Damien ran into the cafeteria and squeaked his sneakers to a stop where Al and I ate lunch, plopping down on the bench next to me. He looked at me, then at Al, breathed out sharply and nodded. “The Men in Black are here.”
Al dropped his sloppy joe.
“Where?” I asked.
“Palm Street, just off Main.”
“What are they doing?” asked Al.
Damien threw up his hands. “No idea. But they’re all over the place.”
The clock on the wall said twelve sixteen. Nine minutes left of lunch break. “Gonna have to play hookey,” I said. “Let’s grab Harry.”
We intercepted Harry coming up the west wing and filled him in. We had a well-established escape route down the street side of the gymnasium and across through an antique store’s parking lot, then down a back alley.
Damien was right. Literally dozens of men milled about Palm Street, almost all of them in black clothing. Black shirts, black pants, black shoes, even black hair. They chatted in groups smoking cigarettes, sat alone, or went in and out of the local businesses. Some of them wore cowboy hats. We walked by and stopped in front of the thrift store.
“It must be a big happening for so many to work openly like this,” said Al.
“That’s what I was thinking,” said Damien.
“I thought they’d all be in black suits,” said Harry.
“Yeah, they’re probably lower level operatives,” I said.
A lot of them went in and out of the Golden Recording Studio. Two of them spoke quietly and leaned on the mailbox in front, as if they were guarding the place, but trying not to show it.
I tapped Al on the chest. “Hey, you guys think that’s a temporary headquarters?”
“Maybe it’s permanent,” said Damien. “Right under our noses this whole time.”
“Let’s talk to them,” said Al.
“They’re not going to tell us anything,” said Harry.
“Can’t hurt, though.” I was pretty keen on talking to them. Our UFO Hunters club could really use some contacts in the organization, and—who knows?—maybe we could get involved. “Let’s try the guys by the mailbox.”
The man on the left was taller than most and smoked a cigarette. No hat.
“Hey, mister.” Damien walked up to them. “I’m Damien Scorelli. May I ask your names?”
“Johnny Stone.” The tall one held out his hand and Damien took it.
“Is that your real name?” asked Harry.
“Of course not.”
I exchanged glances with Damien and Al.
The short one extended his hand to me. “Jason Ghostrider.” He smiled. “Mine’s not real, either.”
“You… you’re men in black,” said Harry.
They both nodded and smiled. “Yeah. That’s right.”
“You know Johnny Cash?” asked Jason.
“Huh-uh,” I said.
Damien let go of Johnny’s hand. “Was there some space alien activity around here?”
Johnny straightened, a funny look crossing his face. “There’s been a lot of activity around here.” He furrowed his brow. “Who wants to know?”
I stepped forward. “My name’s Jimmy Dickerson. This is Harry Crawford and Al Kaiser. We’re UFO hunters, and we’d like to get involved with your organization.”
Johnny chuckled. “My organization?”
“Yeah,” I said. I wasn’t happy the way he didn’t seem to take us seriously. “We do investigations all the time. You’d benefit from our experience and resources.”
“It’s dangerous work, hunting aliens,” said Johnny.
Jason scoffed. “Johnny, you shouldn’t be telling them that.”
Al stepped up. “We can handle it.”
Johnny pursed his lips. “I believe you could.” He leaned over, hands on his knees. “Okay. Here’s the thing. There’s an initiation for joining our team.”
“Johnny!” Jason pushed him in the arm.
Johnny glared at him. “Leave it alone, Jason.”
Jason shook his head and walked off.
“You want to be part of us, go inside there.” Johnny pointed to the Golden Recording Studio. “Ask for an audition, and do whatever they ask you to do.”
I looked at my pals, and we all nodded to each other solemnly.
“You know any Johnny Cash songs?”
“My parents listen to him sometimes,” said Al. “But I don’t know any.”
“That’s all right,” said Johnny. “You know ‘This Land is Your Land?’”
“Yeah, of course,” said Harry.
“Just sing that.”
“They want us to sing?”
“Don’t question it,” said Johnny. “If they let you join, you’ll understand then.”
It didn’t make much sense to me, but, who knows? Maybe singing could be used as a way to paralyze aliens.
We walked into the studio. It was dim, but pleasant. I grabbed Damien and pointed to a poster on the wall that said ‘Man in Black Retrospective, Coming this Summer.’
“Is it code?” he asked.
A big bald man sat in a chair in the reception room. He looked up from his tablet.
“Hello, sir,” stammered Damien. “Can… can we have an audition?”
“You all together?”
The man reached onto the counter next to him and grabbed a clipboard. After examining it for a minute, he handed it to Damien. “You can have the last slot in ten minutes.”
Damien wrote on the clipboard and handed it back.
After seventeen minutes, baldie ushered us into the recording booth. Two men sat in the dark on the other side of the glass.
“What is this?” asked a voice.
“We’re here for the audition,” I said.
They murmured to each other. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“On my count,” I whispered. I counted to four, and we all sang ‘This Land is Your Land.’ It wasn’t bad.
“Thank you. You may leave now.”
“Did we pass?” asked Al.
“We’ll let you know.”
When we got outside, the Men in Black were gone. Whatever the happening was, it must have cleared up.
All four of us were as excited as we’ve ever been.
“We could be real UFO hunters,” said Harry.
I scowled. “We are real UFO hunters.”
Harry frowned. “Yes. Yes. Of course.”
I smiled. “But you’re right. This could be really good.”
I don’t know how long it takes to process this kind of thing, but I was stoked. I went home and started a page for case number five. At the top I put “Unknown Happening.” In the middle, I took notes about our initiation audition to be bona fide Men in Black.
That was about two years ago, and I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that they were never calling back. I stopped in the studio several times, with the guys or alone, but whenever we asked for the Men in Black, they claimed no such people worked there.
Yeah, right. Had it been temporary? Did they vacate after we found out they were there? We’ll never know, but it was the closest we’ve come, so far, to the real Men in Black.
I thought it was finally time to close the case. Underneath the notes about the initiation I wrote ‘Rejected.’ At the bottom of the page for the happening, I wrote ‘Unsolved.’