Once Upon a Time
By Tom Bostock

Once upon a time, there was a very rich, spoiled teenager who wondered how the other half lived … then he found out.

Even though the morning sunrise burst into the Summer sky in a kaleidoscope of colors, red, yellow, orange, and gold, not even the faintest glimmer of an errant ray penetrated Maxwell Evan Farnsworth IV’s remotely operated black out drapes. It was only the incessant knocking on the bedroom door that finally roused him from a sound sleep and a satisfying dream that his plan had succeeded to perfection.

“Master Farnsworth. Master Farnsworth. It’s time to wake up. You asked to be awakened by 9 and I am simply complying with your instructions.” The houseman, Robert, waited patiently for a response.

“I’m up, I’m up already. Don’t get your ‘tighty whitey’s in a wad, Max replied, throwing off the covers and sliding out from under the silk sheets. He loved the feel of the silk next to his skin but today was the day and he had to keep on schedule if he was going to get everything done. With any luck, today would be the start of the big adventure.

Opening a non-descript, scuffed leather bag, Max went through his last-minute checklist. Old ripped jeans, check. Prepaid cell phone, check. Basic, off-brand toiletries, check. Prepaid credit card, check. Scuffed sneakers, also off-brand and cheap, check. Stained cardboard and box of crayons, check. Now came the big part of the lie, convincing Robert.

Robert had been with the Farnworth family even before Max was born. The ‘retainer’ was how his dad referred to his loyal servant. To Robert, it was not a job, but a calling. He cheerfully served multiple roles in the Farnsworth household, butler, houseman, and chauffeur; he knew everything about the enclave where the Farnworth estate was located and fiercely protected its inhabitants.

Everything associated with the Farnsworth name had to always be the biggest, the best, and most expensive, from the home the size of a hotel with enough bathrooms to use a different one every day of the week, to the gas guzzling luxury cars, the stable of thoroughbreds, ostentatious yacht and even the recently purchased jet; everything was the best that money could buy, and Mr. Farnsworth wasn’t shy about sharing that information with anyone within earshot. He was ‘nouveau riche’ and the king of his gated community. Everything about his loud, boorish behavior embarrassed Max.

Max slid down the huge winding bannister from his third-floor bedroom landing because he knew it would irritate the old man, making him less likely to question Max when he tried out his excuse.

“Breakfast, young sire, is on the counter on the kitchen island. You better get it while it is still hot.”

“Thanks Jeeves (he called him Jeeves because he knew it also irritated him and he thought all butlers should be called Jeeves.)

“Now Master Farnsworth, you know that isn’t my name,” he chided.

“No big deal. Don’t make a Federal case out of it. I like it.”

“And where are you going with this … dare I say, suitcase?”

“Since Mom and Dad are in Zurich to attend the medical conference, I’m going to spend the weekend with a friend. Since we go to the same prep school, his dad will take us back after the holiday weekend. That way, you have the house to yourself and all of your woman friends.”

“Women friends?” Now Master Farnsworth, you know better than that,” Robert said, disapprovingly.

“Just pulling your leg, Jeeves.”

Max sat at the kitchen island and quickly ate his scrambled eggs, hash browns and toast. He gulped down his orange juice and jumped off the kitchen stool. Grabbing the battered suitcase out of his servant’s hand, he headed out the front door.

“I left the phone number where I’m going to be on a paper in the kitchen, in case you need to get a hold of me,” he called out as he slammed the front door. (The phone number was that of his new prepaid phone); phase one was now complete. Now on to Phase 2.

Max lived in a heavily guarded, gated community where the residents demanded their privacy. Everything was done to ensure it. All two thousand acres were protected by guard stations, a private security force, electric fences and security cameras. All traffic was electronically recorded, as were the comings and goings of its pampered residents.

