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an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

Chapter Eleven

Part 1

“I think we need to go back to my room and talk,” David said.

“I think maybe we should talk right here,” I countered, my heart slamming into my ribs.

David didn’t even blink. “If you want to talk to me, it’s not gonna be here,” he said. “And I really think you want to talk to me as much as I want to talk to you.”

Okay. Apparently, David had seen one too many episodes of Law & Order. He clearly thought my room was bugged. But going back to his room could be the stupidest of stupid cop moves. Who knew what he might have waiting there for me? “Are you coming?” he asked.

Just tell me, I thought. Just tell me you’re the guy and let’s get this over with. I was dying to know. I was dying to hear him say the words.

“Fine,” I said, grabbing my jacket. “Let’s go.”

As David walked me back to his dorm room, my brain flipped into crisis mode. A million thoughts crowded my mind. I knew the conversation with Donny Burke’s mother, coupled with my Connecticut-California slip at our first lunch, definitely had got him thinking. But how had he found out my real name? And more important, was he the dealer? And if so, what was he going to do once he got me alone in his room? A couple of times I thought about bolting—making a run for it and calling my mother—but two things made me forgo this course of action.

First, at this point my curiosity was immeasurable. If David was the bad guy, I needed to know.

Second, if I ran off and called my mommy, I was going to feel like a big, fat baby.

David was silent all the way across the quad and up the stairs of the boys’ dorm. It gave me time to come up with a tactic for handling the situation. I was not going to grovel. I was not going to reveal a thing. I had to exercise some restraint and let David talk. Once I found out what he was after, I could proceed from there.

We walked into his room and he shut the door behind us. My heart was pounding with nervousness. From behind his dresser, David pulled out something that looked like a blunt sword attached to an electrical cord. It looked like some kind of medieval torture device. This was when I started to fret that my life might actually be in jeopardy.

Okay, you can take him, I told myself. You’re a martial arts expert, he’s a computer geek. You do the math.

David flicked a switch on the handle of the wand and walked over to me. My eyes widened and I clenched my hands into fists, readying myself for an assault. Then he thrust the implement in my direction. I was about to disarm him, but at the last second I realized he was going to miss my body by inches—which he did. Instead of impaling me with the device, David started running it around my body.

“What’re you doing?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“Checking for bugs,” David said matter-of-factly. He systematically checked my legs and arms, then ran the wand over my back.

I had to laugh. Why was I even remotely surprised that David had spy gear like this in his room?

“So, Kim Stratford, you did win the Connecticut State Karate Tournament in your weight division last year,” he said, laying the device aside finally and glaring into my eyes. “Your mother is the chief of police, right? So what, she found out about my exploits and she sent you here to spy on me?”

I said nothing. It sounded like David was on the verge of a revelation. If he was about to confess, I was just going to let him prattle on. The sooner we got this over with, the better. I could practically taste freedom from Hereford on my tongue.

“But you didn’t count on the fact that I was prepared, did you?” David continued. He walked over to his computer and smiled at me complacently. “You see, Kim, I have a system on my computer that tells me when anyone unauthorized has been using it.”

My heart fell. Of course. A guy as paranoid as David would definitely have some kind of anti-hack program on his computer. I knew it had been too easy.

“What is it?” I asked. “Do the keys recognize alien fingerprints or something?”

“Not quite,” he said. “I have a camera.”

He reached out and cupped a little ball on top of his computer screen. A little ball with a lens in it. He adjusted it until it was facing me and my nose appeared all huge and distorted on the monitor. I couldn’t believe I had been that negligent. The camera was sitting right there!

“You must not be that good at your job,” David said, echoing my thoughts. “All you had to do was tamper with the wire and I never would have known you were on here.”

“Great, thanks for the tip,” I said.

“When I overheard that woman asking you all about the county championships the other day, it got me to thinking about you and a couple of things you’ve said that didn’t add up, so I checked out the roster from last year’s competition,” David explained. “There was no Kim Sharpe, but there was a Kim Stratford. There was even a picture of you with your trophy on their website. You really should learn to cover your bases.”

I took a deep breath and looked away. I was not going to capitulate to this guy. Let him show off about how smart he was. Sooner or later he would get around to the good stuff.

“Of course, then I realized that you had tricked me into leaving you alone in here the other night, so I checked my tape and there you were, searching my files,” David continued, shaking his head as if to chasten me. He hit a couple of buttons on his computer and my ID photo from Stanford popped up on the screen. “Look what I found when I ran your real name!” he announced as if it was a big surprise. “You’re in the index of the freshman class at Stanford University. You’re not even in high school.”

