Tag Archives: Zoid Man

Zoid Man: Chapters Six and Seven

20 Dec

Zoid Man

Chapter Six

 

It was lunchtime. The “set-up” was a go, literally, as Jack and Benny sat in adjacent stalls in the boy’s bathroom. The greasers were already in the far area towards the windows, blue smoke billowing around their heads. Harland Gillette was one of the smokers, Jack had made sure.

“So Terry has this big jar of change, and he keeps the darn thing in his garage.”

“His garage?” Benny was the straight man, but he had difficulty from sniggering.

“Yeah.”

“How much you reckon is in the jar?”

“Lots. Maybe fifty dollars.”

“Fifty dollars?” Snigger.

“At least. Probably a lot more.”

The boys flushed at the same time and emerged from the stalls to wash their hands. Jack held the spigot open for Benny as he washed, then Benny returned the favor.

“What’s he saving all that change for?”

“I think he wants a new bike. To replace his stolen bike.” Jack took a quick look in the mirror, catching eyes with Harland, who sucked smoke up into his nostrils and glared. “Don’t tell anyone.”

“No. I would never do that.”

They grinned at each other as they left the bathroom. The trap was set.

* * *

Terry was Terry Zimmerman. He was more than willing to help Jack and Benny gather coins from friends who were also willing to join in the cause. Nearly everyone who donated coins had been a victim of theft.

Neither hero let on who the suspect was, but when they explained how the trap would work, nearly all their friends wanted to be a part of it.

The jar they used was a huge Mt. Olive glass pickle container that Jack’s father kept on the bar in the basement. Jack had to eat two large pickles to empty it, then drained out the sour liquid and washed it down as best he could.

“Whew!” Benny face soured when Jack unscrewed the bright yellow lid and the two began to shovel change into it. The coins clinked on the bottom at first, then nestled into a massive layer about two inches thick. Jack took the bottle of silver nitrate he had swiped from Doc Nick’s supply closet and poured the entire contents over the coins. The two then worked together to carefully tilt and careen the jar so that the coins were coated in the chemical.

They placed the jar along the front entrance of the garage at Timmy Zimmerman’s, against the wall, slightly hidden.

“Don’t you want to put it in plain view?”

“No. It can’t be an obvious trap.”

And they waited through the night at home in their beds.

At six-thirty in the morning Jack’s home phone rang.

“It’s gone!”

“All of it?”

“Most of it.” Timmy sounded excited, and Jack could hardly wait to get to school.

At Frankton Junior High students arrived early, except for the very few who rode the bus. Harland was one of those.

Students gathered in small clusters according to their grade, their gender, and which neighborhood they lived in. It was very cliquish. The greasers also had their little groups, and they normally collected in an area near the large magnolia tree that dominated the front lawn area of the school. Littered about the ground were the butts of hundreds of cigarettes. Coveys of girls also gathered not far from the tree, with coy almost-teen girls tittering and peeking at the greasers.

Every now and then someone would shout “PINK-BELLY!” and a hapless seventh grader would take off across the lawn, chased by a posse of screaming boys, who would catch and upend their victim, pull his shirt up, and beat mercilessly on the boy’s stomach with the flats of their hands until his belly burned a bright red.

Jack and Benny stood in their own dyad, stamping their feet against the October cold.

“So, you gonna do it?”

“Yeah. It’s now or never. Wish me luck.”

Jack strode nervously over to the magnolia tree, seeking out Harland with his eyes. Harland was lighting a cigarette when he spotted Jack.

“Hey, Harland.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, I was thinking I’d give you an advance.”

“An advance on what?”

“You know — the monthly blackmail payment.”

“You little turd! I ain’t blackmailing you! I’m insuring you against the trouble you’d be in if certain people knew you were hanging out at Henrys, is all.”

“Sure. Insurance. Well, here’s next month’s premium.”

“Premium?”

“Payment, then. For the insurance.” Jack dug out a dollar bill from his pants. “My mom gave me two dollars for lunch today, and I can get by on one.”

“Oh, sure. Thanks.”

Harland reached for the bill. His hand was covered with blotches of black.

“Hurt your hand?”

“Huh? Oh, naw. I was working on my dad’s car. Engine grease is all,” and he took the dollar and shoved it into his pocket, then turned back to his cronies.

Jack couldn’t help grinning broadly at Benny as he walked back. The school bell rang loudly, and the yard full of teens and preteens turned toward the building and another boring school day. Except Jack knew this day was not going to be so boring.

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

Jutsie Smith looked at Jack and Benny as if they were nuts.

“I can’t do that! What are you thinking? If I get caught, for sure I’ll lose my position as an office assistant! No telling what else! I could get suspended!”

“Jutsie — that’s not going to happen, I promise! We’ll help, too. Benny and I will keep lookout. Just his address, that’s all we need. And you don’t even have to write it down! Just show it to me and we’re done! Honest!”

“Yeah, I’ll be the one that’s done!”

Jack tried to put on his best sad puppy face — the one Jutsie could never resist. He reached across the cafeteria table and took her hands in his. All about them was the chaos of students lost in their conversations and lunch. No one paid them any heed. Benny sat and munched on Jutsie’s potato rounds, nodding, his eyebrows raised with anticipation.

