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Authors: Kurt Dinan

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BOOK: Don't Get Caught
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Adleta says, “Count me in.”

“And if we get caught?” Malone asks.

We all just look dumbly at each other.

“I don’t need an answer,” she says. “I’m just trying to see all the angles. But I’m in too.”

“Good,” I say, “because I need you to use your art skills to make imitations of the Chaos Club business cards. Can you do that?”

“That should be easy enough. Design wise, their cards are pretty basic.”

Leaving only one person—Ellie.

“I’ll do it on one condition,” she says. “We make it a contest. Best prank wins. That’ll make it a lot more fun.”

“I like it,” Malone says. “A prank off.”

“Great idea,” I say, and Ellie grins with her whole face.

“What’s the prize?” Wheeler asks.

“Bragging rights,” Malone says.

“No,” Ellie says, “even better, the winner gets a guaranteed yes.”

“A what?” Adleta says.

“Whoever we decides wins gets to ask for something from us and we have to say yes. It’ll be fun.”

“I am one hundred percent in favor of this prize,” Wheeler says.

“Why am I imagining your request would include some sort of nudity…or worse?” Malone says.

“Because you know me so well, Kate, duh.”

“Don’t worry,” Ellie says to Malone. “He won’t win. Girls are a lot more creative than boys.”

“If there’s a winner, does that mean there’s a loser too?” I ask.

“Oh, you don’t want to be the loser,” Ellie says, twisting an invisible mustache. “There will be dire consequences for the loser.”

“How do we determine who has the best prank?” Adleta says.

“Everyone gets a vote,” Malone says, “but I think we’ll know the winner when we see it.”

“Is there a time limit?” Ellie asks.

“Well, it obviously has to be before we expose the Chaos Club,” Malone says.

“And before the last day of school,” Wheeler adds.

“But no outside help,” I say. “I don’t want this extending outside this room.”

“Good idea,” Malone says.

“Can we work in pairs?” Ellie asks.

“If someone wants to, then yeah,” Adleta says.

“Good.” Ellie smiles my way, making my stomach twinge. “So we’re all in agreement on the rules?”

I run down my mental checklist and say, “Wheeler, what about a copycat website? Could we make it look just like theirs, steal all their pictures and stuff, but make the Chaos Club look ridiculous? I think that would get their attention.”

“Dude, you want me to be irritating? That’s right up my alley.”

Exactly, it’s Heist Rule #11:
Play to your crew’s strengths
.

Because pranks are really nothing but heists for beginners. Same concepts, same rules, only without the federal offense aspect involved—at least hopefully without.

“What can I do?” Ellie asks.

“How about being available to anyone who may need student or teacher info? You can get all that as an office aide, right?”

“Not just that, but the principal’s schedules, keys to any place on school grounds, you name it.”

“They let you at that stuff?” Malone says.

“Well, let’s just say the office is a busy place,” Ellie says. “So yeah, I can do that.”

“And me?” Adleta says.

“You’re the inside man with Stranko,” I say. “I need you to stay close to him—closer than you’d normally be probably—and report back on anything you hear.”

Adleta thinks it over and says, “That means I’m going to have to apologize.”

“Uh, yeah.”

What’s shocking is that I’m not afraid of Adleta anymore. Or not as much as I used to be. I mean, yeah, he could probably throw me straight up through the ceiling into the family room, but after the Stranko Caper, I trust him.

“Okay, I’ll apologize tomorrow, then start sucking up to him.”

“Cool,” I say. “I know you don’t want to do it, but we need it. I’ll make it up to you somehow.”

“How about letting me cage-match Stranko?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

The meeting breaks up shortly after that, and we head upstairs, Wheeler leading the way, followed by Adleta and Malone. Ellie pauses at the base of the steps.

“Nice job today, Mongoose.”

My ears begin to burn.

I need to say something clever. Or suave. Or witty. Something.

I know what James Bond would do in this situation—he’d grab Ellie and plant some superspy kiss on her that makes her clothes magically fall from her body. I’m still playing at beginner level though, so Not Max goes for something a little more basic.

“Maybe we should read through the files together?”

“Great idea! This weekend?”

Ugh. Stupid reality.

“I’m grounded for at least a week for being assigned to work crew,” I say. “But maybe the weekend after that?”

