Action Men with Duct Tape, Part 2

2

Bronwyn and I continued on our way, hopefully to the food court or just to food. “You really are harmless, Uncle Andy. Let’s face it. You’re too sweet and funny,” she said.

“Sweet and funny? That’s what I’ve become?” I said. “I’m not harmless. I’ve faced danger. I was speared by a tranquilizer dart. I was held at gunpoint. I was kidnapped … “

“By a woman.”

“By a scary, sword-wielding woman,” I corrected.

“Yes, but you didn’t want to fight her, because you’re too much of a gentleman.”

I sighed. This was close to the truth. “Well, when it comes to men, to ‘bad guys,’ you don’t have to worry about my sense of chivalry.”

“You and Uncle Jack are obsessed with bad guys, and you’re not even cops.”

“Yes. Lt./Det. Kelly keeps reminding us of that fact.”

“So, you’re saying that if that guy over there were to kidnap me, you’d knock his block off.”

I turned to look at “that guy over there.” She was pointing at some dude who I imagined must be a club bouncer, with a strangely triangular upper body you’d expect to find on a comic book hero, broad shoulders that narrowed down to a small waist. “Yeah,” I said, “Or die trying … most likely the second.” This guy looked like he could take me down easily … blindfolded … with his small toe.

“Look, kiddo,” I said. “Don’t even joke about getting kidnapped. If anything were to happen to you, your Uncle Jack and I wouldn’t rest until you were home safe.”

She linked her arm in mine. “Okay. Where should we go?”

“Somewhere where there’s food.” I said this partly because I’m a bottomless pit and partly because it seemed much more interesting than shopping for preteen girl clothes. “What do you say? A frappuccino and a Cinnabon or a frappuccino and a soft pretzel?”

“A frappuccino and a Cinnabon.”

Just a short while ago, I was thinking about a guy shaped like a comic book superhero. Here, just outside of Starbucks, sat a guy with what looked to be one of those unicorn drinks, deeply engrossed in a comic book, and the comic book looked oddly familiar. It was one of our own line, the Blaze series. Tomorrow, we would be releasing accompanying action figures with robotic features.

I linked arms with Bronwyn and slid over to his table. Bronwyn, equipped in her Heelys shoes, skated over. “Hey!” I said to the guy.

He looked up from the comic, and, for a second or two, his hands shook. He had trouble looking me in the eye, and I couldn’t decide if he had a classic case of Asperger’s or if he was just taken aback by a complete stranger grinning oddly at him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I just couldn’t help noticing what you’re reading. I’m from Out of the Box Toys. The Blaze comics are in our line. I’m just pleased to see we have a fan.”

He was looking at me now, from small blue eyes sunk deep in his face, in a way that hardly seemed more comforting. I looked him over. He had a long oval pasty white face, blue rectangular-framed glasses and dull blondish-brown hair with a receding hairline. He was also sporting more Blaze paraphernalia than seemed healthy for a grown man, a Blaze T-shirt that was just visible beneath his winter coat, a Blaze messenger bag and canvas sneakers that seemed to be hand-painted with the Blaze emblem.

“More than a fan – a superfan, I see,” I said. I expected a superfan to be more enthused by my presence, but he was looking at me as if he were deciding what to do with me. “I’m Andy Westin.” I realized this probably meant nothing to him. I shrugged a single shoulder. “I’m the marketing guy.” I looked to Bronwyn and suddenly pulled her to my side in what was half hug and half wrestling move. “And this is my niece. She’s actually Jack Donegal’s niece. He’s the real brains behind the series and the toys and the everything. He’s the brain. I’m more like … the right arm.”

His face changed at the mention of Jack’s name, with recognition, I supposed, but I found it hard to read.

“Bronwyn,” I said. “Let’s get a selfie with the superfan.” We both pulled out our phones and then, sandwiching the superfan like the cream in an Oreo, we clicked away. I looked through the results. I was grinning ridiculously. The superfan was looking stiff and somewhat unsociable. Bronwyn was looking cute and yet slightly awkward.

I suddenly slapped my forehead in an “I should have had a V8” moment. “We were taking selfies with our phones. We should have taken one with your phone,” I told the fan.

I was almost surprised when he pulled his phone out. I was beginning to think he thought we were a couple of desperate celebrity wannabes. He stretched his camera arm out, and, with the other, flipped a hair into place. He clicked, and, briefly, I saw the result. His face was different in this one. The stiffness was gone, yet he didn’t smile. Instead, he looked like an actor playing the part of the noble hero.

I tried one more approach. “We’re going to be at the New York Toy Fair tomorrow, unleashing something new. You should come or you should at least stay tuned.”

The statue that was the superfan spoke for the first time. “Yes, I n …” His voice was soft and squeaky. “Yes, thank you.” He nodded and smiled a weird smile that only moved the lower half of his face.

“Well,” I said, clearing my throat. “I’ll leave you to your excellent reading choice and your unicorn drink. I may get one for the niece.”

“Oh, it’s a Pokemon Go frappuccino.”

“Ah.”

I was almost glad to get away from him, and I linked my arm with Bronwyn’s once more.

To be continued …

© 2018 Susan Joy Clark

Action Men with Duct Tape, Serial, Part 1

This is a Jack Donegal Mystery, in the same series with Action Men with Silly Putty and Action Men and the Great Zarelda.

Part 1

“So, what do you think, Uncle Andy?” Bronwyn Byrne, my “niece” only by my close brotherly association with her actual Uncle Jack, stepped out of the dressing room, held her arms out and twirled around.
I sighed, expressing relief. “Ah. It’s fine.” I’d seen plenty of “Nos” on this shopping trip – the skintight leggings, the too-short skirts, some darkly themed band T-shirts of questionable taste. The outfit she was wearing with the pink shirt bedecked with cupcakes and sprinkles was something to which I could say “Yes.” This was how little girls should look, all pink with cotton candy and unicorns and glitter.

