“So,” said Officer Chris, “what seems to be the problem?”
“The problem,” I said, “is readily apparent. Please…look in their laps, look on the floor. You’ll find all the evidence you need for an arrest.”
“Really?” Officer Chris responded. “Seriously, Paul? I mean, uh, Mr. Fornale? That’s what you brought me over to this room for?”
Mrs. Casazza smirked.
“I never liked you!” I sneered at her.
“C’mon, Mr. Fornale!” the officer continued. “I know this entire story. Officer Goldstein has told it for years!”
“No!” I exclaimed. “I demand an investigation!”
“But this was laid to rest years ago!” Officer Chris continued. “Officer Larry came to the school and settled everything.”
“I beg to differ. He never took up the matter of Krista–the cousin of little Harlynn here–”
“Hey!” protested Harlynn, “I’m not little!”
I went on, “Her family has it in for me!”
Just then, Ava tugged on Officer Chris’s arm. He bent down as she whispered into his ear.
“Stop that!” I said. “That’s obstruction of justice!”
Officer Chris responded, “She’s only telling me that you’ve been teasing them as much as they’ve teased you.”
“Ha!” I responded. “I resemble that!”
“Yes,” added Mrs. Casazza, “he resembles that all the time!”
“Et tu, Brute?” I asked, indignant.
“Sic! Et ego, Domine Fornalete! Et ne voca me Brute!” she responded.
She must’ve studied Latin in high school.
“What are you two saying?” Rebecca asked. I forgot she was behind me.
“Aha! Here, Officer Chris! Here is my witness! Now Rebecca, put your right hand up and promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and–”
“Mr. Fornale,” the officer interrupted, “this isn’t a courtroom. Rebecca, does anything this man is saying make sense?”
“Yes!” she responded, sneering at her classmates. “Every day, Mr. Fornale comes to talk to students in the lunchroom, and these girls start teasing him right away–before he can even say hello.”
“How well do you know these girls?”
“They’re in Mrs. Holmes’s class with me.”
“And you don’t like them?”
“I like them; we’re friends! I just think they tease Mr. Fornale too much!”
“You see? You see?” I blurted.
Jolie spoke up: “We like you, too, Rebecca, but you know how Mr. Fornale comes into our classroom every day…”
“And steals Isabella’s water bottle…” That was Ava.
“And winds the class up…” That was Harlynn.
“And comes to the cafeteria and tries to take cookies off our trays!” That was Ava again.
“He’s just making a joke, you know!” Rebecca protested.
“Right,” Jolie returned, “and so are we.”
“Too much!” Rebecca protested.
“Too much? Too much?” Harlynn asked.
“Yes! Too much!” I jumped in. “Everybody knows my aversion to cute things. Stuffed animals, the color pink, Hello Kitty!”
“And puppy dogs!” added Harlynn.
“Puppy dogs?” Officer Chris put in.
“Puppy dogs,” Harlynn repeated. “One day I was on Safety Patrol, and I asked Mr. Fornale if he likes puppy dogs and he said no ‘cause they’re cute.”
“Right,” the officer said, rubbing his eyes with fatigue and impatience.
“And then I said how can he hate puppy dogs and then he said something…something terrible about puppy dogs.”
“This I gotta hear…” Officer Chris was regaining his stamina.
“He said, ‘No, I like puppy dogs if they’re cooked properly.’”
“Gross!” Harlynn, Ava, and Jolie all exclaimed.
“And mean!” That was Mrs. Casazza.
“I was joking!” I offered.
“Yes!” said Rebecca. “He was joking.”
Ava broke in, “Are you sure. He eats all sorts of weird stuff, you know. Like anchovies…”
“And cow’s stomach…” added Jolie.
“And escargots….” put in Ava again.
“Escargots?” Officer Auriano looked at me, poking his head forward. “You eat those things? How are they?”
“Really good,” I responded. “You put them in their shells with garlic, parsley–and lots of butter; hot oven for about ten min–”
“What are escargots?” Rebecca asked.
Mrs. Casazza answered, “Snails.”
“What? Ewwwwwww!” Rebecca exclaimed, clearly disgusted. “You eat snails?” She was looking at me as if she didn’t know who I was.
