Tommy Dodge pulled up to the local television station where his best friend Kalvin Parks worked in the maintenance department, grabbed two PBRs from the sack that sat beside him on the seat of his car and killed the engine. Tommy knew that Kal didn’t like being bothered when he was at work, but he also knew that a cold one would not be looked on unfavorably either. In this case it was a lukewarm one, but he decided such a small matter would be overlooked once he laid his amazing news on his best buddy and partner in crime. The station manager kept the back door locked unless a delivery was being made, but that didn’t matter, because the door was not quite as secure as the station manager believed. At least half of the time the staff forgot to lock the door and even if it was locked, Dodge knew the secret to getting it open.
Tonight the back door was unlocked making Dodge’s entrance simple and quiet. Through the back he wound until he came to the studio itself. Kalvin was there working on a light rigging, his tool belt girding his loins like some wrenchslinging gearhead cowboy. Dodge slipped up behind his friend, and paying no heed to his own personal safety, tapped Kal lightly on the shoulder. Kalvin spun around, wrench in hand, ready to brain the unfortunate Tommy Dodge.
“Watch out, man. Be cool. It’s just me!” Dodge cried out when he saw the wrench poised to strike.
“Whatcha sneakin’ up on me for, Dodge?” Kal said with obvious annoyance. “I’m workin’ over here. You could have gotten hurt plenty bad, man.”
Dodge scratched at the back of his head and chuckled; a nervous sound that Kal recognized as an apology, familiar as he was with his best friend’s antics. “I have news. Good news. And beer.” Dodge handed one of the cans he was carrying to Kal and popped the top on his own can.
“Not in here, numbnuts,” Kal snapped. “Let’s take it out to the parking lot.”
Within minutes they were leaning against the decklid of Dodge’s car, drinking their beer and smoking Luckies. Kal could sense that Dodge had more on his mind than drinking beer in a parking lot and that usually meant trouble of one sort or another, such were the ill-conceived schemes of Tommy Dodge. Dodge slurped another swallow of his Pabst and took a drag from his smoke. Kal could feel it coming. This was, after all, the usual pattern employed by Tommy Dodge, who was nowhere near as cunning as he thought himself to be. First Dodge would drink about half of his beer, letting Kal enjoy the golden beverage, and then he would take a few drags from his cig prior to launching into his latest brilliant scheme. Kal exhaled a lungful of smoke, noting how the chill autumn air contrasted with the smoke. He watched it swirl up and into the illumination cast by the parking lot light poles. Any second now Dodge would start up. Any second now.
“Kal, old buddy, old pal,” Dodge said in his ‘confidant’ voice, “have I gotten a deal for us. The old Artful Dodger has hit upon yet another brilliant plan to put a little green in our pockets and have a good time…err…at the same time.”
“Who?” Kal asked.
“Who did you say has hit on an idea?”
“The Artful Dodger. Me. You know, the Artful Dodger. From Dickens. Oliver Twist.”
Kal took a sip of his beer and cocked an eyebrow. “Have you read Oliver Twist?”
“Well, no,” Dodge replied and took a swig of his beer. “Why, does that matter?”
“So how do you know about this Artful Dodger business? I don’t even know what that means.”
“Gil told me about it. That’s not important. Damn, Kal, you are getting us way off the topic here. Gil told me about this character called the Artful Dodger from this book Oliver Twist who was real slick. This Dodger runs cons and stuff and stays one step ahead of trouble and leads a gang of rugrat thieves. Since my last name is Dodge I just figured it would sound good, ya know. ‘Tommy Dodge, the Artful Dodger’.” Dodge was punctuating his words with gestures in the air in front of him as though he was viewing an invisible marquee. “I think it’s a good nickname, what do you…”
“Meanwhile, back at the ranch,” Kal sighed and took another drag from his smoke before tossing it onto the ground in front of him.
“Oh yeah, sorry about that,” Dodge said and took another swallow. “So I’ve got this plan, see.”