For years Jack’s parents called Jutsie Jack’s little girlfriend. As they grew, her cherub face and curly hair began to show promise of burgeoning beauty. Jack, on the other hand, had grown gawky. So their future together faded very much like the black and white scalloped-edge photos had over the years. But it was that history that Jack counted on.

“Pleeeeeease! Jutsie, please help us out!” he implored, squeezing her hands.

“Oh, all right! But this is the first and the last time!”

Jack and Benny erupted with their victory! Jutsie, on the other hand, simmered.

Jutsie had office assistant duty the very next period after lunch. After the bell, she grabbed two hallway passes and scribbled on them, then marched officiously to the class Jack and Benny shared, handing the notes to their teacher.

“Jack Carter and Benny Sampson, you are wanted in the office.”

A wave of oohs filtered through the class as the two joined Jutsie and followed her out of the classroom and down the hallway.

“It’s working!” Benny said as they headed for the school office.

“Will you shut up?”

“Sorry, Jutes.”

The office was empty, other than a secretary busy in the corner typing something. The Principal and vice-principal were still out to lunch — one of the perks of working in school administration.

Benny positioned himself inside the glass-paned wooden door to the office where he had a clear view of the hallway in either direction. Jack nonchalantly walked to the long counter where he stood expectantly as Jutsie walked behind it to a large card catalog filled with narrow drawers. She quickly opened one of the drawers and fingered through index cards until she found what she wanted.

Gillette, Harland.

She cupped the card in her hand and walked to the counter where Jack awaited, and slid the card face-down across the smooth surface. The secretary who was typing looked up and noticed Jutsie and Jack.

“Anything I can help with, Jutsie?” She smiled politely, but there was that elderly aura of suspicion that all adults — especially in a school — posses.

“No, thanks, Mrs. Green. I’ve just got to get a few supplies for Jack’s teacher. So, this is all she needs, right?” She flipped the card over so Jack could read the address. He wrote it on the palm of his hand with a pen fastened to the counter by a beaded chain.

“Yeah. That’s it.”

Jutsie walked back to the card catalog file and slipped the card back into place, then stooped down to grab a box of chalk and a ream of paper. She handed the items to Jack, who nodded his thanks, winked, then hustled out of the office, Benny on his heels.

“Did you get it?”

“I got it.”

“You know, Jack, I think Jutsie likes you!”

“Shut up.” And they headed back to class, where Jack presented his surprised teacher with a box of new chalk and the ream of paper.

* * *

Harland’s house was quite a hike. Jack and Benny decided to meet late at night and bike to the location. They wore their superhero costumes. Jack’s cape bothered him, and he was afraid it might get caught in the gears of his ten-speed, so he balled it up and shoved it under his sweater.

“You’re looking a lot like me, Jack.”

“Zoid Man.”

Taking shortcuts where they could, and staying off the main roads, they zig-zagged the distance to Harland’s street address. His house was at the end of a dead end street, which turned from pavement to gravel, and finally to scraped dirt.

“Wow! This is definitely the other side of the tracks!”

The house was very small, and constructed of cinder blocks. Metal frame crank out windows peaked out like dark eyes in the light of the street lamp from where the road changed. A thin strip of smoke fingered upward from a masonry chimney stack on the roof.

To the side of the house a dirt drive descended to a backyard that was lower than the road level. An old sedan rested on blocks, and the area around the car was strewn with old tires and a car seat that had been removed. A rope swing with a short two-by-four hung from a branch of a large oak tree.

The boys walked quietly down the drive. Towards the back of the small yard was an old metal shed. Jack nodded towards the shed and pulled out his flashlight. He shined a light on the structure. There was no lock on the door. He crept to the shed and tried to open the small door. It wouldn’t budge. Benny took his flashlight and went to the rear of the shed, shining a light on the ground as he walked.

“Psst!”

“What?”

“Come back here! There’s a window!”

Jack hustled to the back of the shed, where Benny was shining his light through a window into the building.

“Look-ee here!”

Jack pressed his face against the cold glass and peered in as Benny scanned the interior with his flashlight.

Lawnmowers. Basketballs. Bikes. Charcoal grills. And, an empty Mt. Olive glass pickle jar, with a few coins still inside it. And more.

Jack and Benny could barely contain themselves. Until they heard the snap of a twig as someone stepped on it, and were suddenly bathed in the bright light of a flashlight.

“You boys mind telling me what you’re doing here?”

It was a policeman.

 

 

Copyright © 2015

 

Zoid Man: Chapter Five

18 Dec

Chapter Five

 

The older boy’s name was Harland Gillette, like the razor. Jack and Benny identified him from his yearbook picture in the Frankton Junior High yearbook. The picture was two years old, and Harland looked nothing like he did now. He was much younger and smaller in the picture. Not too different from Jack, for that matter.

Jack’s brother said Harland had been a couple of grades behind him.

“He played on the 7th and 8th grade football team and started his very first year. He was okay. And fast. Running back, I think. I was in high school, and his name got talked about in the locker room as someone to watch. Then he kind of disappeared all of a sudden. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. Kind of bumped into him a few days ago, you know.”

Over the next few days Jack and Benny worked on catching Harland as the mysterious neighborhood thief. Things started to go missing once again. A lawn mower from the Sizemore’s shed. One of the Rankin girl’s bicycles — and brand new, too! Axes, shovels, basketballs — a wide sundry of things.

