Dexter had to give his little brother Beep credit. When Beep wanted to do something, it took the entire neighborhood, an act of Congress, and a whole lot of chocolate cake to stop him, and he still might do it. That’s how he was about his “Neighborhood Beautification Project.” He’d taken the initiative to hit up any local business with a lot of open wall space, and he worked with each one to come up with ideas for a mural they liked.
Beep was one of those kids who constantly drew. Their dad called it ‘dogged enthusiasm.’ He’d sketch real things or strange fantasies, a lot of them with little elves, mostly female, which Dex would tease him about. He got the entire Muck-About Gang to help him, all of them caught up in his excitement, partly because he would let them make suggestions that he’d run by the owners.
He outlined each one and then a crew of them would paint in the colors, then he’d touch them all up. They painted the 1934 New York skyline on Mirna’s Antiques and the San Francisco Bridge on Dinky Donuts. Most of them were historical, like the huge one of Lewis and Clark along the Lakeshore Dodge dealership, but they did a few of animals, and Dexter’s favorite was the spaceship in orbit around Jupiter at Celestial Carwash. All in all, it was a great success, and they were the talk of the town.
Dexter strolled to the end of Main Street with Jake and Emmet when Lakeshore Dodge came into view. Jake stopped short.
“That can’t be,” said Jake. Dex followed his eyes. Coarsely drawn graffiti in black and red with rude pictures and rude language covered the Lewis and Clark mural from beginning to end.
“Oh, shit,” said Dex. “We’ve gotta fix this before Beep sees it.”
“Let’s go,” said Emmet.
They trotted to Howie’s house. His dad let them keep the supplies in his shed. They loaded up a wagon and wheel barrow and started out.
“Where you guys going?” Beep called from Tiger Park, which was barely a yard with a swing set and a seasaw. He sat on a swing next to Hetty.
“Nothing,” said Dexter. “We’ve got a job.”
“I’ll help.” Beep hopped off and trotted over, Hetty lagging behind.
“You’re not old enough,” said Dexter.
Beep scanned the supplies. “For painting? I can paint.”
“It’s up on ladders,” said Emmet. “Second floor stuff.”
“Oh, c’mon guys. What’s going on?” asked Beep.
“Damn,” said Dexter.
“Language,” said Jake. He gave Dexter an earnest look.
“Yes, mommy,” said Dex. He wasn’t in the mood for Jake’s goody-two-shoes crap. “Look, Beep. Something happened to Lewis and Clark.”
They took him to see it, and when they reached the end of Main Street he stopped. “No!” He broke into a run. “No! No! No!” When he stopped in front of the mural he screamed. “Who would do this!” Tears dropped down his cheeks.
Dexter caught up to him. “Beep, calm down.” But that only sent him into a louder rage. Dexter grabbed his arm. “Marlin.” His real name always got his attention. “We’re going to fix this.” He waved everyone to bring the supplies.
Howie showed up with his older sister Denise.
“Great,” said Emmet. “Now Jake won’t get anything done.” Then he leaned in close. “This has got to be the Mecklin boys.”
Dexter nodded. “I’m sure every one of us is thinking that.”
Dexter pushed Beep to focus on the details while everyone else covered up the vandalism, and by the time they were done his despondence had eased.
“Looks better than before,” said Howie.
They gave each other high fives and fist bumps as they packed up the supplies.
“Ain’t nothing we Muck-Abouts can’t do,” said Jake.
Dexter and Jake were ahead of the rest when they turned up Main Street, and spotted one of the Mecklin Brothers gang spray-painting over the San Francisco Bridge on the side of Mirna’s antique store. Dexter didn’t know this one’s name.
“Damn it, look,” said Dexter.
“I see him,” said Jake.
“Quick—take everyone down Elm Street so Beep doesn’t see this,” said Dexter. “I’ll meet you at Howies.”
Dexter pulled out his iPhone and ran down Main Street to take a picture, but by the time he got there, the Mecklin boy had slipped into the alley and was gone.
“Shit.” Dexter held up his camera to take a picture of the graffiti. “This means war.”