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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

("daughter, take courage; your faith had made you well”)…Matthew 18:22

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration


Prologue

Groveland, California, 2003


This summer I will celebrate my fifty-fourth birthday, not old, not really, but feels like old at times. As I sit on this porch, rocking in this comfy chair that my wonderful wife gave to me for last year’s birthday, and listen to the roar of the rushing river below, I find myself in a reflective mood today, and feeling rather chatty. So yeah, maybe I’ll take advantage of this lazy Sunday afternoon and share with you a story. Maybe this would be a good time to tell you about how I got to there from here. Maybe this would be a good time to retrace the steps I took along life's narrow path to the happiness that I never knew existed, much less ever hoped to realize. So, let's see, where should I start?
The nineteen sixties was a decade when we were encouraged to believe anything was possible. When we were challenged as a nation to “ask NOT what your country can do for you, ask what YOU can do for your country,” when we were challenged to literally reach for the moon. It seemed like forward was the direction everyone and every group was moving in. At least the decade started that way. Then, one by one the leaders of most of the movements for change and social evolution disappeared. More accurately, we killed them, or jailed them, or ignored them. The Kennedy’s, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Cesar Chavez, Eugene McCarthy, and a dozen or so others. The sixties ended with the country at war on two fronts, overseas with the communists, and at home with each other. Young and old alike became jaded and escaped into self-pity and self-indulgence, and voila the seventies were born.

The nineteen seventies were the decade of discovery. The nation discovered that we were not invulnerable. We learned that in order to rebound we had to hit bottom. We lost a war, a President, scads of business and industry, and our innocence. The one thing that we didn’t lose was our stubborn need to preserve our dignity. No plan was too risky, no change too drastic, no leadership too corrupt, as long as we came out ahead.
And with that resolve we marched into the eighties, the decade of rebirth. With a strong new President and a tough as nails attitude, the nation gave notice to the world that we were out to kick ass and take names. But at what cost, true family values, basic ethics, or the soul of a nation?
These were the times in which I came of age. And although they were decades of amazing events and historic changes, it would be the heart of one young woman, a mere child, that would inspire so many of us, and restore hope to a shallow people. As I tell this story you may find yourself thinking, I know of this girl, I’ve heard this somewhere. Perhaps you did, after all, it is said that the God of all people is omnipresent. And if that is so and you happen to believe, even just a little bit, then maybe you did, maybe we all did…

    
One



Mendota, California, June 1960


The child played with a butterfly as she lay in the yellow green grass, next to the field where her parents were working. It was early summer and all the schools had just let out for the long vacation. Not that it mattered much to her; she was only five years old after all. The butterfly stood nearly motionless on her forearm, its green blue wings moving up and down slowly, as if steadying itself. She squinted in the bright sunlight as she looked up to catch a glimpse of her mother in the cantaloupe field a few yards away.

She smiled broadly revealing neat rows of perfect little baby teeth as she made eye contact with mama. Her mother shielded her eyes from the sun as she stood and straightened up, arching her sore back, her free arm behind her, low on her hip. She waved high and slowly to her daughter and called out to her husband a couple of rows over.

“Victor, mira la nina!” Her husband waved from over his shoulder without looking up from his work. Maria Lopez shook her head tiredly, and waved again to her daughter as she squatted back down to continue her labors.

“Panson,” she muttered.

“She’ll be grown and waving to her own children before he knows it!” she said to herself, settling onto her knees and leaning back onto her heels.

Maria chopped at another stem and placed a good-sized melon into her rucksack, inching forward to swipe at the next one. The little girl stood up and waved her arm, gently setting the butterfly free to sail away on the breeze. It was beginning to get hot out as the sun rose high in the sky. The warm wind felt good on her face and she twirled round and round in the open field. When she got too dizzy to stand, she fell to the ground squealing with laughter. Streaks of bright white sunlight ran across the clear blue sky as if they were chasing one another around the heavens, and she raised her hands to shade her eyes.

Then suddenly something broke her concentration, and she rose up to her elbows, tilted her head and listened intently. She could barely make out the faint cry over the chattering of the crows gathered on the power lines along Third Ave. Nevertheless, there it was again, getting a little louder with each passing moment. Then it was clear, a wailing infant. She listened to the shrill cries followed by brief seconds of silence as the baby caught its breath. The poor thing was probably hungry or wet and needed changing. It took a little while for the parents to notice the cries for attention. Soon the little girl could see a young woman running from the field in the direction of the urgent cries, the mother perhaps.

Some older children were trying to quiet the baby, singing songs, and making funny faces, it was all just game to them. The little girl stood up as the young mother passed her on a dead run, her long ponytail flying parallel to the ground behind her with the speed at which she was moving. Instinctively she started to chase after her, but stopped after only a few strides. Mama had warned her not to wander out of eyesight, and she knew better than to disobey. She did not want to receive a swat or two from her mother’s sandal.

She watched as the young mother disappeared past the irrigation ditch then walked back to where she had caught the butterfly. She looked around, searching again for her own mother working in the field yonder. When she spotted her, she sat back down and began to play with a roly-poly bug, poking at it with her finger making it curl up into a ball. She studied the bug intensely, marveling at its defensive mechanism. Suddenly, a shrill scream came from beyond the ditch.

“AYIEEEE, Madre Dios!”

Everyone within earshot had heard the panicked cry, and everyone understood it to mean the worst kind of trouble. Heads began to pop up from all over the cantaloupe field. Some of the men had already dropped their tools and started running toward the commotion. The little girl felt her eyes moisten as the drama and confusion of the moment overwhelmed her. She again looked quickly for her mother and wiped away a tear with the palm of her little hand when she saw her walking quickly toward her.

“Mija, bente akee!” her mother said to her calmly.

The little girl ran to her and lost herself in her mother’s embrace. It was warm there and she was safe, but she could still hear the wailing in the distance. She peeked out from behind her mother’s long black hair and saw that a small crowd had gathered atop the steep embankment of the irrigation ditch. The men held their hats in their hands, and the women crossed themselves, some of them crying softly. The crowd parted slowly, making room for a young woman to pass between them, a small bundle, a motionless child wrapped in a Navajo receiving blanket held close to her breast. The young woman was sobbing deeply and the little girl recognized her as the one who had raced past her towards the crying baby.

A small group of children followed behind her, and as they passed through the crowd, one by one, their own parents scooped each of them up. Maria held her daughter a little tighter as the young woman approached them. As she passed by them, the little girl could feel the intensity of the young woman's pain, something that was well beyond her years to understand. She felt compelled to go to her, to throw her little arms around her, as if she could stop the hurting. She squirmed in her mother’s arms trying to get down, but Maria would not release her.

“Quiet mija, be still, that woman has lost her child,” her mother said to her, her voice stern from fright and not anger.

