A Young Charles Splints Case: School Lunch
By Dan Leicht
The young Charles Splints cases take place when the future detective of Brooksend was still in elementary school. A seven year old Charles Splints is on the case.
It was Wednesday, eleven in the morning, or as the kids called it “lunch hour”. Splints was in the first group to visit the cafeteria, the fourth and fifth graders ate at the same time. Lucky for the third and second graders he showed up when he did.
Lunch-lady Doris plopped the brown sludge onto the young detective’s plastic tray.
“One of your nine cats cough this up, Doris?” he asked.
“Move along, eghhh, egggh, down the line,” she replied. Doris the lunch-lady was said to have come from the outskirts of the city, a place Splints imagined to be the site of chemical testing — mostly due to the woman’s horrid hacking habit. It was either chemical testing or a spot frequented by visitors from outer space, because there was one thing Splints was certain about, the food she was serving wasn’t of this world.
“Doris,” said Splints, “you must realize this slop isn’t on the food pyramid. I’d say it’s in the muck below the pyramid but if I’ve learned anything from history class there’s probably some gold buried beneath there, perhaps some skeletons and booby-traps too. Now, I’ve been drinking my milk, so I know my teeth are strong and all, but I’d much rather crack a tooth on a gold nugget than have this sludge get stuck between my pearly whites.”
“Move, eeggghhh…ggghh…along, little one,” she replied. “This is left overs from yesterday. I mix it with container of goo I find in freezer. It good for you, many vitamins.”
“How many?” he asked, not convinced in the least.
“All of them.”
“The periodic table is not a giant list of vitamins, Doris,” he replied. “Most of those elements don’t belong in the mixing bowl.”
He moved along the line and smiled at lunch-lady Helen. Helen, a young girl taking culinary classes after work, was in charge of fruits and vegetables. She gave Splints an apple, which he put in his coat pocket, and a spoonful of mashed peas.
“Helen, has Doris ever divulged her culinary secrets to you?” asked Splints.
“That’s a big word. Is that on your spelling test coming up, Charlie?” she replied.
“Don’t patronize me, Helen. I’m almost seven and a half. Also, you know better than to call me Charlie. The name’s Splints. Spill the beans or I’m taking a look in the freezer for myself.”
“We don’t have beans today, Sweetheart. These are peas.”
“Don’t quit your day job, Helen.”
Splints recited his pre-pay pin number and walked his tray to the lunch table. He sat alone as he put together the clues.
- Doris found something in the freezer, seemed unsure of what it was
- Helen is aware of the difference between beans and peas, at least that’s something. Sweet kid, though.
He sifted through the dark lump on his plate.
- Seems to contain beef, corn, possibly turkey, hopefully mashed potatoes
Randy, the school bully and the biggest fifth grader walked up to Splints and picked up the paper he’d been writing on.
“What’s this, Charlie? Are you writing a love note to your girlfriend?” taunted Randy.
“I prefer to call your babysitter. Our conversations are more meaningful that way,” replied Splints.
“Good one, Charlie. But I don’t have a babysitter. My mom watches me after school.”
Splints raised and eyebrow and smiled. “I know.”
The kids behind Randy began to laugh and the bully slammed the paper on the table.
“You looking to fight me, Charlie?”
“I’m trying not to look at you at all, but you’re making it rather difficult. Now if you’ll excuse me I have work to do. The third and second graders will be here any minute and I have a case to solve.”
“I’m not done talking to you,” replied Randy.
“I’m not sure you’ve totally grasped the language enough for this interaction to go much further. You’ll need to excuse me,” said Splints. He got up from the table and tucked the list into his coat pocket.
The pint sized sleuth snuck into the kitchen and slid behind the refrigerator. Helen stirred the mashed peas to get them ready for the younger kids. Splints peaked out to notice Doris was headed back to the freezer across the room. Knowing she’d be entranced with the swirling green muck he walked past Helen and was able to make it to the freezer door unseen. The freezer door, which lead into the walk-in tundra-like interior, was gigantic. Splints grabbed hold of the silver handle and pulled with all his strength. The door creaked open and he peaked inside.
“Aha!” he shouted, catching Doris in the act.
“What is the meaning of this?” she cried. She was scraping something from the back wall when Splints found her.
“That’s definitely not in the pyramid.”
“It’s still good, just spilled,” she replied.
“Doris,” Splints pinched the bridge of his nose, “I’m telling.” He left the freezer door open. Doris tried to run after him but by the time she reached the door he was gone.
In the principal’s office Splints laid out his findings.
“That’s right, Principal Garlocke,” said Splints. “The ancient egyptians never meant for this to happen. Doris acted on her own. She spilled what I assume to be yesterday’s turkey and mashed potatoes in the freezer, scraped it up and combined it with Monday’s beef stroganoff. She’s served it this morning. I fear she’s planning on serving it to the little kids.”
“These are serious accusations, Splints.” He took a bite of the apple Splints had given him. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes, Garlocke.”
The principal placed a handful of candy on the desk. Splints pocketed all of it except for a lollipop, which he unwrapped and placed between his teeth.
“Don’t fire her, Garlocke. She means well. Perhaps have her switch spots with Helen, her talents are being wasted on the peas.”