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12.04.2011

You Pedal, I'll Steer - part 3 (I forgot to post this on Friday)

We left off last week with John daydreaming his way back home after school. He was dreaming of desert islands, saving the girls, and winning a pet show...
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Chaper 2 - part 2
I left the class pawing through the plane wreckage for useable supplies and snuck into our house so Mom wouldn’t hear me come home. The longer I could avoid cleaning my room, the better. I teased the lid off the cookie jar as if the slightest noise would ignite a bomb, grabbed a couple of ginger snaps, gave one to Gully to keep him quiet, and crept into Dad’s library to check McGill. So far, so good.
We called Dad’s study the library because the walls were covered in books. In the middle of one shelf squeezed between a couple of hardbacks was a beat up old brown notebook with the name McGill on the cover. That was Alec’s and my secret message book. The first few pages were just enough scribbled school notes to make nosy parkers think it was a school book, and after that were all our secret codes, messages and plans. I checked it every day after school to see if there was anything new.
I flipped it open to the last written page and saw today’s date and the words: ‘Meet me in 3'.
“Alright,” I whispered. Alec has something fun planned. ‘3' was the door room down in the cellar. Our forts and hideouts were numbered so no one could guess where they were. Number 1 was the hut we’d built in the back yard with our friend Chris. Number 2 was the crawlspace under the front porch through a hole in the lattice and 3 was downstairs. I put the book back, stashed my cookies and headed for the back stairs. Still no sign of Mom.
Our cellar was huge and smelled of oily tools and old furniture. Ropes and broken bits of things hung from the rafters and walls. It had two laundry sinks big enough to sit in and a toilet right out in the open. On the far side was a bike room with a bulkhead and a room full of doors. I couldn’t understand who would want to collect doors but they were there when we moved in. Since no one ever went in there Alec had the brilliant idea to make a fort in the middle where no one could see or hear us from outside. We put an old stuffed chair and a lamp in the middle of the room one Saturday when no one was home. It was our most secret hideout.
 I drummed a special knock and cracked the door open a slice. “J. Otch, N,” I whispered officially.
“Soc,” was his reply. I was in. We used passwords that came from nicknames when we were little.
I squeezed through the doors and crawled in. Alec was sitting in the mouldy old chair, a book balanced on his knees while he carefully carved a hole in it with a penknife. Alec was all elbows and angles. He always bent like he was hinged. Besides his bright eyes, the big feature of his face was buck teeth and braces that he’d just had put on that year.
“What are you doing?” I asked and gave him one of my cookies.
“Thanks. I’m making us a hide a book to keep secret stuff in. We’ll rename McGill ‘19' for the century and call this one ‘67' for what year it is.” He looked at me through the hole. It was almost out the edges. It was a pretty clean job for a pen knife. “That way we can use 19 for notes and 67 for stuff. Cool, huh?”
“Very cool. But Mom’ll kill you if she finds out.” Nobody messed up books in our house.
“Who’s going to tell her? Besides, no one wants to read this old thing.” He read the title off the spine, “‘Quest In The Caribou’. Dull as dirt. No one will miss it.”
“What’ll we hide in it first?”
He blew away paper shavings and continued to carve away at the hole getting it just so. “Let’s start with this.” He raised his eyes up and looked at me through his bangs. Something was up. Alec loved a secret. All I had to do was wait to find out. He handed me crumpled up green sheet of paper from out of his jacket pocket. “I found this at the library this afternoon.”
“What is it?” I carefully flattened it out on the edge of a door and read aloud. “Kids First!  Five mile Toronto Island Bicycle Race. Children up to thirteen years old eligible to enter.” I looked up. “What’s eligible?”
“That means allowed.”
“A bicycle race?” What a disappointment. “You know I don’t know how to ride a two wheeler,” I said. I was always too scared to learn.
He clicked his penknife shut and leaned forward with that schemey shine in his eye. “I’ll teach you how to ride in secret. See, here’s the plan. We teach you to ride and then just before the race they’ll say ‘but John can’t ride’, you can just say, ‘Hmmm, maybe this isn’t so hard let me give it a try’. Then you pop up on a bike and toodle around like it’s the first time you’ve ever done it. They’ll all fall over.” Alec loved springing surprises almost as much as secrets. He liked to imagine doing and learning things that no one would know about until he was ready tell. Mom said that’s how he learned to talk. One day he blabbed out a whole sentence after never saying a word.
“You think they’d let us go?”
He shrugged. “What choice will they have? They’ll be so impressed that they won’t be able to say no.”
The idea of learning to ride in secret sounded exciting. Still scary, too. Surprising Mom and Kate and everyone maybe was worth falling off a couple of times. Not that I wanted to fall off. “You won’t let go, will you?”
“Everybody falls off a bike, John.”
“That doesn’t mean I want to.”
“But the beauty part is that down on the boardwalk if you go off the edge, you’ll just fall in the sand. That won’t hurt.”
“Says you. What’ll we use for bikes? All we’ve got are those old junkers and anyway they’re too big for me.”
Alec flashed his sly smile again. His noodle was working harder than Simon bar Sinister’s. “I thought of that. For learning, we’ll borrow Chris’s bike. It’s not too big. Then, while you’re learning - - - we’ll build one! We could build our own two-seater like we always wanted to!” He made it sound like he knew where to find buried treasure. All we had to do was tighten a screw and pump up the tires and it was done.
Personally, I didn’t think we could fix that pile of rusty broken bikes if we had magic dust. And make a two seater? Forget it. But that never stopped Alec. He was already winning the race and listening to the cheering crowd before he had a bike or a partner who could ride. That made me think up a whole new problem. “How do you know we can enter a two-seater?” I asked.
“It doesn’t say we can’t.”
I looked at the entry form again. It didn’t say anywhere that you couldn’t ride whatever bike you wanted. But I wasn’t so sure about two kids on one bike.
“Let’s start building now.” he said and there was no turning back.