Prompt: A retired detective tries to figure out which one of his grandkids ate the last cookie.
“So, who took the last cookie?” I ask Samantha and Teddy.
They stand before me on the threadbare rug. TV muted. Lamp on. Samantha’s hands are together behind her back, her mother’s blue eyes looking elsewhere. A tell if I ever seen one. Then there’s Teddy Jr. Got his dad’s baby cheeks, and sure as hell got his sweet tooth, too. Hands in cargo shorts, and a grin on his face that if he weren’t my grandson and fifteen years older, I’d smack it off him.
“Not me, grandpa,” Samantha says, smiling. “I would never do that.”
“Me neither,” Teddy chips in, scratching his nose.
For a moment I doubt my gut. Replay the facts in my head. There was one chocolate chip cookie left in the glass jar at 4:53PM. It was 4:53PM on the dot because I remember standing in the kitchen, minding my own business, and looking at my wristwatch. Could’ve been set wrong. Ted Sr. could’ve set it wrong all those years ago when he got it for me for Christmas, but I doubt it.
The news was on at 5PM. But nature called and I left the kitchen. Relieved myself and came back at 5:01PM to find the lid of the jar on the counter, and the cookie gone. I was saving it for dessert. Can’t have too many at my age, use to kill sleeves of ’em with ease in my hay day while staking out perps, so now I have one each night. Ten in a package. Last a little over a week. But it was stolen, and the only other people in the house were the grandkids. Suzy was off at bingo with the gals from the firehall, and my son and his wife were at dinner.
I lean forward in my recliner, elbows on knees, fingers interwoven. “One of you had to have eaten it,” I say. “So which one was it?”
Again, they play this game. Staring everywhere but into my eyes. Rocking on their heels. Giggling and smiling for no reason. Frustration swells and my temples pound. Great kids. Aggravating suspects.
“Look,” I let out. “If you come clean; no harm, no foul. It’ll be a done deal and we can go about our evening. But if you two keep up the act, both of you will get a timeout.”
Risky play, letting my hand show like that. Playing hardball sometimes works. Sometimes doesn’t. Could’ve stalled but it was already 5:15PM and I didn’t want to miss the rest of the news. And don’t get me started on reruns.
Teddy looked at Samantha. Samantha looked at Teddy’s socks. Teddy scratched his face. Samantha sneezed. Nothing. Not a damn peep.
“All right,” I gruff, grab the armrests, go to stand—
“I did it,” Teddy says.
“Did you now?” I sit back down.
“Uh huh,” he says, nodding. “I ated it when you weren’t looking.”
I had my confession yet something felt wrong. Off. Samantha still had her hands behind her back. Still smiling and giggling like a little girl. Funny thing is, she was.
“Let me see your hands,” I say to Teddy.
“How come?” He shoves his hands deeper into his pockets, arching forward.
“If you took the cookie, then your hands would be dirty.”
“I washed ’em.”
Liar. I haven’t seen Teddy Jr wash his hands since he was a toddler and his mother did it for him. Some people don’t appreciate hygiene. Like to live in their filth, and sometimes the filth of others. Teddy Sr needs to teach him better.
“Okay,” I say. “That’s fine. You can still show me.”
He looks at the floor, the ceiling, the wall. Rocks back and forth again. Slowly he pulls out one hand, then the other. They’re smeared with green marker. God only knows where the marker is and what he did with it. But I can’t focus on that now. His hands, despite the green, are cookie-clean. Not even a whiff of chocolate.
“Why are you lying, Teddy?”
“Am not,” he says.
Ignore him, turn to Samantha. “Can you show me your hands, please?”
“Because I asked.”
“Because I’m your grandfather.”
Grit my teeth. Force the anger down. “Samantha, can you please show me your hands?”
“No,” she says, giggling.
Bingo. We got her. We can go home boys.
“Samantha, you know it’s not good to lie, especially your family.”
“Because it hurts them, hurts me. C’mon, just tell the truth, and you won’t have to show me your hands at all.”
Nothing. Not a damn peep, again. Fine, whatever. I know she ate the damn cookie. There’s no one left. No alibi, either. But I have to know. Deep down my curiosity is a beast that cannot be satisfied until it sees it through.
“If you don’t—” my words catch in my throat when Teddy reaches behind Samantha and pulls out the damn cookie. Neither of them had eaten it. How didn’t I see this? How could I have not smelled the damn thing only a foot away? Losing my grip in my old age. Edge is duller by the day.
“Hey!” Samantha shouts. “Gimme that!”
Teddy holds the cookie higher than Samantha can reach, even when she begins jumping. “Give it to me!”
“No!” Teddy says. “It’s grandpa’s!”
“It’s mine! I want it!”
Oh, God no. It’s coming like a freight truck. Samantha’s eyes downcast. Smile upturned. She stops jumping and clenches her fists. I can’t stop it. I can’t do anything but prepare for the wailing that surely comes. Then she’s on the floor, sobbing, shrieking like a damn banshee. Teddy—God bless his soul—is still holding the cookie away from her.
There goes my dessert.
“Fine!” I say. “Samantha can have the damn cookie.”
She immediately stops, looks at me. Doesn’t even mention the curse. “Really?”
I nod. “Teddy give it to her.”
“Just do it.”
He does and she holds it like a lost kitten, but she’s holding it too tight, fingers digging into the delicious crust. It cracks. Breaks. Crumbs and chocolate chips sprinkle her dress and the floor between her little legs.
Her eyes well up again. A shriek bubbles up her throat.
Sweet Jesus, I need to get out of this line of work.
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