After being thrown out of the bank building, we received word that the Young Achievers would be meeting the following Monday in an abandoned car repair shop. When my father pulled up in front of the building, I noticed that what had once been the front window had been replaced with sheets of plywood. This was probably merciful as long as Bill was still in charge.
At first, it didn’t look like anyone was even there. Then Bill skittered around the side of the building, gesturing wildly with one hand for me to follow him, while his other hand was occupied making strange shushing gestures. My father continued to sit in the car, glaring at Bill and shaking his head.
“Your father doesn’t have to wait for you,” said Bill. “I’m here.”
“That’s why he’s waiting,” I said.
We walked around to the rear of the building. The back door appeared to have been forced open and there were several splintered sections of wood lying on the ground, along with shards of broken glass from the shattered transom window at the top of the door.
“What happened to the door?” I asked.
“Never mind that,” muttered Bill. “This town is overrun with weasels. Those animals will stop at nothing to get to their acorns. Someone should call the police about this. I almost lost a leg fighting those miserable little bastards.”
The inside of the garage was illuminated by several kerosene lamps, which cast eerie circles of yellowish light directly around the lamps while leaving the rest of the garage in semi-darkness. The lawn chairs from the bank were placed in a row close to the lanterns. There were two boxes on the floor, overflowing with blocks of wood, a power saw and drill, used golf tees, bottles of poster paint and several paint brushes.
The area by the bay doors in the front had obviously been used for oil changes. There was an uncovered pit roughly six feet deep with metal climbing rungs embedded into one of the concrete walls. Piles of garbage were strewn over the floor of the pit. A rusted blowtorch was propped against one of the buckling walls. The cement floor surrounding the pit was splotched with patches of congealed motor oil and dried gasoline. It was gratifying to see that we were moving up in the world.
The Triplets were already seated in their lawn chairs. This week, they were wearing green polo shirts with matching plaid bowties and thick safety goggles. Their advisor was wearing his typical three-piece suit and dress shoes. As usual, they were engaged in some obscure planning activities with the advisor’s calculator. Party Girl was pacing around the edges of the room, deeply engaged in a private conversation with herself.
Suddenly, someone began pounding on the other side of the plywood panels at the front of the garage. Bill’s arms shot straight up in the air in the universal sign of pathetic surrender. “This is so much sooner than the last time,” he said. “Damn these small town police departments. There just aren’t enough donut shops to keep them occupied.”
A muffled voice came from outside. “How do we get in here? This place is all boarded up. This is not an appropriate venue for the Young Achievers. Who decided we were having our meetings in this dump?”
“It’s just Joel,” scoffed Bill, his arms dropping to his sides. “Back to business.” Bill started rummaging through the boxes of supplies. He pulled out a long extension cord and plugged it into a wall outlet, then attached the drill to the cord and tossed it back into the box.
A few seconds later, Joel forced his way in through the back door and marched over to Bill. “I called Young Achievers after our meeting last week. They don’t even know who you are. I’m supposed to be in charge of this group. I think it’s time for you to leave.”
“Of course they know who I am,” said Bill. “But they’re certainly not going to tell you. That would be corporate espionage. I invented the product that our company is producing. If Young Achievers acknowledged that I was the leader of this group, it would violate international trade laws. We could all go to jail for this. Calm yourself down, Joel. You’re just not leadership material.”
Joel attempted to storm off to the side of the room, but his feet kept sliding on the puddles of motor oil. He finally dropped down sullenly into one of the lawn chairs.
At that moment, Nancy flounced through the door. She had apparently decided that, as a businessman, she needed to upgrade her image. She had swapped out the Army surplus jacket for a very thin polyester tube top and a tight spandex skirt. Although she still had a huge wad of chewing gum in her mouth, she had chosen to do some extra work on her hair this week, pulling it tightly together at the top of her head with a thick rubber band and a bright green scrunchie and then winding it together in a tight braid. Because her hair was so abnormally thick and habitually sticky, the braid stood completely upright from the top of her head like a giant deformed carrot. She was also wearing a very tall pair of green plastic stiletto heels. As a result, from the base of her shoes to the tip of the braid, Nancy stood nearly seven feet tall. The Triplets stared at her in wonder.