Ellie shakes her head. “Let’s make it this Friday.”

“But my parents—”

“Just be ready around seven,” Ellie says. “And act normal, Mongoose. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Chapter 8

Cows greet us at school the next day.

Nine of them.

On the roof.

Somehow during the night they’ve been: (A) paraded? (B) airlifted? (C) thrown? onto the main building, and now: (A) lounge? (B) graze? (C) wait? while we do our daily zombie walk inside. From the edge of the building where the cows stand hangs a sign reading:
Chaos Club.

This is what we’re up against.

“Awesome,” the guy next to me says.

I can’t argue with that.

“Hey, you’re one of those Water Tower Five idiots, right?” he says.

I can’t argue with that either.

Fifty yards down the sidewalk, Mrs. B, Stranko, and Officer Hale look up at the distraught cows, probably discussing how to get them down. Mrs. B has a small smile as she assesses the situation. But Stranko looks biblically constipated as he watches, and then unconsciously, pointlessly, reaches to his hip for the cell phone that isn’t there.

Heh, heh, heh.

In Watson’s first-period philosophy class, we have prime seats for the cow show. Having taught since before the wheel was invented, Watson knows we’re useless until the cows are rescued, so he keeps the blinds open so we can watch. Watson’s at his desk, wearing sandals, baggy pants that haven’t been washed since the ’90s, and an untucked short-sleeved shirt with a coffee stain on the stomach. All teachers at Asheville are required to wear dress pants and a shirt with the school mascot on it, but I guess when you’ve taught for more than thirty years, rules don’t mean that much. Talking with Watson is Jeff Benz, Watson’s senior aide. Students go all Hunger Games to become Watson’s aide because it means doing little more than goofing off and joking with Watson.

Everyone watches as two trucks—one hauling a long metal ramp, and the other with an attached trailer—arrive out front. The ramp is extended to the roof, and two agitated men in cowboy boots ascend the ramp.

Watson says, “Jeff, do you know what it would be called if those cows all suddenly jumped off the roof?”

“Why no, Mr. Watson,” Jeff says. “What would it be called if all the cows jumped?”

“Mooicide.”

Groans fills the room.

“Don’t mind me,” Watson says. “I’m just milking the situation for your entertainment.”

For the next thirty minutes, we witness the Great Cow Rescue until the men finally coax the animals down the ramp. Once on the ground, they’re led past the Zippy the Eagle statue, an Asheville High landmark that the school paper recently reported will be removed for renovation. It’s a good thing too. After years of numerous neon paint jobs and even the welding of a mauled metal squirrel into his beak, Zippy’s just plain trashy looking.

Ellie and Malone are in this class with me, but we’ve all agreed it’s best to play it cool. There’s no reason to give people suspicions about who’s behind the hell we’re hoping to unleash. But speaking of hell, Libby Heckman’s in here too. She sits three rows over from Malone and has spent the year giving her a death glare. But Malone pays Libby zero attention, something that only intensifies Libby’s hate-generated stare. The fact that room is still standing is a miracle.

“Mr. Watson?” Tami Cantor says. “Do you get pissed when things like this happen?”

“You’re asking if I get mad cow disease?” Watson says.

“Come on, I’m being serious. Don’t interruptions like this bother you?”

“Well, if you’ve been paying attention, Ms. Cantor, you’d realize I’m all for the tearing down of symbols and making your mark in the world.”

“Sort of like that right there?”

“Exactly,” Watson says pointing to the
Write Your Name in the Wet Cement of the Universe
banner over the board. “Learn it. Know it. Live it. The Chaos Club may live up to its name, but I think it’s good for a system to be shaken up at times. Of course, if you repeat that, I’ll deny ever having said it.”

With five minutes remaining in the period, the trailer gate is closed as the last cow disappears inside. Cheers erupt in our classroom and throughout the rest of the building.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve
herd
that much enthusiasm,” Watson says to Benz, loud enough for all of us to hear. “It’s hard to have a beef with their interest though.”

“Okay, but cud you ask them to stop?”

Over our groans, Jess Galley says, “Have the two of you have been thinking up cow puns the entire time?”

“You are udderly correct,” Watson says.