In Mr. Nickers’ science class, the teacher somehow got off track of his lecture and rambled. Jack took advantage of the moment to shoot up his hand to ask a question.

“Doctor Nickers, if you wanted to catch somebody stealing something, how would you do it?”

He wasn’t a real doctor. But everyone called him doctor. Doc Nick behind his back. He was rumored to have a fondness for his female students.

“Actually, I heard of a case in another school where someone was going around stealing loose change from the teachers’ desks. We all keep a little spare change for emergencies, like a student who forgets to bring lunch, or can’t pay a fee or something.

“Anyway, John Howard, a science teacher like me whom I knew at the school came up with the idea of treating coins with silver nitrate.”

“What’s that, Doctor Nickers?” The other students figured out early in the year if you kept Doc Nick off the day’s lesson, you could avoid all kinds of work.

“Yes, well it’s a chemical that used to be dropped into the eyes of newborns to prevent blindness. And for other things as well. Some people think it’s a cure for warts. Anyway, Mr. Howard rinsed a lot of change in silver nitrate and left it on his desk for all to see. He figured that sometime during the day the change would be stolen.”

“Was it?”

“It sure was. So here’s the catch: when the thief took the money, she got it on her hands.  A chemical reaction took place, turning her skin dark black where she touched the money. So chemistry,” he said, tapping the rolled down periodic chart with his wooden pointer, “can be used in many useful ways.”

“You said ‘she.’ A girl?”

“Not all the bad people in the world are boys.” He grinned and winked at a very attractive female student seated at the front of one row of desks.

Jack continued.

“Where do you get silver nitrate?”

“I suppose at the drug store. I might actually have some.”

“Would you show us how it works?” The class seemed to perk up at what would definitely detour Doc Nick for another twenty minutes.

“Everyone turn to page 68 in your science book and read the section written on the board. I’ll go see if we can do the experiment.”

Books flopped open and the entire class breathed a sigh of relief as the teacher opened a closet door at the front of the class and switched on a light.

Rumblings of whispers and titters of laughter rippled throughout the classroom. Nickers called from within the closet,

“Quiet down, class!” and continued to rummage through his shelves, until at last, he found the silver nitrate.

“Aha!” He came out of the closet with a triumphant look, holding a small amber bottle in his hand. On the top of the bottle was a rubber squeeze-top dropper. Opening a drawer in his desk, he scrounged for change.

“Jack? You asked to see how this works — so come be my Guinea pig.”

Jack walked to the front of the classroom. Nickers had spread nickels and dimes into a small tray. He put on his thick, elbow-length gloves, and strapped on a pair of safety goggles. He carefully unscrewed the bottle and pinched the rubber squeeze top to draw up some of the silver nitrate.

The rest of the class stood up and craned their necks to see.

“Not sure how much to use. Heck, may as well get ‘em soaked.”

He pinched several droplets of silver nitrate onto the change in the tray with the dropper. Then he plucked a wooden tongue depressor from a glass jar on the desk and stirred the coins, making sure each was coated with the chemical.

“Okay, Jack … your turn. Reach down in the tray and pick up some of the change I’ve coated with silver nitrate.”

“Should I put on gloves?”

“Oh no! Then it wouldn’t work!”

“Is this dangerous to do? Is it poisonous?”

Nickers stopped to think a moment, then quickly said, “Heavens, no! Not a bit of danger. Of course, I wouldn’t put my hands in my mouth until you scrub the silver nitrate off them. Don’t worry about a thing!

“Now, quickly — grab some coins with your bare hands and rub them about. That’s it. Keep rubbing them. Now, put the coins back into the tray, and hold out your hands, palms up, so that everyone can see.”

Jack obeyed, and turned toward his classmates, extending his palms out and up. As he and others watched, his skin began to discolor. First to a chocolaty-brown, then dark brown, and finally to black.

The class gasped at the transformation.

“And that’s how the thief was found out! She didn’t know any better than to wash her hands — although plain soap and water wouldn’t do the trick had she tried. And when the money was discovered missing, all the teachers in the school had their students stand, hands out like Jack here, and the culprit was caught!”

“Uh, Doctor Nickers?”

“Yes, Jack?”

“Just how do I get this stain off my hands?”

“It should eventually wear off.”

“How long for that to happen?”

“Two … three days, I imagine.”

The class period bell rang out loud, and the students in Doc Nick’s class shoved and milled their way out into the hallways while Jack stood behind, looking at his stained hands.

Zoid Man: Chapter Four

17 Dec

Chapter Four

 

Henry’s was a package store about three blocks from the school. You could get pop and gum and candy, plus other stuff, too. A back Coke cooler, it was said, was full of anything but Coke. And Henry didn’t ask questions nor require ID. He was in business to make money.

And he sold cigarettes with the same stipulations: as long as you had the money and could pay, he’d sell it to you. That included chewing tobacco and girlie magazines, as well.

The latest Playboy Playmate of the Month was tacked to the inside of the bathroom door, and all the guys flocked to Henry’s on a monthly basis.

Henry observed all from his barstool perch behind the small counter near the cash register. A sign on the front of the register said in faded red letters, THIS STORE PROTECTED BY SMITH AND WESSON. Behind him along the wall were cubby holes for hundreds of packs of cigarettes, all cellophane-wrapped and brightly colored. The store itself was elbow-room only, with shelves of various products lining the walls, and a center shelf-like island with even more stuff. From hair tonics to shoe polish, every cranny was utilized.

