LEAST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
A Vinita Park Short Mystery for Young Readers
By Jeff Fielder
| The bell ending fourth period rang sending a smile across
Peter Dodge's face. He'd been waiting for this since missing breakfast.
Grabbing his book and heading to the hall, Peter prayed silently to himself that it would be a peaceful lunch. He desperately needed to study for a sixth-period Texas history test - his least favorite class.
Though he had been born and raised in Vinita Park, Texas, northeast of Dallas, Peter didn't consider himself a cowboy or a Texan. He'd never ridden a horse, never stepped in cow manure, and never worn a belt buckle larger than a Frisbee. Plus, he was too skinny to wear a cowboy hat without looking like a nail.
Still, a test was a test and no matter how he felt about Texas, it didn't change Mr. Gilbert’s being as serious as kidney failure when it came Texas history.
Peter hadn't made it ten feet from the door when from behind him Mary Sue Parker put her hand on his elbow.
Mary Sue Parker is touching my elbow, Peter gushed to himself. Mary Sue Parker was the head cheerleader. Mary Sue Parker was once on the cover of Teen Scene Magazine. Mary Sue Parker was a straight-A student.
Mary Sue Parker was a senior.
"I hear you're good at figuring stuff out," she said.
Though it was true, Peter would have said he helped write the Preamble to the Constitution if it kept Mary Sue talking to him.
"Sure, I'm pretty good at deductive reasoning," he said.
What a moron I am, he thought to himself. Sure, I'm pretty good at deductive reasoning. What a dolt!
Mary Sue looked around the hall as if scanning the corridor for prying teachers.
"I need some help," she said.
Immediately, Peter assumed she wanted help in a class - probably math. Peter was good at math.
"Someone broke into my locker and took my Walkman," Mary Sue continued.
Without stopping to think first, Peter opened his mouth and began talking. "You know, it's against school policy to bring a Walkman onto the school grounds?"
Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Shut up! he yelled at himself in his head. If he could take back a third of the stupid things he said to girls, he'd still be a complete goober.
"I know," Mary Sue said unabated. "I kept it in my locker and only listened to it at lunch and at cheerleader practice."
Peter's mind floated away to Mary Sue at cheerleader practice. He imagined her in a miniskirt turning cartwheels, jumping up and down, moving gracefully across the gymnasium floor.
"Peter, Peter, he's our man, if he can't do it, no one can," she chanted in his brain. "Peter, Peter ..."
"Peter?" she said.
He was standing in the hallway looking off into space. A red flush erupted across his face, and his ears burned.
"Yeah!" he exclaimed in embarrassment.
"So, what do you think?"
He had no idea what she was talking about. There was something about a Walkman and then pom-poms floated over his vision.
"Sure, that sounds great," Peter said. Whatever it was he was committing to, it didn't matter as long it involved Mary Sue Parker.
As he turned, his eyes barely had time to focus on the lumbering frame barreling directly at him. They met shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter easily losing the battle of the brawn and getting thrown back into the lockers with enough force to make his teeth rattle. The handle of his locker dug into his back and sent a bolt of pain through his spine.
Peter didn't have to look up to know it was Mack Truck Marshall, but he couldn't help but stare as the overwhelming freshman bobbed down the hall bouncing his head in tune to the music blaring from his headphones.
Instead of studying for his Texas history test, Peter spent his lunch hour discussing what happened to Mary Sue's Walkman. Admittedly, most of the time he was really thinking about her blond curls and porcelain skin, but he was actually listening this time.
"So, like I said, I put my Walkman in my purse and left it in my locker before first period, and when I came back after second period, it was gone," Mary Sue said.
"Are you sure you put it in there this morning?" Peter asked. Immediately he recognized the look of hurt on her face, as if it were unthinkable that Mary Sue Parker, head cheerleader and straight-A student, could make a mistake. Peter, once again, wished he could take back something he'd said.
"Yes, I'm sure it was in there," she said with little effort to hide her offense. "I was listening to Britney Spears at morning workouts. Right after, I wrapped the headphones around it and put it in my locker. I remember because Mr. Jackson was standing in the hall and I had to be careful so he wouldn't see."
