"WEEK OF THIEVES"
I am walking on my way to school. The sun is just starting to come up. The sky is a watercolor of blended pinks and reds and oranges. I left a little late so I was power-walking like a boss to make up for lost time. If I really wanted to save time, I’d take the shortcut across the bridge, but I really hate bridges. So I stuck to the normal route, only jaywalking one or two (ok three) times.
As I quickened my stride I was seized by the unpleasant feeling that I was not alone. I whipped my head around, but there was no one there. There was just a duck quacking like a madman. I knew the duck was harmless, but I couldn’t shake the frightened feeling. A cold shiver flew down my spine and my heart started to pound. I knew I was being paranoid, but it had been a weird week.
Things kept going missing from my room. Sure, it was kind of messy. My mom always says it looks like a pig sty, but it’s not that bad. On Monday I know I put the book I was reading – Rebel Snowmen From The Future – under my pillow when I went to sleep. When I woke up, it was gone.
On Tuesday, my popcorn disappeared. On Wednesday, my glasses vanished. On Thursday, there goes my phone. Today is Friday and I was half-convinced I was going to wake up on the floor, my bed having been stolen right out from under me. But it was still there. Hurray. The day was still young though, and I knew before sunset something else would be gone.
I just hoped it wouldn’t be me.
HEARTSFIELD DETECTIVE AGENCY
I took one sip of my coffee and spit it right back out. It tasted like it had been brewed with a fresh hairball. Everyone knows I like my coffee black. This was some sort of extra-hot double Venti triple caramel half-caf with two sugars and a couple of crushed candy canes.
“Stefanzo! You ruined my coffee. And my day. You’re fired.”
“I’m so sorry, Miss Doyle. It must have gotten mixed up with Mr. Heartsfield’s.”
“Again? This is the fourth time this week. And it’s only Tuesday. And I told you not to mention Mr. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in this office.”
“But you share an office.”
He was right. I looked over and there was Heartsfield, with a smile like Godzilla after devouring New York. I hated Tom Heartsfield. Even though he was technically the senior detective in this office, I was the brains of the operation. He was as useless as a dry fish. Besides his horrible taste in coffee, he blasted Tom Petty pretty much 24/7 no matter how many times I asked him to turn it down. Tom Petty made me think of my ex-husband. They were not pleasant thoughts.
Heartsfield opened his stupid mouth. “Cheryl. You can’t fire Stefanzo. I’m the senior detective.”
An unpleasant little smirk ran across Stefanzo’s face like a charging bull. “Burnnnnnn,” he whispered.
“I know, Tom,” I said with a sigh. “You mention it pretty much every day. Let’s get down to business. Any new cases come in?”
“Just one,” he said. “But it’s a doozy.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked, still trying to wipe the horrible coffee taste out of my mouth.
“It’s a death threat,” Tom said. He opened the letter. “And it’s addressed to you.”
Normally I would welcome any excuse not to go to school. Especially on a Monday. But I was not looking forward to March 14. It was “Take Your Child To Work Day” at Glacier Mountain Middle School. I was super jealous of my friends. Amy got to go to the mall where her mom sold jewelry. Sarah got to go to the movie theater where her dad worked. She’d be eating popcorn all day and watching movies until her eyes fell out. Spencer got to stay home and hang out with his dad, who was an author. According to Spencer, being an author pretty much consisted of napping and watching TV while occasionally looking at (but not opening) his laptop.
I, on the other hand, had to go Nukes & Co. with my mom. (Note: Nukes & Co. is not the real name, but that’s what Mom calls it. She has a very weird sense of humor.) I could tell you the real name, but then I’d have to kill you. It is a top secret nuclear facility where the U.S. military creates the next generation of nuclear warfare. I also suspect that they breed militarized mutant cows with the nuclear run-off, but Mom insists that I just have an overactive imagination.
Nukes & Co. is a bland-looking series of buildings with three cooling towers shooting smoke into the sky like an erupting volcano. We entered the parking lot in Mom’s minivan. She showed her security clearance badge to the annoyed mustached man in the tiny booth. He grumbled something at us and waved us through.
“Was that guy speaking German?” I asked mom.
“No, that’s just Bill. No one ever knows what he’s saying.”
“Sounds like a German spy to me.”
“Angel, you have an overactive imagination.”
“You say that now. But when Bill takes over the world from his tiny booth you’ll wish you’d listened to me.”
We parked the minivan and passed through another security checkpoint. Once inside, we put on the white hazmat jumpsuits. “I look like a fat bunny,” I said to mom.
“We’re not here to look good,” she said. “We’re here to work.”
“And also,” I said. “To save the world from Bill.”
No matter how many times you do it, you never get quite used to walking backwards. It’s like watching the world in reverse; everything is moving away. But as drum major, it was my job. The band depended on it.
Being a drum major is harder than you think. People think you just wear a fancy outfit and wave your arms around like a lunatic. But you have to earn it. It’s a coveted position. After spending all year moving up and three hard weeks sweating at drum major camp, the job was finally mine.
I was trying to keep my eye on Zeke, the scrawny, geeky trumpet player who was a little too much like a hyperactive puppy. If I let him out of my gaze, he’d pop out of time and disrupt the whole band like a soda that had been shaken too much.
Walking backwards, watching Zeke, and keeping time in my head made it hard to do much of anything else. But a shadowy figure caught my eye on the sidewalk. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked an awful lot like Chas, the new kid in my history class. And again, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked a lot like he was stuffing a large, body-shaped object into the trunk of his mom’s car.