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an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

Chapter Thirteen

Part 1

“Why are we following David Rand?” Jon whispered in the darkness as we trudged across the barren soccer field in David’s footsteps.

“I can’t tell you that right now,” I replied.

“But you’ll tell me eventually,” Jon said.

“Uh . . . yeah.” “That’s all I wanted to know.”

All I wanted to know was where the heck David was headed. I felt like we’d been chasing after him for miles. If we walked much farther I was sure we were going to hit the fence that circumscribed the campus. My breath came in short bursts and I appreciated Jon’s reassuring presence. Not to mention his scanty use of words. He was the perfect stakeout partner. Except that he didn’t know this was a stakeout.

Suddenly, the indistinct outline of a building loomed in the distance. The appearance was so unexpected that I slowed my steps. What had the Hereford people built way out here?

“He’s going into the old stables,” Jon said, his mouth deliciously close to my ear.

“The old stables? Does anyone ever come out here?” I asked, picking up the pace again.

“Not that I know of,” Jon replied. “I used to when I first got here. To be alone.”

When David opened the large door at the front of the building, a shaft of dim light appeared, then died as the door closed. I made to follow, but Jon stopped me with a hand on my arm.

“You don’t want him to see you?” he whispered.

I shook my head.

“Follow me,” Jon said.

He led me around the back of the dilapidated building to an old, rickety ladder that leaned against the edifice. In the darkness, it seemed to climb into nothing.

“I am not going up there,” I hissed. The rungs were covered in snow and the thing didn’t look all that sturdy.

“Trust me?” Jon asked.

For some reason the question made my heart warm. “Yeah,” I said honestly.

“Then let’s go. I’ll be right behind you.”

I took a deep breath, held it and started to climb. My mother would have killed me if she saw how reckless I was being. But I was way too caught up in the cloak-and-dagger of it all to back out now. Had David merely constructed the gambling story to dissuade me from pursuing him as a suspect? If so, I had fallen for it—hard. I had to know.

The ladder was surprisingly strong and steady and ended at a large, square aperture in the wall that provided access to an upper loft. It looked as if a door had been ripped free from its hinges, and the edges of it were rife with splinters. I hesitated for a split second and then heard the sound of voices coming from inside. David wasn’t alone.

“I’m going in,” I said, and crawled through the opening.

The building was so old and out of use that I was afraid the floor might have eroded by now, but the boards beneath my feet were solid. A few feet ahead, the loft opened up onto the rest of the stable, which would give me an aerial view of whatever was happening below. I could practically taste my own curiosity on my tongue. Hay was scattered here and there, and I could tell that if I walked too heavily my steps would be heard for miles. It was essential that I not call attention to myself. I dropped to the ground and shimmied toward the light that was emanating from below.

In a few agonizingly long seconds, I was able to peek over the edge of the loft. There was David, standing in the middle of the stable, which was illuminated by the light from a single bulb overhead. He was talking to someone, but whoever it was must’ve been standing just under me, out of view. From my angle, I couldn’t ascertain who it was.

“. . . I’m telling you, you have to get out of here,” David was saying, clearly distressed. “She’s an undercover cop. Her name isn’t even Kim Sharpe.”

Jon looked at me with this confounded expression. Like, you’re a what?

I just looked at him and shrugged in a helpless, apologetic way. What was I going to do, explain right then and there? Meanwhile I was berating myself for being so careless. I should’ve had David taken right out of school the second he figured out who I was. But how was I supposed to know that he was all buddy-buddy with the drug dealer? I’d thought running a gambling ring was his only crime.

“And if what I heard on the scanner is right, they’ve got a whole army of cops coming to take you away,” David continued.

But who was he talking to?

Speak up, already!

“That can’t be right. Kim? But she’s so . . . cloying.”

At the sound of that voice I felt as if I had been punched directly in the stomach. All the wind was knocked right out of me as a million thoughts crowded my brain.

Danielle? How could it be Danielle? She was so benign, so artless. I had thought she was all innocent and sweet and so like Corinne—I had even been spurred into action by the thought of protecting her. How could I be so gullible?

But the answer was obvious. No one would have ever ascribed the crime to a nonentity like Danielle. She was anathema at this school. How could she be the notorious drug dealer when no one even wanted to talk to her? I realized at that moment that her entire personality was contrived. I didn’t even really know who she was.

And did she really think I was cloying? That seemed totally unfair.

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