For two weeks, Max walked the back-fence line with the assigned security guard, making note of his schedule, as well as the location of the security cameras. Without realizing it, while talking about his family and the job, the guard unknowingly revealed several blind spots in the camera network and the time that the fence was shut down for maintenance. As soon as he left the guard each morning, Max carefully recorded his findings on his cell phone. The plan was coming together nicely.

In the woods behind his house, Max took off his regular clothes and put on the ones from the suitcase. He carefully folded his regular ones so that they would not raise suspicion if he had to return home earlier than planned. At 11 o’clock, the fence would be shut down for maintenance for fifteen minutes. That was his window for escape. He found the folding ladder that he had left there several days ago and looked at his watch. Damn, he forgot about his Rolex! How dumb could he be! He would have to buy a cheap one when he got to the city. He dictated those instructions to his cell phone.

10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2. The second hand reached 0.  It was time to GO! Max tentatively touched the fence, and not receiving a shock, hooked the ladder to the top and climbed up. He threw the suitcase over the fence and balancing on the top, pulled the ladder up and over as well. Two minutes to go. It was now or never! Max braced himself for the leap, and jumping down on the other side of fence, rolled to minimize the impact. He was free! Phase 3 was complete.

The road that led to the enclave, Rockingham Road, was tree shrouded and little traveled by anyone except the residents and the security patrol, especially at that time in the morning. To avoid detection, Max walked close to the side of the road; he could step into the undergrowth if anyone appeared on the road.

Reaching the main road, Max stuck out his thumb like his buddy Carlton had shown him. Max thought, mom would die of mortification if she knew her only son was actually doing something as gauche as hitchhiking. He thought that the money from the internet start-up they had sold a few years ago had made both his mother and father snobs. They no longer associated with many of their former friends; instead,  they spent most of their time fawning over their new country club crowd where they were barely tolerated.

A black pickup slowed and then stopped a few feet in front of Max.

“Where ya headed kid?” A heavyset farmer with a cigar the size of a telephone pole and a friendly smile asked.”

“Bus station in town, sir,” Max replied.

“Well, don’t just stand there. Get in and take a load off.”

Max climbed into the truck and watched as the miles pass. It was different, seeing actual scenery instead of the antiseptic, tinted view from the back of one of his dad’s limos. The road seemed a lot bumpier as well, with the old truck’s shocks grunting and groaning over each bump and tar mound repair that was the county highway. The truck stopped at the bus station and, getting his suitcase out of the back, Max thanked his benefactor for the ride.

“I really appreciate the ride, sir,” Max said.

“Don’t mention it. You take care now.”

With that, the truck drove off and was soon lost in the city traffic. Max got change for a ten-dollar bill and politely asked where the rental lockers were located. Finding an open locker, he jammed the suitcase into it, closing the locker. He made sure that it was locked and put the key in his pocket. It was really happening. Phase 4 was now complete.

As Max walked along the city street, his baseball cap turned backward, with occasional strands of his white blond hair blowing into his eyes, he realized that, for the first time in his life, he was completely alone, no servants, trust fund babies, just Max. He shook his head, and, for just a blink of an eye, had second thoughts, realizing the enormity of what he had done. He had escaped from everything he knew. Now he was on their territory.

‘Their’ turned out to be a ragtag bunch of tough-looking street kids in stained clothing, standing on the corner with a tattered sign that said: “God Bless. Homeless. Please help!” Most of the pedestrians walked by and ignored the kids, like they were invisible. Cars either changed lanes to avoid them or their drivers averted their eyes like they weren’t even there, raising their windows to avoid some distasteful odor. Occasionally, someone dropped some change into the hat, on a blanket next to the bus bench. Kids, in hot cars, rolled down their windows, shouting obscenities and yelling for them to get a job.

“This sucks,” the littlest one, wearing an old cowboy hat, three sizes too big for him, complained to what appeared to be the oldest one, dressed in a black leather motorcycle jacket and torn black jeans.

