Jake hung out in his treehouse half reading A Canticle for Liebowitz while he thought about how to deal with the Mecklin brothers vandalizing their murals with graffiti.
His biggest challenge was keeping Dexter from picking fights. Fortunately Jake talked him into letting them plan out their response for the greatest impact. Besides, he was pretty sure the average collection of Chet Mecklin’s friends could pound the Muck-Abouts pretty badly. The best thing the Muck-Abouts had going was Emmet, who was bigger than all Meklin’s guys, but Chet was almost as big and twice as mean.
When they had gone out this morning to fix the mural on Mirna’s, they found three more that had been desecrated.
“Jake! Jake!” Dexter piled into the treehouse. “The grownups called a town meeting about the vandalism. It’s at two o’clock. Twenty-five minutes.”
Jake dropped the book. “Let’s go.”
They ran toward main street, passing Howie on his bike. “Gather up the gang and meet at Town Hall,” said Jake.
“I’m going to let them have it,” said Dexter.
“Don’t get your hopes up too high,” said Jake.
“I saw it with my own eyes.”
“I know. But we don’t know his name. What if he’s not there?”
“I’ll stake my credibility on it,” Dexter said.
“Like you did about the UFOs?”
Dexter pushed him. “That was different. I was….” His voice trailed off.
“Just tell them what you saw. Don’t embellish and don’t interpret it. Leave that to me.”
They walked into the Town Hall building, the old, uneven, hardwood floor creaked under their steps, the robin egg blue walls plastered with notices. There was a respectable group gathering, mostly the business owners, and a number of Mecklin’s gang sat in the back, smirking at them as they walked in. Jake and Dex moved toward the front.
When the meeting started, Chet had joined his guys, and a good half of the Muck-Abouts assembled around Jake and Dex, including Marlin who sulked next to them. Some of their parents were present, and officer Carlson stood by the door. It was called to order, and the mayor, Gordon Poole, described the problem.
“In summary, we have to deal with these saboteurs posthaste.” The mayor nodded and smiled. “Does anyone have information regarding the perpetrators? Any proposals?”
“I’ve got one.” Jake looked back. Chet stood up. “I don’t know who sabotaged those ugly paintings.” He used his fingers to indicate quotes around ‘sabotaged.’ “But the town owns most of these buildings, right? Why should only one group get to paint them? Others should get equal time painting the same spaces.”
“We got permission,” yelled Dexter. “And you guys are the ones vandalizing it. I saw your guy with my own eyes.”
Jake stood and pulled Dexter’s arm. With his best matter-of-fact voice he said, “I saw him, too.”
“One of my guys?” asked Chet.
“Yes,” said Jake.
“These are my guys right here,” he said, pointing down his row. “Which one of them did it?”
Jake’s face grew warm. “He’s not here, but I know he hangs out with you.”
“A lot of dudes hang out with me. I’m a real popular guy.” His friends laughed. “Besides, I just want a workable and reasonable solution. We’re just trying to help.”
“By disfiguring our murals?” screamed Dex.
“Order!” said the mayor, pounding his gavel. Jake hissed at Dexter to calm down.
“No,” said Chet. “You guys obviously upset some people in our community who feel threatened by your wall mural syndicate. We’re fixing the community turmoil that you guys caused.”
“That we….” Mouth agape, Dexter couldn’t get another word out.
It was Jake’s turn to yell. “How dare you turn this on us. You destroy our beautiful work, and now you claim to be fixing things?”
“They are.” Now Jake’s mouth fell agape. Mirna stood, a few rows back on their side. “These kind boys painted over the graffiti today. I have a nice, clean, white wall because of them.” She admonished Jake with her eyes.
“Yeah, they did mine, too,” said the bookstore owner from his seat. “For the cost of materials. You guys are barking up the wrong tree.”
“Barking….” Dexter’s face was red as a beet. Jake pulled him to his seat.
“I propose we investigate this matter further,” said Jake. “Perhaps officer Carlson can open a case officially.” The officer scowled.
“Does anyone really think that’s necessary?” asked Chet. “All this will blow over once we paint over the rest of the murals. I propose you let me and my guys paint them all—and we’ll only charge for the paint.”
“All those in favor say ‘aye,’” said the mayor. Ayes sounded. “Those against say ‘nay.’” Nays sounded. “It’s my opinion that the ‘ayes’ have it.” He pounded the gavel and looked at Chet. “Continue with your good work, boys.”
The crowd started to trickle out.
“What the hell?” said Jake. He was stunned.
“Watch your mouth,” said Dexter. He snarled, but Jake knew it wasn’t for him.
“C’mon, guys,” Jake said. He grabbed Dexter by the arm to pull him past the Mecklins before trouble could start. “Let’s get home and regroup.”
On the way by, Chet jeered. “Score one for equality and justice.”
“Shut up and take the win,” said Jake. Emmet came up next to him and glared.
Chet shrugged. “Let us know if you girls need any white paint,” he said. “My dad had a buttload left over from his last job.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” said Dexter. “Your pocketing the expense of the paint ‘cause you got it for free.”
Chet chuckled. “Don’t worry. My dad gets it for cheap, so he isn’t losing much. Of course, we’re charging retail.”
“How is it we underestimated these guys?” asked Howie.
“I don’t know,” said Jake. “But it won’t happen again.”