Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Eric M. Bosarge

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15
Part 16

The sign said Long-Haired Super Villains Need Not Apply.
            Jacque cursed and crumpled the flyer in his hand with super villain strength. Why did short-haired super villains get all the love? Was it because they looked the part of the hero? He considered cutting his hair, trimming it Beaver length, but thought better of it.
            The adversary is just as important as the plot to take over the world, Jacque thought. He turned, incinerated the flyer by throwing it in a proper trash receptacle, and stalked down the street. A kitty passed by and he wanted to chase it, to wring its little neck, but knew he couldn’t catch it, so he kicked at it—and missed.
            “Hey, kid, pick on someone your own size,” an older boy with blonde hair and a chiseled face said. Instantly, he was Jacque’s nemesis, protecting even the smallest living creatures from the wrath of his evil.
            “What’s you name?” Jacque asked.
            “Kyle. Give me your money,” the boy said.
            Jacque thought maybe Kyle could be his hired goon, best body guard, and the first to be subjected to his wrath when his evil plans failed.
            “You will help me achieve my evil goals,” Jacque said.
            Kyle stole Jacque’s cape, twirled it into a rat tail and whipped Jacque with it until, defeated and utterly certain Kyle was indeed his nemesis, Jacque ran home.
            I need a death ray, Jacque thought in his room, looking from his netbook to the posters of DC and Marvel Supervillains on the walls. He tried to picture them at home in their castles of hate, researching and compiling a proper business plan for a death ray using the same template from SCORE (the something something Organization of Retired Executives). He couldn’t see it happening. Real villains had resources from word one. Jacque thought about giving up the supervillain gig. Letting it fall to the next evil genius. There was no way a bank would give him a loan for a death ray with this profit margin. If it were up to him, the first building he would destroy would be the bank, of course, thereby negating the need for a profit, but any savvy loan officer would probably realize that and deny him the loan.
            There was a knock on his door. His father opened it before Jacque could call for him to enter.
            “It smells like smoke in here,” Jacque’s father, Bruce, said. Until a certain blonde-haired boy name Kyle came along Jacque had been certain Bruce was his nemesis. He had big nostrils.
            “It’s the cistern,” Jacque explained. In the corner was a smoldering Roman Fireplace that Bruce bought for the backyard last summer. Jacque found it in the garage searching for nails and a hammer.
            “What the hell is that doing in here?” Bruce asked.
            Jacque beamed at his father’s frustration. “Would you care to remove it?”
            Bruce went to the cistern and almost, bloody almost, put his hands right on the hot sides of it. Thinking better of it, he used Jacque’s pillow as an oven mitt.
            “Hey!” Jacque shouted.
            “Oh, sleep on the floor for all I care,” Bruce said. He carried the cistern out of the room.
            Jacque searched for stock quotes on companies by industry. Death was not listed. He couldn’t even find a publicly traded undertaker.
            Bruce returned. “Are you okay?”
            “Yes, why?” Jacque asked.
            “I can hardly breathe in here.”
            “That’s because you’re mortal.”
            Bruce sat on the bed with a sigh. “Jack, I’m worried about you.”
            “Why? I have more ambitions in my pinky than most children have in a lifetime. You’ll never have to worry about what I’ll do after high school. I’ll be a productive citizen.”
            “That’s not what I mean,” Bruce said. He looked at the bed where the pillow wasn’t. “Should give you one of mom’s pillows. She had twenty.”
            “Hyperbole,” Jacque said, searching for Department of Defense contracts. Perhaps he could join the military and just steal a death ray.
            “What are you working on?” Bruce asked.
            “A business plan.”
            “What for?”
            “A death ray.”
            “You should play baseball,” Bruce said. “Summer league is coming up. No, wait, on second thought, never mind.”
            “What, why?” Jacque asked.
            Bruce leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “They use bats,” he said, conspiratorially.  
            “Indeed,” Jacque said. “Have you ever thought about being a super villain?”
            Bruce nodded. “Every day I talk to you.”
            So he’s secretly my biggest supporter, Jacque thought. “I could play baseball,” Jacque said. He closed the netbook.
            “Want to play pass?”
            “Why would I do that?” Jacque said.
            “Just grab your glove.”
            “Okay,” Jacque said. “Hey, dad, should I cut my hair?”
            “You wouldn’t look as evil.”
            “That is a drawback. But perhaps I’m advertising it a bit too much. I think I’d have better chances getting a loan if I looked a little more clean-cut.”
            “Heaven help us if you get your hands on a death ray,” Bruce said. “Heaven help us.”


Part 2

Jacque hefted the aluminum bat. It was a blunt instrument, obviously, and really only suited to surprise attacks. He promised to find a cat—he hated cats. Dogs were downright lovable but he was allergic to cats so it was okay to hate them—and try to sneak up on it, something he had yet to do in his seven years of life, and pretend to use the bat on it. No use going to jail or arousing a lifetime of suspicions over such a petty, senseless act—he might kick the kitty though. In any case, he couldn’t stop working on the loan application for the materials to manufacture a death ray.
            “Hey, Jack, get up to the plate!” Kyle, his nemesis and the newest short stop of the Clinton Elementary Bulldogs, hollered. In the outfield, boys snickered.
            “I want my cape back!” Jacque yelled at Kyle. “And my name is Jacque!”
            “STRAP!” the entire outfield yelled back.
            “Okay, okay,” the Coach, a man with a palatial gut, yelled. He motioned for Jacque to step up to the plate.
            The first pitch went sailing by as Jacque tapped the bat on the toes of his cleats.
            “That’s strike one!” the Coach yelled behind the catcher. Jacque knew he would have to dispose of the coach before long if he maintained the desire to steal the aluminum bat and brain a kitten.
            “Keep your eye on the ball,” Coach said.
            In the stands, Jacque’s father, Bruce, clapped. “Get up there, Jack! Keep your eyes open and swing for the fences.”
            The fences, Jacque thought. I should run a current of electricity through the fence, then swing for it. He imagined Kyle’s body fricasseed on the fence, waffle iron patterns seared into his arms, hands and face as he stretched to catch the homerun ball that was out of reach anyways.
            Jacque could hear the applause now. Baseball would be so much more entertaining.
            “Strike three!” Coach yelled.
Jacque turned to him. “What do you mean strike three? There were only two pitches!”
“Kid, there were three. You were daydreaming.” Coach hunkered down on one knee so that he was eye-level with Jacque. “Listen, is there someplace you’d rather be? You don’t have to play baseball.”
Jacque swung the bat at Coach’s head. The Coach grabbed it, stood and ripped it out of Jacque’s hands. “Get off my field,” he growled.
On the sideline, Bruce hung his head.
“Sorry, Allen,” Bruce called to Coach as he placed a hand on Jacque’s shoulder.
“Want to tell me what that was about?” Bruce said when they were in the car. Jack watched as a cat, casually stalking a moth under a bush, passed by.
“How much does an underground generator cost?” Jacque asked.
“More than your annual salary,” Bruce said. “Baseball’s not your thing, is it?”
“It’s kind of boring. I think the coach knows Tae Kwan Do. His reflexes were positively primitive.”
“Too bad you hadn’t swung at the ball that way. You probably would have hit a home run.”
“I realized my options are infinite today,” Jacque said.
“How so?” Bruce asked. His voice had that tired, indulgent lilt to it he sometimes got at the end of the day.
“My plans aren’t entirely dependent on a death ray.”
“It’s a little clichéd anyway.”
“Do you think I’ll ever make anything of myself, really?”
Bruce sighed. “Of course. Of course you’ll make something of yourself. I’d kind of rather not have fathered the world’s first super villain, but…”
“It’s a calling I can’t help answer. Wait, did you just say I’d be the first super villain? Really?”
“Well, no, there was Hitler, Mussolini, Thomas De Torquemada—”
“Mass murderers, all of them,” Bruce explained.
“I never said I wanted to be a mass murderer. In fact, I’m sort of doubting I have the ability to brain a kitten. They look rather soft and cuddly.” 
“That’s good,” Bruce said. “Hey,” he touched Jacque’s arm. “You know what, I’m proud of you.”
“Why?” Jacque asked.
“You tried.”
“Yeah. Wasn’t really my cup of tea though, as they say…” Jacque stared out the window, saw his reflections superimposed on the passing landscape. “If I had an idea, one of my ideas, you know, the good ones—”
“You mean the super villain ones?” Bruce asked.
“Yes, those. Could I run it by you, first?”
“I wish you would.”
Jacque smiled and looked out the window. A hot dog man pushed his cart along the side of the road. Jacque imagined sticks of dynamite smothered in ketchup, and smiled.