 

“It’s fine? Just fine?” She drooped her arms down to her sides.

 

Somehow, the girl had translated “fine” as “barely passable.” “Yeah … right. I mean it’s … cute.”

 

“It’s cute?” She groaned. “In other words, I look like I’m seven.”

 

“Nah. Nah. You look your age. You look like a cute …” I was not good at this. I’ve never been a dad, and here I was acting in the role of one. I was out of my element, standing here with my arms loaded with pastel-colored shopping bags, not to mention Bronwyn’s little purse, covered in emojis, dangling from my elbow … not exactly the manliest of accessories.

 

“Where’s Uncle Jack?”

 

That was a very good question. Why couldn’t Jack be here to handle these delicate girly issues with his own niece? “He got an important phone call on his cell about the event tomorrow, so he went to look for a quiet place to talk. When he’s done there, he’ll probably check on your brother at the Best Buy.”

 

I turned myself around, Bronwyn’s little purse swinging like a flag in tribute to my manliness. I spotted a boy, around 12, skulking in a corner behind a clothes rack with his Nintendo DS, probably the unfortunate brother of a shopper in this girly store. “Hey kid,” I said. “Come here.”

 

He looked up and lifted an eyebrow.

 

“I need a man’s opinion.” This seemed to get his attention. I hoped Bronwyn would appreciate the opinion of a boy her age. She was already starting to notice members of the opposite sex.

 

When the kid approached, I put my hands on his shoulders and pointed him in Bronwyn’s direction. “See there? That’s my niece. Her outfit shows good taste, right? It’s cool, hip, da bomb … Is da bomb still a phrase?”

 

“Uh … That would be a no,” said the kid. I noticed he refrained from rolling his eyes at me … unlike Bronwyn.

 

“Well,” I said. “The outfit. She needs some affirmation. She looks good, right?”

 

The kid was now giving me a nervous side eye. “Uh … yes?” The boy either had a young person’s habit of ending every phrase as a question or he was terrified of disagreeing with me. He shrugged a single shoulder. “Sure. Whatevs. It’s cool … for her.” He said this as if he wanted me to be sure he wouldn’t wear it himself.

 

A little while later, I met Bronwyn in her regular clothes, the trial outfit draped over her arm. She spoke to me through her teeth. “Can you get any more embarrassing?”

 

“Uh … do you really want to know the answer to that question?”

 

“Probably not.” Her comment was accompanied by another eye roll.

 

“So, you’re not taking it?” I asked, pointing to the pile on her arm.

 

“No, I’m taking it,” she said.

 

Moments later, we were hitting the halls of the mall, and I was relieved of half of the baggage. Walking along the halls and the crowd, a thought came to me. Maybe the thought came to me out of boredom from shopping at Girly Outfitters and Forever 13 or maybe my blood sugar was dropping and addled my brain. My nose was picking up aromas of Cinnabon and freshly baked cookies, but, up to this moment, I had refrained from indulging. I decided this was a good time to hone her self defense skills.

 

I steered Bronwyn away from the main mall traffic. “Hey,” I said. “Check out the mannequins.” I directed her towards a side entryway, sandwiched between Old Navy and another tween girl’s paradise. The mannequins in the window display were set up like a step by step dance tutorial. I was beginning to think like Jack, imagining photos from the line-up, left to right, put together into an action flipbook.

 

Bronwyn stood mesmerized, and then came the sneak attack. I slinked up behind her and seized her around the middle, pinning her arms. “Now, suppose I’m a bad guy,” I said, “what do you do now?” We’d gone through this exercise a few times back at our apartment. This was the first time I’d attempted it in public. Looking to my left and spying a mall cop giving me the stare down, I surmised it was probably my last time doing this in public.

 

Mr. Mall Cop Guy was glaring at me as if I were Ted Bundy. “I’m her uncle,” I said, loosening my grip on Bronwyn’s waist. Biologically speaking, this wasn’t the strict truth, but, emotionally speaking, it was. “I was impersonating a bad guy and – apparently – doing too good a job of it.”

 

Mr. Mall Cop Guy looked from me to Bronwyn and back again, perhaps looking for a sign that she was okay or that I was telling the truth. I pointed to him. “You, Sir, are doing an excellent job of protecting young girls from creeps like me … well, no, not literally creeps like me … creeps like the bad guy I was impersonating. I, for one, salute you.”

 

I put out my arm for a fist bump, and he took a couple of steps back.

 

“Aw, c’mon. I didn’t swing at you. If I wanted to swing at you, I’d do a better job than that.” This was my day to stick my foot in my mouth over and over again. I was going to have to head over to Starbucks for one of those frappuccino things to wash out the taste of foot. “Not that I’m in the habit of taking a swing at fine upstanding security personnel.”

 

Bronwyn reached over and gave me a squeeze around the middle. “Uncle Andy is completely harmless,” she told Mr. Mall Cop Guy.

 

“I am not completely harmless …” Just like Bronwyn had understood “cute” as babyish, I understood “harmless” as milquetoast. Then, I looked at Mr. Mall Cop Guy and thought I’d better change my phraseology. “Except to kids. I’m harmless to kids.” I gave Bronwyn a firm pat between the shoulder blades and rubbed my knuckles into her scalp.

 

Mr. Mall Cop Guy shrugged and shook his head in a way that made me think he was still assured that I was a weirdo but just of the “harmless” variety.

To Be Continued …

 

© 2018 Susan Joy Clark