Zoid Man: Chapter Five

18 Dec

Chapter Five

 

The older boy’s name was Harland Gillette, like the razor. Jack and Benny identified him from his yearbook picture in the Frankton Junior High yearbook. The picture was two years old, and Harland looked nothing like he did now. He was much younger and smaller in the picture. Not too different from Jack, for that matter.

Jack’s brother said Harland had been a couple of grades behind him.

“He played on the 7th and 8th grade football team and started his very first year. He was okay. And fast. Running back, I think. I was in high school, and his name got talked about in the locker room as someone to watch. Then he kind of disappeared all of a sudden. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. Kind of bumped into him a few days ago, you know.”

Over the next few days Jack and Benny worked on catching Harland as the mysterious neighborhood thief. Things started to go missing once again. A lawn mower from the Sizemore’s shed. One of the Rankin girl’s bicycles — and brand new, too! Axes, shovels, basketballs — a wide sundry of things.

In Mr. Nickers’ science class, the teacher somehow got off track of his lecture and rambled. Jack took advantage of the moment to shoot up his hand to ask a question.

“Doctor Nickers, if you wanted to catch somebody stealing something, how would you do it?”

He wasn’t a real doctor. But everyone called him doctor. Doc Nick behind his back. He was rumored to have a fondness for his female students.

“Actually, I heard of a case in another school where someone was going around stealing loose change from the teachers’ desks. We all keep a little spare change for emergencies, like a student who forgets to bring lunch, or can’t pay a fee or something.

“Anyway, John Howard, a science teacher like me whom I knew at the school came up with the idea of treating coins with silver nitrate.”

“What’s that, Doctor Nickers?” The other students figured out early in the year if you kept Doc Nick off the day’s lesson, you could avoid all kinds of work.

“Yes, well it’s a chemical that used to be dropped into the eyes of newborns to prevent blindness. And for other things as well. Some people think it’s a cure for warts. Anyway, Mr. Howard rinsed a lot of change in silver nitrate and left it on his desk for all to see. He figured that sometime during the day the change would be stolen.”

“Was it?”

“It sure was. So here’s the catch: when the thief took the money, she got it on her hands.  A chemical reaction took place, turning her skin dark black where she touched the money. So chemistry,” he said, tapping the rolled down periodic chart with his wooden pointer, “can be used in many useful ways.”

“You said ‘she.’ A girl?”

“Not all the bad people in the world are boys.” He grinned and winked at a very attractive female student seated at the front of one row of desks.

Jack continued.

“Where do you get silver nitrate?”

“I suppose at the drug store. I might actually have some.”

“Would you show us how it works?” The class seemed to perk up at what would definitely detour Doc Nick for another twenty minutes.

“Everyone turn to page 68 in your science book and read the section written on the board. I’ll go see if we can do the experiment.”

Books flopped open and the entire class breathed a sigh of relief as the teacher opened a closet door at the front of the class and switched on a light.

Rumblings of whispers and titters of laughter rippled throughout the classroom. Nickers called from within the closet,

“Quiet down, class!” and continued to rummage through his shelves, until at last, he found the silver nitrate.

“Aha!” He came out of the closet with a triumphant look, holding a small amber bottle in his hand. On the top of the bottle was a rubber squeeze-top dropper. Opening a drawer in his desk, he scrounged for change.

“Jack? You asked to see how this works — so come be my Guinea pig.”

Jack walked to the front of the classroom. Nickers had spread nickels and dimes into a small tray. He put on his thick, elbow-length gloves, and strapped on a pair of safety goggles. He carefully unscrewed the bottle and pinched the rubber squeeze top to draw up some of the silver nitrate.

The rest of the class stood up and craned their necks to see.

“Not sure how much to use. Heck, may as well get ‘em soaked.”

He pinched several droplets of silver nitrate onto the change in the tray with the dropper. Then he plucked a wooden tongue depressor from a glass jar on the desk and stirred the coins, making sure each was coated with the chemical.

“Okay, Jack … your turn. Reach down in the tray and pick up some of the change I’ve coated with silver nitrate.”

“Should I put on gloves?”

“Oh no! Then it wouldn’t work!”

“Is this dangerous to do? Is it poisonous?”

Nickers stopped to think a moment, then quickly said, “Heavens, no! Not a bit of danger. Of course, I wouldn’t put my hands in my mouth until you scrub the silver nitrate off them. Don’t worry about a thing!

“Now, quickly — grab some coins with your bare hands and rub them about. That’s it. Keep rubbing them. Now, put the coins back into the tray, and hold out your hands, palms up, so that everyone can see.”

Jack obeyed, and turned toward his classmates, extending his palms out and up. As he and others watched, his skin began to discolor. First to a chocolaty-brown, then dark brown, and finally to black.

The class gasped at the transformation.

“And that’s how the thief was found out! She didn’t know any better than to wash her hands — although plain soap and water wouldn’t do the trick had she tried. And when the money was discovered missing, all the teachers in the school had their students stand, hands out like Jack here, and the culprit was caught!”

“Uh, Doctor Nickers?”

“Yes, Jack?”

“Just how do I get this stain off my hands?”

“It should eventually wear off.”

“How long for that to happen?”

“Two … three days, I imagine.”

The class period bell rang out loud, and the students in Doc Nick’s class shoved and milled their way out into the hallways while Jack stood behind, looking at his stained hands.

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