I’d never seen a place so cluttered. Things were stacked on the floor in piles so high that Gil and I had to weave our way single-file through a path that Mr. Leon had apparently created so he could reach his desk. Shelves lined the walls, and they, too, were so loaded that I don’t think he could have squeezed a single nail onto any one of them.
Most of the things I guess I recognized—things you would expect to find in a custodian’s office. Tools. Plumbing and electrical supplies. Cleaners. That sort of thing. In a way, it was like walking through some especially cluttered aisles of a hardware store.
But there were other things that I recognized as scientific equipment—tubes and microscopes and row upon row of chemicals and Bunsen burners and old dark bottles with smeary labels on them. There were even a few things I didn’t recognize at all.
By the time we reached the desk he was sitting there in an old wooden swivel chair, facing us. He was smoking a pipe—in clear violation of the school’s no-smoking-anywhere policy. I was a little surprised at the smell, which did not seem to be an ordinary tobacco—maybe not even tobacco at all.
Right in front of him were two rickety wooden folding chairs. He gestured for us to sit. We did. He looked at us. And then looked some more.
“You’re probably wondering—” I began.
“I don’t wonder about much,” he said. “I know.”
That shut me up for a bit.
“Why did you follow me down here?” he asked.
I said, “I thought you didn’t wonder about things.”
Mr. Leon exploded in a laugh that transformed into some coughing. Then said, “I’ll bet Mr. Tooke has told you that you have a fresh mouth.”
Gil said, “How did you know—?”
“I told you,” he said. “I just do.”
He looked at us; we looked at him. Forever, it seemed.
“You don’t really know why you came down here, do you?” he asked.
“I guess not,” said Gill.
“I know not, don't you mean?” said Mr. Leon. We shrugged. “But I know why.”
We leaned forward a little.
“Because you’re both”—a pause, a long, long pause—“you’re both very curious.”
About that he was right.
“And you know what they say about curiosity?” he asked.
“Killed the cat?” said Gil.
“Nine times,” said Mr. Leon, and once again he laughed so hard that his face turned red while he coughed furiously.
I decided to change the subject—sort of. “I’ve never been down here before,” I said brightly. “It’s very …”
“Cluttered,” said Mr. Leon.
“Well, you should see my house,” I said.
“I have,” he said.