant, but we couldn't figure it out. Even Miss Sam didn't know when he asked her about it. Does that mean anything to you?"

"Well, water and boats sound like he's swimming in a pool or like he's floating, I suppose. That sounds pretty boring, actually. I'm sure if I was meditating I'd have visions of submarines or torpedoes."

"No surprise there," I said, and got a frown from Lisa.

"Maybe he's on a boat in the water, like on a river somewhere," Jordy offered.

"What do you mean, little man?"

"Maybe it's like a clue or something. Maybe he's on a boat someplace."

"There aren't any boats around here. At least not one big enough to hide somebody for very long," I said. "Some of the neighbors have little boats they park on their driveways that they take to the river or lake to go water skiing. The ones that have cabins are too small for anybody to stay in for very long. If Ace was hiding Jake on a boat like that, people would know, especially if they have neighbors like Mrs. Kravitz. Good suggestion though, Jordy."

"Wait. This is a longshot, but he could be hiding him on Gramps boat down in Redondo. That totally makes sense. No one would look for him there," Lisa said, finally brightening up.

"Yeah, maybe. I remember Jake telling me a story about how Ace took you guys out one day on a fishing boat for lunch, and it was the last time that your family had any fun together. Do you know where your Gramps keeps that boat?"

"I think so. It's a place called King Harbor Marina, kinda close to where we lived. It's in Redondo Beach. It's a big place with lots of boats. I'm not sure that I can find the right slip, though. All I remember is that it was close to the parking lot," she said. "And it was at the end of the dock by itself, across from a big yacht. Now that I think about it, I think the boat was named the Anne-Marie, after my dead great aunt. But anyway, some of the boats are liveaboards so we might be able to ask someone if we can't find it."

"You sure Ace couldn't have taken him someplace else?" I asked.

"If he did, I wouldn't know where it'd be. He works out of his car mostly, so he doesn't have an office. I think the boat is our best bet. If Jake's not there, we need to call the cops."

"If that's all we have to go on, then let's do it. Do you know how to get down to Redondo Beach from here? That's a ways away, you know. Thing is, this seems right to me somehow," I said, still rubbing the head of the gold coin.

"I can drive us down there, but I'll need to look it up on a map first so we don't take a wrong turn and get lost. But more importantly, we need a plan. We can't go walking down the different docks and pick Jake up and take him home like it's no big deal. It's a big place, and by the time we get there, it will be almost dark. If my dad went to this much trouble to kidnap Jake, he might be watching him, or he might have one of his so-called friends watching him. And besides, he'll recognize me for sure and maybe you, too. I think we need some help to work out a good plan before we drive down there. Think Enzo and Kenji could help us out? I'd call Cooper, but he's working tonight at the pharmacy."

"Yeah. I'm sure Enzo and Kenji would help us out, no problem. Besides, Enzo owes us big and his brawn might come in handy."

"Great. Call them up and get them over here, pronto. We have to do this right, so no one gets hurt. Well, at least us," Lisa said. I got the feeling that if we got into trouble, she wouldn't be averse to going ballistic on her dad or even hijacking the boat so they couldn't get away.

"Can Chris come too? He likes Jake a whole lot too, and he'd want to help us get him back home safe. We're littler, and it's gonna be easier for us to hide if we have to sneak around out there by the boats. Maybe we can snoop around on the docks looking for him. Maybe people would think we're too small to be planning a big rescue. We could walk Sloan like she has to take a wiz. Oh, man, this is so shebang! We could even use Jake's walkie-talkies."

"Terrific idea, Jordy. That might actually work," Lisa said. "Ryan, call them up."

"I'm on it. You guys better go get changed. Oh, by the way, my mom has a bunch of old Auto Club maps in the junk drawer in the kitchen next to the fridge. Check 'em out, and I'll be right back. Before I call the guys, I'm going to run around and make sure the doors and windows are locked up tight. Jordy, go upstairs and make sure everything is locked up there too, okay?"

"You got it, Ry."

"C'mon, Sloany girl, help me out."

"Woof!"

After the house was locked up tight like Fort Knox, and I was sure that no one could get in without us hearing them, I got on the horn to talk with Enzo. His new 'mom' answered the phone with Italian formality that made me chuckle. "Ciao, La Famiglia Ferrari," is what she said. Thankfully, Enzo was home finishing up his ravioli dinner, so I didn't have to carry a long conversation with her like I had to do with his old mom. Well, not like I could anyway, since I don't speak Italian. I couldn't tell him exactly what was going on in case he told his dad, who could have been in on this crazy scheme. So I only told him that we had an emergency going on and that we needed him, along with Chris and Kenji, to help us out and maybe spend the night with us.

