Chairman of the Bored
It was dumb of me, I know.
When you’re a fourth grader, you don’t take a shortcut across the sixth graders’ playground. Not when they’re playing on it.
It’s safer to wear red undies and dance the hootchy-koo in front of a raging bull, or to dip a toe in a piranha’s swimming pool.
But private eyes live dangerously. Besides, I was late for lunch.
Green and grumpy and ready to eat, I slipped along a line of krangleberry trees. Then I heard it.
Heavy footfalls crunched behind the next tree. Something hefty— a T-rex, a grizzly, maybe Bigfoot?— was stalking me. I stopped short, and out popped Herman the Gila Monster.
I’d rather have met Bigfoot.
He leaned down into my face. "Hey, Gecko!" Herman’s breath almost melted my hat. The guy never heard of mouthwash?
"What’s up, Herman?" I said.
He stared at me with an expression that was about as cute as a bowlful of baby rattlesnakes. "This not fourth graders’ playground. Beat it, Gecko— before I beat you."
"Still sore about those two months of detention?" I asked. "You should have thought of that before you tried to swipe the school mascot."
Herman wanted to make a snappy comeback. I could tell, because his forehead wrinkled with the effort and his jaw dropped open.
The silence stretched like your grandpa’s oldest T-shirt.
"Don’t strain yourself," I said, taking a moment to straighten my hat. A private eye stays cool under pressure. "Stick to one-syllable words."
The Gila monster pointed a shotgun-sized finger across the playground. "Go!" he growled.
"That’ll do nicely." A private eye also knows when to split.
I turned, only to find the path blocked by a double scoop of ugly— Rocky Rhode and Erik Nidd, standing side by side.
I was doomed.
But that had never stopped me from wisecracking before.
"Sorry, ladies," I said. "I’m all full up on Girl Sprout cookies. Go peddle your wares somewheres else."
No response. Not even a "get lost" snarl. Only a quiet beep-bop boop.
I looked closer.
Both the horned toad and her tarantula pal had their eyes glued to handheld video games. And with a spider, that’s a lot of eyes to glue.
I cleared my throat.
"Beat it," said Erik.
"We got better things to do than smush geckos," added Rocky.
Better things to do than beat me up? How rude. But then, how lucky.
Herman looked like he’d just been told the Wicked Witch of the West was actually an Avon lady. "Hey, you guyyys," he whined. "Get Gecko!"
I decided not to wait around until the big lug figured out he could mop the floor with me all by himself. "It’s so hard to say good-bye," I said. "So let’s just say hasta la pasta."
I slipped between Rocky and Erik, and hotfooted it for the cafeteria. They say discretion is the better part of valor; it’s also better than a trip to the nurse’s office.
After a while, I slowed to a brisk walk. Too much exercise can scramble the brains. And the only thing I like scrambled is my Eggs ’n’ Termites à la Chet.
At the lunch counter, Mrs. Bagoong heaped my tray with scorpion stir-fry and lice foo yung. Wednesday is Asian-food day at Emerson Hicky cafeteria.
I scoped out the scene. Boring with a capital B. But I knew someone who might have a new mystery to crack.
Like at most lunchtimes, I parked my carcass beside my fine feathered partner, Natalie Attired. She was a whiz with puzzles and clues. Around school, her smart mouth had earned her a reputation as a black belt in tongue fu.
Just the kind of dame you want working your side of the street. We share a passion for mysteries, but I don’t share her passion for worms.
Natalie’s pretty sharp for a mockingbird— heck, pretty sharp for any kind of critter.
"Hey, Chet," she said, "what’s an Eskimo’s favorite food?" She looked at me wide-eyed. "Iceberg-ers! Get it?"
Well, maybe not that sharp.
Copyright © 2001 by Bruce Hale
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