Earlier that same morning Buddha and George woke up in plenty of time to make their appointment, but George had remembered that they left the Dyno at the shop. Buddha told George to hang on a second then disappeared outside for about ten minutes.
“Where’d you go?”
“Oh, I had something to do.”
“Did you give Jesi the letter?”
“No, I forgot. I’ll give it to her when I get back. Let’s hurry.”
They sprinted out the side entrance of the hotel, took Race Street over to St. Charles in just enough time to hop on the street car. George started to put the change in the coin slot and Buddha stopped him. “Hey, save the change, I’ve got trolley passes.”
“Where did you get those?”
“Traded Taz for some spray paint.”
“Where did you get the spray paint?”
“It was left over from me and Max tagging the ramp.”
As George started to put the contents of his pockets back, Buddha spotted the rock the Prince had given him.
“So what’s up with that rock?”
“It’s weird, but remember what he said about not sleeping?”
“Well you know boring old Mrs. McGraw, her voice is like Tylenol PM. As soon as she starts talking I am out like anesthesia. I have never stayed awake more than five minutes in that class.”
“So it doesn’t work?”
“No. Since I have been carrying it I stay awake the whole time. I even had to take it out and put it back in my backpack to sleep in Mr. Mac’s History class.”
“That’s weird, but I doubt he gave it to you to stay awake for Mrs. McGraw. And what does it have to do with this ice pack?” Buddha pulled a blue ice pack out of the backpack.
“I don’t know, but here’s our stop.”
The boys filed off the trolley and ran to Dr. Hughes’. “Today’s gonna be our last day and we can get off that stupid probation!”
“Yeah, you say that every month. It’s up to Dr. Hughes.”
Part of the reason the Prince wanted to hire the boys to work the store was because they were notorious little businessmen. They had pulled the Beta Book Club scam only once because the following day the gang returned to Spider’s apartment to find their entire Ice Cream Gangster treasury fund depleted. The boys were as mad as fire ants. The angry entrepreneurs were ready to go to war, thinking Spider’s Uncle had robbed them. The pugilistic posse were prepared to exact their revenge armed with homemade nunchucks, a monkey wrench, and Buddha’s old tee-ball bat when Mrs. Cara appeared in the doorway carrying a huge cardboard box that said ‘Magazine Street New & Used Books’ in big block letters. Buddha set down the tee-ball bat and said, “Let me help you with that.”
“You boys wouldn’t believe how many books ya’ll bought with eighty bucks.”
She cut her eyes and gave the boys a serious don’t-play-with-me look and replied, “What kind of Book Club doesn’t have books?”
“Mom…” Spider realized he’d been outsmarted and continued, “What kind of books did we buy?”
“Well, this set, “ she said as she pulled out a stack of paperbacks, “Is about some kids who are half bird and half human. It’s got lots of fighting and Kung Fu in it.” She looked around and eyed the armed adolescents. “By the way, what’s with the lynch mob armaments?”
“Um…um, we were just cleaning out Buddha’s backpack,” Spider thought quickly and tried to cram the borrowed bludgeons into said bag.
Mrs. Cara rolled her eyes and continued pulling out more books. “This series is about a little fourth grader who goes to a school in outer space and through his video game skills destroys a whole alien race of ant people. The book lady says it’s famous. And this book, Leeto, is about a boy who goes through a magic painting. I got it because she said it had ninjas and pirates in it.”
“Ninjas and Pirates?” Buddha asked before stuffing it into his backpack for later reading.
While that was the last time they pulled the Book Club scam, it wasn’t the last time they made money. The boys would use a fifty foot rope and throw it over as tall a branch as they could find in the oak trees by Audubon Park. They would tie one end around Spider and then hoist him up into the tree so he could pick the parasitic kissing charm known as mistletoe. Then they would stand on the corner of Coral and St. Charles and hustle mistletoe.
“Hey, come on man, it’s only a buck! You know it takes more than that to get your ugly mug kissed,” was a favorite.
Also, when Spider spotted a man walking with a young lady who declined to purchase some mistletoe, he’d chide them with, “Ma’am, I can’t believe he won’t spend two dollars to kiss you. He don’t know what he has.” They’d attract business with shouts of, “Today only – two for the price of two!” or “Today only- Buy one, get the second for the same low price!”
