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1.06.2012

You Pedal, I'll Steer (part 8)


I think I"ve been dishing you chapters from an earlier draft of this book. Sorry about that. I hope this reads a little smoother.
Mom had just left for Scotland and the big boys had dispersed leaving John and Alec in the cellar building a bike. John went up to make sandwiches...

Part 8
Upstairs was quiet and very bright. It was nice outside but you’d never know it from the cellar. I made peanut butter and jelly. Alec took a bite and acted as though it’s just what he ordered. He perched on top of a busted stool with his knees up under his chin while I sat on the freezer case.
“That hits the spot. Say, I figure you should dress up as Charlie Brown on Halloween.”
I forgot all about the Halloween plan. “I like Charlie Brown,” I said.
“The first time, you go as a ghost like in the TV special - you know with too many eye holes cut in it. Then, when you go out again, you go as a baseball player, you know, with a sideways baseball cap, a glove, and a shirt that says ‘MANAGER’.”
“Didn’t Charlie Brown always get rocks instead of candy?” I asked.
“That’s because he’s Charlie Brown. Believe me, on Glen Manor you won’t get rocks.”
I thought about pouring all that candy onto my bed and eating myself sick. Next to Christmas Eve, Halloween was the best night of the year. “You think Mom will mind if we cut holes in a sheet?”
He tapped his head like I was stupid. “Where did she just go?”
I grinned. “Oh, yeah.”
He finished his sandwich and pointed at the bike. “I switched the back wheel with the frame we sawed off last week so we don’t have the steering problem. But we’re going to need a second set of pedals.” Now his seat was almost behind the back wheel and way up even higher. “We’ll have to buy a special sprocket to put up here where your feet go. Then we add a longer chain, a bar up here for support, and Bob’s your uncle.”
“Bob’s your uncle. Right. Just where do we get all that?”
He shook his head like he couldn’t believe I was so stupid. “Have some faith, my little brother.” “We’ll go to Mike’s.” He scanned the room looking for something. “What time is it?”
“Mike’s? What’s that?”
You know, Mike’s Bike’s next to The Goof Restaurant on Queen.”
“Oh, yeah. The bike repair place. We’ve never gone in there before.”
“So?”
“I don’t know. You think it’ll cost much?”
He shrugged. “Only one way to find out. Grab an end.”
We lugged our invention out to the street and rolled it down the hill towards Queen. We both had to hang on tight to make sure it didn’t get away from us. I didn’t even have time to peek at Debbie’s house. I hoped she was watching.
On Saturday afternoon all the stores on Queen Street were busy and people were everywhere. Not like when we delivered our papers at dawn. This was my turf. I knew all the streetcar stops, every store, every alley, where all the gumball machines were, and every crack in the sidewalk from the Neville Loop to the Balsam Ave.. That was eight whole blocks. You could smell the sidewalk all mixed up with traffic and the deep fryers in the Willow fish shop. Summertime was when the smell was the best.
In the front window of Mike’s was one of those Stingray bikes with small wheels, high handlebars and a banana seat. I always wanted one of those bad ever since our cousin William got one. It was just my size and I’d never be afraid to learn on that. That all changed now. Our contraption may look like a road accident, but I was itchy to try and ride it.
We wheeled through the door and got met by a noseful of rubber and grease. Kind of like a hardware store smell only better. Hanging on the walls were different style bars, wheels, stacks of chains, and inner tubes, and sprockets and you name it. Some real slick bikes were parked in the racks, all metal flake enamel paint and polished chrome. Lined up and ready to ride away. Yum.
“Can I help you boys?” said a gruff voice from the back.
I jumped. From out of nowhere, a man with gold rimmed granny glasses, a bushy moustache, stubbly chin, and long tangled hair under a blue striped bandana stared at us from behind the counter. He was an honest to god pirate. I’d never seen guys with hair that long. Not even the Beatles.
He was wiping something off with an oily rag and left a black smear on his face when he scratched his cheek. My eyes went to the door and I wondered if maybe we should bolt. Alec took over.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “We’re looking for a sprocket and pedals for this frame.” He pushed our bike forward and the man leaned over to take a look. I stayed back where I was. After a long pause, Alec added, “We’re building a special bike.”
The man snapped his Zippo and lit up a cigarette.“That so? Want to tell me more or do I guess?”
I kept my mouth shut while Alec explained what we were doing and how far we’d got. The man listened with his arms folded, sucking his teeth and rolling the smoke in his fingers. He asked a couple of questions, then walked around to a big drawer and pulled out a couple of new pedals and a ball bearing something or other.
