The clock ticked loudly from its place on the wall. With each second that came and went, it seemed to me that it got louder and louder still. By the time the clock’s small hand had rotated around for a third trip, the tick-tick-ticking of it was absolutely deafening.
Eyes darting back and forth, the corner of my mouth now twitched in time with the ticking, my annoyance and anxiety growing the more I waited. Every second seemed an eternity. I tried to distract myself, lose myself in the ornate details of the heavy oak desk. I tried to study how many folds were in the plain and weathered beige curtains that hung limply from the office window.
None of it worked. I felt trapped. Hot. At long last, the inner office door opened and out walked the school principal, Kenneth Krause. Mr. Krause was a tall man, though he never came across as intimidating. He was sharply dressed, but still dressed as if his mother laid out his clothes for him. Sweater vest over button up shirt, loafers polished to a shine. The bald spot on the top of his had looked a bit darker, more crimson than normal. A sure sign that he was annoyed. I should know, I’ve seen it quite a few times before.
“Mr. James,” he said, lowering his thin wire frames to peer over them at me, his nose hair and a bad case of rosacea were the only things keeping his glasses on his face. “Do you understand why you are here?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Instead, I sat up straighter and I met his gaze head on. “I sure do,” I began, rummaging through my overstuffed backpack until I found my notebook. I pulled out my trusty notepad, flipped back the Peace Frog cover, and started to read the minutes of my investigation.
“2:44pm, the last day of school, Ms. Angelo the math teacher demanded that I take off my clothes. Now I, being a good Christian boy and student—”
Mr. Krause sighed so loudly and heavily that I half expected him to deflate like a popped tire. He sagged, tired indeed, into the ergonomically sound plastic chair behind his desk, the wheel emitting a light squeak under his weight. He gave me a very serious look before he spoke. “Mr. James - "
This time it was me who sighed, as loudly and exaggerated as I could manage, cutting him off immediately. Like he did to me, a second ago, undermining my investigation. I locked eyes with him.
“First off, my name is Jimmy. Not James. And I think it’s a little bit crazy that I just exposed a major crime in our midst; exposed it the way that she wanted to expose my sweet body, and you don’t seem to be taking this seriously. What are you covering up, huh? How high does this thing go?”
Feeling like my point was still not being fully made, I picked up one of his finely sharpened pencils from the round wire holder and I snapped it in half for emphasis, dropping one piece on the desk and holding up the other. “I swear Mr. K., I’m going to break this whole story open, like this!” I tried to break the half in my hand into two more halves, but wasn’t strong enough to do it. After two grunts of effort, I decided to just chew on his eraser and then drop that half onto the desk as well.
Mr. Krause got to his feet angrily, snatching the rest of his pencils from my reach and locked them in his top drawer. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and took a deep breath, the spot on his head as red as I’ve ever seen it. He let out one, then two, then three calming breaths before he spoke. “I have already spoken to Ms. Angelo, she said that she asked you to remove your hat.”
I nodded. “A hat is clothing.”
He grimaced and continued. “Then you said no, even though you are aware that hats are against school policy. Then, when she asked you for a second time to remove it, you said,” he pulled out a little notebook from his vest pocket and moved his lips slightly as he read, trying to find his place. “You said ‘I don’t take my clothes off at school, why don’t you take off your shirt since you’re so keen for nudity?’ When she told you that was inappropriate, you stated that she only thinks so because her chest is most likely hairier than your head. Is this ringing a bell to you?”
I nodded. “Yes, it’s all here in my notes. If you had let me read them like I was trying to earlier I would—” Another sigh cut me off. A long awkward silence followed, I could tell that Mr. Krause was really trying his hardest to remain calm. I decided not to push my luck and kept quiet, leaving the rest of my explanation unsaid.
After a time that felt like an eternity, but was probably only a minute or so, he began speaking again, deciding to be concise and direct with his point.
“You know James, sorry, Jimmy, Ms. Angelo isn’t the only reason I called you down here. I wanted to talk to you about next year when you start high school.” He paused, taking the time to choose his words carefully. I hated when adults did that, it meant that the following words were sure to be chosen wrong and annoy me. “How are you feeling about it? Do you think that you’ll have an easy time fitting in?”
I clenched my jaw. I didn’t need some old nerd giving me a heart-to-heart, I needed to get the hell out of here. This was the last day of school, I should already be outside and half-baked by the sun. Instead of answering, I just waited for him to continue his point, my eyes constantly darting back to the clock. Literally watching my time get wasted. Worst summer ever so far.
Mr. Krause opened a manila folder that was just as overstuffed as my backpack. I noticed it had my name on the cover. “You have gotten pretty good grades, your teachers all talk about how, umm, interactive you are in classroom discussions. Lively, I think one person called it that. You’re a good kid,” he paused and closed his eyes for just one quick moment, but I noticed, “a real good kid. I am telling you this solely as someone who wants the best for you, I hope you understand that.” After a final pause, he ripped the verbal bandaid off. “You are not a good detective.”
