This is a follow up to the first Amelia Dare, Baby Girl Detective story, and in answer to a flash-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds. The subject was “invasive species,” and I don’t know if this really gets us there in terms of being wholly about an invasive species, but it was a lot of fun trying. The limit was 1,500 words, and I only went a little over, I swear.
McNeal was his name, a little kid, smaller than me. Short cropped hair. The light blonde-red looked like a scouring brush growing out of his scalp. His blue eyes were hard, like a marble. Still had some baby fat on his small, pale arms. Huggies.
He stood over me, looking down, sneering. In his stubby hands was a clear plastic cup with a worn-out sticker on the bottom.
Lil’ Explorers Bugs n’ Stuff Collection Kit.
But I didn’t care about the cup, at least not yet.
Brian Templeton was the kid holding down my left arm. We called him ‘Brick’ because his face was always really red, and he was as tough as a brick wall.
Toby Burnhouser was bigger than Brick, and he held my right arm down. Toby gritted his gums and breathed hard through his nose. He took his job as one of Jimmy’s henchmen a little too seriously. My right hand started to go numb as Burnhouser pushed down harder into the short-pile race-track play carpet.
Ironically, I thought, both Toby and Brick were Luvs guys.
I looked up at McNeal. From my view, beyond the cup he held over my head, his steel-blue eyes and fuzzy head was upside-down. I was in a tough spot, but I wasn’t scared.
“Amelia Dare,” Jimmy said. “You almost ruined my plans.”
I took a pull on the Nuk.
“The day’s not over yet, Jimmy,” I said out of the side of my mouth. I tried not to let him hear me struggle against Toby and Brick.
“It’ll be over soon enough, Amelia. It’ll be over,” Jimmy said, leaning closer. “Over! And then we won’t ever have to come back!”
“Heh,” Brick laughed. “That’s right. No more day care! No more day care! No more…”
Jimmy cut him off.
“Shut up, you idiot!”
Brick turned even more red and looked down. In his embarrassment, he pushed down twice as hard on my arm, and I winced.
“Yeah,” hissed Toby through his teeth. “Keep it up and the Biggies will hear us.”
Both Biggie Miss Marge and Biggie Miss Jamie were nowhere to be seen. Biggie Marge was changing O’Shaughnessy’s diaper. For some reason, his father decided to feed him chili the night before. The diaper changing process was going to take awhile. I couldn’t count on O’Shaughnessy to help me.
Biggie Jamie had taken half the class outside to look at the butterfly garden. The others were in the corner, distracted by a Lego tower Analise was building.
I was on my own.
# # # #
I’d been eyeing Jimmy McNeal for a week. Something wasn’t right.
O’Shaughnessy and I sat in the wagon, watching him, Brick, and Toby. They were up to no good.
Jimmy would go to the side, near the diaper changing station, and examined the nap mats.
Brick and Toby stood lookout.
“What’s he up to?” O’Shaughnessy whispered, craning his neck to see around the corner of the changing table.
“I don’t know,” I said. I took a couple of good pulls off the Nuk, thinking.
“Should we stop him?”
“Not yet. Hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“Come on, Amelia. It’s Jimmy. He’s been a bad egg since he started at Sunshine.”
“Maybe it’s the haircut.”
“It ain’t the haircut, O’Shaughnessy.”
“Eh. Maybe not, Amelia. But you gotta admit, it’s kinda weird looking.”
O’Shaughnessy wasn’t wrong. Jimmy McNeal had only been at the Sunshine & Rainbow Lollipop Day Care Center for a few weeks, but I didn’t like the look of him from the moment his mommy dropped him off. But it was more than just a short haircut. And he was more than just a small time trouble-maker hogging blocks in the block center, more than just a two-bit con man ripping off morning time snacks. He was smart. He was devious. And I knew he wanted something big, something more.
I began to scoot the wagon, slow, over to the home living center. I was going to need to pretend to make dinner and think more about Jimmy McNeal.
# # # #
We don’t get to take home toys from the Sunshine & Rainbow Lollipop Day Care Center. It’s usually a fight with at least a couple of kids and Biggie Marge and Biggie Jamie at the end of most days.
No, Shannon, you need to leave the Legos here.
No, Michael, the fire truck has to go back to the fire station. You can play with it more tomorrow.
No, Aiden, the blocks go back where they belong. You have blocks at home.
I’ve heard it a million times.
I tailed Jimmy McNeal for a week and came up with nothing. He had scoped the room, again and again, each time the same. The block center. The home living center. Book center. Music center. The art tables. Snack closet. Sharing time carpet. The changing table.
