The Subheroes Chapter 12: The Sultans Of Chop, Part I
One Sunday afternoon, years ago, Miranda took Oppenheimer II out for a walk. A big thunderstorm had just passed through, and at each intersection, while Oppenheimer II sniffed around, Miranda eyed the storm drains to see if anything useful had gotten caught in the leaves.
She'd just fished an eyeglass lens out of the current when she saw the four boys coming down the street in a line, all about nine years old, the tallest one pulling a — well, a wagon of sorts, she supposes she'd have called it, but it looked like they'd put an old wooden sled on a set of BMX bike wheels somehow. Every other minute or so, the tallest one put the lip of his Sunkist can in his teeth and pointed, and the other three fanned out to pick up an umbrella carcass and tossed it onto the wagon bed.
Oppenheimer II jingled his tags; he'd gotten all curly-sheep in the damp. Miranda pocketed the lens and went back to her apartment, and as she dried off Oppenheimer's feet in the entryway, Pat Moran came out of the kitchen and said, "You want a toasted cheese?" and Miranda told him about the kids and their funny wagon.
"I've seen those kids around," Pat said, getting out plates. "You know that tall one's only in the fourth grade?"
"BMX wheels. Ugliest rig I ever saw," Miranda said. She shook her head. "Rolls true, though. Doesn't even rattle."
"Where'd they get the bikes, I wonder."
"The bikes, forget it, where'd they get that sled?" Miranda said. "A Rosebud dealie like that one, Dad's always looking for those."
"Next time you see 'em, you can ask."
A few days later, cutting through the park on an errand, Miranda saw the tall one ahead of her on the path. He didn't have the wagon with him, but she knew him right away from the way he walked, a wavy gait like a charmed asp. She picked up speed to catch up with him, but she hadn't closed much ground before he ducked off the path and under a big tree. It had started to get dark, and the tree put down a thick shade, but Miranda could make out the other three, sitting beside the wagon eating Fritos.
Miranda came up closer, about to call out to them to ask about the sled, when the tall one made a gesture with his hand, a "pow!" kind of sign, and the other three got up, and the four of them circled the wagon and took it apart and evaporated. The entire process took maybe fifteen seconds — the dismantling, the stashing of wheels and axles into backpacks, the vanishing of the boys into the shade beyond the big tree, nothing left but a Frito bag, and as Miranda said out loud, "But who has the sl–" a long thin arm reached around the trunk of the tree and yoinked the Frito bag and disappeared.
Miranda got a coffee and went back to the garage and told Tjinder what she'd seen.
"And then they just…poof. I don't know, I've never seen anything like it. Well, except the Gingers, but that doesn't count."
"And the Gingers can't chop a wagon," Tjinder said through clenched teeth, trying to pry the suction nozzle off an old vacuum the Spud Gunners wanted fixed.
"Not in under a minute, that's for sure, they'd do an hour of bickering right up front — these kids didn't even speak, that I could hear. The tall one just did that shazam thing, and the next thing I know…"
"Poof, yeah, you said."
"Poof is what happened." Miranda sipped her coffee. "And give it up with that thing, it's gummed up to Jesus."
"Rrrr-it's okay…rrrr-almost got…it… rrrr-almost…rrrr-got…grrrrrrrrohhh fuck it." Tjinder clonked his wrench on the housing, and a tiny puff of starch rose from the nozzle joint.
"I told you, don't bother. Pat can torch it off maybe, don't worry about it."
"I mean, it would kill those dudes to take care of their equipment?" Another clonk. "Shit breaks, okay, but we're not magicians."
Then Tjinder looked at Miranda, and Miranda looked at Tjinder, and Tjinder said, "You know, Blocke doesn't need this back until Thursday," and Miranda said, "I'll see if Lionel's free."
