Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon
Bait for a Burglar
For Eileen and Katie J.
with love.âJ. L. N.
RIAN QUINN TOOK A
deep breath and tried to keep his mind on what he was doing. He looked at the other eighth-grade students in his class, then back to the paper he was clutching. It was hard enough to have to read what he'd written to the rest of the class, but what Dad had said this morning bothered him. He couldn't concentrate.
“There's a high-tech burglar loose in Redoaks. We need to upgrade our insurance policy,” Mr. Quinn had said in an undertone to his wife, but Brian had overheard.
“What high-tech burglar? Where is he? What are you talking about, Dad?” Brian had asked.
Mr. Quinn had looked at his watch. “Better hurry, Brian, or you'll be late for school. I'll tell you about it this evening.”
Ms. McGowan, who taught journalism, broke into Brian's thoughts. “Well, Brian?” she asked. “Are you ready?”
Brian gulped and nodded. “Death is never good to talk about,” he read somberly. “But yesterday, in Mr. Hightower's eleven o'clock biology class, death was on every student's mind. Maybe they didn't learn how to dissect frogsâwhich was the lesson of the day. But they learned lessons in life and death and in standing up for one's beliefs. Four students, who called the frog a creature to be respected, refused to take part in the lesson.”
Brian added the details of the news story, then said, “The end.” He gave such a loud sigh of relief, his friends laughed.
Brian laughed, too. He had thought journalism would be an easy A, but every time he had to stand in front of the class and read a news story he'd written, he groaned inside. The kids in the class gave a lot of grief to anyone who made even the slightest mistake. Ms. McGowan was tough, too.
Up went a hand. Amanda asked, “Brian, what kind of research did you do? Are you sure they were frogs and not toads?”
Brian reddened, but he said, “Mr. Hightower told us they were frogs. He's the teacher. He'd know.”
“How about Mr. Hightower? Did you check him out? Does he have the proper background to teach biology?”
Ms. McGowan took charge. “Thank you, Amanda, but the research you're suggesting isn't important to the story. It's not about Mr. Hightower's background or even the frogs. The point of the story is that four students stood up for something in which they believed.”
“Good job,” she said to Brian, “althoughâ¦” She smiled at him as though they shared a good joke, then went on. “Your story was interesting and informative, but just a little too dramatic.”
As Brian walked to his seat, Ms. McGowan told the class, “Many reporters tend to get emotional about their stories. It's a habit that's easy to fall into. But I want to break you of it now. That's my job.
job is to give people information, not opinions. Let your readers or viewers become outraged or sympathetic by your
not by your adjectives and adverbs.”
Brian's best friend, Sam, reached across the aisle to punch Brian on the arm. “You looked so cool,” Sam whispered. “I have to read my story tomorrow, and I already feel like barfing.”
Brian tuned Sam out. Ms. McGowan had called Estella Martinez's name.
Estella faced the class and said, “My news story has to do with food waste in the school cafeteria.” She began to read, and Brian was impressed with her investigation. Estella hadn't just interviewed just the cafeteria manager, she'd also interviewed Miss Alice, one of the lunch line attendants, and Mr. Maxx, the custodian. All three gave their opinions about how much food was actually being thrown away.
When Estella finished, a few of her friends applauded and Estella blushed.
“I know she's pretty, but stop staring,” Sam whispered to Brian.
“Get lost,” Brian mumbled.
Ms. McGowan beamed at Estella. “That was an excellent reporting job,” she said. “You gave us all the facts, and your interviews were wonderful. What a good idea to get Mr. Maxx's opinion. Great work!”
The bell rang, andâas usualâthere was a great deal of noise as all the kids picked up their books and got ready for the next class.
“Sam, Cindy, Danny, and Marion,” Ms. McGowan called out. “You'll read your news stories tomorrow. Brian and Estella, I need to see you both for a moment, please.”
What did I do now? Brian wondered as he walked to Ms. McGowan's desk. He glanced at Estella, who whispered, “What's this all about, Brian?”
Brian took a deep breath. “We'll soon find out,” he said.
S. MCGOWAN PULLED TWO
pieces of paper from a folder. She handed one to Brian and one to Estella. Brian took a quick glance and saw that it was a printed form.
“You two have a real talent for journalism. That's why I immediately thought of you for Channel Two's program,
That's News 2 Me
,” she said and smiled.
