Epilogue

Drinks

        “How’d you find this place?” asked Gracie, taking in her surroundings.

        Bubbling pots of cheese fondue, slow stepping waiters and waitresses, and well-dressed couples and families surrounded her. Across the table sat a skeleton looking dapper in his gray tie. He answered,

        “A friend of mine recommended it. He used to be a cheese fanatic. Told me this is the best of the best. Says it was his restaurant of choice, back in the day.”

        Roger’s heart nearly beat out of his ribcage. His mind was racing. He was speaking too quickly. It was hard for him to believe that there was a real, live, actual girl sitting across from him, and that they were on a date!

        “How was your week?” he asked, trying his hardest to play it cool.

        “Oh, the usual. About as exciting as working in a library gets. Old folks asking me how to use the computers. Kids running around because their parents pried them away from the TV for two seconds and want them to read a book. I know it sounds dull, and you’re going to laugh at me for saying this, but I love it. I love it so much,” responded Gracie with a lovely sigh.

        “I’m not going to laugh at you,” Roger assured her.

        “You’re just saying that,” Gracie retorted with a half-smile. “But enough about my boring old week. How was yours?”

        “Ha,” Roger laughed. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

        “Try me. Did you find your curly mustache friend’s brother?”

        “Did we ever,” began Roger.

        The rest of the night flew by as Roger told Gracie the incredible tale of what had happened to him in the last few days. She listened, transfixed, not even breaking eye contact with her date to scoop up some fondue with a bread cube. As Roger told his story, Gracie laughed, gasped, and asked all sorts of questions. Her curiosity eventually wheedled the whole story out of Roger – how his dad was the infamous Super Roger, how he had been raised in seclusion, how The G.U.Y.S. first came to attack him, how he and Mustache Guy had become fast friends and robot slayers.

        Before they knew it, their date came to an end. Gracie dropped Roger off outside of his house in Seaside (she was seventeen and had her driver’s license).

        “So,” stalled Gracie, not wanting the night to end.

        “So,” parroted Roger.

        “What’s next? I mean, what are your plans for the next little while?” Gracie asked shyly.

        Roger knew, without having to think about it, where he was headed.

        “I’m going home.”

        A laugh escaped Gracie in the form of a snort. She spoke quickly, in a fruitless attempt to cover up this embarrassing noise,

        “You are home silly. This is your house!”

        “No, I’m going to my real home. My dad’s home. Hamelin Pointe.”

        The smile on Gracie’s face fell away.

        “Wait a minute – didn’t your mom move you here for the express purpose of keeping you away from all the criminals in Hamelin Pointe? What are you trying to do, get yourself killed?”

        “My dad left some unfinished business there, and I intend to finish it. That’s all. Don’t worry about me, Gracie. I’ll be back before you know it.” Then he added, with a grin, “I wouldn’t want to miss out second date.”

        She leaned over and planted a big, wet kiss on his cheekbone.

        “Be careful, okay?”

        “I will. Besides, it’s Dr. Fathead whose safety you should be worried about…”

        Roger climbed out of the car, but not before giving Gracie a quick peck on the cheek. She blew him a kiss as she drove slowly away. He held his hand up and caught it, and then turned and walked towards the front door of his cottage.

        I beat the bad guys and got the girl, thought Roger, gleefully. I could get used to this.

THE END

© 2013 T.L. Mertens. All rights reserved.

17. Loose Ends

The Gang's All Here

        Abuzz was the only word that can describe the school’s main office as it teemed with police officers, teachers, non-brainwashed kids, Mustache Guy, Limburger, Twobie, Metal Mouth, Matchstick’s dad, and Roger.

        “I just wish I could’ve stood up to The Leader better. One punch and I was out,” moped Limburger to his brother and Roger.

        “Don’t beat yourself up about it,” comforted Roger.

        “Yeah, at least you didn’t fall asleep when you were ‘spposed to be watchin’ him,” said Mustache Guy, guiltily.

        “Hey, Limburger – do you still have that wireless mic?” asked Twobie, sauntering up behind the Cheese Man.

        “Oh, yeah! Almost forgot,” said Limburger, reaching into one of the larger pores of his cheesy torso and pulling out a wireless microphone connected to the school’s public address system.

        “Excuse me, Mr. Roger,” said a police officer, sticking his head into their conversation. “Everything is just as you described – one-hundred-and-eighteen G.U.Y.S. are immobilized in the cheese, and most of them are whimpering about how scared they are of a ‘cheese man.’ The only discrepancies with your story are that the hidden room under the cafeteria does not have anybody in it, save for a half-shattered pair of aviator glasses. And we did not locate anyone wearing the other one of these,” he said, holding out The Leader’s fine Italian loafer.

        Roger was crestfallen. He threw his head back in frustration and said,

        “Ugh, they escaped. All four of them got away again! You’ve got to be kidding me!”

        “Now, now, mister, don’t be too worried about it. You managed to capture every other member of their gang. I don’t think four guys’ll have much of a shot pulling off any of their old tricks with their whole crew in prison. Besides, they’ll probably turn up trying to run out of Poissoniere within a day or two.

