All at once, a new searchlight beam shot into the sky straight from the heart of Big Rosco’s backyard. A sound like the whirring of 50,000 bees emanated from behind the fence. The ground started shaking. The beach umbrellas and lawn chairs and vending carts that had accumulated in the long vigil on the street toppled to the ground. Up through the tarps and plastic sheeting, rising like a magnificent metallic sun over the weather-beaten boards of Big Rosco’s fence, came a shape at once unprecedented and strangely familiar.
“What in the world?”
“Is that a hot-air balloon?”
“Is that a jumbo-jet?”
“Is that … pie crust?”
Up, up in the air it rose. A pie-shaped spaceship. It was 250 feet long, fully automated, levitating with the help of six jet-engines in the shape of enormous forks and four articulated robotic legs that extended three stories tall.
“It’s a UFO!” someone shouted.
“A Pie-F-O!” the Old Timer corrected.
“Smells like cinnamon and cloves,” Sweeney the Artist remarked.
“Look! There’s aliens on board!”
Sure enough, marching around the edge of the ship’s pie-tin hull was a crew of 21 animatronic aliens, every one of them sporting Rosco’s big-eared Ugly Mug. It was an animatronic, extraterrestrial, pie-promoting tour de force.
The crowd burst into thunderous applause that echoed down the street and back up again in a boomerang of celebratory sound. The Pie-F-O held steady on its robotic legs for a glorious moment. Then, in a wohosh of jet-propelled splendor, it shot up in the air, drew in its robotic legs, and whirred off in the direction of the interstate, led-crystal lights around the base spelling out “Pewhasset Pie Palace, Exit 24” while a techno-alien voice that sounded suspiciously like Rosco on helium droned the same words from a set of on-board loudspeakers.
Big Rosco stumbled out of the fence gate and fell to his knees in front of an astonished Loretta. He grabbed her hand in his and, with a raspy and exhausted voice, whispered, “Marry me and be my Pie Queen forever!”
Loretta slowly shook her head from side to side. “Rosco, you damned fool,” she said.
The World Famous Twelve Flags Amusement Park and Arcade Extravaganza was scheduled to open at 9 a.m. sharp the next morning. Big Rosco’s Pie-F-O flew up and down the interstate all Friday night and into Saturday morning. When Loretta arrived to open the doors of the Pewhasset Pie Palace at 8 a.m., the parking lot was already full and a line of cars stretched clear down the interstate off-ramp. Loretta sold out of pies by 4 o’clock. Big Rosco held court dressed as the Pie King on his throne all morning and gave free rides in the Pie-F-O in the afternoon. It was a glorious, victorious, undreamed of success. A pie extravaganza.
That day was the swan song of the Pewhasset Pie Palace. When the marketing executives for Twelve Flags got wind of the Alien Invasion, as it came to be called, they offered Loretta a tidy sum for the Pewhasset Pie Palace name, the 331 pie recipes and the rights to use photos of the Pie-F-O in all the advertising for their park concessions, if they could replace Rosco’s face on the aliens. They wanted nothing to do with the Ugly Mug merchandise.
Loretta jumped at the offer. Turns out she wasn’t so keen on spending the rest of her life as the Pie Queen after all. That’s right. She turned poor Rosco down. Don’t hold it against her. Loretta wasn’t one to be beholden to any man. She sold the Palace building itself to Taco Charlie for 10 times his original offer. He opened up a Jumbo Burrito and Burger Emporium and set up billboards on the opposite side of the freeway hoping to catch the tourists on their way to Twelve Flags, which had been his plan all along. The signs weren’t even a patch on the old Palace billboards. The Emporium went belly up a year later and Taco Charlie lost his sequined shirt.
Loretta took the money from the sale of the Palace and its recipes and retired to a condo in Tallahassee. She offered to pay back Big Rosco for what he spent on the Exit 21 Alien Invasion, but he wouldn’t have it. Instead, he asked Loretta for all the Ugly Mug merchandise and the parts from the deluxe billboards. She gave them to him without batting an eye. He kept them all in a storage locker on the edge of town, sold his house and moved into a double-wide in Pete the Razorback’s trailer park.