Some people count their blessings, but dogwalker Stephen Nobel counts mistakes.
Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.
To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.
Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? To find out, Stephen will have to count on all of his new friends.
CCBC’s Best Books for Kids & Teens (Fall 2017) Selection
About the Author
Sylvia McNicoll is the author of over thirty novels. Her book Bringing up Beauty won the Forest of Reading Silver Birch Award. Her books have been nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Young Adult Crime Book and the Rocky Mountain Award. Sylvia lives in Burlington, Ontario.
Read an Excerpt
Day One, Mistake One
At three o’clock in the afternoon, the fire alarm jangles. Mrs. Worsley’s arms startle open like a bird’s wings, but she quickly folds them back down across her chest, hiding her hands in her armpits. Her woolly eyebrows knit and her mouth purls.
“I’ve taught here for thirty years,” she told us on the first day of school. “There is nothing you can do that will shock me.”
But on day thirty, this alarm takes her by surprise. Drills are always planned, which can only mean one thing.
I leap from my seat, wave my arms, and shout, “Fire! Fire!”
No one moves.
Mrs. Worsley’s left eye twitches as she reaches up to grab my shoulders I’m taller than she is and squeezes gently. “Stephen Noble, calm down.”
Everyone stares. My face turns hot. Mistake number one of the day.
My mother says I read too much into things. That’s what I’ve done with this fire alarm. Based on Mrs. Worsley’s body language, I decided it was a real-life emergency and jumped to warn everyone. Now they’re all snickering behind their hands or rolling their eyes at silly old Green Lantern, my nickname since grade four.
Back then at least I had a best friend, Jessie, who stood by me when I did goofy things, even when I dropped my jeans to change for gym and had boxers on instead of gym shorts. Of course, they were the Green Lantern specials that Mom brought back from England. Jessie told everyone that I had changed into my secret identity. None of the kids believed him.
“If that’s the worst mistake you made all day, Stephen, you’re rockin’,” Mom had said on her phone the morning after the underwear thing. She works as a flight attendant, so she’s away a lot. To make me feel better, she told me a story about how the pilot forgot to put the landing gear down that day and how that caused a belly landing and quite some damage.
“You could have been hurt,” I told her.
“True, but I wasn’t. Nobody was.” She sighed. “Don’t think so hard about things. By next week everyone will have forgotten about your Green Lantern incident.”
Shows you what she knows. The nickname lingers on. Also my fear of airplane travel.
Yelling out “Fire! Fire!” may not have been as bad as dropping my drawers three years ago, but it’s still the worst mistake for me today and I’m definitely not rockin’. On top of that, Jessie moved away over the summer. There will be no one to stick up for me later when everyone makes even more fun of me.
It started back in that grade four gym class and continues. It would be way easier to make a new friend if I were good at a team sport. If I were any good at soccer, Tyson and Bruno and me might be pals. Instead, I trip when I kick at the ball and let goals go by me. Because I’m tall and have long arms and legs, everyone expects me to be good at basketball, but I can’t sink a basket. Or spike a volleyball. What I excel at isn’t played at school: Wii bowling. I sigh. Jessie is a great Wii bowler, too.
Mrs. Worsley releases my shoulders and faces the rest of the kids. “Grade seven, line up quickly and quietly.”
Renée’s hand shoots up but Mrs. Worsley ignores her. I can’t blame her. Renée’s hand is always up. And if the teacher even looks her way, Renée’s glittery glasses or hairband might blind her. Renée will keep waving her hand until Mrs. Worsley becomes hypnotized into answering her. And the teacher can never answer just one question. There’s always another question and another till it turns into this big back and forth discussion. Which is why nobody wants Mrs. Worsley to call on Renée. It always slows everything down.
“Should we take our things?” Renée yells out when Mrs. Worsley continues to ignore her.
This time Princess Einstein has a point. In about fifteen minutes the final dismissal bell will ring.
Mrs. Worsley shakes her head. “No talking! Hurry!” She shoos us with her hands toward the door.
Everyone lines up.
“Renée, Stephen, you two go ahead and hold the doors.”
She’s pairing us up again like she’s done from the beginning of school, as though she wants to keep us out of her hair. I understand giving Renée keep-busy work; otherwise, she’ll question Mrs. Worsley to death. But me?
Of course, whenever we have to partner up, there’s no Jessie, so Renée’s pretty much my only choice, anyway, and where I’m super tall and bad at sports, Renée is super short and bad.
As we lead the way down the hall, I search for flames and sniff for smoke. Nothing.
I hustle to catch up to Renée at our class’s set of exit doors and slam my back into the remaining one to open and hold it in place.
“Nice job, Green Lantern,” Tyson says as he passes through.
“Wearing your ring?” his friend Bruno asks.
“Sure is,” Tyson says. “He put out the fire while we weren’t looking.”
Har de har har, I think.
The whole school pours out through three exits. Long streams of students spill over from the blacktop to the field.
Finally, when no one seems to be left inside the school, Renée and I let the doors shut behind us.
“Crazy to have a drill at the end of the day,” Renée says. “Something has to be up.”
Mrs. Worsley gives us the glare.
“Shh! We’ll get a detention.” Talking during a drill is a big no-no at our school. Still, I’m glad Renée thinks the same way I do. We walk together to the end of our line. I feel like a gawky giant next to shorty glitter girl.
Teachers begin to count the kids in their lines and, one by one, hold up their clipboards to signal to the principal, Mrs. Watier, that everyone is accounted for.
Mrs. Watier is new to our school and young and hip compared to Mrs. Worsley. She drives a black convertible TZX and wears tall black boots with everything, even jeans. Mrs. Worsley drives a beige, boxy car and wears white sneakers with all her clothes, skirts and dresses included. No jeans, not ever. Today, our cool principal paces and studies the rows of students, eyes narrowed.
All the clipboards go up. No students lost in this disaster.
No sirens wail, no fire trucks pull up. Maybe it’s just a drill, after all. Mrs. Watier talks to each teacher, and after she chats with ours, our regular end-of-the-day bell rings and Mrs. Worsley dismisses us.
“But I don’t have my agenda!” Renée protests.
“Never mind. Forget your homework for one night. Go straight home, please.”
I squint at the school doors. If it’s not a real fire, then why can’t we go back in?
Mrs. Worsley is the queen of the agenda. Everything we do in class tests, runs for cures, videos we watch, all the stuff we’re supposed to do for homework, books or chapters to read, websites to browse, things we need to bring in, every gym or crazy hat or hair day, everything she wants us to write it down and have our parents sign it so they know about it. “Never-minding” us about the agenda is a weird thing for her to do. I can’t believe this is just a drill. She would make us write that in the agenda. Something way more serious has to be happening.
“Stephen, did you hear me?”
“Yes, Mrs. W.”
“Then be on your way.”
I have another important job starting today, so leaving right on time without homework would be very convenient if it weren’t so suspicious. At the edge of the schoolyard, I turn to look back at the school and scan the building. I’m looking for a sign, a clue, something to let me know why Mrs. Worsley was so anxious to get rid of us.
What People are Saying About This
A doggone good mystery!