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Voyage of the Damned
Hutch glanced out the car window and griped, "Admit it, Starsk, we're lost."
"I know that restaurant's around here somewhere," Starsky said, idly steering the Torino along the evergreen lined highway.
"Yeah, right. Aren't those mountains over there?"
"You're imagining things."
"You think I'm imagining mountains?"
Starsky glared at the offending snow-capped peaks. "All right, so maybe we're, uh, misplaced. Better check a map," he conceded. He saw a large sign up ahead, next to the road. "Look, what does that sign say?"
"Welcome to South Park," Hutch read aloud. "South Park? There's no South Park in California, is there? Dammit, I told you to ask for directions at that last gas station."
"I don't need to ask for directions. I always know exactly where I'm going."
"Oh, sure." Hutch rolled his eyes. "That's why we're in South Park, not L.A."
Starsky grumbled a little and concentrated on driving. After a few minutes of cruising and observing nothing but mountains and more trees, he asked, "So where's this town, anyway?"
Hutch was frowning out the window. "You didn't miss the turnoff, did you?"
"I don't think so."
They drove along for a few more minutes, then Hutch said excitedly, "Slow down, Starsk. There's a cop up ahead."
"Terrific. Maybe we can find out where we are."
A lone black and white patrol car was parked on the shoulder of the highway. Starsky pulled the Torino off the road and parked few yards behind the car, then both men got out and headed towards it. The officer sitting inside it apparently saw them coming, because he emerged from the vehicle and stood waiting for them.
The policeman was an officious looking man, with his blue uniform shirt primly buttoned clear up to his chin. "That's quite a car you got there, strangers," he commented, touching his opaque sunglasses.
It hadn't sounded like a compliment. Starsky cleared his throat. "Ah, thank you, Officer..."
"I'm Officer Barbrady, of the South Park PD. So, what are you strangers doing out here in the woods?"
"Well, we were wondering if you could give us directions..."
"Why? You're not looking for Satanists, are you?"
Starsky looked over to Hutch, who gave a bewildered shrug at the peculiar question. "Um, no," he said to the stuffy policeman.
"Good, because there are no Satanists anywhere near here. You got that?"
"Ah, right. Got it. There aren't any Satanists here."
"Good. And if you see any people walking around in hoods or robes, they're just kids pulling pranks, not Satanists. You strangers need to realize that."
"Just so we got that straight." Apparently satisfied, Officer Barbrady got back into his car and started the engine. As he pulled out onto the road, he called out the window, "Remember, no Satanists!"
Two very confused detectives watched the patrol car disappear down the highway.
"What the hell was that about?" Starsky asked, still staring after the patrol car.
"Got me," Hutch shrugged again. "You think he was a real cop?"
"Couldn't be, could he?"
"Who knows? Maybe he just doesn't like strangers, and decided have some fun."
"Oh, that's real professional."
"Takes all kinds."
"Why the hell did he have to bring up Satanists?"
"Dunno. Because there aren't any?" Hutch smirked.
"If you ask me, this is all pretty damned suspicious."
"Forget it. Let's just figure out where we are, and how to get back home."
As they walked back to the Torino, Starsky started fishing in his pockets and patting himself down. Perplexed, Hutch watched the performance a bit before finally asking, "What are you looking for?"
"I can't find my car keys."
"They're still in the car, dummy. You left them in the ignition."
Hutch couldn't resist needling, "Guess you were in a hurry to get some directions, after all."
"Oh, shut up," Starsky shot a hostile glare at him, "or I'll leave you to the Satanists."
"The non-Satanists, you mean."
"I'm serious, Hutch. It's always those nut-case Satanists, or cultists, or voodoo, or something. They've got it in for us, I'm sure."
"Why're you getting so upset about this? That weird cop was just yanking your chain. What are the chances of us running into any devil worshippers or cultists way out here?"
"Pine Lake," Starsky said succinctly.
"Oh. Yeah," Hutch acknowledged the point. "Well, that was a fluke."
"A fluke?" Starsky scowled at him and started counting on his fingers, "Ezra Beam, Slade, Nadasy the vampire, Marcus's goons, Rodell and his little coven..."
"Okay, okay. But most of that stuff was back in La La Land. And two of those guys were just doing it for the bread. I still think you're getting worked up over nothi--"
"Quiet," Starsky said, holding up his hand and cocking his head to one side. "Do you hear that?"