Various aromas hit the nose depending where you stood in the store. Tobacco, bread, Clorox and others mixed in the tiny store.

On the counter was a glass container that housed a hotdog cooker, and a dozen dogs were in various states of doneness, turning slowly on the metal rollers. Henry’s had the best hot dogs in town, next to the Dog House, of course. The monthly inspection grade at Henry’s was never above a C, although once it had received a C+. Everyone thought Henry had bribed the inspector that month.

The rough kids — the greasers — would skip the school cafeteria during lunch and go to Henry’s, where they downed a couple of hotdogs and smoked cigarettes. One or two would get a drink from the Coke cooler, then swig back nearly the whole teardrop container of Binaca, while splashing half a bottle of Canoe so that no one could smell the beer or cigarettes.

No one was supposed to leave the school campus during lunch. They were required to eat in the cafeteria, which served up the same old slop on rotating days. Even the faculty avoided the school food, opting to either bring in homemade meals, or quickly drive to the new MacDonalds a few blocks away. Each — students and faculty — had to keep an eye on the clock in order to be back in class at the bell ending lunch.

Neither Jack nor Benny had been to Henry’s before, and when they opened the screen door and pushed open the glass door it was like walking into the hallowed halls of manhood. Henry looked up from his perch behind the counter, the stub of a cigarette still moldering between his yellowed fingers.

“Hey, boys. What kin I getcha?”

The boys looked all about. There was so much to take in! Plus the mystique of Henry’s heightened everything.

“Hot dogs,” said Jack finally.

“Mustard, ketchup, onions and chili?”

“Hold the onions. Two. One for me and one for my friend”

Henry grabbed two paper plates and put a bun on each, splaying them open, then picked the hotdogs from the cooker and carefully nested them in the buns. He squeezed out watery ketchup and mustard along the meat, than ladled a generous amount of chili from a pan on the back counter.

Putting the plates on the counter, Henry asked if they’d like a drink.

“Coke. Real coke is fine. Not the other …” stammered Benny, half-smiling.

“Only kind I got. Anything else? No? Seventy-five cents.”

Jack paid Henry and the two went back outside in front of the store, where a small wooden picnic table baked in the sun, and flies buzzed about the various empty paper plates strewn about.

As they ate in silence, two “greasers” from school approached the store and went inside. They came back out minutes later with hotdogs and Cokes. One reached into his jeans jacket pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Jack elbowed Benny and nodded toward the guy, who opened a hard-pack container. It was white with two red chevron stripes running from top to bottom. Tareytons!

Jack cleared his throat and looked at the guy, who cupped his hands expertly around a match he struck to light the cigarette pinched between his lips.

“Uh — you smoke Tareytons I see.”

The older boy pulled in a long drag of smoke, and pushed it out of his mouth to sniff it into his nostrils. Cool!

He blew a cloud of smoke into the air, no hint of a cough or gag, and turned to look at Jack.

“Yeah.” He stared at Jack as if trying to place him in his memory, as if trying to unclog a recollection that was stuck in a crack.

“I smoke ‘em too. Wondered if I could bum one from you?” Jack tried to be nonchalant and tough.

“You go to Frankton?”

“Yeah. Me and Benny do. Sure.”

“Who’s your homeroom teacher?”

“Butts.”

“Ha! Butts! Great name for her, right?”

The duo laughed in agreement.

“Well, you and Benny … I ain’t got but five more butts myself. I’ll sell you a couple, though. Five cents each.”

“FIVE CENTS!” Benny blurted out. “A whole pack’s only a quarter!”

“Then go buy yourself a pack. I’m no charity. And it’s not like I know you or anything.”

“Five cents is fine.” Jack dug in his front pocked for change, and pulled out a dime. He gave it to the boy.

“Who is your homeroom teacher?”

“Dickers,” said the older boy, handing over the two smokes. Dickers was the shop teacher. He was the keeper of all the school’s “challenged students.”

“Oh, you’re in the seventh grade, too.”

“I live in the seventh grade,” he smirked, taking another drag on his cigarette. “Been there going on my third year.” He held out his matches to Jack.

“Oh, that’s all right. I’ll smoke ‘em after school. I’m hoping to play basketball next year, and don’t want coach to smell it on my breath. I have gym next period.”

“I got some Binaca you can use. Go ahead. I bet you never smoked before!” he grinned.

“Well . . .”

Jack looked at Benny, who shrugged his shoulders and wiped some mustard off his lips.

“Okay.”

Jack and Benny held their cigarettes pinched between the ends of their thumbs and forefinger, while Jack also tried to strike a match. It wasn’t working. The older boy grinned and shook his head.

“Gimme those,” he ordered, and Jack handed over the cigarettes and matches. The older boy put both cigarettes into his mouth and lit them on one match expertly, as though he had seen every James Dean movie there was. He handed the cigarettes back to Jack and Benny, who gingerly placed the smokes to their lips.

Benny puffed on his, but not in — out — pinching the cigarette daintily.

Jack brought his cigarette to his lips, mimicking the boy, and took a long draw of smoke into his lungs. Immediately he gagged and started to cough uncontrollably.

A few other greasers had noticed the transaction and had formed a semi-circle around the circus scene. Their audience exploded in laughter.

“Wow! What’s your name?”