“Problem is, you got no way to mount this on your bike without a weld,” he explained. “Either of you boys got a welder?” We shook our heads regretfully like it was something we should have had, something everyone should have. “Didn’t think so.”
“It’s a real cool bike,” Alec told him.
“I see that.” He used his cigarette for a pointer. “You’ll need a support strut between the two seat poles. Tell you what,  I’ll provide all the parts and weld mount it together for ten bucks. How’s that sound?”
“That sounds fair,” Alec said. His tone sounded like it was an amazing deal.
I thought he might as well have said five hundred bucks. We didn’t have it and we had no idea what was fair. “We’ll be back as soon as we raise the money. I’m Alec Lunn and this is my little brother John.”
“Mike Welton,” said the man and he sat back down behind the counter. “Call me Mike.”
I held the door open while Alec wheeled our bike out. I whispered, “Ask him how long it will take.”
Mike’s voice growled from over the counter. “Depends on how busy I am when you come in. Could give you same day service. Otherwise, it’ll be a couple.”
“Thanks,” we both said. A second later we were back on the street.
Alec was so excited. He was practically dancing as we walked along. “We’re going to have the greatest bike in the whole city. For speed and design and everything. It’ll be sooooooo groovy.”
“Where are we going to get ten bucks?” We’d have to break my piggy bank to get the remaining fifty cent piece out. “I make a buck fifty a week on my route. You only make six dollars and you owe two to Chris on top of what we pay to use his bike.” I tried to add it all up. “I get a dime for my allowance and you get a quarter. Figuring all that, we maybe scrape up half of it in time. Where do we get the other four?”
“We’ll find it.” That was Alec: always scheming and dreaming of glory while I worry about what could go wrong. “It’s a beautiful day. We have a plan. Lighten up, little brother. Meantime, let’s get some fritters. My treat.”
It was about to say we should save the quarter. But I didn’t. We stopped at Willow and got salt and vinegar on them. We climbed the hill planning what we’d do when we got the bike working. I felt it would be okay because Alec made it okay. So did the greasy fritters.
So, for a while, I didn’t worry so much about what could go wrong.
CHAPTER 9

When Alec was scheming hard, he’d go all quiet. He wanted the bike real bad. He wanted to win the race. It was more important to him than anything.
I was happy just to fantasize about winning the race and leave it at that. I imagined us sailing ahead of tons of kids to the roar of a huge crowd with our family leading the cheers. We breeze across the finish line in the nick of time against John Payson riding a loser of a bike. Waiting right up front for me, all happy and excited, is Debbie.
We were up in our room on Alec’s bunk with blankets hanging from above so it was like a tent. He sat cross legged at one end, staring at nothing all misty eyes under a crumpled brow. “I bet Jeff will lend us a couple of bucks...” he mumbled. “can’t ask Eric... Kate stashes her allowance...then there’s Steve...”
“Geez, Alec,” I complained, “We’re going to owe everyone for the rest of our lives.”
“No we’re not. Didn’t you see? We get twenty bucks when we win. We’ll pay them back with that.”
“Twenty dollars? For real? Where does it say that?”
“Right on the entry paper thing that I brought home that day. Didn’t you see?”
“No.” But before I could even imagine paying everyone back and spending the rest, my guts got tight. That feeling I always got when Alec had a plan all ‘figured out’. “You mean, IF we win.”
“We can’t lose with this bike,” he crowed. “I’ll pedal, you steer.”
“Then let’s ask Dad,” I suggested. “He could lend us the whole fiver, right?” As soon as it was out of my mouth I knew neither of us would dare.
By Sunday night we’d been laughed at by everybody. We even tried asking Dad for odd job money. But around our house you do jobs because you’re part of the family. There wasn’t any cash in mowing grass, folding laundry, or cleaning. That left us four dollars short.
“I told you we shouldn’t have bought fritters yesterday,” I said.
“No you didn’t.”
“I should have.”
“We just need a stroke of luck.”
The next morning, back on the boardwalk with Chris’s bike, I was starting to get the hang of riding. After crashing all weekend I could finally roll a ways on my own. All I needed was to learn to stop without using a tree or just falling off.
At school, everyone was talking about the pet show. Mr. Pratt had posted a list of all the kids names with their pet beside them. There were going to be eleven dogs, six cats and two birds. I saw that Debbie Bell was bringing a siamese cat named 99. I figured it was after the girl spy in Get Smart. Alec said maybe it was 66 turned upside-down like the number on her house. The only other dog I knew was Dinah’s mutt, Luger. Gully and Luger knew each other because our two families were friends.
