The Wombatorium, an immense plexiglass structure built high into the sky in order to resemble the large, luxurious mountain Willy Wombat lived on in the hit animated show, Willy Wombat and Friends, served as a majestic marker to indicate to one and all that they had arrived to America’s number one theme park dedicated to a cartoon marsupial.
Inside, there were a few gift shops, a stroller rental stand and Freezey the Penguin’s Ice Cream Parlor, none of it nearly as appealing as the exterior.
Underneath, there was a long, wide walkaway that connected the front entrance to the park itself.
And in front of that walkway, Wombat World Security Guard Doug Crocker went above and beyond (many often said way above and much farther beyond) in earning his eleven dollars an hour.
Doug’s pink uniform was neatly pressed. His boots were polished until they shined like mirrors, as was the wombat shaped badged pinned to the right side of his chest. His baby blue clip on tie was stain free.
And his shades? Mere coverings to mask the disgust he felt at all the potential threats he perceived around him.
“Mother of God, Earl,” Doug said as he rested his hands on the shiny belt buckle that sat underneath his protruding belly. “Look at all these rule breakers.”
Earl, a Wombat World Security guard in his mid-sixties, shook his head and sipped his morning coffee from a styrofoam cup while doing his best to ignore Doug.
Oblivious to Earl’s desire to be left alone, Doug prattled on. “Any one of these people, any one of them could be an undercover messenger of doom.”
Earl rolled his eyes.
“That sweet little old lady over there in the motorized scooter?” Doug said. “She might walk just fine. Maybe she’s an assassin trained in the ancient art of kung-fu sent by some vicious crime syndicate to take us all down. We’d never see it coming.”
“Oh Lord,” Earl mumbled.
“See that little boy wearing a Ferdinand Ferret backpack?” Doug asked.
Earl didn’t respond.
“Do you see him?” Doug asked.
Earl groaned. “Yup.”
“How do I know that there isn’t a pair of deadly nunchucks in that backpack?” Doug asked. “Here everyone is laughing it up, having a jolly old time like a bunch of morons while this kid could be preparing to nunchuck us all to death.”
“All bags are checked at the front gate,” Earl said.
“Oh,” Doug replied. “Right. But, do I know that kid’s backpack was actually checked? Perhaps he slipped the guard at the front gate a fiver to look the other way.”
Earl silently closed his eyes and prayed for strength.
“What about that little girl with that balloon?” Doug asked. “How do I know that balloon is filled with helium? How do I know that it isn’t filled with poison gas?”
Earl sighed. “Because poison gas wouldn’t make the balloon float.”
“I’m sorry, Earl,” Doug said. “I didn’t know you were a scientist. I wasn’t aware that you had a degree in Advanced Knowledge of Which Gases Make Balloons Float-a-nomics.”
Earl winced, quietly counted to ten, then took another sip of his coffee.
The duo of security guards stood there quietly for awhile, watching as one happy family after another passed by.
“Hey Earl?” Doug asked.
Still, no response.
Coffee sip. No response.
“Hey!” Doug shouted. “Earl!”
“What?!” Earl shouted back, finally losing his cool.
“Geeze,” Doug said. “No need to be snippy.”
“I’m not deaf,” Earl said.
“OK,” Doug said. “I just thought maybe you were, due to your advanced age and all.”
“I ought to advance age your ass,” Earl said.
“Remember from before, when I mocked you for not being a balloon gas scientist?” Doug asked.
Earl grunted in the affirmative.
“I just want to apologize for that,” Earl said. “It was uncalled for. We’re a good team, you and I…me, a young white man in my prime, you a decrepit, elderly black man with one foot in the grave…”
“You’re almost forty,” Earl said.
“I’m thirty-six, Earl,” Doug said. “No need to round up so vigorously.”
“Good lord I wish I could just have five minutes of peace,” Earl said.
Doug was oblivious to Earl’s wish.
“It’s just, you’re Murtaugh to my Riggs, you know?” Doug said. “Buddy cops. A duo of unlikely partners who somehow make it work.”
“Son,” Earl said. “Let’s get a few things straight. We’re not cops. We’re not partners. We’re private security staff who are paid to stand around, look presentable, make the tourists feel safe, and occasionally if asked, we give someone directions or help a lost kid find his family. If shit were to ever go down, we’d call in real, actual cops. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.”
Doug frowned. “You just took a whopper of a dump in my creme brulee, Earl.”