“Jack.”

“And does Jack have a second name?”

“Carter.”

“Carter. You gotta older brother? Jerrod?”

“Jason. His name is Jason.”

“Ah. Jason Carter’s little brother Jack. I know where you live. Up above the triangle in the Emerywood section. So, Jack — that was impressive! Let me guess — this is your first trip to Henry’s, right? And this is your first time smoking.”

“No — it’s not! Smoking, anyway,” he managed to rasp.

“Second, then. So what is a good boy like you and your pal doing at a place like Henry’s? I bet your momma would go nuts if she knew you were here. Am I right? And especially if she knew you were hanging out with a greaser. And Coach! What would he say? Or your brother Jason? I bet they wouldn’t be happy about this.

“Wonder what if would be worth to you for me to keep quiet about this little escapade of yours? A buck?”

Jack stared helplessly at the older boy. Benny put his cigarette out and backed out of the middle of the small circle. The other boys were nodding and laughing at the situation. Reluctantly, Jack dug back into his pocket, and pulled out a wadded up dollar bill. He held it out for the older boy to take.

“Smart man, Jack. This’ll keep me quiet … for … say — a month.”

“A month!” Jack gasped.

“That’s cheap, Jack! Comes to about three cents a day. Almost the price of a cigarette on the open market!”

More laughter from the gallery.

The older boy stepped up to Jack and bent to put his face inches away. Jack could smell the mixture of cigarette smoke and Binaca and Canoe.

“A month from today, come back with another dollar. If you don’t, it won’t go well with you. Do you understand?”

Jack nodded.

The older boy looked at his watch.

“Oops! Gotta run! The bell’s gonna ring in five minutes. Remember, Jack — a month from today. One dollar. Not too much to ask for peace of mind, right?”

He and his group laughed, slapped each other on their backs, poked each other in the arms, and took off back to school.

Jack and Benny stood in the wake of the older boys’ exit. They looked at each other and said, simultaneously, “Shit!”

 

Copyright © 2015, Lawrence S. Marsden

 

Zoid Man: Chapter Three

8 Dec

Zoid Man

Chapter Three

Copyright © 2015

 

The students and faculty at Frankton Middle were abuzz the next day.

“Did ya hear? Someone got shot last night!”

“I heard a bunch of gangs got into it at the triangle.”

“Me, too! A shootout! Guns blazing! Gang members getting’ killed! Three or four, I heard.”

Jack and Benny listened and kept their mouths shut. Both rolled their eyes and shook their heads as each new update rifled through the school.

At lunch, mock gun fights broke out among the boys, who feigned getting hit, and collapsed “dead” on the tables, peaking to see if any of the girls showed any concern over their demise.

“What’re we gonna do, Jack?” Benny had cracked open his tin lunch box and began to twist open his thermos of tomato soup.

“Here’s what we’re not going to do: we’re not going to panic! You heard the stories, nobody got it right. Nobody’s dead. You and me — plus our mystery friend — are the only ones who know the truth.”

“Okay. So what’re we gonna do?” Benny dipped the corner of his egg salad sandwich into his soup, which he had poured into the thermos cap.

“We hafta find out who that was in the triangle last night.”

“Did you recognize him?”

Assuming it was a him, no, I couldn’t tell who it was. I think he’s around our age, though. He wasn’t really big, and he took off fast. He wasn’t a grownup.”

“So the question remains … how do you plan to find out who he was?”

Jack tried to think. The noise of the students in the cafeteria was louder than normal, given all of the speculation of last night’s gunfire. Then he remembered the match being struck.

“Cigarette! That’s it! Our mystery guy struck a match and lit a cigarette!”

“That’s how you’re going to find out who it is?”

“Look … superheroes got to work with clues, and the cigarette is a clue! He lit it on the street and took a few puffs. Then, when he heard you, I remember he put it out in the street. Dropped it and squished it out with his foot.”

“He didn’t hear me —”

“— And then he started to head our way across the triangle. I’ll bet you a buck the cigarette is still there, and after school we need to look for it.”

“I still don’t see.”

“It tells us what brand he smokes. Or what brand his parents smoke, anyway. Either way, it’s a clue. And it’s better than anything else we got.”

“So we find the cigarette … what then?”

“There’s only a few guys smoke at Frankton.”

“Greasers.”

“Right.”

“But they’re really tough guys, Jack!’

“The tougher they are . . .”

“— Yeah, the harder we fall!”

“For a superhero you sure are whimpy! Maybe that should be your sidekick name! Zoid Man and Whimpy!”

“Ah, shutup!”

* * *

After school the duo met at the park and began to walk the area Jack saw the mysterious figure light the cigarette. They were into the search several minutes when Benny saw the crumped end of a filtered cigarette in the edge of the grass near the curb.

“Got it!” He lifted his trophy up, pinched between his thumb and finger. Jack hurried to his side and took the butt to inspect it.

“Great. He’s a Tareyton smoker.” His tone was sarcastic.

“What’s wrong with smoking Tareytons?”

“They fight.”

“What? I don’t get it!”

“That’s their ad. Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.”

“Oh. Well, that doesn’t make our guy a fighter just ‘cuz he smokes them.”

“Maybe not. But he probably thinks he’s a fighter.”

“Everybody thinks they’re a fighter.”