The young woman reached the dirt access road and walked past the flatbed tractor-trailer that held the stacks of melon crates. A man stood waiting, his face wet with tears, his strong-callused hands in tight fists as he held his Stetson hat in front of him. He embraced his wife and child tightly when they reached him, the small bundle disappearing between the young couple. They cried together for a long time, the presence of death creating a deafening silence. Several people, family and friends, surrounded them in a close circle of love and support. The little girl squirmed again in her mother’s arms.

“Alright LaTina, hold my hand and we will go to your father,” her mother said tiredly.

The two of them walked slowly, side by side towards the small crowd of mourners. A large man, his shirt soaked with sweat had come up to the young couple, and joined in their silent vigil. He may have been a relative, a grandfather or an uncle. Maria seemed to remember him as the grandfather of the young woman. He held a rosary made of wood in his left hand and stroked the young mother’s long dark hair with his right hand, as her head rested on his barrel chest. Tina and her mother were now standing with her father. Victor knelt down beside his daughter and put his arm around her.

“Why is she crying Poppi?” little Tina asked, whispering in her father’s ear.

“Her baby has died mija,” Victor answered, pulling her closer to him.

“Why?” Tina asked.

“If you ask me why this thing has happened mija, I cannot say for sure,” her father whispered.

“The Lord, he works in his way, and we must not question his will,” he added.

“Why?”

“I don’t know mija. You’ll have to ask God that yourself, maybe he’ll answer you,” Victor replied, sighing deeply.

“Her child is with God now. It is better I think, better than sweating for nothing in these damn fields,” he added quickly, his tone bitter.

The words were beyond her understanding. Her father was really talking to himself of course. The bitterness in his voice masked his guilty conscience, ashamed of his joy and relief, grateful that his own child had been spared. This was likely a common sentiment at this moment. Victor looked up at his wife and stood to embrace her, to ease the sorrow, to take away the sad and helpless look on her face. As her parents comforted each other, Tina began to walk forward, towards the grieving couple and the big scary Grandfather. Oddly, the closer she came to them, the more joy she began to feel in her own heart. By the time she was close enough to hear them weeping their words of encouragement to each other, the little girl was feeling near elation herself.

Just as she had at her early birthday party, only a few days before, when she was taking her turn at swatting the piñata stuffed with candies and cakes. The big Uncle noticed her first and looked down on her smiling face. He sniffled loudly and wiped his tear stained face with his shirtsleeve. The young parents looked down on her now as well, and she looked up at each of them, smiling at them in turn, as they made eye contact individually. Tina stepped closer and touched the dirty apron hanging from the mother’s waist. She tugged at it lightly and the woman looked curiously at her husband. She looked back down at Tina, and knelt beside her, reached out and gently stroked the little girl’s hair. Although grief stricken, and in spite of the tremendous pain she was feeling, she could not keep herself from smiling back at the little girl.

“Que pa so mijita?” the young mother said gently. Tina did not reply she just continued to smile, her amber colored eyes sparkling in the bright sunlight.

The young mother looked back up at her husband and then at her Grandfather, a perplexed look on her face, embarrassed by her nervous laughter. Before anyone could think of something appropriate to say, the little girl reached over and turned down the blanket revealing the face of the dead child. The baby was cold and blue, his little eyes closed but still wet with tears. The mother looked back quickly, just in time to see the little girl lean in and kiss her baby’s face. Tina looked up at the baby’s mother, smiled at her, and then reached up and touched her cheek with her tiny hand. The young woman pulled away instinctively, startled by the girls sudden appearance, and then stared back at the child.

The sun shined brightly behind the small girl, her little body outlined in sunlight making her appear more like a shadow than a person. As she started to speak, the woman felt a stirring in her arms, then there was a sharp pain in her right breast as her teething child tried to nurse. Gasping, she fell back onto her bottom and wriggled backward a couple feet in the dirt, frightened out of her wits. Holding her baby like a basketball in outstretched arms, she looked to her husband for an explanation, for help. This simply could not be happening, it just could not, her baby was stone dead just a moment ago! The small circle of people that had surrounded them retreated a yard or two. Several of them, male and female, were now on their knees crossing themselves and ‘panic praying’ the rosary.

“Hail Mary full of grace, blessed are thou among women, blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God…”

A hot breeze gusted, blowing dirt from the road every which way, people covered their faces with multi colored bandanas and pulled their hats low over their eyes. The young couple sat together on the ground in awe of this happening, laughing and crying at the same time. Their child was wailing loudly know, a hungry cry, he wanted to eat and his mother offered her breast happily.

“Nina,” the young mother called to Tina, her face a flush with fear and confusion.

“Nina, gracias mija, muchas gracias la Senor, muchas gracias!” she said, as she began to sob uncontrollably.

The girl continued to smile broadly, a broad, beaming smile branded on her little face. She was almost trancelike in her posture, and it made her appear more like a doll than a real child. Several people began to gather around her, talking amongst themselves. They searched for signs of some kind, for anything that could explain what they had just witnessed. The Grandfather walked toward Tina, and she stood still and unafraid. He stopped in front of her, and then fell to his knees, his face buried in his large hands, weeping softly.

Tina came forward and took hold of a finger on each of his big hands, tugging on them gently. He looked up sheepishly, a large smile breaking across his tear stained face. He pulled the child close to him and hugged her gently; she disappeared behind his strong arms, only her tiny hands were visible, her little fingers patting his big shoulders while he wept. In the crowd of people, a small man with a handlebar moustache stumbled forward as a woman pushed her way into the center of all the commotion. It was Maria, frantically looking for her daughter.

“Tina!” she called out loudly. Maria stopped abruptly when she saw her daughter peek out from behind the big man kneeling on the ground. She ran towards them, sliding the last couple of feet on her knees in the dirt as she dropped to scoop up her daughter into her arms.

“I told you never to wander from me like that, didn’t I?”

“Do I have to get my shoe little one?”

“No mama, lo ciento, por favor, lo ciento,” said Tina, suddenly out of her trance and back to reality.

“You scared me mija, you scared me, yo mi vida, no?” Her mother said softly, hugging and kissing her child.

“Si mama, si.”

The big man, stood up finally, steadying himself, his left hand on his right knee as he rose. He walked over to Maria and Victor as they stood near the crowd of people, the two of them each held one of Tina’s little hands. The old gentleman stopped in front of them, and put a large hand on the shoulders of her parents. He turned slowly and pointed to the young couple sitting with their baby, family and friends surrounding them.

He turned back to face Tina and her parents, then he reached down and touched the little girl’s cheek with the back of his right index finger. Looking back up at her parents, he leaned in and whispered something into Victor’s ear. Then the old Grandfather kissed Maria lightly on her forehead, turned, and walked away slowly. He walked past the young couple without stopping, and returned to the cantaloupe field, back to work. Soon others followed his lead and walked slowly back into the field as well.

The commotion was officially over, and there was still a full day’s work to do. In a few minutes, only the young couple and their baby remained with Tina and her parents on the quiet dirt road. The young father stood and helped his wife and child up. He turned, looked over at Tina and tipped his hat. His wife waved and then crossed herself as they turned and walked toward the field to join everyone else. Maria turned her head toward her husband, wrinkled her nose and squinted in the sunlight shining from over his shoulder.

