The music hall. 4:15 PM.
“I think Angie’s having a nervous breakdown,” Virginia declared. She and Benny were sitting on the floor outside Mr. Choi’s office. The halls were empty and quiet. “She seemed, like, disconnected from reality.”
“I can’t believe she even came to school,” Benny said. He checked his watch. It was 4:15, and nobody had entered or exited Mr. Choi’s office. He was starting to feel like they were wasting their time.
“So, um, I got you something,” Virginia said, rummaging around in her bag. She handed Benny a small velvet box. Benny examined it warily.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Just open it.”
He snapped open the box. Inside was a silver ring. He turned the ring over in his palm, and saw that it the ring comprised of a pair of dials, one engraved with letters and the other engraved with numbers. “It’s a decoder ring,” he said, impressed. “Wow, thank you.”
“I got us both one,” she said, holding up a second ring. “For writing messages. You’re always complaining about the notes I leave on your locker, so….” her voice trailed off, and Benny saw that her cheeks were flushing bright red.
“You need to learn to control that,” he said.
“Control what?” Virginia muttered, turning her face away.
“Your cheeks. If you want to be a great detective, no one should ever be able to tell what you’re thinking.”
“Oh yeah?” Virginia snapped, looking at him suddenly. “What am I thinking?”
Now Benny was the one blushing. “I…I don’t know. I’m just saying…” He stared down at the decoder ring, pretending to be fascinated by the dials. He could sense that Virginia was glaring at him. Seconds passed, stretched out by the silence between them.
“Are you guys waiting for Mr. Choi?”
Benny and Virginia looked up. It was Marty Sandberg, dragging his giant standup bass.
“Hey Marty!” Benny said eagerly, relieved to escape Virginia’s glaring eyes. “Yeah, do you know where he is?”
“No. He’s not here. I’ve been dragging this bass around for half an hour trying to find him.”
“Couldn’t you just put the bass down?” Virginia asked. Next to her, Benny rolled his eyes. Why did Virginia have to harp on everyone all the time?
“No,” Marty said. “It might get stolen. Right, Benny? ”
Benny nodded weakly. Usually he enjoyed being reminded of the Case of the Stolen French Horn, but today it made him feel slightly ill. He’d dived into this mascot case without really thinking, and he was starting to feel in over his head. He’d been so excited about the chance to solve another mystery that he hadn’t really paused to digest the fact that this one involved a dead body. Stolen musical instruments seemed pretty childish in comparison.
The parking lot. 5:01 PM.
Virginia dropped some change into the Coke machine and pulled out a Dr. Pepper. “They’re replacing this with a juice machine next semester,” she said. “Which is stupid, because juice has just as much sugar as soda. It’s like the biggest impostor of healthy beverages.”
Benny was standing behind a tree, peeking his head out to scan the parking lot for Mr. Choi’s blue Honda.
“Did you know that?” Virginia asked, crossing towards him. “About juice having just as much sugar as soda? It’s like, you may as well drink a soda. Are you even listening to me?”
“Hm? Yeah, I’m listening….”
“Well what did I just say, then?”
Benny pointed suddenly. “Look, there it is!”
“Mr. Choi’s car. Way over there.”
Virginia looked where Benny was pointing. Sure enough, there was Mr. Choi’s dented blue Honda. Benny got out his phone and started dialing a number.
“Who are you calling?” Virginia asked.
“My mom. I have to tell her I’ll be late for dinner.”
“Why, are we going somewhere?”
“We should stay here until Mr. Choi shows up.”
“A stakeout!” Virginia cried excitedly.
Benny had sauntered off and was arguing with his mother on the phone. “Mom, it’s for Mystery Club… I can’t, I’m the president… I have barely any homework… Mom, please?”
Virginia dug a pair of sunglasses out of her bag, prepared to wait a while. She’d grown used to overhearing this weird ritual between Benny and his mother. It wasn’t very suspenseful—Mrs. Flax always let Benny do what he wanted in the end. But she always made him fight for it first. Maybe that’s the difference between Benny and everyone else, Virginia thought. He’s been trained to have convictions.
She looked up from her Dr. Pepper, and noticed a girl walking toward the parking lot. She immediately recognized the lithe frame and billowing blonde hair: it was Angie Carnegie. Quickly, she ducked behind the tree and motioned frantically for Benny to hang up the phone.
“Hm? Mom, I have to go. I love you, bye.” He snapped the phone shut. “Virginia, what?”
“It’s Angie!” She hissed, pointing across the parking lot. “I don’t think she saw me.” They watched Angie striding between the cars, heading towards her silver Lexus. Her gait was graceful and quick.
“She doesn’t seem very drugged out to me,” Benny said. “I thought you said she was, like, a wreck.”
“Well maybe the drugs wore off…” Virginia answered unsurely. Angie seemed very crisp and put-together for someone who had been on drugs and sobbing in the girls’ room mere hours earlier.
“Is that how drugs work?” Benny asked. “One minute you’re a wreck, the next you’re fine?”
“She changed her shoes,” Virginia observed. “When I saw her, she had these ludicrous high heels. Wait, look.” She pointed to the Lexus. “There’s someone waiting for her in the passenger seat.”
Benny squinted. A thick white cloud reflected on the windshield, making it hard to see. “I can’t tell.”
“Here, look,” Virginia took off her sunglasses and placed them awkwardly on Benny’s face. Her fingers brushed against his temple as he straightened them on his nose. “They have polarizing lenses,” she explained.
Benny peered at the Lexus.
“You look cool in sunglasses,” Virginia said.
“Everyone looks cool in sunglasses.”
Virginia shrugged. “I guess so…”
“Wait a second. That’s…whoa.”
“What? Let me see!” Virginia snatched the sunglasses off Benny’s face and put them on. She looked back to the Lexus. Overhead, the thick white cloud passed, reducing the glare on the windshield. Now Virginia could clearly see a blond girl slumped in the passenger seat, seeming barely conscious. At that moment, Angie reached the car and jumped in the driver’s side. She gave a quick glance to the knocked-out girl beside her, and then turned on the ignition.
“It’s…it’s both of them,” Benny was saying.
Virginia felt a surge of excitement as the sight of both twins in the car confirmed her vague suspicion.
Someone else was in the mascot suit that night, Virginia thought. That was no cheerleader. ♦
To be continued…