• • •

On the way to second period, Malone sidles up to me, with Ellie following closely behind. Malone has us follow her to an empty locker bay, where she pulls a black Chaos Club card from her book bag.

“How did you do this so fast?” I ask.

“It didn’t take too long, not once I found the right font. And we have a great laser printer at home,” she says.

“How many did you make?”

“Just this prototype for now. I wanted to make sure it was okay before I printed more.”

I look around to make sure no one can see us, then examine the card more closely.

“It’s perfect. Looks exactly like the real ones.”

“With one small addition,” Malone says.

She points to a small white ink drop in the bottom left-hand corner. It takes me holding it inches from my eyes to see what it really is: a small water tower icon with a miniscule
5
on it.

“You know, sort of an extra f-you to the Chaos Club,” Malone says.

“You don’t think they’ll notice?”

“Who cares if the Chaos Club notices? What are they going to do, prank us again? And if Stranko sees the change, he’ll first have to figure out what it means, and even if he does, it’s a long shot he connects it to us.”

It’s flimsy logic and a risk, but I like the addition and tell Malone so.

“Cool, thanks,” she says. “So run a bunch?”

“Absolutely.”

“I have a late shift at the climbing center tonight, but I should be able to get these finished after that.”

I’m still amazed all this is happening. I ask people to do things, and they do it. If I’d known it was this easy, I’d have started speaking up years ago.

“So have you two figured out your pranks yet?” Ellie asks.

“I have an idea percolating,” Malone says. “I just don’t know how to pull it off yet.”

“You’ll come up with something,” Ellie says, then turns to me.

I look at my feet.

“I’ll take that as a no. I’m not worried though. You’re good at planning things like that.”

“Really?”

Ellie cocks her head.

“Are you fishing for compliments, Maxwell Cobb? Okay then, yes, you’re good at plotting. Remember in Mr. Hubbard’s seventh grade history class how our group’s army beat everyone else in that military battle game? That was all because of you. And your Rube Goldberg device in science last year that maneuvered an egg across a table and cracked it into a bowl? Or what about that extra credit assignment you wrote about
Gatsby
for English? Is that enough evidence for you?”

“All right, I’ll come up with something,” I say.

“Make that something good enough and all your dreams can come true,” she says.

Believe me, I’ve given the reward of a guaranteed yes more thought than the prank itself. I’m not exactly sure what I would do with the prize, but it would definitely be a strong test of my already-questionable morality.

“And even if you don’t win,” Ellie says, “at least make sure you don’t lose. Because remember—dire consequences.”

• • •

After school, Adleta, Wheeler, and I serve our first of five work crews, and to get straight to the point—work crew sucks. It’s three hours of humiliation, sweeping the halls while kids deliberately toss garbage in our paths and chipping at crusty toilet bowls with a Spackle knife. Do me a favor and remind me of this day if I ever consider full-time employment in the custodial arts.

The only positive in the experience comes after an hour and a half of slave labor, when Mr. Jessup leads the three of us down a back hallway and through a set of heavy doors into an area marked
Restricted
. Along the walls are desks stacked three high. A mountain of boxes waits for us at the end of the corridor by the loading dock.

“What are all these?” Wheeler says.

“What the food comes in each week,” Jessup says. “You need to tear the tape off the bottom of each and flatten them for the recycling bin out back.”

“Can we have box cutters or something?” Adleta asks.

Jessup doesn’t even bother replying. He leaves us staring at the mountain of brown boxes, unsure where to start.

“This blows,” Wheeler says.

“No doubt,” Adleta says and kicks at the pile.

In the next ten minutes, we each suffer a dozen paper cuts, and our shirts are soon covered in streaks of blood, like we’re been sprinting through thornbushes.

“Screw this, man,” Wheeler says. “I can’t even feel my fingers anymore. It’s break time.”

We follow Wheeler back down the corridor, where he stops halfway to the door and takes out his phone, opening a map I’ve never seen before.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

Wheeler ignores me and uses his shoulder to shove aside a series of desks, moving them just enough to expose a small cubbyhole door in the wall.

“Bingo,” Wheeler says.

“How did you know that was there?” Adleta says, coming forward and moving the desks even farther.

“Stranko’s files. There’s a great map that shows a lot of the older parts of this building that are blocked off or hidden from us.”

