Corey was a Danger Cat. He was six guns wide and fit to kill. He had two pistols and a bleeding rosebud etched in Magic Marker on the flesh of his forearm. It was the mark of a hero wounded by love, he said. But he’d never tell about it.
“What’s done is done,” he’d say, and he’d shield his eyes from an imaginary sun as though he was looking for something. He’d seen that move on TV. It had made his heart feel hollow with understanding.
In the confines of his helmet, Corey’s ears throbbed with the racket of the gravel grinding and popping under his hollow plastic wheels. He no longer fit his Big Wheel properly, but it didn’t matter, he was a Renaissance man. With shields up and rockets flaring, he pedalled flat out, knees battering the chin guard of his helmet, his elbows sticking out and back like shark fins. Like switchblades. No—like samurai swords.
His hollow wheels amplified the noise as he drove along the concrete slabs of the sidewalk—th-thud, th-thud, th-thud—like jungle drums, or like the music that signals the approach of the hero when the bad guy least expects him. The noise had an effect on Corey that was simultaneously hypnotic and stimulating. His eyes grew wide and unblinking as he became Corey the Danger Cat. He was ready, and it was time.
He sped north on Glenmore Avenue, toward the first test in his Saturday morning Trilogy of Evils. At 565 Glenmore, Danger Cat slammed on his brakes and skidded sideways in a wide, well-practised arc across the driveway of Chantelle Peters, who sat on her front porch with Erin and Marnie. Marnie who wasn’t pretty, but who once let Corey touch her boobs behind the Dumpster out back of Becker’s convenience. They were all sucking Tab colas through straws they’d made from cherry Twizzlers with the ends chewed off. They did their best not to look up at him, but their giggles betrayed them.
Danger Cat threw back his head and screamed, “Let freedom reign! Let freedom REIGN!”
Then, without looking back to see the admiration in Chantelle Peters’ eyes, Danger Cat pumped his fat legs as fast as he could and tore a strip up Parklawn Boulevard, toward test No. 2.
At the corner of Parklawn and Franklin, Danger Cat executed a one-eighty at the precise point Ru-Ru, the Bromowitz’s schnauzer, who’d come barrelling down the driveway at the sound of Danger Cat’s approach, was abruptly chocked back in mid-air by the chain that kept her anchored to the porch. Poised like a panther surrounded by spear-wielding jungle midgets, Danger Cat waited. His tongue darted up to indulge in the slippery salt that ran from his nose holes. His eyes shot from the Bromowitz’s screen door to their rose bushes, in which Mrs. Bromowitz was known to lurk, and back to Ru-Ru, who was going ballistic a mere three inches from Danger Cat’s tender but indifferent calf. Ru-Ru was mental, but Danger Cat was a coiled king cobra, cool and slick. In the treetops, Vikings wet their pants in fear, like fat babies who didn’t know anything about being a man. Corey was a man. Corey was a Danger Cat.
“Any minute now,” thought Danger Cat. “Any…freakin’…minute.”
“Corey Jackson!” Mrs. Bromowitz and her wooden spoon lurched suddenly toward the screen door from the darkened bowels of her lair.
“I’m gonna call your mother! I mean it, Corey! I’m gonna call—”
Danger Cat unleashed the voice of a thousand hounds of hell and shrieked,
“Let freedom reign, Mrs. Bromowitz!”
“Ru-Ru, come!” Mrs. Bromowitz tugged at Ru-Ru’s chain, but Ru-Ru was busy drowning Danger Cat’s message in frantic braying.
“Let freedom reign!”
And then he was off , down Parklawn, down Glenmore, obliterating anthill after anthill after anthill, and not even caring. Past the porch where the girls were no longer sitting, but he hardly even noticed—because one day Danger Cat would touch the breast of every girl, and fill up every anthill with water till crunchy corpses littered the earth like sprinkles on a doughnut.
Danger Cat built up a brain-bending amount of speed travelling south on Glenmore, until the sidewalk cracks seemed to thump against his tires in unison with the pounding of his knees against his helmet. Dead ahead, in Glenmore Square, he spied the third and most volatile test in this, the Trilogy of Evils. Cornchips.
Cornchips sat unaware of his fate with his feet soaking in Glenmore’s memorial fountain, talking to himself and picking gnats out of his long yellow beard. The heat in Danger Cat’s helmet was like a supernova. A lesser man might have chosen to wait until after midday had passed, or might even have called off the whole thing, but not Danger Cat. He narrowed his eyes and forged ahead, nerves jangling and guns blazing.