“Don’t sweat it Shorty,” he responded. “It’s almost time to hightail it to the back of the old warehouse. The bleeding heart, do-gooders should be good for another burger and a coke, at least. Shorty, look pathetic,”(which, for Shorty wasn’t that difficult). “They might even be good for some cash this time.”

Max hung back as they folded the blanket and their sign and stepped into the alley behind the bus stop.

“Hey kid,” the leader called to Max. What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? You hungry or what?”

Max caught up with the group but remained silent, not sure how to respond.

“Would you look at this bling,” Fatso said, sticking his fingers under the Rolex Max forgot to take off.

The leader turned and looked at Max. “Where did you get it kid?”

Max thought, his mind racing. “I shagged it at the mall,” hoping that there was, in fact, a mall.”

“Hey, guys, we got us a light finger Louie.” Turning to Max, “look dude, you gonna’ bring the heat down on us or what? You bad news?”

“No man,” Max said, “I just lifted it to see if I could turn it into some cash.”

“So, what’s your story anyway.”

Fully into his role now, Max replied. “Just got to town. Don’t know anyone or anything about it. Just wanted to crash for a while before I move on.”

He was surprised that no one asked where he had come from. Then he realized that it didn’t matter to any of them. Each had his own private story.

“To where?”

“Does it matter?”

“Guess not.”

A wry smile played across the leader’s face. He’d been there before and understood the unwritten code of the streets. You were there and then you were gone. No strings, no ties. They banded together for mutual defense and protection; no friendship, just mutual need. The streets were not always a friendly place to be. And what was one more? Nuttin’.

“No biggie,” Blondie. “let’s boogie.”

Max fell in behind Black Jacket as they walked into the parking lot behind the warehouse at the end of the alley. There were two psychedelically-painted panel trucks whose slogan ‘Ministering to the Streets’ was emblazoned on the sides of both trucks in about 14 different colors. Research, the aid workers had done, indicated that weirdly painted trucks would give them an ‘in’ with the street people.

Max took a hamburger from an overly happy volunteer, not bothering to thank him. Black Jacket did the same. Sitting on the parking lot curb, he noted sagely, “You see them in every city I’ve ever been in. It’s like a disease. They are driven to help us. I can’t figure out what draws em’ here but come noon on a weekday and here they come. I guess it makes them feel good.”

“I wonder what they’re on. Most of them look high,” Max observed. “I wonder if they’re vegans or vegetarians or something like that?”

“Yeah, they look like they should be eating instead of giving food away. Don’t look now but the head scarecrow is coming our way. He always tries to find out where you are from. Just follow my lead.”

Head scarecrow approaches with an idiotic smile on his face. “Hi boys, did you get enough to eat. Who’s your friend,” he asks, pointing at Max.

Max looks up and shrugs with a non-committal, bland expression, revealing nothing.

“Where are you from son?”

“Here and there. Just passing through.”

Well, you have to come from somewhere,” Scarecrow persisted. “So, what’s your story? Parent’s beat you? Bad home life? Drugs? Booze?” It was as though Scarecrow had to find out something to justify his presence.

“Yeah. Something like that,” Max lied, with just the right amount of pathos.

“We’re here for you son, don’t forget that.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Scarecrow walked away with a self-fulfilled stride. The leader turned to Max. “You’ve got a real gift, don’t ya?”

“I just tell em what they want to hear is all.

“Why don’t you and Shorty hookup with the sign this afternoon?”

“Sure. I’ll give it a whack. No big deal.”

Max walked to the front of the alley and then ducked quickly back in. “That fat guy,” Max said, pointing to a chubby man in a pinstripe suit walking with an older woman, got just a little too friendly the last time I ran into him. You know what I mean.”

“Got it,” Leader said, continuing to peer at the disappearing couple. “They’re gone now. Coast is clear.”

Jacob and Ethel Rosenblatt entered the bank. Jacob paused and looked back one more time before closing the door. “Ethel, I could have sworn I just saw Tom Farnsworth’s boy Maxwell in the alley by the bus stop with a bunch of street urchins.”

