The word is out among the fans: Michael Jackson will throw open the gates to Neverland most likely on Saturday.
Preparations are being made now to admit a pre-invited guest list of the faithful, many of whom disrupted their own lives, came to Santa Maria and stood in line for a daily public lottery at 6:30 a.m.
But it will also be the last day for a long time that Jackson will be seen in California, or that the theme-park ranch will host strangers.
According to sources, Jackson, his three children and their nannies should be on their way out of the country by Sunday.
Their destination is supposed to be secret, but the choices have been winnowed down to two locales: Switzerland and South Africa.
In the case of the latter, Jackson has carte blanche to use Elizabeth Taylor's home in Gstaad. But I'm told it's more likely he will take up occupancy at a home he owns in Geneva. This little-known asset is held in brother Jermaine Jackson's name, but the real owner is said to be Michael.
"It's remote enough and has good security," says a source who's been there and has seen the estate.
Still, though, others in the Jackson inner circle are saying he will choose Sun City, the South African luxury gambling resort, as a place to reinvent himself.
Jackson first visited Sun City in 1995 and fell in love with the place. International hotelier Sol Kerzner, who developed the town, is said to be so keen on Jackson coming down that he once offered to build him a house there.
All of these plans are taking place as Jackson's family has scattered, returning to their respective homes.
Katherine Jackson is now back in residence in Encino, no doubt thrilled that the $3 million bail bond which was secured against her home is now lifted. Her husband, Joseph Jackson, is also gone, back to Las Vegas and his own life. By now, sister LaToya Jackson too is home in the Los Angeles area, and Janet Jackson is back in New York. That would leave brothers Jermaine and Randy Jackson in search of refuge.
Meantime, former Jackson security guard Mike LaPerruque — whom I interviewed in this space more than a year ago — told me yesterday that he's sorry he didn't get put on the stand for the defense. He was called, and showed up on the same day that Larry King testified. But LaPerruque says the prosecution blocked his appearance, claiming he was merely a character witness.
LaPerruque traveled with Jackson and his children constantly, by the way, and told me that he's angry with talk-radio chatter that Jackson must be a bad parent.
"He's an excellent parent," LaPerruque told me. "I'm shocked that people would say otherwise. You have to see him with those kids. They have great values and are very well behaved."
If you've been suffering withdrawal while waiting for the new Outkast album, here are some details. Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000), told me last night at Premiere magazine's classy "New Power" party in Hollywood that the music has been recorded.
The single CD, still untitled, will also serve as the soundtrack to an HBO movie the group recently completed called "My Life in Idlewild." The movie is a period piece, Andre said, and the music will reflect that.
Benjamin was honored by Premiere, along with Scarlett Johansson, Topher Grace and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" screenwriter Simon Kinberg for their roles in being part of Tinsel Town's "New Generation" of movers and shakers.
"Layer Cake" director Matthew Vaughn was supposed to be honored, too, but didn't bother to show up. His name was not mentioned once all night.
Benjamin was incredibly articulate and funny in his acceptance speech. He said he was impressed that director John Singleton had gone over to Polo Ralph Lauren and bought a whole new outfit for the occasion. (Singleton looked like was ready for tennis at Wimbledon).
"That's because we really call him John Wrinkleton," Andre quipped.
After the presentation, I asked Andre how he felt about being on Jive/RCA Records now that L.A. Reid has gone to Island/DefJam.
The answer: He couldn't remember the name of the person who was supposed to be A&R-ing the new CD at Jive. Hey, someone send this man a business card!