The Writing on the Wall
Just once, I thought as I stared at the two buckets full of red liquid, couldn’t it be cherry cough syrup? Killer, the former police dog turned school mascot, seemed to know exactly what it was. He growled low and deep at the buckets. I stepped up and held up my finger, which I’d just dipped into the fluid to confirm my suspicion.
My stomach churned. “Looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands.”
“Blood?” my brother Frank asked.
Everyone around me—except for Frank—immediately drew back.
“What kind of sick person would do something like that?” asked Mr. Marks. His face was pale, and he sounded genuinely disgusted, which was almost funny considering that his son Ellery had just been found responsible for the death of one student and the serious wounding of another. In fact, if I had to take a guess as to “what kind of sick person” would do something like this, I’d pretty much lay my money on Ellery. Speaking of which . . .
The adults looked around in confusion. Could Ellery have taken this opportunity to make a run for it? Frank nodded at me and rushed outside to look for him.
“He’s here,” Frank yelled a second later. I was about to ask what he was doing out there, when an unmistakable sound echoed around the walls of the little cabin.
Sounded like Ellery, for all his murderous ways, couldn’t handle the sight of blood. I wasn’t that surprised really. He seemed pretty unstable—he’d killed someone just to get out of having to join the fraternity his father had been in! Talk about overreacting. This didn’t seem like him. Buckets of blood were too cold and calculating.
It was pretty clear Ellery knew nothing about the blood. And from his reaction, it didn’t look likehis father did either. So what were two buckets of blood doing in an abandoned hut in the middle of nowhere on the grounds of the exclusive Willis Firth Academy? Whose blood was it? Something told me that this case wasn’t as over as we’d thought it was. Seems like Ellery wasn’t the only one making trouble around here.
“Whose hut is this, anyway?” I asked Dr. Darity.
He shrugged. “I didn’t even know this existed,” he said. “I’ll look into it, but there have been a lot of renovations done to the grounds over the years. Who knows when it was built?”
“Well, until we have more information, we need to have security watching this place. No one gets in or out.”
“I think I can help with that,” said Mr. Marks. “I can leave behind one of my private security detail. Just until the school can hire security of their own, of course.”
“Thank you, but—”
Mr. Marks cut Dr. Darity off. “No need to thank me. But perhaps some of the more . . . sordid details of the events of the past few hours could be kept quiet?”
Guess he didn’t want the whole world knowing his son had gone off the deep end. I couldn’t blame him for that.
“Of course the school will be discrete, Mr.—”
“Good,” Mr. Marks said. “I will be removing Ellery from the school immediately. Your organization—what’s it called again? ALAC? ALAS?”
“ATAC,” I said. I’d forgotten that Mr. Marks and Ellery knew all about our real reason for being at the school. That made me nervous; I wondered who else knew.
“Right. ATAC has suggested a place where Ellery might be taken care of until he is recovered from this illness. He and I will be heading there by private jet tomorrow. You may keep my bodyguard for as long as necessary. Oh, and Dr. Darity—I assume that none of this unpleasantness will interfere with the Annual Firth-Blair Benevolence Weekend next week. Because as the head of the alumni association, I can assure you, people would be upset. Everyone wants the big game to go on.”
With that, he turned and left. I heard him grab Ellery on the way out. Frank came back in. Dr. Darity had his head in his hands.
“What am I going to tell the students?” he mumbled. “What am I going to tell the parents? This is a disaster.”
“You can’t mention this to anyone,” said Frank. “Until we figure out more about whose blood this is, this could cause a panic—which is exactly what this person seems to want. Someone is out to get this school.”
“Yeah,” I added. “And we’re out to get them first.” I wanted to ask him more about this weekend thing and the upcoming game. I’d heard students talking about it since we’d arrived on campus, and it seemed like a big deal. But now wasn’t the time.
Frank pulled out a square black case from his back pocket, about the size of an MP3 player. He flipped it open. One side was lined with all sorts of things: tiny bottles, tweezers, eye droppers, etc. The other side was a tiny computer we’d nicknamed JuDGE: Junior Data Gathering Equipment. It was wirelessly connected to a giant mainframe computer at ATAC headquarters. Any evidence placed within the computer’s main compartment would be remotely analyzed within a few hours.
Frank pulled on a pair of rubber gloves and carefully drew up a sample of blood from one of the buckets. He placed a single drop inside the open compartment in JuDGE’s center, then closed the tiny plastic window. Instantly, the computer came to life and began transmitting information home. Frank folded it shut and put it back inside his pocket.