Party Girl stopped talking to herself and marched over to Nancy with her hands on her hips. “You look like a prostitute. That’s not the kind of business we’re learning about here.”
“It could be,” said Bill.
“Does your mother know you’re dressed like this?” continued Party Girl.
“These are her clothes,” said Nancy. “She’ll kill me if she catches me wearing them, so we better get this meeting started pretty soon.”
“All right, kids,” chirped Bill. “It’s time to get this assembly line up and running. Did everyone remember to bring their five dollars tonight?”
We all looked down at our laps.
“We’re just kids,” said Party Girl. “We don’t have any money. I thought we were here to learn how to make money.”
“You have to spend money to make money,” snapped Bill. “I had to pay for all that wood out of my own pocket. You have to tell your parents that you need to give me five bucks or the company will go bankrupt. Don’t forget to bring lots of money next week.”
Nancy was craning around in her chair, looking down into the pit. “What’s that thing for?” she said to me.
“It’s to get under a car to do work,” I said. “This used to be a mechanic’s shop. My dad brought our car here before it closed down.”
“I want to go down there,” whined Nancy. “I don’t want to make these stupid games.”
“I don’t think we’re allowed to go down there,” I said.
Bill was busy at the front of the room setting up two sawhorses with a board resting on top. He placed one of the triangular blocks of wood on the board and grabbed a handful of golf tees. “Okay kids,” he said. “Let me show you how this works.” He started shoving the golf tees into the holes in the wooden triangle. “All you have to do is keep jumping over your pegs until you can’t make any more moves. Then you’re done. Let me tell you, this is more fun than any kid deserves.”
“Wait a minute,” said Joel. “You didn’t invent that. This game has been around forever. They have these in all the pancake houses. You’re a liar.”
Bill folded his arms across his chest. “Ours is different,” he said.
“What do you mean by…different,” said Joel suspiciously.
“Drum roll, please, kids,” said Bill smugly.
We all stared at him, unsure of what to do.
“I said….drum roll PLEASE!” Bill was getting happy feet again, waiting for the excitement to get started in the room. He began to jump up and down, frantically slapping his hands against his thighs.
“Oh my god,” said Nancy. “Here comes the underwear.”
The Triplets leapt to their feet and launched into an uncoordinated dance, made infinitely more complex by the heavy layer of fog inside their safety goggles.
“C’mon, girls!” screamed Bill. “Let’s show some Company Spirit!”
As if possessed, Nancy rose up out of her chair and did her best to stomp up and down without moving her feet. This started a chain reaction inside her tube top that brought the Triplets to an abrupt halt. Bill also stopped dancing. The room fell silent.
Joel’s face had turned bright red. “Stop that!” he shrieked, running over to Nancy and pushing her down into her chair. The Triplets sat back down, obviously disappointed.
“This is why nobody likes you, Joel,” said Bill. “We were doing the official Company Spirit dance and you ruined it for everyone. I’m not sure I can trust you now with our company secrets. What do you think, kids? I think Joel needs to go stand outside while we talk about our plans. He might try to sell our secrets on the black market.”
Joel had picked up the power drill and was advancing on Bill. “I’m going to drill holes on each side of your jaw and then ram those golf tees into them so you can’t speak anymore,” he hissed.
Bill was obviously no stranger to this particular threat. He quickly reached over and pulled the drill out of Joel’s hand.
“I was talking to the team, Joel. You have to learn to stop interrupting. Now here’s what makes our game unique. There will only be two holes in the triangle. Each game comes with our special patented wooden triangle and two golf tees. When you can’t jump your golf tee anymore, the game is over.”
“The game can’t even get started,” said Joel. “There’s nowhere to jump over the golf tee if there are only two holes in the triangle. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
“You’re just too negative, Joel,” said Bill. “This is an educational kids’ game. It teaches children valuable problem solving skills. Just think of how many hours those little tykes will spend figuring out the secret to our game. That’s time spent not watching television. Parents will go wild over this game.”
Nancy was digging around in a tiny pocket in the front of her skirt. “Look. My mom left a pack of matches in here. Maybe we can smoke something.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“I’m going down into that pit,” whispered Nancy. “Maybe I can find something down there.”