“I don’t. I know I’m a fighter!” and he hit Benny hard on the shoulder for emphasis. “Cassius Clay has nothin’ on me. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” He hit Benny again on “sting.”

“Ow! STOP IT!”

“Okay, Whimpy!”

“So we have one cigarette. How’s this going to lead to our guy?”

“Let’s assume he didn’t buy it. Probably he stole it from his parents. Maybe went into his mom’s purse and slipped one out. Or took a pocketful from a cigarette case.”

“Okay.”

“Then we gotta check out the neighborhood first. See what brands parents smoke, or what brand they leave out for guests. If we find anyone that uses Tareytons, they go on the suspect list.”

“Well, I guess that leaves me out. My mom puts out Kents.”

“Dumbhead!” And hit Benny one more time for good measure.

The boys began their first leg of searching out the source to no avail. They checked with friends as to whether their parents smoked, or what cigarettes they kept out for visitors. It seemed a bit odd to Jack that as a whole, parents would warn kids not to smoke, and then smoke themselves, or have ornate boxes of loose cigarettes all over the house.

“You’ll stunt your growth!” they would warn. Well, if that’s the case, why do all the doctors smoke? Didn’t make sense.

Jack didn’t smoke because he hated his gag and coughing responses. It was similar when his father first let him taste a beer. Ugh! What was with that? And his older brother only smoked when he was around girls. Never in front of the parents. He smoked Marlboros on account so many movie and TV stars smoked them. That was the one thing Jack didn’t admire about Jason — he caved to social pressure. He had read about social pressure in an article Jutsie Sloop gave him at school one day.

“Here. You need to read this!” And handed him a folded copy of Teen magazine, which he slipped quickly under his shirt.

Later he read nearly all the other articles in the magazine before dutifully looking at the prescribed piece. The article, written by some famous female psychologist, warned girls of the dangers of wanting to be like everyone else. Jack scoffed at the advice because he knew he wasn’t likely to fall into that trap. AND he wasn’t a girl, anyway.

It took Jack and Benny the better part of two weeks to satisfy themselves that the Tareyton cigarette did not tie into anyone they knew very well.

“What now?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking we could check out the smokers at the school.”

“You kidding? What — we just walk up and ask ‘Do you smoke Tareytons and are you the guy in the triangle the night of the gunshot?’”

“No. We play it cooler than that. We go to the Dog House at lunch and ask for cigarettes from the guys.”

“Jeesh, Jack! Now I know you’re mental! May as well go up and ask a greaser to smash us in the face!”

“Do you have a better idea? Look, Benny, superheroes are super for a reason. We’re smarter than everyone else, for one thing, and we’re not afraid to do what needs to be done. Am I right?”

Benny couldn’t argue with superhuman logic. To do so would merely start Jack on a Whimpey rant.

“But Jack, the break-ins have stopped since that night. Maybe the gunshot scared the bejesus out of the guy and he’s seen the wisdom of stopping his evil ways!”

Jack put his arm condescendingly around Benny’s shoulder.

“Benny — this guy is smart. He’s only waiting for the coast to clear. Let things die down. Kids are still talking about it. I don’t believe he’s gonna change his ways that quickly. Zoid Man and Whimpy still have our work cut out for us.”

“Bernard.”

“What?”

“You called me Whimpy. My superhero name is Bernard.”

“Right.”

Zoid Man: Chapter Two

5 Dec

Zoid Man

Chapter Two

 

Benny and Jack lived next door to each other, and had since second grade. Their upstairs bedroom windows faced each other, which made for late night communications of a variety of sorts. Mostly hanging out their windows and whispering in loud tones until one or the other’s parent called up the stairs and ordered them to “GO TO SLEEP!”

Jack was tall and skinny. He looked like something put together with Tinker Toys, his knees and elbows grotesquely larger than his spindly arms and legs. Once he tried to remedy his physique by sending away for a Charles Atlas book on how to overcome the ninety-pound weakling syndrome. He never received the book, and his money (change taped to the clip out order form) was not returned. Which he figured was all well and good because he barely tipped the scales at 75 pounds anyway. He hoped he would inherit some of his older brother’s muscle and strength, but didn’t count on it, as Jason and he were as different as day and night.

Still, he wasn’t half bad at basketball, and hoped to make the jayvee team at Frankton Junior High next year when he was in seventh grade.

Benny was squattier and rounder, the product of parents who were similarly squatty and round.  He was more or less resolved to his physical status, although he dreamed of one day growing into another body type.

Where the boys connected was in their competition at fearless feats. Jack’s brother said they were just stupid, and the things they did hadn’t anything to do with feats.

“You’ll be lucky to make it to thirteen,” he warned them.

There were those moments when Jack had to agree with Jason. Like when he was on the roof to the house and saw his mother turning down their street in the car. He jumped from the lowest level roof of their split-level house, but it was still a lot higher than he counted. Lucky the lawn was Zoysia grass, and its thickness cushioned the landing.  It still hurt and knocked the wind out of him.

Then there was the time Benny and he took a length of binder twine and soaked it in gasoline, then stuck one end of it into the gas can and lit the other. The flame went out midway, and the boys thought better of it, pulling the twine from the can.

