Eddie Elkins ambled down Fantasy Avenue. A light breeze penetrated his costume, and he felt relatively cool inside the furry white rabbit suit.
Of course, these were the balmy days of April. July and August would be unbearable, but for Eddie, it would be a small price to pay.
Six weeks ago he had lied, cheated and bribed his way into the best job in the world. And now, he was Rambo. Rambunctious Rabbit, the most famous character Dean Lamaar ever created. The acknowledged superstar at Lamaar’s Familyland.
Eddie waved at the kids as he wandered through the sprawling theme park. Occasionally some wiseass teenager would give him the finger, but for the most part kids loved him.
And Eddie loved kids. In fact, he loved them so much that he was mandated by Megan’s Law to register with the Los Angeles police, so they could notify people in his community that he had moved into their neighborhood.
But he hadn’t registered. Not this time. He had complied with the law when he lived in Boston. But the Irish bastard across the street keyed Eddie’s car, slashed his tires and put dog shit in his mailbox. Eddie tried to explain that there’s a big difference between high-risk offenders who are violent and regular guys like Eddie, who would never hurt anyone, but the guy wouldn’t listen.
Then one day Eddie made the mistake of saying hello to the man’s 10-year-old son. That night two bullets came flying through his bedroom window.
Eddie moved to Rhode Island and registered with the Woonsocket police. Life was better there. Nobody wanted to kill him, but nobody wanted to hire him either. Not for the kind of jobs Eddie wanted. He finally got work as a clerk in a paintball supply store, where he had plenty of time to think about his life.
He was born Edward Warren Ellison in Trenton, New Jersey, majored in English Lit at Rutgers, was never any good at sports and was never really comfortable with women, although he had had sex with four of them. People said he looked like Buddy Holly, or at least what Buddy would have looked like at age thirty-six, if not for that plane crash. Eddie even wore the black horn-rimmed glasses to heighten the effect.
He tried real hard to break his pattern with the kids, especially after the first conviction. He had a smart therapist, but stopping wasn’t as easy as the shrinks make it sound. He didn’t want to hurt the children, but fondling wasn’t hurting. After three months in Rhode Island, he decided it would be easier to find a better job in a big city. Especially if he didn’t register.
He moved to Los Angeles. Getting a new name and new identity cards were easier than he thought. Other men like him had done it and there was the New Beginnings Network on the web. His closest confidante, who he emailed almost every day, was Vandy333.
Vandy was divorced with two kids of his own and had been a school principal in Tennessee for twelve years. “Changing my identity made all the difference,” Vandy had told him.
So Eddie Ellison became Eddie Elkins. He found a nice clean place to live and set up his new persona just the way New Beginnings instructed him. Finally came his big break. They told him about Caleo.
Anthony Caleo was a scumbag, but he was a great guy to know. He worked in Human Resources at Familyland. His job was to verify the résumés of people applying for jobs. Caleo didn’t care about New Beginnings. He only cared about what was in it for Caleo. He charged Eddie six thousand bucks.
For that he cleared Eddie’s bogus résumé and prepped him on how to handle the one-on-one interview with Marjorie MacBride. And that’s how Eddie landed the job of his dreams.
His first day at work he reported to the Wardrobe Department. One of the Dressers, a chatty little Mexican woman whose nametag said Provi, helped him into the furry white Rambunctious Rabbit costume, with its distinctive red, white, and blue denim overalls. Provi was prattling on, but Elkins’s mind and heart were racing too loud and fast for him to hear.
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 both sides 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.
Eddie had waved at him. The kid waved back. Eddie followed up with a little hippety-hoppety dance, and the kid smiled. Then he walked over, purposely almost tripping over his two giant rabbit’s feet. The kid laughed.
Eddie stretched out his white-gloved paws and Mom helped her son jump into the eager arms of Rambunctious Rabbit. Eddie slid one hand between the boy’s legs and the other behind his head. He touched his rabbit nose to the kid’s nose and got another laugh from the boy and a happy shriek from the mother.
The father scrambled for his camera. “Can we get the statue in the background?” he said, in surprisingly perfect English.
Eddie snuggled the tiny genitals in his palm and walked toward the thirty-foot bronze likeness of the late Dean Lamaar. Dad took a picture. Then another. Take your time, Eddie thought, re-cupping his hand so that his thumb rested in the crack of the sweet little butt.
This, he thought, as cold, clammy sweat trickled from every pore, is even better than the school bus driving days. Good pay, good benefits, and parents who lift up their kids and hand them to me crotch first.
At that moment, Eddie had less than an hour to live.
He spent another twenty minutes in Tyke Town, then he and Noreen headed for the tunnel that led to The Rabbit Hole, the vast underground world hidden beneath Familyland’s 866 acres. Above ground was fantasy. Below ground was the hard reality of hundreds of miles of electric cable, sewage lines, refrigeration pipes, and of course, scores of locker rooms, cafeterias, toilet facilities, and rest areas for the 6,200 employees who made the fantasy happen.
There was still another half hour till quitting time, and Eddie needed a smoke. As soon as they got through the tunnel, Eddie pulled off the rabbit head. “I got something to do before I change,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight Eddie,” Noreen said. “Thanks again for the video.”
Eddie had picked up an old Brad Pitt movie at a flea market for two bucks. “My pleasure,” he said. “I know how much you like him.”
The entire Rabbit Hole was a No Smoking Zone, but Eddie knew a spot where he could light up out of view of the security cameras. He wound his way through a maze of ductwork, plopped down on the cool tile floor, and set the giant Rambo head down next to him. He lit a Marlboro Light, inhaled deeply, leaned back against a water pipe, and exhaled the smoke from his lungs with a long, slow breath.
It was his last.
The rope came from nowhere, cutting deep into his neck. He tried to scream, but nothing came out. He tried to inhale, but nothing came in.
Thirty-seven seconds later, Eddie Elkins, a.k.a. Edward Ellison, sex offender, child molester, and convicted pedophile had his last conscious thought.
God, I was so happy. Why now?
He knew better than to ask, why me?