The Secret Diary of Cameron Baum

MONDAY

Noon. I am outside in the yard while John is indoors explaining to his mother our plans to break the Wizard out of jail. Iam absent because it is thought my presence might antagonise her. It usually does even at the best of times.

A hint of what is occuring in the house comes with the sudden emergence of BB-8, rolling towards me and burbling anxiously in droid-speak. Sarah Connor has rapidly supplanted any First Order villain as the droid's personal Big Bad. Say what you will of Kylo Ren, at least he doesn't stuff you in a toy cupboard and lock the doors.

Another refugee arrives. Snowy, abandoning a half-finished bowl of doggie chow because of the bad vibes. Together we sit by the pool and stare back at the house. The terminator, the droid and the small furry dog. A motley crew indeed.

Ten minutes pass. Fifteen. Finally the back door opens and Sarah Connor emerges. BB-8 gives a beep-boop of alarm and tries to hide behind my legs. No need. She pays us no heed and climbs astride her Harley-Davidson motorbike. The motor starts and she is gone as quickly as she appeared.

"beep boop beep boop?"

"Yes, BB-8, it's safe to go inside now. No one will stuff you in a cupboard."

"BOOP!"

The droid rolls towards the house, swiftly followed by Snowy who is doubtless eager to finish his meal.

John holds open the door for them and then joins me in the yard. "How did it go?" I ask.

"About how we expected. She was mad we kept it from her. Said it was a crazy plan. We're taking a lot on faith. And the reward isn't worth the risks."

"All perfectly valid points. Soshe won't be joining us?"

"Oh no, mom's coming."

"How did you persuade her?"

"I used the nyahh-nyahh tactic."

"What is that?"

"We're doing it with or without you. Nyahh-nyahh."

"Interesting. You use a similar tactic in the future when a mexican warlord is reluctant to support a Resistance ambush on a Skynet convoy."

"We're doing it with or without you?"

"Correct."

"No nyahh-nyahhs?"

"They don't translate too well. Plus the mexican warlord is a brutal psychopath reputed to collect the severed heads of his opponents."

"Good call, me."

"Yes. Good call, you."

THURSDAY

Snowy bounds ahead of us, scampering along the sidewalk like a puppy dog.

"He's perked up a bit," John comments.

This is true. A few hours ago, when we waved goodbye to Mia as she left for Washington with her school friends, Snowy was despondent at being left behind. Now he gets to have an adventure of his own: staying with the Bartletts for two days and his previous misery is forgotten. Truly, that dog's memory is as poor as a Windows 95-era laptop.

Paige Bartlett opens the door at our knock. "Hey, guys. Come on in."

"Thanks for doing this, Paige."

"No problem. It'll be fun." She bends to pet Snowy. "Ooo's gonna stay with Auntie Paige? Ooo's gonna stay with Auntie Paige?"

Ooo, indeed.

"Here's his food and bowls."

"Wow. Lot of bowls."

"One for regular chow. Drymix. Regular and dry. Water. Treats. Mix them up and he'll sulk."

"Quite the prima donna."

"He likes walkies morning and evening so he can nap during the day. He prefers the park with the skateboard pipe."

"Right. I know where it is."

"If there are children around keep the leash on."

"Oh dear, does he bite?"

"No, he'll do tricks."

"Tricks?"

"Snowy, do the moonwalk."

Snowy launches into his party piece, where it seems as if he's moving forwards instead of back. It took ages to learn but was clearly worth it. This gets him more attention than anything else in his doggie repertoire. And boy does he milk it.

"Omigod - he's moonwalking!"

"Once he has an audience there's no stopping him. I think he was Bob Hope in a previous life. Oh and you'll need these." John hefts a plastic sack on the table. "Disposable pooper-scoopers. Fifty should be enough."

"You're joking."

"I wish I was."

The glass doors that seperate the house from the pool terrace open and Sookie, Paige's bestie, walks in. She's barefoot and wearing a white robe. "I thought I heard voices," she says. "Hi, John. I was getting a tan by the pool. An all-over tan. I so hate lines. " She smirks coquettishly. "Hey there, Snoopy. Nice doggie."

