We rolled up in the wagon, me and O’Shaughnessy, the new kid. Irish. Red-head. Lots of freckles. Pampers.
He flopped out, surveyed the scene and immediately puked. All the new ones do.
“Suck it up, kid,” I muttered through the side of my mouth, as I took another pull on the Nuk. “Doesn’t get any better.”
It was ugly, but no worse than any I’d seen before. The weapon was a metal top. Blood on the Elmo rug. The Biggies were running around like they were on fire. The victim, a Greek kid whose parents had decided that Aristotle was a good name, was already in the other room, surrounded by worried Biggies. You could still hear the screaming, though. Stay in this job long enough and the screaming never really ends.
I took another pull on the Nuk and surveyed the scene. Everything was already going back to normal. Babies. The attention span of a bumble bee.
I poked the metal top with my toe and looked to the right. Two other girls I’d seen at the Sunshine & Rainbow Lollipop Day Care Center were working hard to ignore me.
Nothing there, though. No motive to take out the Greek.
O’Shaughnessy, still trying to pull himself together and avoid a very distracting ring with a rattle, finally spoke.
“Looks pretty obvious. There’s the heavy. He just looks guilty.”
I took a pull on the Nuk. From the smell of his now-stained onesie, O’Shaughnessy maybe should have avoided the milk with the extra vitamins this morning, but he had a good eye.
We shuffled over to the bruiser, the one we all called Thud, ‘cause when he fell, you could hear it. And he fell a lot.
In this line of work, you have to know when to use the carrot, and when to use the stick. Thud was nearly twice my size though probably a month younger. All he’d have to do is fall over on me, even a little bit, and I’m pretty sure I’d break. I motioned O’Shaughnessy to watch lookout – see any of the Biggies coming back into the room, distract. He knew what to do.
“Whatcha want, Amelia,” Thud was mumbling, and stuff was flying out of his mouth, spilling down the front of his “Daddy’s Boy” shirt, which was a little too small.
I already knew what the carrot would be for Thud.
“What do you know about the Greek hit, Thud?”
“Yeah, nothin’ — sure. Just you sitting here two feet from that metal top which has probably left a permanent mark on the Greek. Why’d you do it, Thud?”
“Then who did, Thud?” I didn’t have a lot of time. Out of the corner of my eye I could see O’Shaughnessy was getting nervous.
“I dunno,” he shrugged. More stuff spilled down his shirt.
“Oh, really,” I said and squinted my eyes like I do, showing off my tooth. “That’s too bad,” I started to turn away, “because I have this Baby Mum-Mum here for whoever can tell me who whacked the Greek.” I slowly pulled the Mum-Mum wrapper and the crumbly cracker out of my front pocket.
Thud’s eyes dilated and he began to drool. I heard O’Shaughnessy gasp.
“I…,” Thud was struggling. “I…,” his eyes were watering – not what I needed.
“Just tell me who, Thud, and you get the good stuff.”
“I… can’t!” Waterworks. Just great. The Biggies would hear Thud’s wailing and be back through in a flash, if they weren’t already on their way.
“Thud! Tell me! Or the crackers get it!” I squeezed and felt the Mum-Mum breaking apart in my fist. The wrapper crinkled over the sound of his sobbing, and I heard O’Shaughnessy gasp in horror.
“Nooo!” Thud lunged for the Mum-Mum, and I had to roll hard to the left. He landed on his belly, the Mum-Mums ripped out of my hand. He was still sobbing, shoving Mum-Mum dust and crumbs into his mouth.
I heard O’Shaughnessy – didn’t even have to see him. He started in on the Fisher-Price xylophone with one hand and began throwing a collection of alphabet blocks as hard as he could at the girls in the corner with the other. The kid had a good arm – beaned one on the first shot.
The Biggies were back.
Their voices seemed to overlap.
“Michael, no throwing…” “Theodore, what are you eating…” “Amelia, are you okay…”
I was okay.
“Who,” I hissed to Thud.
“The Syndicate,” he choked out through a sob and a mouthful of Mum-Mum. “They gave me three whole Goldfish not to say anything.”
The Syndicate. Four boys in the corner, standing next to a little pedal car, one I’d seen the Greek use fairly often. Han, the kid from Korea with a lot of teeth already; Jaden, the kid from China with hair that covered his eyes; Mitchell, actually from Miami, but only because there weren’t that many kids of Asian descent at the Sunshine & Rainbow Lollipop Day Care Center.
Just one more.
Hayato. His parents were from Japan.
And his thing was that he could walk.
He stood in front of the car with his arms crossed, his boys on either side of him. They were the Syndicate. They had taken out the Greek.
“Konnichiwa, Amelia Dare,” Hayoto gave me a wobbly bow as I made my way to him. I was on my own, now. O’Shaughnessy would be in time-out for at least ten minutes.
As I watched Han snake a hand into the trunk of the pedal car, I suddenly knew why they’d taken out the Greek: Goldfish. The trunk was full of them. The Greek had been hoarding them from snack time, no telling how long. And now they belonged to the Syndicate.
It’d be up to me to get them back. I took one more pull on the Nuk.
© 2016 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.
Originally published at terribleminds for a flash fiction challenge.