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Chapter 1 Fraud
fraud (frôd), n. The crime of deceiving someone for personal or financial gain; a person who pretends to be something that he or she is not.
"No fair!" said Jessie. She pointed to the four chocolate chip cookies that her brother, Evan, was stuffing into a Ziploc bag. They were standing in the kitchen, just about ready to go to school—the fourth day of fourth grade for both of them, now that they were in the same class.
"Fine," said Evan, taking out one cookie and putting it back in the cookie jar. "Three for you. Three for me. Happy?"
"It’s not about being happy," said Jessie. "It’s about being fair."
"Whatever. I’m outta here." Evan slung his backpack over his shoulder, then disappeared down the stairs that led to the garage.
Jessie walked to the front-room window and watched as her brother pedaled down the street on his bike. She still didn’t have her bike license, so she wasn’t allowed to ride to school without a parent riding along. That was just one of the bad things about skipping third grade and being the youngest kid in the fourth-grade class. Everyone else in her class could ride to school, but she still had to walk.
Jessie went to the refrigerator and crossed off another day on the lunch calendar. Today’s lunch was Chicken Patty on a Bun. Not her favorite, but okay. With her finger, she tapped each remaining day of the week and read out loud the main dish: Deli-Style Hot Dog (barf); Baked Chicken Nuggets with Dipping Sauce; Soft-Shell Tacos; and, on Friday, her favorite: Cinnamon-Glazed French Toast Sticks.
Saturday’s box was empty, but someone had used a red marker to fill in the box: Saturday Yom Kippur
Jessie put her hands on her hips. Who had done that? Probably one of Evan’s friends. Adam or Paul. Messing up her lunch calendar. Probably Paul! That was just like him. Jessie knew that Yom Kippur was a very serious Jewish holiday. She couldn’t remember what it was for, but it was definitely serious. You were not supposed to write the word par-tay! after Yom Kippur.
"Jessie, are you all ready?" asked Mrs. Treski, walking into the kitchen.
"Yep," said Jessie. She picked up her backpack, which weighed almost as much as she did, and hefted it onto her shoulders. She had to lean forward slightly at the waist just to keep from falling backwards. "Mom, you don’t have to walk me to school anymore. I mean, I’m a fourth-grader, you know?"
"I know you are," said Mrs. Treski, looking on the garage stairs for her shoes. "But you’re still just eight years old—"
"I’ll be nine next month!"
Mrs. Treski looked at her. "Do you mind so much?"
"Can’t I just go with Megan?"
"Isn’t Megan always late?"
"But I’m always early, so we’ll even out."
"I suppose that would be okay for tomorrow. But today, let’s just walk together. Okay?"
"Okay," said Jessie, who actually liked walking to school with her mother, but wondered if the other kids thought she was even more of a weirdo because of it. "But this is the last time."
It took them less than ten minutes to get to school. Darlene, the crossing guard, held up her gloved hands to stop the traffic and called out,
"Okay, you can cross now."
Jessie turned to her mother. "Mom, I can walk the rest of the way myself."
"Well," said Mrs. Treski, one foot on the curb, one foot in the street. "All right. I’ll see you when school gets out. I’ll wait for you right here." She stepped back up on the curb, and Jessie knew she was watching her all the way to the playground. I won’t turn around and wave, she told herself. Fourth-graders don’t do that kind of thing. Evan had explained that to her.
Jessie walked onto the playground, looking for Megan. Kids weren’t allowed in the school building until the bell rang, so they gathered outside before school, hanging on the monkey bars, sliding down the slide, talking in groups, or organizing a quick game of soccer or basketball—if they were lucky enough to have a teacher who would let them borrow a class ball before school. Jessie scanned the whole playground. No Megan. She was probably running late.
Jessie hooked her thumbs under the straps of her backpack. She had already noticed that most of the fourth grade girls didn’t carry backpacks. They carried their books and binders and water bottles and lunches in slouchy mailbags. Jessie thought those bags were stupid, the way they banged against your knees and dug into your shoulder. Backpacks were more practical.
