Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Flash: Senior Sneak

In celebration of the final two days of the special sale price for Death By Ice Cream, I am offering a short story featuring JJ MacGregor and her friend Kitty, neatly solving another problem for Pismawallops Island high school. This would take place between the events of Death By Ice Cream and those of Death By Trombone.  998 words.

 Senior Sneak

“Anything interesting at school?” I juggled a gallon of milk and an overloaded hand-basket as I made the polite inquiry of my son’s principal. I expected Mr. Ammon to smile and give an equally polite and meaningless answer and get on with his shopping.

Instead, he groaned. “What should there be, JJ? I’m sitting in the office doing paperwork when I should be teaching algebra and trigonometry, coping with everyone’s moods and issues and crises, not to mention that the seniors get insufferable this time of year. Apart from all that it’s just hunky-dory.”

I mumbled something about, “let me know what we can do to help,” and tried to rest the corner of my basket on a shelf to take some weight off. Why had I said that? I just wanted to get home with my groceries so we could have dinner.

Too late.

“As a matter of fact, I do want a little help from you and Kitty.”

Kitty Padgett is my best friend, and PTA president. I’m the VP, and in a school as tiny as Pismawallops Island’s high school, it’s hard to hide when the principal wants something. I set my burdens down and waited to hear what was needed now. Chaperones for a field trip? Decorations for a party? Maybe he hoped we’d throw a nice lunch for the teachers. We could do that.

“The seniors are up to something. Some kind of prank or other.”

“They do that every year, don’t they? Senior Prank, Senior Skip day, that sort of thing?”

“They do. But I need to know what they have in mind.”

“Aren’t you going to let them have their fun?”

“They can have their fun. I just want to see if we can’t have some, too. And I do need to know what they’re up to. The school board is just a bit touchy about liability right now.”

I could understand that. The whole island was still reeling from a nasty scandal, not to mention murder, that had involved the principal and vice principal. That was why Russ Ammon was acting as principal instead of teaching math.

There was only one response to make, and I made it. “So what can Kitty and I do?”

“Find out what they’re up to. Then—we’ll see.”

The thing is, Kitty and I recently acquired something of a reputation for finding things out, on top of our usual reputation for doing whatever needed to be done around the school. I phoned her after dinner.

“We’ve got a case, Watson.”

“JJ, what on earth are you talking about?”

“Mr. Ammon wants us to figure out what the seniors are planning so he can decide what should be done about it. And then no doubt ask us to do it.”

“Why should he do anything about it?”

I told her.

Next morning we quizzed the kids—her two daughters and my son—while we carpooled to school, but none of them knew, or admitted to, anything of what the seniors were planning. That didn’t surprise me. Part of the fun each year is that no one outside the graduating class knows what they’ll do.

“Well, we can’t just ask,” Kitty said. “No one is going to confess without rack and thumbscrews.”

I thought about a couple of the kids I wouldn’t mind treating to a little lesson in medieval life, and stifled the thought. I suggested bribes; Kitty suggested spying scopes and bugs.

Compared to rounding up a murderer, the kids proved laughably easy. We were still sitting in our car floating silly ideas when a group of students came out to the parking lot and clustered around a nearby vehicle. They never even glanced our way. Since our windows were already down, all we had to do was sit quiet and listen.

As usual, the students weren’t all that imaginative. They planned to gather at the lighthouse instead of on campus the following Tuesday, and none too early, either. What was the point of skipping school if you still had to get up early?

That was when we began to get ideas of our own.

It took little to persuade Russ Ammon, who had a wicked sense of humor hidden under his mathematical exterior. He suggested two or three teachers who might go along, and we were off and running.

The hardest part was making sure our own kids didn’t know what we were up to. They were good kids, but the temptation to talk would be powerful. We dealt with that by not doing anything concrete until we’d dropped them off Tuesday morning. Then we got busy, starting with groceries.

Ms. Day and Brett Holt were already in the picnic shelter at the lighthouse, unpacking boxes. I passed around cups of coffee from a take-out box I’d gotten at the Have-a-Bite bakery, and we had plenty of time to set everything up before most of the senior class arrived in a clump.

What they found where they had planned to meet, hang out, and eat a few chips and sodas was…a classroom with piles of textbooks and two teachers handing out exams.

“Exit exams today, kids,” Brett told them, struggling to hold a straight face.

Kitty and I lurked behind the big stone fireplace and snapped photos of their shocked faces. We’d find a use for those.

When the kids had worked themselves up to a desperate protest, we admitted it was a joke and pulled out the food. Their chips and sodas would make a nice counterpoint to the sandwiches, cake, fruit bowls, and other snacks that we provided. A few of the kids continued to pout, but most of them took it in good grace, laughed, and began to eat.

None of them even noticed that their sneak day, when they might have thought of partying with more hazardous things than soda, had fallen under adult supervision. They were too busy playing with the Frisbees and soap bubbles.

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