        “What I wanted to tell you is that we’ve pulled all of the G.U.Y.S. out of the cafeteria, so we’re ready for your friend here to bring all the kids down from the rafters. We want to give them that antidote you told us about… what was it again?”

        “Strawberry milk!” interjected Twobie. “There’s gallons of the stuff in the kitchen next to the cafeteria, because those weird old doofuses have been hiding it from us all week!”

****

        Normalcy was restored to Francis P. Mingleton Elementary; Mustache Guy lowered each brainwashed kid down from the ceiling; Roger, Twobie, Metal Mouth, Matchstick’s dad, Mustache Guy, and Limburger handed out a carton of strawberry milk to every student, which finally broke the spell and returned them to normal; the police cleaned all of the cheese out of the school. Every parent or guardian had been notified of the situation and now descended upon the school to collect their kin. Everything was as it should be.

        “Twobie, Metal Mouth,” said Roger once they had a moment to relax after handing out all of the milk, “You both did an amazing job with the lights when Limburger came into the cafeteria.”

        Fats and Matchstick, back to their usual selves saw their friends talking to the skeleton and rushed over to join them.

        “Ah! You’re back!” squealed Twobie, as the four kids hugged tightly.

        “Fats, Matchstick,” continued Roger with a smile, “I was just telling your fellow TAFBSers how proud I am of all of you. Without you all being so observant and brave, The G.U.Y.S. would have gotten away with their plan. You four showed more grace under pressure than a falcon. More strength and flexibility than a rubber band. Chester A. Arthur would be proud.”

        “Aw, shucks,” blushed Fats.

        “Uh, excuse us for a moment,” said Twobie to Roger.

        The TAFBSers turned their backs to the skeleton and huddled closely, whispering back and forth.

        “Roger, Mustache Guy, Limburger,” said Twobie seriously, beckoning the brothers to join them, “We have all talked it over, and we want to extend an official invitation to each one of you. We would like to swear you all in as honorary members of TAFBS!”

        With goofy grins, the three crime fighters followed the four children down a hallway and into a classroom. Twobie climbed over of the hardened cheese which rose several feet off of the floor (the police had not reached this room with their cleaning crew yet) to get to her desk. She reached inside and pulled out a small plastic pencil holder. It was purple on top and blue on the bottom. The plastic shimmered under the fluorescent light bulbs.

        “Place your hands on the Box of Oddities,” ordered Twobie.

        Limburger placed his cheesy hand on first, followed by Mustache Guy and, finally, Roger.

        “I Twobie,”

        “And I, Fats,”

        “And I, Metal Mouth,”

        “And I, Matchstick,”

        They then recited the rest in unison,

        “Hereby declare you – Limburger, and you – Mustache Guy, and you – Roger, official, honorary members of The Arthur Falcon Band Society. We bestow upon you all powers, rights, and responsibilities of The Arthur Falcon Band Society. Do you accept?”

        The Cheese Man glanced at his brother. The carpenter nodded before turning his gaze towards the junior super hero. Roger nodded, and then all three said,

        “We do!”

16. The Fathead Connection

Splashdown

        SPLLLLASSHHHH!

        One second, Guy, Other Guy, and Another Guy were dry as can be, hiding out in their top secret base of operations underneath of Francis P. Mingleton Elementary’s cafeteria. The next, without warning, they were drenched by a downpour of melted cheese. In an instant, Another Guy’s corncob pipe was extinguished. Guy, who had been sprawled across two chairs as he recovered from his beating earlier that day, got the worst of it; something slammed into his gut forcefully as the cheese poured in. The force of impact bent Guy into a seated position, from where he could see the source of the immense pain he was now in: Roger had been carried down into the lair with the cheese, and he landed feet-first on Guy’s stomach.

        “What are you three doing down here?!” demanded Roger, surprised to see them. He had assumed that they were upstairs, caught in the cheese with the rest of The G.U.Y.S.

        “I brought Guy down here after you beat him up, and I stuck around to make sure he was okay,” said Another Guy scornfully.

        When Other Guy offered no explanation for his presence, Roger whipped around, grabbed him by his collar, and asked,

        “What about you?!”

        “Uh… me? Heh, well, funny you should ask…” tittered Other Guy.

        Roger tightened his grip and pulled him closer.

        “I wasn’t doing anything! I’m just a coward!” cried Other Guy, terror in his voice.

        “Pathetic,” mumbled the skeleton, releasing him. “Now, before this place is completely flooded, one of you is going to show me the containers your brainwash came in. Where are they?”

        Another Guy and Other Guy glanced towards one and other. Larry shook his head, knowing from the nervous look in Other Guy’s eyes that he was ready to tell Roger anything. Guy had was out cold from the pain. Much to Another Guy’s dismay, Other Guy cracked, shouting,

        “Over there!”

        Three large cylindrical canisters bobbed aimlessly in the rising tide. Roger ran to them, grabbed one, and shook it. Empty. He examined it carefully, reading Brainwash – Extra Potent on its label. As he turned it over, he was shocked to see a familiar logo.

fathead industries logo

        I know I’ve seen this before, thought Roger frantically. But where? He stared at the black silhouette of a bald head, read and reread the words Fathead Industries.

        “The EVALs!” realized Roger aloud.