Once they climbed to the top of a huge magnolia tree in Mrs. Foy’s yard and built a platform treehouse. It wasn’t very sturdy, the boards pried off a discarded wooden pallet, and most of the nails bent or mangled in the construction process. Playing with matches from their perch, they managed to set the yard below — which was comprised mainly of fallen dead leaves — on fire. Jack scooted down the tree to safety while Benny froze with fear and had to be rescued by firefighters called by a neighbor who was watching the excitement. The magnolia was completely scorched on one side, yet survived for several more years.

Firecrackers, tube-strapped slingshots, BB guns — the duo did everything they thought was on the edge.

When the neighborhood break-ins began, Jack and Benny realized destiny had dropped a huge opportunity into their laps. That opportunity was to become heroes.

Just before eleven that night Jack aimed his flashlight at Benny’s window a few yards away. He began flashing the signal — three quick flashes, three longer flashes, and three quick flashes. He continued until Benny’s sleepy face appeared at his window, who made the A-OK sign with his thumb and fingers and disappeared.

The triangle was formed by three short residential streets down the hill from where the boys lived. A full moon cruised the sky above, streamlets of clouds breaking across its bright surface. The night air was filled with the chirruping of crickets, and was chilled with the advance of fall.

Jack waited for Benny by the mimosa tree in his front yard. Should a car happen by, the wide trunk was easily large enough for him to dodge behind it. He heard the back screen door of Benny’s house creak open and slam shut.

“Jeesh!” When Benny finally crept up, Jack shined his light in Benny’s face.

“Cut it out! I can’t see! ‘Sides … someone is bound to see it!”

“No worse than you slamming your back door!”

“I didn’t mean to.”

Jack quickly surveyed Benny’s outfit with his light.

“What the hell do you have on? You look like a prisoner!”

“My other PJs were in the wash.” He wore stretch pajamas with wide black and white horizontal stripes. In addition, he wore a black mask — like the Lone Ranger’s.

“I guess it’ll have to do. At least no one will recognize you.”

“My mom would.”

“Well your mom is not likely to be out tonight, right?”

Benny followed behind Jack, who walked angrily off towards the triangle.

“Wait up, will ya?”

When they reached the triangle, they headed for a small copse of oak trees at one of the points.

Benny took his flashlight and stuck it in his mouth and turned it on, then moaned at Jack.

“Cut it out! Get serious, Benny!”

He turned the flashlight off. “So, what’s the plan?”

“We wait.”

“Wait?”

“For anything unusual.”

“Like what?”

“Like a sound or noise. Like someone out late at night — maybe someone walking around. Someone who shouldn’t be out here at this time of night.”

“Like us?”

“No, Stupid! We’re supposed to be out here, remember? We’re the good guys! Although you really do look more like a bad guy.”

They sat down. A car drove by, and the two flattened themselves on the ground. Jack could feel his heart beating in his chest and hear it in his ears. When they could no longer see the headlights of the car, they relaxed.

“Whew! We gotta be on the lookout.”

“Jack?”

“Yeah.”

“What if someone catches us out here and they think we’re the ones who are breaking into people’s garages and sheds?”

“Why would they think that?”

“Have you looked at yourself lately?”

“Oh. Well, no one’s gonna catch us. We’re too smart. We’re the superheroes, remember?”

A short time passed where neither spoke. A street lamp on the other corner of the triangle buzzed loudly, and moths and bats played in and out of its bath of light.

“Jack?”

What!” His response was a bit quick and angry.

“What are we going to do if we hear something?”

“Well, we’ll investigate.”

“How?”

“We will sneak over wherever the noise is coming from and look. Quietly, of course.”

“And then what?”

“If we see someone, we’ll shine our flashlights on them and yell out for them to stop, and then tell them who we are.”

“Oh. And who are we?”

“Benny! What’s got into you? Why we’re Zoid Man and Benny, the ultimate superheroes for good!”

“Ah. But, if we’re trying to keep our identities a secret, why am I called Benny?”

There was silence as Jack thought of an answer.

“Good point. We should have thought of that before. You need a name.”

“Yes! What name?”

Again, Jack took time to think.

“Aha! Bernard! We’ll call you Bernard! Zoid Man and Bernard! How’s that sound?”

“But that’s my real name.”

“And nobody calls you Bernard!”

“Sometimes my mom does.”

“Okay, look — this can all change later. But are you okay with Bernard?”

“I guess.”

Suddenly Jack flattened down on his stomach and motioned Benny to do the same. His index finger was pressed to his lips, and he pointed off in a direction toward the other end of the triangle.

There, walking slowly, was a dark figure who features were hidden in the shadows. The figure walked up one of the streets that bordered the triangle, and stopped and looked about from time to time. The person was dressed in dark clothing, and wore what appeared to be a ski mask or something. His or her face was covered.

The figure stopped about halfway along the road and lit a cigarette, puffing a large cloud of smoke into the night air.

Benny nudged Jack.

“What do we do?”

Again, Jack tried to motion Benny to hush. Then he slowly reached inside his underwear and pulled out something metal

“What is that?”

“A gun.”

“A what?”

“Shhh!!!”

The dark figure looked in their direction, stumped out the cigarette with his foot, and began to cross the triangle in their direction.

“Shit!” said Benny, rather loudly.

The figure began to trot.

Jack jumped up and pointed the gun at the dark figure.

“That’s far enough! I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it.” His voice trembled with fear.

The figure continued toward them.

“Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!”

Blam! The gun went off, the blast echoing throughout the night air. A plume of smoke hung just above Jack’s head. The figure dropped to his chest, then turned and scrambled off into the night.