“Tom’s boy? You’ve got to be kidding. His mother would have a coronary, her lilly-white cherub associating with the local riff raff? I’m sure her tears would stain that $2,000 taffeta dress she wore to the club, or so her husband boasted it had cost him. Why in heavens name did you ever let them join the country club?”

“Let them? With his money, he could have bought the damn thing or built one of his own.”

“Now Jacob, don’t be crude.”

Max breathed an audible sigh of relief. Mr. Rosenblatt was one of his dad’s golfing partners. He was at Max’s last birthday party, the one with the carved ice figurines because his mom had heard that the Rockefellers had them for their daughter’s last birthday. It was a disaster! The carved mermaids looked like dolphins and melted all over the ballroom floor. Of course, his house had a ballroom!

“Let’s go over by the mall,” Shorty suggested.

“Where he boosted the Rolex, now there’s a good idea! You gotta use that thing above your forehead for something besides a hat rack,” Leader snorted in derision.

“Ouch,” said Shorty.

“Think dude, think.”

Another member of the team, a tall, gangly boy with a shock of brown hair, made a reasonable suggestion. “We’re gonna crash at the ‘haunted house’ again tonight, so why not stand on the corner by the library?”

The so-called ‘haunted house’ was a condemned property in the middle of the city, scheduled for demolition to make room for the new city hall, sometime in the foreseeable future when the funds became available. Fortunately for the homeless, the economy had not made the demolition feasible yet. Until then, it was first come, first served, every man for himself.

“Come on pretty boy, you’re up,” the leader said, handing Max the sign and spreading out the blanket on the sidewalk near the fire hydrant. Max and Shorty stood on the corner for several hours, looking their most pathetically forlorn. Apparently, it worked because, when they decided to call it quits, there were twenty-seven dollar bills on the blanket and several more dollars in change in the small cardboard carton next to the blanket. Not bad for a few hours work, if you could call it that.

“Mickey Dees, here we come,” sang Shorty. “Dang, blondie, you could probably sell cigarettes in a cancer ward,” he added appreciatively. Max just smiled as he folded up the sign.

“Last one to the house gets to sleep in the cellar,” one of the boys shouted and everyone took off running. Max trailed the pack since he had no idea where he was going. Slowing on purpose, he took out his phone and checked in with Robert, assuring him that, as his father had a habit of saying recently, everything was going ‘swimmingly.’

“Come on slowpoke,” Leader called out. “You gotta find your place before the good ones get gone.” ‘Good’ became a relative term for Max. A rat and several roaches ran across the floor as Max opened the door to the ramshackle building that was to be his refuge for the night.

“Grab a piece of cardboard and some newspapers,” his erstwhile leader instructed. The cardboard gives you something to sleep on and you stuff the newspaper into your shirt against the cold. You should know that, bein on the road and all.” He looked at Max quizzically. His façade was beginning to show signs of cracking.

“Coat’s good enough,” Max replied, curling up on the cardboard and zipping up his coat. The sounds of the old house gave Max an uneasy night’s sleep. Besides the creaks and groans of the beams and the foundation as it settled, the sound of things scurrying across the floor kept him awake most of the night. Several times, he felt something brush against his legs. He certainly wasn’t in ‘Kansas’ anymore and although he hated to admit it to himself, he really missed his silk sheets and warm, comfy bed and this was only the first night! Would he make it to the end?

Morning brought the clanging of garbage cans and the swish of street sweepers. The city was waking up. Max sat up, suddenly alert. There was something inside his coat. As he quickly unzipped, something brown flew out of one armpit.

“Ewe,” Max said.

“It’s only a roach. They don’t eat much,” Shorty suggested. “Besides, maybe he was lonely.” Shorty left that one hanging in the air.

“Time to go.”

