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Tortilla Bandits


It was the worst thing that could happen - Rudy was accused of sneaking tortillas. And because he had no proof, he suffered the punishment of not being allowed to have any. 

Not with refried beans at dinner.

Not with eggs at breakfast.

Not even fresh from the grillwith a little bit of melted butter. 

Rudy didn’t think he could survive without tortillas.

It was true. Once or twice, when his stomach growled at midnight, he’d snuck to the kitchen and snatched just one delicious tortilla. But never had he eaten more than one - at least, not in the middle of the night. 

Even before climbing out of bed that morning he’d heard his mother exclaiming that two-dozen tortillas were missing and somebody had better return them. He had giggled at the thought of returning eaten food. He knew for sure that if he had taken them, they would already be long gone! But he hadn’t taken the two-dozen tortillas his mother had made, and the accusing look in her eyes made him want to cry.

Walking home from the bus stop after school, he kicked a stone. There had to be an explanation, but what? Rudy sat on his porch beside his dog “Geronimo” and, true to his Apache name (One who yawns), Geronimo yawnedwidely and thumped his tail.

The aroma of Chili Rellenos grilling in the kitchen made Rudy’s stomach rumble.

As the chilis popped and sizzled, he sighed, absently scratching Geronimo’s ear. 

The mail carrier placed a stack of letters in their box and let the lid slam shut with a bang  and his mother appeared at the screen door.

“Hello, Rudy. I didn’t know you were home. Come inside; I have fresh chilis.”

she offered, “And please bring in the mail.”

Rudy sat at the table, a tall glass of iced tea before him. His mother turned the chilis on the grill, sometimes with tongs, sometimes using her fingers. The exhaust fan pulled smoke through a foot long vent next to the grill; the smoke tendrils looked like gray snakes slithering swiftly away from the scene of a crime. He noticed his mother had made another dozen tortillas. They were packaged in ‘food-saver’ wrap and half hidden under a dishtowel on the counter near the sink. Rudy tried to concentrate on his plate of chilis.

That night, Rudy dreamt of masked bandits armed with rolling pins charging into his mother’s kitchen to steal tortillas. He woke with a start. Had he heard something? Stepping carefully over Geronimo, Rudy headed for the kitchen and was relieved to see the package of tortillas resting safely on the grill. He poured a small glass of milk and talked himself out of breaking into the bag of tortillas.

“Rudy!” he heard his name from far away. He bolted out of bed, tripping over Geronimo, who yawned noisily in response.

“Rudy!” His mother called.

“Coming” He mumbled as he stepped into cargo shorts and stumbled down the hall.

“I left them right here!” His mother pointed at the grill.

“They’re gone?” 

Geronimo padded into the kitchen, and for a moment Rudy wondered if the dog’s breath would smell like tortillas. He suppressed a smile, knowing his mother wouldn’t find it a bit funny because once again, he was being blamed. As he dressed for school, Rudy wondered how he’d ever get to the bottom of this. 

Fridays were usually good days when he looked forward to the weekend ahead, movies and games with friends. But Rudy’s thoughts were on the tortilla mystery. Instead of watching the film in Science class, he worried that he’d come down with some sort of ‘sleep-eating’ sickness and made a mental note to check his sheets for tortilla crumbs. It was an incredibly long day for Rudy.

His mother did not make another batch of tortillas and hardly said a word all evening. 

But Saturday morning when she set out utensils and flour to prepare tortillas, Rudy’s spirits soared. He would guard this batch of tortillas with his life! He suddenly had a plan – he would sit in the kitchen all night and catch the sneaky thief in action. He would clear his name and maybe even be rewarded with one or two of his mother’s delicious tortillas!

The microwave read 2:05am in bold red when Rudy’s head shot up from the kitchen table where he’d fallen asleep. His neck was stiff, and his arms felt like over-poked pincushions. He’d heard something. A rattle. A clunk. Geronimo must have heard it too, for he stood rigidly beside Rudy, his head cocked to one side. Rudy quickly looked over at the grill where the latest batch of tortillas had been placed. Yep. There they were. But the tortillas were – moving! Astonished, Rudy watched in disbelief as the tortillas slid slowly across the grill toward the exhaust vent. He bolted from his chair and ran to the cooking island in time to watch the entire package of tortillas slip through the metal bars and down into the creepy dark vent! Something had snatched the whole package of tortillas, something small enough to fit inside the vent and sneak out and steal stuff. Ha! Rudy could hardly wait till morning to show his mother he had solved the mystery.

At daybreak Rudy’s mother stood with her arms crossed over her chest, staring sternly as Rudy laboriously moved rocks and shoveled dirt and debris from the area below the back porch where the exhaust vent from the indoor grill let out. He showed her the twisted frame of the rusted, chewed up screen that once covered the vent and was encouraged when she uncrossed her arms. And when he reached into the vent and pulled out what was left of three-dozen tortillas, a moldy package of hot dog buns, a couple of his mother’s hair-ties, and literally hundreds of Geronimo’s crunchy dog food nuggets - his mother’s eyes grew wide.

“Packrats!” she exclaimed “Oh, Rudy, I’m so sorry I blamed you. After we get a new screen at the hardware store, I’ll take you and your buddy Jeff to the new Super Heroes movie. Okay?” she gave him a big bear hug.

“Great, Mom. Thanks!” Rudy beamed.

Breakfast was a grand affair. Rudy’s mother brought out a package of tortillas that she had hidden in the laundry room, and they dined together on fried eggs, refried beans, and Rudy’s beloved tortillas.

diedre Knight