"Well, was anything else missing?"
"Nope. Just the Walkman."
Peter thought about all this for a second.
"Does anyone else know your combination?" he asked.
"Just Jenny Meredith, but she's my best friend. She would never take anything from my locker."
Peter knew they were like sisters. Everywhere that Mary went, Jenny was sure to follow. He laughed to himself as he sang the little lamb jingle in his head.
"Did you notice anything strange, or anyone watching you this morning?" Peter asked.
"I think I saw that big guy with the greasy hair standing near my locker as I walked away," Mary Sue said.
Big Guy with Greasy Hair was an accurate description of Mark Marshall. He looked like he used a carton of Dep Hair Gel every day but never bothered to wash out the goo from the day before. Mack Truck Marshall, as he was normally called - though never to his face - also had a certain love for cheeseburgers. Rumor had it that he'd once eaten 20 McDonald's cheeseburgers in one sitting.
Peter had never actually seen it himself, but judging from Mark's size, he wouldn't doubt the rumor. Mark Marshall was the meanest ninth-grader to walk the halls of Sam Houston High. Peter had had run-ins with Mark at least three times in the past, the most recent of which ended with Mark getting two weeks in-school suspension for flattening tires in the senior parking lot.
Mack Truck was a troublemaker. Peter knew it like he knew Monday was the hardest day of the week. Since their first encounter four years ago when Peter was in fifth grade and Mack Truck was in sixth, Peter knew they were never going to get along. Even then Mark was bigger than everyone else in school. It was his size - along with his habit of running over anyone smaller than him - that had earned him the nickname "Mack Truck." It didn't help matters that Mark Marshall had already stayed back one grade and tiny dark hairs popped up around the corners of his mouth.
By the time they reached high school, Mark had been held back again, and they were freshmen together. Mark was two years older and stronger and used his brute force to maintain his grip on his fellow classmates.
Keeping Mark Marshall at the top of the pile, Peter worked on his mental list of suspects and watched it grow with each passing second. The janitor had keys to every locker; the principal did, too. Peter wondered if Jenny had ever told her boyfriend Mary Sue's locker combination or if Mary Sue had ever told any of her numerous boyfriends. If she had mentioned the combination to a boyfriend, Peter's list would be too long to fit on a piece of notebook paper.
Peter was so involved in his mental list, he didn't hear Mary Sue's question.
"What was that?" he asked.
"I said, so you think it was the fat kid?"
"Well, I don't really think anything yet." Peter said. "I mean, all I know right now is your Walkman is missing, and to tell you the truth, I don't even know that. I'm just taking your word for it."
"You don't believe me?"
"I didn't say that. I just mean I don't know enough yet to say one way or the other what happened to your Walkman."
"Well, if it was the fat kid, I hope they suspend him for good this time," Mary Sue said, as she lifted her books and turned toward the exit. "He's nothing but trouble."
Peter ate the rest of his lunch in silence and mentally went over and over his list of suspects. For some reason, his mind kept stopping on Mack Truck Marshall.
The Texas history test was a disaster. Peter walked out in a fog of questions and multiple-choice answers. In what year did Texas vote to join the United States? A. 1835. B. 1845. C. 1855. D. 1865. Peter's head swam. He'd put B, but it was just a guess. He'd find out later, that on this one, at least, he had guessed right. He wasn't as lucky with the rest of the questions he guessed on, and a C- was his reward.
Peter was so confused about his test, he didn't see Jenny Meredith standing next to his locker until he was about to reach out to grab the handle. As his hand extended blindly toward his locker, he felt the odd sensation of a wool sweater against his fingertips. He pulled back his arm in surprise at the same moment Jenny Meredith startled at a freshman’s touching her stomach.
"Watch what you're doing, creep," she said.
Peter bowed his head in embarrassment. "You're standing in front of my locker," he said sheepishly. He didn't know why Jenny made him feel so insecure, but she did nonetheless. "So you're the kid finding out who stole Mary Sue's tape player" Jenny said.