"Sounds like someone talking. Over there, in the woods."
Hutch strained his ears, and managed to detect several voices coming from the forest. Few actual words were discernible; the sounds were severely distorted by several layers of low growing brush. One of the voices was muffled, as though the speaker was trying to disguise it. There was a chorus of laughter, then the muffled voice sounded again. Someone said clearly, "Well, hurry up, then."
"Sounds like they're coming out, whoever they are," Hutch murmured tensely.
As Starsky and Hutch watched and waited, three boys, aged about eight years old, emerged in single file from the woods. One of them, wearing a green hat, pointed at the Torino and said, "Dudes! Check out the car."
"Kick ass!" the fat one exclaimed.
Hutch exhaled loudly. "It's just some kids."
Starsky took note of his relieved expression and gave him a vindictive smile. "Guess I'm not the only one who's all worked up over nothing, huh?"
Hutch chose not to dignify that with a reply.
"Hey, dudes. You looking for the Satanists, too?" the kid in the blue ski cap asked.
"Satanists?" Starsky shot a worried glance at Hutch.
"Yeah. They're around here somewhere. Us and Chef--"
"Chef? Who's that?"
"He's the school cook. I'm Stan, and this is Kyle."
Kyle, the kid wearing the green hat, waved and said, "Hi, dudes."
"The fat kid here is Cartman--"
"Hey!" Cartman objected. "I'm not fat! I'm just big boned. Ask my mom."
Stan gestured at an orange-hooded figure just emerging from the forest. "And over there is--"
"A Satanist!" Starsky yelled. Both he and Hutch pulled their guns and fired multiple rounds at the orange hooded form. By the time they were finished, the hooded form was riddled with holes and looked like a bloody Swiss cheese.
"Oh my God!" Stan shouted. "They killed Kenny!"
"You bastards!" Kyle added.
Starsky and Hutch holstered their guns and ran over to the body. Starsky knelt down beside it and gasped. "Oh no," he moaned. "It's just a kid."
"Yeah, that was Kenny," Stan informed him helpfully.
"What?" Hutch stared down at Kenny, unable to believe what they'd just done. "Jesus Christ! What's wrong with us? Why the hell did we start shooting like that?"
"I can't believe I killed another kid," Starsky said. "Damn that hood, anyway."
Shaking his head, Hutch turned to the three other children. He held up his hands, palms out, to project as non-threatening an attitude as possible. "Um, kids, we're really sorry about your friend, but he was wearing that hood, and we thought he was..." he rambled to a stop, painfully aware that he was babbling.
"Oh, it's okay. You can't be too careful," was Stan's callous reply.
Starsky and Hutch exchanged a confused look. Hutch cautiously asked, "How do we get into town? We need to go report this to someone."
"Why bother? It's not like it's a big deal or anything," Kyle said. Both detectives stared at him, speechless.
"Yeah, Kenny dies all the time," Cartman added. "@#$*-ing show off."
This lack of concern shook Hutch severely. "What?" he faltered.
"Yeah, dudes. This happens all the time. So, who are you guys, anyway?" Kyle queried, examining the two men closely.
"Yeah," Stan chimed in, a suspicious note in his voice. "We told you who we were. You wouldn't be the Satanists, would you?"
"Nah, they're not Satanists," Cartman said. "No robes."
"Ah... We're detectives," Starsky began, a little overwhelmed at the situation.
"You mean like Magnum, PI?" Stan asked.
"No," Hutch said. "We're police detectives."
"Oh. I don't think we have any of those here. Just Officer Barbrady. You know him?"
"We've met," Starsky grimaced with distaste.
"I'm Detective Hutchinson, and he's Detective Starsky," Hutch said.
"If you're a cop, let's see your badge," Cartman demanded.
Hutch shrugged and pulled out his ID. The kids clustered around him and peered at it. Stan looked up from the photograph and asked, "Your name is Kenneth? So we can call you Kenny, right?"
"Yeah," Cartman agreed. "Detective Kenny, yessiree."
"It'll be just like having Kenny around a little longer, for a change."
"That's okay, isn't it?" Kyle asked.
"It's really cool that you're named after our friend. I mean, Kenny killing Kenny. That's pretty cool," Cartman added gleefully.