"It's Snowy," I correct.

"Whatever." She leans over to pet him and allows her robe to flap open giving John a glimpse of her all too evident nudity. "Oops!" she giggles. "Sorry. Total accident."

She isn't sorry. And it wasn't an accident. I am starting to heartily dislike this girl.

"Let me cinch your robe for you," I tell her.

"No need. I can - Hey! Too tight! It's hurting me!"

"We'll be going," John says. "See you in a couple of days."

"Bye, Snooky," I say over my shoulder as we're leaving."

"It's Sookie."

Whatever...

-0-

Daniel and Cameron subprime arrive in the afternoon, meaning they must have left Seattle around midnight. "Yeah, it's been a long drive. I didn't think I'd miss airports until I couldn't use them again." Daniel admits ruefully. "Man, I never thought I'd see this place again! Where's Snowy?"

"Staying with friends."

"Yeah, I left Lulu with Frank the super. You know, she's spending so much time with Frank I think she's beginning to prefer him to me."

"I'm sure that's not true."

"I don't know, she seemed pretty psyched about it to me."

"It is good to see you again," I greet Cameron subprime.

"Likewise. You are looking well."

"Likewise."

"Get a room!" Daniel grins.

"Shall we exchange a high five as part of the greeting ritual?" I suggest.

"I have something better than a high five."

"Better than a high five?"

"Indeed. Raise both hands above your head, please."

I do as instructed.

SLAP! SLAP!

"It's called a high ten."

"I taught her that," Daniel says proudly. "Damn near broke both my wrists doing it."

Sarah Connor hugs Daniel as we enter the house. She ignores Cameron subprime, who doesn't take offence. By her standards this is convivial behaviour.

"So, they roped you into this as well, huh, Sarah?"

"Against my better judgement."

"Really? Seems right up your street."

"I don't believe in prodding a hornet's nest with a stick, which is what this amounts to, in my opinion."

"Well, I'm sure it will go smoothly if you're involved."

"Thank you, Daniel. Now if you'll excuse me I have some packing to do."

"By packing you mean..?"

"Firearms. Did I not make that clear?"

"Sorry. I'm a little rusty."

With Sarah Connor upstairs, BB-8 rolls into the room. Lacking Snowy to pal around with BB-8 has been rolling aimlessly from house to yard and back again, all the time trying to avoid the attentions of Sarah Connor who would shove the droid into a toybox without a moment's pause. BB-8 might be hot stuff on Jakku but here in Santa Monica the droid is as helpless as any Raggedy Ann doll when confined to a locked toychest. The Force isn't strong with this one.

"Hey, you got a Star Wars toy!" Daniel exclaims. "Can I have a go? Where's the remote?"

"There is no remote," John explains. "Cameron made some modifications. It's fully autonomous now."

"It's a real droid? Oh wow." Daniel kneels down and says in a falsely deep voice: "Little droid, I am your fa-ther."

"beep?"

"Nah, I'm messing with you! Hey - d'you have that Rey chick's phone mumber? She's smoking hot."

"beep boop beep boop boop BEEP!" BB-8 responds furiously before trundling out into the yard.

"Huh? What'd it say?"

"Trust me, you don't want to know."

-0-

After some liquid refreshments, Daniel asks, "So, when are we leaving for Nevada?"

"Later. We're still got a few things to take care of," John replies.

"Anything I can do to help?"

"Well, we need a fast getaway car. Something powerful and capable of carrying at least five people."

"Ferrari? Porsche? Something like that?"

"Too conspicuous. A Camaro or a Mustang would fit the bill. If you really want to help why don't you and Jan head over to LAX and see what you can find in the long stay carpark?"

"I assume we're stealing this vehicle?"

"Unless you have fifty or sixty grand going spare?"

"Stolen it is."

-0-

The two return three hours later, the proud owners of a recent model Ford Mustang. It has tinted windows and shiny alloy rims and while the interior is a little cramped for five people it will more than suffice.