“You mean, like secret passages?” I ask, now getting out my phone to see what Wheeler’s talking about.

“Not that cool, no, but there are shortcuts through this building and rooms that are closed off like this one.”

Wheeler drops to his knees and slides a rusty latch on the door that sounds like a cat whose tail is being stepped on. The door opens with an equally painful shrieking noise, and Wheeler crawls through, disappearing into the dark.

“What do you think?” I say to Adleta.

“I think…uh-oh,” Adleta says.

I turn, and coming our way is Becca Yancey.

Becca is a junior like us and could easily be class president, but she’s too busy saving the world through organizing blood drives and raising money for leukemia victims. She also wears the Zippy mascot costume at every home football and basketball game, not that it helps us win. Right now, she’s carrying a green recycling bin filled to the top with plastic bottles. If the rumor’s true that she’s moving at the end of the school year, I’m not sure who will fill her place. Is Gandhi still alive?

“Hey, Becca,” Adleta says.

“Hi, guys. Find anything good?”

“Just goofing off,” Adleta says. “Work crew and all.”

“Yeah, I heard about that. Funny.”

“You won’t, uh…” and Tim motions to the open door.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says. “You boys have fun. I have twenty more bins to hunt down and empty.”

Becca heads for the loading dock, and I call Wheeler back. His dirty face appears a few seconds later.

“What’s back there?” Tim says.

“Just boxes of files and old floor hockey equipment,” Wheeler says. “Stupid stuff like that.”

“Maybe we come back when we have more time,” I say. “There might be something cool.”

“Like my balls,” Wheeler says.

Adleta starts laughing.

“What does that mean?” I say.

“Dude, you’ve never played Like My Balls? How do you survive the day? It’s all I ever do. Anytime the teacher makes a statement, try adding ‘like my balls.’ You know how like in history, Mr. Navarro is always saying, ‘History is a living breathing thing…’”

“Like my balls,” I finish.

“Exactly, man. It’ll change your life.”

“Like my balls.”

“See? You’re a natural.”

Since we’ve committed petty theft together and scrubbed toilets next to each other, I decide now’s probably a safe time to ask Adleta something that’s bothered me for weeks.

“Can I ask you a question? Why’d you show up at the water tower? You don’t seem the Chaos Club type.”

“What does that mean?”

“No offense, dude,” Wheeler says, “but he’s right. You’re more the organized-sports guy, not the cause-trouble guy.”

Adleta looks away for a few long, uncomfortable seconds.

Finally, he says, “Because I need something that’s just mine.”

Wheeler says, “Huh?”

Adleta leans against a box before answering.

“Everyone knows I’m good at lacrosse, right? That it’s pretty much all I do. But no one knows how Stranko convinced my dad to sign me up for an athletic trainer to keep me in the best shape possible so I can play in college and go pro. Or that now I have a dietician who tells me what I can eat. Or that I haven’t had a free weekend in three years because I’m always at some lacrosse camp or tournament. No one even asked my opinion. And when I tried to register for AP U.S. History this year, Dad wouldn’t let me because he said the extra work would get in the way of my training. Who does that?”

Wheeler and I look at each other, trying to figure out how to respond, but Adleta’s not finished.

“It’s like they’re forcing me into being this thing I’m not sure I want to be. Yeah, I destroy on the lacrosse field, and that’s cool and I like it, but I didn’t choose this life—my dad did. And you’ve seen my dad. It’s not like I can just tell him to lay off a bit. He’d lose his shit. It’s what he does best. With the water tower, I hoped I’d have at least one thing that was just mine. But even that backfired, and now my dad and Stranko are on my ass even more. Part of me just wishes I’d tear my ACL and be done with it all for good.”

It’s weird seeing Adleta being, well, human. And an AP class? I wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years, which makes me feel like a dick.

“That sucks, man,” Wheeler says. “But at least you have us now.”

“Yeah, you’re part of a crew that’s going to take down the Chaos Club,” I say. “That’s a big plus.”

“Like my balls,” Tim says, and we all start laughing so hard it’s another five minutes before we start working again.

• • •

The rest of the school week is a continuation of tortuous ragging about the water tower, followed by three hours of slaving on work crew. The worst duty by far? Cleaning out grease traps in the kitchen. I may never eat again.

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