Chapter 4: Minus World
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Three months later, everything was different.  But perhaps not in the way you might have expected.  No, I was not embarked on an epic adventure through a fantastical world.  But I was embarked on a grocery shopping excursion at the local Super Target.  And for the first time in forever, I didn’t have to sweat the budget.

The guys from Chuck’s crew posted the videos of Mario scaling the unfinished building to save the mayoral candidate from the already famous Kong.  It’s not amazing that the videos went viral. It would have been amazing if they didn’t. Those videos led to interviews on the local news and then on national news and even appearances on late night talk shows.  Mario started being referred to as Super Mario. Now everybody wanted to know more about this mysterious, happy-go-lucky, fat boy. Big surprise, the world found our crappy local TV commercials and started re-posting them as if they were actually worth watching.  Before I knew it, the Mario Bros were celebrities.  

Business started to boom.  All the debts were paid. Employees were hired.   Nancy got her job back. Sort of. We let her run the reception desk.  More capable people took over books and scheduling. The name of the company was changed to The Super Mario Bros so that our business would pop up when people searched for Super Mario.  I reduced my hours to only four days a week and picked up baking again.  

So, there I was at Super Target, cart full of ingredients, and pocket full of cash, when all of a sudden I see, walking into the opposite end of the sugar aisle I had just entered, Daisy Dayflower.  Dang! Hopeful she didn’t see me, I turned my cart around and zipped over to the dog food aisle. I don’t even have a dog. I was about to pull in but then…. What the heck! There she was again! Keep moving.  Oh crap! How did I end up in the tampon aisle? There was no escape this time. Daisy came in from the other end. I was caught. And it was obvious that she saw me when I was in the first aisle and had been tracking me down.  Well, hopefully she didn’t know that I saw her.  That would be awkward.

“Luigi!” she said, a little too loudly.

“Oh, hi, Daisy,” I said, trying my best to sound pleasantly surprised.

“Were you trying to avoid me just now?”

Dang!

“What?  What are you talking about.  No,” I lied.

“I think you were.”

“But I just saw you just now,” I lied again.  “Why would I try to avoid you?”

“Honestly, I’m not quite sure.  Except that you don’t want to talk to me for some reason.  Why wouldn’t you want to talk to me, Luigi? Is it because of what happened at Randall and Dotty’s wedding?”

“I wasn’t trying to avoid you.  Nothing happened at Randall and Dotty’s wedding.”

“So, when Mario asked you if he could set you up with me and you said no and then Mario, in front of you, tells me that he asked you and you said no….that wasn’t embarrassing to you?  I mean, that sort of thing wouldn’t be embarrassing to me but you’re kind of an awkward guy. I can imagine it being embarrassing to you. But believe me, it would have been a lot more embarrassing if you said yes.  Because, I would have said no. I’m not really into awkward guys.” 

She wouldn’t stop talking.  And even if she did, how would I - how would anyone respond to the things she was saying?  So I did the only thing I could think of to get her to shut up.  I bent over and kissed her. Smack dab on the lips.  

“Hey!” she pushed me away.  “Don’t do that! Why did you do that?”

“What?” I asked.  “Did I embarrass you?  So sorry.”

“Ugh!”  She growled and walked away. 

“What?  You’re just gonna walk away?” I said.  “You were the one who was chasing me down.”

She huffed, turned, and stomped toward me.

“Where’s Gadd?” she asked.

“Who?”

“Professor Elvin Gadd.  The one who let Kong out.”

“What makes you think I know?”

“Because Mario was there and I assume he speaks to you.”

“Mario doesn’t know.  If he knew, the whole world would know.  He’s not one to keep his mouth shut. Why do you want to know anyway?”

She looked down and fingered a large coin that was dangling from her necklace. 

“He was my professor.  He’s a good man.”

“Well,” I said, “half the world is looking for him.  And Donkey Kong. So just keep watching the news, I guess.  I’m sure he’ll show up.”

She slapped my face.

“Ow!!  What was that for?!”

“For kissing me.”

She turned and left me staring dumbfounded for a moment.  Before I could recover from that whole interaction, Daisy walked back into the aisle.  Only this time she was blushing.

“I didn’t come to the store to talk to you,” she said as she removed a tampon box from the shelf and left again.

My phone dinged.  

“Get to the office ASAP!” a text from Mario read.

