Howie sat with Jake and Dexter on the school bleachers, reporting on the game with pad, paper and tape recorder like he sometimes did. Jake taunted Chet and the Meklin gang who sat a tier down and to the left of them. “We’re going to beat you in every category of Biergman’s Bagels Olympics,” he said.
The town fair would start the next day, which filled the town with lots of bustle and preparation for municipal and business sponsored activities. Chet pretended not to notice Jake’s boast, but Howie was positive he’d heard. “The Muck-Abouts are going to get all the cash winnings.”
That got his attention. “You know I’ve got better guys than you,” said Chet.
“Oh, yeah?” said Jake. “I’ll bet you every penny we make. If we don’t win more than you at the fair, we give it all to you. And if you don’t win more than us, you give all your winnings to us.”
Dexter hissed at him. “Knock it off, Jake.”
Chet made a show of yawning. “How much winnings are there?”
“About two hundred fifty dollars,” said Jake.
Dexter tried to pull Jake away, but Jake shook him off. Dexter sputtered. “We all promised Hetty and Marlin we’d help make that stupid parade float, and thats going to keep us too busy to prepare.”
“We’re ready,” said Jake.
“Are not,” said Dexter. “Look, you can throw away your own winnings on some reckless bet to stroke your ego, but you can’t go betting all the rest of ours.”
“He’s got a point,” said Howie.
“I’ll cover it,” said Jake.
“No stinkin’ way,” said Dex. “You don’t have the money.”
“Yes, I do,” said Jake. “And they may be stronger, but we’re faster and better coordinated. We can win.”
“You raid your college fund, your dad will kill you,” said Dex. “And I will not allow the gang to skimp on Hetty. Emmet won’t either.”
“I don’t expect you to. What do you say, Chet?” asked Jake.
“Dig your own grave,” Dex muttered. He threw up his hands and took off.
“I’ll take that bet,” said Chet. “And you’re gonna lose.”
Howie had a bad feeling about this.
The Biergman’s Bagels Olympics would start the next day from Tuesday through Thursday, the same three days allotted for the float building contest. The Muck-Abouts had to assemble all the materials for the parade float that night and lay them out at their station, so they had no time to practice for any events.
“We’ve got natural coordination that they don’t,” said Jake.
Howie wasn’t as confident. He knew the value of even a little practice, and Jake wasn’t usually this cocky.
All the strength contests were on Thursday, so the plan was to get ahead early, especially for the short dashes and distance running on Tuesday. Any time they weren’t participating in an event, they would help the gang with the float.
Tuesday morning, Dexter, Howie and Jake stretched and warmed up for the day’s races. Some Meklin boys scoped out the tracks nearby. Marlin came racing down to them. “Guys! We need your help. Someone moved all our float materials to the other side of the fair. We’ve got to get them all moved back or we’ll never finish in time.”
Dexter gawked at Jake. “I told you! This has got the Meklins written all over it.”
One of the Meklins chortled as he made a show of stretching.
Jake grimaced and followed the others to the float field, where they joined the rest of the gang moving piles of lumber, bags of different colored decorative flowers, tools, craft materials and more. When they finished, the time was 9:08 AM. They high-fived each other and collapsed on the grass, breathing hard.
“We’re gonna be late!” said Dex.
Dexter, Howie, and Jake sprinted for the first race, which started at 9:15 AM. They barely made it in time to set themselves for the starter pistol. It was the 5K race. In spite of being tired out from moving the float materials, Dexter still took second behind a kid from the other side of town, but a Meklin jerk came in third. They should have had all three top slots.
“Okay,” said Howie. He wanted to get the other two focused. “This next race is a hundred yard dash, then Emmet will join us for the relay. We should be rested enough to take both of those.”
“We’ll kill them this afternoon and tomorrow,” said Jake. “The coordination stuff is today, like the three legged race, the egg and spoon, the water balloon soccer run. The obstacle course is in the morning.” He nodded with confidence. “We should be well ahead by then, and Emmet will slow down their points in the strength stuff.”
“Boo-yah,” said Dex.
They killed it in both the hundred yard dash and the relay. Howie was in all of them, so he hadn’t had time to see how the float was going and help, but when he got there, he was impressed with the project. Emmet’s and Jake’s fathers helped with technique and structure, and Marlin had a beautifully drawn representation of the design on butcher paper.