Part 3

The Financial Benefits of having a death ray gun are myriad, Jacque wrote. Virtually any item can quickly be obtained when a death ray is near. Check-out lines at grocery stores can be skipped, and jewelry can be had for the price of electricity it takes to zap a store clerk (roughly one nine volt battery per blast). Although the equipment is bulky, the sheer magnitude and imposing nature of the device should discourage those who possess valuable artifacts from risking the wrath of its user. Using the formula for cost of living per day ($1,000.00) times the number of blasts likely needed to obtain that amount (0.9) times the cost of a single nine volt battery ($4.19) results in a profit margin of $900 for every $4.19 invested, minus the initial investment, which is substantial, but certainly, as evidenced by the above equation, worth the up-front cost.
            Clearly, this idea is highly profitable, Jacque concluded.
            He stared at the screen of his netbook, re-reading his masterful words. Mrs. Pennywimple, his math teacher who co-taught critical thinking with teachers from the Science and English department, would love it. Jacque hit print, lay his head down on the pillow and listened to the beautiful, imaginary sounds of money practically being printed.  
            In the morning, Jacque found his mother’s Taser in the spot she left it—the inside pocket of her purse—and took out the nine volt battery, because he knew it would be unlawful to bring a loaded weapon to school. He put the taser, the battery, and a cardboard mock-up of his death ray in his backpack.
            Jacque smiled at everyone when he got on the bus. He felt taller and the weight of each step he took felt more substantial. For once when the bus driver, Gus, winked and blew a little kiss, per his usual, Jacque didn’t let it bother him. Let a little of that lust get out of line Gus, Jacque thought, and I’ll run ten thousand volts through your nuts.
            “What’s with the smile, Jack?” Allison asked when Jacque sat down.
            “Watts,” Jacque laughed.
            “Why did you bring a folded up box to school? And why’s it all covered in polka-hash lines like a dress pattern?” Allison asked. Her mother ran a very successful dress shop downtown. Presumably, she was being trained in the business.
            “It’s a mock-up, not a dress pattern,” Jacque said.
            “A mock-up of what?” Allison asked.
            She smelled good. Lilacs in spring. Her hair was held in place by a hair band. Jacque tried to calm himself, cleared his throat. 
            “It’s a mock up of a death ray I’m going to build,” Jacque said.
            “A death ray?” Allison laughed. “What do you need a death ray for?”
            “Do you realize what it costs to live these days?” Jacque asked.
            “I spend about three dollars on lunch. I buy a salad and a yogurt. Sometimes I’ll buy a slice of pizza if I’m really hungry. But I pick off pepperonis.”
            “It costs more than that,” Jacque said.
            Kyle, Jacque’s nemesis and sometimes little league teammate, stood up from the seat behind them and stole Allison’s hair elastic. He was fond of stealing clips, scrunchies and nearly anything else that held women’s hair in place.
            “Uh, Kyle!” Allison groaned.
            Jacque stood up and faced Kyle—Gus the bus driver’s usual threats to stop the bus be damned. “I’m tired of your quick ploys for attention,” Jacque said. “I demand that you give back her hair band this instant!”
            The larger boys in the back of the bus laughed and Kyle seemed to notice this. Damn it, Jacque thought, the stakes have just been raised.
            “Or what?” Kyle said. “Are you going to make me?”
            Jacque cleared his throat and retrieved his bag.
            “Just ignore him,” Allison said.
            “No. It’s a principal thing, Allison,” Jacque explained. “Ignoring the behavior will only insure that this kind of thing will happen again in the future.”
            “Sit down!” Gus the bus driver roared. Jacque ignored him and stood up holding the taser.
            “What’s that?” Kyle asked.
            “You’ll find out if you don’t give me the hair band. Right. Now,” Jacque demanded.
            The bus’s breaks groaned.
            “No,” Kyle said.
            Jacque slapped the battery in the taser and pointed it at Kyle. “I’ll count to three.”
            The bus slowed.
            “That’s a taser,” one of the older students in the back whispered.
            “Shut up, man…” Kyle said.
            “Three,” Jacque said.
            The bus rolled to a complete stop.
            Jacque squinted. Kyle stretched the hair elastic and pointed it at the window.
            “Don’t do it,” Jacque said.
 Allison reached out and touched Jacque’s shoulder, causing Jacque to flinch.
The taser went off. The electrodes struck Kyle in each boob and he convulsed, sliding down in the seat.
            Allison screamed.
            “If you hadn’t touched me it wouldn’t have gone off,” Jacque said calmly.
            Strong hands grabbed Jacque under the shoulders and hauled him off his feet. A moment later, he was outside, staring at the yellow side of the bus. A mound of students had formed over the seat where Kyle lay incapacitated by one-thousand glorious volts. Jacque fought the urge to smile and won. A super villain must never smile unless he triumphs. Although this was a victory, and it certainly gave him pleasure to see his nemesis incapacitated, pants soaked in pee, it came at a great cost.
            Inside on the radio, Gus the Bus Driver requested an ambulance and police.
            “Damn,” Jacque said.
One of the bus windows slid down and Allison popped her head out. “Jack, why’d you do it?”
“It was an accident,” Jacque said. “The mere threat of imminent danger should have been enough to convince him.”
Allison sighed and turned around. A moment later, she tossed the hair elastic out. It landed at his feet and he picked it up. It smelled of lilacs and maybe vanilla. Sirens rose in the distance as the children began filing out of the emergency exit at the back of the bus.
Jacque sat criss-cross applesauce on the grass and sighed. His father was going to kill him.