After Dodge had explained the whole thing and left, Kal got back to work at the station. It wasn’t a bad plan after all. Helping this Peter La Roche cat set up a spookshow at the theatre couldn’t be that hard. They’d make a few bucks and get to see the fun from a backstage view. Plus, as Dodge had pointed out more than once during his explanations, there were fringe benefits. Kal knew what his friend’s idea of ‘fringe’ benefits meant: tight sweaters surrounding easily grope-able mounds of flesh. This little project should prove a good time after all, and it wasn’t like he actually had plans for Saturday night.
On Thursday afternoon the pair was at the Cosmic Burger where Dodge was attempting to impress some chicks they’d met by telling them about the job working the spookshow on Saturday. Kal cringed as he listened to Dodge’s lines. Tommy Dodge was laying it on thick, even for him and these skirts didn’t seem impressed in the least. Perhaps it was Dodge’s way of shooting too high and crashing as a result, or perhaps it was a genuine optimism that made him feel like he could meet any challenge, even though success remained out of his grasp, or perhaps it was the simple fact that underneath that blonde flattop Dodge’s head was a hard as the butch wax he used on his coiffure, but whatever it was, these girls weren’t interested and Kal knew it, even if his partner didn’t. With a strong desire to avoid any further embarrassment on his own part, Kal made a show of looking at his watch before tapping Dodge on the shoulder with the back of his hand.
“Shouldn’t we be meetin’ that La Roche cat?” Kal asked, watching the girls out of his periphery.
“Nah, we still have half an hour,” Dodge replied cheerily, still smiling at the pair of increasingly disinterested young ladies in poodle skirts holding their school books tight against their chests as though they were shielding their womanly qualities from the eyes of these two young lads so obviously from the wrong side of town.
“We wouldn’t want to keep you,” the brunette with the ponytail tied up in a scarf said quickly, then inwardly cringed. She simply knew that she’d sounded too eager to be rid of these two miscreants. “I mean…” she began to say in an attempt to cover her blunder.
“She means,” her blonde friend with the glasses broke in, “that we would hate for you to be late. This whole monster movie show sounds like great fun, and we would hate to be responsible for you missing out on your chance to be a part of it.”
Kal was no expert on human nature, and no one would ever accuse him of being a genius, but he could tell that Glasses and Ponytail here were not into this scene. Dodge beamed at the girls, fully unaware of the score. Kal winced, as though in real pain. Something had to be done and quickly.
“Look, girls, it’s been great meeting you. I’m sure you’ll both want to come on Saturday night, so just be at Bijou by 11 PM and we’ll personally make sure you have the best seats in the house. But the sad truth is, and my friend would never offend you two by sayin’ it, we gotta jet. We need to meet Mr. La Roche at the theatre and I’d like to be early; make a good impression and all. I knew you’d be too polite to come out and ask, so I’m personally inviting you two.” Kal smiled at the girls and thought the blonde with the glasses was smiling back. She had obviously picked up on what he was trying to do and seemed to appreciate the effort.
Kal grabbed Dodge’s jacket collar before the latter could protest and pulled his friend away. If there were medals for civilian life Kal would have earned a Bronze Star several times over due to Tommy Dodge. It wasn’t that Dodge was actively a trouble seeker. Anyone who knew him could tell you that Tommy Dodge looked for trouble in the same way the mice looked for hungry cats. Rather, Tommy was like the unfortunate mouse drawn to the cheese blissfully unaware that a trap waited. He was a dreamer that lacked imagination. Kal was the perfect match for his friend, having imagination but little in the way of dreams. Where Dodge was all pie-in-the-sky dreams and elaborate, but ultimately flawed, plans, Kal was practicality and hard work. Dodge was not well-off enough to hang out with posh kids and Kal was just a little too smart for his wrong-side-of-the-tracks birth; they were both outcasts, which is probably why they were friends. Despite the outward incongruities, Kal genuinely liked Tommy and Tommy, for his part, considered Kal is best friend in the world. It was for this reason more than any other than the practical, some would say sullen, Kal let the dreamer lead him into trouble. Besides, somebody had to look out for less than artful Dodger.
TO BE CONTINUED...