"It's always the beautiful ones that have to break your heart, isn't it?" I said as I rubbed my head. "Ok, Hobbes. Here's what you know, something happened in Ferrengeti's office and you've got a custodian with something to hide." My soliloquey was broken by the voice of Principal Carter. "Don't you ever go to class," he asked.\n[["These walls can't contain me and you know it."|2Q]] [["Well, with all these bodies of teachers piling up, who's got time for learning?|2R]]
I could see her disappointment. "I've got nothing to tell you. I wasn't on the schedule. Here check it out." She drew me over to the schedule on the wall and her body leaned in toward mine. [[I pulled her in close and kissed her, good and proper.|4J]] [[I hesitated a little and she moved closer as I moved away. Finally, she grabbed me and kissed me.|4K]]
A small crowd had already gathered around the bloody body of Albert Ferrengeti. Miss Thompson appeared and collapsed in hysterics. I looked over to a history teacher I recognized, "you better call this in" and turned to another teacher to say, "let's make a perimeter around this and get students back to their classrooms." The two nodded and proceeded with their tasks.\nAn hour later, the police had locked down the school and I found myself in the gym with most of the faculty and a detective. "Listen up, Joe," I told him. "If you want to get this cleared up, here's how it went down."\n[["Mr. Volkov & Principal Carter have been using the school to manufactor and distribute methamphatamines and our friendly custodian has been turning a blind eye.|2T]] [[Darla, the custodian caught the victim making methamphetamines, there was a struggle, and he didn't walk away|2U]] [[Miss Thompson found out that the victim and Principal Carter were secret lovers and killed him in a fit of jealousy|2V]]
"If this was Soviet Russia, you wouldn't be allowed to talk this way," he muttered. "Alright Boris, enough of the nostalgia talk. Why don't you tell me why your Chemistry storage room isn't good enough for you anymore." Volkov rolled his head back and forth like I was annoying him. "Well, you see this flask?" he asked. "Yeah, I got it, chemistry and shit, what of it?" He broke the flask over a shelf and stabbed me in the stomach. I saw my life flash before my eyes and due to its short length, my mind started to go through all the old action movies with Russian villains. "You've got to be kidding me. Ivan Drago and shit? I got killed by Ivan fucking Drago?"
"Well, I heard about Mr. Ferrengeti's disappearance and thought my leadership would be needed here." "Good, so you've called the police?" I said and the principal hemmed and hawed for a moment. "So, no one has reported this to the police and you drove all the way from Michigan, because what, you felt a disturbance in the force?" Suddenly, a scream came from down the hall.\n[[We ran toward a custodial closet and saw the body of Albert Ferrengeti|1T]]
She nodded yes, so I clicked on my intercom. "Scarlett, would you be darling and bring us two coffees?" Scarlett's voice crackled back. "I'm not your secretary. You're not even supposed to be using the principal's office." I smiled to Miss Thompson and rolled my eyes at the disembodied secretary outside. [["What brings a dame like you into my office?" I asked.|1B]]
The morning had hardly begun when she walked into the room, legs from floor to sky. I'd seen her around, once or twice, but this was the first time I caught her name. "What can I do for you, miss?" I asked. "Thompson," she replied and moved to sit in the chair on the other side of my desk, clutching her purse.\n[["Would you like some coffee," I asked.|1A]]\n[["What brings a dame like you into my office?" I asked.|1B]]\n
Miss Thompson looked nervous. Finally, she said, "Well, I have a delicate situation and I heard that you were someone who takes care of situations. Is that true?" "Well, it depends, why odn't you tell me what I can do and if it seems outside my expertise, I could, well, 'outsource' if you know what I mean." She nodded. "Well, you know Albert, I mean Mr. Ferrengetti, the Chemistry teacher, I suppose?" I smiled, [["I suppose you want me to have him tailed?"|2A]] [["He broke off an illicit affair the two of you were having and you want him... taken care of?"|2B]]
"A private detective? I'm sorry, did I miss the part where you finish the 10th grade and then suddenly bypassed all other schooling to become a licensed Private Detective?" [["Well actually, it's funny you ask that, because..."|2E]] [["No sir, I was just making a joke."|7B]]\n
"Old enough?" [[I pulled her in close and kissed her, good and proper.|4J]] [[I hesitated a little and she moved closer as I moved away. Finally, she grabbed me and kissed me.|4K]]
As I stooped for the knife, I felt a blow to my face. I was on my back but with the knife in hand. She laughed, "you couldn't and you wouldn't." "Just watch me," I said. [[But she didn't. She turned and ran.|1Q]]
Darla grabbed the knife and before I knew it, I was holding it in my stomach. "Stupid kid," she said and I slumped slowly to the floor.