Part 4

“You’re not saying anything because you are angry at me,” Jacque said to his father, Bruce, who sat next to him in the office of Clinton Elementary School, waiting on the bench in the main office for the Principal. Students filed past, their eyes sneaking glances.
            The Principal opened his door. He was a tall man with broad shoulders, obviously in decent shape. A police officer stood behind the Principal. While being transported, Jacque learned the policeman had been a policeman for seven years, and an officer in the Special Forces before that. He didn’t answer any questions about weaponry except to say that a taser was a very unreliable and exceedingly dangerous weapon. Using it constituted assault, a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison.
            Bruce stood and pulled Jacque up with him.
            “I’m Jack’s father,” Bruce said, extending a hand to the Principal and the police officer.
            “Please, come in,” the Principal said.
            Jacque found himself itching his palms and forced his hands into his pockets.
            “So,” the Principal said, sitting in a big chair behind an ordinary metal desk. “Before I ask any questions, I want to make sure that we all understand the facts of what happened.” The Principal consulted a yellow note-pad. “At approximately eight-oh-seven, Jack tased, which I’m told is the correct term, another student on the bus. The bus driver removed Jack and evacuated the bus while authorities were en route.”
            Bruce glanced at Jacque. His face was stone.
            The Principal sighed and set down the pad of paper. “I assume that there is going to be a really good explanation of what happened—”
            “He stole a—” Jacque said.
            “But I don’t want to hear it,” the Principal said. “Bringing a weapon to school is a serious offense.” The Principal stretched and picked up a thin white book with the Clinton Elementary School seal emblazoned on the front. “According to the handbook, the punishment for bringing a weapon to school is automatic expulsion.”
            Jacque itched his palms. Bruce’s hands rested on his knees. His knuckles were white.
            “This is not a matter of negotiation. It is here, in black and white,” The Principal said.
            “I understand,” Bruce said.
            “It is my duty to make sure certain steps are taken to ensure an education is made available to Jack, and I intend to do so.”
            “What options are there?” Bruce asked.
            “Well, the district would be obliged to pay for tutoring. Fortunately, there’s not much of the school year left. He would be allowed to complete the curriculum and move on to second grade next year, so long as certain interventions are taken.”
            “Such as?” Bruce asked.
            “Yes, such as?” Jacque echoed.
            Bruce shot Jacque a look.
            The Principal sighed. “Such as one-on-one sessions with a therapist, interventions with law enforcement, which Officer Galla can fill you in on later. Now,” the Principal readjusted in his seat. “For my own understanding, I’d like to ask some questions.” He focused his attention on Jacque, who gave in and scratched his palms.
            “Yes, sir?”
            “Why did you bring the taser to school?”
            “I left the battery out.”
            “Answer the question,” Bruce said.
            Jacque swallowed a dry lump. “I was going to use the basics of the machine—”
            “The taser?” Officer Gala clarified.
            “Yes,” Jacque said. “I was going to use it to explain to the critical thinking class how a compact death ray could be made—”
            Bruce slapped a hand on his own forehead. “Jack—”
Jacque continued on, undeterred. “If one had the resources and the funds. The machine could be used for any number of reasons, most likely military, as its application is, well, death and destruction.”
“Is this a machine that you seek to make?” Officer Gala asked.
“Well, I did,” Jacque said. “But that was only before I realized that I’d actually have to use it. You see, the mere possession of a weapon isn’t a sufficient deterrent. Having power in this society is only effective if you actually use it, or so I’ve recently ascertained. By the way, I was only trying to get Allison’s hair band back—and the taser went off by accident when she intervened. I believe she was going to let him keep it. I suppose I need to learn to pick my battles. Is he okay, by the way?”
The three men stared at Jacque, speechless.
The Principal finally cleared his throat. “Did you say, death ray?”  


Part 5

Bruce turned up the radio and tapped the wheel to a Lady Gaga song, trying his best to not be upset. Jacque waited. Sooner or later, his father was going to turn into Mount Vesuvius and wipe the world away, ground him for infinity times twelve.
            Abruptly, Bruce turned off the radio. “I think an apology is in order,” Bruce said.
            “I’m sorry,” Jacque said.
            “No, not to me,” Bruce said. “You have to apologize to Kyle.”
            “Kyle was bullying a girl. A little shock was exactly what he deserved. Besides, contacting someone I’ve just assaulted is probably not such a good thing,” Jacque said.
            Bruce turned up the radio and quickly turned it back down, nearly off.
            “What do you think an appropriate punishment is?”
            Jacque twiddled his thumbs. They were only a few miles from home. He hoped his father would calm down once he got there.
            “Well?” Bruce said.
            “Besides being expelled? I think that’s enough, don’t you?”
            “No,” Bruce said. His head shook quickly. “Here’s the thing, Jack, I can’t afford to send you to day care, and there is no way I’m going to let you sit home and do whatever it is you want to do.”
            “That would involve nacho cheese, research, and possibly a cat,” Jacque said.
            “Enough about the death ray, okay?” Bruce said.
            “But…Fine. I’ll move on. I’ve already proved that the threat of force isn’t sufficient to achieve my goals.”
            “Well, good. I think,” Bruce said. “So, back to my point—”
            “Yes,” Bruce shot Jacque a severe look. “Punishment. You have to come to work with me. There’s no other option. And you’re going to sit, and be quiet, and do your homework. All day. Nine to five. Just like me. Is that clear?”
            “So, I have to sit in your cubicle and watch you stare at a computer screen all day?”
            “You get to suffer along with me. Grown up consequences,” Bruce said. Something in Bruce’s face betrayed the fact that, ultimately, he was being punished as well.
            Jacque was quite aware of his own weaknesses, and he didn’t want to make his father pay for them any more than he already had. “Father, I want to be fair to you. Making me sit for eight hours a day—”
            “Won’t hurt you a bit,” Bruce said. “Besides, you don’t have any other options.”
            Jacque sighed. The car pulled into the driveway. “Can I bring my laptop, books, encyclopedias and Captain America figure?”
            Bruce chuckled. “Yes. But Jack—you have to be quiet. I’m on a tight deadline.”
            “Yes, sir!” Jacque said. “By the way, what are you designing at the moment?”
            “A bridge in Toronto.”
            “A bridge in Toronto,” Jacque whispered, wondering how many vehicles must pass over a busy bridge every day, how much turmoil it could inflict should something…fail. “Is your firm hiring?”  


