Eighteen

Their detour to the Meadowlands Stadium match gave Brian his chance to ask Mimbleshaw some questions.

"Werewolves binging and purging on families," said Brian. "Talking animals hijacking broadcast stations. Fairy colonies flourishing in the modest shadows of civilization's discarded scraps. How can any of this be? Why invade our world now?"

"Rather than an invasion, human," said Mimbleshaw, "think of it more as a long ongoing occupation you have only now learned exists. After all, to rule is first and foremost to impose a hush. Consider the taboo against talk of money. Who do you hear say talk of money is rude? People with money. Poor people stay quiet on behalf of the elite. As your revered thinkers say, with great power goes great deniability."

"What?" said Brian. "No. And why do you get to pick the King of the World?"

"Our organization," said Mimbleshaw, "sends coupon fairies to rummage through the trash of people all over the globe. We refer to the motto of every king in the history of all the ages: I tax, therefore I govern."

"What?" said Brian. "No. And why a dog? Who does it help to make a dog the King of the World?"

"All most people go by is how things look, human," said Mimbleshaw. "So we will always be told obedience is practical. And crowns will always inspire a powerful reaction. Unable to cope with how his crown attracted dissent and cruelty, Tuffy felt driven to flee with it altogether. To silence his doubts, a bully will nurture in his loneliness as much hatred as he can. So we arranged for the quiz broadcast to select Spot to succeed Tuffy. When his rage forces him to emerge from hiding — blind and his pulse out of control — Tuffy will be his most at risk."

"What?" said Brian. "No. And what does any of what you say have to do with me? My parents taken by harlequins. The Bannisters, zombie slaves. Their baby, fairy contraband. You could have ruined anyone's life. Why did you pick mine?"

"Human, does everything have to be about you?" said Mimbleshaw. "To inflame Tuffy's anger, we needed one of the most natural things in the world. We needed a child to care for a dog. To our misfortune, Its Majesty Spot chose to race you on the playground that day. If you had showed the least thought, the coupon fairies would have had no need to recruit the Bannisters for help. We would have been done with you by now."

"What do you mean?" said Brian. "That all this trouble is my fault?"

"Lose the dog, lose your family, lead civilization to the edge of collapse," said Mimbleshaw. "Not your typical singing-cowboy race to the bottom, is it, human?"