The motely crew looked out through the broken windows at the darkly threatening sky. There was a storm on the horizon and rain would wash away all of their plans. Sucks to be poor and homeless, Max decided, watching the lightning in the distance. He counted the space between flashes, trying to calculate how far away the storm was. Three miles and closing.

“Shorty, take the cash and see how much stuff you can get at McDonalds.” And we gotta fence Blondies’ watch too. There’s that guy on Main. He’s a crook but he don’t ask no questions. The leader continued to pace the floor. Max understood that the watch was toast. In for a penny, in for a pound. His dad would really be pissed when he found out the watch was gone. Cost him five grand and they would be lucky to get ten cents on the dollar for it. Observation two, a life of crime sucks. He savored the thought of the look on his father’s face when he told him what happened. Just proves he shoulda bought me a Timex, Max thought.

Since the library was less than a block away, it was decided that they would ride out the storm there. After everyone hid his cardboard, they made a mad dash for the library, arriving just before the storm hit. Shorty, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. About fifteen minutes after the storm started, a drowned rat, alias Shorty, appeared at the front door, carrying three soaked paper bags. Breakfast was served. Rats and a lost Rolex and the day was just beginning, Max thought.

Fortunately, for the boys, the library had a snack area so there was no problem with them eating in the library. As they were dividing up the food, a black limo pulled up to the front door and discharged a group of giggling girls, the oldest one barely thirteen.

“Boy, that’s money right there,” Leader said, staring wishfully at the limo. “What I wouldn’t give to be them, pointing to the girls, “for just one day.” Max had an idea. He turned to the rest of the group and asked.

“What would happen if I borrowed your leader for a day?”

They basically agreed that they were not his keeper and he could do what ever he wanted. Max motioned for the leader to follow him. Walking toward a stack of books, Max turned towards his newly found friend.

“What you said before, what if I could make that happen? This is not what it seems.”

“My real name is Maximillian Evan Farnworth IV. What’s yours? And the Rolex was a birthday gift from my dad.”

“Joseph Brown but don’t tell nobody. You don’t mean like the new Farnsworth Building downtown Farnsworth?”

“Yeah, that’s my dad.”

“So, what are you doing here dressed like that?”

“I was fed up with my life and my family always controlling everything that I did, so yesterday I ran away.”

“You gotta be as dumb as a bucket of rocks! So, what was you saying?”

“I told my houseman that I was visiting my friend for the weekend. There’s no reason for you not to be that friend for the rest of the weekend if we can hitchhike back to the estate. What do you say?”

“Pinch me and I will let you know. You gotta be kiddin.”

“Nope, I’m serious as a heart attack.”

“You’re on.”

“Good, let’s go.”

After stopping at a local department store, outfitting Joe, and picking up the suitcase from the bus station, they hitchhiked back to the estate and stood waiting at the fence. Retrieving the ladder from its hiding place, at the appointed time, they attached it to the top and both climbed over, suitcase and all. Max changed into his better clothes. Joey brushed off his new ones. When Max explained what planning it took to escape, Joe was impressed.

“You a regular James Bond,” he said, respectfully, as the estate came into view. Staring in awe at the size of the manor house and horse barns, Joe wondered how they would succeed. Max shook his head in amusement; he was up for the task.

Max knocked on his own front door. Robert, opening it almost immediately, saw Max and his friend standing on the front porch.

“Master Farnsworth, what are you doing home and who is this with you?”

“This is my schoolmate, Joey Brown.”

“Welcome to Grey Hall Master Brown.” (Someone had told Max’s dad that a property this large had to have a distinctive name. It went through several variations until he decided on Grey Hall.)

“We decided to come back here. His dad had to go out of town too.”

“He is certainly welcome here.”

“Did you get rid of all of your women while I was gone?”

“Now Master Farnsworth.”

Stepping into the front hall, Joey was overcome by what he saw. It was like a castle with huge soaring ceilings painted with pastoral scenes. His new shoes pinched his feet as they echoed on the highly polished marble floor.