I had a goofy thought and told Enzo to make sure everyone was wearing dark clothes. If we were going to do some super spy-work, we might as well do it right and dress the part. He called Kenji, and after a very long minute, he called me back to say they'd be there in a few minutes. His new 'mom' had no clue what was going on, and his dad wasn't home, so he left a note for Crash saying that he and Chris were spending the night at our house again.

Jordy came bounding down the stairs wearing his favorite Monkees t-shirt and a pair of jean cut-offs and red flip-flops. Totally not correct for the mission at hand. "Hey, little man, why don't you go back upstairs and put on your black turtleneck and your darkest pants. Let's act like we're super good spy-boys, okay? Like we're guest stars on Mission Impossible."

"Shebang! I'll be right back, big brother. Don't start anything without me, okay?"

"You got it, little dude. Maybe you can find something dark for Chris to wear in case he isn't dressed right. And bring me down one of dad's dark hats."

"Yippee! We're gonna get super Jakey back," he shouted as he flew back up the stairs. I thought for the first time that I was fortunate to have such a groovy little brother. Really lucky.

Lisa came downstairs a couple of minutes later looking like a bigger, boobier version of Emma Peel, wearing dark bell-bottoms, pointy-toed leather boots, a dark top, and a black jean jacket. To top it off, she was wearing one of her mom's big hats and dark sunglasses. "Do I look all right? I'm on a mission to get my brother back, and I'm ready to kick some motherfucking ass."

"Man, I wouldn't want to mess with you. But you better not wear the sunglasses while we're driving," I said.

"I know. I won't. So what's the plan?"

"Enzo, Chris, and Kenji should be here any minute," I said. "I thought that maybe we should have Jordy and Chris scout out the area first, to see if they can figure out where your gramps' boat is. Maybe they can tell us if there's lights on inside it or if anybody weird is hanging around. Then we can meet back at the car and figure out our next move. Are you ready to go apeshit ballistic on someone if he's holding Jake?"

"Yeah, I sure am. But I don't want anyone to get hurt. Especially Jordan and Chris. I'm pretty sure that you, Enzo and Kenji can take care of yourselves. Maybe you should go get your BB gun and your baseball bat just in case. If we look menacing enough they might give us Jake back without any trouble. Besides, I've decided that we're gonna do this on our own. No cops, no parents, no nothing. It's me and Jake against my asshole dad."

"You're wrong! Completely wrong. It's all of us against your asshole dad, Lisa, and don't forget it. I'm in this as much as you are," I said.

"Got it, Ry. Sorry, you're right. But I think we need more of a plan than sending the little men to scope things out. How's this? Once we figure out exactly where the boat is in the Marina, we'll have Jordy and Chris check it out, you know, like you said. Maybe have them walk to the end of the dock and come back like we planned. But only do it if we can keep an eye on them. I don't want them to get hurt. Then, if they can tell that somebody is on Gramps' boat for sure, one of us older guys will have to get a close-up look before we go wild and bombard whoever is on there."

"That makes sense. I think that out of the three of us older guys, Kenji is probably the least likely to be recognized or questioned. He hasn't been over here very much so those dudes in the car might not remember him. What if we took a pizza box from the trash and have him pretend to be making a delivery? Kenji should be able to play that off, maybe acting like he's lost or on the wrong dock or something. What do you think?" I asked Lisa.

"I think that's a scathingly brilliant idea," she said.

The doorbell rang, scaring the crap out of us. It was Enzo, his little brother Chris, and Kenji. The three of us were instantly relieved that it was them and not one of Ace's goons.

"Hey guys, thanks for coming over so fast," I said, closing and locking the front door, but not before I took a good long look up and down the street to make sure nobody was sitting in a weird sedan watching us from out on the street.

"No problem. Tell us what's going on," Kenji said, getting right down to business. He looked from me to Lisa and back to me again. "Where's Jake?"

"That's the problem. We think he's been kidnapped, maybe by his dad. Actually, we're pretty sure it's his dad. The Dark Man saw some guys in a car take him and told me about it a few minutes ago. We're going to get him back, and we need your help," I said.

"The freaky guy in the bushes that grabbed you the other night? Can he even talk?" Enzo asked.

"Yeah, that's the same guy. He talks in riddles, and he's kinda hard to figure out, but I don't have any reason not to believe him. Actually, in some weird way, I think he's looking out for Jake and me. Like he's our protector or something. I'm not sure why though."