“Well,” I ventured, “Don’t knock ‘em till you try ‘em.”
“Mr. Fornale,” Mrs. Casazza broke in, “What about foie gras?”
“What’s that?” Harlynn asked, completely puzzled.
“I don’t know if I want to hear this…” Ava started to plug up her ears.
Jolie pulled on one of Ava’s arms to remove the finger, then whispered in her ear.
“Ewww! Goose liver?”
Rebecca strode around to be in front of me and stared up. “You eat goose liver? Ugh!”
She then walked over and stood next to the table where her classmates were sitting.
“Hey,” I brightened. “I’ve got an idea. We could have a club, and everyone can try these different kinds of foods.”
“No way!” Rebecca shot back. “That stuff is too weird.”
“It’s better than chicken fingers and fries. We should all expand our horizons.”
“Nuh-uh, not me.”
Harlynn tried to bring us back to the topic at hand. “Hel-LOOO! Why are we talking about this?”
“You didn’t like what Mr. Fornale said about puppy dogs,” Rebecca reminded her.
“Puppy dogs,” I muttered. “Cute…don’t like ‘em.”
“I’m gonna buy you a puppy dog poster,” said Jolie. “For your birthday.”
“See?” I protested to Officer Chris. “They’re starting again! Right in front of the law!”
“Yeah,” said Harlynn to Jolie. Then to me, “We’re gonna buy puppy dog posters for your office. When is your birthday?”
“February 30,” I said.
“Hey!” grumbled Harlynn, her brow furrowed. “That date doesn’t exist!”
“Are you saying I was never born?”
“I’m saying there’s no such date.”
“So I don’t exist? See this, Officer? They’re merciless. Now they are trying to wipe me off the calendar–and the Earth!”
“All right! All right! This has gone far enough!” Officer Chris said, trying to impose an air of finality.
But there was no finality to this. Our struggle had passed through to a second generation in Mr. Paltjon’s family, and no one was about to let it go. Certainly not Harlynn!
And certainly not Ava, smirking at me. And most definitely not Jolie. I knew that look!
“Listen! Everybody!” Officer Chris exclaimed. “No one is getting arrested here. This is a ridiculous misunderstanding.”
“”But, Chris! Look at those stuffed animals!” I protested.
“That’s Officer Auriano to you, Mr. Fornale!” He was becoming very officious.
“Fine,” I conceded. “Listen–”
“No, my dear friend and esteemed principal, you listen! Officer Larry Goldstein was here seven years ago on a matter similar to this, and all he saw fit to do was give you a parking ticket!”
Jolie looked to Harlynn, and they both smiled. They had heard the story. They knew Officer Goldstein had written it in pink ink because he had borrowed the pen of my nemesis, Krista. And Krista just happens to be the cousin of Harlynn.
Coincidence? I think not!
“Then,” Officer Chris went on, “he came back to the department and told us the whole story! We’ve been laughing at this for years. Please–cut your losses, and let it go.”
Mrs. Casazza struggled to suppress a laugh, but I scowled at her. I took a breath before an attempt to express my indignation, but then I was clapped on my shoulder,
“Mr. Fornale, How long have I known you? Two years? I’ve seen things, you know? Lots of bad things. Pink T-shirts and Hello Kitty and Beanie Boos and puppy dogs are nothing. There’s real suffering out there.”
Ava waved a magenta Boo at me.
“That isn’t pink, you know!” I exclaimed as I turned and pointed to the objectionable object. “It doesn’t count!”
She snickered. “But it’s cu-uute!” she crooned.
“So you’re not going to do anything about this?” I appealled to the officer.
“Nothing except wish you all a wonderful day. I’ve got to get back to my patrol.”
He nodded goodbye to us all, then strode out.
I scowled at everybody who remained.
“All right,” said Mrs. Casazza, “everybody out. I’ve spent enough time on this for today. I’ve got other work to do, and so does Mr. Fornale. Right, Mr. Fornale.”
“Right,” I muttered as I started out of Mrs. Casazza’s office. “But this isn’t over.”
“That’s right,” I heard Harlynn whisper to her friend. “It isn’t.”
The girls giggled as I left. I think I heard Mrs. Casazza giggling, too.
To be continued…