Leg 13 – Phoenix, USA
(Editor’s Note: Like many of our readers, we here at the TARflies Times have been following the adventures of The Greeter with interest. Like you, we have been concerned by his failure to file his final diary entry. Early yesterday morning, a bicycle courier came by our offices with an unsolicited delivery of ten pounds of fresh squid. This mystified us, until we opened the package and found several handwritten pages among the newspaper wrapping. It is difficult for us to vouch for the accuracy and validity of this document; however, it seems to be from The Greeter himself. We leave it to you to judge.)
13/02/03 Cairns Airport
I think I’m in a lot of trouble, diary. Let me explain.
I got woken up at two this morning by the usual BVM boot to the ass. Boy, I’m going to miss him when this is over. Well, except for the whole “miss him” part, I mean.
“Get to make-up, kid. We need another abo for the ceremony.”
“Cere-what? And didn’t the doc say no more body paint?”
“Ceremony. It’s a whole fire-message thing. It’ll be cool. And don’t sweat the skin colour; they assure me that this stuff is non-toxic. Besides, there are some great skin cancer treatments these days. Get moving.”
Soon enough, my newly tanned and loinclothed ass was on its way to yet another tacky cultural village. “So, what’s my job?”
“They’re going to do some voodoo, start a fire with two sticks, that sort of thing.”
“Start a fire? With sticks? Is this Survivor again? I’m not sure some of these guys could start a fire if you gave them three cords of wood and a flamethrower.”
“Heh. You think we’d trust the racers with fire at this point? It’s just a ritual, all they have to do is watch.”
We hopped out of the van, and a harried-looking production assistant scurried over. “The racers are all at the gate, BV, but the flashpot is not in position. They forgot.”
“They what? Fuckers. How much are they charging us again? Oh, never mind. We’ll deal with it. Greeter boy, I’ve got a job for you.”
Which is how I found myself on a little island, beating my way through the underbrush, getting eaten alive by bugs, and toting a fifty-seven pound flashpot. “Just put it down by the flag,” BVM had said, “and then head back to the river. When we see you signal, we’ll set it off by remote control.”
Sounds easy, huh? Yeah, you guessed it: after ten minutes of hacking around in the brush, I still hadn’t found the flag. And my back was killing me. Finally, I saw a clearing a little ways ahead. I decided to push through to it and then take a rest. As I broke through the trees, one vine had other ideas and neatly tangled itself around my ankle. I fell, cursing, and dropped the flashpot. It landed heavily a foot away and tipped to one side, the cover half open. Inside, I could see what looked like a clock. A very fast-moving clock. A very fast-moving clock with a lot of zeroes on it.
I tried to jump to my feet, but the vine held me fast.
I clawed at my ankle, trying to free it.
I frantically rolled back into the trees. Unlike the vine, their resisting branches wanted no part of me.
I curled into a ball and prayed that my loincloth was fire retardant.
The bad news? The loincloth, not so fire retardant. The good news? Neither was the vine.
Free, flaming, and fleet of foot, I found the return trip through the woods to be much easier. Fifteen extremely hot seconds later I was cooling off in the river. I lay there, steaming, and wondering, in an expanding pool of body paint. A timer? What about the remote control? Then I saw a boat approaching, BVM at the helm.
“Holy crap, are you alright? How can you be alright? I mean, thank God that you’re alright! Quick, get him in the boat!”
“What happened to the remote control, you pyromaniac?”
“What? You think I did that on purpose? After all we’ve been through? I’m hurt.”
Yeah, I thought, after all you put me through. And let me tell you a thing or two about being hurt. But I thought it best not to reveal my suspicions. I didn’t want to end up sleeping with the crocodiles, so, I let him mollify me. We got to shore and eventually to the airport with no further incident.
But now, I wonder. Do I know too much?
Shit. I’m still only in Tokyo.
I am so screwed.
We hopped over here direct from Cairns to pick up a flight to Hawaii, the next stop.
“Shouldn’t we be going through Sydney?” I asked.
“Sydney?” snorted Phil. “Those lazy Aussie bastards quit flying at two p.m. By the time we got to Sydney all the pilots would be at Bondi Beach drinking Fosters and practicing their accents. You’d have to be an idiot to try to get to Hawaii through Sydney this time of day. Tokyo is the way to go.”
And so it was. But even that required a tight connection to keep us a flight ahead of the racers. “Remember, take the bus, not the tram,” puffed BVM as we raced through the airport.