"Well, all of us are on board, and we're gonna help you get Jake back. What do you want us to do?" Enzo asked. I was so glad that Enzo was getting his life together and was sure he was going to turn out to be a good friend.

Before I could answer, Jordy walked into the room looking like a mini version of James Bond. If he had a cigarette and a martini in his hand, he'd totally look the part. After saying hello to everybody, we got into the details of our plan. Lisa had checked an old map of the South Bay and told us it was pretty much a straight shot down the freeway to Redondo Beach. Once we got there, we'd have to find the Marina and then the right boat. We also decided that she would drive us in the station wagon since she was familiar with it and it was kind of fast, not that we were planning a car chase or a crazy shootout or anything like that. But, you never know with all the weird shit that had been happening lately.

The next step was not so straightforward. Enzo didn't want to put Chris in any danger, but Chris was adamant and said he was going to do it anyway, whether Enzo liked it or not. He told us that he liked Jake because he's always nice to him and played with him in the pool. He was going to help out and wouldn't take no for an answer. So I suggested that in addition to the walkie-talkies, the two boys walk down the dock with Sloan since that seemed like a normal thing for two boys to be doing in the early evening. If anything smelled like danger, Sloan would be sure to pick it up and start barking like crazy. She was very protective of us, but especially me and Jordy. And we'd be sure to keep them in our line of sight. After that, Enzo relented, and we finalized our plans, packed up our gear in the station wagon, locked the house and headed towards the freeway.

The ride to the South Bay was pretty quiet with everybody deep in their own thoughts. I think this was the first time ever that the radio wasn't on. Finally, just before we got off the freeway, I couldn't take the silence anymore and said, "Hey guys, thanks for doing this. I know we're going to get Jake back and he's going to be all right. But to get him back in one piece we need to be extra smart about this. If it looks at all dangerous, we'll go back to the parking lot, find a payphone and call the cops. But I know we can do this. It's strange, but I feel he's here and we can pull this off. Be smart, stay on your toes and watch your back and everybody else's back. Before you know it, we'll be on our way home to Pasadena and Jake will be sitting here cracking us up with his stupid jokes."

"Yeah, I agree," Enzo said. "Those dudes are no match for us. We've got the element of surprise on our side because I'm sure they won't be expecting a bunch of kids to be here this fast rescuing their friend."

"No shit. They probably think we're still at home waiting for the cops to show up and take a statement," Kenji agreed.

"Or maybe they think we wouldn't miss him this fast," Jordy said.

"Boy, are they going to be surprised," Chris added, pounding his fist into his other hand.

"Okay, so when we get there, I'm going to park on the far side of the parking lot," Lisa said. "Before we get out of the car, everybody needs to look around and see if you guys spot the green sedan that's been hanging around our house. Ryan, you remember what my dad's black Citroen looks like, right? Keep an eye out for that, too."

"Roger that, Bucky, as Jake would say."

"And Jordy? You and Chris stay together. If something happens and you can't get away, you guys drop to the ground and stay there. Okay? Start screaming like crazy. We'll come get you right away. But most importantly, stay together."

"Yes, Lisa," both Jordy and Chris answered. They were sitting way in the back and were excited beyond belief, fidgeting like crazy.

"What are we going to do if they have guns?" Kenji asked.

"Well, we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. But don't take any chances because I don't want anybody to get shot. Besides, that's not going to happen so don't worry about it," Lisa said.

"You know, I think I might have a plan for that, in case they do have guns," I said. "Jordy, Chris, listen up. If someone starts shooting, jump in the water. It's going to be cold and dark, but you're both great swimmers, and you can tread water until we get you out. They won't be able to see where you went because it will be dark. Swim up close next to one of the other boats if you can. If someone shoot's off a gun, people will hear it, and the cops will show up before you can fart. Try your best to stay together. Can you little dudes do that?"

"Yeah, I think so. You're sure you'll come get us?" Jordy asked, slowly.

"Of course, little man, no problem. Think of this as your first Navy frogman test. Anyway, that's not going to happen because I don't believe they'd be that stupid. But I want you guys to be prepared for the worst so we can be safe and not get hurt," I said.

"I sure hope you're right," Chris said.

"Also, remember those self-defense moves dad taught you, Jordy? If you can't remember what to do, hit him or kick him as hard as you can right in his nuts. That goes for everybody in the car. If someone grabs you from behind, bite his arm. This is serious business, and you guys don't have to fight fair or play nice. Scratch, bite, pull his hair. Do whatever it takes."

"Okay. We can do that, can't we Chris?"

"You bet."