“What did the old man say to you anyways?” Victor did not answer; he looked down at his daughter instead. Maria socked him in the arm and asked again.

“What did the old man say to you, Panson?” Victor looked over at his wife.

“He said that he met the Lord today.”

“The old man said that the Lord spoke to him through the eyes of a child.”

Victor knelt down beside his little girl and turned her to face him. He looked deeply into her eyes searching for sign of what the old man had seen. Tina began to giggle at the queer look on her father’s face, and she reached out and pinched his nose. She squealed, ran back a couple of steps, turned and showed her dad her tiny left hand. She held her thumb between her index and middle finger, waving her hand back and forth.

“Got your nose,” she squealed, “Got your nose!”

Victor made a loud snarffling sound and chuckled himself. Maria looked at both of them like they were from Mars and began to giggle as well. The excitement over, the three of them followed the others back to the field, there was still much work to do after all. He shaded his eyes with the brim of his hat and looked high up into the clear blue, mid-morning sky.

“MAN, it’s going to be a hot one today,” he said aloud.

Victor and his wife went back to work, chopping stems and picking melons. Maria looked back over her shoulder to catch sight of her daughter as she played in the grass nearby. She smiled to herself, reciting a silent prayer as she freed another melon from its vine and placed it in her burlap sack. She watched her daughter sit idly in the field, concentrating intensely on something that Maria could not see from where she worked. The events of the morning already forgotten, LaTina had her eye on a grasshopper that needed catching...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

love you KK...:)

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

KK Undercover:
The Cookie Caper
Copyright©2010, Nicholas Sheridan Stanton



Chapter One


Deer Canyon Elementary, San Diego, California


“Listen up new kid, my name is KaSandra, that’s Cassandra but with a K, and only one S. That’s big K, little a, big S, little a-n-d-r-a, get it?”

That’s me telling the new kid in school how it is. So, now you know my name, what else. Well, I live right here in San Diego, California with my Mom, my sister, and my little brother. My sister Katrina is a couple of years older than me (I’m 9 going on 10), and she’s pretty cool. Actually she’s pretty and she’s way cool. So I guess that makes her pretty-pretty cool, right? But let’s keep that between you and me, okay? I don’t want to wreck my I don’t care reputation. Besides, what do I know anyway, I’m just a kid! Now as for my brother Luc, he’s a couple of years more than a couple of years younger than me, and he’s; well, he’s my little brother, let’s just leave it at that!

I’m a fourth grader at Deer Canyon Elementary. I like school okay most of the time, but I could do without the homework. I’m a bit of a tomboy, but still a girly-girl when it suits me (translation: shop-a-holic). I tend to hang out with my two BFFs, Winifred and Claire, but we occasionally tolerate a couple of the not so creepy boys in our class. Basically I am a pretty normal 10 year-old California girl. At least I am as far as everyone knows.

Can you keep a secret kid? Winfred and Claire are the only ones who know what I’m about to tell you, so you need to keep your trap shut! Okay, between you, me and the tether-ball, I sorta lead a double life, part time kid, part time spy. That’s right, I said spy!

I’m working undercover for the government. What? Yes, our government silly. Specifically I work for S.A.M. That’s short for Secret Agents for Moms. I know what you’re thinking, what the heck does that mean? Have you ever heard the old saying that moms have eyes in the back of their heads? Well, we’re those eyes!

See, many years ago, I don’t know how many, some President, I don’t know which one, wanted to help his wife with their children. Legend has it these kids were mega brats and were really messing up the White House, literally. So, the Prez created a super secret organization, S.A.M. and the government has been recruiting brainy, take charge kids, like me, ever since.

“Close your mouth kid, it’s impressive, but not that impressive!”

Now, you’re supposed to be at least 12 to start and you have to quit by 18 when you go off to college. But in my case they made an exception. No surprise right? I’m smart, pretty cool, and a little bossy (little brother/monster, remember?). Wait a sec, actually that is pretty darn impressive! Go ahead kid; let your mouth hang open a minute or two!

That’s my bio so keep it under your hat, you got it? You’re just a rookie in this game, so pay attention and I’ll learn ya good! That’s detective talk by the way. I must have read it in a book somewhere. I can trust you right? I hope so because I’d hate to have to make you disappear! Ha-ha-ha, just kidding silly, they would probably only send you back a grade or two. Close your mouth kid, I said probably!

Okay, today’s message came the usual way, tucked inside a strawberry Pop Tart, just like a fortune cookie, pretty clever huh? Looks like we got a lunchbox bandit on the loose at dear old Deer Canyon! First things first kid, empty your pockets for me. Can’t be too careful ya know. The best suspects are usually the ones right under your beezer. Uncross your eyes kid, a beezer is just another name for your nose. Sorry about that, more detective talk, that must have been a pretty old book I read, because nobody talks like that anymore!

Hmmmm, let’s see now, thirty-eight cents, two green life savers, and a really old stick of Juicy Fruit. Did you get this outta your Grandpa’s pocket or what? Never mind, you’re clean. Stuff it all back in your pocket and let’s get to class before the bell rings. I want to hand Claire a note to make sure we hook up at lunch with Winifred. I got an idea on how we might trap this perp.

Of course we’ll need Winnie to sweet talk her mom, again. Winnie’s mom, Alice can bake like nobody’s business; and her Snicker doodle cookies are pretty famous around here. Come on, hurry up kid, Mrs. Ryan is getting ready to close the door!


Chapter Two

Good ole Deer Canyon

One of the risks of planning capers at recess is missing the bell. It sucks being the last one in the door. Not only do you have to deal with the ooohs and ahhhs, but you have to spend the rest of the day sitting next to Mrs. Ryan in the “seat of shame,” ugh!

Fortunately I beat the new kid into the room by half a step, literally, having given him a flat tire right when we reached the doorway. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Ryan saw it, but I was too quick taking my seat for her to make a big deal about it. Besides, it was time for Geography (double ugh!) and I knew she was planning to show pictures of her vacation to Machu Picchu, whatever the heck that is?

So, the new kid grabbed his books and took the slow walk back up the aisle to assume the position, giving me the stink-eye all the way. What can I say, rookies! Okay, more on that later.

Anyways, while he’s cooling his jets in the hot seat I’ve gotta figure out how to get Winifred’s mom started on the cookie bait! Wait a sec, looks like Mrs. Ryan is pulling down the wall map, it’s officially geography time, woo hoo! That subject is so boring she nearly puts herself to sleep during the lesson, sweet! I’ll just jot down a quick note and tell Winnie to text her mom ASAP.

“Pssst, pass this back to Winifred,” I whispered to Zoe, the girl with the cutest curly hair that we’re all jealous over.

Actually, I’ve tried to recruit her into the unit once or twice, but she’s too good, no natural sneaky tendencies, pity! Still, I’m gonna keep working on her, that cuteness will come in handy navigating around grown ups. If she were a Girl Scout I bet she’d set records at cookie time!

“Okay,” she replied cheerfully.