            Sometimes, I can’t tell who the captors are in this prison. They all function like automatons, slaving away at their computation machines, staring at blue screens, occasionally answering messages on their com devices, which rest on chains. I’d like to strangle one of them with those chains, but they keep a pretty close eye on me.    


            They want me to write a confession, some tall tale of a story I never heard of, let alone participated in. I’m assuming they’ll send it home to my folks, embarrass me. What concerns me is the real interrogation hasn’t even started yet. They haven’t asked me a single question about troop formations or supply lines. I know they’ll get to that, they just want to demoralize me first.

            “I want that letter done before lunch.”

            “What’s for lunch?” Jacque asked.

            “Sandwiches from the cafeteria. Soda if you’re good. Now, write.”

            This society is strange. They all seem dependant on various chemicals they imbibe throughout the day. The standard is a black liquid, swilled out of mugs by the entire population. Others step outside to use inhalers that smell awful and cause their teeth to yellow. Some, the bigger ones, are constantly eating sweet-smelling confections dispensed in cellophane wrappers. I wouldn’t eat anything they gave me.
            “You’re still not done? Fine. I’m going to the cafeteria. I’ll bring you something back.”

            My captor has made the mistake of leaving me unguarded. Now is my chance to escape. I roll across the corridor into another cell block. The guard who occupies it glances at me, but he’s too busy on his com device to stop me. I check to see if the coast is clear and dart down the hallway into a room called wash.

            Inside, I stand and walk slowly into a waste disposal facility, close the door, and make water. Above me, a vent is in the ceiling. It would be perfect to escape the building. I stand on the back of the waste disposal unit and stretch, but the ceiling is impossibly high. The men on this planet are giants. The door opens.

            “Jack, what are you doing?”

            I play it cool, slowly step down off the waste facility, zip up my pants.

            “Doug told me where you went. Listen, everyone knows you’re here. They’re all looking out for you. Please, please, don’t embarrass me.”

            This must be some sort of confidence game. I accompany the giant back to the cell. They are a savvy race, even if they choose to confine themselves to small spaces and work like slaves. It appears I must outsmart them.

            “Are you even listening to me? I got you a hamburger and fries. Ketchup packets are in my drawer.”

            The ketchup packets are marked with a giant M—clearly for mustard. They are a paranoid race, intentionally mislabeling things they covet.

            “Jack, what do you want to do tonight?”

            Escape. I want to escape.
            “It’s hot. I was thinking, maybe we could swing by Knight’s Pond, take a dip. I packed our bathing suits this morning.”
            And there it is: water torture. Now I know my fate.
            If you finish that apology letter to Kyle, that is.”
            I should just write the damn confession. When I escape and return home, everyone will know my scrawling words were written under duress.
            “I even packed your water wings.”
            They are a cruel, cruel race, intent on embarrassing their foe.


Part 7

“Jack, this is Alicia, your tutor,” Bruce said.
            Hair of almond, sweetened with cardamom and brown sugar.
            “My, Tutor?” Jacque said.
            “Hi, Jack,” Alicia said.
            Jacque felt his cheeks burn. His socks were red and blue, stylishly mismatching. He hoped she noticed. He decided to tell her in case his careful selection was lost on her.
            “Blue and, uh, red.”
            Her mouth hung open for a moment as both she and Bruce were shocked at how well he (mis)matched.
            “Your socks. Cute,” Alicia said.
            Jacque’s chin touched his sternum. She thought he was cute.
            “I’ll take it from here,” Alicia said to Bruce.
            Alicia took a knee. Her hair nearly touched the floor. Jacque wanted to wrap his fingers in it and suck his thumb.
“So, what’s your favorite subject?” Alicia asked.
            Bruce carefully retreated from the room and motioned to the table.
            Jacque understood the cue immediately. She was the type that responded to brains. Jacque casually strode by Alicia and jumped up to the table. “So, what mnemonic exercises do you have for me?”
            “Well,” Alicia said, sitting down opposite Jacque. “I think we should start with spelling.”
            “Well then, okay. Don’t ask me to spell Mississippi though, I only spell it with one eye.” Jacque slapped a hand over one eye and spelled the word, double consonants and all.
            Alicia swallowed visibly.
            “Hmm…” Jacque said. It was certainly easier to impress girls his own age.
            Alicia took out a vocab book, flipped a few pages and found herself in the middle of the letter T. “Tourniquet,” she said. “Spell that.”
            Jacque did, perfectly, as he pictured himself tying a tourniquet on her thigh after a spy from the evil empire—which was trying to thwart his ambitions—had infiltrated his secret organization and stabbed her before he could obliterate them with his death ray.
            “Jack?” Alicia said.
            “I’m sorry, what was that?” Jacque said.
            “I asked if you liked science,” Alicia said.
            “Science…Yes. I like science. Do you know anything about lasers?”
            “I know the difference between concave and convex lenses,” Alicia added, not too helpfully.
            “Well, let me tell you the first thing about them—”
            “Jack,” Bruce said.
            Jacque looked. Bruce, his father and nemesis—George Lucas was a prophet—was carefully listening, spying, from the kitchen.
            “You are shrouded in darkness, father,” Jacque said.
            “That subject is taboo, Alicia,” Bruce said. “Jack, why don’t you show her what your letter looks like?”
            “It’s a little bit early to be writing letters to Santa, isn’t it?” Alicia laughed awkwardly.
Jacque fell in the love with the cleft in her upper lip.
            “It’s not that sort of letter,” Bruce said.
            “What sort of letter is it?” Alicia asked.
            “I uh, hurt someone,” Jacque said, “and father thinks it’s imperative I pay some sort of reparations.”
            “Can you spell reparations?” Alicia asked.
            Jacque did, perfectly.
            “Wow,” Alicia said.
            “Impressive, aren’t I?”
            “Jack, who did you hurt?” Alicia asked.
            “A boy who bullied a girl,” Jacque said.
            Alicia’s heart-shaped face pulled back. Honey almond hair shivered. I could love her, but then I’d have to kill her, Jacque thought.
            “Will you be my babysitter?” Jacque asked.


