Zack and Melissa filled Amanda in on their discussion with Brigitte and Martin three days later. “That sounds like a good idea,” she said. “I had no idea that Milo could be affected like that.”
Melissa nodded. “Since he was five,” she said.
“I don’t suppose Milo has ever,” Zack paused searching for the right word, “seen anyone for this particular aspect of Murphy’s Law?”
“You mean like a therapist or something?” asked Melissa.
Zack nodded. “Why not?” he asked. He suddenly recalled the day he had met Milo at the beginning of the previous school year. He had just moved into Milo’s subdivision a couple of days before hand and the two boys had met while waiting for the school bus at the bus stop at the end of Milo’s street. The other kids waiting for the school bus had gaped open mouthed as Zack had casually struck up a conversation with the slender, unassuming looking boy of average height standing several feet apart the other kids waiting for the bus. Zack had been confused by the signs that the other boys had tried to give him. “What’s all that about?” he had asked.
The boy had turned to him. “Oh,” he had said mildly, “you must be new here. I’ve got a bit of a reputation.”
“So what are you, a tough guy?” Zack, had asked.
The other boy had laughed mildly, “Oh, I don’t think anyone’s ever called me tough before.” The boy had casually thrust out a long fingered hand. “I’m Milo” Zack had shaken it. “I’m Zack.” The hair raising morning that followed, which began with Zack and Milo nearly being run over by a section of concrete drainage pipe and ended with the two of them drifting down the Danville River in the back of a dump truck, was the first of many such misadventures that Zack had found himself mixed up in as a result of becoming friends with Milo over the course of the following year. Since becoming friends with Milo, Zack had gradually learned to overcome his insecurities, yet even as he had, and had watched Milo grapple with the day to day instabilities that Murphy’s Law regularly him presented with, Zack had wondered how Milo managed to cope with the mental stress that Murphy’s Law placed him under.
Zack shrugged. “Well, I mean I know Milo has his book of shark mantras-,” he began.
Amanda gave Zack and Melissa a slightly confused look, “wait, Milo has a book of shark mantras?” she asked.
Melissa nodded. “Yep. He packs it in his backpack fairly often.” She paused. “I gave it to Milo for Christmas when he was nine. I thought it was funny. I never though he’d never actually use it, but he does.”
Zack had first encountered the book in question the previous year when Milo has run the Race for Runts, a charity race put on by the Danville SPCA. Milo had run the race every since he was ten, but until last year had never finished, on account of his backpack, which was heavy and slowed him down.
“Mr. and Mrs. Murphy tried therapy for Milo a couple of times,” Melissa continued, “when this first started to happen, they thought that Milo might be experiencing something like PTSD.”
“But I take it that something happened?” asked Amanda.
Melissa nodded. “If by something, you mean Milo’s therapist emerged from the room crying fifteen minutes into his first session?” she asked, “then yeah, something happened.”
While Melissa has been talking, Amanda has been typing on her phone. Zack and Melissa’s phones both pinged at the same time. They pulled their phones out and looked at them. Amanda had sent them a list of things they would need.
Zack quickly scanned down the list. Overall, it looked good except, “I don’t know about balloons and party streamer,” he said. “This is supposed to low key.”
“OK,” replied Amanda, “fine, no party streamers. Just make sure you get everything else.”
Over the next two weeks, Zack, Melissa and Amanda quietly gathered everything on Amanda’s list of supplies, including several cases of Pep, in several different flavours, including original, cherry, Milo’s favourite, lemon and vanilla, as well as pistachios, Milo’s favourite snack food, and peanuts, pretzels and several different kinds of potato chips.
“We’ll have to find a way keep Milo occupied,” said Zack in the middle of the following week.
“Well, we could have Milo pick up the cake,” suggested Amanda.
Zack, Melissa and Amanda all looked at each other. “Won’t that tip him off that something’s going on?” asked Zack, “and we want the cake to get to his house in one piece.”
Melissa appeared to be thinking. “No, that’s actually a good idea,” she said. “One of us should be able to keep Milo distracted for a little while.”
“Well, until Murphy’s Law hits,” said Zack with a chuckle. “OK, I’ll be the distraction. This was my idea anyway.”
The next Saturday dawned cloudy and cold. Light snow flurries drifted down out of a lead coloured sky. Zack got up, showered, brushed his teeth and walked down stairs into the kitchen. Marcus Underwood was nursing a cup of coffee. Zack’s mother, Dr. Eileen Underwood was sitting at the kitchen table buttering some toast. She looked tired, having just finished a night shift in the ER. Dr. Underwood was a trauma surgeon at Danville General Hospital.
Marcus looked up from his cup of coffee. “Morning, Zack,” he said.
“Morning Dad,” replied Zack with a stifled yawn. He walked around to the other end of the table a gave his mother a kiss. “Morning Mom,” he said. “How was the night shift?”
Dr. Underwood gave a tired shrug. “Pretty quiet,” she replied. “A car crash victim, two gun shot wounds and a slip and fall accident.” She took a bite of her toast. “Pretty routine stuff mostly.” She washed down her mouthful of toast with a swig from her glass of orange juice. “So what have you got planned today?”
Zack shrugged. “I’m suppose to meet Milo downtown,” he said, “and then we’re going back to his house. Melissa and I have a bit of surprise waiting for him.”
“What kind of surprise?” asked Marcus.
