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1.29.2012

You Pedal, I'll Steer (part 10)


Poor little John. On Saturday morning he narrowly escaped from a harrowing chase and being lost forever in a strange neighborhood. When he finally found his way home, he discovered that not only was he just in time for lunch, but no one even he'd left the house...

CHAPTER 13

It wasn’t even lunchtime. I thought I’d been gone for days!
I stood in the door for a couple more secs. Through the glass doors to the livingroom, I could see Kate and a couple of friends playing records. They didn’t even notice me come in. I was so beat and sore and scared I couldn’t believe I’d only been gone a couple of hours.
 I dragged myself upstairs to the bathroom and washed up. I didn’t think I wanted to tell anyone what happened to me. Mom would understand but she was still far away in Scotland. I wished I was with her. I sure couldn’t tell Alec. Not after he wanted so bad for me to go to the graveyard in the first place.
I stuffed my torn jacket in a drawer and quietly ate pea soup with everyone else. I told everyone I tripped and scraped my face. They all thought I was clumsy anyway and didn’t ask another thing.
After lunch, Alec and I started our project. We rummaged through Mom’s sewing room and grabbed fabric scraps, scissors, needles and thread.
“Do you think the fairies can afford to buy all the clothes we’re going to make?” I asked. “What if they don’t have three dollars? What if they need to pay with instalments?”
Alec had it all figured out. “Will you stop worrying. You think they go to the bank to get nickels to put under the rug? Not a chance. Fairies manufacture money by magic. They can make as much as they want.”
“Some kids at school say their moms put money under the pillow, not the fairy.”
That just made Alec laugh. “Well, that’s stupid,” he said, “Yeah, I’ve heard that, too. Lots of kids say their parents leave the money. I guess that’s alright, you still get paid. If they had a little patience and waited a bit, the real fairies would show up. I mean, how can the fairies buy your teeth if your mom buys them first?”
That was smart thinking. “Does that apply to clothes, too?”
“Let’s hope so.” He shut the sewing drawer. “Come on, let’s take it all downstairs to the livingroom. Kate and her friends have left by now.”
On the way down, he explained the scheme. “We’ll charge a dime each. I think that’s very fair. At that price, we need to make at least twenty pieces of clothes for a total of two bucks.” He dropped the works in a pile on the couch and gave me a needle and spool of black thread.
I knew how to thread a needle because I’d made clothes for my G.I. Joe before.
“I think I’ll make skirts,” I said. “That’ll be easiest.”
Alec said, “Fairies don’t wear dresses. They dress like Robin Hood, you know, in tights.”
“Even girl fairies?”
“Sure. Besides, we should make a variety. They won’t want to buy twenty skirts.”
They will if they don’t have anything else to wear, I thought. I squeezed my tongue between my teeth and stabbed the thread at the needle hole about a hundred times until I finally got it through. “How big do we make things, anyway?” I asked.
Alec had an answer for everything. “My guess is you want the stuff to fit an average fairy about two inches tall.”
Alec wanted to be a cobbler and make pointy shoes. I started on pants. I folded the cloth and cut two identical layers. Then I stitched them together for a front and back- not so easy to do. After I made a few of those I tried some hats and shirts and a scarves.
Dad came in to see what we were doing. He stood behind us and tamped tobacco in his pipe while we told him the plan.
“Sounds like good business sense.” Dad said. “I don’t see why the fairies would want to go around naked.”
“Where do you think they already get their clothes?” I wondered.
“Doesn’t matter,” Alec said. “We’re offering them a variety, maybe even better quality than what they get already. You can see it’s top shelf stuff.” Alec showed him some green felt boots and a long sleeved shirt. “With winter coming on, they’re bound to need warm clothes.”
“Good luck with it,” Dad said and went back to his study.
Fortunately, none of the big boys came in. They would have teased us and Alec would have started something with Eric.