“So, you’re a therapist?” Jacque said.
            “I’m a psychiatrist,” Mrs. Malone said. She had curly gray hair that hovered like a cloud about her face, glasses, and wore a gray pants suit. “And you’re Jack.”
            “I prefer Jacque,” Jacque said.
            “Ah. And how are you spelling that?” Mrs. Malone said.
            “J-a-c-q-u-e,” Jacque said.
            “No s?” Mrs. Malone asked. If her face stayed that bunched up for long, Jacque thought, her glasses would fog up.
            “No. Why would there be?”
            “There usually is,” Mrs. Malone said.
            “I didn’t know that,” Jacques said. He thought about it for a moment, then changed his mind.
            “Nope. I like it better without the s. And it’s my name, so…”
            “Of course,” Mrs. Malone said.
Jacque eyed the fish tank filled with tropical fish. According to Bruce, Jacque didn’t have a choice. If he ever wanted to get back to school, he had to see a therapist and prove his sanity. “Do you think it’s cruel to keep them in there?” Jacque said of the tank.
            “Do you?” Mrs. Malone asked. Jacque could tell these sessions were going to drag.
            “I’m fairly certain they would like the ocean better,” Jacque said.
            “Why is that?”
            “It’s bigger?”
            “Why else?”
            “They could clean shark’s teeth.”
            “Those aren’t pilot fish…” Mrs. Malone said. “They are angel fish, most of them.”
            Jacque was impressed. The woman knew her ichthyology. “I thought we were supposed to talk about my issues?”
            “There’s plenty of time for that.”
            “That’s right, we pay you by the hour.”
            “Why else might the fish like the sea better, Jack?”
            “They can blend in. Meet other fish. Have little baby fish. Are we really talking about this?” Jacque pushed hair out of his eyes, drawing attention to it, hoping she might pick up on the clue that he was evil to the core and there was no saving him.
            “Is that what you would like to do, Jack? Blend in, disappear?”
            “Well…” Jacque paused. “Well look at your bespectacled self. You’re good.”
            “Jack—Jacque,” Mrs. Malone said, “let’s talk about why you’re here—”
            “My father has big nostrils?”
Mrs. Malone could not be distracted. “Do you feel that you did anything wrong when you assaulted that boy?”
            “I’m told the correct word is tased.”
            Mrs. Malone smiled patiently.
            “I was protecting a girl. I stood up to a bully and I’m the one in trouble. If you ask me, it’s proof the world needs a dictating overlord to keep everyone in check.”
            Mrs. Malone put down her pencil. “Jacque, do you really believe you’re destined to be a super villain?”
            Jacque looked at the fish. “I could design bridges like my father. Stay above the fish.”
            “I’m sure you could.” Mrs. Malone made a note. “If you were given a fresh start, a new set of kids, what would you do?”
            Jacque considered. “They won’t let me back in school.”
            Mrs. Malone smiled. “There are other, opportunities, that come to mind. Places where you could meet new children. Children who don’t know what happened unless you tell them.”
            “Are you encouraging me to lie?” Jacque asked. Jacque liked this woman. She was clever and honest, yet strangely evil. She wielded power in a subtle way.
            “I’m encouraging you to make some friends. You’re smart. I bet most people like you.”
            Jacque’s cheeks flushed. He thought he may have discovered his Achilles heel: he was susceptible to flattery.


The prisoners assemble at meal time. They ply each other with platitudes and placate each other with water cooler humor to boost morale. It’s apparent they need to squeeze every bit of humor they can from each interaction.
            “Hey, cool Captain America doll! You want some freedom fries?”
            “I’m actually a Nazi spy with unnatural longevity.”
            “Jack, be nice,” Bruce said.
            “Yes, I’ll take some fries.”
            Outsiders that try to buck the façade of false happiness are ostracized.
            “Enjoy your lunch.”
            “Thank you.”
            It’s pathetic how much a smile brightens their marginal little existence.
            “Jack, I have a presentation after lunch.”
            A public execution.
“That means you have a choice. You can come with me—”
            I don’t want to see a fellow prisoner hanged.
            “Or you can wait, quietly, responsibly, here. I’ll have Cookie keep an eye on you.”
            That’s no choice at all. Damn you people.
            “I’ll accompany you to the presentation.”
            “Good, you can be my little cheering section.”
            There is no end to their need for reassurance.
            The Gestapo brass wear tailored uniforms, unique in color but otherwise the same. While outside their chambers, they too take place in the exchanging of platitudes, but inside this chamber, it’s clear they are an assembly of assassins, a firing squad ready to fight over the scraps of their fellow prisoner’s bodies.
            “If that bridge were to fail, approximately eight hundred people would die and nearly ten thousand would be inconvenienced,” Jacque said, doing his best to interrupt Bruce’s misery. Everyone in the room faced him.
            “Yes, Jack, that’s why it’s important,” Bruce said.
            “I just thought you should know that,” Jacque said.
            “Cute kid. He going to be here long?”
            “Just until summer camp starts.”
            “Summer camp? The bridge will fail! Look at the A-frame, I implore you!”

Part 10

            Jacque clung to the seat belt with white-knuckled fever as Bruce pulled on his legs.
            “I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go.”
            Jacque’s shoe came off and Bruce fell on his bottom.
            “Jack, come on. It will be good for you. Don’t you want to water-ski again?”
            “You’re going to leave me here,” Jacque said.
            “I’m not going to leave you here.”
            “Why can’t I destroy bridges with you?”
            “I build bridges, not destroy them.”
            “Still,” Jacque said.
            “It’s eight hours,” Bruce said. “You can do eight hours. Anyone can do eight hours. Now, go. Have some fun, would ya?”
            Jacque saw several healthy females watching by the corner of the lodge. Jacque put on his sneaker, stood, and dusted off his pants. “I’ll go with dignity, but I don’t have to like it.”
            “That’s the spirit,” Bruce said. “Make me proud.”