Peter wasn't sure if it was a question or not. "That's right," he said, trying to sound as calm as possible. He didn't want Jenny to know how nervous she made him. He couldn't explain it. They'd never spoken before, yet he felt intimidated by her.
Jenny Meredith was vice-captain of the cheer squad. She was almost the opposite image of Mary Sue. Her night-black hair was cut short just above the ears and less than a finger long in the back. She was shorter than Mary Sue but more muscular. Jenny was beautiful in a wild, exotic way while Mary Sue seemed more of the Barbie Doll type who was used to batting her eyes to get her way. Peter doubted Jenny Meredith had ever bothered to bat her eyes for anything.
Jenny's boyfriend was a 225-pound monster who played defensive tackle for the Sam Houston High School Fighting Marauders and ate three plates of fried chicken at lunch every day. People said had carved Jenny's name in his right arm with a razor.
Perhaps it wasn't Jenny Peter was so intimidated by as it was her boyfriend. Either way, Peter didn't like talking to her in the middle of the hall in front of everyone.
"So you think the fat kid did it," Jenny said.
"I never said that," Peter tried not to make eye contact with Jenny as he eased his way around her to his locker.
"Mary Sue thinks you said that," Jenny said. "In fact, she sent Tommy Turner after him." There was a gleam in her eye that made Peter cringe. She seemed to be excited by the idea that Tommy Turner was going to beat up Mark Marshall. Peter wouldn't be hurt if he never saw Mark Marshall again, but he had no proof that the kid was involved this time.
Not that Peter could put it past him.
"Well, who else could it be then?" Jenny asked.
This time at least, Peter could tell it was a question.
"It could be a lot of people. No one saw anything."
"That's not true," Jenny said excitedly. "I saw him standing by her locker this morning. And then again after third period I saw him walking to the parking lot bobbing his head back and forth like he was listening to a song."
Her eyes took on a gleam Peter recognized from himself when he was figuring stuff out. But somehow it didn't seem as natural on Jenny.
"He was probably listening to headphones," Jenny continued. "That's it. He took her Walkman and was listening to it in the parking lot between classes."
Jenny snapped her fingers and spun away from Peter's locker. Her purse slammed into his thigh and fell out her hand. It toppled over, spilling its contents in a prism of falling objects. Used tissues, notes folded six times over, empty candy wrappers, a leather key chain with at least two dozen keys, a half-eaten pack of gum and four crumpled up dollar bills bounced and floated across the floor.
"You clumsy oaf," Jenny barked at Peter, though he hadn’t caused the accident.
Peter leaned down and tried to help, but Jenny shoed him away.
"Get away from my stuff, creep. Don't you think you've done enough?"
She loaded her purse back up, all the while continuing to chant curses at Mack Truck Marshall. She turned again, this time with her hand firmly on her purse, and hopped down the hall in her usual cheerleader gait.
Peter felt a laugh surging in his stomach.
Peter felt like a Peeping Tom as he stood behind his locker door pretending to search for a book but instead listening to Jenny Meredith and Mary Sue Parker. The final bell had just rung, and most of the students were filing out to buses or waiting cars. The few who lived near the high school were heading in all directions down sidewalks and quickly out of site. But there were still enough people in the hallways that Peter didn't feel completely obvious.
The cheerleaders' conversation flitted from girlfriends’ discussing weekend plans to problems with a particular class to what each of them planned to wear to the senior prom. The missing Walkman seemed to be the furthest thing from Mary Sue's mind.
Peter was about to shut his locker and walk toward his bus when Mary Sue slammed her locker shut and glared at Jenny.
"I don't care what Kevin heard. I'm telling you, I never made out with the fat kid," Mary Sue barked. “I told you that two days ago, so when are you going to get the message?”
"Kevin says it was back in sixth grade. He said he caught you two kissing behind the building after school one day."
Kevin Douglas was Jenny's football hunk. The two had been together since their freshman years. Mary Sue, on the other hand, had never had a serious boyfriend. Every time she'd been seen on a date with someone, rumors filled the halls the next day. Mary Sue's personal life was always a hot topic of conversation and speculation.