Hutch glanced over at Starsky and shrugged helplessly. "I guess... I don't see any harm in it."
Starsky grinned back at him. "Okay, Kenny."
"I said the kids could call me that. Nobody said anything about you, moron."
A rustling sound came from behind them. Both detectives turned around, and were horrified to observe a large pack of filthy rats crawling all over Kenny's corpse. There was some concerted squeaking, then the rats started to drag the body into the woods.
"Ohmigawd," Starsky whispered.
"I think I'm gonna be sick," Hutch groaned, averting his eyes from the scene.
"What a pair of wussies," Cartman smirked nastily. "What's the matter? The big, bad cops never seen rats eat someone before?"
The other kids snickered at Cartman's taunts. They didn't seem to think that anything remarkable was happening. Starsky got an unnerved look in his eye, and quietly remarked to Hutch, "Y'know, I'm all for just getting out of here."
Before Hutch could respond, a deep voice called out, "There you are, children! I've been looking all over for you."
Both detectives looked around just in time to see a large black man, wearing a chef's hat, step out of the woods. The kids chorused, "Hi, Chef."
Chef noticed the two strangers immediately. "So, children, who are your friends?"
"They're cops! That's Detective Starsky," Stan said, pointing to the hapless detective. Then he aimed his index finger at Hutch. "And this is Detective Kenny." Hutch smiled with mild embarrassment.
"Your name is Kenny?" Chef asked incredulously.
"Well, actually, I'm Detective Ken Hutchinson, but the kids are calling me Kenny."
"You let them do that?"
"Sure, why not?"
Chef shrugged, "It's your funeral." Before Hutch could ask him what he meant, he went on, "It'll be nice having some real cops help us out here. The local police are kind of useless."
"He means Officer Barbrady," Stan whispered to Hutch. "There aren't any other police."
"None?" Hutch asked, genuinely surprised.
"None," Chef confirmed. "Have the children filled you in? We're looking for a coven of Satanists. They're rumored to be holding their unholy rites out here in the forest somewhere. We could really use a hand."
"You're letting kids do this?" Starsky was appalled. "I can't believe that."
"Here, I'll sing you a little song to explain." Then, to the detectives' amazement, Chef began to croon a song in a mellifluous, dreamy baritone. It started out innocuously enough, its topic originally centered on the witch hunt, then started to drift into romance. Starsky and Hutch listened with growing disbelief as Chef continued to sing. The song got more and more suggestive, then downright explicit. The man considered this appropriate for children to hear? Fortunately, before the lyrics became completely pornographic, Chef caught himself and stopped singing abruptly. "Well, you know what I mean," he finished.
"We certainly do," Hutch remarked disapprovingly, giving Chef his best policeman's glare.
"Like I'm gonna have to worry about your opinion for much longer," Chef muttered under his breath. He inhaled deeply. "Anyway, I just came out to say that I got a lead on the coven, and I'm going to follow it up. I want the children to stay out here for now, where it's safe. Do you two mind looking after them? I'll be back in a few minutes, then you guys can go arrest the evil doers."
"No problem," Starsky said agreeably. He waited patiently while Chef disappeared back into woods, then turned to Hutch. "What say we run these kids into town? After that song, I'm not so sure we should leave them out here with that character."
"Aw, Chef's a good guy," Kyle protested.
"Yeah, it's just that sometimes he loses track of what he's singing," Stan agreed.
Licking his lips and rubbing his stomach, Cartman added, "And he makes a damn fine cheeseburger, too." The other two kids nodded knowingly.
"Well, I still think we should all head into town," Starsky was adamant on that point.
"Do we get to ride in that car?" Cartman pointed a mittened hand at Starsky's car.
"Sweet! Me first!" The fat kid elbowed his way past the others and made a beeline straight for the Torino.
Starsky sighed and tried to round up the other two kids, who were protesting that they really ought to wait for Chef. He rolled his eyes and said to Hutch, "Just what gives with this place, anyway? Is everyone here nuts?"
"It must be something in the air," Hutch decided aloud, grinning as he watched Starsky attempt to catch the two uncooperative and highly energetic eight year olds.
"You could help me, you know," Starsky complained, pausing to catch his breath. "At least that Cartman kid wants a free ride." He nodded to where Cartman was waiting by the car. "It's unlocked!" he called. "Go ahead and get in."