I kept my eyes on Mrs. Ryan while the note worked its way to Winifred in the back row. The tallest kids always got the back row seats, makes sense if you think about it. Anyways, Mrs. Ryan had pulled down the map of South America and was pointing out where Machu Picchu was located.

Why would anyone go to another country on vacation when Disneyland, Sea World, and Legoland are all right here in San Diego? Bizarre, I know, maybe the school makes teachers go to weird places like this so they can teach kids how cool it is to live right here in good ol US of A!

“Pssst, back attcha,” Zoe whispered, handing me Winifred’s reply.

I took the note from over my shoulder without looking back and unfolded the paper in my lap without breaking eye contact with Mrs. Ryan who had looked my way after hearing us with her super teacher ears (pretty sure they hand those out when you graduate from teacher school).

She stared me down for a moment and then continued with her mesmerizing recounting of her trip to the famous Inca temple in Peru. By the way, I always mix up the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs, am I alone on that? I don’t think so! Anyways, back to Winifred’s note. Keeping my head pointed right at Mrs. Ryan I lowered my eyes to read Winnie’s reply:

KK,

I’ll text my mom at lunch, can’t do it now, she’ll ground me and take my cell phone away for a month for using it during class!

Me

Perfect! I love it when a plan comes together! I gave the secret signal, two quick coughs from me followed by one little sneeze from Claire, letting Winifred know that everything was A-O-K. Today at lunch the three of us would finish hatching our plan to trap the Deer Canyon Lunch Bandit before school let out tomorrow afternoon. SWEET!


Chapter Three

Lunchtime!


BEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Finally, the lame lunch bell! Not that Mrs. Ryan’s lesson was boring or anything, even if the new kid and Ali had started snoring halfway through it. Oh, by the way, the Incas were from Peru, the Mayans were from Honduras/Guatemala, and the Aztecs were from Mexico. Ya just gotta love the Internet!

“Okay class, that’s thirty minutes for lunch. Try not to trample each other on the way out,” Mrs. Ryan barked as she pulled a brown bag from her top left desk drawer.

There was a telltale stain darkening the bottom of the paper sack. That would mean she had packed either a tuna-fish or a sardine sandwich for lunch…gross!

“Mom, I am not breaking the rules! The bell already rang and Mrs. Ryan told us all to scoot,” Winnie whined into her cell phone.

She passed me in a mini-huff and headed out the door to our usual lunch table. Claire winked at me as she followed directly behind her, cinching up the combo book-bag/lunchbox set squarely on her shoulders. I waited a few seconds as the class emptied and then casually strolled out, smiling at Mrs. Ryan as I passed her desk.

She gave a “what are you up to” stare as she went about unwrapping whatever was in the brown paper bag. My guess was a sardine and limburger cheese sandwich by the tears forming in my eyes. Adults are just plain weird, there’s no getting around that! I hope they find a cure for that before I get too old!

“So where are we eating,” the new kid asked, startling me.

“Don’t do that,” I hollered, socking him in the arm as I jetted ahead him quickly.

I stopped after a few feet before looking back. At first I thought that I must have clipped him in passing with one of my crutches, but I must’ve only hurt the poor kid’s feelings because he was still standing where I socked him, pathetically staring down at his shoes. I shook my head and walked on back to get him.

“Come on new kid, we haven’t got all day, I’ve got a plan to hatch,” I said, taking his arm, pulling him along after me.

The kid didn’t even try to hide his smile as I dragged him to our special table. Note to self; I hope he isn’t gonna be a problem, there’s nothing worse than puppy crushes!

“It’s about time! What took you so long,” Winifred asked frowning?

I pushed the new kid toward the table as I grabbed a seat on the bench. “I had a little trouble getting out the door,” I replied, pointing at the new kid who still had that sappy grin on his face.

“SNAP OUT OF IT,” I hollered, tossing Claire’s Twinkie at him.

“Hey, I’ve been waiting all morning for that treat,” Claire whined.

The new kid handed back her sponge cake and pulled his own lunch from his back pack. It looked like PB&J on whole wheat, some celery, and a bag of veggie chips. His mom must be a health freak like mine. I turned back to Winifred and gave her the ‘so tell me all about it look.’

“Oh, yeah, well I called my Mom and we got problems,” Winnie started.

“What kind of problems, how hard can it be to bake a batch of cookies,” I asked?

“The problem is my Mom has to work tonight and you know my Dad’s all thumbs in the kitchen,” Winnie replied.

“Oh yeah, you’re right, I remember the BBQ last summer when he set your back yard on fire. It was pretty cool!”

“You squished my Twinkie KK,” complained Claire.

“HELLO, we’re working out some details here snack-a-potamus,” I replied, giving her the look. Claire stuck her tongue out at me and went back to eating her lunch.

“So what are we gonna do now,” Winnie asked?

We sat there staring at each other for a minute or two when the new kid broke the silence by uttering the first words that any of us could remember him speaking.

“My thisister can cook,” he said through a mouthful of PB&J.

“Excuse me? I mean, can you repeat that, right after you swallow that glob of Skippy in your mouth you Neanderthal,” I said, scolding him for being a total “boy."

The new kid squeezed his eyes shut as he dry swallowed a huge mouthful of chunky peanut butter. Claire must have felt sorry for him because she offered him her water bottle.

“Who is this guy anyways,” she asked, sitting down next to me.

“He’s new, I think his name is Danny or Daniel, or something like that, I dunno, he’s one of Ali’s friends,” Winnie replied.

“But why is he sitting with us,” Claire asked as she watched the poor kid gulp down her water.

He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket and then used the same sleeve to wipe the water bottle clean.

“Well, he looked kinda lost at recess and since we’ve been looking for someone to do the dirty work for us, and well, he just sorta seemed like a possibility,” I answered timidly.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling sheepishly as he handed the now empty water bottle back to Claire.

“Uh, that’s okay, you keep it, I’ll share with KK,” Claire said, wrinkling her nose and making the eeeeeww face.

“Alright, Danny is it? What about your sister,” I asked?

“Um it’s Daniel, and I thaid my thister can cook,” he replied, picking peanut butter off the roof of his mouth with an index finger, gross!

“Wait, is that a lisp I’m hearing,” Claire gasped?

“Oh, no, I still had some peanut butter stuck on the roof of my mouf,” answered Daniel.

He stuck his finger back into his mouth and scraped away the last of the goo and swallowed it.

“There that’s better,” he said smiling large, showing all his teeth, top and bottom.

“Ah, you still have a little jam on your mouth kid,” Winnie said looking down at her lunch as she pointed.

“Oh yeah, thanks,” Danny replied, licking the jam from the corner of his mouth.

“So, you’re saying your sister would bake some cookies for us after school,” I asked?

“No, I said she CAN cook. I dunno if she will or not, we’ll have to ask her.”

“Well, can you call her? Where does she go to school? How old is she,” we all asked at once?

“Wait, um, I don’t have a phone, she goes to Westview High, and she’s 17, so I guess that makes her seven years older than me,” Danny replied.