Mr. Ferrengeti's classroom was clean. Too clean. I knew I didn't have much time to look around so [[I rifled through his desk, looking for clues.|6E]] [[I went to his store room to look for clues.|6F]]
She pulled back in surprise and quivvered a lip, before turning steely on me. "Albert would never do something like that. I know something's wrong. I just know it." [["So when did you last see him?"|4B]]
"Thank you. I just didn't know who else to go to." [[I put my arm around her and said, "There, there. You're safe with me.|4A]] [["Now where did you last see him?"|4B]]
In the hallway, I went to find the night janitor Darla Manning. Darla had done me a few solids before in previous cases and I knew if I slipped her a $20, she might have some intelligence for me. I found her in the maintenance office. "Well hello there, beautiful," I said. "Strawberry Hobbes. What brings the detective to this part of school?" [[A missing Chemistry teacher|2J]] [[Nothing but your beauty.|4M]]
"This is Strawberry Hobbes, how may I help you?" "Hobbes? What the hell are you doing in my office?" [["Well, sir, that's actually a great question. I'm working as an independent private detective and thought this looked like a good place to set up shop while you're out of town."|1E]] [["Well, sir, I know that you're out of town and still need to find a student to coordinate this year's service project, so I thought I'd interview candidates for you."|6A]]
"Listen up, you little." I'd grown tired with the charade and Miss Thompson looked like she was going to walk out, so I interuppted. "No, you listen up Carter. I've got a Chemistry teacher here who's either dead or on the next train there, so unless you want a repeat of the lunch lady debacle, I'd appreciate you letting me do my goddamned work, alright?" Miss Thompson jumped up a bit and then got up to leave. "Can you tell me anything else about everything leading up to the last time you saw Albert?" [[She shook her head and walked out of the room. I loved watching her leave.|5E]]
Scarlett buzzes back a few minutes later. "It's Principal Carter, he would like to speak with you." You roll your eyes, "Scarlett dear, I'm meeting with a client, could you take a message?" [["NO I WILL NOT TAKE A MESSAGE! I AM NOT YOUR SECRETARY." You pick up the phone reluctantly.|6B]]
At the back of the closet I saw noticed the two empty shelves. Every beaker had a place labeled and there were a lot of lonely labels. The door suddenly opened and in walked the other chemistry teacher, Mr. Stanlislaus Volkov. Everything about the guy screamed Cold War. "What are you doing in here?" he asked. [[I could as you the same thing, Red October.|8E]] [["Isn't this study hall? Crap, I'm in the wrong room."|1J]]\n
The door suddenly opened and in walked the other chemistry teacher, Mr. Stanlislaus Volkov. Everything about the guy screamed Cold War. "What are you doing in here?" he asked. [["I could as you the same thing, Red October."|8E]] [["Isn't this study hall? Crap, I'm in the wrong room."|1J]]
"Good, now how about you get out of my office and drag your delinquent self to class for once?" I heard the phone slam down. I looked up at Miss Thompson and gulped a bit. "Can you tell me anything else about everything leading up to the last time you saw Albert?" [[She shook her head and walked out of the room. I loved watching her leave.|5E]]
Darla broke into a soft laugh and tossed her hair to the side. "Hookie? Well, maybe I had a date."\n[["I knew it," I thought, "Ferengetti was two timing Miss Thompson with Darla."|4L]] [["Couldn't be doll, I don't remember us having dinner that night."|4M]]
As Volkov moved awkwardly about the storage room, it was obvious I was putting him off. "So," I asked, "This room sure is missing some equipment. Have you been, um, borrowing a lot from Ferrengeti's stash?" Volkov, laughed, "why don't you just grab that box of erlenmeyer flasks and shut your trap." [["Remind me which ones those are again"|10E]] [["Grab 'em yourself. I ain't yer serf."|10F]]
Volkov pointed to a box on the floor labeled Erlenmeyer Flasks. I gave an awkward, "oh yeah, those erlenmeyer flasks." When I bent down to grab them, I felt a heavy thump against my head and lost consciousness. [[I went out into the hall, dizzy.|1J]]
Her cries softened a little when [[I pulled her in close and kissed her, good and proper.|4J]] [[I hesitated a little and she moved closer as I moved away. Finally, she grabbed me and kissed me.|4K]]
Carter broke into an enormous laugh. "Yep, you got me. All your anti-authority fantasies have come true, Hobbes. Your grandfather, that's who you live with, right? Well, he and I work for the mob. Everyone's in on it: God, the Easter bunny, the President. Man, kid, you're not good at this private detective stuff are you?"\nSuddenly, a scream came from down the hall.\n[[We ran toward a custodial closet and saw the body of Albert Ferrengeti|1T]]
Strawberry Hobbes: Detective
"Is that so," she said and she moved in closer to me. "What's your plan then, detective?" Slowly Darla moved in to kiss me.\n[[I hesitated a little and she moved closer as I moved away. Finally, she grabbed me and kissed me.|4K]] [[I pulled away. "Listen doll, my chariot's out back. You and I, we're gonna jump in and make for the sunset."|2N]]
It broke my heart to see Darla dragged into it, but she'd been paid off by Volkov and Carter to keep hush on their methamphetamine operation. I couldn't blame her, since her wages had been cut so much in the past two years. As the police led the three of them away in handcuffs, I stopped her. "Darla, we could've been something, you know?" She was crying. "I know," she said and then was led away.\nThe detective came over and shook my hand before he left. "Damn fine work," he said.\n"It's just work, kid" I told him and I walked back to my office. "Scarlett?" I said over the intercom. Could you arrange for someone to clean out Principal Carter's belongings?" "Sure boss," she buzzed back. "Oh, and hold my calls."