        “The what?” asked Larry.

        “This logo, it was on the back of two evil, giant robots I fought the other day!” the skeleton recalled excitedly. He held the canister towards The G.U.Y.S.

        “Oh, damn.” mumbled Another Guy with a note of recognition.

        “You know what this is?” Roger probed.

        “Dr. Fathead made that brainwash stuff?” Other Guy asked Another Guy.

        “Apparently,” Larry shrugged. “Ugh, I hate that guy. The Leader won’t be happy if he finds out that we bankrolled Dr. F. by buying this stuff off him. Shut your traps about it, okay?”

        Other Guy nodded rapidly. Roger screwed up his face, perplexed. He asked,

        “Who is Dr. Fathead? And why don’t you like him? From the sounds of it, he’s as big of a sleaze as any of you. Don’t you bad guys stick together?”

        “Nah, man. Dr. F. is the biggest, baddest bad guy in Hamelin Pointe. Has been pretty much forever. Your old man used to go up against him all the time,” began Larry.

        “Uh… should we get outta here?” said Other Guy, swallowing hard, as the cheese rose and rose and rose. His cry went unnoticed. Another Guy continued,

        “Back in the day, us and Dr. F. were always getting in each others’ way. He’d try to rob a bank that we were already robbin’. We’d go to beat up a senator and, when we got there, Dr. F. had already beaten the crap outta him. That kind of stuff. Always got on The Leader’s nerves. Don’t repeat this to anybody, but Dr. F. had The G.U.Y.S. beaten by a mile. He had more resources, pulled off bigger jobs, and just saying his name could scare the average schmoe in Hamelin Pointe.”

        “Hey!” desperately cried Other Guy. “We’re going to drown in here!” Again, no one paid him any mind.

        “But after Super Roger was out of the picture,” resumed Larry, making Roger ball his fists in anger, “everything cooled off for a while. There was nobody left to stop us from committing crimes, so you’d think we would all go crazy and pull off huge jobs. But the opposite happened. Hamelin Pointe was the safest it ever was right after your old man died. See, all the biggies – us, Dr. F., all the organized crime – had been spending more time trying to take out Super Roger than we spent doing business as usual. Once he was gone, it was like we couldn’t remember what life was life before he was around.

        “Ever since then, we haven’t seen or heard much from Dr. F. Sure, he’ll rip off a bank every once in a while, but that’s about it. He used to be the king of crime. This here” – he put his hand on the Fathead Industries logo – “is the first time we’ve had any sort of run-in with Dr. F. since your dad was around. He must be dealing all sorts of bad stuff on the market these days. Probably making a killing.”

        Dr. Fathead. The name echoed in Roger’s mind. The skeleton had, with a little help from his friends, managed to bring down The G.U.Y.S., one of the massive criminal empires his father had died trying to defeat. And now he had the name of another of his father’s rivals. Dr. Fathead. Roger was starting to like the idea of following in his father’s footsteps. Of becoming a crime fighter. Maybe even a hero.

        “Where is he? Dr. Fathead?” asked the skeleton.

        “I just told you – Hamelin Pointe. At least, the last I heard that’s where he was,” curtly responded Another Guy. “What, are you going to take him on? You, with all the lofty ideals of your dad, but none of his powers? Good luck with that.”

        “Guys! WE NEED TO GO!” screamed Other Guy, struggling to keep his head above the cheese that had nearly filled the entire base.

        “You’re right,” said Roger, finally paying Other Guy some attention. “I do need to go.”

        Nimbly the skeleton swam to the ladder which led back up to the cafeteria. After scaling it with the ease of a spider monkey, he slammed his elbow into the entrance keypad, smashing it. Sparks flew out and the door to the secret base snapped shut, trapping the unconscious Guy, the screaming Other Guy, and the infuriated Another Guy below.

        “Mustache Guy! Pull me up!” yelled Roger.

        No response came.

        “MUSTACHE GUY!” the skeleton called at the top of his lungs.

        “Hhh… wuzzat?!” snored Mustache Guy as he was startled awake. In his boredom, he had dozed off on the rafters.

        “BRING ME UP!” ordered Roger.

        A hairy tendril descended, wrapped around Roger’s ribcage, and pulled him up to the rafters. Once situated, he was aghast by the sight in front of him: in Mustache Guy’s other hairy grip, suspended high above the cheese-filled cafeteria, was one of The Leader of The G.U.Y.S.’s fine Italian loafers. The Leader himself was nowhere to be seen.

        “What happened?! Where’d he go?!” yelled Roger, enraged.

        At a mile-a-minute, Mustache Guy spat out,

        “I-I-I dunno. I didn’t even know he was gone. Oh no oh no oh no! S-sorry, Rog! He’s gotta be here somewhere!”

        “Yeah,” said Roger, trying to calm down, “he’s probably down in the cheese with the rest. Twobie, did you turn on the A/C?”

        “YEP,” answered Twobie through the speakers. “WE CRANKED IT DOWN AS COLD AS IT GETS. THE CHEESE SHOULD BE ROCK SOLID IN FIFTEEN MINUTES OR SO.”

