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an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

Chapter Four

Part 2

“So, what’s so great about David’s room?” I asked as Danielle and I climbed the stairs into the guys’ dormitory that night. After dinner, David had suggested we chill with him at his digs, and Danielle had taken him up on it before I’d even had a chance. She really was making my job easier.

“David is a total technophile,” Danielle explained, swinging her long hair back. “He’s got a flat screen, surround sound, a stereo most guys would kill for. It’s, like, entertainment central.”

“His roommate must love that.”

“Oh, he does,” Danielle said. “Christian owns more DVDs than God. These two only leave their room when it’s absolutely imperative.”

I was pretty sure that God wasn’t a big DVD collector, but I kept my mouth shut as Danielle rapped on the door for room 209. I was just happy to have the opportunity to check out the domicile of one of my suspects.

Keep your eyes peeled and say as little as possible, I reminded myself.

The door was flung open and David stood there, grinning, wearing the most ostentatious Hawaiian shirt I’ve ever seen. The theme to Star Wars blasted through the door at a decibel level formerly reserved for fire sirens.

“Welcome to my humble abode!” David announced, throwing his arms wide.

It was like stepping into a funhouse. A huge flat-screen TV hung from the far wall between the two windows with the Star Wars opening story scrolling up it. A computer monitor in the corner flashed David’s name rapidly like a strobe light, changing the font and color each time. Attached to the computer was every accessory known to man, from an electric piano keyboard to speakers and microphones and something that looked suspiciously like a police scanner. The bass lights on the keyboard jumped up and down with some random beat that was pumping through the speakers, adding to the cacophony. On one of the two beds, a scrawny, pasty-faced kid was lying prone on a drab gray comforter, busily pounding away at his GameBoy.

“Christian, this is Kim,” David said, closing the door behind him.

“Hey!” I said brightly.

Christian grunted in response.

“Not exactly the garrulous type, huh?” I said under my breath.

“You can’t talk to him when he’s in the zone,” David explained.

I decided to attempt it anyway. Christian was David’s roommate. If I could befriend him and then isolate him at some point, I might be able garner some useful information and start compiling my David Rand file. I perched on the edge of his bed near his feet.

“Whatcha playing?” I asked.

Christian sighed, hit pause and fixed me with a glare. His eyes were glassy from hours of playing and his angular features were screwed up in a scowl.

“Do you know anything about video games?” he asked.

“I dabble,” I said with a shrug. It was a total lie. As far as I was concerned, video games were a huge waste of time, but I was bent on being as charming as humanly possible. Christian’s face, however, was full of scorn.

“I don’t have time for this. I have a level to clear.” He pushed himself off the bed, taking his GameBoy with him, and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Surly, isn’t he?” I said, deflated.

“Sorry. I should’ve warned you,” David said, picking up the remote and mercifully muting the television just as Darth and the Stormtroopers were boarding Leia’s ship. (I’m as much of a Star Wars fanatic as the next person. I just never felt the need to be deafened by it.) “He’s been like that lately. That new Dragon Ball Z game is driving him over the edge.”

“Whatever. He’s always like that,” Danielle said.

“So, what do you guys want to do?” David asked.

I got up and walked nonchalantly over to his computer, feigning interest in his many gadgets and peripherals.

“This thing is state-of-the-art,” I said, hitting a key to make the screensaver dissolve. David had SpongeBob SquarePants wallpaper. I wasn’t sure whether that was cute or disturbing.

“Wanna see something cool?” David asked, slipping in front of me, ostensibly to open up some program. I had a feeling he just wanted to thwart my attempts to get to his computer. Paranoid much?

But then, I guess he had a right to be. I was spying on him.

David punched away at his keyboard and pulled up what looked like a list of student names, each with a file icon next to it.

“I can tell you anything you want to know about any student in this place,” David said, suddenly quite the braggart.

“Seriously?” I said, pretending to be shocked. “How?”

“I hacked into the school’s mainframe,” David said matter-of-factly. He didn’t seem to have any problem talking about his questionable ethics with near-strangers. Not exactly the cautious behavior you’d expect from the guilty. Maybe David wasn’t our dealer. He just seemed too . . . upfront.