Darla yelled out, "that's a lie! This kid doesn't know what he's talking about." The detective looked me up and down, "who are you kid?" I looked around, "just someone who knows." "Well," he said, "if you know so much, then you know there's a pretty easy way to test that hypothesis, right?" It was a week before the tests showed that Albert Ferrengeti didn't have any of the chemicals on him from methamphetamine production. My first invitation to the big dance and I'd missed it. It turned out that Principal Carter and Mr. Volkov had been producing meth and had bribed Darla to keep quiet. Ferrengetti grew suspicious and paid the price.
"That's literally the dumbest thing I've ever heard"," the detective said. He looked me up and down, "who are you kid?" I shrugged. "I've been here for half an hour and I've already got this case shut up. Why not leave the work for the big boys, kid." My first invitation to the big dance and I'd missed it. It turned out that Principal Carter and Mr. Volkov had been producing meth and had bribed Darla to keep quiet. Ferrengetti grew suspicious and paid the price.
"Yeah, you're a real special snowflake, aren't you, Hobbes?" "The special-est, sir. So you're suddenly back from your vay-cay, aren't you? Couldn't have anything to do with a missing Chemistry teacher, could it?" The Principal rubbed his hand over his head, "I'm sorry, are you insinuating something?"\n[["I just thought you were supposed to be away with the family in Michigan, wasn't that the story?"|3Q]] [["That you're a dirty crook and you know it.|3R]]
"Yeah, Ferrengeti," he trailed off. "Any, uh, leads on that so far?" [[I've got two ideas|4R]] [["Yeah, where were you last night?"|3R]]
Darla's eyes narrowed. "Well, you're not completely gullible, it seems," she said. "Everyone gets lucky," I replied. [["So it wasn't Ferrengeti, then where were you?"|3J]]
"Two huh?" "Yeah, you've got another chemistry teacher and a custodian with something to hide." Carter nodded. "Well, why don't you and I go track them down?" I turned to walk with him down the hall. After a few steps, I felt his hands on my back. In a second, I was in the dark of a custodial closet and I could feel blood seeping out around a knife in my side. I blacked out soon after.
The man never really taught me much about chemistry, but his disappearance taught me the only lesson I ever needed. No science book or teacher could ever explain what happened in that kiss. It was serious and long and almost stopped my breath. It wasn't until we pulled apart, smiled, and made for my Vanagon that I finally drew a breath, the first breath of my new life.\nDarla and I live in San Francisco now, where I have my private investigation office. I never did hear what happened to that chemistry teacher. I couldn't look back.
