The address provided by the Herpezoids is to an empty factory in the southeast part of town. The place used to make shoes or parts for shoes. Something to do with shoes. My grandma worked there for a while. My grandma was cool. She taught me how to throw a curveball and often cooked with a lit cigarette dangling from her mouth. I honor her memory now with the Mongalisonian joint dangling from my mouth as I steer the Dodge van into a parking spot right by the front door of the factory office. Grammy didn't smoke space pot but she would appreciate the gesture.
"Why are we parked so close?" Tony asks. "Shouldn't we get the element of surprise?" "They're expecting us," Randi says from the backseat. "The element of surprise comes not from us, but Kevin, Dean, and Kelly. They're at the convenience store up the street and will pull arrive in exactly three minutes. We go in with the pizzas and let them know Kelly Clarkson will be along in a moment. We will tell them that they get her when we know they have Sandra. Otherwise, the deal is off."
"Do they honestly think we will trade a beloved pop superstar?" Tony opens up a pizza box and inspects it. "Just like that?"
"We need them to think we will," Randi says. "Otherwise, this won't work."
I fire up my Multiblaster. "Let's do this."
We exit the van, walk up to the front, and I tug on the front door. Locked. I tug again because it's human nature to continue to try to open a locked door even though clearly that is not going to happen. Randi jogs down the front side of the building and peeks through it's dirty, cracked windows trying to catch a glimpse of what is happening inside. Tony peers through the office window.
"All I see is an old metal desk."
"No one is here," Randi says. "I think this is a setup."
The sound of screeching tires from the street pulls our attention and we see a candy apple red Jaguar barreling toward us. My mom's car. It screeches to a halt and she pops out of the driver's side and rushes to me.
"You're okay!" She grabs me and pulls me close. Relief rushes over me followed closely by a dreadful sense of wanting to know what the hell is going on.
"We're here to rescue you," I say. "You're supposed to be kidnapped."
"No," she says. "You're supposed to be kidnapped. I was told to bring six bags of burgers in exchange for you by the Herpezoids." "You didn't say anything to me?" Randi asks and Mom shrugs.
"They're Herpezoids. I can take 'em."
"Something is up," Randi says.
"Yeah," Tony adds. "I don't like this at all."
Randi's phone rings and she answers. "What's up?...What?...Hold on. Let me put you on speakerphone." She does so and Dean Larson's voice comes through loud and clear.
"We've been setup." His breathing his labored and his voice is strained like he is in pain. "Jumped us at the convenience store. They have Kelly Clarkson."
We stand in silence, looking at each other for some sign of what to do now. Where would Herpezoids take Kelly Clarkson? They have no home planet. They don't own property or, to my knowledge, lease an apartment or condo. Mom's phone rings and she answers. Her face turns pale and her eyes widen. She listens to whoever is on the other end and only answers with a quiet "thank you" before hanging up.
"That was the same person who told me you were kidnapped," she says.
"What did they say?" I ask.
"Herpezoids have taken over Corporate HQ. Apparently, they are upset that they are never invited to Christmas parties, so they are taking over ours. Kelly Clarkson included."
"Weird," I say. "This is way more organized than most Herpezoid efforts, yet it still feels like they're making this up as they go."
To be continued...