ASAP was an hour later.  I had to get those groceries purchased and put away.  As my taxi driver pulled up to the new Super Mario Bros complex, I found myself still amazed - even after having it for a month.  It used to be a Chevy showroom. There was glass everywhere. The logo on the building was big and colorful. Each letter of MARIO was stylized with a different primary color.  Our building was like a smaller version of the Googleplex and housed a fleet of work trucks (most of which were currently out on the job). The trucks were wrapped in graphics that featured a newly designed, 3D rendered cartoon of Mario and myself.  Gone was the crude, hand drawn art.  

As I entered the reception area, light from the setting sun reflected and refracted in all the glass.  I felt like I was on the set of CSI Miami. Remember that show? Nancy greeted me from the round reception desk.  She was watching a TV that was mounted from the ceiling. It was playing the episode of The Tonight Show that Mario appeared on a few weeks ago.  

“I could watch this a hundred times,” she said.  “It’s just so cool that he got to meet Jimmy Fallon!”

“Hey,” I said.  “Where is Mario? He told me to come as soon as I could.  What’s up?”

“He’s still talking with the cops.  He should be done soon, I imagine.”

“The cops?!  What happened?”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist.  It was nothing big. We just had a visitor, that’s all.  That professor guy. The guy that caused all that trouble as the zoo, you know?”

“Really?  Is he still here?”

“No.  He was looking for something he thought you or Mario might have.  But he looked all paranoid and in a rush. Mario had no idea what he was talking about.  But Mario didn’t really care anyhow. He was asking as many questions as the professor. He wanted to know where Kong was.  Mario was all in a hussy. You should have seen him. Anyway, Shorty lost his patience, I guess, and ran off. By Shorty, I mean the professor, not Mario.  So Mario called the cops, figuring they would probably want to know he came by.”

“What did he think we had?”

“I don’t know.  Ask Mario. They were both talking so fast, I couldn't keep up.”

I texted Mario to tell him I was there.  He replied and said he’d be in in a minute.  I turned my attention to the TV while I waited.  

“So, you probably get this question all the time but I just have to ask it,” Jimmy Fallon was saying.  

“Where do I get these good looks?” offered Mario.

“Well, Ok. Sure.  Let’s go with that one,” said Jimmy.

“I don’t know but if there’s any bachelorettes out there that want to see this genealogy continue, let me know.”

“He’s so funny.” Nancy said.

“He’s so pathetic.” I countered. 

“So you’re saying your not dating anyone right now?”  This was Jimmy again. “There’s been a lot of rumors about you and mayoral candidate, Pauline Keyes.”

“Some of those rumors might be true,” Mario said.  “Depends on what you’ve heard. We had a thing once.  We’re kind of like Jerry and Elaine from Seinfeld. But no, I’m not dating anyone.”

“So, what I was actually going to ask you was, what’s your last name?  Is it Mario? Is your name Mario Mario?”

“Yeah, I knew you were going to ask that.  I do get asked that all the time. It makes sense, right?  We’re called the Mario Brothers after all. But no. My last name in not Mario.  I honestly don’t know what my last name is. My brother and I were separated from our parents when we were too young to remember our last names.  We were raised by a man who never officially adopted us so we never got his last name. He was holding out hope that we’d find our parents. Anyway, when we were kids, Luigi was real shy.  He would hardly even make eye contact with people. So when adults got to know us, they would mostly get to know me because I would actually talk to them. And so my name would stick out to them.  They would call us Mario and his brother. Over time, it just kind of evolved into the Mario Brothers. So, we’ve been called that since we were kids. It’s kind of cool having just one name. Like Madonna or Slash or Sia or whatever.”

“How were you separated from your parents?” Jimmy asked.

Of course, I knew the story and had also seen this episode before, so it didn’t matter that Mario came into the reception area before I could hear him re-hash those traumatic times.

“Took you long enough, little bro.” Mario said.

“Professor Gadd was here?” I asked.

“Yeah, he was waving around some coin, demanding to know where I got it from.”

“A coin?”

“Yeah.  He was also demanding I tell him where his coin was.  I assume he means another one, besides the one he was holding.”

“Did he say where he’s been?”

“No.  I asked him.  And I told him what you think you remember.”

“You told him?” I asked. “But you don’t even believe me.”

“Look, I know that in the past I said your word was enough for me to believe you.  But when you crawled out of the sewers after chasing Kong, you didn’t say anything about magic pipes and other worlds.  That wasn’t until days later. You have to admit, it sounds like you had a vivid dream. Besides, you had a head injury at the time, remember?  Regardless,I wanted to see what would happen if I bounced your story off of him - since you claim to remember him in that other place.”