The picture showed a scene from Main Street with some of the iconic shops, and it depicted a few dramatic events in history, like the tornado of ninety-eight and the shooting of the an X-Files scene in the business sector. A UFO flew overhead for good measure. If the detail in the picture were captured by the construction and the flowers, it would be magnificent.
“Fantastic work, everyone,” said Jake. “Lunch is on me.”
Howie gawked at him. “When did you all of a sudden become Mr. Moneybags?”
They went to Jen’s Subs on Birch Street, a regular haunt for most of them. Howie fell into one of his contemplative moods, watching his friends joke, argue, and insult, all in good fun. He didn’t really care if the Melkin’s won everything, because their treasure was the integrity that held their friendships together. But he’d sure enjoy seeing the Melkin’s take a drubbing for once.
When they got back to the fairgrounds, Hetty squealed. “The stuff is gone again!”
They spread out and searched, finding the materials again on the far side of the fairgrounds. They all carried the stuff back. They got to the egg and spoon race on time, but Howie’s arms were shaking, and he could see Jake was shaking, too. Dexter was steady, but they needed first, second and third to get ahead.
They lined up ready to go and the pistol fired. Howie reached into the bowl to grab the first egg, and it slipped out of his hand. He grabbed it again, cradling it in his fingers, and felt some very slippery oil of some kind on it.
“Crap,” he said. By the time he got it on the spoon, the Meklin players were well ahead. Jake and Dexter were well behind them, but Dexter dropped his egg and cursed. Howie slowed way down to prevent losing his own. None of them placed, but two Meklin boys did.
Howie was about to show his lubricated eggs to a judge when a girl walking several dogs charged right through, knocking all the bowls over, spilling the eggs all over the ground. Howie was sure he caught a wink and a nod to her from one of the Meklins.
They did okay on the water balloon soccer run and a few other races, but the Meklin boys had obviously practiced the three-legged race because they left the Muck-About’s in the dust.
“This sucks,” said Howie.
Jake and Dexter glared at the Meklins with such intensity, Howie almost thought they might turn this debacle around.
Needless to say, there were all kinds of irregularities in the obstacle course the next day. By the time it was over, they were actually behind the Meklins by a few points. Everything relied upon Emmet now. He wound up fairing pretty well against the competition, but it wasn’t enough. By the end of the Biergman’s Bagels Olympics, the Meklins had won.
“Pay up, sucker,” said Chet.
“I don’t think so,” said Jake.
“We won. Honor your bet.”
“Come with us,” said Dexter. They led the Meklins to the Muck-About float. It was almost as fantastic as the picture had been. The buildings, the UFO, the giant tornado, all covered with flowers. Beautiful. But most beautiful of all was the blue ribbon attached to it. First prize.
“You know what the first prize is?” said Jake.
“Eight hundred dollars,” Jake said.
“So?” said Chet.
“So we won more at the fair than you did,” said Dexter. “That means you’ve gotta pay up.”
“No, no, no,” said Chet. “That was for the Olympics, not the whole fair.”
Howie laughed with gusto. “Now I know why you had me turn on the recorder. He took it out of a duffle he had by the materials and rewound, then pressed play.
They listened to Jake say, “Oh, yeah? I’ll bet you every penny we make. If we don’t win more than you at the fair, we give it all to you. And if you don’t win more than us, you give all your winnings to us.” The conversation went on without any adjustments to Jake’s proposal, then Chet’s voice said, “I’ll take that bet.”
“If we don’t win more than you at the fair,” repeated Jake.
Chet cursed and let out a string of profanity. Finally he handed Jake a stack of cash and stormed off.
Howie gave Dex and Jake a push and grinned. “You two planned this whole thing, didn’t you?” He took the cash from Jake and fanned it out. “Distract them with the low stakes competition so they don’t notice the big one. They would have sabotaged the hell out of it if they’d realized.”
“We were way overdue to win one,” said Jake.
Howie handed back the bills and grabbed them each magnanimously by the shoulder. “Well done, Muck-Abouts. Well done.” He gave Jake an extra jab. “Ice cream’s on you.”