Earl sipped his coffee. “It needed it. Did I ever tell you what I did before this job?”
“No,” Doug said.
“For thirty-five long ass years, I worked for a portable toilet company,” Earl said. “I delivered them. Set them up. Picked them up when they were no longer needed at a site and worse, I had to clean them. Let me tell you boy, you know how people don’t give a shit about the condition they leave a public bathroom in?”
“Well multiply that times a hundred and that’s how people treat a damn porta-potty,” Early said. “I’m not just talking about the two substances you’d expect to find in a privy, no sir. I’m talking drugs, used needles, dead raccoons, dead rats, dead porcupines, dead animals of every kind including humans.”
“Dead humans?” Earl asked.
“Three times in my life I opened up a door to a stank ass toilet only to have an overdose victim fall the hell out of it,” Earl said. “That shit messes with a man for life.”
“That’s terrible, Earl,” Doug said.
“It is,” Earl said. “And I haven’t even mentioned the baby.”
Doug’s jaw dropped. “You found a dead baby in a portable toilet?”
“No,” Earl said. “I found a live baby in a portable toilet.”
“How did the baby get there?” Doug asked.
“I don’t know,” Earl said. “Do I look like Creskin? I walk up to the John. I hear a baby crying. I open it up and a damn baby is lying on the floor. I don’t know how it got there. I assume the kid’s mother didn’t want her. I called the police and they came and took her. I hope they found a happy home for the kid.”
“I had no idea you had it so bad, buddy,” Doug said.
“Yeah,” Earl replied. “So you can imagine the elation I felt when I retired, moved to Florida, and was able to find a nice, do-nothing job at a theme park where the only requirement is that I remain standing and smile politely at the tourists for eight hours.”
Earl took another sip. “But I guess like everything in life, there’s a catch. This job was nice for about a year. I stood here. I was nice to everyone. I had my coffee. I enjoyed the sun on my skin…then they had to go and post your dumb ass here, a Goddamn police academy washout who won’t stop running his mouth, never giving me a second of peace.”
A twelve-year-old girl walked up to Earl. “Where’s the arcade?”
Earl smiled and turned around to face the underpass. “Why, all you need to do is walk right underneath the Wombatatorium here, then keep going straight until you see the Willy-Go-Round. Take a right and you can’t miss it.”
“Thanks,” the girl said.
“No problem,” Earl replied. “You have a good time, now.”
Doug flipped the top of his shades to reveal the regular prescription glasses hiding underneath. Doing so gave him a better look at the mouth full of gum the girl was chewing on.
The girl started to walk away.
“Hey,” Doug said.
The girl ignored Doug, so he took a whistle that was hanging around his neck and blew it loudly, to an ear splitting degree.
“Hey,” Doug repeated. “Stop!”
“What?” the girl asked as she turned around.
“There’s no gum showing allowed in Wombat World, missy,” Doug said.
“But I just put it in and it still tastes like watermelon,” the girl said.
Doug hunched over and stared the girl right in the eyes. “Do I look like I care, delinquent? Spit it out right now.”
The girl puckered up, sucked up some wind, then spit the gum out…right at Doug. It landed square on his right lens.
Doug stood upright and slowly picked the spittle covered wad off of his glasses.
“Behavior like that is going to get you thrown into juvie right quick you know,” Doug said.
Earl slapped his forehead in protest of the spectacle that was unfolding in front of his eyes. The old man then reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a small booklet, and flipped open the cover.
“Oh, you’re in for it now, girly,” Doug said. “My partner’s going to write you up. You’ll be banned from Wombat World for life.”
“I’m all out of Willies,” Earl said. “You like Chester or Ferdinand?”
“Ferdinand,” the girl replied.
Earl pealed a ferret sticker out of his booklet and stuck it to the girl’s sleeve. She smiled, then skipped away.
“Nice, Earl,” Doug said. “Take the enemy’s side.”
“Enemy?” Earl asked. “She’s a little girl. And there’s no rule against chewing gum.”
“There should be,” Doug said. “This whole park is living history. I’m not going to stand idly by while ne’er-do-wells cover the Caruthers Brothers’ masterpiece with chewed up bubblegum.”
“Observe,” Earl said. “Report illegal shit. Help people with their problems to the best of our ability. That’s all we’re required to do.”
“You should get your partner’s back,” Doug said.
“You’re not my partner,” Earl replied. “You’re a guy assigned to stand in the same vicinity as me. That’s all.”