By the time we were done it was almost supper. I’d stuck myself a thousand times with my needle, sewed my finger to a shirt, and I was starting to see double with all those tiny stitches. We had ten pairs of pants, eight skirts, six pairs of shoes, five shirts, and a couple of hats and scarves. It added up to thirty-one things. By the shape of these clothes our fairies had spindly legs, fat bodies, tiny heads, and huge feet.
Alec stuffed it all into a brown envelope and wrote a fancy looking bill to the fairies for two dollars and eighty cents itemizing every garment. We only needed two fifty so that gave us thirty cents extra.
The night before we’d finished the last Sunday dinner. So Dad made fried eggs, home fries, and corned beef. It was like having breakfast for dinner. Kind of nifty. Then, just before bed, we put the envelope in the corner of the living room rug that was always reserved for teeth.
Neither of us could sleep after lights out. “I forgot to tell you,” Alec whispered in the dark so that Dad wouldn’t hear us still talking this late, “Theodore told me that Seymour got hit by a car yesterday.”
My heart skipped. Tiny Seymour? “Is he okay?”
“He says he broke his leg.”
I was devastated. Poor Seymour. I couldn’t believe one of them was hurt. He was so small. I imagined this huge full sized car running over a leg no thicker than a bee’s. That had to hurt. “Where is he?”
“They took him to a hospital. He’ll be there at least a week. Theodore will come and tell us more when he gets a chance.”
“Tell him I hope he’s okay.” I said.
We whispered a bit longer until Dad yelled, “Boys! Go to sleep.”
 I rolled over thinking about broken legs and tombstones and odd shaped fairies strutting around in our handmade clothes. It had been such a strange day. Going to the boneyard and seeing graves with my name on them. Then getting beat up. I spent all afternoon with Alec and didn’t mention one word about it.
I woke up at five and ran straight to the fairy corner of the rug. The envelope was still there. My first thought was that maybe the fairy bank was closed over the weekend. But when I lifted it, it was flat instead of puffy and jingled. I looked inside. There were two green bills and change! I ran right back up and started shaking Alec.
We didn’t have papers to deliver on Sunday but no way was I going to let him sleep through this.
CHAPTER 14

After school Alec met me at the boy’s gate with the superbike. The Payson creeps were lurking around but they left me alone. They didn’t even yell anything. I still didn’t want to say anything to Alec about it. I don’t know why. I guess I thought it would jinx me worse. Maybe I was just ashamed.
Debbie and her friends walked by and she said, “Hi, John.”
My heart thumped in my mouth and the air temperature shot up to six thousand degrees.
Alec hit my arm. “Don’t just grin like a goofball, say hi back.”
“Didn’t I?” They were already crossing the road. I muttered, “Hi.”
I waited for him to start teasing. He rarely passed up a chance like this.
“She’s cute. Let’s go,” was all he said.
I let out a huge breath. “Thanks.”
Mike’s was straight down Balsam and we were there in no time.
“Hey there, boys,” he said. “I wondered what happened to you.” He was wiping grease off his hands.
Alec said, “We had to raise some money.”
Mike nodded slowly. “Good point. Well, let’s have a look.” He bent down and looked at the bike. “I remember now. You need a bar across the top here to keep the whole thing from pivoting and a pedal assembly attached up here for the little brother.” He knuckled my head which I normally hated and took a quick look at his watch. “If you boys don’t have anywhere to be, let’s get to work.”
He actually wanted us to help him? We exchanged a couple of real excited grins.
We wheeled the bike behind the counter and into a back workshop. It was a big room crammed with full drawers and racks of tools hanging everywhere. There were half fixed bikes covering the work benches in the middle and others propped up on the floor. Hanging on a peg beside some kind of ventilator was a torch and tank. Th room smelled great. Like rubber and burnt metal and mystery. There was too much to see in just one look. It was like a grownups version of our bedroom with tons of projects laid out for whenever you wanted to play with them.
“You guys don’t mind if I make a couple of suggestions, do you?” Mike’s deep voice was sort of nice once you got used to it.
“No, sir, we don’t mind at all,” Alec said. “We had to work with what we got.”
He left the cigarette between his lips while he talked. “And a good job, too. But, I bet we can improve on it a smidge.”