        “Perfect,” Roger responded, wanting to make himself believe that The Leader had not escaped the school, even though, deep down, he was sure that was the case. “Metal Mouth? Call the cops and tell them we’ve got every single one of The G.U.Y.S. here, stuck in cheese, ready to be arrested.”

        “SURE THING!” Metal Mouth’s voice came through the speakers as he spoke into the main office’s microphone, dampening it.

        “Let’s pull Limburger out of there before he gets stuck, too,” Roger told his sleepy friend.

15. Cheesy Blaster

The Cheeseman Floot-ith

        Fifty-nine minutes later, Mustache Guy and Limburger had arrived in Poissonniere, parked outside of Francis P. Mingleton Elementary, and were following the orders Roger had given them over the phone: they located the third window to the right of the main entrance and knocked on it exactly four times. Almost immediately the window slid open.

        “Come in,” whispered a little brown-haired girl. “My name’s Twobie. You must be Mustache Guy, and you must be Limburger.”

        “How’d you ever guess who was who?” asked Mustache Guy with a smirk.

        The brothers climbed inside.

        “Good, you made it,” Roger whispered upon seeing them. “The whole school is filling up with G.U.Y.S. as we speak, so keep your voices and your heads down. Now, the plan has changed a tiny bit since the version you heard over the phone. I’ll update you as we go. But first thing’s first – we’ve got to get you- Roger pointed at Limburger - “to the kitchen behind the cafeteria. Twobie and Metal Mouth, can you sneak there with him? Show him the way?

        “Sure thing, Roger” obliged Metal Mouth, only letting a little bit of saliva dribble out.

        “Good. Mustache Guy, you and me are going to set up shop outside the cafeteria. Everybody else” – Roger turned to the other kids and teachers in the lounge – “you know the plan. Stations!”

****

        G.U.Y.S. were positioned in every corner of the school, guarding each nook and cranny. Inside the cafeteria, The Leader had resumed his bizarre ritual; he stood in front of the kids, who were at attention in rows, and demanded that they follow his lead and assume different odd-ball stances.

        “Now, do this!” he would shout, holding his arms over his head while lunging forward.

        The kids, in their brainwashed stupor, would imitate him exactly. This went on, the positions changing constantly.

        “Now, this! Then this! Next, do this! And this!”

        Roger and Mustache Guy hid in a small, unguarded doorway across the hall from the cafeteria. They were just beyond the view of the legion of G.U.Y.S. stationed all around the hall. The skeleton and the former carpenter waited.

        They waited and they waited.

        And then they waited some more.

        Then, at last, it happened. A low rumbling could be heard and felt by every G.U.Y., kid, teacher, and hero in the building.

        “D’ya hear that?” asked one of the G.U.Y.S. around the corner from Roger and Mustache Guy, codenamed This Guy.

        “Yeah. Whaddya reckon’s goin’ on?” answered his companion, That Guy.

        “Dunno,” This Guy responded, thoughtlessly.

        Overhearing this intellectual exchange, Roger and Guy could hardly contain their giggles. They were especially pleased given their knowledge of what was to happen next.

        “D’ya smell that?” asked This Guy.

****

        That Guy sniffed around and said,

        “Yeah. Whaddya reckon’s is makin’ dat smell?”

        “Dunno.”

        It was not long before they found out. Catching a glimpse of yellow out of the corner of his eye, That Guy swatted at This Guy’s arm to direct his attention to a nearby air-conditioning vent. The pair stared in awe as melted cheese ran out of the grate and down the wall, pooling on the linoleum floor.

        “Da heck is that?” wondered That Guy.

        “Uh… smells like cheese,” answered This Guy, after inhaling deeply.

        The rumbling grew louder and more violent. Roger had to hold his arms tightly against his ribs to keep them from jangling together loudly.

        “I dun’t think this is good,” proclaimed This Guy poetically.

        “Uh… yeah,” agreed That Guy.

        And then the levee broke; the cheese oozed faster and faster out of the ventilation grate, which distracted This Guy and That Guy from the flood of hot, liquid cheese that was bursting through the doors down the hallway. Before they knew what hit them, That Guy and This Guy were swept up by the river of cheese and carried away.

        This was the moment Roger and Mustache Guy had been waiting for; they bolted across the hall to the cafeteria doors just before the cheese reached them. Roger kicked the door open and Mustache Guy bolted in ahead of him, mustache outstretched. Two at a time, Mustache Guy grabbed kids with his mustache and lifted them up to the rafters above. Within seconds, he had tossed every kid in the cafeteria to safety. And he was just in time, because the cafeteria doors tore off their hinges from the weight of the cheese outside them. As the cafeteria rapidly became an indoor diary pool, Mustache Guy wrapped one end of his mustache around Roger and the other around his own torso. Just as their ankles were covered by the flood, he hoisted them up into the rafters where they joined the kids.

        Roger and Mustache Guy watched as G.U.Y.S. bobbed into the cafeteria, caught in the current. Each flailed and screamed and did his best to stay afloat. Five. Ten. Fifty. One Hundred. The rafter-bound heroes could not believe their eyes; The Leader of The G.U.Y.S. really had called in all of his minions. Speaking of The Leader of The G.U.Y.S., he was nowhere to be seen. Roger spotted his signature ratty leather jacket floating by the front of the still-filling cafeteria, but he could not find jacket’s owner.