“That hurts, Earl,” Doug said.
“Don’t care,” Earl replied as he sipped his coffee.
A few minutes passed. Doug spotted another troublemaker. A dude in his early-twenties listening to music through his ear buds.
Doug blew his whistle but the dude paid him no mind.
“Sir,” Doug said. “It’s not really smart to walk around and listen to music at the same time. You might not pay attention to where you’re going and hurt yourself.”
“Eat a dick, Rent-a-Cop!” the dude shouted as he walked through the underpass.
Doug shook his head. “Did you hear that? The mouthes on some of these kids today.”
“Son,” Earl said. “Let me help you out with this. The thing you’re failing to realize is that it costs one-hundred and sixty-eight dollars to step foot in this park for one day. Just for one day. So if I’m one of these people and I shell out all that dough to come to a theme park and then some turkey in a pink uniform with a wombat shaped badge tells me not to listen to music, I’d probably tell him to eat a dick too.”
“No one has any respect, anymore,” Doug said as he pinched his thumb and pointer finger together. “I was this close to being a real cop, you know.”
“I know, kid,” Earl said.
The old man sipped from his cup again, then stoically stared up at the sky for a moment.
“But when it comes to horseshoes or life, ‘close’ doesn’t mean Jack shit.”
Doug nodded. “You’re a wise man, Earl. Tough, but wise. I needed to hear that.”
“You’re welcome,” Earl said.
“I’m glad you’re my partner,” Doug said.
“I’m not you’re…you know what? Forget it. I don’t have the strength to argue anymore.
A few more minutes passed until another family made its way to the underpass. Mack was being regaled by his niece and nephew with tales of everything they wanted to do first, while Abby slurped soda out of an extra-large Gassy Gulp cup.
“Look,” Dylan said. “If we get in line now, we’ll beat the rush to the wombat copters,” Dylan said.
“But it’s going to take at least three hours to Princessify myself,” Paige replied.
“Paige, you can slather makeup over your face all day long back home,” Dylan said. “This is my one and only chance to ride a wombat copter.”
“Kids,” Abby said. “Just stop. We’re here all week. Everyone will be able to do everything they want.”
Doug’s heart fluttered when he spotted Abby. As he watched her sip her convenience store soda and walk away, a 1980s hair band power love ballad played inside his head.
“Damn,” Doug said.
“Yeah,” Earl said. “I saw it too but don’t make a fool of yourself.”
“Huh?” Doug asked, his mouth still slightly agape.
“That lady brought an outside beverage into the park instead of buying one from a Wombat World concession stand,” Earl said.
“She did?” Doug asked.
“Yeah,” Earl said. “So don’t blow your damn whistle at her because you know it will just end up with her dumping the soda on your head or something. For a hundred and sixty-eight bucks, she can keep her soda.”
“I didn’t even notice that she had a soda,” Doug said.
“Oh,” Earl said. “Then why are you staring at her like an idiot for?”
“She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” Doug replied.
Earl squinted at Abby as she and her family approached the end of the underpass.
“Who are you talking about?” Earl asked.
“Her,” Doug said as he pointed at Abby.
“The hefty white bitch in the Lonnie Llama tank top built for a skinnier white bitch?” Earl asked.
“That’s the one,” Doug said. “Damn, I wish I could get me some of that.”
“You’re serious?” Earl asked.
“That I am,” Doug said. “I may come across as a cold blooded, unrelenting champion of justice, but my heart beats like anyone else’s and that woman has just stolen it.”
Earl shook his head. “To each their own I suppose.”
“Yeah,” Doug said as he shrugged his shoulders. “But what can I do? You see the big, musclebound lummox she was with?”
“Yup,” Earl said.
“I swear, Earl,” Doug said. “Only the stupid jocks get the hot babes.”
“Son,” Earl said. “I think you really ought to get your head examined.”
Earl’s walkie-talkie squawked.
“Earl,” came the gruff voice of Chief Weber, Head Supervisor of Wombat World’s Security Guard force.
“Chief?” Earl replied.
“Got a Funky Cola truck coming in soon at the loading dock,” the Chief said. “Bobby usually handles that but he’s out. You think either you or shit for brains can take care of it?”
Earl looked to his right only to witness Doug blowing a whistle at a woman for wearing sandals.
“Open toed shoes are definitely going to get your feet sun burnt, ma’am. You really should be wearing sneakers or perhaps a nice pair of boat shoes.”
The old man sighed. “I’m on it.”