"Geez, relax Mary Sue, I'm just saying what I heard," Jenny said. She sounded sincere, but Peter couldn't see her eyes from behind his locker. He had learned from talking to enough liars that fibs bounced in people's eyes like flashing banners revealing the truth. "Besides, if you two really did make out, why hasn't Mack Truck ever bragged about it?"
"I don't know. Maybe nobody ever asked him. Maybe if someone, I don't know, like me say, went up and asked him, he might just spill his guts."
"You wouldn't," Mary Sue said, almost pleading her best friend to drop the subject. "Inquiring minds want to know, Mary Sue. And if you don't tell me, I'm sure Mack Truck Marshall will."
They fell silent and Peter was afraid they'd started walking down the hall out of earshot. He leaned back slightly to see if they were still there. Mary Sue was kneeling down to put her books in her bag. Her back was to Peter. Jenny was staring down on her.
"Speaking of which, do you know if he's here today?" Jenny asked.
Mary Sue leapt to her feet and stood silently for a second. "Why would I know if he's here today?"
"I just figured you'd know, I mean, after all you two have been through," Jenny said. Peter couldn't see Mary Sue's face, but he was pretty sure she had started crying as a whimper escaped her and she ran down the hall. Jenny turned and watched as Mary Sue disappeared down the corridor.
Peter couldn't help but stare. It wasn't until Jenny Meredith turned back around that he realized he was obvious about his eavesdropping. She glared and started toward him.
"What are you doing, creep?" Jenny barked. "What did you hear?"
Peter stammered. "Noth-nothing," he said. "I was just - My books. I didn't."
"Mind your own business, freshman," Jenny said harshly as she pushed Peter's locker shut with a slam hard enough to send an echo down the now nearly empty hallway.
She stormed away toward the parking lot.
Peter watched her go. As she pushed through the front door letting it slam behind her, he realized he was now alone in the hallway. The only sound was the heating unit turning itself down for the evening.
In the silence, Peter could barely make out the faint squeak of a mop bucket being wheeled down the hall. He picked up his books and headed toward the sound.
In the five months Peter had spent at Sam Houston High School, he'd seen T.J. Heissendecker a total of four times. Each of those, the dusty German janitor was either picking up a piece of balled up paper from in front of a locker or sweeping up crumbs around the cafeteria lunch counter.
Peter always felt uneasy around the old man. T.J. Heissendecker 's left eye wandered around on its own and seemed to be looking at the clock while the other stared right through you. Peter was never sure if the janitor was looking at him or at a poster on the wall. Heissendecker had a cleft pallet and the scar squirreled up his lip and disappeared under his flaming nostril.
Peter had only heard him speak one time, and the words had come out mangled from the
cleft lip and heavy German accent. Peter couldn't understand a word but had never made much of an effort to listen.
Now, as Peter slowly approached the man, he felt his nerves throwing an acid party in his stomach.
"Excuse me, sir," Peter offered meekly from behind the janitor.
"Watdo wan boy?" the man said.
Peter translated in his head: What do you want, boy? "Um, well, it's about the lockers."
"Youm fint keys?" the man said harshly. It came out sounding more as a statement than a question.
Peter wasn't certain it was a question at first and craned his head at the man like a dog unsure of a sound. "I'm sorry," Peter started.
"Yoooum. Fint. Keys?" the man asked again.
You find keys? Peter realized. "No. Keys? What keys?"
T.J. Heissendecker reached to his side and pulled out a ring of keys that were connected to his belt loop. The ring was attached to a chain that extended as the janitor shoved it toward Peter. "Maser key rink gong."
Master key ring is gone.
"No, I didn't find a key. I was just wondering if maybe you found a Walkman this morning." Peter's voice trailed off.
"No Walshmen. Fint keys."
"What do they look like?"
"Like um keys. Two hunren. Brown strap on rink."
"Well, I'll keep my eyes open. If I see anything, I'll let you know."