            “So, what are you in for?” Jacque asked Martin, a boy with hair so blond his eyebrows were invisible. He had very thin arms, even for a six year-old. Obviously he’d been doing hard labor for a while.
            “I wanted to learn how to shoot a bow,” Martin said. “I can’t draw it, so they put me here.”
            Figures, Jacque thought. Forced to fight in a war he doesn’t believe in, forced to work if he won’t fight.
Jacque’s stomach growled. He figured by the looks of Martin he wouldn’t get much for lunch, let alone morning snack.
            Jacque pulled a splinter from his thumb nail. The wardens were watching. He had to keep working. He slathered mortar on the top of the wall and threw another log on.
            “Can you pass the paste?” Martin asked.
            “Sure,” Jacque said. He passed the mortar and selected another long, rectangular log.
            “I wish there were popsicles on these tongue depressors,” Martin said. He sniffed the stick, dipped it in mortar, and stuck it in his mouth.
            I don’t know how much more I can take of this, Jacque thought.
            One of the wardens—her name was Ms. Pettigue and she was tall and fat with large udders—grabbed the stick from Martin. “Don’t eat that!” she squealed.
            Can’t even eat inedibles, Jacque thought. What sort of depraved people think it’s okay to starve children and make them work like this?
            “Look everyone!” a girl stood up holding a box over her head. She had freckles and cheeks so red they had obviously been recently pinched by one of the wardens. “I made a bird house!” The bird house was painted patriotic red, white, and blue.
            “Okay, that’s pretty cool,” Martin said.
            “She’s been brainwashed!” Jacque yelled. “Can’t you see we’re all prisoners here?!”
            “Jack,” Ms. Pettigue said, “Would you like to go outside?”
            “No! Don’t let them take me! I’ll never return!”
            “I would like to go outside,” Martin said. “It’s warm in here.”
            “No, you can’t!” Jacque whispered to Martin.
            “There’s a water fountain out there. I’m thirsty,” Martin said.
            “That’s because you ate the mortar,” Jacque said. “Just, please, hold out with me for another minute.”
            “Why don’t you come outside with me?” Martin said.
            Jacque glanced at Ms. Pettigue. She shrugged. “It’s up to you, Jack.”
            “Well,” Jacque said, “I’ll go with you, I suppose. There’s strength in numbers. I’ll watch your back if you watch mine.”
            Martin looked behind Jacque.
            “Oh come on,” Jacque said.
            At the water fountain outside on the porch, Martin took an epic drink. “Cold,” he said when he finished.
            “We should make a break for it,” Jacque said.
            Martin pointed to a shed beside the lodge. “We could take the bikes.”
            Just inside the shed, the reflectors of a herd of bicycles glittered. “It’s the mother lode,” Jacque whispered. “Come on, run for it!”
            Jacque took off running. Martin followed. Between breaths he said, “I like playing, with you. You make, everything, urgent.”
            “Thanks,” Jacque said.
            At the shed, Jacque selected a fast-looking bike with streamers. He looked around. They had evaded the notice of the guards, for now. Suddenly, Jacque was pushed from the bike and his head hit the ground.
            “It’s mine!” a boy twice Martin’s size growled. He swung a leg over the bike and rode off down the hill.
            “Who was that?” Jacque asked.
            “Tony,” Martin said. “He was here last year. He hit a growth spurt.”
            Jacque watched as Tony stopped, stole a bagel from a girl, took a bite and threw it on the ground cream cheese side down. He rode off, laughing as she cried.
            “He’s a villain,” Jacque whispered in awe. Jacque had never seen someone so like himself before—born to be bad.
            “He’s a prick,” Martin said.
            “Well…maybe,” Jacque said. “But people don’t become villains to win friends.”
            “You want to ride?” Martin asked.
            Jacque selected another bike, sans streamers. “Yes, let’s ride.”


Part 11

“Do these board shorts make my legs look too skinny?” Jacque asked Martin. Water lapped at the edges of the dock. A ski boat with a giant boom on one side rocked side-to-side restlessly, like a steed awaiting its master.

            “You’re a little skinny,” Martin said. Martin looked twice as big with a lifejacket on, but it still sounded funny coming from him.

            “I couldn’t get away with tights,” Jacque said. “Those superheroes are all bodybuilders. Their thighs look like walnuts.”

            Martin pointed at the sky. “Look, a bald eagle.”

There was, indeed, a bald eagle. Martin shielded his eyes from the sun as the majestic eagle swooped over the lake, circling.

            A shadow approached. Jacque turned. Tony was behind them. He put a finger to his lips—shhh. In the next moment everything slowed down and a thousand things ran through Jacque’s mind; that Tony was going to push Martin in the water, that Martin was Jacque’s friend and that he should help Martin, that Jacque had only known Martin for an hour, that Tony was asking for Jacque’s help, and that Tony was the villain Jacque had always wanted to be.

            “Look!” Martin said. The eagle tucked its wings in, its nose angled toward the water, and it began a hypersonic descent closing in on a fish.

            Tony took three quick steps and launched Martin into the water. He surfaced in a fury of foaming bubbles and loosed a muted scream. Water streamed down his face. His eyes were red.     

“Al-right!” Tony said. He hi-fived Jacque. “Thanks for keeping it on the DL, man. I’m Tony.”


            “Jock? Like Jock-strap? Alright, tool.” Tony laughed.

            “I can’t swim,” Martin mewed.

            Jacque squatted, careful to keep an eye on Tony, and offered Martin a hand. Martin took it just long enough to get purchase on the dock, then punched Jacque in the mouth. It didn’t hurt at all, but it shocked him.
            “What was that for?” Jacque said.
            “You let him push me!” Martin yelled as he climbed onto the dock.
            “Oh come on, you were going to get wet anyway!” Tony said.
            “I can’t swim!” Martin said. “I told my parents I learned last year but I lied.”
            “Why would you do that?” Jacque asked.
            Martin shrugged. “So they wouldn’t make me learn. And I thought they would like me more.”
            For reasons Jacque didn’t quite understand, those words made him automatically face Tony. “Don’t push him in again,” Jacque said.
            Two Tony steps later, Jacque sailed off the dock into the water. The lake was surprisingly warm. He peed in it immediately as he paddled around on his back.
            “Thanks for the help in,” Jacque said, hoping Tony would dive in after him.
            Tony sneered and pushed Martin in again. Jacque splashed pee water on Tony.
            Martin bobbed to the surface, his lifejacket buoying him up.
            “I didn’t know you couldn’t swim,” Jacque said.
            “I’m sorry I punched you,” Martin said.
           “Alright little dudes, who’s going waterskiing?” a man walking down the dock said. He had long blonde hair, purple shades, and wore a shark tooth on a black string around his neck that blended in with his chest hair.  
            “We are,” Tony said, motioning to all three of them.
            “Al-right! Already in the water! That’s the way we roll around here. Come on up, get into the boat and I’ll give you a little talk through. We’ll have you on skis, flying around the lake in no time.”
            “What’s your name?” Jacque asked.
            “Name’s Pete, little bro.”
            “Peter. Yes, you look like a dick,” Jacque said.
            “What?” Pete said.
            “Nothing,” Jacque said. “Mind giving me a hand up?”