        Suddenly: darkness. Every light in the school shut off in an instant, without even flickering first as a warning. Mustache Guy jumped before remembering that this pitch-blackness was all part of Roger’s plan.

        “G.U.Y.S., this ends now. I am your reckoning,” boomed a voice from above.

        A lone light blazed on. It was the light nearest the doors. Ripples in the cheese shined in its glow. At the center of the ripples was Limburger, floating slowly forward in all his buoyant glory. The cheese level grew higher and higher, forcing the G.U.Y.S. to tread water or else drown. Limburger, meanwhile, floated effortlessly. As be moved forward, the lights above him flicked on, illuminating him and his wake.

        “Your reign of terror is over,” stated Limburger, his voice blaring impossibly through the whole cafeteria. “If I ever find out that any single one of you so much as tries to do something evil or illegal again, I will find you. And next time, you won’t be able to stay afloat in the amount of cheese.”

        “Wh-who are you?!” gasped a G.U.Y. struggling to keep his head above cheese.

        “Heh,” Limburger chuckled. “I used to be Oliver. Some people call me Old Mushy Cheese Guy. Or Limburger. But, as far as you’re concerned, I am the Cheese Man. Now, are we all in agreement here? You scumbags are done. Finished. Kaput. The G.U.Y.S. are no more.”

        In response to his question, Limburger heard gasps and grunts and terrified screams.

        “I’ll take that as a ‘Yes.’ ”

        Roger and Mustache Guy high-fived.

        “Hey, Cheese Wiz!” came a sarcastic shout from across the cafeteria. “Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, ya lug!”

        Slowly but confidently, The Leader of The G.U.Y.S. waded his way towards Limburger. His undershirt, usually greasy, was saturated with cheese. His hair was yellowed and matted. He bent his head and spit out the bendy straw which he had used to breathe while hiding below the surface.

        “You!” bellowed Limburger, trying to stay composed in light of this surprise. “Do you not quake at the might of the Cheese Man?!”

        “Ha. Haha! I ain’t lactose intolerant,” said The Leader with a cocky smirk. “The rest of my boys here might be morons, thinkin’ that you’re some kinda monster who can shoot this much cheese outta himself or somethin’, but I can see right through your ruse. Whadda ya think I am, a idiot? You’re fulla holes! Clearly you are made outta Swiss and this stuff” – he scooped up a dripping handful of the cheese and slurped it – “I don’t know what this is, but it surely ain’t no Swiss. You didn’t shoot this outta you; you got this outta the cafeteria kitchen! Me and my boys have been undercover in this school all week. You think we don’t know they got gallons of cheese back there?”

        By the end of his speech, the leader was face to face with Limburger. Inches separated them.

        “Fool! I am the Cheese Ma-”

        But The Leader was not about to let him finish. One powerful punch to the face put Limburger out of commission.

        “Now that that’s taken care of… where you at, Roger?! I know you’re here somewhere!” demanded The Leader. “I shoulda taken care of you when I had the chance back in Seaside!”

        The next thing he knew, The Leader of The G.U.Y.S. was suspended twenty feet in the air. His legs kicked wildly as he tried (unsuccessfully) to comprehend this turn of events.

        “Looking for me?” asked Roger, who sat, kicking his legs playfully, on the edge of a rafter a couple of feet away from The Leader. The lack of skin on his face revealed every tooth in his gigantic, taunting smile to The Leader of The G.U.Y.S.

        “What the heck is this, some kinda skeleton voodoo?!” yelped the flailing Leader.

        Roger simply pointed with his thumb toward Mustache Guy. The Leader eyed him and then followed the two sides of his freakishly long mustache, finally realizing that they were wrapped tightly around his shoulders, suspending him in mid-air.

        “What were you going to use these kids for?” asked Roger simply.

        “Put me down!” The Leader screamed.

        “Don’t make me repeat myself, dirtbag.”

        The Leader squirmed lamely. The grimace on his face slowly dissolved until he stared at his skeletal tormentor blankly, without expression.

        “Fine. You wanna know what we were gonna do? Fine!” he gave in. “It’s a solid plan, so I’d be proud to tell you all about it. First, I got Guy, Another Guy, and Other Guy jobs as teachers’ aides and janitors here at the school. That way they could scope things out, collect info on each kid, that kinda stuff. And – most important – put a little special somethin’ into the milk supply.”

        “What was it? The chemical in the milk, what did you use?” prodded Roger.

        “Some stuff, okay? I don’t know what it’s called. What do I look like? Some sorta chemology major? What I do know is that it’s supposed to be the best brainwash on the market.”

        “The market?”

        “Yeah, the market. Y’know, where us bad guys get all our bad stuff? You are such a idiot. What kinda crime fighter are you, anyway? Don’t even know about the market!”

        Roger had never considered himself a crime fighter before. He liked the sound of it.

        “So anyways,” continued The Leader, “we put the stuff in the milk, ‘cause what kinda kid doesn’t drink milk? Then, once they were all good and brainwashed, I came in to do some calisthenics with them. Y’know, warm them up for training.”

        “Training?”