Alec beamed like his teeth would burst out of his braces and his eyes would pop. Mike told him where to put the bike down and what tool to fetch and what we’d be doing first. Then he sawed up pieces of frame with power tools! He pawed through drawers to find the coolest whatnots and hammered them all together . The whole time Alec held the bike steady and paid real close attention. I just watched.
We had ten dollars on the nose. Not a ball bearing’s worth more and it looked like Mike was doing more than ten bucks work. What if he wanted more? My stomach started to flip. Man, I wished I didn’t worry so much. Alec didn’t care, why should I?
All I could think was what if Mike wanted fifteen bucks and kept the bike until we had the rest of the money? Every time he picked up a rubber washer or piece of sandpaper, I was sure that would throw us over the line.
“I only have one extra face shield, John,” Mike said, “so you’ll have to wait out in the shop while we weld. That okay with you?”
“Sure.”
I was glad to go. I hung around the showroom looking at the new bikes. When they called me back in, I got my first glimpse of our super bike. The basic design was still the same with Alec’s seat hanging over the back wheel and me down low but Mike had bent a banana seat in the middle for me to sit in so my feet could stick straight out front and reach a set of pedals they’d welded on the front frame. It now had long handlebars that curved down for me to hang onto like a Harley motorcycle. It was fantastic. It was more than fantastic. Not even Fantam could have designed a better bike.
The bad news was we had to be looking at way more than ten dollars work.
“Isn’t she a beauty, John?” Alec crowed. “How great is this?” He spoke in a reverent whisper while he gingerly stroked the frame.
Are you kidding? It was the greatest achievement of our lives. I hardly felt worthy even looking at it. And it was actually ours!
Mike said, “She’ll sail like the wind once she gets moving.” He belched. “Let’s get the wheels back on her and screwed together,” he said.
We spent the next while bolting the rims, pedals and seats back on and set it on its wheels for the first time. It was some machine. Both wheels were the same size so my seat looked like the coolest hot rod spot in the world.
“I bet there isn’t another bike in the world like it,” Alec said.
“You got that right, little friend,” Mike said.
“What do we owe you?” Alec asked as we rolled her out front.
Here it comes, I thought. Twenty? Thirty? I’ll be an old man before we pay it off.
“What did I quote you?”
“Ten,” Alec said.
Mike scratched his chin like he was thinking. “Really? Tell you what I’ll do. You got some talent with bikes. I’ll take the ten. You come see me next spring and you can work off the rest. Then I’ll pay you to work here over the summer.”
“I’d love to work here,” Alec said. He tried to sound cool but I could see he could hardly stand still he was so thrilled.
“Then we got a deal. You got some talent and it gets real busy when the weather’s warm.”
There’s no way to really describe the relief I felt! It was like learning you were getting a birthday present instead of told you just flunked a whole grade. I emptied the ball of cash onto his counter before he could change his mind. All our crumpled bills and coins clattered onto the glass or rolled on the floor. I scooped it back up and pushed it into a pile.
Mike looked at his watch. “You boys better get on home,” he said. “Test it out then bring ‘er back and show me what she can do. We’ll work out any kinks then.”
We headed straight down to the beach. I imagined everyone on the street staring at us. We didn’t dare get on before we got to the boardwalk. I felt such a wave of relief that we weren’t going to jail for not having enough money, I could have flown there.
Alec yakked away about how fast we’d go and how easy it would be to win the race and where we’d go after that and how we could deliver papers together on it and then we’d ride all around the world. Before we knew it we were standing on the boardwalk facing west.
It was the moment of truth.
CHAPTER 15

“Let’s Christen her right away,” Alec said. “I say we call her the Tidely-Idley because she feels like a sailboat more than a bike.”
“The Tidely-Idley it is,” I agreed. That was the name of Burt Dow’s boat.
“Then let’s go.” I couldn’t believe how excited I was. “Let’s see how she tacks.”
He straddled his seat with his feet on the ground and I climbed in front. I grabbed the bars and got both feet on the pedals.
“Steady the mains’ll!” he called.
