That summer, Jad saw the convertible around the neighborhood. He even saw it in Mr. Crisp’s driveway a time or two. He did not, however, see more of his father.
A few weeks after Mr. Crisp got his rocket, Carl showed up one night at Jad’s house. Jad was home alone watching TV while Lisa worked the late shift.
“Hey, buddy.” Carl said when Jad opened the door to him. “I’ve got a proposition for you. You wanna come live with me for the rest of the summer?”
Jad frowned. He hadn’t seen his father in three weeks despite a half-dozen sightings of the convertible. Even so, that made him all the more interested.
“Why?” Jad asked.
“Awww, come on. You don’t want to live with your old man for six weeks?”
“Will Mona be there?”
“Nah. She’s on a trip to Milan…modeling or something. It’ll just be some quality guy time.”
“I’ll have to ask Mom.”
“Sure, sure, when’s she get home?”
“It’s Friday so probably not till one.”
“Ok, well, I’ll stop back tomorrow.” He turned to go.
“No, wait!” Jad said. “You could stay…And-and watch a movie.”
Carl smiled. “I’d like that.”
Carl came in and sat down on the couch. Jad made instant popcorn and got them two bottles of root beer. They watched an old 2D mad scientist movie marathon. They laughed themselves silly making fun of the characters, plots, and special effects.
When Lisa came home from work, Jad and Carl had fallen asleep on the couch together. An empty root beer bottle stood on each end table and a bowl of popcorn lay spilled on the floor between them. On the screen, a movie played about a mad scientist pining for the woman he turned into a monkey.
Lisa turned the movie off, cleaned up, laid a blanket on each of them and went to bed.
In the morning Carl and Jad presented their case to Lisa. She resisted at first. But when she saw the glint in Jad’s eye that reminded her of his father on their wedding day, she agreed. She stipulated, however, that she would visit every Sunday and could reevaluate the situation at any time.
Carl saw her stipulations and raised her an extra visit on Jad’s birthday.
Two days later, Carl picked Jad up in a different car, a four-door sedan. It was nice but a definitive step down from his convertible.
“What’s this?” Jad asked once his mother had kissed him goodbye and walked back in the house.
“Hey, what’s wrong with my ride?” Carl said in mock defensiveness. “Truth is I had to trade down, but that won’t be for long, I’ve got a plan that’ll put me back in the black.”
“What?” Jad asked.
Carl glanced at his son then back out the windshield. “It’s a secret, Jad. You can’t tell anyone, not even Mom.”
“Why not Mom?”
“Well, Jad,” Carl said. He rubbed his chin as if he was thinking it over. “I need your help, and I know you’ll be excited, but if we told Mom she’d think it was too dangerous.” He paused and looked at Jad. “But I think you can handle it.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“Of course I can,” Jad said.
“You pinky swear?” Carl extended his pinky.
Jad smiled and hooked his pinky around his father’s. “Pinky swear.”
“Ok, Larry and I are going to teach you how to fly a rocket.”
“What?” Jad wasn’t sure he heard correctly.
“A rocket,” Carl repeated. He looked over at his son and laughed. “You better tone that smile down, or your forehead’s going to fall off.”
Jad’s cheeks reddened, but he didn’t stop smiling. Suddenly his brow furrowed. “Wait, who’s Larry?” he asked.
“My business partner.”
Jad had only been to his Dad’s house once before. Darkness had fallen by the time they pulled into the driveway. The house was much like Jad’s: lots of empty, unused rooms. Last time Jad had been there, even unused rooms were lavishly furnished. The house had become cluttered too. Both his Mom and Mona were clean freak. But the house hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. Jad’s eyes flitted from one pile of stuff to the next and then landed on a week’s worth of dishes in the sink. Carl laughed and made a joke about firing the maid. Jad shrugged and asked more questions about the rocket.
Well past midnight, Carl insisted he go to bed. Sleep was out of the question. But Jad consented to go to his room and stare at the ceiling.
Before dawn had broken Jad and Carl were up, dressed, and walking to the launch pad, or rather the launch pads. As the sun came up over the horizon, Jad saw a steel and chrome launch pad beneath a battered, dull-gray rocket. Aerodynamics had come a long way since the 50s. This rocket could slice the air like a knife or, rather, could have when it was new. It now looked like a large child had banged on it with a hammer.
Carl put his hand on the dorsal fin. “This, Jad, is The Amalgam,” he said. He turned to the rocket, “Amalgam, this is my son, Jad, your new pilot.” Jad wasn’t quite sure what you say to a rocket when you first meet it, but Carl didn’t give him a chance. “The Amalgam is our test rocket,” Carl continued, “She may look a bit beat up, but she’s solid as a rock. Larry and I’ve modified her to increase her range. We’ve, well mostly Larry has, gotten the Pendleton Engine up to a 12:1 ratio.”
Jad’s mouth dropped open.
Pendleton himself had never gotten further than 10:1. 8:1 was the standard ratio for weight lightening. Eight pounds of weight reduced to one pound within the Pendleton engine’s field.
Jad looked up. A familiar bright red rocket shot out of the blue. As the sonic boom hit them the rocket landed with pinpoint precision on the other launch pad.
As the dust and smoke cleared, a man climbed out. The man wore a black space suit with red accents.
Jad turned to his Dad. “What’s Mr. Crisp doing here?” he asked.
The man approached and removed his helmet. “Jad,” Carl said, “this is Larry Crisp, my business partner.”
Jad took Larry’s outstretched hand and had his own crushed good-naturedly in a firm handshake. “You’re going to fly with us, Mr. Crisp?” he asked.
“I’m your support crew,” Larry said with a wide grin. “I’m gonna save your hide.”
Jad smiled. he liked this side of Mr. Crisp.
“All right, lets take a look in the cockpit,” Larry said.
They spent most of the day just going over the knobs, switches, and indicator lights of the cockpit. A few hours in, Jad asked whether he could go ahead and take a ride. “You know…” he said, “to see how all those things fit together.” Larry would not hear of it till Jad knew the cockpit backwards and forwards and had run three hundred flights on the jury-rigged flight simulator they’d set up.
To Be Continued…