"Nice work, guys. This is perfect," John says. "Any trouble getting hold of it?"

"Nope. We saw it arrive. Belongs to some preppy guy and his hot blonde girlfriend. We followed them into the terminal and watched them board a flight to Hawaii. Vacation, presumably. Probably won't be missed for at least a week. And that's not the best bit. D'you know how Jan stole it? She bit the tip off her little finger and there's like this silvery bone thingy underneath which she sticks in the door lock. Coupla seconds later -bam - the security system turns off, the door opens and the engine starts. It was both incredibly cool and really gross at the same time. Show them your finger."

Cameron subprime holds up her pinkie. Apart from a fading red circle around the tip there's no sign of any self-mutilation. And it certainly beats having to carry a bunch of keys around.

"What's the U-Haul van parked in the driveway?"

"That's the second getaway vehicle."

"A U-Haul? What will the cops be driving - pedal cars? Because that's about all it'll outrun."

"It's not aalways about speed. Stealth. That's the key. And how many U-Haul's do you see driving around?"

"No idea. Never really paid them much attention."

"Exactly." John grins.

"Pretty sneaky, General. High Ten?"

SLAP! SLAP!

Cameron subrpime and I exchange a look. Hey - I thought that was our thing?

FRIDAY

We leave Los Angeles after dark. John and I are in the Mustang while the others ride the U-Haul. Daniel wanted to drive the Mustang as well so to decide the matter a quick game of rock-paper-scissors was played. John won. Rock blunted scissors.

"Is Lieberman still sulking?"

I glance behind. "He doesn't look happy.

"He'll get over it."

We drive to Pasadena and the Cal Tech campus to pick up Erik, former King of Nerdz. He is waiting outside the gates dressed in chinos and a dark windbreaker jacket, a laptop satchel slung over one shoulder. He climbs in the backseat.

"Nice wheels. Yours?"

"Let's call it a loaner."

"The people in the van behind are with us?"

"Can't do it without them."

"Who's the older woman?"

"My mom."

"You brought your mom?"

"She's not like a regular mom, believe me."

"The girl looks just like you."

"My twin sister," I explain.

"How do I tell you apart?"

"My hair is an half inch shorter." Duh!

"And the other guy?"

"Friend of ours."

"He looks mad about something."

"He'll be fine. Just lost a bet, is all."

"He's a gambler?"

"Oh yeah. Major rock-paper-scissors problem. So, how'd your date your date with Judy go?"

"It wasn't a date. There were a bunch of us. We had a meal then hit a karaoke bar."

"Karaoke, huh. Romantic. What'd you sing?"

"Creep. By Radiohead."

"The one that goes - I'm a creep. I'm a weirdo. I don't belong here? Isn't that a little too...on the money?"

"It's my favourite song."

"Of course it is. Are you seeing Judy again?"

"Actually she invited me to a Courtney Barnett concert tonight. Obviously I couldn't go."

"What excuse did you use?"

"I had to visit my mom."

"Because she's sick?"

"No."

"Because it's her birthday?"

"No. Just...kinda check in."

"Aw, man, big mistake!"

"Really? Oh. Maybe that's why she's not answering my texts."

"How many have you sent?"

"Six."

"Okay, no more texts. When you're in a hole the first rule is to stop digging."

"You think she's mad at me?"

"That's about the gist of it."

"Should I send her a present to say I'm sorry? Flowers? Mini -muffin basket?"

"Sure. That'll work. If she's eighty years old. Look, no gift is gonna make this better. What you need is a gesture."

"What kind of gesture?"

"Let me think...Is Courtney Barnett playing any more gigs locally?"

"Let me check." Erik opens his laptop and taps the keys. "Playing Orange County Tuesday night."

"Any tickets left?"

"A few."

"Buy the best pair they have."

"O-kay. Won't she have already seen the show?"

"It's the gesture that counts. If she likes you she'll find it thoughtful and endearing."

"And if doesn't? Like me, I mean."

"Move on. All you can do sometimes."

"So, how did you two meet?"

