Chapter 7

Fay glanced around the shiny industrial hallways of Crunch & Barley and felt a meager glimmer of hope. Visiting the cereal factory had to be the most tedious field trip she could think of, especially in Barnaby Hootsman’s group, but with the notorious Mr. Arg leading the tour…maybe, just maybe it would be better than she thought.

“This here,” said Mr. Arg opening a door that led to the noisy cereal making equipment, “Nah…this part’s boring…it’s just our mixin’ room where we…uh…mix spices an’ all that…and over there’s where…uh…well where the spices meet up with the doughy part…and, uh, grub’s over thar’ across the hall.”

“Grub?” asked Miss Parsnip politely.

“Vittles,” responded Mr. Arg. “Sustenance.” He lowered his gaze as if sharing a company secret with Miss Parsnip. “Ya’ gotta let yer’ crew eat, Missy, or they git mutinous on ya’.”

Most surprisingly, Miss Parsnip blushed again.

“At school we call that lunchtime,” she said, mirroring Mr. Arg’s secretive tone.

“So wee ones,” said Mr. Arg, “do ye’ have any questions?”

Donny Bing raised his hand. “Do people here ever have peanut butter soup for lunch?”

“Soup?” sputtered Mr. Arg looking bewildered.

“Fresh flowers would make the lunchroom more cheerful,” volunteered Judy Fipple without waiting to be called on.

“Sure, if yer’ a buttercup,” snarled Mr. Arg who turned to continue the tour.

Five extremely boring minutes and eight extremely boring rooms later, Fay was forced to admit that Barnaby Hootsman was making some sense for a change.

“Hey Mister,” called out Barnaby, “when do we see something good, like, I don’t know…the garbage dumpster?”

Several students tittered, and Mr. Hootsman clapped Barnaby on the back and said “atta’baby.”

Mr. Arg’s dark gaze focused narrowly on Barnaby, but he continued his tour, ignoring the interruption.

“Wait,” continued Barnaby, sniffing loudly, “Smell that? We must already be near the dumpster!”

Mr. Arg stopped. A machine behind them merrily dropped prizes into boxes passing on a conveyor belt. But an outbreak of chuckles from the students faded into dead silence as Mr. Arg turned around. His gaze bore into Barnaby Hootsman like a drill.

“Yer too young for a pistol,” began Mr. Arg in a lilting growl, “so I can’t maroon ya’…but I can give you a chore befittin’ one with your mouth…so boy, START SWABBIN’!”

Barnaby’s face whitened and he stammered, “w-w-with what?”

“With a MOP ya’ varmint!” bellowed Mr. Arg. “Go on! Git! Go find a mop!”

Barnaby glanced at Mr. Hootsman, who shrugged then nodded. With a return shrug, Barnaby scrambled up the metal stairs and through the doorway which slammed behind him with a ringing clang.

“Wait a bloomin’ minute…,” said Mr. Arg giving his yellow beard a tug. “I almost forgot me own buddy rule…gots ta’ send a buddy with the rapscallion.”

Fay had just noticed, with some disgust, that she still had a dirty diaper and a jar of pureed squash in her sweater pockets when Mr. Arg bellowed, “You!” It wasn’t until he added, “the little missy who likes ta’ whisper too much,” that she realized he was pointing at her.

“Yes you,” said Mr. Arg when Fay looked up. “Catch up with the scoundrel and see that he finds a good swabbin’ mop!”

Fay just nodded her head. And feeling not at all certain where Barnaby had disappeared to, she turned around and ran up the metal stairway and through the clanging door.

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