During social studies, I started a new daydream where Gully and 99 were in the pet show. I let 99 win and Debbie helped me break the witch spell. She suggests we go right to the source: the witch herself. We go right up to Miss Hatten’s house and ring the bell. An old hag answers all hunched over with one closed up eye and the other one rolling loose around the socket. With a cackley voice, she invites us in. We can’t say no if we want to. I tell Debbie to run but she’s under the spell, too! We hold hands and take slow shaky steps inside. The door slams behind us.
I hear laughing.
“John!”
I blink a couple of times. Mr. Pratt was standing over me with a cheesy smirk. More kids laughed. He made me stay in for recess and do extra spelling for not paying attention. I wished Gulliver was there to bite him.
One thing was for sure, I had to break Miss Hatten’s spell. Alec kept telling me I better go breathe in the deaders soon before it was too late. The longer I put it off the worse my luck got.
I found a message in 19 when I got home from school. “J.otch.N. 67". That meant to go look in the hollow book. We hid it on a different shelf just to be sure. I slid it out and inside was another note. “3@5.” Translation: meet in 3 at 5 O’clock. He must have left all this at lunch because he wasn’t even home yet.
I loved secret meetings. It made even the stupidest things feel special. One time we met in the door room after a chain of notes about winning a strawberry Great Shake off Jeff. We shook the whole thing up in a jug of milk and drank it straight from the bottle. The added flavour of being secret made it the tastiest shake ever.
I had more than an hour until five. I grabbed the leash and called, “Come on Gully, let’s go out back and work on your tricks.” He was already right beside me. I gave him some of my toast. We took off out the side door and around to the backyard.
Alec and Chris and I had built a wooden hut out back last summer. It was big enough for 3 bunks, a window and a door. It was a great place to sleep out in the summer. It took us forever to haul all the wood for it from a lumber store way up north of Kingston Road. Today, it was quiet with no squirrels for Gully to chase. He kept jumping up for my toast so we finished that first.
No one could tell what kind of dog Gulliver was. The man Dad got him from said he was a Beagle. But he didn’t look like any beagle I ever saw. He was a chunky black and tan middle sized mutt with a bow tie patch on his neck. Dad called him a Polish Pointer.
“Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit.” I kept saying it while I pushed his rear down until he stayed sitting. That seemed pretty good. Then I told him to lie down but he got out and started sniffing around the yard and wouldn’t do anything I said anymore. Bigelow was out prowling around, too. I wondered if it would be better to take him but everybody knows you can’t teach cats anything.
Gully and me went back inside the house. Dad was cooking Sunday dinner number five. We were eating them all in a row. Tonight smelled like pot roast. It made me miss Mom even more than I already did. We’d talked a couple of times over long distance phone. That only made it worse hearing her voice from so far away.
“I see you’re trying to teach Gulliver some tricks,” Dad said.
“It’s for the pet show.”
“You might try using treats to get him to cooperate. He’ll lie down if he knows there’s a treat waiting.”
I could tell Dad didn’t know anything about dogs. That was backwards. Gully only jumped up on me when I held up a treat. “Thanks, Dad. When’s supper?” I asked.
“Six. Get your homework done first.”
“I don’t have any tonight,” I lied. We ran straight upstairs and crawled under the bed and through the tunnels. Alec wasn’t there yet. I flipped on the light and read Spiderman vs Doctor Doom. I wondered if I should do my homework but decided I could wing it. It was only fractions. A couple of minutes later Gully wriggled back out the tunnel.
I heard Alec say, “Easy, Revillug. Easy boy. Coming through.”
“Where have you been?” I asked when he finally got past the dog.
He stayed stretched out, half in the tunnel with 67 clutched in one hand. “Take a look at this,” he said and gave me the book.
I popped it open. Inside was an official looking slip of ivory coloured paper with a red stamp on it and a bunch of writing. It said we were officially entered in the bike race as #155. I fingered it and read it over several times. It was like a special ticket on thick paper with a jaggedy edges all around.
“Wow. It’s for real then, isn’t it?”
“Dad asked what it was when he gave me the envelope. I told him I’d sent away for a brochure about Centre Island.”
“Why didn’t you just tell him?” I asked.
“We’ll tell him this weekend, after he’s had Saturday afternoon to relax.”
I looked at the entry form again and put it carefully back in the book. “This is so cool. Now all we need is that last four bucks.”
“I have a way we can make a couple more bucks,” he said.
“Sell our bottle collection?”
He chuckled. “Who would want that? No. I was talking with Seymour last night after you fell asleep and he suggested we get it from the tooth fairy.”