She wandered toward the blacktop where Evan and a bunch of boys were playing HORSE. Some of the boys were fifth-graders and tall, but Jessie wasn’t surprised to find out that Evan was winning. He was good at basketball. The best in his whole grade, in Jessie’s opinion. Maybe even the best in the whole school. She sat down on the sidelines to watch.
"Okay, I’m gonna do a fadeaway jumper," said Evan, calling his shot so the next boy would have to copy him. "One foot on the short crack to start." He bounced the ball a few times, and Jessie watched along with all the other kids to see if he could make the shot. When he finally jumped, releasing the ball as he fell back, the ball sailed through the air and made a perfect rainbow—right through the hoop.
"Oh, man!" said Ryan, who had to copy the shot. He bounced the ball a couple of times and bent his knees, but just then the bell rang and it was time to line up. "Ha!" said Ryan, throwing the ball sky high.
"You are so lucky," said Evan, grabbing the ball out of the air and putting it in the milk crate that held the rest of the 4-O playground equipment.
Jessie liked Evan’s friends, and they were usually pretty nice to her, so she followed them to stand in line. She knew not to get in line right behind Evan. He wasn’t too thrilled about having his little sister in the same classroom with him this year. Mrs. Treski had given Jessie some advice: Give Evan some space, so that’s what she was doing.
Jessie looked across the playground just in case Megan had appeared, but instead she saw Scott Spencer jumping out of his dad’s car. "Oh, great!" muttered Jessie. As far as Jessie was concerned, Scott Spencer was a faker and a fraud. He was always doing something he wasn’t supposed to behind the teacher’s back, and he never got caught. Like the time he cut the heads off the daffodils that were growing in the art room. Or when he erased stars from the blackboard so that his desk group would win the weekly Team Award.
When Scott got to the line, he cut right in front of Jessie and tapped Ryan on the back of the shoulder. "Hey," he said.
"Hey," said Ryan, turning and giving him a nod.
"Excuse me," said Jessie, poking Scott in the arm. "The end of the line is back there." She jerked her thumb behind her.
"So what?" said Scott.
"So you can’t just cut in front."
"Who cares? All we’re doing is going into school."
"It’s a line," said Jessie. "The rule is you go to the end of the line."
"Who cares what you say?" said Scott, shrugging and turning his back on her. The line was starting to move forward. Scott punched a couple more boys on the arm and said hey to them. Some of the boys said hi back, but Jessie noticed that Evan kept looking straight ahead.
"Man, am I late," said Scott to Ryan. He was grinning from ear to ear. "I couldn’t stop playing my new Xbox 20/20."
"You got a 20/20?" asked Ryan.
Paul turned around. "Who did? Who got one?"
"He says he did," said Ryan, pointing to Scott.
"No way," said Paul. "That’s not even out yet."
"Well, you can’t get it in a store," said Scott. "But my mom knows people in Japan."
Jessie looked toward Evan, who was at the front of the line. She could tell that he hadn’t heard what Scott said, but more and more boys in line turned around to hear about the 20/20. It was the newest game system, with surround-sight goggles and motion-sensing gloves. The line in front of Jessie started to bunch up.
When Jessie got to the door of her classroom, Mrs. Overton was standing there, saying good morning to each student as the line filed in.
"Mrs. Overton, Scott Spencer cut in front of me this morning." Jessie was no tattletale, but Scott needed to learn a thing or two about rules.
Mrs. Overton put a hand on Jessie’s shoulder. "Okay, Jessie. I’ll watch tomorrow to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but for now, let’s just let it go."
Perfect! thought Jessie as she walked to her desk and took down her chair. Scott Spencer gets away with something again.
After putting her chair on the floor, she walked out into the hall to hang her backpack in her locker. She tore off a corner of a page from her Writer’s Notebook and quickly wrote a note on it. Then, as she passed Evan’s desk on the way to her own, she slipped the note into his hand. She didn’t see him open it and read it, but by the time she sat down at her own desk, she could tell that he had. Evan was staring at Scott Spencer, and you could practically see bullets coming out of his eyes.