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an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

Chapter Ten

Part 1

I spent most of Sunday in the library, pretending to work on my History paper when I was in fact making lists—one for each of my suspects. I made three columns in my notebook and wrote down anything abstruse that I had witnessed, hoping the juxtaposition would help me to make some shrewd deductions, or at least an educated guess. Unfortunately, when I was done, each of the guys still was a suspect. Every one of them came off as corrupt in some fashion.

I was still at square one. But not for long. I was going to solve this case if it killed me.

Monday proved to be the warmest day of the winter so far, which I took to be an auspicious sign. After classes, I went to the quad to stake out the post office. The facility closed at 5 p.m. and I knew Jon would be working. I had decided to tail him and see if he did anything odd after work. If there was something going on with him, it definitely hinged on the post office. It was the best lead I had.

I sat on a bench alongside the ancient building, a textbook open on my lap. I was hidden from view of the main entrance, but I’d be able to see if anyone walked out. Luckily, there were other kids out and about so I was able to blend in—just a regular student enjoying the relatively balmy day.

At precisely 5:03 the door to the post office opened and slammed, and Jon took off across the pathway to the guys’ dorm. In the dusk I could just make out the outline of a package as he shoved it furtively under his jacket. My skin sizzled with excitement—and apprehension. This could be it! Yay! But I so didn’t want Jon to be the guilty party. Damn.

I mean, could I really be attracted to a criminal?

I waited until he was a good twenty yards ahead of me, then tucked my book away and scurried after him. He entered the dorm through the back door, so I waited for a count of thirty (I was getting better at this) and then snuck in. Instead of stopping at his own floor, Jon continued upstairs to the third. After the door closed on the hallway, I jogged up and glanced through the slim window down the hall. Jon was knocking on the door to Marshall’s room.

I held my breath. Marshall opened the door and the two of them exchanged curt greetings. No camaraderie between these two, that was for sure. Then, Jon unzipped his jacket and handed over the package to Marshall. My heart felt as if it was pounding in my temples as Marshall slapped a wad of cash into Jon’s hand. This was it. Clear evidence. Jon and Marshall obviously were colluding .

But was Jon selling Marshall drugs right now, or was he simply delivering the pills to Marshall, who would then sell them to others later? Either way, it was obvious that Jon was complicit in the crime. Suddenly I felt as if I needed to sit down. Jon was guilty. How could he be guilty?

Jon did a cursory check of the bills in his hand. It didn’t seem like an exorbitant amount of money to me, but I didn’t have time to dwell on what that might mean. Jon didn’t dawdle. The door closed and he turned toward me and started back down the hall. My heart hit my throat and I went to run back downstairs, but then realized I’d never make it all the way out without Jon hearing my running footsteps. Thinking fast, I headed upstairs instead, toward the fourth floor. As the door opened I sat down quietly on the stairs above and pressed myself against the wall, hoping against hope that Jon wouldn’t randomly decide to go up instead of down.

He didn’t. I listened as he descended the stairs. The door to the second floor opened and slammed. I was safe.

Impetuously I jumped up and ran back down to the third floor. Something inside me was telling me that now was the time to catch Marshall red-handed. Chances were he was opening the package and inspecting its contents right then. If I could catch him in the act, I could call in my mother and this could all be over by tonight.

I paused in front of Marshall’s door, took a deep breath, and tried the doorknob. It turned and clicked quietly. Locked.

Dammit! There was only one thing left to do. I raised my hand and pounded on the door. There was an instant stream of incoherent mumbling, then the sound of crinkling paper and plastic wrap. I cursed under my breath. Whatever Marshall had received, he was hiding it right then. By the time the door opened his hairline was dotted with sweat.

He seemed surprised and bemused when he saw me standing there, as if my presence were a huge quandary. He even stuck his head out into the hallway to look both ways and make sure it was just me. For my part, I felt nothing but rancor in his presence. I so wanted Jon to be innocent that in three seconds I had rashly decided that Marshall had somehow coerced Jon into being his accomplice. The fault, in my mind, rested entirely on Marshall’s shoulders. He was, after all, still the biggest ass I’d met on campus. It would be so perfect if I could arrest him and find Jon and David, both of whom I liked, to be blameless.