Again, I said nothing, but the whole situation was galling. I had come to Hereford all cocky and arrogant and ready to save the world, and now here I was, trapped in a dorm room with a computer geek illustrating to me my every mistake. The gravity of the situation began to creep up on me. David had blown my cover. I had failed my mother. My presence here was now totally pointless.

“So, I know you found my list of customers,” David said, sitting down in his desk chair and crossing his arms over his chest. “What’re you going to do now, report me to Cox?”

I blinked. Didn’t he realize the situation was a little more serious than that? Still, I said nothing. Tad would have been so proud. I knew that David liked to talk and he loved to brag. My silence would most likely irk him into saying too much, which he hadn’t yet done. He had admitted to having customers, he’d admitted to having exploits, but he’d yet to come right out and say he was a drug dealer. I couldn’t leave this room without a confession or I was done for.

As predicted, David started to grow impatient with my silence. I could see him trying to temper his internal frustration, but eventually it got the best of him.

“You know, I don’t really think that I can be held liable for everything, here,” David said, standing. He started to pace the room and ramble, his hands tucked securely under his arms. “I mean, this problem was rampant way before I ever came here. I just took it over, you know? Why do I have to be the one to take the fall? And, God, it’s just a little innocent fun. What else do they expect us to do around here?”

“Innocent fun?” I blurted. “David, you’re hurting people!”

“How? Everyone here has more money than God!” David said, whirling on me. “If they want to gamble it away, isn’t that their business?”

I opened my mouth to retort, but the words caught in my throat. Wait a minute—gamble?

Suddenly I had a massive headache.

“You’re running a gambling ring,” I stated, my brain struggling to digest this new information. That was what the list of dollar amounts represented. Those people owed money for gambling, not drugs.

“We already know this,” David said impatiently. “What we don’t know is what you’re going to do about it.”

I wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved, angry or totally disappointed. Part of me was glad that David was innocent—of the drug dealing at least. But if it wasn’t him, that meant it had to be Jon or Marshall. And I really didn’t want it to be Jon. So that left Marshall. Marshall who I had seen exchanging money with David last week after the karate match. The karate match in which Marshall had lost.

Wait a second . . . .

“Marshall Cone is one of your clients, isn’t he?” I asked, sitting down on Chris’s bed.

“One of the biggest and best,” David said. “Where do you think he gets the money for all that crap he has in his room?”

Oh, God. If Marshall was buying all his stuff with his winnings then that really only left Jon. I was going to hurl.

Okay, focus, I told myself. This isn’t over yet. Marshall is still getting suspicious packages and sneaking out at night. He’s still in the running.

“So, what? Marshall bets against himself and then throws his matches?” I asked. It seemed logicalinsidious, but logical. Marshall could have totally taken the guy he’d gone up against last week and we all knew it. I had just thought he was having an off day, but if he’d done it for money then he was an even bigger jerk than I thought.

“What? No!” David said, repudiating my line of thought. “Are you kidding? Marshall’s too egotistical to throw his matches. Besides, I don’t take bets on high school events. Strictly pro sports and college football. All high-end.”

Suddenly David seemed to realize he was giving away too much and he snapped his mouth shut. I stood up slowly, feeling as if I was drowning in a whole new quagmire of issues. David wasn’t the drug dealer—that much I knew. But he was participating in illegal gambling. It wasn’t as abominable, but it still was wrong. And technically I was an officer of the law. What was I supposed to do now?

“Look, I already deleted the evidence and I’ll deny everything I’ve just said,” David told me. “You don’t have a recording and it’ll be your word against mine.”

“I’m not going to report you,” I told him, making an extemporaneous decision. I still liked David. And I liked him even more now that I knew he wasn’t the source of the drug problem. I was disinclined to get him into trouble for something as innocuous as gambling on football games. Especially considering that I myself was in on my floor’s NFL pool back at Stanford all semester.

David’s entire face lit up and his hands dropped to his sides. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously,” I said. After all, I had not been sent there to dispose of a gambling ring. I’d been sent here to investigate a drug problem, and now I was one step closer to doing just that. David had been exonerated, and I was down to two suspects.

“Just don’t tell anyone who I really am, all right?”

David nodded slowly, mulling the facts over in his mind. I was sure that he was figuring out that I hadn’t actually been sent here to stop him. And that if I was still going to stay and keep my cover, I had to be here for some other reason. All I could do was hope that I could trust him. He was either going to keep my secret, or by this time tomorrow everyone at the school would know that I wasn’t who I said I was.

“Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

I was halfway down the hall when David stuck his head out of his room. “Hey, Kim?” he called out. I turned around and he smiled his infectious smile. “Thanks,” he said.

“No problem,” I replied, smiling as well.

Then I sighed and headed back to my room. One down, two to go.

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