The children regarded John Madden in the way Dracula might regard a pizza. With a great puff followed by a mighty intake of breath, Madden began the song as taught to him by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. He did so in the hope that it might inspire his young charges to clean their mess of a room.
Ev'ry girl has a patch of hair
That looks much finer when it's bare
You find the spot and rrrrrip!
The girl is clean!
The children stared in a mixture of horror and fascination as the words - and a generous portion of spittle - tumbled from Madden's fat lips.
And ev'ry hole you trim around,
Becomes a joy to rim or pound,
A hoot! A caper!
It's sure to make the paper
Madden's face reddened and his voice became strained for breath as he continued singing. For the children it was like seeing a nuclear reactor melt down; they began to fear for their lives.
Snip and a shower make the girly bits all tidy
The girly bits all tidy
The girly bits all tidy
Just a snip and a shower make the girly bits all tidy
In a most delightful way
I pop a massive boner
To encourage her to hone her
The song wheezed to a halt and Madden clutched his manly bosom in his hand. His face darkened to a shade of purple and his eyes began to water.
"Owww," he groaned, "ohhh kids, the angina is really acting up."
"You have a vagina?" Eloise wrinkled her nose.
"I do?!" Madden raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise.
"Was that it, then?" Cadwaliter inquired. "Balls to your song."
"Quite horrid." Eloise agreed.
"I-I rather liked it," Corneatha spoke up, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
"Balls!" Cadwaliter menaced his shy sister with a fist.
"You know," Madden began as he regained his composure, "when I used to get in disagreements with Pat Summerall we would head down to the Madden Cruiser after the game and have some barbecue ribs and cold beers. Maybe you guys could…you know… I remember one time Pat got so mad that he tried to beat me to death with a propane tank. Pat's just not as big as me so I got my big ol' paws wrapped around his neck and he's flailing away with that propane tank and WHAM! Somehow Pat put a hole in that propane tank on the microphone stand and it just goes zipping out of his hand and straight out the window of the booth. The Bears were playing in Green Bay and the game was just about over. Just as Magic Majowski is about to get sacked and give the Bears a win, the propane tank lands right in their midst and takes out half of their tackles. Not a second later Majowski throws a bullet straight through the column of fire and-"
"Will you just pipe down, Old Fats?" Cadwaliter covered his ears. "We'll clean the bloody room if you can be quiet!"
"That's super, guys! I'll go back downstairs while you're doing that and see what sort of grub I can whip up for tea time."
Madden danced out the door, reinvigorated by the prospect of preparing food. The children groaned and set about the dreary task of shoveling their worldly possessions into the closet in a great mound.
In the pantry Madden could only find tins of sweet biscuits, jams and various teas and coffees. While this sort of thing might suit the palate of a British child, it was far too tame for someone like John Madden. He immediately abandoned the non-perishables and set course for the the Madden Cruiser and its inexhaustible stockpile of comestibles.
Nearly an hour later the children descended the staircase and trudged unhappily into the dining room. They were amazed to see the entire grand table covered from end to end in platters of various foods. They approached warily, as though the food might leap up and assail their gullets violently.
"What's all this, then?" Cadwaliter asked with a fair measure of suspicion.
"BOOM!" Madden effused. "Those right there are jalapeno poppers. Cheddar and cream cheese stuffed into a jalapeno pepper and then breaded and deep fried. You can dip them into these."
Madden gestured to a series of ramekins full to the brim with various dips.
"This one's ranch dressing, this one is nacho cheese and this one is mayonnaise. I had a mustard one but I dropped it on the sidewalk out front while I was carrying this stuff up."
He swooped a jalapeno popper into the mayonnaise and then crammed the whole thing into his mouth to demonstrate.
"Nah thah wah I cah a cahplehun!" Madden remarked, his mouth stuffed so full that he could not completely close it.
"Ergh," Cadwaliter grunted.
"What are those awful things?" Eloise pointed to a tray of meats shaped vaguely into cones.