The sun had finally gone down, and the last of the daylight was starting to fade. Luckily, there wasn't any fog tonight, and it was still pretty warm out. We made a turn off of Herondo to Harbor going south, and before we knew it, we were at the main entrance to the Marina.

"This is it. Keep your eyes peeled, guys," Lisa said, as she turned onto Marina Way. "Here we go."

After we had passed the administrative buildings and a couple of restaurants, there were a bunch of docks on both sides of us. Each dock had at least twenty-five or more boat slips on each side of the dock, and they were mostly filled with a crazy assortment of boats. Some were bigger than others, and at the end of each dock was a bigger slip for some of the larger, fancier yachts and sport fishing boats. The problem was, there were at least ten or twelve docks on each side of us. That meant there were close to a thousand boats here. How in the heck were we going to find the right one?

That question was answered soon enough when Lisa called out and started pointing, "Right there! I remember that ramp. I was here before. That building next to it is the showers and bathrooms for the liveaboards."

"Go down and turn around. Park on the other side of the street so we can fly out of here when we get him," I said. Maybe it was the gold coin or the weird meditation we were doing or some other heightened sense of reality, but I could feel Jake's presence here. Lisa went down to the end of Marina Road and turned around. On the way back up, I noticed that only a few boats had any lights on inside them and that it was actually quite dark. I hoped that wasn't going to be a problem, but might actually work in our favor.

Lisa found a good spot to park where nobody could get in front of us and block us in. She turned off the motor and sat there for a second, taking a deep breath.

"Okay, everybody. Before we get out, take a good look around so you know where to go and where the car is parked so you can find your way back in a hurry," Lisa said. "Jordy and Chris, see that ramp over there? All you have to do is walk down the ramp and go down the dock like two typical boys walking their dog. Walk all the way to the end of the dock. There should be a bigger fishing boat than the others tied up right on the end. See if it's the Anne-Marie. From what I remember, it's sort of a blue-gray color. Check if the lights are on and listen for any voices. Slowly turn around and walk back. Remember, you're just two boys out walking your dog, nothing more."

"We can do it, right Jordy?"

"Shebang!"

"Great. Everybody get out on the sidewalk and line up for inspection," I said.

We climbed out of the car and assembled on the sidewalk. "Jordy, leash up Sloan," I said. "You walk her and Chris will carry the walkie-talkie. Chris, turn on your walkie-talkie and make sure the sound is on low, but not so low that you can't hear it. Kinda keep it under your shirt like this." I showed him how to do it, tucking the end into his shorts. Standing back up, I continued, "Enzo, go with them but when you reach the bottom of the ramp, go to the left and go down the other dock next to it. See it over there? Be sure to keep them in your sight, okay? If something happens, whistle real loud, and we'll all come running."

"You got it."

"Here's the other walkie-talkie. Double check the sound and try it out with your brother," I said, handing Enzo the other walkie-talkie. "But don't go yet, I'm going with you. I'm going to hang out by the showers at the end of the ramp over there."

"What about Kenji and me?" Lisa asked.

"You two stay here behind the car. Listen for Enzo in case he whistles, and if he does, come running. Lisa, help Kenji put on this baseball hat and grab the pizza box. Make him look the part. Once the little dudes come back and tell us what they saw, Kenji's going next to double check. Then, when he comes back, we're gonna go back and take them down and rescue Jake. Everybody got it?"

"Yes," everybody shouted.

Enzo, the little men and I crossed the empty street and walked along the sidewalk until we got to the ramp. Jordy turned around and gave me the thumbs-up sign as he and Chris started down the dock walking Sloan. From up here on the railing, I had a pretty good view of both docks, and I could keep my eyes on everybody, even though it was dark. There were a few lampposts on each dock, giving off a small pool of light, but it wasn't good for much. And either there weren't very many liveaboards here, or else everybody was tucked in for the night. Or maybe they were eating dinner up on one of the nearby restaurants. Still, a sprinkling of boats had lights on in their small windows. I could hear the sound of a shower running behind me in one of the locker rooms and the soft clang from the boat closest to me as it rubbed against its slip. Other than that, it was silent. Even the water was flat and still, like a midnight blanket.

Enzo hadn't wasted any time and was already down at the end of the dock to the left. He had moved in between two boats and had a perfect view of the adjoining dock and a clear view of the boys in front of him. The docks were sorta close together, so close in fact that if the boys got into any kind of trouble, Enzo could probably dive in and reach the other side before I even had a chance to run down there. Looking down the dock in front of me I could see the boys casually walking the dog.

So far, everything was going to plan. Never being religious, I still said a quick prayer for the protection of the little men, and for Jake as well.

