He couldn't believe it. He was Rambunctious Fucking Rabbit. More recognizable than The President of the United States. Maybe even The Pope. Children would literally flock to him. How many guys did he know who would trade their left nut for this gig?
He looked up, as Provi's thick-toothed black comb raked over his hairy white rabbit arms. The speaker, standing ten feet away, was Danny DeVito tall with an Arnold Schwarzenegger chest. His face and close-cropped gray hair had the wear and tear of a fifty-year-old. But the body, in black nylon warm-up pants and a tight black tank top, had the muscle tone of a college wrestler.
"I'm Dante, your Character Coach," he said. "Let's see what kind of a rabbit you are. Don't put the head on yet. Just let me see you walk over here."
Provi gave the suit one final fluff and stood back. Elkins inhaled, took one bold step forward and immediately hooked the front edge of one giant rabbit's foot to the back of the other. Gravity took over and down he went, floppy ears over cotton tail, onto the rubber-matted floor. Provi let out a loud aye-aye-aye.
"That's why you don't put the head on yet," Dante said, helping him up. "Don't want you to break it." "But it's okay if I break my own head? Why didn't you warn me?"
"You learn faster this way," Dante said. "What size shoes do you wear?"
"Ten and a half."
"Well now you're wearing size twenty-four rabbit's feet and eighteen pounds of fur. Why don't you try it again?" Dante said, stepping to the other side of the room. Elkins hobbled his way toward Dante and made it to the other side without falling. "How's that?" he asked. "Fantastic," Dante said, "if you were one of Jerry's Kids. You gotta be animated. Bouncy, springy," Dante said, bouncing and springing across the room. "Don't worry. By the time I'm finished you'll be dancing around the park like Adolf Nureyev."
It took ten hours. "Tomorrow I'll show you how to find your way around every inch of this park," Dante said. "Then we'll go over the rules for handling kids. There's a right way and a wrong way, and you gotta be real careful. Don't scare 'em, don't drop 'em and don't touch 'em in any wrong places."
They worked with dolls. Eddie had no problem not touching them in any wrong places. On the last day of training, Dante introduced him to a squat, moon-faced woman with a thick mane of bottled blonde hair, a dozen tiny gold earrings on each side of her head, and eyes that convinced Eddie there was nothing going on between the earrings. "This is Noreen Stubiak," he said. "She'll be your Keeper."
Caleo had prepared him for this, but Eddie played dumb. "My what?"
"Every character gets a Keeper. They follow you around the park. Somebody fucks with you, bam, she's right there to help."
Eddie smiled at her. "So you're going to protect me," he said. "You got a gun?" Noreen made a snorting sound that Eddie took for a laugh.
"Don't give her no ideas," Dante said. "She's got a walkie-talkie. Anybody starts up with you, she calls Security to bail you out."
Eddie knew the truth. Noreen was a spy. He hated the idea of having a watchdog follow him around, but it didn't take long to figure out that Noreen was the best possible Keeper he could have. She was a highly unmotivated, twice-divorced piece of flotsam from the Total Loser's Section of Trailer Park City, and Stubiak, Eddie decided, was Polish for dumb as shit.' But she had one redeeming quality. It didn't take much to get her to look the other way.
Every few days Eddie would give her a little gift. A Faith Hill CD. A bag of scrunchies for her mop of revolting yellow hair. Or a bottle of her favorite perfume, Eau de Wal-Mart. Maybe she knew what he was up to; maybe she didn't. Either way, she never said a word. The weeks that followed were the happiest of his life. Four times a day Eddie, dressed as Rambunctious Rabbit, would hop on the Easy Street Trolley and head for Tyke Town. That's where the younger kids were. Just this afternoon, he had spotted the boy. Asian. Stunning. Six years old, maybe seven. The perfect age. A little shy, but not afraid.
Copyright Marshall Karp 2006. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Macadam Cage.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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