"All right!" Cartman chortled as he climbed into driver's side of the car. "Man, this car is cool." The keys were still in the ignition, where Starsky had forgotten them. Unable to resist temptation, Cartman started the car and revved the engine a few times. "Sweet."
The noisy engine of his beloved car caught Starsky's attention. "Hey!" he yelled, running towards the Torino. "What do you think you're doing? Knock it off!"
"Oh, shit. Busted!" Cartman exclaimed. He put the car in reverse and stepped on the gas. The car lurched backwards with an angry roar. "Kick ass!" Cartman sang happily, spinning the steering wheel. "Can't catch me!" He glanced in the rearview mirror and caught a brief glimpse of blond hair before the car thumped and bounced over some large object. Startled, he hit the brakes, then leaned his head out the window to see what was going on. Stan, Kyle, and Starsky were all converging on a spot in front of the Torino.
"Oh my God," Stan shouted over the rumbling engine. "Cartman, you killed Kenny!"
"You bastard!" Kyle added cheerfully.
"Hutch!" Starsky screamed. He ran to his friend and knelt by the body. "Oh, God..."
Kyle gave him a funny look. "Don't be sad, dude. He'll be back." Starsky stared back at him blankly, too grief-stricken to respond.
The engine noise ceased. Cartman got out of the car and walked around to see what all the fuss was about. "Oops," he said, twirling the car keys and looking down at Hutch's mangled corpse.
"Cartman, you dumb-ass! Look what you did," Stan accused.
"Shut up, butt-munch! It was his own @#$*-ing fault for standing there!"
That roused Starsky from his shocked fugue. He grabbed Cartman by the throat, shouting, "You little #$%#%%!!! I'm gonna #$%#-ing kill you!!!"
Just at that moment, Chef came running out of the woods. "Children! Detective Starsky!"
Starsky looked up from throttling Cartman. "Can it wait?"
"Hey, man, got no time for that. I've found the Satanists." He pointed at the woods. "They're in a clearing over there."
Starsky dropped Cartman, who collapsed on the ground and gasped like a beached whale. He snatched the keys from the fat kid and asked Chef, "You're sure?"
"They're wearing black robes and chanting 'Rise, Satan, rise' while dancing around a fire."
"Then we'd better get going and catch them. Come on." Chef started down a dirt path leading into the forest, followed by Stan, Kyle, and a wheezing Cartman. When he realized that Starsky wasn't coming along with them, Chef stopped and turned around. Starsky was staring at Hutch's body. Chef walked over to him.
"Don't worry about him," Chef advised. "He'll be back."
Starsky looked up at him, confused. "You people keep saying that."
"Believe me, Kenny always comes back." Chef made an 'after you' gesture with his hand.
Numbly, Starsky took a few steps forward, then paused and looked back at the scene behind him. He noticed rustling movements around Hutch's body. "Are those rats?" he asked weakly. Chef just took his arm and hustled him down the wooded path.
After an interminable hike, made even more unendurable by vivid memories of Hutch's rat-chewed corpse and three inanely chattering, completely unconcerned, foul-mouthed little brats, the path ended at a large clearing on the edge of the forest. Just as Chef had described, a collection of hooded, black-robed figures was circling a roaring bonfire, chanting, "Rise, Satan, rise! Rise, Satan, rise!"
Starsky motioned Chef and the kids to stay back, then he pulled his gun and started to slowly creep up on the cultists, using the brush as cover. He froze in place at a blinding flash of light. When he could see again, he nearly fainted with shock. A grotesque, bespectacled demon was floating above the bonfire. The creature was sitting at what appeared to be an old-fashioned switchboard. It gazed down its long proboscis at the assembled cultists, and said in an extremely nasal voice, "I'm sorry, but His Infernal Highness, Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness and Sovereign Lord of the Nine Circles of Hell, is otherwise occupied at the moment. Would you care to leave a message?"
One of the cultists pulled away from the group, threw his fists into the air, and shouted, "You tell that *^&!#$ to get his sorry butt back to South Park! You hear that, Satan? Get your fat ass back here and face us, you #$%@-er!!!"
The demon sniffed contemptuously and vanished amid a shower of huffy pyrotechnics.