My brother just lost his mind and I was there to see it. “The tooth fairy? You want to knock all my teeth out?”
He looked like he was considering it. “Maybe as a last resort.”
“Hey!”
“Relax. Even if we pulled them all we wouldn’t make four bucks.”
“Then what?”
He raised his brows up and down like Groucho Marx. “Fairy clothes!” He said it like he was revealing the secret of King Tut’s tomb. ‘We make fairy clothes.”
“Fairy clothes?” What in the world was he talking about?
“Sure, you know how we always wondered what the fairies do with the teeth.”
“Yeah...” We used to figure they made fences or building blocks with them.
“We assumed they built a fairy town but what we missed was that the fairies must need clothes, too. Like they’d need cars, furniture and everything.”
“You’re crazy.”
“Crazy like a duck. They pay money for teeth and we have no idea what they use them for. Do you think they walk around without any clothes on?”
I was having a hard time imagining the tooth fairies, or teeth fairies, walking around or doing anything. “Seymour said they needed clothes?”
“Not exactly. He was just talking about needing new ones himself and that they were hard to find when you’re that small.”
Seymour and Theodore were tiny friends of Alec’s who visited late at night. He couldn’t even see them, they were so small. They would climb into his ear and tell stories about where they’d been and stuff they did. Then Alec would tell me. They had fantastic adventures. Once they got washed down a drainpipe in a drop of water. They got back up by harnessing a piece of thread to a daddy long legs and riding it back up the spout. Another time they traveled through the wilderness in the fur of a lynx. In that adventure they nearly got shook off in the north woods every time the cat scratched. So every morning they lashed themselves to a hair on its back like it was a ship’s mast. Then they rode him right into an Eskimo village where they caught a plane back south.
If those guys knew what the tooth fairies needed, then it was okay by me. “How much do you think they’ll pay?” I asked.
Alec’s sly schemer grin spread across his face. “We’ll figure out how much after we make them. What do you think? Is that smart or what?”
I thought it sounded like a lot of work. “Is there a third choice?”
“Supper’s ready.” Dad’s voice rattled the whole house. “Wash up.”
Alec crawled backwards through the tunnel. I followed him out and down to the kitchen.
“How many pairs of pants do we have to sew for them?” I asked.
“Shhh.”
Kate got Mom’s place at the end of the dinner table as the oldest girl. Usually I was squeezed between her and Alec so I got elbow room tonight. Supper was when I missed Mom most. She loved to cook and lots of afternoons I’d hang around the kitchen and help make supper and we’d talk. She’d been gone a while now and I wanted real bad to see her serving potatoes and beans while Dad sliced the pot roast. Since she’d been gone we’d already had meat loaf, pork chops, and chicken fricassee. I wondered what we’d be eating once we ran out of Sunday dinners.
“I was down with the laundry this afternoon and saw you boys are building some kind of bicycle?” Dad said.
“Not me,” Jeff said.
“Yeah. Me and John are tinkering around,” Alec said.
“Looks like a tandem bike?”
I nodded eagerly. “Yeah. I sit up front.”
“It’s still kind of in the planning stages.” Alec elbowed me to shut up. “We’re a bit stuck.”
“It looks moronic, if you ask me,” Eric said.
“Well, nobody did,” Alec shot back. He looked down the table at Dad. “Actually, we’re thinking of entering a race.” His voice was real quiet.
“Really? Where?” Dad asked. “And finish up, Alec. Everyone else is ready for dessert.”
Alec was the slowest eater in the world. Everyone else in the family could finish thirds before he’d even got to his potatoes.
“What is dessert?” I asked.
“Fruit cocktail,” he said.
“I’m in the mommy’s place,” Kate announced. “I serve dessert.”
“Yeah, and you’ll take the cherry for yourself,” Alec complained.
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Where’s this race, Alec?” Dad asked.
“On Centre Island.” Alec replied cautiously. “Can we go?”
The room went silent while we all waited for a referees decision. I kept my eyes on my empty plate just hoping it wouldn’t be no. We’d been working so hard and now it all hung on Dad’s next word.
“We’ll see.”
A split decision! Not a no but not really a yes. Alec and I exchanged a flickered glance of relief while I wished he’d told him that we’d already entered the race. CHAPTER 10

Thursday was always collection night for our paper routes. We had to knock on all the doors we delivered to and ask for money. I only had six papers so it didn’t take long but Alec had thirty doors to bang on. Usually after I was done, all that money made me feel too rich and I’d buy a couple of chocolate bars but not tonight.
