A bright yellow school bus creaked to a noisy halt and a platoon of rambunctious uniformed children spilled out, happy to be through another day of school. Prince Love was at his usual place seated across from a pointy-haired punk rocker clad in a leather spiked jacket adorned on the back with a huge Misfits skull. Three tiny second graders, who at first glance seemed too small to cross the street by themselves, separated from the pack and stared at the Prince. They huddled in a quiet conference and then by consensus, started to walk toward the Prince. However, much to their dismay, another parishioner appeared before the Prince. After a brief conversation the man pulled out an old ring with a large aquamarine setting, which the Prince surveyed. Obviously satisfied with the payment, the old rasta stowed away the ring and handed some trinket to the man which he put in his sock. Then the Prince tied a ribbon around the man’s wrist.
The children conferred once more, then retreated to their homes at St. Vincent. They reemerged ten minutes later changed out of their school uniforms. The smallest of three, a black girl named Laticia, was wearing a grey plastic viking helmet clad with silver plastic wings. Lil’ Angus had a pair of oversized welding gloves that Buddha had spray painted silver for him and a rubber mallet which was also painted silver. The third boy was a toe-headed, pale little guy with abnormally thick, round, bifocal glasses. He was wearing a Marvel comics t-shirt and clutching a stack of comics. They exchanged looks once more in a gesture that asked if they were truly ready. All three nodded and after looking both ways they crossed the street.
Now, usually when someone sought an audience with the Prince, it was customary that they squat down and await his acknowledgment. This wasn’t so much a rule as it usually placed the supplicant at eye level with the Prince, who was seated. The kids, however, had no one to explain this etiquette to them. They had been spying on the Prince for weeks and had come to the conclusion that people only knelt because a wizard wouldn’t grant an audience to anyone taller than his hat. Since the Prince had no hat, the adults knelt. The seated Prince was still a head taller than the kids, so they stood. The punk rocker glanced quixotically at the miniature motley crew of mock vikings, but the Prince never looked up from the game. Often times children don’t observe customs that adults take for granted, like personal space. Instead of standing at arm’s length as is customary in this country, they stood about eight inches from the Prince.
Over the past couple of weeks of their stake-outs they had plenty of time to discuss the manner in which they should approach him. They settled on using their war faces.
Angus said, “If we appear the least bit weak, he could call down lightning on us.”
Laticia added, “Or turn us into frogs.”
“I like frogs,” added the bifocal boy.
“But we could get stepped on!” Laticia exclaimed.
“Yeah, I agree with you two,” bifocal buy boy relented, “I’ll practice my war face.”
So the three kids stood with faces scrunched up like they had a mouth full of lemons while the Prince obliviously played chess. After what the kids thought was a never ending few minutes, the Prince turned to acknowledge them.
“Dem be fearsome war face. I wish dat Mr. Curtis be here. He appreciate dat.”
Angus, still maintaining his scowl, said, “Are you the wizard called Prince Love?”
“Dat be me. And who be you?”
“Angus, Laticia, and Colby.”
“Oh dem gauntlets and dat hammer. You must be Thor. But what gods are you two?”
Laticia spoke with her war face, “I’m not a god, I’m a Valkyrie.”
Colby responded in kind, “And I’m the historian Homer: Man of Many Books.”
“What is it dat a humble wizard do dat may please such a famous company?”
Angus spoke up, “Spider said you knew everything, so we have a question.”
“Do he now? Well, a wizard demand a payment eben from a god as fearsome as you, Angus. Did you bring money?”
Their war faces melted to ecstatic smiles as Colby said, “Aha! It’s a trick. See? I told ya’ll!”
Laticia said, “Everyone knows wizards don’t need money.”
The Prince smiled at the punk rocker who was amused by the kids and said, “Oh, everyone knows dat. Dey too smart for me.”
“So we brought something better than money,” Angus said while fishing in his pocket.
“Now what kind of treasure be worth more than money?”
He put down a small piece of paper and a wooden coin. Laticia said, “The token is for the pool at the Kingsley house. It’s a huge swimming pool.”
Colby added, “My teacher said it was the first swimming pool in the world to be ‘grintegrated’. That means white people and black people could swim there.”
Angus said, “They also used to teach people to speak English back when people couldn’t speak English.”
“Well dey must have been good at it, ‘cause ever body speak English today.” The Prince smiled, showing an assortment of gold teeth in contrast to his blue-black skin.
The kids smiled back and said in chorus, “That’s what we thought.”
“The coupon is for a free milkshake, ‘cause it’s a known fact everyone likes milkshakes,” Angus finished.
“Well, because dem war faces had such courage and I be dat kind of wizard dat likes swimming and milkshakes, payment made. Ask de question.”
Colby sat down a pile of comics on the Prince’s table and said, “In all our books, they never say how Thor got his hammer. So, for us to become real heroes, we need to know. Who made Thor’s hammer?”
The Prince looked at the punk rocker and smiled.
Laticia added, “If you don’t know, we’ll still let you keep the milkshake and go swimming.”
The Prince’s heart melted a little at the little Valkyrie. “Well, you three come to da right wizard. Not only do I know de answer, I heard da story from Thor himself.”
The kids went wide-eyed and they were mesmerized by their good fortune.
“Deep in de darkest center of de Earth dwell a fearsome creature dat got skin black as coal and eyes red like blood. Dey black elves; master craftsmen. Queen of de elves, she forge de hammer herself.”
“I told ya’ll elves were real!” Laticia scolded.
“Dey never come to de top except at night, ‘cause de sun make dem into stone. De also created a ship, Skidbladmir, dat be so big it could hold all de armies in de whole world, but dey could fold it up and fit it into Thor’s wallet.” The Prince surveyed his captive audience. “Did you know him lost dat hammer once?”
“No way,” said Angus.
“Impossible. Because it always comes back to him,” Colby rejected.
“Dat be right, but de giant named Thrym, he put a mountain on it so dey could not get him hammer back. So dem ask me to help. I talk to de giant and we strike a deal. See, Thor have him a sister, Mrs. Freya. Oh, she be more beautiful than any woman.”
“Like Mrs. Cara,” Angus said.
“Some say eben more beautiful.”
Colby snapped, “I doubt more beautiful.”
“Well dat giant say if Thor let him marry Mrs. Freya, he get back de hammer. Thor, him say never, no ugly giant gonna marry him sister. So, I came up with a plan. We dress up Thor in a wedding dress.”
“Are you sure it’s the same Thor?” Angus frowned.
“Oh, I’m sure. But we put a veil over him face. When I bring dat Thor to the giant, he give him new bride de hammer. Thor bump dat giant on de head and get him hammer back.”
“I don’t know if I believe that.”
The Prince laughed. “Dey not many dat do. But dat is why brides still wear dem veils today. Now, if I have earned des payment, I must help dat Spider.”
The kids looked up and saw Spider coming, thanked the Prince, and hurried off back to St. Vincent’s.
Spider said, “Sorry about bothering you up here, but I need to get you to sign all the checks for the shop.” He pointed to the retreating kids and asked, “They didn’t bug you, did they?”
“No one ever bother me dat pay me with milkshakes and swimming pools! Did him Buddha see Mr. Curtis?”
Spider smiled and smiling felt funny to his face because of the sadness it had endured through the previous week. “He fainted.”