        “Yes, training. I gotta spell it out for you? Guy took down all sorts of notes about each kid – how much they weight, how tall they are, what kinda after school activities they do – so we could figure out what jobs they’d be best for. Then we could properly advertise ‘em when we sold ‘em.”

        “SOLD THEM? That was your genius plan?! To sell kids?! Where on Earth did you expect to sell children?!” Roger lauged.

        “On the market, dummy,” replied The Leader of The G.U.Y.S.

        Contemplatively, Roger rubbed his jaw. He was deeply unsettled by the thought that there existed a thriving marketplace where illicit chemicals and even children could be bought and sold. Apparently, he was well on his way to becoming a fully-fledged crime fighter, and this market seemed like a perfect way to locate all kinds of criminals.

        “WOAH, WAIT A MINUTE!” called a child’s voice through the public address system speakers in the ceiling, turned to their loudest, most deafening volume. Twobie, the main office, had been listening to the conversation between Roger and The Leader of The G.U.Y.S. (the school’s public address system functioned as a two-way intercom). She continued,

        “WHAT ABOUT OTHER GUY? HE STOLE MY HAIR, FOR PETE’S SAKE! I SAW THE WIG BUCKET! WHAT WAS FOR? WHAT PART OF YOUR PLAN DID YOU NEED MY HAIR FOR?”

        “Ugh, that knucklehead,” said The Leader dismissively. “That wasn’t part of the plan. He’s always trying to steal peoples’ hair, because he’s bald and he wants hair. He’s too embarrassed to just go out and buy a darn toupee. He’s a real dope most of the time. So he makes his own wigs.”

        “…REALLY?”

        “Really,” The Leader confirmed.

        “EW,” Twobie commented, before switching off her microphone.

        “Who sold you the brainwash?” demanded Roger.

        “I already told ya, I got it off the market.”

        “But who put it on the market?”

        “What are you, pullin’ my leg or somethin’? You really think that a bunch of arms dealers and lowlifes would advertise their identities while they make illegal sales?”

        “Maybe. Where are the containers the stuff came in?”

        “In our top secret base. And, before you ask: no, I ain’t tellin’ you where that is.”

        “Under the cafeteria, we already know,” retorted Mustache Guy smugly. “There’s a keypad over there.” – he swung The Leader towards the far end of the cafeteria – “What’s the password?”

        “Get bent,” spat back The Leader.

        Mustache Guy adjusted his mustache’s grip; he slid one end down to The Leader’s ankle and released the other end. The Leader of The G.U.Y.S. dangled helplessly, upside down, for less than two seconds before he caved.

        “1-5-6-4!” he cried.

        “Where was it, Rog?” asked Mustache Guy.

        “Uh, over there… somewhere. Hm. Maybe you should just lower me down. It’s going to be hard to find, especially with the cheese this high,” answered Roger.

        With the free end of his mustache, Mustache Guy picked Roger up off the rafter and lowered him to the back wall of the cafeteria. Roger tapped on the wall diagnostically, trying to remember the spot he had seen Another Guy tap earlier.

        “Lower!” called Roger to Mustache Guy.

        The mustache plunged Roger down until he was neck-deep in the gooey cheese. Roger tapped and tapped, having to exert much more force to counteract the drag he experienced under the liquid cheese.

        Bingo! thought the skeleton, feeling a hollowed spot. He slid the tile up, revealing the keypad.

        “Found it! I’m going down there! You got Leather Jacket Man under control?!”

        Mustache Guy took a good look at his hostage, who was still upside, red-faced, flailing, and dripping cheese.

        “Yeah!” Mustache Guy called back. “Yeah, I think I got this!”

        Roger took a deep breath, dove his head into the cheese, and typed 1-5-6-4 onto the keypad.

14. Roger Versus the Guy

Guy's Just Desserts

        With each bump and pothole the bus hit, Roger’s bones jangled. The passengers were packed tighter than a can of sardines in the glove box of a Mini Cooper after it has been put through a car compactor. For an hour Roger stood, sweaty and claustrophobic, his scapula exhausted from holding his arm up to grab the balance strap. The crowded bus at last came to a stop at the transportation depot in the heart of the growing city of Poissonniere (which Roger took to incorrectly pronouncing, in his head, Posh-air-ee). As he stumbled off of the bus amidst the gaggle of fellow passengers all clawing to get out first, Roger saw the shore of the Goshen Ocean, a mere two blocks from where he stood.

        The settlement at Poissonniere began a century earlier as a village of fisherman who took advantage of the Goshen Ocean’s abundance of schmorg fish. Nearly one hundred years later, schmorgs were still the backbone of Poissonniere’s economy, as evidenced by the potent, fishy aroma that filled Roger’s nose-hole as he walked past seafood merchant after seafood merchant on his way to Francis P. Mingleton Elementary School.

        There had been no time to find Mustache Guy and Limburger. And, even if there had been, Roger did not want to interrupt their fraternal reunion. The very second he finished reading Twobie’s letter, Roger asked his mother to drive him to the bus stop in downtown Seaside. She offered to drive him all the way to Poissonniere instead, but he declined, lying by saying that he had a bus token good for one free ride. In reality, Roger was terrified by the thought of what might happen to him in Poissonniere, at the hands of his old combatants The G.U.Y.S., and he surely did not want his mother to be there and get hurt, kidnapped, or worse. So she dropped him off at the bus stop and he made the journey alone.

