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For about the hundredth time, Corey counted the small stack of crumpled bills. “Forty-six . . . forty-seven . . . forty-eight,” he muttered to himself. “Forty-eight dollars. Not bad. Just wish it was mine.”
He could really use the money. With forty-eight dollars he could buy a video game, go to the batting cages, and still have some left to put toward that new electronic tablet he had his eye on, the Quark Pad. To buy one of those, he’d only have to save up for about . . . a million years.
He sighed. Unfortunately, even though he was holding all that cash right in his hands, it wasn’t his. He stuck it in his pocket, so he’d stop staring at it. But he still kept thinking about it. “Forty-eight dollars . . .”
Corey closed his locker door and jogged to homeroom. He didn’t want to be late. At Woodlands Junior High, Principal Inverno and all the teachers constantly stressed how important it was to be on time. And the basketball coach liked him to run as much as possible.
Besides, he really liked homeroom. His teacher, Mrs. Ramirez, was nice. And today was special. Not just an ordinary Monday toward the end of the school year.
As he hurried into the classroom, Jacob Ritter came up alongside him. Jacob was supercompetitive. From blowing bubble-gum bubbles to throwing free throws, Jacob always wanted to be the best. “So,” he asked, “what’s your final total?”
Smiling proudly, Corey answered, “Forty-eight.”
Jacob snorted and shook his head. “Too bad.”
“Too bad?” Corey asked. “I thought forty-eight was pretty good.”
“I guess,” Jacob said, shrugging. He slung his backpack off his shoulder and slid slowly into a seat. His bag hit the floor. Thump.
“Why?” Corey asked, sitting down next to him. “How much did you raise?”
Jacob grinned. Clearly, this was exactly the question he’d wanted Corey to ask him. He leaned back in his seat and put his hands behind his head. “My final total was a hundred and forty-four.”
“A hundred and forty-four bucks?!” Corey exclaimed.
“That’s right,” Jacob said, nodding slowly. “A hundred and forty-four dollah, dollah bills, y’all. I’ll bet that’s the most anyone collected!”
“Well, that’s . . . really good,” Corey admitted. He wished he could say something funny to take Jacob down a notch or two, but he couldn’t think of anything offhand. If only his best friends, Ben and Hannah, were there. He always felt more clever when they were around.
The three friends had known one another since they’d entered kindergarten in their small Nevada town, but in seventh grade they’d ended up in separate homerooms. Luckily, they still had several classes together, including their favorite, forensic science with Miss Hodges. They liked that class so much, they’d even started their own extracurricular organization, Club CSI.
Corey was proud that as a member of Club CSI, he’d helped solve the mystery of why the cafeteria’s meatless meat loaf had made several people sick. The principal of the school had even congratulated Club CSI on a job well done. If Corey helped solve more crimes, he thought, maybe someday the mayor would shake his hand and give him a medal. Or even the president . . .
The bell then rang, ending Corey’s daydream. Mrs. Ramirez, a short woman with brown hair and glasses, got right down to business. “Good morning, class,” she said cheerfully. “Today we’re going to start by finding out how much you’ve all collected from selling magazine subscriptions.”
A small cheer went up among the students. They knew Mrs. Ramirez would let them goof around a little in homeroom. But just a little.
“I’m hoping, as I’m sure you all are, that you’ve brought in enough money to pay this class’s share of our trip to Washington, DC,” Mrs. Ramirez said, smiling. “All right. Please bring up your money to me one at a time.”
A black-haired girl named Jean popped up out of her seat in the first row and hurried up to Mrs. Ramirez’s desk. Jean liked to be first. She was big on getting things over with.
“Here’s mine, Mrs. Ramirez,” she said a little nervously. “I really tried to sell as many subscriptions as I could.” She handed a slim stack of bills to the teacher.
As Mrs. Ramirez thumbed the bills onto her desk one by one, she counted out loud. “Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven. Thirty-seven dollars. Good job, Jean.”
Jean grinned, relieved. She’d worried that she hadn’t sold enough magazine subscriptions. It wasn’t easy. Nowadays it seemed as though everybody just read magazine articles online for free.
“Who can tell me something interesting about the number thirty-seven?” Mrs. Ramirez asked the class. Mrs. Ramirez was a math teacher, and she never missed a chance to mix a little math into her homeroom class.
Everyone looked stumped. Corey raised his hand tentatively. “It used to be Ron Artest’s number?”
Now it was Mrs. Ramirez’s turn to look stumped. “And who, exactly, is Ron Artest?”
“A basketball player,” Corey explained. “For the Lakers.”
“Except now he wants people to call him Metta World Peace,” another boy, Victor, added.
“I will never get used to that,” Corey said. “It’d be really hard to go to a game and yell, ‘Go, Metta World Peace!’”
“What have you got against world peace?” Victor asked, grinning.