"Do not use that clever kid shit on me, Hobbes, I know you and I know your rap sheet the length of those tests you're always skipping." [["Well, sir, I never was one for brevity as you know."|3E]] [["I'm sorry, sir, I was just making a joke."|7B]]
"So how long had you been seeing Albert Ferengetti?" I asked. "How... how did you know?" then she broke into tears. [["Calm down," I said as I drew her close|5L]] [["Alright, doll, that's enough of the sensitive act."|5M]]
That made her smile. "You're clever, you know that? Why didn't anything ever happen between us, Hobbes?"\n[["There's no time like the present."|1N]] [["Let's not get distracted.|3J]] [["I'm a rebel, Darla, a loner."|5N]]
She seemed taken off guard and I heard the slap of metal on the floor. Thinking I knocked over a coffee mug, I looked down. She saw me see it too: an open switchblade. [["What's goin' on here Darla?|5J]] [[I reached for the knife.|5K]]
Miss Thompson looked embarrassed. "You see, Albert and I were lovers and then he broke things off suddenly last week. I couldn't believe it, because everything had seemed so perfect until then. Without a warning, he said we were through and that he didn't love me. and now he hasn't been to work since." [[I stood up and walked around my desk to hand her another tissue.|3A]] [["What makes you think he's missing? What if he eloped with that new dame who works in the library?"|3B]]
"Lord, no!" she exclaimed. "I, ummm, well you were right about the first part..." [[She trailed off and looked down at a tissue that she had crumpled in her hand.|2A]]
Wes Burdine - inspired by the character by Jerry Belich & Brian Quarfoth
"The sunset, huh? Well, now, you're getting pretty serious here. How old are you?"\n[[I shrugged and said, "old enough."|3N]] [["One time offer, doll.|3O]]
"Albert worked late that night. He wanted to get all of his tests graded before we went to dinner. When he finally showed up he was an hour late and he only stayed for 10 minutes at my house before it was all broken off." The phone rang. [[I picked it up|5A]] [[I buzzed Scarlett and said, "I thought I told you to hold my calls? Can you take this?"|5B]]
"Missing teacher, huh? And how can I help with something like that?" "How about starting with telling me if anyone was around late on Tuesday night?" "I wouldn't know. I wasn't working that night." [[I grew suspicious at this. "Since when do you miss a night of work, Darla?"|3J]] [["Oh, did you play hookie too?"|3K]]
Miss Thompson moved in closer and gently cried. I pulled her face to mine and gently kissed her on the lips. "Why you little fucking creep!" I pulled back, "Now wait a second, lady, don't get the wrong idea here. I wasn't…" "Wasn't what? Trying to kiss me?" [[It took me a while, but I calmed her down finally and asked, "Now when did you last see him?"|4B]]
"Drop the act kid. I want you out of my office right now." "Well, sir, you're in luck. I was just about to leave and go track down this missing or dead teacher of yours." The line was silent. "Carter? You there? Did I get your attention on that one? Thought so. Now why don't you enjoy your little vacation and let me get to work." I slammed down the phone. Miss Thompson jumped up a bit and then got up to leave. "Can you tell me anything else about everything leading up to the last time you saw Albert?" She shook her head and walked out of the room. I loved watching her leave.\n\n[[Continue|5E]]\n
"Yes, Principal, what can I do for you?" "For one, Hobbes, how about you tell me what in god's unholy name you're doing in my office taking meetings?" [["Well, sir, that's actually a great question. I'm working as an independent private detective and thought this looked like a good place to set up shop while you're out of town."|1E]] [["Well, sir, I know that you're out of town and still need to find a student to coordinate this year's service project, so I thought I'd interview candidates for you."|6A]]
In the top drawer, I found the tests he had graded, but he hadn't finished the top half. So why was he late? [["I knew it," the cat was bored with his toy and was getting catnip on the side.|1J]] [["Maybe he's gone Walter White on us and was working on an 'experiment.'"|7E]]
The store room was even more organized. This wasn't like Mr. Ferrengeti. Sure, I didn't show up for class that often, but I'd come to class just enough to know that good ole Albert needed a maid. [[Speaking of maid, "I wonder if Miss Thompson ever played the maid..."|7E]] [[I walked to the back of the closet.|7F]]
"I wasn't on the schedule. Here check it out." She drew me over to the schedule on the wall and her body leaned in toward mine. [[I pulled her in close and kissed her, good and proper.|4J]] [[I hesitated a little and she moved closer as I moved away. Finally, she grabbed me and kissed me.|4K]]
"Me? Well, I'm looking for um Mr. Ferrengeti." "Ferrengeti's out sick, that tool Mr. Bickle is covering for him. Didn't you get the memo? Or do you only respond to coded messages?" "I knew that, I was just going to check on some supplies." "Supplies, right. I'll help you grab some." "No, no, not necessary." [["C'mon Ivan, I've got two hands."|9E]] [["Suit yourself."|1J]]
"Oh, is that so?" Darla moved in closer. "You're only gonna bring me trouble, is that it?" [[I pulled her in close and kissed her, good and proper.|4J]] [[I hesitated a little and she moved closer as I moved away. Finally, she grabbed me and kissed me.|4K]]
"This town? It's not big enough for us. You know it and I know it. We get into that car and we never look back, rules be damned. I'll tell you something, doll, I've been around this country and I've seen enough to know that when you've found something, you take it and you never look back once." Darla's face dropped. "You're serious, aren't you? What about that missing chemistry teacher?"\n[["Well, I'll have to tie up that loose end.|4O]] [["Never heard of him. Now, I'm going to kiss you and we're gonna kiss this town good-bye."|4P]]
The kiss was long and beautiful, a kiss for the ages, pulling me into her and it felt as if all the energy in my body had flooded out and everything was warm and numb. I looked down to see the knife in my stomach. I couldn't bring myself to look back at her face and her beautiful mouth before I slumped to the floor.