Authors: Mark Richard Zubro
Tags: #Fiction, #Police Procedural, #Gay, #Mystery & Detective
Table of Contents
For Barb and Jeanne, as always, many thanks.
Thanks also to Bob Beran.
And to Kyle and Kyle—you both helped.
A tremendous crash woke Paul Turner out of a sound sleep. He was on his feet and out his bedroom door in seconds. Ben, his lover, was right behind him. When he got to the top of the stairs, he heard the tinkle of shattering glass. His son Brian, baseball bat in hand, emerged from his room. Paul rushed down the stairs and banged open his younger son’s bedroom door. The bed was empty. He listened for a moment. The source of the noise was the kitchen. He dashed in that direction.
In the light from the hall, he saw his eleven-year-old son, Jeff’s, wheelchair on its side, up against the far cabinets. Using his hands, arms, and elbows, Jeff was crawling along the floor. Paul hurried to him. Jeff looked up at his father. He said, “I’m fine. I don’t need help.”
Paul knelt over his son. Jeff very much needed help, but the boy had been insisting on being more independent lately. Paul hovered inches away, set to help or guide, lift or carry, as his son wished or needed.
Ben flipped on the kitchen light. The room looked as if every pot in the house was on the stove or on the floor. Strings of translucent metal criss-crossed the kitchen table. Metallic paint and silver-colored plastic shimmered in a variety of bowls, pots, and pans. Shards of a glass pitcher were strewn over half the floor. A metallic, burnt plastic smell wafted through the air. A cool breeze flowed in from the open back door.
Jeff stopped trying to right himself and breathed heavily. He saw his brother with the bat. “What’s that for?” Jeff asked.
Brian said, “For bashing little brothers.”
Jeff was in his blue
pajamas. The two adults were in white briefs. Brian wore black silk boxer shorts and a black T-shirt.
“What were you trying to do?” Paul asked. “It’s two in the morning.” He shut the back door. The smell became stronger immediately. Seconds later the smoke detector began beeping. Paul turned off all the burners on the stove, removed all the pots on top of it, and then opened the door again. Ben stood on a chair and disconnected the battery. The beeping stopped. Hands on hips, Paul turned to his son.
Jeff said, “I had to make some last-minute adjustments on my costume. I was trying to heat the plastic so I could form it into the right shapes.”
Paul knew his sons were excited about going to the World’s Ultimate Science Fiction Convention, which was being held this weekend in Chicago. The younger boy, Jeff, had dinned whole symphonies of enthusiasm into his ears for months. Jeff wanted to wear a superhero costume. Paul thought that being confined to a wheelchair might limit his son’s possibilities. Jeff had decided he was going as Charles Xavier from
and he’d insisted on a new suit. Ben had spent hours creating a headpiece that Jeff claimed the character wore in the movies to enhance his mind control abilities.
Paul hadn’t seen the movies. He knew Jeff had stacks of comic books in chronological order, carefully arranged by superhero or heroes. Most of the attachment to the wheelchair apparatus, tendrils of twisted coat hangers, plastic, glue, and aluminum foil, was on the back porch awaiting transport for the occasion.
“We could have helped you,” Paul said.
“I know. I wanted to try doing it myself.”
Paul said, “Wanting to try doing it yourself is a good thing. Doing it at this hour of the morning is a bad thing. And next time you want to try doing it yourself, you need to have one of us supervise.”
Paul held his younger son’s eyes. He was not going to debate with an eleven year old. Jeff was not above trying to use his spina bifida as a ploy for getting attention or for avoiding punishments, but Paul was immune to the manipulations of his son. The kid knew his big, deep brown eyes and his disability worked well, mostly with strangers. Paul gazed silently until the boy lowered his eyes.
“Sorry,” Jeff said. He glanced around at the mess. Again, he tried to get up. This time, he allowed Paul to lift him into his wheelchair, which Brian had righted. When Jeff was seated, the youngster said, “I’ll clean up the mess.”
Brian trudged back up to bed.
“You need some help?” Ben asked.
“I think we’ve got it covered,” Paul said. “I’ll be up in a few minutes.” Ben went upstairs and brought Paul back a pair of jeans. He gave Paul a brief hug and went back up to bed.
Paul helped Jeff clean. Plastic had congealed in the bottom of two pots. They were ruined. Paul held them out for Jeff to inspect. The boy said, “That’ll shoot my allowance for half a year.”
“About that,” Paul agreed.
Into the silence, Jeff asked, “I can still go to the convention?” His voice quavered.
Paul said, “This wasn’t malicious, but it could have turned into something dangerous. There could have been a fire. You know I’m serious about you asking one of us for help.”
“I know. I will.”
“You can go to the convention.”
“Yes!” The boy began to pump his arm up and down in triumph.
“And your consequence will commence the day after.”
The boy eyed his dad. “I understand,” he said softly.