Mrs. Ramirez felt they were seriously getting off the topic at hand. “Thirty-seven,” she announced, “is a prime number. Which means . . . ?”
“A number bigger than one that can be evenly divided only by one and itself,” answered Emma Welch. She was really good at math.
“That’s right!” said Mrs. Ramirez. “Next?”
A kid named Lukas gave Mrs. Ramirez the money he’d collected. Again, she counted it out loud, announcing the total: “Fifty-four dollars. Quick, is fifty-four divisible by three?”
“Yes,” several kids said.
“How do you know?” Mrs. Ramirez asked.
Corey actually knew this one. He raised his hand, and Mrs. Ramirez called on him. “Because five plus four equals nine, and nine is divisible by three, so fifty-four is too,” he explained.
“Very good!” Mrs. Ramirez said. Corey couldn’t help but look proud.
The next student brought up twenty-eight dollars. “And what’s special about the number twenty-eight?” the homeroom teacher asked.
The students thought about the number twenty-eight. Divisible by four. Divisible by seven. And two. And fourteen. But was that special?
“My birthday is on the twenty-eighth!” said Mrs. Ramirez, laughing. “So I’m always happy when I see the number twenty-eight!”
After Mrs. Ramirez counted each student’s money, she wrote the amount on an envelope, along with the day’s date. Then she put the money in the envelope and handed it back to the student. She also wrote each student’s total on a separate piece of paper so she could add it up at the end. She liked her students to see her doing math by hand instead of using a calculator.
Each student would then open the metal box on Mrs. Ramirez’s desk and place his or her envelope in the box. The money in the box would be kept safe by a combination padlock.
Jacob held back until all the other students had turned in their money. He was pretty sure he’d sold the most magazine subscriptions, and he wanted his contribution to be the triumphant finale. Each time Mrs. Ramirez announced a student’s total, Jacob listened carefully to make sure it wasn’t higher than his. And in every case, it wasn’t. Sweet. The morning was going exactly as Jacob had imagined it.
“Is that everyone?” Mrs. Ramirez asked.
“No, Mrs. Ramirez,” Jacob said, getting to his feet. “I’ve still got mine.”
He strolled to her desk, savoring the moment. As she counted the fat pile of bills, the other students murmured in appreciation at the impressive total. “One hundred and forty-four dollars! Very well done, Jacob!” Mrs. Ramirez said. “That’s the highest total yet!”
Jacob smiled and nodded. “Well,” he said, “it’s not so tough when you’re a highly skilled salesman.”
Mrs. Ramirez handed Jacob his envelope. As he was putting it in the metal box, she asked, “Can you tell me the square root of one hundred and forty-four?”
Jacob frowned. “The square root? Um, let’s see . . .”
“Twelve!” Emma quickly blurted out. She knew Mrs. Ramirez was asking Jacob, but she just couldn’t help herself.
“I was asking Jacob, Emma, but yes, twelve is the square root of one hundred and forty-four,” Mrs. Ramirez said. “One hundred and forty-four is also known as a gross—twelve times twelve.”
“Jacob’s total is gross,” Victor said. The class laughed.
Corey wished he’d said that.
“So,” Mrs. Ramirez said, adding up columns of numbers and writing with a pencil, “that brings our grand total to . . . one thousand two hundred and eighty-six dollars! Just two hundred and fourteen dollars short of our fifteen-hundred-dollar goal!”
Everyone cheered. “Washington, here we come!” Jean said.
“I’m sure we’ll be able to raise the rest of the money with our bake sale in two weeks,” Mrs. Ramirez added. She closed the padlock on the metal box, put the box in her desk drawer, and locked the drawer.
“Wow, one thousand two hundred and eighty-six dollars,” Corey murmured. “With that much money, I could buy two Quark Pads. . . .”
“Dream on,” Victor said.
“Thanks,” Corey answered. “I will.”
Hannah plopped down into a seat next to Corey and Ben. She just smiled at them for a moment, enjoying knowing something they didn’t know yet.
“Well?” Corey asked.
“What’d you find out?” Ben asked, leaning forward.
“At first I tried just keeping my eyes peeled for new stuff, but that didn’t really work,” she said. “The kids in this school buy a ton of new stuff.”
“We were actually just talking about that,” Corey said, nodding.
“So instead of just walking through the halls and classrooms trying to spot someone with something expensive, I started asking around,” she continued.
Ben suspected it was easier for a girl to “ask around” than it was for a guy, but he didn’t say anything.
“Can I have one of your chips?” Hannah asked Corey.
“Yeah,” he said. “One.”
She took a chip and crunched it. “So I found out that there’s this eighth grader named Brittney who just got one of those Quark Pads.”
Ben looked doubtful. “A lot of kids have those.”
“Yeah, pretty much everyone except me,” Corey complained.
