10:00 tonight at the water tower. Tell no one. -Chaos Club
When Max receives a mysterious invite from the untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, he has to ask: why him? After all, he's Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life. He's Just Max. And his favorite heist movies have taught him this situation calls for Rule #4: Be suspicious. But it's also his one shot to leave Just Max in the dust...
Yeah, not so much. Max and four fellow students-who also received invites-are standing on the newly defaced water tower when campus security "catches" them. Definitely a setup. And this time, Max has had enough. It's time for Rule #7: Always get payback.
Let the prank war begin.
Oceans 11 meets The Breakfast Club in this entertaining, fast-paced debut filled with pranks and cons that will keep readers on their toes, never sure who's pulling the strings or what's coming next.
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Don't Get Caught
By Kurt Dinan
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Kurt Dinan
All rights reserved.
Rule #1 in any quality heist film is Don't get caught.
So I'm quiet as I slip out my bedroom window, cross the roof in the cool darkness, and drop from the garage onto the wet grass. Overhead, my parents' lights may be off for the night, but this is a terrible idea any way you look at it. It's stupid, irresponsible, and borderline suicidal. But I'm going anyway.
Blame every movie hero I idolize, blame Tami Cantor, blame Mr. Watson's stupid classroom banner. Blame whomever and whatever you want. This is poor decision making at its finest. But I'm still going.
I stay to the sidewalks because lurking in shadows would only make me look suspicious. In the shadows, I'm a potential burglar, but on the sidewalk, I'm just another sixteen-year-old kid out for a walk — "on my way to a friend's house, Officer" if I get stopped by the cops.
It's Heist Rule #2: Be cool.
Like, bank vault combination changed at the last minute? Be cool.
Someone on your crew double-crosses you? Be cool.
Security guards show up unexpectedly? Be cool.
It works for Vin Diesel stealing cars in The Fast and the Furious. It works for George Clooney robbing casinos in Ocean's Eleven. It works for Timothy Hutton on Leverage. Even John Travolta, back before he got all bloated, played it cool when the Russian mob wanted him dead in a movie called — wait for it — Be Cool.
So if it works for them, it has to work for me, right? You might as well just go ahead and add me to the list — Vin Diesel, George Clooney, Timothy Hutton, prebloat John Travolta, and Max Cobb: cool personified.
The only problem is "cool" and "Max Cobb" go together about as well as sharp knives and dull minds.
It's more like, three-day weekend coming up? Sit at home watching movies with my parents.
Score in the forty-ninth percentile on the ACT three times running? Scream into my pillow until I'm hoarse.
Be best known for passing out in front of the class in ninth grade? Contemplate fashioning the bedsheet into a Snoopy-themed noose.
Screw those people who say, "Be yourself." Being myself has only gotten me a stupid, boring life. So for once, I'm doing the opposite. Tonight, there's no Max Cobb or, as Tami Cantor called me, Just Max. As in "Oh, don't worry about him, that's just Max."
No, tonight I'm Not Max, which means keeping cool. I refuse to play it safe and turn back like Just Max begs me to. Instead, Not Max keeps a steady pace, forcing himself not to flinch at every passing car, his heart quickening when the lights of Asheville High School appear in the distance.
AHS is an ancient building that was constructed about the time Pangaea split to form the continents. If it weren't for the soccer, baseball, and football fields nearby, you'd think you were looking at a decaying mental institution, which I suppose all schools are in a way. My destination's the water tower sitting on the edge of school property. With its massive rusting legs stretching into the night sky, the tower's Asheville High — Home of the Golden Eagles can be seen by the entire town. I'm halfway across the soccer field, walking in the weird gray light of the full moon, when I catch movement out of the corner of my eye.
My heart almost explodes through my chest. It's a girl's voice, but I can't see whose.
"Max? Is that you?"
She's coming toward me now.
Screw Be cool.