When Danger Cat was only a couple of feet away from the fountain, Cornchips turned to face him, smiled his hideously toothless smile, and cooed, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” Then he doubled over with laughter.
“Kitty cat,” he gasped. “C’mere, kitty, kitty!”
Disarmed, but determined, Corey ignored him and drove his Big Wheel in tight circles around the fountain until the juice in his head began to swirl. He drove into a flock of pigeons and braked to watch them scatter in a whirling circle above his head.
“That dog get you yet, puss-puss? ” Cornchips asked.
“It’s Danger Cat,” Corey said over his shoulder.
It was cool in the shade by the fountain. He turned back around in his seat and nudged his Big Wheel forward until his front wheel made contact with a fresh puddle of pigeon poop. Then he slowly reversed until he could see the splotch on his tire. Corey smiled at it. He turned his front wheel slightly to the left and inched forward again, testing his poop stamp on a clean bit of pavement. It worked. Corey eyed the rest of the concrete around the fountain and wondered how much he could accomplish with his stamp before it dried.
“I’m not a fan of spinach, myself,” Cornchips said. Corey was used to this out-of-nowhere talk and ignored it, absorbing himself instead in his stamp.
Cornchips leaned over to pick a yellowed cigarette butt out of a crevice in the concrete. He ran it under his nose like a fine cigar, and then jammed it between his cracked lips while he patted down his pockets for a light.
“I mean, I’ll eat it if it’s on something,” he continued. “Like a pizza, or what have you, but I’m not exactly over the moon for it.”
He struck a sputtering match, held it to the mashed end of his cigarette, and puffed madly. When the end of the cigarette failed to catch, he sighed and spat the butt into the fountain.
Cornchips eyed Corey, who was admiring the arc of white splotches he’d made with his stamp.
“Boy, that dog get you yet, or what? ”
Corey looked up at Cornchips. Sensing the time was right, he placed his feet on his pedals and squeezed his tasselled handgrips.
Their eyes had locked, and they stared at each other in silence. They both knew what was coming, and while neither of them really wanted it, they both understood they were helpless to stop it.
Corey took a slow, deep breath.
“Don’t you try it, boy,” Cornchips warned. He rolled up his right sleeve without taking his eyes of Corey, revealing a pale green smudge that was, in his youth, a bold tattoo on his once-muscular forearm. “I’m warning you…”
Corey licked his lips.
“So help me God…,” said Cornchips, as his right hand slowly disappeared into his right pocket.
Corey’s eyes flitted from Cornchips’s head, which was slowly shaking side to side, to Cornchips’s hand, slowly groping for something in his pocket. It was now or never—the old man’s reflexes were slow, and Corey knew it.
“Letfreedomreign!” he blurted, and then cringed.
The water splashed up over the sides of the fountain’s basin as Cornchips bolted to his feet, and Corey peeled away from the fountain in a spray of pebbles and pigeon poop, his eyes wild, his legs pumping like pistons.
“What business is that of yours!” Cornchips screamed, and hurled a peach pit at Corey’s helmet. THOCK! A direct hit. Corey’s front wheel wobbled slightly, and then corrected itself.
Cornchips crowed with pleasure. “Take that, you little shit!”
“Let freedom reign!” Corey yelled once more over his shoulder, just to be sure, and glimpsed Cornchips struggling to climb out of the fountain so he could root around in the grass for his peach pit.
After about a block of flat-out pedalling, with the wind whistling past his helmet vents and the squirrels running for cover, Corey let out the breath he’d been holding. He’d done it. Elated, he threw back his head and howled. He could do anything and go anywhere now, and he could do it all with his head held high. He could look people in the eye. He’d gone up against the whole stinking trilogy this morning, and not a single one of them had flung their usual insult at him. The one the school kids yelled at him through the chain-link fence where he and the others like him had their separate recess and waited for their separate bus, the one that made his mother cry till his nana snapped, “Cry alls you want, Belinda, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.”
Today there’d be no lonely skulking out back behind the Dumpster at Becker’s. (Well, unless Marnie went back there first.) But otherwise, today was a day for sidewalks and shopping malls and schoolyards and all the other places where he ordinarily hung his head. Today he’d shown them all. He was six guns wide and fit to kill. Corey was a Danger Cat.