Nancy rose from her seat and tottered over to the side of the pit. The Triplets were instantly on high alert, eager to see another Company Spirit dance. Nancy was having more than a little difficulty getting into the pit. The stiletto heels of her shoes had become trapped in the top rung of the ladder and she was desperately clinging onto the concrete ledge to keep her balance.
“Why don’t you take off those stupid Barbie shoes?” said Party Girl.
“They’re stuck,” wailed Nancy, finally flopping down on her stomach, her skirt rolling up above her waist.
The Triplets were desperately trying to pull off their safety goggles to get a better view. Their advisor was still placidly seated in his lawn chair, hands folded in his lap, staring off into the distance. In retrospect, it’s obvious that this man was indulging himself with some very high powered drugs before attending the Young Achievers meetings. At the time, though, we all just figured that this was what happened to people when they got very old and wore suits every day. He was certainly not one of the kids.
Bill and Joel had wrestled their way over to the box of supplies and were throwing the little wooden triangles and golf tees at one another.
Nancy had finally managed to pull her feet out of her shoes and was disappearing down the ladder. After a few seconds, all you could see was the top of her braid bobbing along as she moved around the pit.
“There’s a big pile of stinky old rags and a bunch of dirty magazines down here,” yelled Nancy.
“That makes sense,” I said. “Bill was here first.”
“Hey,” said Nancy. “I found part of an old cigar down here too. I want to try and smoke it.”
“That’s disgusting,” said Party Girl. “You have no idea where that thing has been. You don’t seriously plan on putting that in your mouth, do you?”
“Sure,” said Nancy. “It was just on the floor. It’s fine.”
I heard the match strike, followed by a loud sucking noise. Nancy threw the lit match over her shoulder and began to cough uncontrollably. Suddenly, a huge plume of flame erupted out of the pit.
“Oh my god,” screamed Nancy, clambering up the ladder. “That old pile of stuff is on fire! We have to do something.”
Bill and Joel were too busy smacking at each other to notice what was going on in the room. Party Girl ran over to Bill and grabbed him by the sleeve. “The building is on fire!” she screamed. “Do you have a fire extinguisher?”
“Fire?” said Bill quizzically. “That’s not part of the manufacturing process. Is this another one of your crazy ideas, Joel?”
“Fire!” wailed Joel. “We have to get out of here right now! Someone could get hurt. Young Achievers will report me to the police for this and I’ll lose my job.”
“Here we go again,” said Bill. “Making this all about yourself.” He turned to address the team. “Hey kids, Joel’s gotten us into trouble again and we have to leave right away. The building is on fire. I’ll meet everyone across the street.” Then he took off running and disappeared through the back door. The Triplets and their advisor were already long gone, having beat a hasty retreat at the sight of the first pillar of flame. Party Girl, Nancy and I followed Bill out the door and across the street. Once again, Nancy was without shoes.
The advisor in the business suit was walking down the street towards us. “I called 9-1-1,” he said. “The police and the fire department should be here in a couple of minutes.”
“You’re in charge, Joel,” yelled Bill as he ran off down the street, jumped in his car, and drove away. He hadn’t been gone for more than a few seconds when a large explosion came from inside the mechanic’s shop and the plywood sheeting was sheared away from the building and catapulted into the street.
“Oh no,” cried Nancy. “I left my mom’s shoes in there. Do you think they’re going to be okay?”
“Probably not,” I said.
“She’s going to kill me. She was passed out when I took them off her feet, but she always wakes up eventually.”
The police and firemen had arrived. An officer was talking to Joel while the firefighters battled the blaze. For some reason, Joel did not look very happy.
It was still early, so I decided to walk home that night. My father was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper.
“Why are you home so soon?” he asked me.
“Things were kind of boring tonight at Young Achievers, Dad. I’m not sure if we’ll be having any more meetings after this”
“Well… what did you do at the meeting?”
“Nothing much. Is it okay if I just go to my room and paint? I really don’t want to talk about it.”
I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that my second venture into the business world had turned out even worse than the first one. He would find out soon enough on his own . Unless I got to the next day’s newspaper before he did.