Peter turned and headed toward the buses. He had a sinking feeling he was going to be walking home today. As he rounded the corner, he realized he was right. The last bus was turning right on Poydras Lane and disappeared behind a row of houses.
Turning back toward the school, he bumped right into Mr. Kennedy, the principal.
"What are you still doing on campus, son?" the hulking man asked. He seemed about twenty feet tall to Peter.
"I missed my bus," Peter said.
"Are you snooping around campus again, Mr. Dodge?"
"No sir. I mean, yes sir. I was just. It's just that. ..."
Peter stammered his way through trying to find a way to explain being on campus without admitting he was trying to solve another case. He'd been warned a dozen times not to act like a detective and instead let the administrators and teachers handle campus security. The last time he'd tried to solve a problem, it landed him in the hospital with a broken arm when he fell off the roof trying to get away from two dropouts who were trying to break into the school.
Mr. Kennedy made him promise then not to get involved again. If he did, he'd end up with in-school suspension.
"It's for myself, sir," Peter continued. "I lost a book this morning and I started thinking I left it in the gym after P.E."
"The gym is on the other side of campus, Mr. Dodge," the principal said as he folded his arms in front of him.
"Oh, right, of course," Peter said. "I was already there. It wasn't there, so I came back trying to catch the bus. I guess I missed it. I'll just go call my mom and see if she can pick my up after work."
"Yes, you do that Mr. Dodge. And make sure you wait for her out front. You don't need to be in the halls after school."
Peter bolted for the front office to use the phone and immediately went out front. As soon he saw Mr. Kennedy pull out of the teacher's parking lot, he turned and went back inside.
Peter could see the swollen eye coming right at him. The eye was connected to Mack Truck Marshall, but the red and bulging socket was all Peter could focus on. His mind tried frantically to tell his legs to run, but his legs were just as interested in the swollen eye as he was. Peter suddenly realized that staying after school to see if anything fishy was going on with the lockers after hours had been a bad idea.
"You told them I took that girl's Walkman?" Mack Truck said as he slammed Peter against the locker.
It felt as if tiny hammers were pounding nails into the back of Peter's skull. He could smell onions on Mark Marshall's breath. It was all he could do to keep from gagging.
"No," Peter said pitifully. "I didn't tell anyone anything."
While it was the truth, Peter knew it wasn't the whole truth. He hadn't exactly gone out of his way to say it wasn't Mark Marshall. The Walkman’s disappearance certainly matched his style of criminal behavior, and Peter had had numerous run-ins with this bad seed. But there wasn't any proof to suggest it was Mark Marshall, and Peter knew it.
"Well, two football thugs seem to think it was me," the heavy-set kid said as he slammed Peter into the locker again with enough force to make Peter's ears ring. "I didn't do nothing. I wasn't even at school today until fourth period because I went to see me grandmother at the hospital," he said with a final emphatic shove into the lockers.
Peter rubbed the back of his head and felt a lump already swelling. "I'm sorry," he said, and immediately felt silly apologizing to the guy who had just knocked his head around.
"Yeah, well, everyone's sorry," Mark said. Tears welled up in his eyes. "I'm used to getting blamed for everything anyway."
Peter had never seen him cry before and didn't know if it was a good idea to watch now. Knowing a bully's weakness didn't always translate into having the upper hand. Sometimes it meant more abuse from the ruffian to show the moment of weakness had passed.
"I'm sorry," Peter said again weakly before trying to sneak off around the corner.
"Do you know why I flattened those tires in the parking lot last semester," Mark called after him.
Peter turned. "No."
"Do you know what it's like to constantly be referred to as 'Mack Truck Marshall' all the time?"
"Of course not," Mark snorted as a tear flew off the end of his nose and landed in a black circle on his shoe. "Look at you, skinny as a lamppost. Well, when you're like me, sometimes you just get tired of hearing how fat you are, or how stupid you are, or how ugly you are, and you just want to get even. Well, that day after school, a lot of people had to get dirty and greasy to get home. I say ten days of in-school suspension was worth it."
