Bound for Danger
1 A CAPELLA DREAMS FRANK
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A dream?
A dream that was worth risking it all? Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations? Facing your fears?
I had that dream. But I’d only recently discovered it.
Three weeks ago, I joined the Bayport High B-Sharps, an a cappella singing group. That’s right. A cappella. I know most people picture dorky guys in cardigans singing yet another goofy version of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” but the B-Sharps aren’t like that. For one thing, we don’t wear cardigans. For another, our captain, Max Crandal, has a strict “no Billy Joel” policy. (It’s not that we have anything against Billy Joel, personally. It’s just the cliché of the thing.)
And so here I was, heart pounding in my chest, sweaty fists clenched in my pockets. I was about to make my debut with the B-Sharps, performing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” at a freshman antibullying assembly. I wasn’t totally sure what the connection was, topic-wise. All I knew was that I had a solo: In the village, the peaceful village, the lion . . .
“How are you doing, Frank?” Max walked up to me and patted me on the back. We were in the wings of the stage, waiting for the Bayport High Improv Group to finish up a sketch, and then we were up.
“I’m good, I’m totally good,” I lied. The truth was I was freaking out, but I was determined to conquer my fears.
“You really killed it in rehearsal yesterday,” Max said with a sincere smile. “I’m sure you’ll do great.”
I smiled back and thanked him. Max is a stand-up guy, a great captain. He was part of why I was enjoying my time with the B-Sharps so much.
I turned back to the sketch that was wrapping up onstage. The girl playing the person being bullied was being very open and honest about how the bullying made her feel, and the bully was talking about how problems at home were making her act out. My palms started sweating even harder. Oh God, we’re up in, like, one . . .
I turned around, surprised. I’d been so focused on the skit that I hadn’t noticed someone walking up behind me. Now I looked down at Seth Diller, Bayport High’s own amateur
filmmaker, president of the school’s AV club, and a vague acquaintance.
“Principal Gerther wants to see you,” he said, flashing an official pink request form. When you got one of those, you had to report to the office immediately.
“What does Principal Gerther want?” I asked. It still felt a little weird to refer to him that way. For most of my high school career, he’d been the low-level coach who oversaw study hall. But then my brother Joe and I had found the acting principal to be involved in some pretty serious shenanigans, and Gerther was promoted.
Seth shrugged. “It’s not my job to ask why,” he said, waving the form. “It’s my job to come and get you, okay? I’m just a messenger.”
The skit was finishing up now.
“Can it wait five minutes? I have a part in the next song.” I gestured around to my a cappella amigos.
Seth shook his head. “If you look at the form,” he said in an annoyed tone, tapping an X on the pink paper, “it says right here, ‘VERY URGENT.’ That means no waiting, no bathroom breaks, no stopping at your locker. We need to go now.”
I glanced back at Seth. “But . . .”
Max stepped forward. The skit had ended and the improv kids were shuffling backstage. “It’s all right, Frank,” he said. “Whatever Gerther needs you for, it must be important. Go ahead, we can cover for you.”
I sighed, hesitating. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to kill it during my solo!
Seth waved the form at me again. “Gerther said if we’re not back in ten minutes, we both get detention,” he said. “I don’t know what this is about, but it must be serious.”
Great, I thought. “All right, all right,” I said, beckoning in front of me. “Lead the way, Seth. I’m sorry, Max.”
“No worries.” Max shook his head like I shouldn’t give it another thought. He really is the nicest guy. “I just hope it all works out.”
With a wave to the others, I scurried off to follow Seth, who was already halfway down the aisle to the auditorium entrance. He didn’t slow down when he saw I was following him, and I ended up practically running after him the whole way to the office.
Where I found my brother, Joe, waiting. He cocked his eyebrows in surprise when he saw me. Hmmmm. If Joe and I were both being called in, that narrowed down the possible topics. To one.
Joe and I aren’t perfect students, but we’re not the types to get urgently called into the principal’s office that often either. And if Gerther wanted to talk to the two of us together, it pretty much had to be about our sleuthing hobby.
“What do you think this is about?” Joe whispered to me when I sat down in a hard plastic chair beside him. Seth dropped off the URGENT pink form with the receptionist, then disappeared into the mailroom.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “We haven’t worked a case in a few weeks.”
Before we could theorize much further, Principal Gerther’s door opened and he nodded at us, shouting, “HARDY BOYS? GOOD. COME IN, PLEASE!”
Principal Gerther lost something like 80 percent of his hearing fighting in Vietnam. He yells everything, and doesn’t quite understand when people don’t yell back.
Joe and I stood and wandered into his office.
“HAVE A SEAT,” he barked, settling into his fancy office chair. As Joe and I sat, I noticed that Gerther had pulled out our encyclopedia-size permanent files, and they were sitting on his desk in front of him.
“SO,” said Joe, smiling a friendly smile, and affecting the 50 percent volume increase necessary to communicate with our principal. “IS EVERYTHING OKAY? FRANK AND I WERE A BIT SURPRISED TO BE CALLED IN TODAY.”
Principal Gerther nodded impatiently. “YES, SURE. EVERYTHING IS FINE, BOYS, BUT I’VE BEEN LOOKING OVER YOUR TRANSCRIPTS.” He gestured to the huge files in front of him. “I COULDN’T HELP NOTING THAT THERE’S A LACK OF EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES.”
