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You Pedal, I'll Steer - part 4 (I guess I can kiss the idea of remembering every Friday goodbye)

Last time, Alec and John were secretly plotting to enter a bike race. But first they had to build a bike and John had to learn to ride...

As soon as we decided to start,  Mom’s “boys are having fun” alarm must have kicked in upstairs and she sprung into action. Alec was rattling 67 with his penknife inside to see if it stayed shut when we heard her voice sing out, “If you boys are down there, I want you up here cleaning your room, lickety-split.” It slipped passed all those doors and threw water on our good mood.
Alec slammed into dive mode. He flicked out the lamp and we plunged into total black.
“Did she see you come down?” I could barely hear the words.
I shook my head. He couldn’t see that. “I followed procedures. She didn’t even hear me come home.” I let the words out on a breath.
“Then pretend we’re not here.” His voice faded into the dark. Besides wanting to elude Mom, he hated cleaning our room more than I did. The extremes he went to trying to get around it would have made it faster to just clean it. But not as much fun.
“I want it done before your father gets home. Before supper,” her voice boomed. She must have been at the top of the stairs. “Are you listening?”
That sealed it. No way I wanted Dad coming home without the job done. So far through life, I’d managed to steer clear of getting “ten of the best”, which was what Dad called the strap. This was not time to break a life long record.
“We better go.” I said and tried to get up like an obedient zombie.
Alec grabbed my arm. This was dangerous. It was like hanging from a tree by one arm. Sooner or later gravity would make me let go and I’d fall. And the longer we hid out, the farther I figured we’d fall. “She doesn’t know we’re here. I came in the back door,” he said and clicked on a penlight. The pirate’s gleam in his eye told me that we were headed for trouble.
“Let’s just go.” I pleaded.
“Pretend you’re Fantam and she’s the Orwellian Puss Worm bent on squeezing all the happiness out of humanity. You have to save the planet.”
That could work.
“Boys.” Her deep ‘I’m not fooling’ voice punctuated my words. Even Alec had to swallow to keep that one down.
“She doesn’t know about this hideout.” I could barely hear him. “Even if she comes looking she’ll see we aren’t around and go away. Don’t make a sound.”
I wanted to remind him about the ‘Dad coming home’ factor but I’d been ordered to run silent. We were evading depth charges and the slightest sound would alert the enemy. My ears were all sensors I had and the first thing that came to them was footsteps on the stairs. Ping. Ping. Ping. Like sonar bursts against the hull. The worm was at the bottom crunching across the cement floor.
Alec put a finger to his lips and snuffed out the light again. Getting away with something was the prize. I figured she’d poke her head in the bulkhead room and then go back upstairs. But who could be sure. I stroked the trigger on my Fantam x-ray grenades and reverse memory spray hoping I wouldn’t need them.
Outside the room there was a loud bang and a click. The door room door had been pulled open. Alec’s eyes clouded up with confusion just as he doused the light. How had we been betrayed? I felt closer to fear.
“Boys,” she said in a clear and calm voice, as though we were all sitting at dinner and she was asking for the salt, “come out of there right now and go upstairs and clean your room before supper.”
After a long pause we both said, “Yes, ma’am.” and slipped out through the maze in total darkness.
I came out first to find Mom standing there. She wasn’t disapproving or mad or anything. Gully was there, too. He licked my face before I could get to my feet and then jumped all over both of us like we’d been gone for weeks.
“How’d you know about this fort?” I asked.
“I have eyes in the back of my head,” she said. “All mother’s do. Not scoot.”
She trudged us upstairs like prisoners with Gulliver running on ahead.
All our toys and games were right where we wanted them. Our bottle collection was lined up in boxes along one wall, our Meccano competition was right in the middle, along with the chemistry set, tinker toys, Lego, a monopoly game in progress and all my G.I. Joe gear..
Alec flopped on the bed and groaned. Gully jumped up beside him. “What’s wrong with the way it is?”
She didn’t need to laugh that hard. She scooped something up off the floor. “You want this broken pen?”
My hair got tingly. “Careful!” I gasped. “You’ll break it.” I gingerly retrieved it from her uncaring hands. “That’s a Man From U.N.C.L.E. communicator I built myself.”
“The room looks like a tornado went through an hour ago.” She handed me the broom. “If you can’t put it away, throw it away You have almost two hours.. Now hop to.”
“Sentencing children to hard labour is illegal,” I complained.
She left and I let go of the broom like it smelled bad. “We’ll never get it done before Dad gets home.”
“She sucks all the fun out of life.” Alec said. He pushed Gully off the bed and started pulling our bunks out from the wall.
“What are you doing?”
“Let’s build a secret tunnel system behind the furniture while we clean. It’ll make the job go faster.”
Or not at all.
“You pull the bureau out a few inches and I’ll push the bed against the corner so there’s room to crawl under and still look like they’re against the wall. Then we can stuff some junk on top to make it look like it isn’t pulled out. That way if you sneak in here, you can crawl around and come out over there – or there – or in the closet.”
That sounded good to me and we got to work cutting holes in boxes, stacking games, and angling the bookshelves so we could crawl under the bed to a tunnel behind the desk, and around the corner behind the bureau; one flip over and pull through an overturned box that was disguised to look from above like it was full of toys.
I stood in the middle of the room while Alec slithered all the way around the walls with Gulliver snuffling along behind him. “It works.” I said. “I didn’t see you at all. I dove in and squeezed through the dark. I felt like a prisoner breaking off a chain gang. I was met by tongue slurps and a penlight beam.
“Since the door room has been compromised we’ll call this hideout 3 from now on,” Alec announced in a whisper. “We’ll let it cool down until the old lady forgets about it. We can sneak in here to escape from Eric, too.”
For some reason, Alec dreamed up some very complicated plots to get Eric steamed. They worked, too. Sometimes Eric would catch him and shake him like a wet towel or bop him one but it only seemed to feed Alec to higher glories. “If he tries to chase me, I can duck in here, fly under the bed and while he’s trying to crawl in after, I’ll come out on the other side of the room, kick him in the pants and escape down the stairs.”
I could think of a thousand ways it could go wrong but it wasn’t my fantasy.
“BOYS!” Mom was right in our room. “Honestly, where have they gone this time?”
Alec put an a-ha finger in the air and grinned like he’d outsmarted the fox. I rubbed Gully’s ear to keep him quiet.
“This place is still a sty and it’s after five. If I don’t see any progress by five-thirty I’ll pay Eric to mop it out.” I don’t think she was talking to herself.
“Eric?” Alec choked out and then clapped a hand over his own mouth. That was sure death. She’d hired Eric before to clean our room and he came in with a shovel, gloves and a garbage pail. In less than ten minutes he’d destroyed months of work and thrown away treasures I still can’t think about without getting mad. That was a black day.
As soon as we heard her clump down the stairs we scurried out. There was no way we could get it all done by suppertime. We were cooked. I had visions of never seeing my stuff again. I snatched up my G.I. Joe Mercury capsule and put it on the desk. At least, they wouldn’t get that. “Now what do we do?”
“Emergency measures,” Alec said. “Here’s the plan...”
While we worked I heard Dad get home and smelled supper in the air. We were cutting it close.
When Mom came up for inspection, she was more than surprised. She was shocked. She looked under the bed, in the closet and all the usual places we stuff our junk and didn’t find anything. “I told you if you put yourself to it, you could get it done.”
It was a good thing she didn’t find our new tunnels because we’d crammed them solid with our junk.