I sprint away, running with no clear destination. I need gone, away from this stupid decision before something bad happens.
Not Max ... what the hell was I thinking?
After only twenty feet, I'm panting like a two-pack-a-day smoker. I might as well be running in thick mud. So of course, slow ass that I am, whoever she is catches me. And not just catches me, but tackles me from behind, driving me to the soccer turf. Then I'm flipped over, flat on my back, and looking up into the face of Ellie Wick from my Introduction to Philosophy class. She's straddling my chest with her black spandex yoga pants and grinning as big as the moon.
"Hey, Max! You got an invitation too?" she says. "Isn't this awesome?"
Heist Rule #3: If questioned, be evasive.
Ellie's face pinches. "Maxwell Cobb, you know darn well why you're out here. It's the same reason I am."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I was just out for a walk."
Ellie pins my arms to the ground. She's freakishly strong for someone so small. "Here, I'll help you," she says. "Repeat after me. Say, 'I'm here because of the Chaos Club, Ellie.' I'm not letting you up until you admit it."
You have to love a girl who considers chest-straddling a punishment.
You have to love it even more if that girl is Ellie Wick and you've liked her since seventh grade. But even if I'm all for Ellie staying on top of me all night, we have a ten o'clock date to keep, so I enjoy the contact for a few more seconds before saying, "Okay, I'm here because of the Chaos Club."
Inside, my hormones give me the finger.
"See how easy that was?" she says, standing up. "Come on, we don't want to be late. We're about to become a part of history."
As we start across the soccer field for the gate, I look at Ellie from the corner of my eye. With her blond hair and big green eyes, Ellie's as wholesome looking now in eleventh grade as she was back in middle school. Well, by now I don't mean now-now because Ellie certainly doesn't look wholesome at the moment. In fact, she looks lava hot. Black spandex tends to have that effect on me.
"So where was your invitation?" she says. "Mine was under my windshield wiper after school."
"Taped inside my locker," I say. I don't tell her that even with my name on the envelope, I double-checked the locker number to make sure it was actually mine.
"They really can get anywhere," Ellie says. "It's like they're ghosts. It's so awesome."
Awesome is the right word for the Chaos Club.
In just the last two years, the four-decade-old organization has:
1. Stacked tires all the way up the flagpole.
2. Filled a guidance counselor's entire office, floor to ceiling, with water balloons.
3. Hacked the district's website so anyone visiting was redirected to BarnYardLove.com.
4. Punished the school board for banning Slaughterhouse-Five by projecting pictures of them with Hitler moustaches on the scoreboard during the homecoming game.
There's even a website dedicated to documenting their pranks.
But making the Chaos Club even more awesome?
Its membership is anonymous.
Its movements are untraceable.
And no one's ever been caught.
So the big question is, why in the world was I, Max Cobb — Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life, Mr. I'm So Lame the Career Interest Survey Recommended "Worker" As My Future Profession — chosen to receive an envelope with this message inside:
10:00 tonight at the water tower.
Tell no one.
I sure as hell don't know.
But I do know that as we cross the dark parking lot, Not Max is fifty yards from finding out.CHAPTER 2
Heist Rule #4: Be suspicious.
Like, someone on your crew acting out of the ordinary? Be suspicious.
Museum security system switches off without any complications? Be suspicious.
Breaking into the mansion goes too smoothly? Be suspicious.
Because when the characters in heist films don't follow Rule #4, things go to hell and people go to jail.
But just one look at who's waiting for us at the water tower and I know I don't have to worry about Rule #4. Because there's no way these three people are in the Chaos Club.
"Dude!" Dave Wheeler shouts across the parking lot at us. "You too? Excellent!"
"Isn't he on house arrest?" Ellie whispers.
"I think the charges were dropped. Supposedly, the surveillance video disappeared."
"He's a friend of yours, right?"
Which is probably the only safe way to be friends with Dave Wheeler.