"What the @#$%?" said Stan. He ran past Starsky, into the clearing, and stared up at the face shadowed by the dark hood. "Mr. Garrison? What are you doing here?"
"Oh, hell," said Mr. Garrison, throwing back his hood. "Rubberneckers. Just what we need." He glared at another cultist. "You were supposed to make sure this place was secure, you incompetent piece of $%*&."
"I did!" the cultist protested, also pulling off his hood. "I told those strangers that anything strange around here was just kids, not Satanists. I specifically emphasized that point."
"Officer Barbrady!" Stan shouted in recognition of this second personage, over Mr. Garrison's exasperated groans.
Chef ambled over to Starsky, who was standing at the edge of the clearing, looking mystified. "I should have known," he sighed resignedly, watching as the rest of the cultists removed their hoods. "I suppose some introductions are in order, since I happen to know all these people. Mr. Garrison here is the children's third grade teacher." He pointed to Mr. Garrison's hand puppet, a garish purple creation with a brown beard and a large, red and white striped top hat. "That ugly puppet on his hand is Mr. Hat, his best friend. I hear he's gay," Chef added out of the corner of his mouth.
"I am NOT gay!" Mr. Garrison protested indignantly, greatly offended.
"Mr. Garrison or the puppet?" Starsky asked, bewildered.
Mr. Garrison took even greater offense at that and screamed, "You go to hell! You go to hell and you die!"
Ignoring him, Chef pointed out a heavily made-up woman whose green hair was perfectly coifed and lacquered, and a man wearing hunting gear under his robes. "That's the mayor, and the redneck's Uncle Jimbo." He looked around at the large assembly and remarked, "Jesus, looks like half the town's here."
"Well, that's just great. We got the goddamned answering service. I bet that bastard's never going to be in when we call," the mayor stated irritably, glaring at the bonfire. "I knew this wasn't going to work."
Uncle Jimbo sneered at her, "What the #%$ are you talking about? This whole damn thing was your %^$#%@-ing idea!"
By now, Cartman and Kyle had also joined the crowd in the clearing. Cartman marched over to a brown-haired woman and demanded, "Mom? Is that you?"
"Yes it is, dear," she replied in her honeyed, singsong voice. "Are you being a good boy while Mommy evokes Satan to visible manifestation?"
"Yeah, yeah. So where are the Cheesy Poofs?" was all he had to say.
"I have some right here, dear," she cooed, pulling a ziplock bag of Cheesy Poofs from a pocket in her robe.
Starsky just stared at them, then looked helplessly at Chef. "What is all this?"
"Don't ask," Chef replied sagely. "You get used to this sort of thing around here."
"I'd better not," Starsky growled.
The mayor saw his confusion-and a PR opportunity-and decided to explain, "Well, you see, last month Satan cheated us out of a large amount of money. He challenged Jesus Christ to a boxing match on Pay-Per-View. After getting a good look at him, everyone in town bet on Satan..."
"Well, ol' Jesus is the original ninety pound weakling," Uncle Jimbo interjected. Most of the townsfolk snickered and nodded their heads.
"Anyway," the mayor continued, shooting a glare at Jimbo for daring to interrupt her, "only one person in the entire town bet on Jesus. So during the match, Satan was just beating the #$%# out of Jesus, you know? We all thought we had it made. But then after getting this little tap on the arm from Jesus, Satan collapsed and went down for the count. It turned out that he was the one who'd bet on Jesus. The $#%$%^$*#$* took our money and went merrily back to Hell."
"What?" Starsky shook his head in distress. Dear Lord, he actually believed them. Hutch had been right; there had to be something in the air. He wondered what unusual substances might be burning on that bonfire.
"It's true," Chef confirmed, mistaking the reason for his consternation. "The whole town bet on Satan."
"Yeah, and then that $#%@#%$@ sonofabitch went and threw the fight!"
"Lousy cheater took a dive!"
"We were swindled!"
"We want our money back!"
The mayor went on, "We got ourselves a lawyer, and he advised that we drag that swindler's ass into court. So, now we're trying to serve the *&^$% with papers."
Officer Barbrady nodded and held up the summons papers. "And here they are!" he announced, smiling with self-importance.
"Jesus Christ is going to testify, too. He's already gotten his summons."