The running, and all the smoke I had inhaled that morning, were really doing a number on my lungs. By the time we got to the security check I had to stop, bend over, and gently bark up some alveoli. I looked up to see BVM talking some guy wearing white gloves. And a surgical mask. He was pointing at me.
Mask Boy came over. “Sir? Are you feeling well?”
Hack. “Just a bit of a cough, that’s all.”
He stiffened. “Sir, we are currently tracking a respiratory illness. Have you been travelling a lot recently?”
Hack. “Yes, all over. Didn’t my friend tell you.”
“Yes sir, he did. All about you. He says you have not felt well for a few days.”
A few days? The hell? I looked over at BVM, who had cleared security and was grinning back at me. I tried to call him, but doubled over coughing again.
“Sir, we have a quarantine facility. You must come with me.”
Quarantine? I looked over at BVM. He held up a crudely lettered sign:
“This way, sir,” said Mask Boy, in a voice that managed to combine obsequious deference with unmistakable threat.
14/02/03 13/02/03 14/02 Fuck it. Stupid Date Line. Somewhere over the Pacific
I may be down, but I’m not out. And I may not have a job anymore, but I’ve got a mission. A mission from God.
The first sign of His Hand came as Mask Boy started to lead me away. “I just need to…” HACK “…pick up my bags.” And there, in front of me, was my salvation. Among a gang of production staff going through security, setting down her travelling make-up bag as she searched for her boarding pass, was the artiste who had made me by turns young and old, handsome and repellent, manly and feminine, and human and otherwise, for the past few weeks. I bent over coughing, and stood up with the bag in my hand. “Okay, let’s go.”
We strolled down the concourse. “Is it much farther?” I enquired.
“A little way,” said Mask Boy.
“Can I, uh, use the washroom?”
He nodded, and made as though to follow me in. I stiffened. “Uh, buddy. we’re not that close. It’s not like I can go anywhere. Why don’t you wait out here?”
Once inside, I found an empty stall and set to work. Straighten the hair, a little black dye, a little of that Korean #14, a bit of a squint and I was a whole new man. I was a little worried about my clothes, though, until I heard footsteps in the stall beside me. I slowly edged up and peered over the top. Hanging on the back of the door was a blue blazer. Excellent.
The owner was so engrossed in his manga that he didn’t notice a thing as I gently reached in and helped myself to his coat. Official Tokyo Airport Authority Blazer, or as I like to think of it, Hand of God, round two.
I sauntered out of the washroom and breezed by Mask Boy. “Konichiwa,” I smiled in passing. Idiot.
It was time to get back to the USA. I checked the departure board and headed to the gate for the next with a flight to Hawaii. I checked the pockets of my new coat as I went. Things just kept getting better: I pulled out an employee voucher, good for standby travel – anywhere. Deus ex Blazer. I was all set. Could it get any better?
Yes. Yes it could. Good things may only happen in threes, but God is clearly an overachiever. I arrived at the gate to see Jon and Kelly. Jon. And. Kelly. Trying, so desperately, to wheedle their way onto the flight. It all became clear.
They had to be stopped. I was His chosen instrument.
I walked over to them. Kelly immediately started going on at me about flights, and tickets, and terminals, and directions. I cut to the chase. “No.”
Then a woman in an airline uniform started in on me with the rapid-fire Japanese. Fortunately, I only needed one word.
Finally, the torrent of whine stopped and Kelly and Jon retreated, defeated. I gave them my best, most insincere I’m sorry smile and walked to the counter.
“Hello, I have this standby voucher – and I believe you now have a couple of empty seats?”
13/02/03 In the air. I think.
My Lord has set me a harsh task.
I thought I had thwarted His enemy back in Tokyo. Content in the knowledge that the finish line would be in the continental US, I decided to hang out in the airport and wait for Chip and Reichen to come back. Lucky for me that I did, because an hour or so later who should come storming out of customs but Jon and Kelly, back in the race.
That was fast. I had to follow them.
(Editor’s note: The next two pages were seriously damaged by squid ink. The only decipherable words were “ass,” “my eyes, my eyes,” “lava rocks are pointy,” and “crap.” The remaining pages are clean.)
I eventually figured out they were going to Phoenix. But I had no cash, no credit cards, and no pilot license. What was I going to do?
I had to think fast. Then I saw it, in the check-in line. The biggest dog box on the planet, beside two well-dressed older gentlemen. Hmmm. I sauntered over and tried to look inside the box. In the farthest corner I saw the world’s tiniest fox terrier. Looks like someone’s little snookums likes to travel in style. Excellent. Lucky for me I still had my airport blazer. As long as no one looked too close, I’d be fine.