“Up here Joey, Max called from the top of the stairs. “This will be your room while you’re here, he announced throwing open the French doors to a room the size of an auditorium. “We’re about the same size so try these on,” he said, handing Joey a pair of silk pajamas”

“You gotta be kidding.” (That was rapidly becoming Joey’s signature statement.)

“And this is the guest room? I could play a full court game of basketball in here and still have room for bleachers! The guys are never gonna believe this.”

“Dinner is at 8. There is an 84” high definition television set behind that wall. Let me show you.” Max picked up the remote control and the tv slowly rose out of its housing. If you want to, after dinner we can go down to the theater and watch some first run films. Or if you like to bowl, the bowling alley is just down the hall from the theater. If you like to swim, there is an Olympic size, indoor swimming pool on the second floor and another one in the yard, along with a hot tub. Any questions?”

“Yeah. Just one. Did I just die and go to heaven?

Max laughed. “Enjoy, enjoy.

Dinner shocked Joey speechless. The dining room was immense, with a row of chairs flanking either side of a huge polished oak banquet table. He was seated at the head of the table with Max at the opposite end. The huge crystal chandeliers reflected brightly off the hand-painted porcelain dinnerware. Joey watched in amazement as tray after tray was hand carried around the table for him to make his choices. Desert was a diabetic’s delight, from cakes and pies to ice creams and parfaits of every variety.

“Will that be all Master Brown?” a solicitous Robert asked.

“I may not eat for the next year,” he noted, struggling to get up from the table. Max laughed.

“Is it polite to loosen a button, Joey asked Max,” before I explode,” he added.

“One button? I already had to open two,” Max said smiling at his guest’s apparent indecision.

“Relax Joey. This is your day. If it feels good, do it. That’s my dad’s motto.”

The houseman entered the dining room with a message for Max.

“There is an overseas call from your father on the telephone in the library.”

“Okay, Jeeves. I got it.”

Max hurried to the library and picked up a vintage phone that his mother had bought for some ridiculous price from her decorator.

“Hello dad. How is Zurich?”

“Fine but there was something that I need to talk to you about. I got the strangest text from Jacob Rosenbaum. He said that he saw you in town, coming out of an alley, near the bus station yesterday, in the company of some street kids. I checked with the security guard and he said that he hadn’t checked you out anywhere yesterday. He also checked the camera feed for me. I have no idea what he was talking about, do you?”

“Yeah, sure dad. I didn’t have anything else to do so I scaled the electric fence, hitchhiked into town and begged for money with some street people. Oh, and I slept in the haunted house, to boot.”

“You don’t have to get smart young man! We will discuss this when your mother and I get back on Monday unless she decides to stop in Paris on the way home.”

“Sounds good dad. Why don’t you have your people call mine and we’ll do lunch. I’m sure I can fit you in.” Joey listened in amazement. “Ta,ta now and smooth skies.” Max hung up the phone before his father had a chance to respond. Joey shook his head.

“Well, let’s see. I’m in boarding school for most of the year and usually get home for the holidays unless my globe-hopping parents have made other plans. By the time they get back, assuming there aren’t any side trips, I will be back in boarding school and this conversation will be forgotten like all of the others. Oh, and I’m sure he will buy me something totally useless and extremely expensive. I once asked for a simple bicycle and what does he buy me? A Ferrari!  What was I supposed to do with a Ferrari as a twelve- year old kid?”

“Actually, if you want to go for a ride, we can take it out in the fields behind the house. It’s in the garage, along with about 20 other sports cars and limousines. Who needs all of those cars when they are never home?” Joey could see that Max was getting visibly upset.

“Cool it Max, let’s go play some pool. I assume you gotta pool hall, no I mean a billiards pallor somewhere in this mausoleum of a house,” Joey said, raising his little finger in mocking affectation.”

“Third floor, top of the stairs. Race ya.”