“Hey!” I said, shoving by him into the room. My eyes did a quick scan of Marshall’s side of the place. There was nothing. No box. No wrapping. No pills. Nada.

“Hey. What’re you doing here?” Marshall asked, closing the door. His expression was almost malevolent as he turned to me. I obviously had interrupted something important. As if I didn’t know that. But his behavior only underscored that fact.

All I needed to know was, where had he hidden the box?

“Oh . . . I just thought I’d drop by,” I said, sitting down on his bed. I bounced a couple of times to see if I could hear any paper crinkling, thinking he may have shoved everything under the mattress. All I heard was the squeaking of the springs.

“Uh huh,” Marshall said, hovering over me. He eyed me up and down as if he was trying to figure me out. “What for?”

“Oh, you know, just to say hi,” I said with a shrug.

Maybe it was under the bed. I yanked my hat off and twirled it around my finger until it flew right off. Marshall and I both hit the ground to retrieve it and I checked under the bed. There was a ton of crap under there and it was too dark in the room to tell if any of it was a freshly opened box. This little excursion was not going well.

When I stood up again, Marshall handed me back my hat and there was something completely different in the way he was looking at me. His irate frown had turned into a smug smile, his eyes were now alight with his usual cockiness and he was standing way too close to me for comfort.

“Okay, I get it,” he said, nodding. “I see why you’re here.”

“You do?” I asked, bewildered by his mercurial behavior.

“Don’t play coy now,” he said. “I don’t know why I didn’t figure it out before. You come to karate . . . you sit with us at lunch . . . you’re all over me about lending me CDs . . . .”

Oh my God. He had to be kidding me. He thought I was attracted to him?

And then, before I could even process my disgust, Marshall grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me to him. His lips covered mine and his grip was like an iron clasp. I reached up with both hands and shoved his chest as hard as I could. Marshall stumbled back and I wiped my mouth, aghast.

“What the hell are you doing?” I demanded. My stomach was having an adverse reaction and threatening to bring up my lunch.

“I thought you wanted me to do that!” Marshall protested, looking hurt now.

“Are you kidding me?” I shouted. “God! Don’t you have a girlfriend?”

“Yeah, but you’re not the first new chick to make a play for me,” Marshall said. “This kind of stuff happens all the time.”

“Omigod, you’re such a slimeball,” I said, making for the door.

“Kim! Wait!” Marshall said, moving in front of me and blocking my escape. “Don’t tell Cheryl about this, okay? She’ll kill me.”

His eyes were wide and plaintively pleading. He was suddenly so contrite that he may as well have been on his knees. I already knew there was no way I was going to tell Cheryl. It would just open up a whole can of worms that I did not need to deal with. I wasn’t here to create high school dramas. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t have a little fun with Marshall—maybe chastise him a bit.

“Why shouldn’t I tell her?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest. “There’s a code among women, you know. I’m duty-bound to tell her that her boyfriend’s a pig. And you are, my friend. You’re a gross opportunist.”

This insult may have hit home if he had any clue as to what it meant. But Marshall just blinked at me. He was so obtuse. How could a guy like this be the one secretly shilling the opiate of the masses? How had he managed to get away with it before now?

“Come on, Kim. I’m sorry,” Marshall said. “I’ll do anything. I swear. Just don’t tell her.”

I’ll do anything . . . . Interesting. Would he maybe tell me what was in the package he’d just received? Was there any way to even ask that without totally blowing my cover? There wasn’t. At least not that I could see. He’d want to know how I’d known he’d gotten a delivery, and then I’d have to tell him I was spying on him and Jon. How did detectives do this stuff?

I sighed, defeated. “Just forget it,” I said. “But if you step out of line one more time, I’m going straight to your girlfriend. Got it?”

Marshall rolled his eyes. “Women. The bane of my existence.”

“Yeah, well. Not if you’re careful,” I said. Then I swept out of his room, letting the door slam behind me.

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