But he spent the most time on the nap mats. And, more troubling than that, at each kid’s cubby. One by one he walked past the cubbies, and each time he’d look at every kid’s blanket and pillow stuffed in the cubby, ready for nap time. All the while Toby and Brick trailing behind him, looking like they were ready to unleash hell.
It was weird, but he wasn’t breaking any rules.
And then on Thursday, I saw it. He’d managed to snake the Lil’ Explorers Bugs n’ Stuff Collection Kit into his own nap time blanket, a fluffy, oversized R2-D2-shaped rag.
As his mommy carried him out of the room, he saw me glaring at him… and he knew.
I gritted my teeth against the Nuk, and started to tug at Miss Jamie’s pants leg.
“Amelia, I’m saying goodbye to Jimmy and his mommy. Your mommy will be here soon, don’t worry.”
Biggies. You can’t rely on them for anything.
The cup. He was going to do something with the cup.
# # # #
The next day, Jimmy got the drop on me.
O’Shaughnessy was on the changing table almost immediately, and he wouldn’t be getting off for awhile.
“Oh, Lord,” said Biggie Marge. “Who feeds their kid chili? Honey, what was your daddy thinking?”
“Oh, my God,” said Biggie Jamie, holding her nose and nearly gagging. “Marge, I’ll take some of them out to the butterfly garden, okay? The Lysol’s in the closet.”
“Good idea,” said Marge, going to work on poor O’Shaughnessy.
I didn’t even hear Toby and Brick behind me.
“Who’s ready for a little time off?” It was Jimmy’s voice behind me. I didn’t have time to respond before Brick and Toby had me on the ground.
And I’m not one to cry for help.
McNeal leaned in close, now, holding the cup right over my head.
“You know what’s in here?” He seemed really pleased with himself.
“Yeah, I do.”
This surprised him.
“Lice,” I said. “Did a little homework.”
Jimmy didn’t say anything, so I continued.
“You got a big brother. Those clothes? Hand-me-downs for sure. The R2-D2 blanket? It’s a few years old at least. Besides, everyone is into BB-8 now.”
Jimmy glared down at me. I could tell Brick was getting redder and redder, and Toby was starting to breathe hard, but I didn’t break eye contact with Jimmy.
“What is he a Kindergartner? First grade? Got lice, didn’t he. And when he got it, they shut down his school. And now you think you can shut down Sunshine.”
“How…,” Jimmy, for the first time, looked nervous. “How did you know that?
“Actually, O’Shaughnessy noticed it first. Your haircut. No mother wants her kid’s hair that short. Your brother got lice and they shut down his school. That was great, right? The family was together, you got to play. Isn’t that right, Jimmy?”
Jimmy was lost in his own world for a moment. “It wasn’t fair…,” he whispered. “We were all home… we had so much fun together…”
I noticed Biggie Marge finishing up O’Shaughnessy’s diaper out of the corner of my eye. There wouldn’t be a lot of time.
“Jimmy?” Brick was looking desperate and red as a fire truck.
I said, “The only unintended consequence was that you got them, too. You got lice, Jimmy. And when you did, you had to get your head shaved.”
Jimmy’s hand absentmindedly went to his head.
Then he snapped out of it.
“…and now I’m going to shut this place down, too! We are ALL going home! AND NO ONE WILL MAKE FUN OF MY HAIRCUT!” Jimmy was screaming now, out of control.
Brick broke first.
“No, Jimmy! No! I don’t want lice! I DON’T WANT TO SHAVE MY HEAD!” He let go of my left arm, crying, hands to his face, and I swung hard at Toby, connecting to his nose.
Biggie Marge was there in a flash.
“Toby, Brian, my goodness, babies, what is the matter?” She had both boys scooped up in her arms and was off to the far corner rocking chair to sooth them.
“You can’t stop me, Amelia Dare.” Jimmy hissed as I sprung up off the floor, rubbing my arms. “This whole place is getting bugs! AND WE ARE GOING HOME!”
I reached for him, but he was small and fast. He pivoted quick… and came face to face with O’Shaughnessy. He’s a Pampers man. And he had on a fresh one.
I’d never been so glad to see my partner. O’Shaughnessy stood firm, Lion King sunglasses gleaming in the fluorescent light.
“You’re not going anywhere, Jimmy.” O’Shaughnessy, a good five inches taller than Jimmy McNeal, plucked the cup from his hand with ease.
I put my hand on Jimmy’s shoulder.
“We’ve got to report you to the Biggies, Jimmy. It’s over.”
He looked back at me and glared.
“It’s not over Amelia Dare. It’s not over.”
“It never is,” I said. And I couldn’t help but smile.
# # # #
© 2017 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.
Originally published at terribleminds for a flash fiction challenge.