Wheeler peeked out the window blinds and watched a police cruiser pull into his car lot. Two male officers stepped out, one short, the other tall. Tall Guy marched up the concrete walkway leading to the small wooden administrative building of Wheeler’s Wheels-n-Deals. Wheeler gulped. He noticed Shorty moving toward the signpost, where there was mounted a stringy green Inflatable Wacky Tube Man, flapping about in fine form this midsummer—rather flippantly, if you asked Shorty.

Wheeler stepped outside to intercept Tall Guy.

“Hello, sir,” the officer greeted. “You the owner of this business?”

“Yes I am, officer,” Wheeler answered cautiously. He offered his hand. “Ted Wheeler. How can I help you?”

“Mr. Wheeler, um, uh, I don’t quite know how to put this lightly.” The officer scratched the back of his head. “I’ll just cut to it. We have orders from the city to remove that thing from your property. Effective immediately.” He pointed toward the Inflatable Wacky Tube Man. “We’ve received numerous complaints of assault.”

From the city? Wheeler thought, as if he hadn’t heard the part about assault.

Wheeler read the officer’s shiny golden nametag: J. Christiansen.

Officious little prick, thought Wheeler. He’d read that in The Shining and never forgot it. It was a good line he kept in his back pocket, just in case, though he’d never actually used it. When Wheeler met a person he disliked, which in his shady line of work was every single day, he repeated that line in his head like clockwork.

“I don’t think I understand, Officer Christiansen,” Wheeler said, trying to control his rising temper. “What’d you mean by orders from the city?”

Christiansen lifted his duty belt authoritatively. Another whiner, he thought.

“Sir,” Christiansen said firmly, straightening his back to make the most of his six-foot-four frame, “we’ve received approximately ten reports from individuals—eight women and two young men—who’ve been assaulted by that thing.” He pointed again toward the Inflatable Wacky Tube Man, who, as always, was flapping and grinning. “The reports are all similar in nature. The victims claimed as they were leaving these premises, they were assaulted by that thing. Touched inappropriately. I won’t get into details, but we don’t play around with that. The city’s cracking down, so I have my orders.”

Wheeler looked behind Christiansen and saw Shorty crouched next to the Inflatable Wacky Tube Man, whose only crime, Wheeler now believed, was he hadn’t drummed up enough business, though his dead wife who’d bought it for him as a birthday present two years ago had promised otherwise. From Wheeler’s perspective, it appeared as though Shorty was trying to shut down the Inflatable Wacky Tube Man.

Wheeler’s blood boiled.

“Hey, what’s your partner doing over there?” Wheeler said angrily. “Hey asshole, take a hike! That’s private property!”

“Sir,” said Christiansen, irritated, his right hand now instinctively on his gun, “we’re gonna take him away. End of discussion. Sexual assault is a serious crime. Unless you wanna be arrested for interference, I suggest you calm down.”

Shorty, who also had a short fuse, couldn’t find the switch to turn off the Inflatable Wacky Tube Man. This angered him. He looked up at the Inflatable Wacky Tube Man and suddenly, it seemed as if he was being mocked by that ridiculously predatory grin. Shorty snapped open his large pocket knife and slashed at the Inflatable Wacky Tube Man’s base over and over. He savaged it, ripped open the fabric completely.

“Not so funny anymore, are ya?” Shorty said to his defenseless and
deflating victim.

Just before the Inflatable Wacky Tube Man flattened to the pavement, by some twisted miracle beyond the laws of logic, by a final act of resistance against brutality, by just a perfectly timed gust of strong midsummer wind, he swooped down and smacked Shorty right on his buttocks, hard. Shorty hopped and hollered like Yosemite Sam. He wore cowboy boots and an orange mustache, like Yosemite Sam.

“Damn thing got my ass!” he screamed.

Christiansen, having witnessed the whole thing, chuckled.

“My partner’s a bit of a drama queen as you can see.”

Christiansen then realized he wasn’t chatting with one of his buddies. Everyday absurdities had a way of taking him out of his element.

He saw that Wheeler was on the ground, on his knees, hands covering his face. Sobbing.

“Uh, sir.”

“…my wife…my only friend,” Wheeler cried.

Wheeler was in shambles—a sad sight of a grown man to behold.

“Good God,” Christiansen muttered, scratching the back of his head. “Good God.”

“Goddang!” Shorty exclaimed in the distance, huge smile on his face. “We got ourselves a big one. A fighter!”

The Inflatable Wacky Tube Man wasn’t a fighter anymore. He was simply no more. He’d been reduced to just a long piece of shredded green fabric dragged unceremoniously against concrete by a feisty little police officer with a Napoleon complex. He’d be placed in a cardboard box as criminal and evidence. By next week, he’d be forgotten.