“Come back here, you coward!” Jack pursued as far as the other end of the triangle, with Benny blubbering “Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!” behind him, trying to keep up. House lights and porch lights started going on all around the triangle, with an occasional “What the hell’s going on out there?” screamed out.

“Oh shit! He fell. Did you hit him? Do you think you killed him? We gotta get out of here, Jack!”

“I didn’t hit him. It’s a blank gun. And don’t call me Jack, for chrissakes! My name is Zoid Man!”

Copyright © 2015

Zoid Man

4 Dec

Zoid Man

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

Chapter One

 

Benny found an old footlocker in the corner of the attic, barely noticeable under several taped cardboard boxes.

“Hey — lookit this! I bet there’s a goldmine in here!”

Jack looked up from rummaging through a shelf of aging shoes, dulled from dust and cobwebs.

“Check it out. I’m looking for shoes.” And as the words left his mouth, he found them: wrestling shoes his older brother wore in high school. High topped, with steel eyelets running up the leggings, and worn shoe strings, broken and knotted in several places. They were solid black, and perfect — other than the size, which was about three times larger than Jack wore.

“Voila!” squeaked Benny, fishing a rubbery droopy thing from the trunk.

“What the heck is that?”

“It’s — well, I don’t know … some sort of old rubber hat.”

Benny fit it on his head. It was white and had plastic flowers on it. Straps dangled from either side and its sculpted form fit snugly on his noggin. He grinned and modeled the cap in the sunlight that streamed through the one attic window.

“Well? I think it’ll do great! I mean, other than the flowers, it’s perfect!”

“I ‘spose. It looks kind of silly.”

“But with your goggles and your cape and all, it works!”

“We can try it and see.”

Jack and Benny spent the rest of the afternoon digging through boxes in the attic, and came up with a yellowed sheet for his cape, as well as an old Afghan sweater with a V-neck.

In his bedroom, with the door locked, Jack put the pieces together. The pantyhose his mother had thrown out went on first, then the V-neck and the whitey tidies.

“The underwear looks stupid! Why do I have to wear these?”

“Because Superman and Batman and all the other guys wear underwear, that’s why.”

“Those aren’t underwear.”

“Well, make do with what you got.” So Jack reluctantly slipped them on.

“See? Looks great! Now the cap and the goggles.”

Jack stretched the rubber cap over his bushy hair, then pulled the flaps over his ears, fastening the strap under his chin.  He fitted the green plastic swim goggles over his eyes, and turned to grin at Benny.

“Wow! Just need to find a way to attach your cape, and you are Zoid Man!”

“Should we sew it onto the sweater at the back of the collar?”

“Nah. I brought duct tape for this very reason.” Benny stretched an arm-length of silver tape and bit it off the roll. He then tore small lengths and carefully taped the yellowed sheet onto the back collar opening of the V-neck.

“Looks really big.” Jack looked at himself in his closet door mirror. The cape flopped onto the floor and dragged as he walked back and forth. “It’s too big. Fix it.”

Benny took out his pocket knife and began to size the cape, cutting down either side and at the bottom, until it met both boys’ approval.

“How’s that?”

“Better.” Jack squinted his eyes and looked into the mirror. Not half bad, he thought to himself. He closed his fists and put them on either hip, elbows out. It was the classic superhero pose. All he needed was a sunset to silhouette him on a tall mountain.

“You look great!” Benny stared in awe at his friend and nodded. “Zoid Man! So now what about my costume?”

“Huh? Your costume?”

“Aw, c’mon, Jack! Don’t be a shit! Yeah … my costume. Zoid Man and Benny, remember?”

“Right. Okay, what’d you have in mind?”

“I don’t think we can match yours. There was only one of those caps in the trunk, and my mask isn’t goggles. That would look weird.”

“Well, Robin doesn’t have a mask like Batman.”

“I’ve got a pair of solid yellow stretch pajamas. That might do. And some sort of thingy to cover my eyes. Maybe like Zorro?”

“What about shoes?”

“My sister has a pair of fake moccasins with like fake fur on the insides. They zip up at the front.”

“Sounds good.” But Jack wasn’t listening. He was looking at the whitey tidies and wondering how he could change the color.

“So, I’ll go and get that together. Wanna come with me?”

“Nah. I gotta figure out what to wear as a belt. Batman’s got his utility belt, and Superman has that yellow belt.”

“You could use your Scout belt.”

“Yes! Great idea!” Jack opened one of the small top drawers to his dresser and stirred through its contents.

“When do we start?”

“I guess tonight.”

“What time and where?”

“Meet me at the see-saw in the triangle. Eleven o’clock.”

Eleven? Couldn’t we meet earlier?”

“Scared?”

“Scared? Oh, no! I just — uh — I have a test in Mrs. Butts class tomorrow is all.”

“Crime, Benny, happens late at night. And if you want to be a superhero crime fighter, you have to know that.”

“Oh, I know. Okay. So I’ll go and get my uniform together. Will you signal me before you leave?”

“Sure. Three quick flashes followed by three longer flashes followed by three quick flashes.”

“S-O-S!”

“Exactly. And Benny, whenever you see me in my uniform, call me Zoid Man, not Jack. We need to protect our identities.”

“Right — Zoid Man.”

 

ZoidMan