After we subtracted what we owed our manager, George, and then added in our allowance for the week, we were only three bucks short of our goal. Not bad. Could we make that much in fairy clothes? It had to be the weirdest scheme Alec had ever come up with.
I couldn’t concentrate on the bike to save Christmas. All I could think about was that stupid curse. It didn’t help that Alec kept rubbing it in. I’d been trying to forget it but he wouldn’t let me. I had awful nightmares and a terrible gut ache. I didn’t even care about eating anymore.
I slammed into a couple of walls and fell off more than once. After riding down to Kew Gardens on my own I hit a snag and tumbled into the sand. I was so mad I kicked the bike for treating me that way. Man, did my foot hurt. On the way back to Alec the bike made a strange noise like it was dragging a couple of leaves or a candy wrapper. There wasn’t anything there when I reached Alec.
“Maybe it got loose and fell off.”
He pinched the tire. “Or maybe you got a flat, you dope.”
I gave it a squeeze. The tire was dead alright. He spun the wheel slowly until we spotted a big splinter of wood poking through. Alec pulled it out. It left a real hole.
“What did I tell you? Miss Hatten is working you over but good.” He groaned. “We have a patch kit at home to fix the tube but Chris’ll want a new tire. There goes our welding money.”
“Maybe he won’t notice.”
He noticed. It took him all of five seconds. He must have examined the bike with a magnifying glass every time he got it back. He told us we owed him a new tire and we couldn’t borrow the bike any more.
“That could happen to anyone. He knows that,”Alec complained.
I felt miserable. On the way to school, I was locked in mortal combat with Miss Hatten’s evil spirit. Standing outside the graveyard at midnight while jagged bolts of lightning lit the sky, I draw a wooden stake from my cloak just in case her minions are lurking. She’s in there - I know it. Maybe not in body but her brain sucking soul that’s wrapped its tentacles around me is through these gates.
I must face this alone. No Gulliver, no Alec, no Debbie. I push open the huge black creaky iron gates as a loud crack of thunder booms overhead. I hear the voices of the trapped souls of thousands of children that must be freed from her curse. I’m the only one who can save them. There’s no time to lose! I squeeze through and run straight to the small church lit only by lightning strikes. The door resists, like there are hands holding it shut on the other side. I put all my strength into it --
“Ow!” Something sharp hit my head. I looked up. I was coming through the boys gate at school. How’d I get there so fast? I sometimes lose track of time when I daydream, but not that bad.
Ow! Another sharp smack on my head.
“Hey, Chipmunk,” yelled a voice, “I thought you’d like some lunch.”
I stopped and looked up the perimeter wall. John Payson and his creeps were perched on top throwing acorns at me. He stuck his teeth out like a rodent and made chewing sounds. They all laughed and threw a pile more nuts. They really stung.
“Stay there, Chipper,” Dozer Faraday warned. “or we’ll pound you to hamburger.”
 I was sick to death of them calling me a chipmunk or squirrel or rat or whatever. I spit a string of swears at them that would have got my mouth washed out with soap at home. It stunned them long enough to make a run for it.
“Get him!” Payson yelled. They all jumped down and came after me.
I zinged around the schoolyard like Ricochet Rabbit. Zipping around football huddles, kids throwing cards, and alley board competitions. No way those pudgy creeps would catch me out there. I was way too fast for them. I was one of the fastest kids in school.
They were serious today. It got kind of scary. They were organized and spread out to dragnet me into a corner. I squeezed through their line just in time. It was close.
It took forever for the bell to ring and reminded me not to get there on time again. Puny Adams pushed me in line but there were teachers around so he didn’t do anything else.
Before recess John Payson dropped a note on my desk with a really badly drawn skull and crossbones on it. The note said ‘Enjoy today - after school you die.”
At lunch they didn’t touch me. They just walked by smacking their fists into an open hand saying: “Three o’clock and we puff up the other side of your lip, freak.”
I was terrified. There was no way to escape. What if they caught me? Would they really beat me up? There wasn’t anyone I could tell. Pratt would probably help them do it and my sister would only get hurt, too.
I decided to get a detention and stay after school. No way the rats would wait around. I told Mr. Pratt that I didn’t do my math homework, even though I did. He called me stupid in front of all the other kids and gave me extra homework for the weekend. Now I had to face the creeps and do extra homework. I was done for.
After school, I snuck out the girl’s door while it was still busy. Then I crossed the yard to climb the north fence and up Balsam to Kingston Road. I don’t think anyone saw me but I went all the way around to Bracken just to make sure. It took me forever to get home. At least I didn’t get pounded out. That gave me till Monday to figure out what to do about them.
I knew what I had to do before then. I had to visit the deaders.