“Oh man, a high school kid isn’t gonna want to help a out a bunch of kids like us,” Claire whined.

”No, she might, she has to cook dinner for us during the week cause my mom works, so, maybe she’ll bake some cookies too,” Daniel explained.

“Well, you can use my phone,” Winnie offered.

“Thanks, but Sissy doesn’t have a phone either. My Dad says cell phones are the beginning of the end,” said Daniel.

Claire, Winifred, and I looked at one another and silently mouthed "Sissy," not even trying to hide the giggles.

“Her name is Beth, but I call her Sissy because, well, because she's my sister. Anyway, she picks me up after school every day, so we can ask her then,” explained Daniel.

“Any better ideas,” I asked looking at my team one at a time. Not a sound came from them, you would’ve heard crickets chirp if it were nighttime.

“Okay, I guess we continue with operation “Lunch-ito Bandito” after school,” I said.

“Let’s do it,” Claire added. We reached across the table and sealed the deal with a pinkie swear.


Chapter Four

School’s OUT!


We stood at the curb huddled together against the cool autumn temperature, me, Winifred, Claire, and Daniel (the new kid). We were waiting for Daniel’s sister to arrive to pick him up. That’s when we would gang up on her and charm her into baking the cookies we needed to trap the ‘Lunch-ito Bandito!’

“What kind of car is she driving anyways,” asked Claire?

“Um, my Dad got her a Mustang, he says it’s a classic,” answered Daniel.

“What does classic mean,” Winnie asked?

“It means OLD,” I replied sarcastically.

“Here she comes,” Daniel exclaimed, pointing at the candy apple red car turning into the school drive.

“WOW, that is an OLD car,” Claire gasped.

“CLASSIC,” added Winifred!

Daniel’s sister drove up and stopped beside us at the curb. She leaned over and seemed to wrestle with the door as the window jerked its way down slowly.

“What’s wrong with your car,” Claire wondered out loud.

“Nothing, it’s just hard to crank when I’m leaning over from the driver’s side is all,” Sissy replied.

“What’s cranking,” we all asked together?

“Well, it’s an old car and doesn’t have automatic windows so you have to roll down the windows with a hand crank,” explained Sissy.

“Oh,” we replied together, nodding our heads but not really understanding.

“You know, cranking, like this,” Sissy added, making a circular cranking motion with her hands.

“Ohhhh, CLASSIC,” we all said at once, her visual aid having made sense of it all.

“Right, you guys are cute! Who are your friends Danny,” Sissy asked her brother?

“Um, they’re just in my class,” he answered.

“I figured that much out Einstein, what are their names?”

“Sorry about that! Um, the tall one is Winnie, the blonde is Claire, and the one with the purple hair is KK,” Daniel replied, pointing at each of us in turn.

“It’s Winifred,” Winnie corrected.

“Actually my hair is ash blonde,” Claire added.

“My hair is only purple on Tuesday’s,” I explained.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Danny’s sister Bethany, but you can call be Beth. Nice hair KK, I like it!”

We waived back at her sheepishly. “But Daniel said your name was Sissy?”

“That works too, I’ll answer to either one,” Sissy replied with a smile.

“Well, we gotta get going, hop in Danny,” she said after a pause, opening the door for her brother.

Daniel climbed in and shut the door. Sissy waived and put the car in gear when her brother suddenly hollered, “WAIT!”

Sissy hit the brakes and the Mustang screeched to a stop. “DON’T DO THAT, what is wrong with you doofus!”

“Sorry sis, but KK wanted to ask you something, didn’t you KK,” Danny explained hurriedly. Sissy leaned forward and looked at me with a little frown, “well?”

Gulping I walked up to the car and put my head in the window a couple of inches.

“Um, well we were wondering if you would mind making some cookies for us tonight, I mean if you’re not busy or anything?”

“You’re kidding right? Can’t your mom do that for you?”

“Well, Winnie’s mom was going to but now she has to work, and my mom has to take me to chemo tonight, and Claire’s mom, well, Claire’s mom doesn’t bake, I think it has something to with math, fractions specifically,” I answered in one breath!

“I see, I think? Well, I guess I can make a couple dozen cookies for you. Chocolate chip okay?”

“Oh yeah, chocolate chip would be great, thanks!”

“Alright, I’ll bake them later and Danny can bring them in tomorrow morning. Hope your party turns out nice,” Sissy said, waiving as she put the car in gear.

“What pa…,” Claire started to ask.

“It sure will now that we have cookies to share, thank you so much,” Winifred said, stepping in front of Claire before any damage could be done.

“See ya girls, nice meeting you,” Sissy said waiving as she drove away. We waived back and started walking toward the school bus. Claire got on first, while Winnie held my crutches and helped me climb the steps.

“Hi Mr. Beadle,” I said to the driver as I passed by and headed down the aisle to my usual window seat two rows behind him.

“Hiya KK, thanks for reminding me it’s Tuesday,” he replied pointing at my wig.

“No worries, don’t forget tomorrow is carrot top Wednesday,” I said. He winked at me and closed the bus doors.

“Sit down everybody, we’re on the road!”

Winnie sat beside me making sure I stayed in my seat while Claire took her usual seat behind me to hold my neck pillow in place. Besides being my two bestest friends these guys were my crew as well.

It would really suck to deal with this yucky cancer stuff all by myself. Luckily, I’ve got people!

“Alright, phase one is done, we have the bait. Now it’s time for phase two, setting the trap,” I said as I looked out the window.

“So, what’s your plan KK?” Claire asked.

“Yeah, we know you have one, we can see that wicked little smile on your face,” Winnie added. I turned back and faced front and made eye contact with Mr. Beadle in the rear view mirror.

“Oh I’ve got a plan alright! Listen up…”


Chapter Five

Children’s Hospital: Chemo Shmeemo!


Sometimes it makes me mad looking at all the cutesy pictures of smiling children hanging in the halls here. I know that they are meant to make kids comfortable and less afraid when they stay here, but still, sometimes I think they should have some fine print under each picture that says “enter at your own risk!”

Sometimes I ask myself “why do you keep coming here, you almost never have a good time!” But then I watch my Mom take charge of my care, questioning everyone and everything, and I know I’ll be alright.

And when I see my favorite nurses who take care of me, like Caitlin and Lindsey, and Samantha, who give me stickers, hugs, and smiles, and I know I’m in good hands.

And then of course there is the small army of doctors led by good old Dr. S, and Dr. L, and Dr. Z who come by with their soft voices and kind eyes and make me feel safe. That kinda charges me up in spite of the hushed tones they use when they talk plainly to my Mom.

“So, how are we feeling today KaSandra?” asks Dr. L as she walks into my room.

“What do you mean ‘we’?” I answer with half a smile.

“Touché! I mean how are you feeling today Miss Smarty-pants,” said Dr. L teasing.

“I’m okay, but my stomach hurts a little bit,” I reply.

“How do you mean, nausea, or something sharp, like a cramp?” she asks.