“What did he say?”  My interest was peaked.  All I could initially remember from chasing the professor through the sewer was turning a corner then blacking out.  When I came to, I was standing alone in the sewer with a terrible headache and a feeling of total confusion. Over the next few days I began to have faint memories of events that seemed impossible.  Like following the professor through a magical pipe into another world. But there was no pipe down there. Ok, that’s not true. It’s a sewer system. There’s lots of pipes. But that pipe wasn’t there.  But, if it was just a dream, how do you explain a man and an ape disappearing without a trace from the Bronx?  

“Well, that’s the interesting thing.” Mario said.  “When I told him your story, he started mumbling to himself. Something about a minus world or something.”

“A what?”

“It sounded like he said minus world.”

“So what you’re saying is that he  reacted to my story with something other than incredulousness?” I asked, getting a little excited.

“Incredulity?”  Mario corrected.

“Whatever!”

“Yes.  He wasn’t incredulous.  He was, I don’t know, concerned?  Almost as if he might get in trouble for something.”

A thought struck me.

“What did the coin look like?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  It was about yea big.”  He put his fingers in a C formation about the size of a sand-dollar.  Do sand-dollars come in different sizes? I don’t know. That might be a bad description.

“Was it silver or gold?  Was there an image on the coin?” I asked.

“It was gold.  Why?”

“What was on it?”

 “Oh, I don’t remember…  Wait! A moon. It was a moon, I think.”

“Hmmm.  That parts different.” I said to myself.

“Luigi,” Mario said, “what are you talking about?  Do you know something about the coin?”

“I saw Daisy today.”

“Daisy Dayflower?”

“Yeah.  Just like an hour ago.  She was wearing a coin like that on a necklace.  Only it didn’t have a moon on it. It had like a tree or something.  Anyway, she just so happened to be looking for the professor. He was her professor.  Did you know that?”

“So, you really think you followed him through a pipe that no longer exists.”  Mario asked.

“To be honest, I don’t know what happened.  But I do know that I have memories of….stuff.  And I really want to figure out why. And maybe it’s all related to how you were able to bounce around that construction site.”

“The doctors said it was adrenaline,” said Mario.  

“I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  You can’t forget about my fire throwing.”

“Well,” said Mario, “whatever happened, it seems like we just might find at least some answers by talking to Daisy.”

“Yeah.  That’s gonna be awkward.”  I said.

“Why?”

“I kinda sorta kissed her,” I admitted.

“Mama Mia!”

“It’s not what you think.  I’ll explain later. Do you have Daisy’s contact info?”

“No.  But I can probably get it from Randall and Dotty.  But it’ll have to wait till after the shoot.” said Mario.  

“Shoot?  What shoot?”

“What do you mean, ‘what shoot?’  The commercial shoot that got bumped up to today.”

“You never told me about that.” I said, more than a little frustrated.

“I sent you a text.”

“You did not.  The only text I received from you today said ‘Come to the office ASAP’”.

“That’s the text I’m talking about!” said Mario.  “Come to the office ASAP to shoot the commercial.”

“But you didn’t say shoot the commercial.”  I pointed out.  

“Well, I was a little distracted.  The professor came in as I was texting you.”  

Of coarse Mario considered that a perfectly logical excuse.  I sighed.  

“When are we supposed to do this?  I don’t even have my overalls.” I complained.

“Oh, you don’t need those old things.  We’ve got new ones. Let me show you.”  

His excitement was making me nervous.  I followed him into his office. Hanging on a rolling clothing rack were two outfits.  They were pretty much the same as the ones we used in the other commercials but brand new and  better quality. My overalls came with a long sleeved, dark green t-shirt. Mario’s came with red.  Clipped to the overalls were fiddler-caps that matched our shirts.  

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.  “I’m not wearing that hat.”

Four hours later we wrapped on filming and I was starving.  So much for having a day off. It was evening now. As I walked walked out of the building to catch the Uber I ordered, I saw a black limousine with its engine running in the parking lot.  The back door opened and out stepped Rocco Delvecio.  

“Nice hat,” Delvecio said.  I had forgotten I was still wearing the clothes from the commercial shoot.  “Hop in the car. We have business to discuss.”

I told Mario we should have never gotten involved with him.

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