Excerpts for Possum Always Rings Twice : A Chet Gecko Mystery


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.

I ­ducked.

The gleam in Ben's eyes went from yellow to red. That was my ­cue.

?Yaaah!"

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 grew ­louder.
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My leafy sanctuary was only steps ­away.

Some instinct said duck! The bat's swoop trickled chills down my ­spine.

I stumbled headlong?off the roof and into a ­tree.

?Unh?Ooh?Ach!"
Plummeting downward, I bounced from limb to limb like a deranged pinball. Finally I landed?ka­-­whump!?in a heap on the ­grass.

Dizzier than a carload of cheerleaders, I struggled to my knees. Then a large brown shape landed nearby. A massive black­-­and­-­tan figure rounded the ­corner.

Bullies to the left, bullies to the ­right.

I was ­doomed.

Copyright © 2006 by Bruce Hale

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