“Hey, Tony,” Jacque shouted.
            Tony and a few other boys played basketball. Tony did a double dribble, took three steps and tried a lay-up. It hit the rim and bounced out. Well, at least he’s not good at everything, Jacque thought.
            Tony stopped playing, grabbed the extra basketball they had, and came over to Jacque. His face was covered in beads of sweat. “What’s up, Jacque strap?”
            “Oh, nothing. I was just wondering if you wanted to steal some bikes, or something.”
            “Steal some bikes?” Tony said. He dribbled the basketball a few times. “What do you think this is, Grand Theft Auto?”
            Jacque laughed nervously. “No. Of course not. That’s a cool game though. Hey how old are you, anyways?” Jacque asked.
            “Nine,” Tony said. “What are you like, seven?”
            Jacque laughed. “Yeah, exactly.”
            “Hmm…” Tony dribbled the ball between his legs. “You want to hang out with us, is that it?”
            “Well, maybe,” Jacque said.
            “Okay here’s the deal. We’ve all stolen something. That’s how you get into our gang.”
            “You guys have a gang?”
            “We are a gang. If you want to get in, you have to steal something, and it can’t be something somebody else has already stolen, got it?”
            Gangs are cool, Jacque thought. “What did everyone else steal?”
            Tony turned to the basketball court. “Hey Doug, what’d you steal last year?”
            “A flyswatter!” Doug called back.
            “Lame,” Tony said. “And Allan, what about you?”
            “I stole a canoe and dragged it on top of the lodge.”
            Jacque was intimidated.
            “That’s the stuff of legend.” Tony dribbled the ball three times. “Usually, we have an age requirement,” Tony said.
            “What’s the age requirement?” Jacque asked nervously.
            “Eight. But you seem like a cool kid. Tell you what, you pull off something better than Allan’s stunt, we’ll let you in. Now,” Tony bounced the ball off Jacque’s forehead.       Jacque’s eyes watered as he bent over. The blacktop was blurry.
            “Get lost,” Tony said.
 “No,” Jacque said. Tony’s feet approached Jacque and stood, inches away.
            “What?” Tony asked.
            Jacque stood. “I know what I’m going to steal.”
Tony tucked the ball loosely under his arm. “And what’s that?”
            “A jet ski,” Jacque said. He punched the ball out from under Tony’s arm. It bounced into Doug’s way as he drove to the hoop, causing him to stumble and stop.
“I’m going to steal a jet ski,” Jacque said.
Doug and Allan stared. Tony swallowed and shrugged, trying to play it cool. “Alright, prove it.”


Part 13

“How did your day go?” Bruce asked.
            Jacque pushed a finger into his skin and watched as the white spot re-filled with bright-pink sunburned skin.
            “I know, I know, I’ll get some sun block right now,” Bruce said, putting on his blinker to pull into the pharmacy. He took the corner hard. Rolled-up blueprints and energy drink bottles slid around in the back seat.
            “You need to clean this place,” Jacque said.
            “Do you want to come in?” Bruce said when they parked.
            Jacque looked at his hands. “Mom bought sunblock here. A lot, it seemed like.”
            “Come on, I’ll buy you a candy bar,” Bruce said. “Just like she used to.”
            Jacque opened the door. “She used to talk me into buying licorice whips, so she could eat half of them.”
            “Yuck,” Bruce said. “Stuff’s like dried slime.”
            Crisp air met them inside the pharmacy along with a display of summer-fun items like lawn chairs, a portable grill, water guns, kick boards, and water wings.
            “I want that,” Jacque said, pointing to the kickboard.
            “But you know how to swim,” Bruce said.
            “It’s not for me,” Jacque said. “It’s for my friend.”
            “A friend!” Bruce exclaimed. “You made a friend?”
            “Yeah, and I’m going to make more friends tomorrow.”
            “What’s his name?” Bruce asked. “Or is it a she?”
            “It’s a he. His name is Martin,” Jacque said.
            “Well good,” Bruce said. He picked up the kickboard, some sunblock, and they walked to the register. Jacque grabbed a pair of water shoes and snuck them on the counter. Bruce smiled but said nothing.
            “Rocks on the bottom of the lake,” Jacque explained.
            “Sure,” Bruce said. “Do they still have that dance at the end of the week?” Bruce asked.
            Jacque thought Bruce’s tone dubious. He suspected Bruce knew the answer. “I haven’t heard anything about it,” Jacque said.
            “Oh, well if they have a dance, you should ask one of the girls soon, before they all have dates.”
            Jacque wished Allison were there. She owed him one.
            That night, Jacque made a short to-do list. It read:
1.      Give Martin his kickboard and teach him how to swim. Then teach him how
to water ski.
2.      Steal a jetski.
3.      Get a date.
4.      Kiss the date.
He wasn’t terribly sure about the last one, but better to have high expectations and
not meet them than to rest on his laurels when he could be accomplishing something.


“I don’t understand why you gave me the kickboard,” Martin said. On the kickboard, he was graceful like a manatee, all slow-mo and no hurry. The ears of his lifejacket framed his face. “Because you want me to help you steal the jet ski?”
            “No,” Jacque said. They were out well over Martin’s head. On the dock, a lifeguard sat in a recliner working on his tan, a thick coat of white sunblock smeared on his nose. From this distance, he was pretty sure the lifeguard couldn’t hear them—and he couldn’t tell if he was even awake—but Jacque whispered just the same. “I gave you the kickboard because I like swimming and I need someone to swim with.”
            “I like water,” Martin said. “I wonder how Aqua Man learned how to talk to fish.”
            “Focus, Martin,” Jacque said. “I don’t want to steal it for long, just steal it for a little bit, ride it around, and bring it back.”
            “That’s more like borrowing than stealing,” Martin said. He looked at his fingers. “I’m all pruney,” he said. He slipped off the kickboard a little. There was some squeaking, a flash of bubbles and, Jacque was pretty sure, a new warm spot created in the lake, then Martin was back on the kickboard, lazing quietly like a manatee again. 
            “Will you help me?” Jacque asked.
            “We’re out here pretty deep,” Martin said.
            Below, rays of lemon sunshine sliced through the black water.
            “It’s not a big deal if you can’t swim. So, my question, can you help me steal it?” Jacque asked.
            “I guess. Will you teach me to swim?”
            Jacque nodded, fairly certain he wouldn’t finish everything on his to do list today. “Give me the kickboard,” Jacque said.
            “Indian giver.”
            “No,” Jacque said. “It’s yours, this is just the first step in teaching you how to—wait. No, I got it. Race me to the beach.”
            “I keep the kickboard?”
            “You keep the kickboard. Kick as hard as you can, from the hips, legs straight.”
            Bruce taught Jacque how to swim at a young age. Apparently, he used to blow in Jacque’s face to get him to inhale, then dunk him. Jacque blamed that sinister act on why he was now on his way to becoming a super villain. The impression of being tortured, and laughing about it, had been a lasting one.