        An hour bus ride and a brisk walk past many a fish vendor later, Roger stood outside of Francis P. Mingleton Elementary School. He breathed deeply and considered his options: he could run inside and try to engage The G.U.Y.S. in hand-to-hand combat, but his few jujitsu lessons had been disastrous; he could try to sneak around and find Twobie and Metal Mouth, but he wasn’t even sure if they had actually come back to the school after delivering their letter the night before; he could try to quietly rescue as many kids from the building as possible, but almost all of them were brainwashed somehow, and he didn’t know if he could undo the mind control. Just then, as things seemed increasingly hopeless the more he thought about them, a voiced called out to him,

        “Roger! Hey! ROGER! Over here!”

        It was a little brown-haired girl. Twobie! She was crouched in a row of bushes near the school’s front entrance.

        “Twobie, is that you?” Roger asked breathlessly, already sure of the answer. He bounded over to her hiding spot and discovered that Metal Mouth and Matchstick’s dad were hidden there, too. Roger whispered to them, very quickly,

        “I’m so glad you’re all okay! These weirdos – I’ve dealt with them before. They call themselves The G.U.Y.S., and your Leather Jacket Man is in charge. They call him The Leader. I’ve been thinking about it all the way here on the bus, and I think I figured out what The G.U.Y.S. are up to…

        “Yeah,” cut in Twobie, “we figured it out, too. They – The G.U.Y.S., you said? – put something in our milk to brainwash us kids. They’re gonna make us do something – I haven’t figured out what yet – and they needed to know all the facts about each one of us, like our height and weight, to figure out who is best for each job they want us to do. But strawberry milk must be the antidote to whatever the thing is they’re using to do the brainwashing. That explains why me and Metal Mouth and any kid who brings a brown bag lunch hasn’t been affected.”

        “Oh,” breathed Roger, disappointed that he was not the first to figure it out. “Yeah. Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. But what are they going to do with all the brainwashed kids? I haven’t cracked that one, either. So, what’s going on in there right now? Have you been inside today?”

        “No, not yet,” answered Metal Mouth, a mist of saliva escaping his mouth with each word. “But we’ve been watching through the windows. The kids haven’t left the cafeteria all morning. Probably all night, too. The Leader was in there doing more of those weird poses with them earlier, but he left a few minutes ago. Last we checked, the kids were eating lunch and Guy was in charge of watching them.”

        “Which means we don’t know where The Leader or the other two guys are,” added Twobie. “So we’ve got to be extra careful going in.”

        “Well, what are we waiting for?” chimed Matchstick’s dad.

        With that, the foursome crawled, behind cover of bushes, to the cafeteria window. They crouched just high enough to see what was going on inside. Like robots on an assembly line, the students sat at the long tables eating and drinking in perfect unison; they all took swigs from their milk simultaneously, took bites of their meatloaf at once, and even wiped their faces with their napkins in eerie synchronicity.

        “Cree-py!” declared Twobie.

        The lone standout from this zombie-like behavior was Guy, seated in the very front of the cafeteria at a table all his own. He was picking at a peanut-butter-and-marshmallow-fluff sandwich from his lunch, packed in a brown paper bag.

        “There he is!” shouted Metal Mouth, showering the window with droplets of spit.

        “He’s mine,” said Roger, glaring at Guy through the spit-covered window. “Everybody duck!”

        Twobie, Metal Mouth, and Matchstick’s dad obliged, throwing their heads towards the ground and covering them with their arms. Roger stood up and kicked the window in. Thankfully, his lack of skin saved him from slicing open his foot on the flying glass shards.

        “Guy!” bellowed the skeleton, climbing through the window ably. “Blowing up half of my house is one thing,” he continued, walking with determination up the center isle of the cafeteria towards his prey, “but brainwashing kids? That’s sick. That’s low. And you’re going to pay for it.”

        Pure adrenaline was pumping through Roger, propelling him forward. He had never felt so exhilarated, nor had he ever spoken with such venom. A switch had flipped inside him. A force which had been building steam since he read Twobie’s letter, which had grown larger with each minute he had spent on the bus, was bursting forth.

        “Woah, woah! Relax,” begged the cowering Guy. With each step Roger took forward, Guy took two steps back, until he found himself against the cafeteria wall.

        “I,” stuttered Guy, “I didn’t even want to do anything to you in the first place! I don’t know what The Leader’s problem with you is anyway… doesn’t make any sense to me… you seem like a nice enough kid to me…”

        “You think this is about me?” asked Roger, a fire in his eyes. “I couldn’t care less how you feel about me. You are putting all these kids in danger. And worrying their parents sick. And for what? Some stupid, dimwitted criminal nonsense, like usual? To make a couple bucks? Whatever dumb idea you’ve cooked up this time, I am going to put an end to it,” hissed Roger. He and Guy were practically forehead to forehead.

        Forgetting in his blind fury that his punches historically miss their targets, Roger pulled his fist back steadily. Fearing for his face, Guy jerked to the left as Roger’s bony knuckles flew forward.

