How to Become King (an excerpt)
The following is excerpted from the story of a young girl detective, one Clovis Cassidy, who’s primary jurisdiction lies in crimes of neglect. When a classmate goes missing, unnoticed, in a small town where baby food is the major source of employment, Cassidy is on the case. Mysterious and bizarre elements surround the young girl’s disappearance, including a feral family who’s only order of the day appears to be chaos, a patriarch obsessed with all things Shakespearian, and a curious Lazyboy recliner that may well just be the source of the crime. Not your-regular-Bobsi Twin, not you average-Nancy-come lately-Drew, Cassidy is hard on the trail. Nevertheless one must ask, how will Clovis Cassidy, kid detective, get herself out of this pickle?
Now she gathers the children around the King Richards. See, she says, how even as they fall from the King’s shoulders, how they are laid out splendidly? See how when a thing falls from the King’s shoulders it does not fall as a leaf does from a tree, scattered with other leaves, but falls JUST SO.
Like an elephant, says Hermes. Like a feather duster, says Temperance. Like SO, says Patience.
See the fur lining, says Hortense, fresh from a hundred-and-one of the most skinned-alive dalmatians.
Like a Blankie! says Blythe, nuzzling up to the King Richards for as long as it takes Hortense to whack the smile off her face. Don’t you know? she yelps. To NEVER touch a king’s robes. THEY ARE TOO FULL OF POWERS.
The children gasp and retreat a hop-step back. Hortense smirks: Since you have never had anything nice, she says, you don’t know what it means to have powers.
Oh yes we do, squeal Florences. Let us wear the King’s Richards! We can both fit, they say. They think they can share the powers.
Share? Hortense grins wickedly. The King is the King because he has EVERYTHING for himself and NOTHING for everyone else. NO ONE shares powers with the King.
B-b-but, stutters Ashley, Everything is here. But n-n-no one is K-king.
What’s that sposed to mean, asks Vespasian.
It means, says Hortense, that there will be a new king. A new king! they all gasp. But how will they know who is fit to wear King Richards. Hortense pauses to think this through. The wind will know, she says, pinching up the robes by the scruff like an old, loyal dog.
How to Become King
Big thoughts come to Septimus Painter in the King Richards.
As he sits in the hairy old Adirondacks chair, crawling with prombley about a million centipedes, he thinks about how it is to be King. You could have a King’s hat, he thinks, and a carry a King’s staff and play a game of chess, which you could solitaire by yourself. And nobody could beat you (nothing beats a King). But could he, Septimus “Tuna Mutt” Painter, be King? Are the stuff Kings are made of, he wonders, moi?
His train of thought is interrupted by Nestor roundly thumping the gong. The King has a visitor.
Your Highness! bellies Patience. Persimmon to enter the King’s Court! His cousin pulls aside the deerskin flap of the teepee and ducks in with a royal document tucked under her arm.
Tuna Mutt tilts his head up from an empty chessboard. Can’t you see I’m thinking powerful thoughts, regal thoughts! A few sweeping cape-moves have scattered the chessmen to the winds, visited exile upon them.
At your service, your majesty and I assure you (Patience throws a quick look over her shoulder, as if the hands guiding her first two-wheeler have suddenly vanished, snapped off the trainers, sent her speeding down a very steep hill.) … You will want to hear this.
Tuna Mutt stares intently at Patience. Exhaustively fingering a prawn, he thinks: a King is always burdened with plebeian troubles; a King always has more in his mouth than he can chew. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Even chewing and swallowing food is harder for a king. Patience, he reminds her, you are my Royal Advisor. By decree of the King, you shall henceforth mas-ti-cate all of my jalapeno-poppers before spitting em to me Royal yap, mama-to-baby-bird style. teeheehee.
I’m not hungry, she says flatly. We’ll find someone with a superior appetite to do it. Patience makes a gratuitously polite curtsey, then cracks open the spine of the document.
How to Become King, she reads hastily. Too fast, he says, slurping up the last shrimp in his cocktail. She begins again, this time at a taxingly slow pace.
How to Become King, she reads, is the story of a kingdom ruled by twelve evil ministers for seventeen years and the Boy-King (who was born on the very night the old King died) who claimed the throne for himself. It is about how the ministers devised the most unlikely and impossible tasks for the King so that he should not be made King.
Tuna Mutt plucks at his chin-hairs, Gooo on, he purrs.