Suddenly, some man came barging out of the men's side of the shower room right behind me, slamming the door shut with a loud bang. Startled, I had to take my eyes off the little men to see what the noise was about. "Roscoe, that you?" he said to me.

"No mister. I think you have me confused with someone else."

"Aye. Yer too young to be Roscoe, ain't ye?" He was an old guy, and his fat, beer belly sagging over his shorts wasn't doing him any favors in the looks department.

"I guess so," I said, taking a quick look down the dock. Sloan was squatting, and the boys were waiting for her to finish her wiz.

"Watcha doin' out here by yerself, boy?"

"I'm, umm, waiting for my sister to finish her shower. She takes forever," I said, thinking fast and pointing over my shoulder towards the lady's facilities. "Her Aunt Flo is visiting so this might take a while."

"Aye. Damn dames. Not good for much 'cept cookin'. Be good, boy. I'll see ya then," he said and walked off down the sidewalk towards a different row of boat slips.

Wow, that was close. I looked back down the dock and was happy to see that Jordy and Chris had started walking back our way. I looked over, and Enzo had started back up his side too. Before long, everyone was back on the ramp. I couldn't tell from their looks what was going on, but I knew we shouldn't be talking here.

"There you are. Mom wants you back at the car," I said, way too loudly. I gave them a stern look and tilted my head, so they knew I meant business. Chris didn't get it and started to say something, but I cut him off with a curt, "Wait."

We hustled over to the car to meet up with Lisa and Kenji. They were standing there, he in his sort-of Pizza Man outfit and she in her dark Emma Peel get-up. They came around the car to meet us as soon as they saw us walking towards them. "How did it go? What happened?" Lisa asked.

"No problems. Tell us what you saw, guys," I said.

"It was kinda scary because it was so dark, but after Sloan peed, we went to the end of the dock. The boat's name is the Anne-Marie, exactly like you told us," Jordy said.

"Tell them about the music," Chris said, clearly excited.

"Oh, yeah. There was only one little itty-bitty light on in one of these funny round windows. It was cracked open a little, and we could hear the radio, but we couldn't see inside. The song that was playing was Sugar, Sugar, and if Jakey is in there, he's gonna be real mad. He hates that song," Jordy said, starting to giggle.

"Did you see anybody on board?" Enzo asked.

"No. Other than the radio, it was quiet."

"That's not good," Lisa said.

"Why do you say that?" Kenji asked.

"Because we need to know how many guys are onboard."

"Did you guys see a way to get onboard? Like a ramp or stairs or something, or can you jump in the boat from the dock?" I asked.

"The front part is too tall, but the back part is lower. You guys are taller so you should get right in, but somebody will have to boost Chris and me up," Jordy said.

"And Sloan, too, if she goes with us," added Chris.

"Good job, guys, that's great information. You did a terrific job. But I think we'll leave Sloan in the car for now. She might get in our way."

"Okay. So, Ryan, what do you want to do next? Send Kenji in with the pizza, or should we storm the boat right now?" Lisa asked. "I'd really like to know how many guys we're dealing with, and I'd also like to know if Jake is on the boat or not."

"I don't know. I kinda agree with you that we should try and get more intel. Maybe we should send Kenji and see what he comes back with. I'd really like to know how many guys are on board, too. What does everyone else think?"

"I vote for doing it now. Let's not wait around anymore," Jordy said.

"I think we should send Kenji first," Enzo said. "I think if we know exactly what we're up against, that might make this mission safer and easier. The more intel the better, like Ryan said."

"I agree with Ry and Enzo," Kenji said. "I want to scope this out some more, too, just to be sure, and so it's as safe as we can be. I don't want anyone to get hurt, especially the little men if we can help it."

"Okay, so let's do this. I want to sneak down the dock and hide closer to the front of the boat, out of sight" I said. "Then when Kenji comes down to make the fake pizza delivery, I can try and look in one of the windows, or at the very least, listen to what's being said. Maybe I'll be able to recognize a voice or something. Somebody lock Sloan up but make sure to roll down a couple of windows, so she has some air. Then you guys hang out by the lockers where I was standing. When we get more information, we'll meet you back up here and plan our next move. But if we need you guys we'll whistle. You come running as fast as you can and we can bombard the boat together."

"Great idea, Ry. If you need us, use that same whistle that Enzo was going to use. That will be our signal, okay guys?" Lisa said.

"Right on. Kenji? You ready to do this?"

"Yeah, man. Let's go!"

"Me, too," Chris added.

"Let's go G.I. Joe on them," Jordy said.

"Lisa?"

"Let's do it!"

"All right, here we go."

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