I looked at Joe in surprise. What?
Coach Gerther pointed a chubby finger at us. “YOU’RE GOING TO BE APPLYING TO COLLEGE SOON,”
he said, “OR AT LEAST FRANK WILL. YOU MUST KNOW HOW COMPETITIVE IT IS NOW. RESPECTABLE GRADES AREN’T ENOUGH TO GET INTO THE TOP SCHOOLS!”
Joe and I frowned at each other. “I know that,” I began, “but, ah . . .”
“SPEAK UP, BOY!”
“I PLAY BASEBALL!” Joe shouted. “IN THE SPRING! WE’RE BOTH INVOLVED IN THE GREEN ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION CLUB. AND BESIDES THAT, OUR TIME IS KIND OF TAKEN UP WITH . . . UM . . .”
“EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES,” I put in, “THAT ARE SORT OF . . . WELL . . . OFF THE BOOKS?”
Sleuthing, I tried to tell Principal Gerther telepathically. I wasn’t sure how much he knew about our continuing detective work or how he felt about it, so I didn’t want to bring it up before he did.
But he was waving his hand dismissively. “THOSE AREN’T ENOUGH,” he said.
Suddenly I remembered something that made me sort of righteously indignant. Somehow this led to me raising my hand.
“YES?” Gerther asked, looking a tad annoyed.
“I JOINED THE B-SHARPS A CAPPELLA GROUP!” I shouted defensively. “AND WE WERE JUST
GOING TO HAVE OUR FIRST CONCERT WHEN I GOT CALLED OUT TO COME HERE!”
Principal Gerther looked at me like he smelled something bad. “A CAPPELLA?” he yelled. “THOSE BOYS IN CARDIGANS WHO SING THE FOUR SEASONS SONGS? NO.” He looked down at a piece of paper on his desk and shoved it across to us. “I’M TALKING ABOUT REAL EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES, BOYS. I’VE TAKEN THE LIBERTY OF SIGNING YOU BOTH UP FOR THE VARSITY BASKETBALL TEAM.”
Wha . . .? I glanced at Joe. Is he serious?
Joe looked as startled as I felt. “UM,” he said, looking down at the paper, which looked like a practice schedule. The first practice was this afternoon. “THANK YOU? BUT DON’T YOU HAVE TO TRY OUT FOR BASKETBALL? ISN’T THEIR SEASON, LIKE, NEARLY OVER? AND I HAVE PLANS THIS AFTERNOON, WITH MY GIRLFRIEND.”
That’s when I remembered, the basketball team was actually doing really well this season. According to the morning announcements, they were only two games away from being regional champions, and then they would go to the state championships.
Great, I thought. So Joe and I will be diving right into the fire.
Gerther shook his head dismissively. “NORMALLY
YOU WOULD HAVE TO TRY OUT, BUT I’VE MADE AN ARRANGEMENT WITH COACH PEROTTA,” he said. “YOU BOYS JUST SHOW UP AT PRACTICE TODAY. I’M SORRY, JOE, BUT YOU CAN SEE YOUR GIRLFRIEND SOME OTHER TIME. I KNOW, JOE, THAT YOU’RE A TALENTED ATHLETE. AND FRANK . . .” He paused and turned to look at me. “I’M SURE YOU WILL CATCH ON.”
“WHAT ABOUT THE B-SHARPS?” I demanded. What about my dream? I thought.
Principal Gerther shrugged. “IF YOU CAN HANDLE BOTH, FINE,” he said. “BUT IF NOT, BASKETBALL COMES FIRST. I INSIST.”
I pulled my mouth into a tight line, biting back any argument. I knew Principal Gerther. I knew he wasn’t going to change his mind. Joe shot me a sympathetic look.
Principal Gerther settled back in his chair. “IF WE UNDERSTAND ONE ANOTHER,” he said, “YOU BOYS CAN LEAVE. I BELIEVE IT’S YOUR LUNCHTIME. GO ON AND HEAD TO THE CAFETERIA.”
I looked behind us at the clock over the doorway. Gerther was right—the assembly would have ended five minutes earlier. My chance at stardom had been dashed. I would have to bury my disappointment in a turkey sandwich.
“AH, OKAY,” said Joe, standing slowly, like he expected Gerther to explain more at any moment. “THANK YOU?”
barked Principal Gerther, gathering up the loose files on his desk. It was clear the meeting was over.
• • •
“This is just freakin’ weird,” Joe muttered, poking his plastic fork into a row of peas. “I’m really sorry, Marianne.”
Joe’s girlfriend of two weeks, Marianne Sugarman, shrugged and took a sip of coconut water. Marianne was New Agey and a little ethereal, and I honestly had no idea what she and Joe had in common. She was nice, though.
“It’s okay,” she said in her melodic voice. “I wish we could hang out, but I get it. It’s not like you can say no to Principal Gerther.”
“I just don’t get why he needs us to play basketball,” Joe muttered, suddenly squishing the pile of peas under the flat side of his fork.
I knew he was upset then. Joe is protective of his peas.
“Maybe it’s just what he said,” Marianne suggested with a shrug. “He’s worried about your transcripts and wants you to have a better shot with colleges. That’s nice of him, right?”
Joe shot me a look that said, There is no way Principal Gerther would do something nice for us, and we both know it.
“There has to be some reason behind it,” I said mildly. “And I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”