Thirteen

"Why yes, Brian," said Mr. Bannister, who answered his door. "What can I do for you?"

"Help me, Mr. Bannister," said Brian. "You're my only hope. Circus dolts have taken my parents hostage."

"Oh," said Mr. Bannister. "Dolts you say? That must demoralize you."

"I know it must sound strange," said Brian. "That dog I found ran away from a circus. Those numskulls want him back."

"Your parents were taken hostage over a dog?" said Mr. Bannister. "That sounds a bit obsessive."

"Oh, I know it must sound silly," said Brian. "To say my parents have been kidnapped over a dog. But, you see, this dog talks."

"Of course," said Mr. Bannister. "No performing half-wit would hesitate to take hostages to recover a talking dog. Why, your heart must be beating like a hummingbird's. Why don't you stay and calm yourself over a slice of pie?"

"Even so," said Brian. "You must be wondering why I don't just return the dog."

"All I can imagine is you have a perfectly reasonable story," said Mr. Bannister. "My guess is your pulse is around one hundred eighty. Why don't you step inside for carrot cake and a good cry?"

"You see," said Brian. "I yelled at the dog. For brushing his teeth. And he ran away."

"Oh, you shouldn't blame yourself, young man," said Mr. Bannister. "Before you lose your eye tracking completely, perhaps you should refresh yourself with some home fermented beer."

"Pies? Cake? Beer?" said Brian. "Mr. Bannister, you sound like a happy Christmas ghost. Are you teasing me?"

"Tease you?" said Mr. Bannister. "I offer you a treat. What does your refusal have to do with that strange banana-boy business you participate in? Perhaps you would prefer a banana bread."

"Pa?" said a voice from the Bannisters' baby carriage. "Our special wireless broadcast is fixing to start."

"He's right," said Mr. Bannister. "The start of our program is nigh."

"What?" said Brian. "Who's right?"

"Why, my newborn infant son, of course," said Mr. Bannister.

"No," said Brian. "Babies can't talk."

"Sure we can," said the man who sat up from the Bannisters' carriage. A miniature man with gossamer wings. "Why, howdy, young feller. I mean boy much older than I. Since I am the Bannisters' baby. And am newly born."

"Hello again, little boy," said a fairy from before. "You're here in time to listen to our special wireless broadcast."

"You'll have to wait until it finishes before you can enjoy some fairy cuisine," said the other.

"Yes," said Brian. "I think I understand what's happening. You are all insane. And because coupon fairies don't exist, that must mean I'm insane too."

"Hush now, Brian," said Mr. Bannister. "We will attend to those ludicrous figures who vex you and your family. But after listening to our broadcast. And maybe a nice snack."

"This is Hubert P. Mimbleshaw," said the voice from the wireless. "If you are our tenth caller, and you answer our trivia question, you become the King of the World. Tenth caller, with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?"

"Bertie, this is Susan again," said the caller. "If I answer the question, am I still King of the World? Or can I become Queen?"

"I am sorry, Susan," said the announcer. "Your chance is for King of the World only. If you would rather not be king, you can always make someone you like king. Then maybe he can make you queen or something. Are you ready to answer today's trivia question?"

"I'm ready," said Susan.

"Susan," said the announcer. "You become King of the World if you can describe to me the intestines of a canine animal."

"Oh golly, let me think," said Susan. "Gosh, I have no idea."

"Sorry, Susan," said the announcer. "Maybe you can try again some other time. Next caller, this is Hubert P. Mimbleshaw. With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?"

"Monsieur le Mimpleslaw," said the caller. "It is Spot."

"Oh no," said Brian.

"Spot," said the announcer. "You become King of the World, if you can describe to me the intestines of a canine animal."

"Oui," said Spot. "The canine animals have the smooth intestines for the quick digestion. The meal of choice is the smelly animal parts that have no moving."

"Congratulation, Your Majesty," said the announcer. "You are the new King of the World."

"—shrill," said Spot.

"You," said Brian, who tracked the phone to the pantry and to Spot. "This must be your fault. Fix the Bannister baby."

"Monsieur le Brian," said Spot. "I break no Bannister babies."

"Its Majesty Spot is right, young feller," said the bewhiskered fairy in Spot's company. "The theft of that Bannister baby weren't the fault of Its Majesty. Some foolish human gave the baby's name to my daughters, Blanche and Jadis Belle. Now they gone and swapped for him my nephew Sticky David Pennyfarthing, whom you should not confuse with my other nephew Sticky David Earl Pennyfarthing."

"What?" said Brian.

"Even if that Mr. Bannister feller hadn't strapped on the old enchanted feed bag," said the fairy. "Why, even if he ain't bloated his self all tranquil, there ain't nothing no one can do to get that baby back. That's a rule. No fairy got to take back kin when a human give us the baby's name."

"Our misfortunes are most severe," said Spot. "Our challenges most daunting. Our circumstances most tragic. The diapers Monsieur le New Baby soils taste of damnation. Monsieur le Brian, do you know Monsieur le Sweaty Pete? He is what they call a coupon fairy. And, of course, we must go."

"Where?" said Brian. "Where do you think you're going?"

"To complete the King of the World crowning," said Spot. "I must follow the broadcaster instructions to wait at the home of Monsieur le Brian."

"We'll go home alright," said Brian. "But not to make you any kind of king. When I bring you back, those nincompoops will let go of my parents. Then we'll figure out how to snap Mr. Bannister out of his spell and return his baby. Then you can go back to whatever sideshow you escaped from."

"I'm sorry you lost your parents there, young feller," said Sweaty Pete. "But we can't let you trade away our new king like that. We wouldn't be very good coupon fairies if we did."

"Watch what you point at me," said Brian. "Is that like a wand? What are you doing? How did you do that? Where did my pants go? I can't leave here naked. People will think, why, they'll think—"

"They'll think what?" said Jadis Belle. "They'll think maybe you have some kind of girlfriend or something?

"That you're in love?" said Blanche.

"Or that you're some kind of big baby?" said Sticky David Pennyfarthing. With no further delay, the fairies wheeled Spot away.