The Boy Who Cried Wolverine
Let’s face it: Elementary school is a jungle. Want to survive? Know your beasts. The herds of nerds, the packs of bullies, the rich kids, the jocks—each creature in this jungle has its own identifying marks.
Take Ben Dova, wolverine.
One look told the tale. Dagger claws, check. Furry boulders that passed for shoulders, check. B.O. strong enough to make a stinkbug cry, check.
Ben Dova might just as well have had bully stamped across his forehead.
He was big.
He was bad.
And he’d been hogging the tetherball for ten minutes.
Wolverine or no wolverine, I wanted to play.
“’Scuse me, bub,” I said. “You almost finished?”
“Grrr,” he replied.
Did I mention that Ben was also a brilliant conversationalist?
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He planted a pair of hamlike fists on his hips, snorkeled some air through his nose, and scanned the scene.
“Pee-yew,” he said. “What stinks?”
I gazed up at Ben. “Your armpits come to mind,” I said. “As does your breath, your sister, and your grades. Pick one.”
Ben’s lip curled, flashing fangs that a great white shark would’ve envied.
I reached for the tetherball. “Hey, if you’re not going to play . . .”
The wolverine hoisted the ball out of my reach. “Smells like barf,” he said. “Smells like a pukey little lizard.”
This brought some girlish giggles. A weasel and a rabbit stood nearby watching.
Sheesh. It’s always worse with an audience.
My jaw tightened. “Look, pal. Why don’t you give someone else a turn, and get back to practicing your tough-guy talk?”
Ben’s bullet-hole eyes burned yellow. “You gonna make me, punk?”
Normally, I try to deal with bullies the Rodney Rodent way. (You know, the star of Rodney Rodent’s House of Cartoons?) Rodney always says: Don’t show fear; speak firmly but politely; and just walk away.
I didn’t show fear. Speaking firmly, I said, “I don’t make beanheads, I bake them.”
I’ve always had problems with the polite part.
Turning to go, I nodded to the girls. A paw like a catcher’s mitt swung at my head.
The gleam in Ben’s eyes went from yellow to red. That was my cue.
I pelted across the blacktop, straight for the nearest portable classroom. Mere steps ahead of the wolverine, I reached it.
Fa-zzup! I scuttled up the wall.
Whether you’re a PI like me or just a fourth grader trapped in a sixth-grade world, it pays to have serious climbing skills. In three shakes, I made the roof.
“Come back here, Gecko!” yelled Ben Dova.
I laughed. “If you think I’m coming down to get creamed, you’re so dumb you put lipstick on your forehead to make up your mind.”
A snarl below told me the joke had found its mark. I savored the moment.
“Verrry funny,” came an oily voice from behind me. “You should try stand-up.”
A huge brown bat hovered in midair.
“I did,” I said, “but I kept falling down.”
“Too bad you didn’t fall farther,” she crooned.
Swell. Another bully. Even for Emerson Hicky, this was excessive.
“What is this, Let’s Pick on a PI Week?”
The bat wore a dorky pink hair ribbon and a savage sneer. Her smooshed-in nostrils twitched as if she smelled something stenchy.
As if that something was me.
She opened her mouth to speak.
I held up a hand. “I know, I know,” I said. “I’m a smelly little lizard and blah-blah-blah.”
“Verrry perceptive,” said the bat.
“Look, Flappy, can we just skip to the part where I run away? It takes me a while to come up with new insults.”
The bat smiled, baring fangs as yellow as a stale harvest moon.
“But of course,” she said. Miss Flappy flexed her wings.
I sprinted for the nearest treetop.
Flump-flump-flump! The thrumming of bat wings gre...