Estella stood up straighter, her brown eyes huge. “Do you mean that local television news show for kids on Saturday mornings?”
“That's right,” Ms. McGowan answered. “The producer has invited all the schools in the greater Redoaks area to take part. The kids who are picked will have a week to work behind the scenes as editors, camera people, and reporters. I was told to choose two reporters.”
Brian tried to take it all in. Ms. McGowan wanted him to be a reporter on TV? He didn't think he'd like that at all. He
like being a Casebuster with his nine-year-old brother Sean. The Casebusters' private investigations were done quietlyâeven secretly.
On television, anything he investigated would be in front of the cameras with everybody in Redoaks watching! Brian gulped. It was scary just to stand up and read a news story in front of his journalism class. Think what it would be like to know that hundredsâno, thousandsâof people were watching!
There was no way he was going to put himself in that spot. But he couldn't say so because Ms. McGowan was still talking. Brian tried to pay attention.
“You'll be given story ideas from the assignments editor,” she said. “Then you'll do the research, the interviews, you'll write the report, and give it on the air.” She smiled. “What do you think?”
While Brian tried to come up with a polite way to say “no,” Estella bounced a few times, hugged her books to her chest, and said, “Oh, yes! I'll do it!” She glanced at Brian and grinned. “You will, too, won't you, Brian? We can work together.”
All of Brian's doubts immediately vanished. Instead of saying “no,” he found himself saying, “Sure. I'll do it, too, Ms. McGowan.”
“That's great,” Ms. McGowan said. “Have your parents sign the permission slips I gave you. On Monday afternoon you'll meet with the Channel Two assignments editor and the other students who are working on this project. And please remember, I'm here if you need me.”
“Thank you, Ms. McGowan,” Estella said.
“Uhâyeah, thanks,” Brian added.
“Congratulations and good luck,” Ms. McGowan said.
As they left the classroom Estella clasped Brian's hand. Her eyes shone as she said, “This is going to be great. I can't wait to tell my mom. It's going to be so much fun working with you, Brian. You really did a great job with your news story.”
Brian's mouth opened, but his heart started thumping. All he could manage to say was, “Uh, thanks. Right now I guess we gotta go to class.”
Brian felt as if he were in the shower while the dishwasher was running and the water went from hot to cold and back again. One minute he was happy with the idea of working with Estella. The next minute he'd think about having to give a report to all those eyes watching their TV sets.
Brian kept his news until his family was seated around the dinner table that night. “Guess what,” he said. “I'm going to be on TV.”
“When?” Mrs. Quinn asked.
“Where?” Mr. Quinn said.
“How come?” Sean asked, his mouth filled with mashed potatoes.
“Ms. McGowan picked Estella Martinez and me to represent Redoaks Junior High on
That's News 2 Me
.” Brian said. “We'll be investigative reporters.”
“Wow!” Sean shouted. “You'll be a television star!”
“No. I'll just be on TV once,” Brian explained. “And then it's another school's turn. Estella and I have to get our stories ready in a week. Then on Thursday we'll be filmed, the tape will be edited on Friday, and the show will air on Saturday morning.”
“Cool,” Sean said. He shoved another forkful of mashed potatoes into his mouth.
“We're proud of you, Brian,” Mr. Quinn said.
Mrs. Quinn's eyes sparkled. “We'll tell all of our friends,” she said. “Everyone will be watching.”
Everyone will be watching? Brian shuddered. It will be great working with Estella, he thought, but will it really be worth it?
The Quinns ate in silence for a few moments. Then Brian said, “Dad, what about the High-Tech Burglar?”
“What's a high-tech burglar?” Sean asked.
“He's not someone to be afraid of,” Mr. Quinn cautioned. “He's someone to be prepared for.” He turned to Mrs. Quinn. “After dinner let's talk about taking out a special insurance policy on our computers, printer, faxâ¦all our electronic equipment.”
“Doesn't our homeowners policy offer them?” Mrs. Quinn asked.
“Only to a point,” he said. “It doesn't offer complete coverage, and under the circumstancesâ¦”
“Why are you worried about our computers and stuff? What's going on, Dad?” Brian asked.
“The police have seen a tremendous rise in home burglaries in Redoaks within the last month,” Mr. Quinn answered.