“Excuse me sir, shall I take this over to special handling for you?”
“Oh, yes, thank you.”
“My pleasure, sir.” My pleasure indeed.
I pushed the crate over to the special handling counter and bent to look inside. Two beady eyes stared back. “Listen pup, you have a choice: play nice with me, or stay here while Daddy and, uh, Daddy, fly home. Capiche?
He capiched alright. He even shared his Milk-Bones. Good doggy.
14/02/03 None of your damn business.
I am taking a great risk by revealing this, but the truth must be known. And hey, what are they going to do, slap another price on my head?
Once we got to Phoenix, I slipped out of the dog box as soon as I could and headed for the exit. Lucky for me they don’t like to keep animals on the plane too long; I got to the taxi stand just behind Reichen and Chip.
I waved off the driver. “I’ll get the bags,” I called. I threw them in the trunk, and then rolled in after them, pulling the lid closed. They were yelling at the driver to go, and so he didn’t look back to see what had become of me. I felt around until I found the bungee cord he kept in the trunk for those oversize luggage moments, and used it to hold the lid down. Then I tried to figure out where we were going.
From the muffled conversation above me, I figured out that they were in the lead, but that Jon and Kelly had been on the same flight and were close behind. But the heat, and the gentle rocking, and the sweet, sweet carbon monoxide soon overcame me and I passed out.
I awoke with a jolt. The cab had stopped. I unclipped the bungee and climbed carefully out. We seemed to be by the gate to a stadium. I could hear Chip and Reichen yelling inside.
There was only the one cab there, and I hoped that this meant the Chipsters were still in the lead. My only option was to stick with them and look for an opportunity to put the last nail in Jon’s coffin. (No, not the one he sleeps in; another coffin.) I made my way into the stands.
I got there just in time: Chip was running along a row of seats, waving a clue, and yelling to Reichen to go get the cab. Reichen took off, and Chip headed down the steps. Then it happened.
Reichen was out of sight, getting the cab. Jon and Kelly were behind; how close, I couldn’t be sure. And Chip was taking the stadium steps two at a time.
Then three at a time.
Then, all at once, fourteen at a time.
He lay in a motionless heap on the stadium floor.
I quickly assessed the situation. Chip? Unconscious. Reichen? No clue. Jon and Kelly? Closing fast. I looked at Chip. Hmmm, he’s about my size… and I still have the makeup bag.
Two-and-a-half minutes later, I ran up to the cab.
“Honey! Where the hell have you been!” snarled Reichen.
“Sorry, uh, dear, but my shoelace came undone. But we’ve got no time for that! We’ve got to get to Papago Park!”
We jumped in the cab. I tensed every fibre of my being and tried to project repressed fury from each pore. And let me tell you, projecting repression? Not as easy as it sounds. Is he fooled? I wondered. A hand crept into mine and held tight. Oh yeah. He’s fooled.
If you’ve seen the finale, you’ve seen what happened next. The cab to the Park, the bike, ride, the mat, Phil, blah blah blah forty-thousand miles, your big novelty cheque is in the mail. I have to say, my performance was flawless. I didn’t even flinch when Reichen slipped me the tongue. The hardest part was being all “Well fought, O noble fellow competitor” with Jon and Kelly, when what I really wanted was to jump up and down and scream “Who’s your Prince of Darkness now, buddy?”
And then it all went horribly wrong.
“REICHEN!” a voice screamed, “REICHEN! I’M COMING! WAIT FOR ME!”
All heads turned as one to look down the trail. There, astride a mountain bike, in a cloud of dust and rage, naked as the day he was born, was Chip.
Things started to get a little confused. Reichen helped me out by fainting, and I gained a bit of a head start by throwing his limp form at Jon and Kelly. Then I dropped to the ground and rolled towards the edge of the podium. Phil started towards me, but I pulled the mat right our from under him and dumped him on his ass. I jumped to the ground and started running. Once I made it to where I had dropped my bike, I was off to the races.
And I’m still going. I was wrong, Diary. I wasn’t on a mission from God. I was on a mission from reality. Reality’s name has been taken in vain too often. Reality is as mad as Hell, and it’s not going to take it any more.
Powerful forces are arrayed against and I am a wanted man, but I have found friends, Diary, allies in the fight. Wherever editing rears its ugly head, wherever casting agents troll through bars instead of reviewing audition tapes, wherever dumbed-down clues replace puzzles and tourist traps replace culture, I’ll be there.
I am the Mo-
No, sorry, wrong show. I am The Greeter.
See you around, Diary.