"Oh the old old story. Boy meets girl. Girl tries to kill boy and take over the world. And yet somehow we've made it work."

"Sounds - uh - complicated."

"At least there was no karaoke."

Amen to that.

-0-

We arrive in Nevada in the early morning. There is little to see. Nevada is a huge state with a relatively small human population, most of them living in the major cities - Las Vegas, Carson City, Reno. Out here in the boonies there is little but desert and views of the distant mountains. If a yawn had physical form it would be Nevada.

John picks up one of the radio handsets we will use to coordinate our actions. "Hey, guys, coming up on the prison access road me what you think."

A narrow sliproad leads off the main highway and becomes a two lane blacktop that runs at a right angle away into the desert. Tall steel light stanchions are spaced several hundred yards apart on both sides of the road. There is no sign of the prison, which is five miles distant. A large sign states this is federal government property and no unauthorised access is permitted.

"No barrier. No guards. Just a sign. I don't like it."

Sarah Connor. Paranoid as ever.

"Take a close look at the lights. See those round black ball-type things fixed to the posts? Erik says they're high definition security cameras. They can focus in on license plates and check them instantly on a government database. Drive more than a few yards and they'll know everything about you, probably down to social security numbers and what you're watching on Netflix."

"So much for data privacy."

The prison road recedes behind us. We drive several miles further to inspect the cell tower that Sarah Connor and Cameron subprime will have to disable if our plan is to succeed.

"There it is. Doesn't look much, does it?"

No. The cell tower is situated a few paces back from the highway verge. An aluminum gantry festooned with antennas. At the base is a square concrete blockhouse with an iron door and no windows. The whole stucture is ringed by a tall chainlink fence topped with razor wire designed to keep people out. With a terminator on the job it might as well be tissue paper.

We make a U-turn a mile past the cell tower then head back to the nearest town, a place called Scanton. Here we locate the cheapest motel we can find and check in.

-0-

"This place is a dump!" Daniel remarks dolefully as he inspects the threadbare furniture and generally drab fixtures of the motel room. "Couldn't we afford anything a little less...shit?"

"It's not about saving money," Sarah Connor explains. "The desk clerk didn't ask for ID. And there are no security cameras. We have to assume they'll try and backtrace our steps. The fewer clues we leave behind the better."

Erik sits at the wooden dining table and takes out his laptop. "I'll check the local weather forecast see if there's any rain due."

"Yeah, wouldn't want to break into a prison without a brolly handy," Daniel quips.

"It's alright for you, safe and snug in the Mustang. I'll be on the back of a dirt bike. And technically we're breaking someone out of prison, not breaking in."

"We're gonna be here for a few hours. Anyone want anything to eat?" John asks. "I saw some vending machines in the lobby."

"I could use a coffee. And maybe some Funyuns?" says Erik.

"Coffee. Funyuns. Mom?"

"Coffee. Black. And see if they have any healthy eating options."

"I'll ask but I doubt they will. Lieberman?"

"Are you kidding? I'm too nervous to eat. In fact, I think I need the bathroom."

John and Daniel leave the room on their very different errands. Cameron subprime and I take up station either side of the large picture window that gives a less than salubrious view of the dingy parking area. The Mustang is worth more than all the other parked vehicles combined and therefore a tempting target for would be thieves. The last thing we need is for our stolen car to be stolen. The irony alone would be devastating.

Sarah Connor pulls out a chair and sits opposite Erik, who smiles nervously and says, "I don't think we've met. I'm Erik."

"I know who you are."

"You're John's mother, Mrs..?"

"Call me Sarah."

"Right. Right. Sarah."

"My son trusts you. He might even like you. He thinks you can do what you say you can do."

"I can. It's-"

"Shut up. I don't like you. And I certainly don't trust you. If this turns out to be an elaborate double-cross..."

"It's not, I swear! I just want to get my friend out of jail. To right an injustice. I mean, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without a trial. It's...it's wrong!"

"You're willing to risk your life for it?"

"I...Yes. Yes, I am. If the cops kill me so be it."

"I wasn't talking about the police."