Back in junior high, Wheeler and I used to hang out, but Mom quickly (and correctly) pegged Wheeler as a "bad influence" and put an end to our outside-of-school friendship. Now the only time we really talk is in fourth period, Weird Science, where Wheeler's my assigned "nature buddy," as Mrs. Hansen calls it. Whenever the class goes outside, which is three times a week, Wheeler and I partner up on assignments, meaning I search for the insects or write a nature poem while Wheeler pretends to dry hump trees. Normally, I'd be pissed at such unequal work distribution, but since Wheeler is determined to graduate dead last in our class, the arrangement is probably for the best.
We meet Wheeler mid — parking lot, his arms out like Ellie and I have just returned from a decade in a North Korean prison camp. He has a tangle of hair that makes him look like he lives in the woods behind the school and is wearing a white Superchunk T-shirt with "I broke my back in a trust fall" printed across the front.
"Holy shit, Ellie Wick," he says. "You're about the last person I'd expect to see here."
"You'll find I'm full of surprises, Dave."
"Yeah, like that outfit. If that's what's currently fashionable for churchgoing girls, I may have to start attending. Do your parents know you're in public in those clothes?"
Ellie puts a finger to her lips and says, "What the Reverend and Mrs. Wick don't know can't hurt them."
Wheeler claps once and points a hard finger at Ellie.
"Now that's what I like to hear! And you," he says, turning to me. "Why didn't you tell me you'd gotten an invite?"
"The note said not to tell anyone."
Wheeler's eyes go wide. "Shit, it said that?"
"Oh my gosh," Ellie says. "You told someone?"
"Totally," Wheeler says, "I tweeted it and posted a picture of the note on H8box. Everyone probably knows by now."
Ellie stiffens and blinks like her brain's rebooting.
"Relax! I'm kidding! Even I'm not that dumb. Come on over and join the party."
And that moment right there pretty much exemplifies why it's best to just "sort of" be friends with Dave Wheeler.
Up ahead, Kate Malone, who's also in our philosophy class, sits on the curb, earbuds in, graffiti-ing her jeans with a black Sharpie. Her current work in progress on her clothes notwithstanding, Kate's one of the best artists in the school. We're talking guaranteed-full-ride-to-college good. Oh, and she's also the only girl in the universe whose boobs I've seen.
I'm not joking.
"Hi, Kate," Ellie says. "Isn't this exciting?"
Malone pops her earbuds out and drapes them over her shoulders.
"So are you here to ensure we don't have any fun, Ellie?" Malone says. "Maybe you want to search me, make sure I don't have any books with swear words in them?"
Remember when I said the school board banned Slaughterhouse-Five? Well, Ellie's dad is not only the minister at the Baptist church, but he's also on the school board. When his Hitler-moustache picture appeared on the football scoreboard, Ellie fled the student section in tears. But right now, Ellie somehow keeps her smile and says, "Nope, nothing like that. Tonight's about joining the Chaos Club."
"Why do you think that? Because of the card? Did yours say the same as mine?"
Malone stands up, and now I see "Fear of a Female Planet" freshly inked on her jeans. From her back pocket, she pulls a black Chaos Club card with red lettering.
"That looks just like mine," Ellie says.
"Mine too," I say.
"Mine three," Wheeler says.
Simultaneously, all of us hear someone approaching us from behind. We all turn to see who this person is, and —
Person isn't the right word. Goon is more like it.
Tim Adleta is a junior like the rest of us, but to most people, he's known as Dim. Not that anyone calls him Dim to his face — at least not anyone who wants to avoid being identified by dental records. Adleta has started varsity lacrosse since freshman year, leading the league in scoring every season. He also has a monkey on a bicycle where his brain should be. He lumbers toward us, his knuckles dragging on the asphalt.
"Is this what your card looks like?" Malone says once he joins the circle.
Adleta grunts a response. I'm not exactly sure if there's a word in there because primate isn't my second language.
