Case of the Mopey Monster
The stink alone should have tipped me off. I was taking a brain break, just swinging on the swing set, when a serious stench grabbed me in its funky blue fist.
It was strong enough to make a skunk blush.
Hmm, I thought, as I whooshed forward. Cabbage and beans for breakfast?
Right stink, wrong source.
Something snagged me in midswing— glomp!—and there I hung, stuck in the sky.
I twisted to look under the seat. An ugly mug met my gaze.
Even wrong way around, I could tell: It was Herman the Gila Monster. He wasn’t as big as Beijing, he wasn’t as mean as a six-pack of hungry sharks. But the Big Bad Wolf could’ve learned something from Herman— his breath was stinky enough to melt a brick house.
"What’s up, Herman?" I asked, coughing.
"You," he said.
That’s Gila monster humor for you.
Normally, I kept my distance from the big lug. But since he’d already caught me, my best move was to play dumb.
Unfortunately, you can’t play dumber than Herman without a lobotomy.
"You wanted to see me?" I asked.
"Yup," he said, hoisting me by my tail. "I like talk."
I almost told him, Go see a speech doctor, but it was a long way down to the ground.
"I talk better on my feet," I said.
"Okay." Herman let go my tail.
The ground rushed up to meet me like a car salesman at closing time.
As I climbed to my feet, the burly Gila monster clapped a hand onto my shoulder. "We go . . . someplace private," Herman growled.
My life flashed before me. It wasn’t pretty. But it was my life, darn it, and I wanted to live to see fifth grade.
"Let’s go to the scrofulous tree," I said. "I do my best thinking there."
With a grunt, the Gila monster steered me in that direction. Two small squirrels were playing Frisbee under my favorite tree.
"Scram!" Herman growled.
They scrammed. Herman shoved me down on the grass. I rolled and raised my fists and feet, ready to fight back. Then, with a thud like a meteorite hitting the earth, the Gila monster flopped down beside me.
"Gecko," he said, "I got problem."
"I’ve been meaning to mention that," I said. "You know, a little mouthwash— "
"Not funny," he rumbled. "Problem big."
I sat up. He was serious.
I’d never figured myself as a friendly ear for school-yard thugs, but what the heck. I bit.
"What’s on your mind?" I asked. "And I use that term loosely."
Herman sighed like an avalanche on a distant mountain. "Team in trouble. Coach blame me."
The Gila monster was a fearsome football player. Several times, he’d been kicked off the team for his hijinks, but he always got called back. Emerson Hicky Elementary took its sports seriously, and a monster on the front line is hard to find.
Like I cared about that.
"So," I asked, "why tell me?"
Herman’s heavy head swung my way. "Players go bye-bye," he said. "Not my fault. Gecko can find players."
"Oh, no," I said. "Not me."
Herman moved faster than a starving toad at a fruit-fly fest. Before I could even twitch, he grabbed my ankle.
"Gecko will help," he growled. "Or Gecko will need help." The Gila monster shook his other fist meaningfully. I got the picture.
Then, a thought took that long, lonely trip across Herman’s mind. His fangs twinkled in a smile. "Plus, Herman will pay. One chocolate cake for every player you find."
I smiled back. "That should’ve been the first thing you said, buddy boy. Tell the nice detective all about it."
Copyright © 2002 by Bruce Hale
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