The sun was sinking below the towers, casting its very last rays over the water of the Chicago River and the metal of the Dearborn Street bridge.
"Pat, what on earth are you doing?"
"What's it -- huff -- look like I'm doing? I'm -- huff -- lowering a boulder on a rope --huff -- and drawing it back up -- huff -- and lowering it, and drawing it back up -- huff -- Hi, Marina. How is school going?"
"Oh, you know, the usual." She sighed. "I get restless, the teachers don't understand, I get bored, can't focus, wind up staring out the window at this city that's just full of possibility, I move toward the window and -- "
"Please tell me you didn't -- huff -- jump out the window this time."
"No. I managed to stop myself when I realized what I was doing. I did get sent to the principal's office. Which is...well, if I can manage to limit it to once per week, that's better than before, right? Right. Maybe they'll think I'm a Problem Child instead of a Damn Nuisance this time. So what's this business with the boulder? I had no idea you were so strong. In fact, nobody ever thought of you as being strong. What else are you hiding?"
"Marina, you're lucky -- huff -- you don't get pushed around by -- huff -- the spirit of whatever city -- huff -- you live in. See, when we were in -- huff -- New York City, I could -- huff -- tap into the New York Minute -- huff -- But now I'm embodying something different -- huff -- The "Big Shoulders" -- huff -- or something, so -- whoa!" I felt an extra weight on the end of the rope, and the thing almost slipped out of my grasp. "Hey, neither of my hands are free. Tie the rope to the bridge, will you? Something landed on the boulder and I want to know what it is."
Marina made a sturdy knot. We leaned over the railing. There was a kid. A black boy, maybe 8 or 9, standing on the boulder, one hand holding the rope, the rest of him leaning outward like he was a sailor spotting a whale.
"Hey," I said, "you stupid kid! What are you doing there?"
"Watching the boats pass under me."
"How did you even get there?" said Marina.
"I was on a boat passing under and I thought, hey, that looks like it would be interesting to stand on. So I just jumped. Nothing to it."
"You almost made me let go of the rope! How safely can you land from that height?"
"Oh, I don't know. Probably about the same as everyone else."
"And you weren't thinking of that, we you?"
"I like your style," said Marina. "Come on up here, though. People are probably already staring at this whole setup, we don't want them to panic and shine a spotlight and put you on the evening news."
"Wait," I said, "I bet I can lift him. Hang on." With much grunting, huffing, and puffing, I drew the boulder and the boy up to the street level.
"Thanks," he said as he clambered over the railing. "You were lifting this thing, huh? You sure are strong. But you don't look like it. In fact, you look kind of -- scrawny. You know, maybe you should hit up Meyer's bar. There's plenty of people like you there."
"Excuse me," I said, "Who lets you into a bar?"
"Oh," Said a voice to my right, "People bring their kids into bars all the time. Hello, strange girl from New York. Nice to see you again, thanks for dealing with Xavier. I hope he didn't cause you too much trouble."
It was the amazing magic talking dog again, and his sidekick the human. The man signed Hello P-A-T.
I shook the man's hand. "Hello to you too. And Xavier here is...your kid?"
The man signed Yes.
"Effectively," said the dog. "You know how it is. It takes a village to raise a kid, and some people leave it to the village to do the work."
"Right. How do you know my name?"
"Word gets around the Odds community," said the dog, "from one city to another. After you went and stopped time in New York City...well, that makes people whisper. Wondering what you're up to. What kind of shenanigans you're going to get into around here. That kind of thing. I second the kid. You really ought to hit up Meyer's. Get yourself...acquainted with the local Odds. You want them to know that you're not going to go nuts and turn into a giant rat and -- "
"I'd prefer to leave that topic be."
"But you can't," said the dog. "You got yourself kicked out of New York City, and everyone is wondering if you're going to bring that kind of trouble to them. It's a small community whose ranks close pretty quickly, Pat. Lots of people who are, shall we say, gifted by the tall man named John and forced to step into a world that they were perfectly happy to stay out of beforehand. They want to know -- hell, I want to know, where are you going to stand? Are you going to stand in their defense? Or will you stand aside, and leave them to get picked off one by one? Or will you stand with the ones doing the picking?"
"Picked...off? What lurks in the river that I don't know about?"
"Just old Gitchee Gummee," said Xavier. "He's harmless unless you're a seagull."
"Then what -- "
"Look at it this way," said the dog. "We do what we have to to survive, to hold our tiny place amidst the gangs and the dockworkers and the tough mudders who've banded together. And if that means breaking the law, the Wizard Police come down hard on us, because we've got a little magic, that means we're as dangerous as the Wizards at that fancy school of yours, right? They're scared of the wizards and us, we're scared of them, nobody's happy, and here you come in, the one who got an entire city to dance and stopped some kind of alien invasion. You've got a reputation. Credentials. Lots of people are probably looking to have you working for them. This is me making the offer for the Meyers crowd. What do you say?"
"I'd say, where is Meyers and what can I do for them? But not now. It's getting late and I've got homework to do. Are these people going to explode if I meet them on Wednesday evening?"
"Maybe," said the dog. "They might get mad at me for not bringing you in now."
"I'll go," said Marina. "Meyers sounds like my kind of crowd. I can put the good word in for Pat here and put the people at ease. Oh, and Pat -- " she turned to me. "Speaking of people who want you to contact them, Grandma said you'd better come home soon and talk to her. She and Nonna have things they're dying to tell you."
"Can't I just call?"
"They said they didn't want to risk saying such things over the phone. Whatever that means. Now, I've got to follow -- what's your name, by the way?"
"Gargantua," said the dog. "And my sidekick here is Pantagruel."
I blinked. "Gargantua and...that's the second time you've pulled my leg."
The dog gave a doggy grin, and wagged his tail.
"Fine! Fine! Have it your way, Gargantua. See you around."
I turned south and headed towards Clark Street to catch the Metra. Maybe I could convince the rails to let me skate along them, this time.