John returns, arms laden with coffee cartons and candy bars.

"Coffee. Funyuns. I asked the desk clerk about healthy options and he suggested a Snickers bar."

"How is a Snicker's bar a healthy option?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe because it has nuts in it?"

"I'll pass."

Erik taps the laptop's keys and shakes his head. "Unbelievable."

"What is?"

"This place has free wifi. They are seven people using the network, none of them have remotely adequate anti-virus. Look at this idiot. He's running Windows Vista. Vista!" Erik sounds like he has just spotted a man riding a Penny Farthing. "I mean, I could literally hack these people in seconds. And they'd never even know."

"Well, don't. Low profile, remember."

Daniel returns. "I've changed my mind. This dump is a palace compared to the bathroom. It's like Courtney Love contracted Parkinsons, swallowed a bottle of laxatives, ordered Indian takeout then just did what comes naturally."

"What a charming mental image."

"Who's Courtney Love?" Erik asks.

"Seriously? The lead singger of Hole. The widow of Kurt Cobain."

"Who-"

"Do not ask me who Kurt Cobain is!"

"I wasn't going to. I was about to say - who wants Funyuns? They're delicious."

Everyone declines. Erik shrugs and continues stuffing his face. The eccentric eating habits of royalty.

"So what's the weather forecast?" John asks.

"Dry and clear. Hasn't rained in these parts for three weeks. That's good, right?"

"Should mean the ground's good and firm."

"You'll need to watch you don't send up too much dust. It could be spotted," Sarah Connor cautions.

"I doubt it'll be a problem since we'll have a ladder strapped to the side of the bike. We'll be lucky to get above twenty."

John peels open a Snickers bar and takes a bite. "Hmm, I can really taste the nuts. And I'm feeling healthier already."

His mother smirks but says nothing.

"I don't know how you can eat. I feel like I've got a bee hive in my stomach," Daniel confesses.

"Try and relax, man. We'll be here a few hours. Watch some TV."

Daniel picks up the remote and points it at the flatscreen TV hanging on the wall. Suddenly the room is filled with the loud groans of a woman being sexually pleasured by a man. The screen depicts them enthusiastically enjoying coitus.

"Shit!" Daniel fumbles with the remote and finally manages to switch the TV off. "Sorry. Don't know what the hell that was."

"I believe it is called the reverse cowgirl position," I remark. Everyone stares at me, doubtless impressed by my perspicacity.

"I need the bathroom again," Daniel insists. "To pee!" he adds hastily. "Not...anything else."

"Is that guy okay?" Erik asks when Daniel is gone. "He seems kind of flakey."

Said the boy king who believes in flying saucers.

-0-

The hours pass. The sky darkens and soon it is time for us to begin leaving.

Red team - John and Erik - are the first to depart. We follow them out to the parking lot to see them off. Cameron subprime and I help lower the dirtbike from the back of the U-Haul. It's been specially adapted to carry an extendable aluminum ladder that is strapped to the chassis. They will require this to scale the prison walls.

"See you guys on the other side!"" John waves cheerily as he and Erik ride off together.

"I wish he hadn't phrased it like that," Daniel grumbles.

White team - Sarah Connor and Cameron subprime- are the next to leave. We watch as the U-Haul van drives out to the highway and merges with traffic.

And then there were two.

"I need the bathroom," Daniel mutters nervously and hurries back to the motel.

And then there was one.

-0-

I drive the Mustang to a spot several hundred yards shy of the prison access road, pull over to the verge and douse the headlights. Now we must wait for John's signal.

Waiting is something machines do well. Standby mode, as we call it. Humans do waiting less well and Daniel is no exception. While I sit still and serene he fidgets and frets. Fortunately I know how to take his mind off the situation.

Small talk.

Inconsequential chatter designed to alleviate social anxiety and promote camaraderie. I come pre-programmed with several viable starter options.

1) How have you been lately?

2) Nice weather we're having.

3) Shit weather we're having.

4) How about those 'knicks?

5) Fancy a quick one?

I begin immediately.

"How have you been lately?"

"What?"