My jaw visibly slackened, my mouth hung open like a shocked fish. My heart began to race, it beat so loudly I could actually feel it in my face. Are you kidding me? No way this sweater-vested, bald piece of trash actually said that I wasn’t a good detective. Me?!
Before I could ask him whether he was stupid or insane, because either one would have explained away his statement, he put up a sweaty palm to silence any response.
“I know that you don’t want to hear that, and I truly wish I didn’t have to say it. I am a firm believer that anyone who passes through the doors of my school can be anything they put their mind to. But, as a detective, you have to look at the evidence, don’t you?” He pushed the thick folder across the desk to face me, like a cop grilling somebody in the interrogation room.
I take the folder with clenched fingers and spend a moment flipping through the pages, not really reading but buying myself some time to respond maturely. Taking my silence and perusal as evidence that I was hearing him out, he went on. “In fifth grade, when Mrs. Yates assigned you to dissect frogs in Biology, you accused her of trying to build a Franken-Frog monster in the teachers lounge. You were so convinced of it that we caught you trying to use your scissors to pick the lock to the lounge.”
His glasses slid down again as he looked at me, measuring the effect his words were having on me. If only he knew. “In sixth grade you convinced half the school that the night janitor was a vampire and the kindergartners got so scared that we fielded phone calls for a week from their parents about nightmares they were having. In seventh grade it was an insane little person living in the vents that would steal your lunch, or Mr. Perez the gym teacher trying to build an army of super soldier children because he made you run the mile. All the time you’re seeing all these, these cases as you call them, and you get fixated and obsessed and end up causing a lot of trouble.”
I couldn’t hold it in anymore, I was holding so much back that even my eyeballs were vibrating with rage. I lashed out and I banged my tight fist hard onto the top of his desk, toppling over a stack of papers he had balanced on the edge of his desk. I couldn’t help smiling inside when I saw how much that annoyed him. I chose my words carefully, professionally. “I understand your concern, Mr. Krause,” I said through a re-clenched jaw, “but you are a principal, not a detective. You don’t know about the crime solving business like I do. I’d be glad to trade notes with you sometime if you’d like, but you are not being truthful about my success rate. What about The Case of the Missing Rake? Did I or did I not solve that one?”
Mr. Krause opened his mouth to respond but this time it was me who held a palm up, and surprisingly it worked. I pressed on. “Or how about the fact that I did prove that Mrs. Yates was stealing from the vending machine? Or about the kid in history class who was actually a werewolf?”
A much bigger fist hit the desk this time. Mr. Krause, red-faced and fed up, cut my rant short with the blow. The spot on the top of his head was nearly purple. When he spoke again, it wasn’t in the measured way that school officials often did, it was as a person who was now just as ready for summer as I was. “Firstly, it was you who took the rake in the first place, so you could comb the kickball field for clues. Secondly, Mrs. Yates is diabetic and her blood sugar was too low, she shook out that Snickers so she could live, okay? So stop accusing her of being a thief. And lastly, that kid was NOT a werewolf, we’ve already been over that a hundred times!”
“Then how do you explain how he was covered in fur and biting people?”
“He’s severely bipolar and his family happens to be hairy.”
“Then why did he get hurt when I hit him with a silver spoon?”
“Because you threw it at him from two feet away and hit him in the eye! You’re lucky he wasn’t permanently injured, the school barely avoided a lawsuit!”
I gave up. I wasn’t going to win an argument with someone who couldn’t put two and two together once all the clues were there. I glanced up at the clock again. I decided I had enough.
“It’s officially summer time, you have no legal hold on me anymore. I heard your foolish speech out, I am now politely asking if I can leave. Bear in mind, I can and I will leave anyway.”
Mr. Krause took another few calming breaths and nodded. I tried to pick up the folder and take it, it did have my name on it after all, but he snatched it away and locked it in the large metal file cabinet behind him. I was almost out the door when he spoke one last time. “I’m just trying to say, you made your time here a lot harder than it had to be by looking for crimes everywhere. High school is already tough, maybe think about giving it a rest and just making friends and having a fun time. Crime will always be there in the future.”
My hand gripped the cool brass knob of the outer door. As I turned it, I spun around to face my accuser head on. He met my gaze. “You’re right Mr. Krause, I’m not a good detective.” I looked at the ground a moment, studied my shoes. Let my words sink in. When I looked up again, a small smile of satisfaction was threatening the edges of his mouth. “I’m a GREAT detective. Have a nice summer.”
I made sure to slam the door on the way out, hoping the wind from it would knock a few more of his papers to the ground. As soon as the door shut, I smirked. School’s out dork, I have crimes to solve.