“There,” he said. “It should be able to tell us where it came from pretty quickly. And if there’s a match for the source in our database, we might even get some specific information by morning.”
“You boys don’t think it’s—it couldn’t be—I mean, it’s not . . . human, is it?” asked Dr. Darity.
Frank and I exchanged a look.
“That much blood? There’s no way,” I told Dr. Darity. “Besides, no one else has been reported injured, right?”
Dr. Darity nodded.
“We’d have heard about it by now if it came from a student. This is probably just a prank. I bet someone bought it from a butcher shop or something.” I hope, I added silently.
Just then a big beefy guy in a bad gray suit peeked in the door. He was built like a man-mountain.
“Mr. Marks sent me,” he rumbled, his voice like an avalanche. “Said to keep people out.”
Dr. Darity nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
Frank and I escorted Dr. Darity out of the hut, with Killer walking along beside us. “Let’s get some sleep,” I said. “Hopefully, by the morning, ATAC will have all the information we need.”
JuDGE beeped. It had finished its preliminary analysis. Frank pulled it out of his pocket.
The look on his face said everything.
The best part about this mission was that I wasn’t posing as a student. So while Frank had to worry about classes and tests, all I had to do was take care of Killer. Even if the dog didn’t love me the way he did his old handler, Hunt Hunter, he was too well trained to be much of a problem. In fact, the only bad part was that Killer was totally a morning dog. He liked his first walk right after dawn! It was almost as bad as having to get up for school. On the plus side, we were hoping to get information from ATAC about the source of the blood this morning, so I’d have to be up anyway.
Half-awake, I dragged myself over to the cafeteria. After last night, I was going to need some serious sugar to wake me up enough to be able to handle Killer. I grabbed a couple of donuts and a big plate of Frosted Kitten-Os. The cafeteria served both students and staff, but the only people awake this early were some of the cleaning crew. They had one table near the back, and there was a steady hum of conversation as I approached. Word must have been going around about the events of last night.
“Have you heard?”
That was the first thing someone said to me when I sat down. I played dumb, figuring I’d get a chance to see what information had leaked.
“Heard about what?”
Erik Hudson, one of the cleaning crew members I’d met a few times before, pulled his chair closer to mine. He was a nice guy, and he loved his gossip. At places like Firth Academy, the cleaning crew always had the best gossip, since the students rarely ever noticed they existed. And by the excited expression on his face, Erik definitely had some good gossip today.
“Dude! Someone trashed the soccer team’s locker room!”
My ears perked up. This wasn’t what I was expecting. “Trashed it how?”
“That’s the sick part! There was blood all over the room. Some psycho had painted the words ‘GET OUT’ in blood on the walls.”
So that’s what the blood was from! I thought. But out loud I simply said “Gross.”
“You’re telling me,” said Erik. “I was the one who had to clean it up. I don’t think I’ll ever get that smell out of my nose.”
“I wonder why anyone would do that?” I said, hoping to keep Erik talking.
“I don’t know. But whoever did it sure doesn’t like Lee Jenkins.”
“What do you mean?”
“They destroyed his locker. Ripped the hinges off, poured blood on the stuff inside it. Really messed with him.”
Interesting. Lee Jenkins was a junior, a star soccer player, a new Gamma Theta Theta pledge, and a straight-A student who also happened to be one of the few kids at the school whose family wasn’t megarich. He was the poster boy for Dr. Darity’s scholarship program, which let students from poor backgrounds get some of the incredible opportunities that an education at the Firth Academy afforded the rich kids who made up most of the student body.
I needed to talk with Frank about all of this. I shoveled the last of my Frosted Kitten-Os into my mouth and grabbed another donut on my way out the door.
Frank met me back outside of Killer’s kennel. Frank, like Killer, was a morning person, and he seemed bright and chipper as he came running toward us. Killer pulled on the leash and leaped up on him as soon as he got near. Killer loved Frank.
“Have you heard?” I asked.
“Heard what?” Frank replied.
“The blood—it’s all over the school!”
“It is?” He looked around, checking for anyone who might be able to overhear us talking. “Where?”
“Word about the blood was all over the school this morning. All the servers in the dining hall were talking about it. Apparently someone used it to trash the boys’ locker room. They wrote ‘GET OUT’ in big letters across the room. And get this—whoever did it also trashed Lee’s locker specifically.”
“Seems like someone doesn’t want Lee around,” Frank said.
I remembered that this wasn’t the first time Lee had been messed with while we were here. Someone had also mysteriously hacked in to the computer and changed his grades.