"Nice weather we're having."

"Are you trying to make small talk?"

"It will relieve some of your tension."

"I'm not tense."

"Elevated heartrate and increased perspiration levels beg to differ."

"Okay, I'm a little tense. Can you blame me? Back in Seattle this seemed like a great adventure. Now it's actually happening all I can think of is the many ways I could end up dead. Or imprisoned for the rest of my natural."

The human imagination at work again.

"I mean, how do we even know this Erik kid is on the level? Seems a bit of a dweeb to me."

"Erik hasn't lied to us."

"You can tell if someone's lying?"

"Most of the time."

"Okay, Sherlock. My middle name's Leviticus. True or false?"

I turn and face him. I examine pupil dilation and skin lividity, comparing both to known constants. I have to estimate anal dilation since even terminators can't see through pants material and it's unlikely Daniel will want to disrobe. Vocalization is replayed and analysed by a specific subroutine before I announce my verdict.

"True."

"Yeah. Just keep it on the down-low, okay? Not exactly something I advertise. Of course, It might have been a lucky guess. Even money bet, after all."

"It wasn't a lucky guess."

"I believe you. Hey - I'm getting pretty good at this myself."

We relapse into our default modes. Still and serene - me. Fidget and fret - him. Human and machine doing their thing. Or do I mean thang? I will Google it later.

"Wonder what that hot couple are doing now?" Daniel muses.

"Hot couple?"

"The preppy guy and the blonde we stole the Mustang from. Probably lying on a beach in Hawaii, not a care in the world."

"Unlikely. It is night in Hawaii."

"Okay, maybe they're enjoying a romantic dinner for two. The guy's saying, Gee, I hope my 'tang's okay back in LA. The blonde says, Honey, tonight I'm all the 'tang you need." Daniel winks at me. "Get it?"

"Get what?"

"Never mind, " he sighs.

The radio handset on the dash remains stubbornly silent. "You remembered to charge it, I hope?" Daniel asks.

"Of course."

"Nice clear night." Daniel leans forward and stares up at the night sky. "What's that bright star up there? Is it the Pole star?"

I summon a star map to appear in my HUD. "No. Betelgeuse. In the constellation Orion. It is six hundred four light years from earth."

"I think it's pronounced Beetlejuice."

"Betelgeuse."

"Beetlejuice."

"Betelgeuse."

"Fine. Have it your way."

"My way is the correct way."

Silence. Daniel fidgets afresh then asks, "How come you're so relaxed?"

"A design characteristic. I am calm as a cucumber."

"It's cool as a cucumber."

"Oh. Why is a cucumber considered cool? Because it is refrigerated to impede decay?"

"I don't know. Maybe cucumbers are cool because they wear leather jackets and ride motorbikes."

I evaluate this new information then reject it as absurd. Cucumbers have no limbs so how could they control a powerful motorbike? The road safety implications are horrendous.

More silence. More fidgeting. My small talk tactic was an obvious bust. I'd be better off locking him in the trunk.

"Shouldn't they have called by now? We've been here hours."

"Twenty seven minutes."

"It seems like hours."

"No, it seems like twenty seven minutes."

"Something must have gone wrong."

"There is no evidence to suggest that."

Daniel sighs. "Tom Petty was right. The waiting is the hardest part."

More silence. Then, softly: "I need the bathroom."

"It's in your head."

"Try telling my bladder."

I lean over and address his lower abdomen. "It's in your head."

Daniel laughs. "Thanks. Jokes help relieve the stress."

"What jokes?"

More laughter. Humans are weird.

Suddenly the radio crackles into life. John's voice, low and urgent.

"Blue team. Go! Go! Go!"

I flick on the lights and stamp on the gas.

-0-

Greetings from the UK. Or as we're calling ourselves post-Brexit - Billy No Mates-Land. We don't need no stinking wall, Senor Donald, just a half-assed plebiscite.

Beetlejuice. Say it three times and a creepy old guy with bad hair appears to scare us all. Finally, an explanation for Donald Trump.

Next: Everything goes according to plan.

Yeah, right...