Cheat, Stink, and Be Hairy
It was no use, no use. I had followed a lead as thin as a dragonfly wafer until it finally petered out here, in a blind alley. Swiveling my head right and left, I could tell-
I was trapped. A whisper of fear tickled my neck.
Then it hit me-foom! A shapeless something, heavier than a heartache, dropped onto my head and shoulders, dragging me down...down...when-
"Chet Gecko?" A voice cut through the red darkness.
"Are you with us?" said my teacher, Mr. Ratnose.
What was he doing in the alley?
My eyes blinked open. "Wuzza?" With a supreme effort, I raised my head.
"If you can't stay awake, I'll have someone pinch you," he said.
Several voices tittered.
Mr. Ratnose's classroom swam into focus. Kids, chairs, chalkboards, and cream cheese-Bo Newt grinning, Shirley Chameleon simpering. I was back at my desk, at school, facing down Public School Enemy Number One: boredom.
It was a humdrum morning at Emerson Hicky Elementary. You ask yourself, How dull can it get? Then you go to Mr. Ratnose's class, and you find out.
The school newspaper on the corkboard said it all: BOREDOM EPIDEMIC FLATTENS SCHOOL. No duh.
Mr. Ratnose shot me one last glare, then scrawled some numbers on the board. He claimed to be explaining fractions, but he might just as well have been describing his vacation in Left Armpit, Arizona.
I longed for something, anything, to break the monotony.
He turned with a flourish. "And now, time for history."
Anything but that.
But the lean rat had a surprise in store. He grabbed a stack of papers with one hand and thwacked them against his open palm.
"They say, 'History repeats itself,'" said Mr. Ratnose. "But I sincerely hope yesterday's won't."
Bewildered faces greeted his remark.
Mr. Ratnose began pacing. "I'm referring, of course, to your grades on yesterday's history test. I am deeply disappointed in you."
Igor Beaver, a teacher's pet's pet, raised his hand. "Wh-what do you mean, teacher?" he whined. "Did I get a bad grade?"
Mr. Ratnose's whiskers bristled. "No, Igor," he said, keeping his voice even. "You got a good grade. In fact, far too many of you got a good grade."
Igor gasped. "You mean...?"
"I do. We've got cheaters!" Mr. Ratnose waved the stack of papers.
"B-but how do you know?" asked Igor.
"Because," our teacher snarled, "I added a dummy question."
I thought, Giving a dummy question to these dummies is like sending snow to Eskimos. But I didn't say it.
Mr. Ratnose looked like he was ready to take a bite out of our tests. "It was a trick question-none of you could've known the answer. But too many of you did."
He tossed the offending tests onto his desk. His gaze raked the classroom. "Look at the student on your right."
Igor and Cassandra the Stool Pigeon looked right. The rest of us stared at our teacher, beaming confusion like a country-western station beams corniness.
"Look right!" snarled Mr. Ratnose.
"Now look left."
We looked again.
Mr. Ratnose bared his yellowy teeth. "One out of three of you is a cheater."
Cassandra raised her wing tip. "You mean, one-third of the class?"
Say what you will about the dame, she understood fractions.
"Exactly," said Mr. Ratnose. "And do you know what this means?"
Several students shook their heads.
"You're all taking the test again-right now."
The groan that followed could've been heard as far as Zanzibar. Given a choice between boredom and torture, I'll take boredom any day.
But we had no choice.
Igor and two other kids passed out the tests. I scanned mine. It was the same one we took yesterday.
And I didn't remember any more answers than I had the first time. While we sweated through multiple-choice madness, Mr. Ratnose patrolled the aisles, hairless pink tail dragging behind him.
Suddenly, he stopped. "Hmm?"
Mr. Ratnose bent and plucked a sheet of paper from the floor, beside Shirley Chameleon's desk. His forehead furrowed like a mole's front yard.
"Miss Chameleon, what is the meaning of this?" he said.
"Of what?" she asked. Shirley watched our teacher with one eye, while the other one shot me a worried glance. It's gross, but you get that from chameleons.
Brandishing the paper, Mr. Ratnose leaned over her. "This, as if you didn't know, is the answer key to the test!"
"No!" said Shirley.
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Ratnose. "You, missy, are a dirty rotten cheater. One week of detention for you!"
Shirley crumpled like a paper pagoda in a rainstorm. Her eyes teared up.
That did it. I can't stand to see a reptile cry.
"Uh, Mr. Ratnose," I said, "let's not be hasty."
He turned his laser-beam gaze on me. "How's that?"
"I mean, how do you know it's Shirley's paper? She's never cheated before."
Mr. Ratnose's expression turned colder than a snow-snake's belly button. "Do you want to share her detention?" he asked.
"Then put a lid on it, mister." Mr. Ratnose turned to the class. "Everyone, back to your tests." He stalked off down the aisle.
Shirley swung her sorrowful puss in my direction. Her eyes held a plea. Her mouth framed a question. "Help me?" she whispered.
I nodded. After all, what self-respecting private eye would turn down a dame in distress?
A smart one, as I soon discovered.
Copyright © 2003 by Bruce Hale
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