Mardi Gras was a good time of year for the boys. A highly prized commodity for parade goers is the highly coveted Zulu coconut. It’s a regular coconut painted black and Gold with glitter and the Zulu Social Club markings. The Ice Cream cons would go to the French market on Decatur Street and deplete their entire treasury on coconuts and spray paint. Out of the hundred thousand people who attend the Mardi Gras Day Zulu and Rex parade, only a few hundred extremely lucky people will catch a coconut. Unless they ran into the Ice Cream gangsters.
Buddha would trail behind the boys pulling a red wagon containing a large box of 75 coconuts that the boys had stayed up all night decorating to perfect Zulu counterfeit. Tex, Spider and George would conceal one in their jacket and blend into the crowd. After a float passed and threw their treasures to the crowd while the crowd was ripe with disappointment, one of them would yell, “I got one! I caught a coconut!” Every time someone would call out, “Let me buy it! I’ve never caught one!” or “I would love to bring one home to my Mom.” Then the bidding war would start. By the end of the day, the boys would all be clad in new tennis shoes with new MP3’s and a full treasury.
Well, on rather unfortunate Fat Tuesday, Buddha had caught an actual real life Zulu coconut. George’s Mom had told the boys she always wanted one, so the boys were ecstatic at the opportunity to surprise her with it. As they passed the drug store at St. Charles and MLK, a previous coconut customer with his wife in tow spotted the boys. “Hey! Can you sell me that coconut, too?”
“No man, it’s for my round’s Mom.”
This is when the con wore thin, because the mark’s wife recognized the boys. “Hey, ya’ll are the same kids who got me for the book club. I looked it up. There isn’t even a Beta Book Club.”
Before it was resolved, two people walked up who had been previous mistletoe customers and the policeman who noticed the commotion began to suspect the boys were con men. When Tex, who was inside the drugstore getting Big Shot creme sodas came out, the other boys were being ushered into a cop car in cuffs. What made matters worse was among the random assortment of of supplies in Buddha’s backpack was a Beta Book Club hat and a ziplock bag of mistletoe, plus a Zulu stencil. They were busted.
A few weeks later Spider’s Uncle Phillip Gomez represented the boys in front of the Honorable Judge Denise Waldrin, locally known as Denise the Menace. The Judge questioned the parents separately and decided on 6 months probation. However, because of the boys individual circumstances and the sheer brilliance of the crimes, she stipulated that they must see the psychiatrist Dr. Hughes every other Saturday and could not get off probation until they were cleared. Spider had been cleared for months, but the Judge said they committed the crime together and they would do the time together. So until Dr. Hughes cleared them all, they were all still on probation. There was something about two High School Freshmen, one seeing a dead girl and the other with a talking cat, that made Dr. Hughes reluctant to release them.
When the boys left these early morning meetings Buddha was always mad about Dr. Hughes not believing his thinly veiled lies about not hearing the cat talk anymore. It didn’t help that the infernal feline stood outside the shrink’s window crying the entire visit.
George, on the other hand, would be fighting mad because he would tell the truth and nothing he would say would make the man abandon his learned scientific and medical reasoning to believe the girl was real. This time they had an ace up their sleeve. Tex had pored over Psychology journals and told them exactly what to say. Plus, Buddha had an ace up his sleeve for the cat.
Two hours later at ten o’clock on Valentine’s Day, Buddha came bouncing out of the shrink’s office smiling like a lottery winner clutching his doctor’s release. He did a chicken walk in celebration saying, “No boss, I ain’t seeing no ghost.” The boys high-fived and Buddha took two Hubia pies out of his backpack to celebrate.
On the trolley ride back, Buddha told George how he had been planning to visit his Grandma who lived outside Minneapolis the following summer. His mother had finally told him he couldn’t go. The only contact he had with his Dad’s side of the family was his Dad’s elderly mother. Buddha’s Dad, whom he’d only met once, didn’t even deserve a mention in this tale, but Buddha loved his Grandparents. They would visit at every occasion and wrote him constantly. Buddha especially loved the way his Grandmother would use the old time moniker to address the letter ‘Master Mark Anthony Jenkins’. His Grandpa had been committed to a home for Alzheimer’s and Buddha’s Mom thought it would be a good experience for him.
“So we should plan something really cool.”
“Yeah like an adventure.” George sat upright and mocked, “Four boys risk life and limb against impossible odds.” They high-fived again and the trolley reached its stop.