“Yeah, but who? Whoever did this couldn’t have been with us last night.”
“Right. So that knocks out Ellery and his father.”
“Spencer too.” Spencer was the president of Gamma Theta Theta. He seemed like an all-around good guy, but a lot of the stuff that had gone wrong had happened while he was around, so we hadn’t ruled him out as a suspect quite yet.
I let Killer off his leash as we approached the woods surrounding campus. He bounded out into the woods, looking like a playful puppy. A playful, one hundred pound, police-trained puppy.
“Well,” said Frank after a minute. “Patton seemed pretty pissed that they were going to let Lee into Gamma Theta Theta.”
Patton Gage was another junior pledging GTT, and he seemed desperate to get in. He was pretty jealous of all the other pledges—including Lee.
“He was injured last night in Ellery’s prank, but I didn’t see him before we got to the GTT house,” I said. He’d ended up with some pretty bad burns from some acid, but the ambulance crew had assured us he would be all right.
“Me either,” said Frank. “He would have had more than enough time to trash the locker room and hide the blood before heading over to GTT.”
I hated to say it, but there was one other suspect we needed to consider.
“What about Destiny?” I asked. Destiny Darity was the daughter of Dr. Darity, the school’s headmaster, and she was the only female student at Willis Firth Academy. She had a reputation for being a troublemaker, and we’d seen her slap Lee during an argument just a few days earlier. If anyone had the temper to pull off a stunt like this, it was Destiny.
“Since you have class with Patton, why don’t you try to talk to him when he gets back from the hospital?” I suggested.
Frank grinned. “Right. And that way you can talk to Destiny, eh?”
Did I mention that Destiny was seriously cute? And that she seemed to have a crush on me? All right, most of her crush seemed to be an act designed to make her dad angry, but still. I couldn’t help but be flattered. I nodded.
“Any excuse to get close to the girl.” Frank laughed.
We were approaching the athletics department now. I could hear the soccer team warming up down below. They were the star of the Firth Academy sports teams. Rumor had it they might go all-state this year. Aside from Lee, the surprise star of the team was Destiny Darity. She’d been the goalie on the girls’ soccer team at her old school, and since Firth Academy required that all students participate in at least one team activity, she’d tried out for the soccer team here. Everyone—with the exception of Destiny herself—was shocked when she’d made the varsity team.
“What are they doing up so early?” I asked Frank. “I thought they practiced after classes?”
“There’s that big game coming up, remember? It’s a grudge match with another private school, their longtime rivals. Apparently, this year is their big chance to win back the championship.”
We stopped and watched them practice. After a minute, something occurred to me. “Hey—do you see Destiny down there?”
“No . . . where is she?”
The practice was breaking up now, and there was no sign of Destiny anywhere.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” I said.
“Me too. Let’s go check in with Dr. Darity.”
I called Killer back and put him on his leash. We set off at a quick walk across campus. By the time we found our way to Dr. Darity’s office, everyone was up and talking about the events of last night.
“Hey Dr. D.,” said Frank as we walked into his office.
“Hi Frank. Joe. I’ve been so caught up in trying to get the details settled for the Benevolence Weekend next Saturday, I haven’t had a chance to find out anything more about that hut in the woods yet. Or the Brothers of Erebus.”
The Brothers of Erebus was some sort of secret society within the Gamma Theta Theta fraternity, and they had been the group that Ellery had really been trying to get out of. We still didn’t really know who they were or what they did. They put the “secret” in secret society. Dr. Darity looked like he hadn’t slept in a year. There were big black bags under his eyes, and his clothes were all wrinkled.
“Have you seen Destiny this morning? She wasn’t at soccer practice,” I said.
“No,” said Dr. Darity. “I wasn’t going to mention it, but . . . she has a habit of disappearing. I’ve tried everything to get her to tell me when she leaves. I’ve bought cell phones, calling cards. But I think she enjoys making me worry. She’s been gone since yesterday afternoon.”
Frank and I exchanged a look. This was definitely not good.
“I’m sure she’s all right though,” said Dr. Darity.
The way he said it, he didn’t sound sure at all.
I tried to reassure him.
“She’s probably fine. Still, we should find her. Do you have any idea where she might be?”
Dr. Darity opened his mouth, but Frank’s phone rang before he could say anything.
“Yes?” said Frank as he answered the phone. His face turned pale. “Right. Yes, we’re with him now. Okay.”
“Dr. Darity?” Frank said. “That was ATAC. They’ve identified the blood—it’s Destiny’s.”
© 2010 Simon & Schuster, Inc.