Sneak and Ye Shall Find
Never take on a wacko as a client. It wastes your time, and it annoys the wacko.
Somehow I had forgotten this. And so, recess found me tailing a parakeet's boyfriend to see if he'd been stepping out on her. (That's detective talk for seeing another dame on the side. And a dame is a girl. And on the side is...on the side.)
I shadowed T-Bone LaLouche through the halls of Emerson Hicky Elementary. Like any good detective, I used kids, bushes, and the odd teacher as cover. (And believe me, we have plenty of odd teachers.)
T-Bone LaLouche was a lean and shifty ringtail. Ringtails have a cat's body, a fox's face, and a raccoon's tail that's been dipped in goo and slammed in a door.
Oh, and one other thing: If you startle them, they give an ear-piercing shriek and shoot this funky musk from their butts.
Don't ask me how I know that.
I watched as T-Bone stopped near the library to chat with a simpering mole in a tutu. Heads together, they seemed awfully chummy. Could this be his extra-credit baby-cake?
When I leaned around a skreezitz bush for a better look, T-Bone suddenly glanced up. I dived for cover-kronch!-right into the bush.
Through the spiky leaves, I could see the ringtail frowning my way, but he went back to his confab. Soon, the mole waved toodle-oo and toddled into the library. T-Bone took to his heels.
I tagged along.
In the hall by the cafeteria, the ringtail approached a fluffy European rabbit. (I could tell she was European by her spiffy scarf and her world-weary ways.)
Miss Fluffy leaned against a pole and toyed with her whiskers. T-Bone cozied up. She passed him something-a love note?-and they giggled like a couple of teenage girls at a Brad Spitt movie.
Man, this guy wasn't just two-timing my client; he was three-timing her.
Sensing something, T-Bone raised his head and started to turn.
I scrambled up the wall, out of sight. In my racket, sometimes it pays to be a wall-crawling lizard.
I crept along quietly. Then my foot slipped. Strange. We geckos can scale almost anything, including glass. I shook the foot and crawled closer...just across from the cuddly pair.
A strange sight distracted me: squatty machines being wheeled into the cafeteria. And they were wearing what looked like...aprons? Was head chef Mrs. Bagoong getting some new cooking gizmos?
I shook my head. Better focus on the job at hand.
Miss Fluffy was saying, "...after you do me this favor, you and I can..."
Someone had taped a WET PAINT sign to the pole she was leaning on. Silly rabbit. Didn't she know-
Suddenly, everything slipped. I scrabbled desperately, clawing a paper sign from the wall. It read, WET PAINT.
Duh. The pole hadn't been painted; the wall had.
"Whoooah!" I cried, plummeting like a duck after a pond-scum sandwich.
SKREONCH! A shrub broke my fall.
"AAIIEEE!" T-Bone shrieked, like an air-raid siren singing opera. Under his scream, something went ffrappp!
The rabbit and I clapped our hands over our ears. A second later, we covered our noses instead.
The ringtail had blasted a paint-peeling musky stench, fouler than a roadkill casserole. It spread down the hall, clearing kids and teachers with its potent funk. Miss Fluffy fled.
Eyes watering, I coughed and hacked and staggered to my feet.
With as much dignity as he could muster, T-Bone stood tall and glared at me. "It's your own fault," he said. "Maybe you shouldn't startle kids like that."
"Maybe you shouldn't have had the cabbage-and-cheese breakfast burrito."
The ringtail snorted. "Oh yeah? Maybe you shouldn't sass someone bigger than you." He loomed over me.
"Oh, really? Maybe you shouldn't be two-timing your girlfriend," I said.
"My girlfriend?" he asked.
"Yeah, your bubby-cakes, your doll-face, your smoochie-poo. Anne Gwish?"
His face froze. "Anne what?" said T-Bone. "Who's she?" He stalked away.
Still holding my nose, I stumbled in the opposite direction.
From above, a clap-clap-clap reached my ears. I glanced up.
It was Natalie Attired, my spiffy mockingbird partner. An ace investigator, she thought she was quite the joker (but she was really just a card). Perching on the roof's edge, Natalie looked me up and down, from my paint-smeared feet to the twigs in my hat.
I held up a hand. "I know, I know. I'm scratched and filthy, and I smell like a ringtail's butt."
"So, other than that," she said, "how was your day, dear?"
Copyright © 2004 by Bruce Hale
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