            Water streamed off Jacque’s body. He’d been marooned, left to die, on a desert island by sundry people who would profit from his death. Several sunbathing women, startled by his Adonis body, barely contained their stares through the thin veils of sunglasses.
            “Sorry for disturbing you, mademoiselles,” Jacque said, and bowed.
            They giggled. Jacque liked the red-head. She would make a great villainess, all cute, fiery tangles and dimples.
            The kindly porpoise that had saved him from certain starvation straggled onto the beach behind him. Though he was a creature of the water, he didn’t know how best to use his stream-lined body.
            “Excuse me,” Jacque said to the mademoiselles, “I have to perform a lesson.”
            They exchanged glances as Jacque bowed.
            “So,” Jacque said to the porpoise, “you have found the power in your legs, is that correct?”
            “Yeah,” Martin said. “But I’m still not as fast as you.”
            “That’s because you have this,” Jacque tugged at Martin’s life jacket, “slowing you down. It creates resistance, drag, in proper terms, and you have not yet taken advantage of your full propulsion system.” Jacque grabbed the kickboard and drove it into the sand, intending to make it stand like a surfboard. It made a small dent and flopped over. The mademoiselles were still watching, so Jacque ignored it.
            “Here, cup your hands like this,” Jacque said, demonstrating the cupping motion he’d used to escape the desert isle. “Now, kick like you did on your life raft, but this time, paddle-boat your arms, like this. Keep your chin lifted out of the water at all times. If you can do that with a life-preserver on, you’ll be fine without one. Now, into the water!” Jacque shouted.
            His audience had grown. The lifeguard was sitting up, shading his eyes, and several of the older children had paused, their toes curled on the edge of the dock.
            Jacque led the way into the depths of the sea.
            “Hey kid,” the lifeguard waved over Jacque.
            “Keep swimming,” Jacque called to Martin. “Out to beyond the dock and back!”
            Jacque changed direction and headed for the lifeguard. “We need another swim instructor,” the lifeguard said, “If he learns to swim by the end of the day, I’ll put a good word in for you.”
            Jacque reclined in the water, allowing himself to float on his back, and squirted water out of his mouth like a fountain. “Perhaps we could work, something, out,” Jacque said, noting how difficult it was to take someone serious when their nose was slathered in goo.
            “Nice,” the lifeguard said. “You might want to turn him around.” Martin was heading for the buoys, paddling for all he was worth, his head straight up out of the water like a seal’s.
            “Despite its seeming domesticity, the porpoise still has wild tendencies,” Jacque said. “Martin, turn around!”


“Look,” Jacque said, bobbing in the water, “touching, not touching.” Jacque’s feet went from bouncing on soft dirt to treading water and back again as he demonstrated.
            Martin’s mouth was puckered like he was sucking on an anchovy. “You’re not going to drown. You’ve got me, the lifeguard, and water that isn’t over your head like, one foot away.”
            A tsunami rolled over by and Tony surfaced beside them. Martin spit water and wiped his face.
            “You’re not gonna steal a jetski, are you?” Tony said. “Cause you’re a wimp.” Tony splashed Jacque in the face and paddled off like an otter on its back.
            “Just, give me a few minutes,” Jacque said. On the dock, the lifeguard turned away, clearly well aware of Tony’s antics.
            “I hate that guy,” Martin said. “Why do you try to impress him?”
            “Are you going to swim or not?” Jacque asked.
            Martin blew his nose into his fingers and washed them in the water. A loose wad of boogers floated off into the deep. “Duck food,” Martin explained.
            “Nice.” Jacque laughed. “Okay, give me the life jacket.”
            Martin recoiled. “I’ll swim alongside you,” Jacque said, “ready to hand it over if you need it.”
            “You can do it!” someone shouted from the beach. The red-headed girl waved at Jacque. Jacque smiled and waved back. She blushed.
 “Hold on,” Jacque said to Martin. He swam up to the beach like a narwhal with a death wish and walked up to her.
            “I’m…Jacque,” Jacque said.
            “Lydia,” the redhead said.
            “Your nose is burning. I can get you some sun block, if you need it,” Jacque said.
            Lydia’s hand flew to her nose. “Oh no. I already have enough freckles.”
            Jacque slowly pulled her hand away. “I like freckles.”
            Lydia smiled and tucked her chin down.
            “If I teach him how to swim, will you go to the dance to me?” Jacque asked.
            Lydia giggled. Jacque took that as a yes and ran back into the water.
            “What was that?” Martin asked when he had returned.
            “You have to learn how to swim now,” Jacque said.
            “Why?” Martin asked.
            “So she’ll go to the dance with me.”
            “Ahh!” Martin screamed. “That’s too much pressure!”
            Jacque grabbed him by the lifejacket straps. “Pull yourself together. It’s just like we planned. If we can make it to the buoys and back, we can perhaps survive this ordeal and gain some semblance of a life for ourselves!”
            Martin giggled.
            “Are you ready?” Jacque asked.
            Martin took a deep breath and un-clicked the life jacket.


            After teaching the king’s son how to swim, Jacque received his just reward, a ride on the Jetski with Captain half-brain Pete, the dock hand in charge of PWC’s, or personal watercraft. It was amazing they gave a nincompoop such responsibility.
            The jetski jumped over boatwake with alacrity and Jack tightened his grip on Captain half-brain, who throttled back.
            “You okay back there, little fella?”
            “Yes,” Jacque said. “Perhaps you could just maneuver me a little closer to shore. I’d like to be a little closer to shore,” Jacque said, doing his best to sound pathetic. He didn’t imagine his performance needed to be Oscar-worthy.
            “No problem, bro,” Captain Half-Brain said.
            Jacque had to admit that even being a passenger on such a vessel was amazing. Water splashed before them as they rolled over the waves and with the slightest lean they changed direction. Seagulls and crows flew overhead. It almost felt like he could touch them. At the very least, he knew he could outrun them.
            Captain Half-Brain pulled up beyond the swim buoys. He waved at Lydia. Tony, waiting for the diving board, nudged Doug and pointed.
            “So what do you think?” Captain Half-Brain asked.
            Sink or swim, Jacque thought. “So,” Jacque said, “How does one operate this thing?”
            “Oh it’s real easy,” Captain Half-Brain said. “This here by my thumb is the throttle, that makes it go, and you steer.”
            “No brakes?”
            “Nope, gotta allow time to stop. The water slows you down pretty well, but all you can do is coast.”
            “And steering is really pretty easy, huh?” Jacque asked. He hoped the quiver of nerves in his voice was adequately concealed. Jacque quietly slipped off his water shoe. It floated helplessly in the water.
            “You bet,” Captain Half-Brain said.
            “Damn, would you look at that,” Jacque said, and pointed at the shoe.
            “Oh, here, I’ll get it,” Captain Half-Brain said, and stretched for it.
            “Yes, you will,” Jacque agreed.
The jetski leaned as Captain Half-Brain stretched, and Jacque gave him a little push—okay, it was a big push, with all his might, and he had to fight to stay on the jetski and keep it upright because, for whatever reason, it seemed the Captain didn’t want to abandon ship—and he fell in with a splash.
            Jacque slid forward and waved to the dock. “Look at me! I’m free!” he yelled, and hit the throttle as Captain Half-Brain muttered something.
Jacque nearly fell off as the jetski leapt forward. He let off the throttle, allowing the jetski to brake. It was quite fortuitous, actually, because it allowed him to gauge how quickly the vehicle could stop, which wasn’t very fast at all.
Captain Half-Brain yelled behind him. “Hey, like, you’re not supposed to be alone on that thing! I could get in trouble!”
Jacque waved. “You’re really an excellent teacher! I’ll be back momentarily!” he shouted, and hit the throttle. He decided that if being a super villain didn’t work out, he had a future as steam boat captain, jetboat racer, or the like. The velvety soft feel of the rolling water made him smile from ear to ear. 

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