The boy was very clever, says Patience, and saw through the ministers’ wicked schemes and was resourceful and found ways to complete even the most difficult tasks so that no one could deny him the throne. Tasks? mutters Tuna Mutt, wiping down his hands on his lobster bid. The King shifts in his chair uncomfortably Patience reads to him the deeds of the king and the clever ways he completed each of his tasks. How he quieted the birds of decibel, how he fell from a tower onto a heap of pillows, how he pushed the wandering churches of enoch into a block so that they all crumbled into one another and destroyed no more.
The deeds of the King pile upon Tuna Mutt’s shoulders and drag him further, deeper into his throne. Therefore, for every King, Septimus proclaims when the story is through … There should be … (hesitating) …. tasks … or rules to becoming King.
Patience nods: If there were not such rules how could one know if one was really guilty of being KING or if one was just faking it?
Tuna Mutt fishfaces. A King can’t be a King without subjects, right? Patience shakes her head. A King must have subjects. And not just subjects like in school, which are dull and make the hours go slow and waver like hot days, that cook eggs on the pavement in front of your eyes. That hardboil your eyes like eggs. No. Subjects the King’s entitled to push around as he pleases. Tuna Mutt looks around the teepee, as if not convinced of anything.
Who are my subjects, he asks Patience.
She shrugs, How should I know? You’re the King.
Yes, agrees Tuna Mutt. I am King. My subjects are … they are … whomever I say they are!
OK, says Patience.
I guess that makes you my subject, he says noncommittally.
She curtsies. At your service, my liege.
And what about Clovis, he says wagging his shoulders, Fish-n-sticks style. Saucily. Is she my subject.
He plucks lone wolf, his only chest hair, like he always does when he’s nervous about asking something. And-and, what about Horsey. But Patience turns her back like she hasn’t heard. I said: WHAT ABOUT HORTENSE.
Patience wiggles a pringle (pinkie) in her ear. Hortense is invisible in the game. She is out of the game.
Nestor, he demands suddenly, You are my half-brother. Raised in a Russian Orphanage. You are my first subject. (Nestor is a never narrator, he is silent.)
Fetch me my trusty advisor, Patience. Patience turns back to face him. Ah, he says. Advisor-Subject Patience, Round up all of my subjects. I have questions which need answering.
Fetch him his subjects! she calls out to Nestor, and the subjects who have all been huddled outside the teepee waiting for the word to rush in, storm Tuna Mutt’s royal court. Temperance, Blythe, Florences, Vespasian, Ashley, Hermes—even Clovis Cassidy, Kid Detective, etc. Everyone, into the tent all at once, causing a great stir. Having gathered all of his subjects into the teepee, Septimus asks a question that a King has never asked his subjects before:
What is a King?
1. First of all, a King doesn’t ask questions, a King DEMANDS ANSWERS. I see, says Tuna Mutt.
2. A King is when you reach the end of the board and put another chip on your chip. Yes, thinks Tuna Mutt, a King always wins at the Royal Games.
3. A King is when you pull a legendary sword from a rock. A King is when you find something where it’s not supposed to be and yank it out. That is a King.
4. A King isn’t a King until he gets smooched by a Princess. Uh. Tuna Mutt blushes and turns away from Clovis. Maybe we’ll save that for later.
5. A King is when you eat your fill. When everyone has less than you and you have the most. Now you’re talking! says Tuna Mutt. A royal banquet for all, and I the most. A King doesn’t eat just anything but only what is rare to eat. What the others do not eat.
6. A King is When you push everyone off the raft at the pond and no one gets on but you.
7. A King is when you feel a pee beneath you. Through multitudes of mattresses. Yes, says Tuna Mutt, sly like the fox, Nothing else mattress.
8. Whatever fits a King, is fit for a King. Whatever is the size of a King, is King Size.
9. A King is when you make everyone pay the toll. The King doesn’t need the toll, but he needs to take the toll away from people and HOARD IT as he sees fit.
10. A King turns everything to gold. Even his Queen? Even.
11. A King doesn’t play the hero, he PAYS the hero.
12. A King always has daughters in peril. But, says Tuna Mutt. Has a princess sprung forth from the King’s loins? Nothing has sprung forth from Tuna Mutt’s loins except his ding dong.
13. A King always has shoes to fill. Fill with what? How about you start with more shrimp, smart guy!
14. A King has a roundtable. Someone go bring the King his Lazy Susan!
15. The King is like everyone else unless he fed a diet of that is royal. Yes, says Tuna Mutt. Bring the King a Royal Peanut Butter Jelly.
16. A King is Named.