From the outside, 582 Gambit Lane did not look like the home of a superhero—not even the home of a superhero’s secret underground hideaway. The neighborhood boys thought it was mysterious enough for at least half a Batcave, but 582 Gambit Lane was simply the home of the large Bannister family—Mr. Bannister, Mrs. Bannister, all seven children from Arnold down to Maisie, and Trixie, the golden doodle who somehow turned out chocolate brown.
Aside from their unusual size, the Bannister family was quite ordinary. Mr. and Mrs. Bannister ran a joint investment business to pay the grocery bills, Arnold raced around in his secondhand roadster to impress the neighborhood girls, and Maisie charmed those same girls into offering free babysitting. Trixie did her best to keep the rest of the children out of trouble, even though she worked overtime and wasn’t paid half as much as was fair. Cody Bannister, the most middle of the ubiquitous middle children, was the child with a superpower.
In any comic book worth the money, Cody Bannister would have been plucked from obscurity to be raised by a multimillionaire mentor, eventually roving the streets of some metropolis in defense of truth and justice. Unfortunately, Cody didn’t meet most requirements of that scenario. He wasn’t an orphan, for one thing—Mr. and Mrs. Bannister could attest to that. He wasn’t an only child, either—even if he had wanted to be one, Arnold and company wouldn’t have allowed it. As for the multimillionaire mentor, Bannister and Bannister Investment Company had enough to do just keeping seven children and a chocolate golden doodle afloat.
But the most unusual thing about Cody Bannister—the thing that especially didn’t fit the comic books, and probably the thing that kept him from being made into a series of blockbuster films—was his superpower. Trixie held the private opinion that Cody acquired it from watching Mary Poppins so many times in succession, but Mr. and Mrs. Bannister never thought to consult her when Cody manifested his new ability. They thought he was playing a fantastic game, like any other seven-year-old, so they smiled, nodded, and made mental notes about his imagination.
“Look at me, Mommy, Daddy,” he announced, bursting into their office one particularly busy afternoon. “I can clean up just like the umbrella lady!”
Pointing his fingers at his father’s cluttered desk, he attempted to snap them as crisply as possible. A loose leaf of paper sailed across the desk and slipped into the filing cabinet—but the window was open, so Mrs. Bannister only smiled.
“That’s very nice, Cody,” she said, tickling him in his favorite tummy spot. “Why don’t you clean up the playroom instead? Daddy and I will let you tidy up later.”
Mr. Bannister looked up from his calculator and laughed. “That’s right, Cody. If you can handle the playroom, you can handle anything—even this office.”
Cody tumbled along to the playroom, where Trixie was taking a well-deserved nap. He landed with a thump on top of her, but she sniffed him without protest.
“They don’t believe me, Trixie,” he said. “But I saw the paper—it moved!”
After snuggling for a bit in doggy fur, Cody sat up and studied the blocks scattered in one corner of the room. Maisie had been playing with them—she’d recently learned how to throw, and the damage was extensive. Pointing his fingers again, he snapped a little harder. One block rolled across the floor, and then another, and another. Soon, all the blocks had assembled in a neat plastic pile. With another hard snap, they leapt into their container. The lid slammed, and Cody’s mouth dropped open.
“Trixie, did you see that?” He snapped at the matchbox racers all crashed together, and they reformed themselves into race formation. “Trixie, it works!”
Trixie barked her laughing bark. Of course it worked—she knew it, even if Mr. and Mrs. Bannister didn’t. Cody snapped until his fingers turned numb, then flopped down on top of Trixie again. The playroom looked as clean as the day they moved into 582 Gambit Lane—cleaner, in fact.
“I always thought she was a superhero in disguise,” Cody said to the ceiling. “But why did I get the cleaning power?” He scratched Trixie behind her ears. “Why not the make-people-fly power? Whenever Arnold bugged me, I could send him right up to the ceiling.”
Trixie didn’t know, so she nuzzled Cody with her nose.
“Oh, well,” Cody sighed. “At least this makes cleaning my room easy.”
It did make cleaning his room easy—so easy that Mrs. Bannister put him in charge of housecleaning altogether. Cody didn’t try showing her his secret for a long time, but she knew that Cody could do in five minutes what all the other children combined couldn’t even do in five hours. The only room that defeated him was the attic—the dust made it impossible for him to snap his fingers. Since not even Cody could clean the attic, Mr. Bannister decided it wasn’t worth organizing.
“But the rest of this house is good enough for a showroom,” Mr. Bannister beamed. “I don’t know how you do it, son.”
He didn’t know how Cody did it—Cody didn’t tell him anymore than he told Mrs. Bannister. As he got older, Cody contemplated breaking the news, but he always decided it wasn’t worth it.
“I don’t want to get the attention from cleaning,” he confided to Trixie, the day after he’d landed his first job cleaning at the neighbor’s. “If I earn enough money, I can get a roadster like Arnold’s. That’ll be worth some attention!”
Trixie sneezed her polite disagreement sneeze, but Cody only laughed and went on to the next house. Because all it took was a round of snaps, he could tidy the entire street in an hour or two. Soon, his business expanded beyond Gambit Lane—he cleaned everything from retirement cottages to high-class villas, and the villa owners compensated him so generously that Mr. Bannister went into early retirement. Cody bought two brand-new roadsters for Arnold and three for himself, but he didn’t quite get the investment return he expected.
“I’m already so famous, they expect me to have those cars,” he told Trixie, who had moved on from shepherding the Bannister children and was keeping an indulgent eye on her grandpuppies. “What’s next? A new house? I guess the Gambit Lane place is a bit—old.”
582 Gambit Lane was getting old, so Cody had it torn down and built an even bigger place on the lot. Mr. and Mrs. Bannister lost no time filling the empty space with as many grandchildren as they could coax into visiting.
“I’m glad they’re happy,” Cody admitted, “but this is getting to be too much. I refuse to build a Batcave, Trixie. I absolutely refuse.”
To the great disappointment of his nephews and nieces, Cody didn’t build a Batcave. He sat back in his secondhand Jeep—he’d traded in the roadsters a long time ago—and thought.
“I need a challenge,” he decided. “I need to find something I can’t clean—at least not with a snap of my fingers.”
So Cody swung out of his Jeep, through his power-washed garage, and into his surprisingly small house. Just out of habit, he snapped his fingers at the trail of forgotten shoes and misplaced paperwork. Automatically ducking the whirlwind of objects, he tiptoed into the nursery, where a very small figure was sleeping in a very small crib. He bent over the railing and rearranged the blanket with a very small snap.
“Well, lil’ man,” he whispered. “Mommy’s out for the day, so it’s up to me.”
He sniffed a little at the smell Trixie would have recognized right away. He tried a snap in just the right place, but the smell persisted. He snapped a little harder, and nothing changed.
Cody Bannister smiled. “Looks like it’s time to actually use those baby wipes.”