        CRAAAACKSHHH.

        A crackling, wet thud rang out across the cafeteria.

        “Teehee.”

        It began quietly…

        “Hehehehehe.”

        …before growing longer and louder…

        “HAHAHAHAGAWHAHAHA!”

        …until the entire populous of zombified students were in laugh-so-hard-you-cry, pee-your-pants hysterics. The spell they were under had broken at the sight of Guy getting punched squarely in the nose. However strong the brainwashing chemicals were, children’s natural tendency to laugh at the embarrassment of a fellow human had overpowered it. Momentarily.

        Roger’s joy at seeing the kids come out of their stupor quickly vanished; as soon as the laughing died down, the kids resumed their automated eating. They went right back under.

        Wait, two kids are still laughing, noticed Roger. He scanned the cafeteria to discover Twobie, Metal Mouth, and Matchstick’s dad had followed him through the broken window. They stood near Guy’s lunch table. Twobie and Metal Mouth were laughing their butts off, while Matchstick’s dad bit his lip to stifle his laughter.

        “Take that, Guy!” Twobie hollered after catching her breath.

        The target of her taunt sat on the ground, one lens of his aviator glasses shattered, a trickle of blood slowly oozing down his lip from his left nostril. His faced burned bright red with embarrassment. Few things feel worse than being laughed at by children. Guy seethed, hating Roger with every fiber of his being. It was at this moment that the bloodied bad guy swore revenge on his bony attacker.

        Metal Mouth, meanwhile, managed to make a mess on floor from flailing his arms in the midst of his fit of laughter, which had not finished yet. His arm accidentally caught hold of Guy’s brown paper bagged lunch and swept it off the table. The contents exploded out, resulting in a puddle of juice, a crushed pile of crackers, and an apple with more bruises than its owner. A note had escaped from the bag as it fell and now fluttered downward, landing a moment after the rest of the lunch. Twobie swiped it up.

        “Guy,” she read, “Hope you’re having a good day at work. Can’t wait to see you when you get home. Love, Girl.”

        The weakened Guy’s embarrassment grew.

        “Haha,” chuckled Metal Mouth. “Guy has a girlfriend! Guy has a girlfriend!

        Twobie joined in on the chant. The rest of the kids broke free from their spell yet again to join Twobie and Metal Mouth.

        “Guy has a girlfriend! Guy has a girlfriend!” they all yelled in unison.

        A tear rolled down Guy’s cheek. Now he truly hated Roger. Guy stumbled to his feet, hoping to escape from this torment. But, as he made a run for it, he slipped on his own lunch and landed face-first on the table. His sandwich broke his fall and now covered his face.

        The kids stopped their chanting to have another gut-busting laugh and then snapped back into their brainwashed states.

        “Quick, let’s go,” ordered Roger.

        Twobie, Metal Mouth, and Matchstick’s dad followed the skeleton back out the broken window. They crouched down so as not be seen from inside the cafeteria. Within seconds, they heard frantic footsteps inside. In came The Leader of The G.U.Y.S., flanked by Other Guy and Another Guy (AKA Larry), to investigate the sounds of children laughing. But, by the time they arrived, the kids were back under mind control. Everything looked just as it was supposed to. Until they noticed Guy laying face-first in a sandwich.

        “What the heck happened here?!” barked The Leader. “I’m talkin’ to you, knucklehead!!”

        Guy woozily lifted his head. Pieces of bread slowly fell off of him, while others remained half-stuck by the marshmallow fluff and peanut butter. He coughed before saying,

        “Roger. He’s, he’s here.”

        After spitting those words out, Guy fell right back onto the table.

        “Oh, brother,” mumbled The Leader. “Another Guy, get on the horn with the rest of the The G.U.Y.S.”

        “You got it,” agreed Another Guy as he turned to walk to the back of the cafeteria.

        “I want them all here – everybody we got – by sundown,” added The Leader.

        Another Guy nodded and kept walking. When he reached the wall, he slid a panel open, revealing a keypad with ten buttons, labeled zero to nine. He quickly punched in a combination of numbers, replaced the panel, and was sucked into the floor.

        “So that’s how they disappeared when we were watching them!” realized Twobie aloud. “Their base of operations must be down there. I knew it.”

        “What are we gonna do?” expectorated Metal Mouth.

        “Hm,” hummed Roger. “Well, if they’re calling in their reinforcements, we’re going to call in ours. Mr. Why?”

        “Yeah?” answered Matchstick’s dad.

        “Do you still have the number for Hardware Guy Carpentry/Private Contractor?”

        “Yeah.”

        “Where’s the nearest phone?” asked Roger.

        “In the teacher’s lounge. We can sneak back in the window. All of the kids and teachers who weren’t brainwashed are still in there!” responded Twobie.

        “That’ll be our base of operations. Once we get Mustache Guy and Limburger on the phone, it shouldn’t take them more than an hour to get here,” Roger said.

        Twobie and Metal Mouth shared a baffled look. They turned to Roger and said, together,

        “Mustache Guy and Limburger?”

        “I’ll explain everything once we’re inside.” Roger continued, “but first, I need to know how much cheese is in the cafeteria’s kitchen…”