"Ah thah." Madden held up a finger while he gulped down the last of the popper. "Those are my Warren Sapps. When I was down in Tampa I found out that Warren used to play the trumpet in marching band and the guys were giving him all kinds of heck over it so I decided to make him something to cheer him up. Warren Sapps are Bugles with olives stuck in them and then wrapped in bacon. Then you fry it. When Sapp saw the tray of those in the Madden Cruiser he threw it right out the door. He told me if he ever saw me again he was going to strangle me, but then I saw him a couple weeks later at a fundraiser for dolphins with syphilis - the fish not one of the greatest NFL franchises on the eastern seaboard - and he was-"
"Yes, yes, but what in God's name is that tag?" Cadwaliter gestured expansively at the huge tray of lumps of brown and green adrift in a sea of grease.
"Have you ever had fried ice cream?" Madden asked.
"Good lord, no."
"Well, it's like fried ice cream, only it's made out of guacamole and ground beef. I like to call it-"
"We don't want any of this." Eloise crossed her arms over her chest. "Take it away and bring us our tea and biscuits."
"I made almost a thousand tacos!" Madden yelped with dismay.
"How did you make so many?" Corneatha asked quietly.
"It was the Madden Cruiser!" Madden's dark mood evaporated and he replied with enthusiasm. "I just tell it what to make and it makes whatever I want. I've got to watch what I'm saying though, because it listens even when I think it's not paying attention. A couple months ago I was playing Dervish Pinochle with Isaac Bruce, Terry Holt and Jamie Martin. Terry and Isaac were up 700 points with a deadly combo of King's Manor and Countin' Quincy. Then BOOM! Jamie pulls out a Threes' Panic and with my Scooter's Delight we were able to pull ahead. We decided to take a break to have a couple drinks and I say 'boy I am so hungry I could eat five horses'. You know, just a figure of speech, because honestly I could probably only eat part of one horse no matter how hungry I am. Just not enough stomach volume, although I guess if I sat on the toilet while I ate it the whole thing could go in one-"
"You rambling buffoon, get to the point!" Cadwaliter jeered.
"Yeah, sure little buddy. The point is that as we were getting ready to go to Final Heat with nines melting there is this hiss and the Super Rotisserie pops open and there are five whole cooked horses. They were delicious, but that's beside the point. I don't know where the horses came from, but I guess the Morecooks found them in the-"
"The what?" Eloise interrupted.
"Oh, yeah, these crazy-looking guys who live in the cabinets. White hair, blue skin, big red eyes. They hiss at you if you turn the light on while they're out and run and hide. You hardly ever see them, but once in a while you'll be looking for something in a cabinet and one of the little ones will hand you the jar of horseradish or whatever. Funny story, I had Ditka over and we were oiling up these Chinese kids he bought on ebay. So Ditka has his hand buried to the wrist in-"
"I want to see these creatures!" Cadwaliter insisted.
"Yes, show us the beasties." Eloise concurred.
"I don't think that's a good idea. They don't like-"
"Fie on you, Old Fats! You will show us these creatures or we will make your stay here a living hell!" Cadwaliter scowled.
"Yes, let's clean out the rot bin of sour cabbages and hurl them at the little cretins!" Eloise clapped her hands with excitement and dashed off to collect the spoiled vegetables.
Moments later the group assembled outside the Madden Cruiser. Madden was reluctant to show them inside and little Corneatha clung fearfully to the edge of Madden's XXXL frock, but Cadwaliter and Eloise were insistent.
"Take us inside this instant!" Eloise demanded when Madden hesitated.
"Alright, but I'm warning you, don't make the Morecooks angry." Madden opened the door to the Madden Cruiser and Cadwaliter bit his thumb at him.
They stepped inside the Madden Cruiser, surprised to find that rather than a roomy luxury bus liner the interior more closely resembled a great basalt cavern. The curvature of the ceiling disappeared into the gloom, broken in places by small holes that speared shafts of light down into the dark interior. Torches guttered in iron sconces set about the cavern and cabinets emerged at bizarre angles from ancient columns of stone etched with unnatural runes. From beneath their feet came the constant beat of some distant drum, as though the earth's heart was hammering miles below the bus. The atmosphere inside the cavern was a disorienting mixture of wet stone, sour egg sulfur and the Renuzit air fresheners placed strategically around the rough-hewn furnishings.