The next day, just when school let out, Miranda and Tjinder and Lionel and Oppenheimer II took a walk to the park. Tjinder had the old vacuum strapped to his chest in a Snugli. Lionel walked and read the directions to his new buttonhole spy-cam at the same time; Oppenheimer II herded him away from fire hydrants and newspaper vending boxes so he wouldn't bonk into them.
At the tree, they stopped. No sign of the kids. Tjinder unhooked the Snugli. Miranda rolled up a note that said "IF FOUND PLEASE RETURN TO M. JIN'S GARAGE 238 FOURTH AVENUE THANKS" and jammed it down into the nozzle with a stick, and together they lugged the vacuum to the base of the tree and arranged it in a small pile of leaves. When they came out, Lionel had disappeared.
Tjinder looked around. "Where the hell?"
A nearby bush rustled emphatically. Oppenheimer II yipped at it.
Miranda and Tjinder piled into the bush with Lionel. Oppenheimer II piled into Lionel's lap, and Lionel balanced the little spy-cam on Oppenheimer II's head. Moments later, the boys appeared, fashioning eyeglasses out of licorice ropes, and headed under the tree, and Tjinder said, "I think they found it, Lionel, can you see?" and Miranda said, "Shhh!" and Lionel said, "The really tall one just did a magic-trick thing with his ha–" and Oppenheimer II burst out barking and took off after a chipmunk and dumped all three of them out of the bush, and Miranda shoved Tjinder off her head and yanked Oppenheimer II's broken leash strap off her wrist and spat out a leaf, and by the time she'd done all that, the area under the tree was empty. No boys, no vacuum. Behind Miranda, Tjinder picked a piece of Lionel's spy-cam out of his sweater and said, "Well, I guess we'll see," and Lionel said, "Oppenheimer II better have caught that little mofo," and Miranda said, "Oppenheimer II's the mofo needs catching," and stomped off in the direction of a familiar distant squealing that could only mean yet another toddler had fallen in love with Oppenheimer II.
She caught up with him at the bandshell; a child in a stroller was solemnly feeding him Cheerios, and Oppenheimer II was just as solemnly accepting them, but when she whistled, Oppenheimer II trotted over.
"You catch that little mofo?"
"…No, the other little mofo."
"Okay, let's go."
Tjinder and Lionel met them at the statue. The lights in the park had come on, and it seemed colder. Miranda bought everyone coffees, and she held Lionel's cup while he counted up spy-cam pieces in his palm. Oppenheimer II herded Lionel the same as before. Tjinder twirled the Snugli and whistled, the same meandering song he always whistled which he swore came from the Peggy Sue Got Married soundtrack but which totally didn't.
As the four of them filed down the side alley, though, Tjinder broke off whistling and said, "Daaaaamn," and then he started whistling again, trying to do Mark Knopfler's slide guitar with his lips and failing, and Lionel looked up from his busted spy-cam and joined in, singing. "We are the sultans, doo dit duh doing…"
"…We are the su-u-u-ltans of chop," Miranda sang, and then she said, "Well, shit," because there at the side door sat the vacuum. They all stood and looked down at it for a minute before Tjinder gathered it up like a sleeping child and carried it inside, and when Lionel plugged it in and hit "on," a piece of paper shot out of the nozzle. Miranda picked it up and unfolded it. It said "YOU'RE WELCOME" in green crayon.
She turned the vacuum off and handed the note to Lionel. Lionel read it and handed it to Tjinder. Tjinder read it and handed it to Oppenheimer II, who counted notebook paper among his favorite snacks.
"Anyone else want to park a Pinto under that tree, see if we get a Bentley back?" Lionel said.
"Or your wardrobe? Get you some pants that fit, High Waters?" Tjinder said, and Lionel told him to shut up, but Miranda tightened her ponytail and said, "That's an idea," so Lionel told her to shut up too, but Miranda said, "That's not what I meant. Call Marie. I'm-a talk to those kids."
September 19, 2005
Tags: fiction Subheroes writing