“You’re on.” Robert watched the two boys hurtle up the stairs, smiling. This somewhat uncouth youngster was just what the doctor ordered. He was loud, brash, and a bit crude at times but he could see Max flourishing under his watchful eye. There was laughter in the house again. It bounced off the walls with the vigor of youth.

There was no possibility that Joey was Max’s school friend but that didn’t matter. He wondered how much truth there had been in Max’s conversation with his father, but he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. For as long as it lasted, he would revel in their happiness.

“If you need something during the night, just push the button on your nightstand,”Max said. “Anything, anything at all. Night, Joey and thanks for coming.”

“Night, Max. You couldn’t have kept me away with a stick.”

The next morning, a knock on the door woke Joey. “Master Brown. Breakfast will be served on the terrace this morning. There is a fresh towel on your bed after your shower. Everything that you need will be in the bathroom. Take your time and enjoy.”

“Thank you.” Joey walked into the bathroom and stared at a shower that could hold all of the guys with room to spare. There was a steam room and a sauna next to the shower. “What will they think of next?” He asked the empty room. Removing his pajamas, he stepped into the hot shower, luxuriating in the heat. Now this is living, he thought.

Max was sitting at a small table on the terrace when Joey arrived. “Name your poison, Joey,” Max said, pointing to a variety of breakfast choices on the sideboard next to the table.

“A guy could really get used to this.”

“Better than a soggy McDonalds breakfast?”

“I gotta think about that one. Look Max, this has been great but you know I gotta get back to the guys.”

“Yeah, I know. We agreed to a day and a deal’s a deal. I was hoping you might have forgotten but you’re right.”

Roberts walked onto the terrace. “I couldn’t help overhearing that you would be leaving today. Can I offer you a ride to town? That would be alright with you, Master Farnsworth, I presume?”

“Alright, you better believe it Je.. uh Robert.” Robert smiled at that seemingly insignificant, small victory.

“Why don’t you pick out the car, Master Brown. We have a variety to choose from.” Robert led both boys down to the garage.

“I never rode in a Rolls Royce.”

“Excellent choice,” Robert noted, donning a chauffeur’s cap his boss’s wife insisted that he wear when driving her.

“To town, my good man,” Joey ordered, as both boys laughed hysterically. It was a contagious sound.

The trip to town was uneventful and they easily found the gang with their sign, again, in front of the library. Shorty watched as the Rolls Royce pulled up and stopped by his sign. The darkened window slowly rolled down and a hand appeared with a bill in its hand. Shorty took the bill and thanked the stranger for his kindness. A dollar is a lot better than nothing, he thought, tossing the bill onto the blanket. Leader stared incredulously at what had landed on the blanket, a one-thousand-dollar bill. He also noticed that the Rolls Royce had yet to move from its parking place.

As a hand reached out of the window, he recognized the Rolex on the arm and wondered what was happening. Suddenly, the door of the limousine opened, and their long-lost anonymous leader stepped out, dressed in new duds, followed by Blondie.

You’re not going to believe this, he started, and introduced Max. Max led them through his tale and ended with an unexpected invitation. “Next time I am back from school, you are all invited to come spend the weekend at my house,

at Joey,” he began, wincing at the realization that he had just betrayed his friend’s confidence.

“No biggie, Max. I got nothing to hide.” He hugged his friend one final time and let him go back to the car.

Robert now understood that everything Max had yelled at his father in anger had actually happened.

“Master Farnsworth.”

Max, not Master Farnsworth,” Max interrupted.

“I would really like to see that haunted house before we go home.” Max understood that Robert really did understand.

After exploring the haunted house, Max and Robert returned to the estate. The gang watched as the big car roared off. Joey thought, you can have all of the money in the world and still not be happy. Max had proven that.

Max looked back at Joey and the gang as they faded in his back glass, and thought, you can have nothing but your friends and still be happy. Joey and his friends had proven that. Two worlds had met and prospered and each was the better for that meeting.