Zack shrugged again. “Nothing elaborate, just a get together with some kids from school, and Milo’s family, and I think Cavendish and Dakota are supposed to be there as well.”
“OK,” said Marcus, “just make sure to be home in time for dinner.”
Zack nodded. “OK, sure.”
After bolting down a quick breakfast, he went upstairs to get dressed. Zack rummaged through his closet and pulled out a clean pair of jeans and then tugged on his usual long sleeve T-shirt followed by a yellow T-shirt over that. He pulled on his winter coat, hat and gloves and walked back down stairs, putting his head in the kitchen door as he went. “Bye Mom, Bye Dad,” he said, “I’ll see you later.” He pulled his winter boots and his spikes, opened the front door and went outside. The snow was falling lightly but steadily, and had collected into a thin blanket that mostly covered the patches of ice left over from the recent bout of freezing rain. He walked out to the end of his driveway, but instead of turning toward where Oakmont Street ran into Waterford Road, Zack turned the other way and walked up the street toward Watson Boulevard. The goal was to avoid running into Milo until after he reached the bakery and was on his way home with the cake.
The ride into downtown Danville took longer than usual, owing to the slippery road conditions, as a result, it took Zack at least half an hour to get downtown and he doubted that Milo would do much better, even if Murphy’s Law didn’t trip him up, and Zack figured that it was reasonably safe to assume that it would. The bus finally dropped him off at the corner of Watson Boulevard and 54th Street. He looked at his watch. He still had some time before Milo could be reasonably expected to show up at the bakery, which was located across the street. Just down the street on the other side was Danny’s Music Store. Danny was the lead singer for Love Handle. Zack crossed at the crosswalk and walked down the street. He pushed open the door and went inside. Electric guitars hung on the walls and and drum kits occupied the open space in the centre of the floor.
“Oh, hey little dude,” said Danny from behind the counter. He was a tall, thin man with a goatee, long hair and a bandana. “Looking for anything in particular?”
Zack cast a covetous eye over the over the racks of vintage Fenders and Gibsons. They started at $2,500 and escalated rapidly from there. He shook his head. “Not today, Danny,” he said. “I’m just killing time waiting for a friend.” He spent half an hour browsing through the store, ogling the guitars, making small with Danny and picking out guitar chords for some songs he wanted to learn. Zack glanced at his watch. He should check to see if Milo had shown up yet. He paid for his sheet music and went back outside. There was no sign of Milo. There was a Starbucks across the street from the bakery. Zack was about walk down and get a coffee. He could sit by the window out of the weather and wait for Milo. Zack was half way down the block when he hear a voice echoing across the street during a brief lull in the noise of the traffic.
“-You are personally responsible for at least nine, I repeat, nine safety violations in the last ten minutes.”
Zack turned. On the other side of the street he saw a tall, lanky figure with an unkept mane of auburn hair in a bright orange safety vest waving a hand held stop sign and haranguing a slender, shorter figure in a winter coat with a heavy backpack slung over his slightly rounded shoulders. Zack put on his most convincing indignant best friend face, which wasn’t very hard to do, and crossed the street, now devoid of traffic. “Oh, come on Elliot,” said Zack as he reached the curb on the other side of the street, “you know full well that Milo doesn’t mean to cause any of the stuff the happens around him.”
Elliot turned to look down at Zack. “No excuses!” he said emphatically. “Milo is a menace to everyone around him.” He waved a hand up and pointed up the street to where a large truck was half sticking out of a deep hole in the road. “Look at all the damage he caused.”
Zack ignored Elliot’s diatribe. “That’s just Murphy’s Law,” he retorted, “Milo can’t help it.”
Elliot was about to open his mouth in reply when a muscular man with short brown hair and blue eyes walked up to three of them. Richard Chase looked down at Milo and Zack.
“Hi, Mr. Chase,” Milo said.
Melissa’s father, the Chief of the Danville Fire Department, sighed. “I should have guessed,” he said, “OK, boys, what happened here?”
Zack suddenly felt a little self conscious. “Actually, I didn’t see anything, Mr. Chase,” he said. He was telling the truth, but he still felt as though he was pushing Milo under the bus. Milo’s relationship with Richard was complicated by both Murphy’s Law and Richard’s position as Danville’s Fire Chief. “I was on the other side of the street at Danny’s looking at guitars.”
Richard scribbled some notes on a note pad, then turned to Milo. “OK Milo,” he said, “what happened?”
Milo spent the next twenty minutes talking more or less without stopping, while Richard wrote furiously.
When Milo was finally finished, Richard looked skeptically through his notes. “So, let me get this straight, Milo,” he said, “you’re saying that all of this,” he waved a hand to indicate the chaotic scene behind him, which was now being cordoned off with caution tape, “was caused by a single gerbil?”
Milo nodded. “That’s right Mr. Chase.” He paused. “Is the driver going to be OK?”
Richard softened slightly, “the driver has a mild concussion,” he said, “he’ll need to stay in the hospital for observation for a couple of days, but he’ll be fine.” He quickly flipped through his notes again. “OK, Milo you can go.”
Elliot looked as though someone had just cancelled his birthday. “But he caused nine safety-,”
Richard cut him off, “thanks Decker,” he said, “don’t go anywhere, I still need to take your statement.”
“Bye Mr. Chase,” said Milo.
“Good bye, Milo.”