“Nausea,” I answer.

“Hmmmm, let me see,” she says, feeling my tummy under my shirt.

I turn my head and try to look out the window, but the blinds are closed and all I can see are the shadows of people walking back and forth in the hall outside my room. There are two other kids in the out-patient chemo room with me today and they are both asleep. I sorta wished I were too.

“Ouch!”

“A little tender there is it?” Dr. L asks, wrinkling her nose.

“Duh,” I reply, annoyed at the dumb question.

“KaSandra! Don’t be rude,” snaps my Mom from the chair beside my bed.

“OKAY!”

“Sorry Dr. L, she’s been irritable all week,” my Mom explains.

The two of them disappear into the hall like they always do when they don’t want me to hear everything they’re saying. I don’t care; I want to be left alone right now anyways. I need to finish my plan to capture the Lunch-ito Bandito at school. Daniel will be bringing the bait tomorrow if his sister comes through with the cookies. All I have to do is work out the trap details tonight with Winnie and Claire. I’ll text them when Mom thinks I’m doing homework!

The tricky part will be getting warm cookies past Mrs. Ryan without her making us put them on her desk. We’ll need to get them into the coat room and into Daniel’s cubbie so that the lunch swiping fiend will feel safe about making a play for the tasty treats while were all at recess. The trickier part will be getting back into the classroom before the bell rings to catch him in the act. That’s where being a handicapped kid comes in handy! Ha-ha, I made myself laugh!

I’ll tell Mrs. Ryan that I’m not feeling well and get Winnie and Claire to help me back to my seat early. Then, while she is calling the nurse’s office, BAMMO, we catch the Lunch-ito Bandito in the act!

“Nice plan, simple, and effective,” I mumble to myself.

“What did you say honey?” asks my Mom.

“Nothing Mommy, I was just wondering when we were going home,” I replied.

“As soon as you’re done here, around 5:30 we’ll be able to leave,” she said.

“Oh, but first we have to go and pick up your sister and brother at your Auntie’s,” she added.

“Oh man! Can we get boba on the way home?” I whined.

“We’ll see, it’ll depend on the traffic, Mommy still needs to cook dinner,” she answers.

I didn’t bother asking again, my Mom is really good at blocking out those noises. It doesn’t work for my brother either and he is the KING of the whiners. But, he’s really cute too so sometimes it works for him…NO FAIR!

Dr. L pats me on the head and tells me that she’ll see me next week. She waves to my Mom as she leaves and I study my Mom as she watches her. The expression on her face bothers me but that just means she is thinking hard about something, not necessarily me.

My Mom is ALWAYS juggling ten balls in the air; it could be any one of the other nine! According to the clock on the wall it’s 5:05 and my Hannah Montana watch confirms it, we’d be leaving soon. I shut my eyes to take a ten minute catnap, and ran the plan forwards and backwards in my head as I waited for Mommy.

“Tomorrow’s your day Mr. Bandito,” I mumble.

“What did you say honey?” asks my Mom.

“Nothing Mommy…”


Chapter Six

The Plan Hatches: You’re going down Bandito!


Question: “How long does a note hang in the air?”

Answer: “Until the next one is played!”

That’s sorta our process for coming up with a really cool plan. Winifred, Claire, and me just toss ideas around until we come up with something that we all agree on. But, you have to be pretty close friends though. Otherwise, you just fight with each other. Fortunately the three of us are tight as a drum! As usual, we finished the plan long after our parents thought we were asleep in our beds.

Cell phones are way cool! You don’t even need a flashlight under the covers anymore cause the darn things come with one built in. All you do is roll over, pull the blankets over your head and text yourself right into the next dimension. Ahhh, silent communications, I love it! Of course this couldn’t have been possible if I were still on that stupid feeding tube.

Fortunately they removed that awful button and I can eat like a normal person again! Hello Mr. Cheeseburger and curly fries, good-bye forever yucky formula. Seriously, I don’t know what babies see in that stuff.

I wolfed down my yummy scrambled eggs (made them my own self thank you) and then waddled out the door on my crutches to catch the bus at the corner. I’m still a little wobbly on these things but they’re 100 times better than that darn wheelchair and 1000 times better than the stupid walker! I won’t let anybody help me, not even Mom.

Well, that’s not totally true, I do let Claire help me onto the bus when I get there, but only when my legs hurt after chemo. The bus is on time as usual, and there are several kids getting on, laughing and messing around. I can hear Mr. Beadle hollering at them, that always makes me smile, he’s so funny!

“SIT your little behinds in the closest seat munchkins!”

Claire waives to me from the first step, “Hurry up slow poke, you’re gonna make us late,” she yells.

“I’m coming; I’m coming, keep your shirt on!”

“You need help?” she asks.

“No, I’m okay, go sit down. Where’s Winifred?” I reply.

“She’s in back finishing her math homework, says she overslept.”

“NICE,” I reply sarcastically. As I climb the steps onto the bus I hand Mr. Beadle my crutches. He puts them behind his driver’s seat and clears a path for me.

“Get on board Miss Britches, we need to move along now,” he says, offering me his free hand as I reach the top step.

Smiling, I take his hand as I pass and then use the seats to steady myself as I walk down the aisle to join Claire and Winifred, clear in the back of the bus. Last one on, last one off, as usual.

Claire scooted over to make room beside her and Winnie grunted a hello without looking up from her homework.

“Hi,” I say to them

“Hi,” they reply in unison.

I turned in the seat and gave Winifred a sideways glance, “almost done,” I ask?

“Yeah, I just have one more problem. Stupid word problems, I hate em so much!” she replies.

“Me too,” I say.

“Me three,” Claire adds.

Mr. Beadle closed the door with a bang and the bus lurched forward away from the curb. We’re off to good old Deer Canyon now. Claire puts her arm around me to keep me from bouncing out of my seat on the bumpy ride to school, and I shout over the engine and other kids on the noisy ride.

“Did you call Daniel before you left?” I ask Winifred.

“NO! I over slept KK, that’s why I’m doing homework on the bus, duh!”

“Alright, alright, don’t have a cow!” I shouted.

“Daniel’s probably already there waiting for us with the cookies anyway,” I added under my breath.

Claire is asleep again, her head softly knocking against the window with every bump we hit. That girl conks out every time she gets into a car. I think that she was seriously affected by the “Wheels on the Bus” song when she was a little kid.

It’s a short distance to school but a long ride because of all the crazy parent traffic we have to navigate through. Honestly, sometimes I think that it would be faster to just walk!

Daniel is waiting for us out front with the cookies, just like I knew he would be, sweet! He’s gonna be a good addition to the team I think. He is carrying a shopping bag in each hand as well as the humongous backpack on his shoulders. Actually, if not for the two shopping bags I think Daniel might have tipped over from the weight of that huge backpack.

The poor kid is gonna be hunchbacked if he keeps carrying so many books in there. Well, to be honest, half of that weight is his lunch, that boy can EAT! Mr. Beadle pulls into the drive and comes to a stop at the yellow curb.