“Wait . . . is that what you meant at lunch about having your ways?” I asked.

“Hey, you’ve gotta know who you’re dealing with, right?” David said with a Cheshire-cat grin. “And it’s not like the administration is going to divulge all our dirty little secrets. You wouldn’t believe how many people at this place have checkered pasts,” he added, glancing at Danielle.

“You have serious issues, Mr. Rand,” Danielle said with a smirk.

“I’m just taking care of me and mine,” David replied, grinning.

Meanwhile, I was practically salivating to see what he had on his computer. “Come on. You can’t have everyone’s info on there,” I prodded.

“You don’t believe me?” David said, returning his attention to me. “Name one student and I’ll tell you everything about him . . . or her.”

I could’ve kissed the kid right then and there. Little did he know he was basically offering to facilitate my investigation.

“Okay, how about Jon Wisnewski?” I asked. He was the one person I had yet to make contact with, and I still knew very little about him, “He seems like an interesting guy.”

“Oh, he is,” David said, the grin widening. I thought he would click Jon’s file on his computer, but he simply reclined in his chair and rubbed his hands together. “Jon Wisnewski. A-minus grade point average, plays the drums, leaves campus every weekend in his 2001 Jeep Wrangler to head up to Evergreen Ski Lodge to snowboard. And get this—he’s not allowed to have anything stronger than Tylenol because he got hooked on painkillers a couple years ago after he was in a serious boarding accident.”

David leaned back even further, basking in the glow of his omnipotence. It was kind of cute but at the same time rather disturbing. Where did he get off nosing around in people’s private business?

Then again, that was what I was doing—kind of. But it was my job! I had to stop obsessing.

“Wow,” I said. “You do know everything.”

Got hooked on painkillers, huh? I thought, trying to focus on the pertinent matter at hand. Now there was incriminating evidence—something Tad hadn’t even known about. Maybe Jon was a legitimate suspect.

“Anyone else you want to know about?” David prompted. There was a mischievous spark behind his eyes now as he looked at me—like he was looking right into my soul.

Suddenly it was like my blood was freezing up in my veins. Oh my God. He’d tried to look me up, hadn’t he? What did my computer file say about me? Was I even in the Hereford computer system?

We couldn’t have one of our main suspects suspecting me. I took a deep breath in an attempt to soothe my freshly frayed nerves. Please let Mom have thought of this, I begged silently, my palms starting to sweat. Please, please, please.

I had a sudden mental image of me stepping into a cab to make my way home, my mission having failed on the very first day.

“What did you find out about me?” I asked finally, biting the proverbial bullet.

David flushed slightly. “Nothing. I wouldn’t invade your privacy like that.” He averted his eyes and toyed with a Slinky he had next to his cable modem. Not a good liar. If David was the perp, this case was going to be way too easy to solve.

“Why not? You do everyone else’s,” Danielle piped up. She was sacked out on Christian’s bed staring at the muted television.

“Come on, David. I know I’m not immune. You’ve got every kid in this place on that list.”

Please let there be something in there. Something that doesn’t say I went to Morrison High and graduated last year.

“All right, all right,” David said, sitting up and planting his feet on the floor. He pulled his chair toward the desk and tapped a few things into the computer. Instantly my picture and fake name appeared at the top of the page, followed by a transcript from Stanford Prep and a list of extracurricular activities.

I felt the oxygen whoosh back into my lungs. It was all I could do to abstain from jumping up and down in glee.

Instead, I leaned forward, intrigued. My mom had given me straight As, made me captain of the debate team and a member of the track and karate teams, just like I’d been in high school. I’d apparently amassed a total of three detentions in my fictional time at Stanford Prep and been suspended once for cutting school to go to the beach.

Damn, my mom was thorough. I felt as if I’d just dodged a speeding train.

“Not really the rebel, are ya?” David joked.

“Just call me goody-goody Kim,” I replied, giggling uncharacteristically. I guess that’s what seeing your life flash before your eyes will do to you.

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