I threw my hand up, desperate to grab the spinning silver disc in the air. Too much was at stake to let the object fall. The success of several months of work was coming down to this single moment. Failure would inevitably result in a terrible explosion. I watched in dread, then horror, as the disc slipped through my fingers and plinked on the checkered tile floor of the soda shop. I plugged my ears and turned away, expecting the worst.
The worst came.
“Ha!” my brother blurted in an explosive loud voice. “I am winning by two points—ninety-nine to ninety-seven. You should just accept defeat and declare me the Ultimate Supreme Coin Flipper of the Universe. Since I only need one more point to win, we should put you out of your misery and end the game.”
He knew I wouldn't give up that easily. A quarter isn't worth much, but for my brother and me, this game was a major deal. Anytime my brother got a quarter in change, he flipped it in the air when I wasn’t looking, and I attempted to grab the quarter before it hit the ground. Sometimes he would just take a quarter from his pocket and flip it. If I caught it, I got to keep the quarter, and more importantly, I received a point. If it landed on the ground, he took the quarter and scored. He had just won two in a row. We were playing to one hundred, so he was uncomfortably close to winning.
I began to suspect that this was the real reason why he invited me with him to Sid's Soda Shop. It allowed him to catch me by surprise during the distraction of drinking delicious root beer. That's playing dirty, if you ask me!
I argued, “That quarter didn’t reach the minimum height requirement of flying at least six feet above the ground. It doesn't count.”
“Au contraire, my younger sibling. It went above my head, and as you know, I am currently six feet one inch tall,” he countered, showing me the quarter in his open hand. “The score stands.”
With a flourish, he made the quarter disappear from his hand, and he stood up. Without a backward glance, he walked toward the restaurant’s exit. The shop's bell rang a cheery goodbye as my brother pushed open the door to reveal the bright warmth of a perfect summer day. It was the kind of day for which the satisfying slurp of a milkshake was invented.
Strangely, the soda shop had been out of ice cream, so I had settled for a soda instead. I grabbed my drink from our table and ran to keep up with my brother’s confident strides.
“I wasn't finished with my soda,” I yelled. “Hey, wait for me! It's too far to make me walk home.”
He looked back at me and winked. The red soda shop door closed behind us. I caught up to my brother and smiled despite his trick with the quarter. I couldn’t be too mad with my brother. He had paid for my soda, after all.
This was turning out to be a great summer so far. Mom and Dad had been busy, but things had been quiet for my brother. Quiet was good because it meant I had him all to myself. This past week I had formulated a plan to convince him to train me to be a detective.
You see, my older brother is an agent. Not a secret agent, just an agent who investigates mysteries, tracks down villains, and sends bad people to jail. It's challenging to be “secret” when everyone knows you. I suppose he could become a master of disguises if he wanted to, but that’s not his style. He doesn't exactly blend into the crowd. He lives loudly, like an amplified rock guitar – an expensive rock guitar.
Take his flawlessly waxed, cherry red supercar, for instance. As we walked up to the car, the doors opened upward automatically, and a soothing computerized female voice welcomed us.
“Hello, Agent One and sidekick Jackson. There are no current emergencies that require your attention. What is your desired destination?”
The supercar always sounded this way, calm and untroubled. We slid into the soft black leather seats. (Thankfully, my brother doesn't have any booster seats, or he might make me sit in one.)
Having a talking car next to a 1950’s era soda shop made it seem ultra-futuristic. This feeling was magnified as my brother talked with the car like it was a human being. I half expected to see my brother adjust a time machine dial to bring us back to the year in which we lived.
“I informed you yesterday that Jackson is not my sidekick. I do not require a sidekick, and Jax is not training to be an agent. Take us home with all expediency,” he replied. He looked over at me as if to emphasize his point about not training me.
My optimism dimmed slightly. But only slightly. There were weeks of summer left to wear my brother down. I would just need to find the right way to convince him to change his mind. He really was a softy at heart . . . at least when it came to me.
“As you wish,” acknowledged the car.
The doors smoothly closed themselves, and our seat belts automatically engaged with a click as crisp as a fall apple. My brother smiled and rubbed his hand across the sleek console. He pressed a button and a holographic display projected onto the front windshield, showing the route home and adding various environmental data like the temperature, barometric pressure, and wind speed.
I like my machines to be functional and straightforward, so I find his car to be excessively flashy - like a neon sign announcing an antique roadshow. But my brother likes to portray himself as current, modern, and well-funded. He’s decked out the Agentmobile with enough high-tech gadgets to make a Silicon Valley software engineer jealous.
My brother put on a set of stylish dark sunglasses that he had picked to match the black carbon fiber body armor he wears while working on a case. As I said, he doesn't blend in with the crowd. The only way to miss him is if you happened to be a nearsighted naked mole-rat.
You might think being noticed is a liability in his field. But he uses it to his advantage to intimidate the crooks. Hmmm, I wonder if his tough persona works on nearsighted crooks. Or if there is such a thing as a far-sighted naked mole-rat.
The engine revved a few times, bringing me back to the present as we raced down the road. I admired the glowing dashboard in front of me as it tracked our progress home. The image was detailed enough to show the fire hydrants on each street corner. I had to admit his holographic display was pretty cool. LED buttons in the center console glowed impatiently, waiting for me to press them. This was the part of the car I could respect. Each button controlled a useful capability or gadget like a missile launcher. My brother is a bit protective and won't let me touch any of these buttons. If I even look at them for too long, he gets jumpy.
Apparently, he caught me looking for more than half a second at the buttons. “Careful, little brother. I just installed an industrial-grade laser last week. That beautiful piece of hardware can cut through a ten-foot thick concrete wall like butter. If you accidentally press the wrong button, it could make a considerable mess.”
I figured he must be referring to the button labeled “Laser.” I snuck another glance at the console. Lasers, oil slicks, rockets, and all sorts of cool stuff. All within reach, but sadly off-limits.
Suddenly, the Agentmobile started to talk. “Emergency. Emergency. Agent One, the police are calling. Your help is requested immediately.”
My brother’s foot pressed the pedal to the floor, and the Agentmobile shot forward in a flash. Yes! Now I would get some on-the-job agent training. It was time to save the day!