I was relaxing in my backyard playhouse, tossing back a Juicy-Juice (box, no ice) and chomping a Twizzler, when she made her entrance. She was blond, with firm legs and a hard stare. She wasn’t alone.
“Hello, Doll, who’s your friend?”
“My name is Suzie, don’t call me Doll. This is Barbie.”
“I was talking to Barbie. You didn’t read the sign?”
“It says No Grils Allowed. I’m a girl.”
Trouble either way—I still wasn’t over my last bout with cooties.
“I’m a busy boy, Suzie; what’s the game?”
“Someone’s trying to kill Barbie. They already killed Ken.”
She laid out a decapitated stiff. The victim was in great shape for a guy with no head. I eyeballed him up close. The neck wound was ragged—a real hack job. I smelled lemon.
“Care to finger a suspect?”
“Yes,” she said, eyes cold. “Billy Bradford. Lives across the street—makes fun of my dolls.”
Bradford was like a school cafeteria hamburger: skinny, but tough.
“I’ll look into it, if you’ve got the Skittles.”
“I’ll pay whatever it takes.”
My kinda deal. I put a heel to the kickstand of my Huffy BMX and wheeled over to Bradford’s place.
Billy was running a lemonade joint on the lawn. He covered all the angles: sugar, a sack of lemons, a bowl of cut slices, a juicer, and enough ice to chill a kid-size corpse. A knife, coated with lemon pulp, glinted in the sun.
“Fresh squeezed lemonade?” Billy asked with a sneer. “Only two bits a cup.”
“Not thirsty,” I said. “I want to hear a song. About Suzie’s Ken doll.”
“He’s stupid,” Billy said.
“Stupid enough for you to cut off his head with that knife?”
“I didn’t cut off any doll head!” he yelled, and flung a cup of lemonade at my face. As I staggered back, eyes on fire, he wacked me with the sack of lemons. I plopped to the sidewalk like a fumbled double-scoop chocolate cone.
“William Bradford, what are you doing?” Through stinging tears I saw Billy’s mom race across the lawn.
“He’s telling lies about me!”
“That’s no excuse for fighting. You’re going inside. Now.”
She gave him the bum’s rush into the house, then busted down the stand and dragged that in, too. Meanwhile, across the street, Suzie and her mom hustled a folding table out to the curb, and before long Suzie’s lemonade stand was fully stocked and open for business. I sauntered over.
“Didn’t know you were planning to compete with Billy,” I said.
“I wanted to, I even made the first batch already. But my mom wouldn’t let me open while Billy was running his stand. Guess I at least owe you for getting him in trouble. Can I offer you a free lemonade?”
I glanced at Suzie’s setup, and the pre-sliced lemons. Her knife was serrated, the kind that leaves jagged cuts like I’d seen on Ken’s neck. Billy’s knife edge was smooth.
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll take a cup.”