“Alright boys and girls grab your gear and exit here!” he hollers.

“Better wake up Claire, KK,” Winfred said as she packed her homework into her backpack.

I shove Claire, “Come on Claire, wakie- wakie!” I shout, giving her arm a pinch.

“OUCH! What did you do that for?” Claire yells.

“We’re here Sleeping Beauty,” I answer.

“Oh, okay,” she replies, yawning and stretching.

“Look, there’s Daniel with the cookie bait, he’s waiving at us,” Winnie says leaning over as she waives back at him. She helps me up and we trod up the aisle with Claire slowly trailing. Mr. Beadle is waiting for me up front holding my crutches.

“Here you go Miss Britches,” he says.

“Love the hair darling, you were right, Wednesday is orange day,” he adds, lifting his Padre Baseball cap to show off the orange stripe he painted down the center of his extremely bald head!

“You’re crazy Mr. Beadle,” I giggle, giving my orange wig a little flip as I pass by him. Daniel met us on the sidewalk as we got off the bus. He held up the two bags.

“There are a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies and a couple dozen peanut butter cookies,” he said with a smile.

“We better test taste them before we get to class,” Claire says as she dived into each bag!

“HEY, what are you doing, we’re gonna need all of those,” I hollered, trying to stop Claire from munching down all of our cookie bait! Not that I could actually stop from eating at least a handful.

Trying to get between Claire and a sweet treat would be like trying to get between the ocean and the beach, IMPOSSIBLE!

“I only ate one, leave me alone,” Claire groused with a mouthful of peanut butter cookie while holding a chocolate chip cookie in each hand.

“That’s disgusting,” Winifred said, wincing as she watched crumbs spilling out of Claire’s mouth as she chewed and whined at the same time.

“NO IT’S NOT!” whined Claire.

“Okay, okay, get a grip people!" I shouted.

“We’ve got five minutes before the bell rings, so listen up,” I said to the team.

“Here’s the plan. Daniel, you walk in first and show the cookies to Mrs. Ryan. Make a big deal about it so the Lunch-ito Bandito (whoever it is) gets a good long whiff of chocolate chips and peanut butter. Go all Homer Simpson on her; you know, hmmmmmm, cookies.”

“Check!” Daniel replied.

“Claire, you tell Mrs. Ryan the big story about Sissy wanting to share her Home Economics homework with the class.”

“Double check!” Claire replied.

“Winnie and me will watch the room for a guilty face while you guys are hamming it up with the teacher, right Winifred?”

“Triple check,” she replied!

“Then, Daniel, you stuff the cookie bait into your cubbie and it’ll be business as usual until recess. When the bell rings we’ll stand outside and count noses to see who stays behind to take the bait, got it?”

“Wait, what if ALL of the class comes out, what then?” asked Daniel.

“Yeah, what do we do then,” Claire added.

“Ahhhh, good question, I didn’t think about that,” I replied sheepishly.

“Did we miss something,” Winifred asked the group? We walked to class in silence thinking about how to answer that question. We lined up to walk in the room and waited for Mrs. Ryan to open the door.

“We’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it,” I said quietly without turning around and drawing attention to us.

“One way or the other the Lunch-ito Bandito is going down TODAY!” From over my shoulder I heard the team answer in turn, “Check, check, check!”


 
Chapter Seven


Mrs. Ryan’s Class: Yo! Bandito, you’re toast!


It was the longest morning ever! Mrs. Ryan started with thirty agonizingly slow minutes taking the roll (all 30 names) that’s one minute per name! I watched all 1800 seconds tick by one at a time on the large County issue clock on the wall, praying for her to get to Connie Zephyr’s name!

Language was first up for the day, ticking off 30 minutes, followed by 40 minutes of yucky Math then 40 more of Health & Science. Mrs. Ryan was usually pretty perky and upbeat, but she must have been having one-of-those-days’ cause she droned each lesson in a painful monotone, one long syllable after another, until mercifully, the snack bell finally clanged and she dismissed the class.

“Alright kids, let’s see if we can make it through this recess without a visit from the Fire Department, okay,” Mrs. Ryan said half joking.

The kids started out slowly for the door but as soon as they smelled the freedom of fresh air they ran out of the room like a jail break and headed for the playground. That’s when we put our plan in motion.

If the Lunchito Bandito was going to strike, it would be now, before lunch and while we were all outside. Claire helped me get to the benches, while Winnie and Daniel scurried ahead to claim our usual spot.

“Okay Winnie, you and Claire go scan the playground and call off the kids you see,” I ordered.

“Check,” replied Winifred and Claire together.

“Daniel, you cross off the names on this list as they call them out,” I added, handing him the roll sheet I had made the night before.

“Check,” he replied.

One by one they identified our classmates as they spotted them running or chatting around the playground and the adjoining grass field. I mentally counted noses while Daniel crossed off the names on my list. Five minutes later we finished. "I don’t get it, everyone is out here, there isn’t anyone missing,” Claire said scratching her head.

“That means the Lunch-ito Bandito isn’t one of us,” added Winifred.

“Mrs. Ryan is still in the room,” Daniel observed, studying our faces.

“You don’t think…?” he asked.

“Nah, it couldn’t be,” I answered, not realizing that I was speaking out loud.

Just then, Mrs. Ryan walked out of the classroom and headed in the direction of the teachers lounge. She swung her purse over her shoulder and smiled at us as she walked on by. We smiled back, and Daniel waived to her like a dork.

“Weird? That means the room is empty, but I know the Lunch-ito Bandito has to be in there,” I muttered.

“What are you talking about KK, nobody is left to be suspicious of, the room is empty,” sighed Winifred.

“Maybe,” I replied, tapping the end of my nose.

“But maybe not?”

“Look, we need to get in there and check it out before Mrs. Ryan gets back and recess ends,” I said, leaning heavily on my crutches and close to the others.

“So what do you have in mind?” Claire asked.

“Daniel and me will sneak back into class to see what’s what. Claire, you and Winifred go hang out by the teachers lounge and slow Mrs. Ryan down,” I answered.

“How are we supposed do that?” whined Winifred.

“I don’t know, you’ll think of something,” I shot back sarcastically.

“Yeah, right, come on Claire!”

Winifred and Claire scurried off in one direction while Daniel helped me make tracks back to the classroom. We must have looked like we were running a three-legged race as I held his arm with one hand and worked my crutch with the other. Daniel handed me back my other crutch when we reached the room and went in first. Just like a guy, always wanting to be first!

Anyway, it was sorta nice cause I was a little bit nervous about what could be waiting for us in that empty classroom. Daniel was down on his hands and knees looking under all the desks.

“Nothing down here,” he whispered.

“Nothing back here either,” I replied from behind Mrs. Ryan’s desk.

He walked to the back and peeked into the coat room where all the cubbies and lunches were stored, as well as our cookie bait. He slowly disappeared into the room while I stood still and held my breath. Unconsciously I counted the seconds, one- one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand.

Before I got to one thousand four Daniel shot back out of the room and flew past me in a panic.