"Jesus..." Starsky began, his voice strained with incredulity.
"Dude, you know, he's the Son of God," Kyle supplied.
"Yeah, and he's got a real kick-ass talk show on Public Access TV," Cartman added. "It's called 'Jesus and Pals'."
"He lives right here in South Park, you know. I bet that's how Satan knew where to find him. He saw the show."
"Yeah, and he's got this real cool kid named Damien," said Stan.
"Jesus?" Starsky asked, knowing he'd regret it. As he felt his blood pressure rising, he debated just shooting the lot of them and being done with the whole mess.
"No, Satan," Stan corrected him. "Damien is Satan's kid. Throws fireballs and everything. He was in our class at school."
"Yeah, he was cool," Cartman added, cramming a handful of Cheesy Poofs into his mouth. "He turned Kenny into a duck-billed platypus."
"That's it! I'm outta here!" Starsky shouted. He shoved his gun back into its holster, then spun around and stalked out of the clearing.
Behind him, the large group broke into confused chatter and arguments. A woman's voice rose above the din, "My, what a rude young man." Starsky just ground his teeth and headed straight for the Torino. The sooner he got away from this freak show, the better.
The dirt path through the woods seemed much longer this time. Starsky glanced down at his watch, wondering if it was his imagination, or if the route really had gotten longer. Anything seemed possible in this insane asylum. He couldn't wait to get back on the road and out of South Park. Finally, he caught sight of the Torino parked by the highway, right where he'd left it. He broke into a jog.
A tall, lanky man was leaning nonchalantly against the car, watching the sun set over the mountains. Reddish light reflected off the man's blond hair. Starsky skidded to an abrupt halt.
"Hutch?" he asked, unable to believe his eyes.
"Hey, Starsk," Hutch greeted him amiably. "About time you got back."
"But, but..." Starsky stammered. "You're dead! Aren't you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"That fat kid--Cartman--he ran over you with my car."
Hutch gave his partner a startled look. "Starsky, what would an eight year old be doing driving your car? Are you all right? You look kind of pale."
Starsky gaped at him, then bent down to inspect the Torino's rear bumper and wheels. "No dents, no blood," he muttered to himself. "They said not to worry, that you'd be back..."
"Starsk, what's the matter?" Hutch asked, getting really concerned now. "What are you babbling about?"
"Nothing. Just get in the car, okay? We're getting out of here."
"But what about the Satanists?"
"Trust me, you don't wanna know."
Starsky clenched his hands and gritted out in a voice that brooked no opposition, "Get. In. The. Car." He shook his fist for emphasis. "Now."
Hutch stared at him a moment, then shrugged and got into the passenger's side of the Torino. Starsky got into the driver's side and slammed the door. Wordlessly, he started the engine.
Glancing out the window, Hutch asked, "Starsk, do you see that? Is that a flying saucer?"
Starsky rammed the gear into drive and stomped on the gas. The Torino tore out onto the highway with a squeal of burning rubber, leaving only a dust cloud and some tire tracks behind.
One hour and two inexplicable blackouts later:
Hutch looked out the car window and griped, "Dammit, Starsk, we're still lost."
"I was sure that restaurant was around here somewhere," Starsky said, clutching the steering wheel and staring with desperate intensity at the road ahead. "Look, what does that sign say?"
"Welcome to Amityville," Hutch read aloud, squinting his eyes to make out the words in the dim evening light. "Amityville? There's no Amityville in California, is there? I told you we were lost!"
"It must be around here somewhere," Starsky hedged.
"Never mind. Let's just forget the restaurant and find a burger place or something. I'm starving."
Starsky shrugged. "Okay. I've had it for tonight, anyway."
The two men were quiet for a time, as Starsky nervously guided the Torino down one empty, darkened road after another. Finally, he looked over at Hutch and remarked, "You know, it's kind of deserted out here. I haven't seen any places to eat, or much of anything else, for that matter."
"Hey, there's a house over there." Hutch pointed to a large house sitting in solitary glory some distance back from the street. "Let's stop and ask for directions, all right?"
"Okay." Starsky pulled the Torino in front of the house.
As he opened the passenger door and stepped out of the car, Hutch caught sight of a pair of glowing red eyes in a corner window on the second floor of the house. "Uh, Starsk?"
"Leave the engine running, okay?"