"Wow, what a terrible place!" Cadwaliter exclaimed. "It's no wonder you've grown to be such a hideous troll!"
"It's not always like this. It's different each time I enter the Madden Cruiser. Gypsy curse or something. Sometimes it's futuristic, sometimes it looks like the inside of an old galleon and once it even looked like lasagna."
Suddenly, Corneatha let out a terrible scream and pointed with horror. A Morecook crouched on the ground lapping white calcium-rich water from a pool in the floor of the cavern. It was only two feet tall and when Corneatha screamed it turned to look at her, its distended red eyes bulging further with fear. Cadwaliter and Eloise immediately scrambled for the sack full of rotted fruits and vegetables, but by the time their cabbages landed the creature had disappeared into one of the cabinets.
"That one!" Eloise cried and pointed to the cabinet that had swallowed the fleeing Morecook.
Cadwaliter and Eloise rushed to the oddly-angled door to the cabinet and paused at the inky blackness beyond its threshold.
"He's gone!" Cadwaliter complained and tossed a rotted tomato into the cabinet.
A few seconds later a splat could be heard in the distance.
"We can still catch him!" Eloise shouted and began to climb in.
"Wait," Cadwaliter held her back, "let the ogre fix a rope to us in case it turns into a steep chute. I don't want to be trapped in this accursed barrow."
Madden muttered, but dutifully searched the nearby cabinets for his long coil of hemp rope. He secured it in loops around the waists of Eloise and Cadwaliter.
"I'm warning you; the Morecooks may be frightened of us out here, but down there is their territory. Remember that nosy priest who came by-"
"Enough of all that!" Cadwaliter interrupted. "Get your bloated carcass over here and hold the rope so that we don't fall."
Cadwaliter snatched a torch from one of the sconces and led the way for Eloise down into the interior of the cabinet. The glow of the torch quickly disappeared from where Madden and Corneatha stood at the entrance, but when Madden called out Cadwaliter cursed at him to bite his tongue. Madden waited for several minutes and watched the coil of rope slowly play out as the two children descended deeper into the bowels of Morecook's cabinet fastness. Abruptly, the last hundred feet of rope was yanked into the cabinet and the rope became difficult for Madden to hold. He grunted with it for several seconds and then it fell slack.
"You kids alright down there?" Madden shouted, but there was no answer.
"I hope they're okay." Corneatha whispered fearfully.
Scarcely a minute later there were three sharp tugs on the rope and with difficulty Madden began to haul in the rope. As he neared the end he heard a frightful clatter in the cabinet with each tug on the hemp line. Finally, two beautiful gleaming floor lamps appeared tied to the rope where the two children had been. They were ornate electric lamps in an Art Deco style with an antique look and exotic gold filigree.
"These are a gift to you." Madden said sheepishly and tried to hand the two lamps to Corneatha.
"Where are Cadwaliter and Eloise?" Corneatha asked as she set down the heavy lamps.
"I think they got turned into these lamps. I hope so anyway. One time Barret Robbins decided to climb in here right before the Superbowl and-"
"It's okay, Mr. Madden. They were both beastly and all the time mean to me."
"And you've got two lamps out of the deal." Madden flashed his buttery smile.
"I would have rather had a pony." Corneatha frowned.
"No!" Madden cried, but it was too late.
With a hiss of steam the stone-encrusted lid to the Super Rotisserie opened wide and revealed a whole rotisserie-cooked pony. Corneatha screamed and fled from the Madden Cruiser. Madden scooped up the lamps and began to follow after her. When he was nearly at the door he detoured over to the rotisserie and tore a drumstick from the pony.
"BOOM! Delicious!" He tipped an imaginary hat in the direction of the red eyes peering out from a nearby cabinet.
"Really, Holmes!" I dropped into my seat, shocked. "You are remarkably tall! What are you, six foot six? Six foot eight?"
As the 19th century diver approaches a giant clam, a flash of brilliant golden light flares from within the shell. I emerge in a swirl of bubbles and do the timeless universal underwater hand signals for the following: ZODIAC KILLER, KKK, BLOOD OF YOUTH
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