“YIKES!” he hollered, flying by me so fast he almost knocked me over.

“EEEEK,” I screamed involuntarily!

Before one thousand five would have followed, the source of Daniel’s terror appeared from the coat room. The empty bag that had held our cookie bait was now walking toward me down the center aisle. I stood there frozen; nobody was in the room to help me now. The bag crinkled as it slid on the ground slowly.

My heart was racing and suddenly I was wishing Mrs. Ryan had never left the room. I wanted to run but the aisle was too narrow for me to safely turn around quickly enough to out run whatever was under that bag!

I held my breath and tried be as still as possible hoping that the thing under the cookie bag might change direction and give me an opportunity to escape. Suddenly the silence was broken by a familiar and I might add, irritating sound.

“HEY KK, what are you doing back in class, there’s still ten minutes of recess?” hollered Daniel’s BFF Ali.

“SHHHHHH! We’ve got the Lunch-ito Bandito cornered,” I hissed.

“COOL!”

More curious kids gathered in the doorway and the thing under the bag started to make more than just a crinkling bag noise, it sounded alive! Then it ran right up to my feet and I swear I felt it nibbling at my shoes! I swallowed a scream and held my breath. Then, just as suddenly whatever it was scurried on back into the coat room. I let out a heavy sigh gasping for breath as Mrs. Ryan walked quickly into the classroom.

“KASANDRA DANG!”

“What on earth is going on here!” demanded Mrs. Ryan.

“We stalled her as long as we could,” apologized Claire as she ran in behind our teacher.

“Honest, we did,” added Winifred, out of breath, and entering a step behind Claire.

“Well KK, I’m waiting, is there something you want to share with me,” Mrs. Ryan asked impatiently? I was close to panic mode and stuttered while my mind raced for an answer.

“Well”…long pause



“Umm”…longer pause

“Hmmmm”…really long pause

“KASANDRA!”

“OK, OK, it sorta went like this… I drew in as deep a breath as I could and just let the words fly!

“first,lastweek,Clairewastickedoffbecause
shelosttheTwinkieherMompackedinher
lunch,thenWinniewasmissingthemoonpie
thatherMomspackedforthechinesenew
year,andwhenIcouldn’tfindmypuddingcup
eitherwesaidAhhHA!Well,wefiguredthatwe
hadbeenpunkedImeanwethoughtsomebody wasrippinoffourlunchboxes,thenextdayAli
wasmissinghisPBandJ,andthenewkid(Daniel) wasmissingabagofCheetos!Andso,weallgot togetherClaire,Winifred,Danielandmethatis, andhatchedthecookiebaitplantocatchthe
LunchitoBanditothatiswhatwecalledhimor,her,
whatever,andthankstoDaniel’ssister,hecallsher
Sissy,whomadesomesplendiforousSnacks,um,
cookies,thatweplantedinDaniel’scubbieinthecoat
roomtotempttheBandito,butwhenwecountednoses
atrecess,everybodywasoutside,ontheplayground,
soDanielandmewentbackinsidetoseewhatwaswhat
andmaybecatchtheBanditoredhanded,whenallofa
suddentherewasaspookynoise,andthatscared theboogersoutofDaniel, sorryDaniel,andheran outoftheroom,andthecookiebagranafterDaniel whichmademescream,andthatwaswhenAlishowed up,andIhadtoshhhuushhim,ofcoursethatwaswhen youshowedup,andthespookycookiebag scooted
rightbackintothecoatroom, andthatsevery,detail uptonow!”




Mrs. Ryan didn’t say anything for a moment. Actually, nobody did. They all just stared at me like I had just farted in Church. Finally Mrs. Ryan broke the silence.

“Are you okay KK?” she asked softly.

“I don’t think you took one breath during all that explaining!”

“Hehehe, yeah, I’m okay,” I replied giggling.

“Are you sure? NOBODY can hold their breath for that long,” she said in wonder.

“Well, it’s a gift, what can I say,” I answered meekly.

“Oh yeah, we’ve seen her go a lot longer than that,” said Claire, tossing in her two cents. Mrs. Ryan cleared her throat and then got down to business.

“Well, that’s all very interesting but let’s turn on some lights and see what it was that scared poor Daniel so much, shall we,” said Mrs. Ryan as she walked ever so cautiously toward the coat room.

We all watched as our brave teacher peeked into the coat room and then slowly disappear from sight. Two seconds later the light came on in the room and one second after that Mrs. Ryan shrieked and ran back into the classroom white as a sheet!

Before she could recover and warn us out came the cookie bag with legs. It moved quickly down the center aisle and right at me. I could hear everyone run for the door while Mrs. Ryan and me stood as still as we could.

The cookie beast stopped right at my feet and Mrs. Ryan whispered for me to be still as she reached for a textbook to bash whatever was under that bag into the next dimension!


The thing nudged my shoe and I thought I saw whiskers peeking out from under the bag. Curious now, I un-squinted my eyes and stared down at the cookie beast.

Whatever it was began to make a funny noise. It sounded like the penguins I saw at the zoo last month. Suddenly it didn’t seem so scary as the noise seemed familiar. Mrs. Ryan put down the textbook and inched closer to me, careful not to frighten the beastie under the cookie bag.

Slowly she bent down, placed her hand just above the bag and silently mouthed a three count. Then she quickly grabbed the cookie bag and unmasked the Lunch-ito Bandito.

“O-M-G, it’s Chester” yelled Claire!


Chester the hamster, a.k.a. class mascot / science project, and quite the little stinker as well, looked at us all and twitched his nose as he sniffed around for more food to eat.

Mrs. Ryan burst out laughing which started an avalanche of laughter as the rest of the class joined in the giggle-fest.

We laughed until our sides hurt and then, wiping a tear away from her eye, Mrs. Ryan set about restoring order. She picked up our pet rodent and walked him back to his cage, making sure to double wrap the rubber band holding the cage door shut.

“Alright kids, I think that’s enough excitement for one day, we’ve got the rest of the day to tackle, including the math quiz that I promised you yesterday!” That was met with a loud class groan.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, spare me children! Listen, I think that we owe a big thank you to KK and her team for solving our little mystery,” Mrs. Ryan said, stopping to applaud Winifred, Claire, Daniel and me.

I felt my cheeks turning red and quickly made my way to my desk. Winnie and Claire did likewise, but Daniel took the opportunity to bask in the glory, bowing and waving to his new fans. Claire gave him the look as she passed by him on the way to her seat. I guess Daniel got the message because he took his own seat pretty darn quick.

I turned around in my chair and winked at my team. It was a job well done, and secretly I was glad that we didn’t catch one of our classmates in our little trap, that would have been no bueno!

I’m not exactly sure how I’m gonna explain Chester in my report to SAM, but I’ll think of something, I always do!  Anyways, I’m starving! The clock on the wall says one hour to the lunch, I can’t wait! It’s really hard work being a spy!



The End


Look for the next KK Undercover Mystery: "THE HAUNTED FIELD TRIP"











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