“Good.” Paul ruffled the boy’s hair. “I’m glad you didn’t try and turn this into a debate. It is far too late, and you’ve been trying that far too much lately. That has to stop as well.”
Father and son cleaned together in the quiet house. When the ruined pans were trashed and everything else was back in its place, Paul said, “Show me what you were trying to do.”
Jeff took his materials and spread them out on the table. He explained the complicated changes he wanted to make to the part that attached to his wheelchair. Paul said, “Do you want me to try it?”
“You could show me.”
Paul began to explain the process as he put together the parts and used heat and cooling as the plastic took on another shape. When he looked up, Jeff’s head was sunk on his chest. The boy was fast asleep.
Paul shut the back door, then reinstalled the battery in the smoke detector. Then he wheeled Jeff to his room and lifted him into bed. He pulled the blanket over his son. He went back to the kitchen and finished the costume. It was nearly three-thirty when he crawled into bed. Ben woke briefly. “Everything okay?” he asked.
Paul murmured, “The aliens have not landed.” He snuggled close and fell asleep.
The next morning it was a struggle to get his younger son to go to school. Normally, the boy loved to attend, but his distraction by the imminent opening of the convention was nearly total.
Jeff inspected his costume where Paul had left it on the back porch. The boy declared the final shape to be “cool.” Paul didn’t think it looked half bad.
Paul Turner spent a full day at his job as a detective for the city of Chicago. They had a call late in their shift from the new movie complex just east of Halsted and Randolph. The case was a no-brainer. At a Friday matinee a gray-haired man in his seventies had shot the teenager sitting next to him through the head. The teenager and his friend had sat through an early movie talking, laughing, and hitting each other. During the closing credits, the man had simply pulled a gun and fired. One teen lay dead. His partner in movie dis-etiquette was on the floor. He had shit and pissed his pants and, between sobs and tears, was begging for mercy. When the police arrived, the older gentleman simply turned over his gun to the cops and said, “That’s one for the good guys.” Buck Fenwick, Turner’s partner on the police department, had been willing to argue for justifiable homicide. As he’d succinctly put it, “What exactly about this scenario was wrong?” Making noise in theaters was right up there in Fenwick’s “done wrong” pantheon, just behind Cubs relief pitchers who blew saves but ahead of criminals who disturbed his lunch.
Unfortunately, the cowards in the row behind the man-versus-teenager drama—cowards who had been unwilling to verify the older gentleman’s initial complaint—were now insistent upon seeing the person who shot the gun arrested. Fenwick had grumbled, “Some witnesses don’t know when they’ve got it good.” The arrest and paperwork had put Turner behind schedule for the evening’s activities. As prearranged, he met everyone down at his lover’s auto shop. He looked forward to something completely different.
Brian had kept his costume a secret. Paul wondered why his older boy, Brian, had gotten so interested in the convention. Paul hadn’t known the older boy was particularly interested in science fiction or superheroes. He’d grown out of his Star Wars mania and his interest in comic books a few years ago.
When Paul entered the shop, he saw that Mrs. Talucci, their ninetysomething next-door neighbor, was present, along with Myra, the most famous lesbian mechanic in the city. The two of them would be driving to the convention together. Mrs. Talucci was attending as an elderly Tribble. With all the extra padding she’d added to her slight frame, Mrs. Talucci now looked like a medicine ball covered in fur. Paul’s son Jeff had worked up a small computer-guided electrical device so that Mrs. Talucci could cause the outer layer of her costume to wiggle and a hidden microphone to give off chirpy squeaks. Turner had to admit, it was pretty effective.
They were discussing Myra’s lack of a costume. She said, “Half the dykes in the hall are going to look like Xena. What’s the point if you can’t stand out? I’ve got no imagination and no creativity. I’m going to watch the spectacle. And it’s going to be quite a spectacle.”
Jeff asked, “Why is it going to be a spectacle?”
Myra’s eyes gleamed. “I call it the Michelin tire effect.”
Myra leaned closer to the boy. “Most of the women in those Xena costumes should have gone on every diet on the planet years ago. They’ve got all this metal surrounded by a leather skirt that might be adequate protection on a vehicle, but is not going to make it on their three-hundred-pound frames.”
When Paul saw Brian, he realized why his older son had been totally mum about his costume. The teenager was in a butt flap and leather harness. The bit of brown leather covered by an eighth of an inch the front of the bottom of his torso, and his butt by slightly less. A broadsword dangled from a strap on his back. He was leaning one elbow on the side of their blue van. Myra began helping him cinch up the harness on the torso underneath.
“They let you bring those things?” Paul asked.
“The sword? Yeah. You’ve got to get special permission, and you’ve got to get bonded. You also have to be at least sixteen.”
Paul examined the sword in its scabbard. “Is it real?”
Brian reached over his head, took out the sword, and handed it, hilt first, to his dad. “Try it.”