“But listen to how she got it,” Hannah said, sneaking one of Corey’s chips. “It was given to her as a gift by this eighth-grade boy who likes her named Greg Marshall.”
Corey whistled. “Wow, that’s a nice gift. He must really like her.”
“Yeah, it’s such a nice gift that Brittney’s mom wouldn’t let her keep it,” Hannah said.
“Wait,” Corey said. “So she had to give it back? I’ll take it!”
“When Brittney tried to give the Quark Pad back to Greg, he said, ‘You have no idea what I went through to get that for you!’” Hannah went on, relishing this part of the story.
“He said that? An eighth grader?” Ben asked, hanging on every word.
“Yep,” she said. “And then he ran off without taking back the Quark Pad.”
All three of them thought about this story. It was very interesting. “I think maybe we should talk to Brittney,” Ben said.
“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Hannah said. “She’s eating lunch right over there.”
Hannah pointed at a pretty, red-haired girl sitting a few tables away. Ben got up right away and started walking over to her. Corey and Hannah followed close behind him.
When he reached the table, Brittney looked up curiously. “Yes?”
Now that he was face-to-face with this eighth-grade girl, Ben wasn’t sure what to say. He turned to Hannah and let her take over.
“Hi,” Hannah said. “My name’s Hannah. You’re Brittney, right?”
The girl nodded. Hannah asked her if the story about Greg Marshall and the Quark Pad was true.
Brittney looked embarrassed. “I can’t believe everyone’s talking about this. I do not want to be Greg Marshall’s girlfriend. He’s just a big, weird guy.”
“Do you still have the Quark Pad?” Corey asked.
“Yeah,” Brittney said. “He wouldn’t take it back. But my mom doesn’t want me to keep it. I’m not sure what to do with it.”
“May we borrow it for a little while?” Ben asked.
Brittney looked confused. “What for?”
Hannah explained that they were Club CSI and that they thought the Quark Pad might be an important clue in an investigation. Shrugging, Brittney handed the Quark Pad to Hannah. Ben stopped Hannah before she took it.
“Careful,” he said. “Try to handle it by the edges.”
“I’ll do better than that,” Hannah said. She took rubber gloves out of her backpack, put them on, and took the Quark Pad.
“To the laboratory!” Corey said. “I’ve always wanted to say that.”
The three friends quickly borrowed the materials they needed from Miss Hodges. Then they started working on getting fingerprints from the Quark Pad.
“There are fingerprints all over it!” Corey said.
“Yeah,” Ben said as he carefully applied powder. “The glass surface is perfect for fingerprints.”
“A lot of these fingerprints are probably going to be Brittney’s,” Hannah observed.
“True, but I’m hoping Greg Marshall’s are still on here too,” Ben said.
It didn’t take them long to find a set of fingerprints that matched the Mystery Print they found on the box the money was stolen from.
“That’s it!” Corey said. “If these are Greg’s fingerprints, then he must be the thief!”
“Well, it’s not definite,” Ben said cautiously. “There could be another explanation. But it does seem pretty likely.”
“What do we do next?” Hannah asked. “We can’t just walk up to Greg Marshall and say, ‘Um, excuse me, but did you happen to steal a hundred dollars from the locked box in Mrs. Ramirez’s homeroom?’”
“Didn’t Brittney say Greg is big?” Corey asked.
“And weird,” Ben added.
“And an eighth grader,” Hannah said.
They sat there for a minute, thinking. It didn’t sound like it would be much fun to accuse some big, weird, older guy of stealing money.
“Maybe we should just pass this information along to Miss Hodges or Principal Inverno and let them handle it,” Ben suggested.
“But then Club CSI wouldn’t get credit for catching the thief,” Corey protested.
“Besides,” Hannah said, “I don’t think this counts as proof that Greg stole the money. I think we need more information.”
“From where?” Corey asked.
“From Greg,” Hannah said.
They were quiet again, trying to decide what to do now.
“So we’re right back to confronting a big, weird eighth grader,” Corey said gloomily.
“At least there’ll be three of us,” Ben pointed out. “And we could try to talk to him someplace where there are a lot of other people around.”
“You know, we don’t even know what this guy looks like,” Corey said. “I’m picturing something kind of like a cross between Frankenstein and Napoleon Dynamite.”
“Okay,” Hannah said. “Let’s do it tomorrow. First thing in the morning, I’ll try to find Brittney and ask her to point out Greg Marshall to me. Then we’ll decide on the best time and place to talk to him—together.”
“Sounds good,” Ben agreed.
Corey nodded. “Great. I just have one question.”
“What?” Hannah asked.
Corey picked up the Quark Pad. “Do you think I’ll get to keep this?”
Smiling, Hannah took the tablet back and put it in her backpack.
“Is that a yes?” Corey asked.
Posted December 19, 2013
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