"See, none of our cards say anything about joining the Chaos Club," Malone says.
"What else could they possibly mean?" Ellie asks.
"I'm not sure, but look at us. Honestly, do we seem like Chaos Club members?"
It's nice to know someone else believes in Rule #4 too.
"Well, maybe that's how the Chaos Club's stayed around for so long — by playing against expectations," Ellie says.
"Maybe, but the tower's spotlight is off too. When was the last time that happened?"
I look up into the dark sky. How hadn't I noticed that?
"So you really think this is a setup?" Wheeler says. "Why would they do that?"
"I didn't say it's a setup. I'm just saying it's weird."
"Yeah," I say, the cautious Just Max speaking. "I was thinking it was weird too."
"So what should we do?" Ellie asks.
"Yeah, what's your solution, Kate?" Wheeler says, smirking. "Pull off your shirt and take pictures?"
Malone shoves Wheeler so hard and fast he never sees it coming. He stumbles back, his feet hitting the curb, dropping him on his ass. Then Malone's face is six inches from his.
Wheeler puts both hands up.
"I said apologize," Malone growls.
"Yeah, Christ, I'm sorry," Wheeler says.
"So never again, right?"
"Yeah, sure, no problem."
People think Kate's gay because she has short hair, ripped arms, a rainbow patch on her backpack, and works at the Asheville Climbing Center, teaching people how to rock climb. But her sexting scandal last year involved pictures she sent to a boy, not a girl, so it's sort of confusing. After what she just did to Wheeler, I'm sure not going to be the one asking about her sexual orientation, I know that.
She continues glaring at Wheeler for a moment longer before finally backing off. Adleta snorts what may be a laugh. I'd be able to tell if I looked at his face, but gorillas view direct eye contact as a sign of aggression.
"What if we poke around?" I say. "Maybe there are instructions or something. We were invited here for a reason, right?"
I'm surprised when no one scoffs at the suggestion.
"Great idea, Max," Ellie says. "You come with me."
* * *
When we're around the corner of the fence and away from the others, Ellie takes out her phone and starts texting. I try to see what she's typing, but her fingers are too fast.
"My parents," she says. "They think I'm at the library studying."
"But the library closes at nine on Thursdays."
"That's not something Mom and Dad would think about. They trust me too much."
"It sounds like maybe they shouldn't."
"You're definitely right about that."
On the far side of the water tower, the woods are just an arm's reach away and block out any moonlight. It's chilly for September, and I regret not bringing a jacket.
Ellie moves in close and squeezes my arm, saying, "I'm glad you're here."
My mouth is a balled-up gym sock.
"Because knowing other people makes it more fun, you know?"
Make that two balled-up gym socks.
We keep walking the perimeter of the fence, pointlessly looking around for clues. From the other side of the water tower, I hear Malone tell someone to shut up. Dollars to doughnuts it's Wheeler.
"I thought it was crummy what Tami said in class today," Ellie says. "I felt bad for you."
"It wasn't a big deal."
"No, no one deserves that. Especially you."
Each Thursday in philosophy, we have Big Questions of Existence, when Watson divides the class into two sides to debate whatever topic he chooses to torture us with.
Today's question: Is every life valuable?
The topic was handled with the sensitivity and respect you'd expect from a class of teenagers. Admittedly, I didn't pay too much attention. Instead, I was busy completing an extra credit assignment due in English second period. Normally, I'm not a big extra credit guy, but my grade sort of demanded it. Besides, it's not like I could turn down this assignment: Concoct a Scheme in Which Gatsby and Daisy Live Happily Ever After. My idea involved Gatsby killing that bitchy tennis player Jordan Baker, then framing Daisy's asshole husband, Tom, for the murder. It's this type of thinking that goes a long way toward explaining my empty social calendar.
Excerpted from Don't Get Caught by Kurt Dinan. Copyright © 2016 Kurt Dinan. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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