“Aye, sir!”
“Lower the mizenmast!”
“Ready on the poop, sir!”
“Issue cheese to all hands and cast off!”
He pushed off with one foot and I started to pedal. His knee hit my shoulder. The handlebars pitched around. We crumpled up like a pop can under a wheel and landed on our butts before I could throw a hand out to keep steady.
After a lot of laughing and a couple more starts, we were racing along those boards so fast that I could hardly keep her straight. Either one could stop pedaling while the other kept going but only Alec had control of the brakes. He’d yell ‘brakes’ and I’d stop pedaling.
Well, he didn’t yell brakes. We whipped past the trees in a blur. We passed some poor guy who had to yank his a dog aside to keep from getting hit.
“Slow down!” I yelled out. “We’re going to crash.”
“This is amazing!” he yelled back. “We need a speedometer. We must be making forty miles an hour.”
“STOP US!”
In a flash we covered the entire length from Kew Gardens to Silverbirch. We were coming up fast on the jog in the boardwalk at the Balmy Beach club. That was sure disaster. I’d snagged up there a couple of times on my own already.
“You have to stop!” I screamed. I’d stopped pedaling back around the life guard post but Alec was cutting loose. “Hit the brakes! Hit the brakes!”
He didn’t know the danger. Our two choices were worse and worse. Veer off right to avoid slamming into the ice cream stand. Lean too far and spin out for a road burn so bad the thought of it was already making my skin crawl. It was like coming up on a waterfall in a speedboat.
By the time Alec came to his senses it was too late.
“Oh, crap!” he called out and hit the brakes.
The boardwalk dipped and we were airborne. I’d managed to point us clear of the building before we left the ground but that was all I could do. Re-entry was going to smart.
BANG! We hit the boards, bounced, and skidded for a few feet. We wobbled and slid right off into the sand, both of us flying off the bike together. The whole mess rolled for a second and rattled to full stop in ball of arms, legs and wheels. Alec got thrown clear but I was tangled up in the handlebars and came down under the bike. It all happened in such a rush I couldn’t even tell if I was hurt.
Everything was quiet.
“You alright?” Alec groaned out.
“Don’t know. You?” I replied.
“Don’t know, either. Can you move?”
I crawled out of the bike’s reach like it was some kind of monster that had attacked us. I sure hoped we hadn’t killed it. I had a couple of bruises and my ribs were real sore, but there were no cuts. Alec had a sore wrist. Other than that we seemed okay. We limped back to look down at the bike. Alec kicked it lightly like he was seeing if it was still alive.
“That’s some machine you got there,” said a voice. We turned to see at a fat man standing on the edge of the boardwalk looking on. “You might want to think about getting some brakes.” He laughed and walked on.
Alec was laughing, too. He was thrilled. “What a ride! And not even a popped a tire! This is so great.”
It hurt my side to laugh but I couldn’t help it. Happy as meatballs in spaghetti, we wheeled the Tidely up to the street towards head home. Alec stopped and motioned for me to get on.
“Can’t be afraid now, can we? Let’s take her up to Queen.”
“You got to promise you won’t go so fast,” I said before I took one step closer. “The cars on Queen Street will cream us.”
“Scout’s honor,” he said and held up some fingers. We’d never been scouts but it was good enough.
We pedaled easily up to Queen and walked the rest of the way home like a couple of heroes back from battling a whole cave full of dragons. That race was in the bag. It was only five days away. Plenty of time to get the hang of it. Alec couldn’t believe that he’d got a job out of it, too.
“It’ll be great working at Mike’s. I could have my own bike shop one day. Maybe even invent new designs. We could be in business together - you and me.”
We rolled up the walk to our house, parked it beside the kitchen door, and ran smack into the family finishing dinner.
Eric smirked like he was in for a good show. Jeff kept eating. Kate looked scared like we were for the jumps. I didn’t dare look at Dad. Only Gully was glad to see us. He barked and wagged and licked. I told him to sit like I’d trained him to. Fat chance.
Dad growled like an angry bear. “Where have you two been?”
We were done for.