Though he didn't know it was possible, Peter felt bad for Mack Truck ... Peter stopped his thought. From now on, he promised he would never call him Mack Truck Marshall again. He didn't think they'd ever be friends, but at least they could be civil.
"Besides, I once forgot my combination. I didn't want anyone to know, so I stayed after school and tried to pry my locker open. I was here for two hours and finally gave up. The next day I told the principal that someone tried to break into my locker. They changed the whole door. The guy who did it said these were Safe-T-Locks." Mark Marshall stood now and patted one of the lockers as if it were a new car. "The only way you can get into one of these is to have a key or know the combination."
Peter figured he'd give it a shot.
"Can I ask you something?" he started.
"What?" Mark replied.
"Have you ever, I mean, it's none of my business, but, you know, have you and Mary Sue ever, well, made out?"
"You're right, it's none of your business," Mark said as he turned and disappeared down the hall.
Peter knew one thing for sure: No comment is almost always an admission of guilt. The law may see it differently, but to the eyes of a jury, silence means confession.
When Peter got home, he pretended to be sick when his best friend, Brandon Jennings, came by after dinner. Though they usually got together to shoot hoops or ride bikes, Peter wasn't in the mood. He thought for a long time about the missing Walkman until, finally, he thought he knew what had happened. At that moment, he heard the phone ring, and his mother told him he had a phone call. “It’s from a girl,” she said as she handed him the phone.
After his mother had left the room, Peter said, “Hello?”
“Hi, Peter. It’s Mary Sue. I just wanted to know if you know who took my Walkman?”
Peter tried to sound much calmer than he felt. It wasn’t every day that he got phone calls from head cheerleaders. “I think I figured it out, yes.”
“It was that Mack Truck guy, wasn’t it?”
“Well, I think Mark has some problems but maybe -”
“Look it doesn’t matter. I’m so glad you think it’s him. What do you think we should do?”
“I don’t think it would be wise to accuse anyone just yet but I think I can convince Principal Kennedy that I know where the Walkman is tomorrow,” Peter said.
Mary Sue sounded excited just before she hung up, and Peter did much more thinking. He didn't sleep much that night.
The next morning, he was up before the sun, dressed, and on his way to school while his parents were still hitting the snooze button on their alarm clock. He'd left a note for his mother about having a chess club meeting before school. He wasn't on the chess club, but his mother didn't know that.
Peter knew he'd have to tell Mr. Kennedy what was going on. Peter waited in front of the principal's office, palms sweating, as if he were in trouble. His heart raced as Mr. Kennedy came through the door. Peter began telling him his theory as they walked toward the principal's office.
"I know you don't want to believe it, but I think it's true," Peter continued as Mr. Kennedy put his briefcase down. "I didn't believe it myself at first, but there's no other person it could be. If you just do this, I know you'll see for yourself."
"Just because you haven't been wrong yet," Mr. Kennedy said, "doesn't mean you'll always be as fortunate, and there are laws in the adult world we can't just go breaking."
"But you're not going to be breaking any laws; all I'm asking is that you watch what happens this morning and see for yourself."
"That's true," the principal stuttered before going silent. "Okay," Mr. Kennedy finally said. "I'll do this. But if you're wrong, you have to stop acting like chief inspector around here."
Just then, the front door shut with a loud clang that echoed down the empty hallway. Peter knew by the silhouetted hair that he had been right in his assumption.
Mr. Kennedy stared at Peter in disbelief and anticipation. Wordlessly, they left the principal's office and silently took the back hallway toward the junior lockers.
Mr. Kennedy watched in stunned silence as Mary Sue Parker reached into her purse, removed the missing key chain, opened Mark Marshall's locker, and placed the supposedly missing Walkman inside. As she closed the door, Mr. Kennedy and Peter Dodge came out from around the corner and approached Mary Sue.
"Hold it right there young lady," Mr. Kennedy said.
Mary Sue startled and dropped the key chain in a loud clatter on the freshly-waxed floor. She stared alternately from the principal - trouble - and Peter Dodge - accuser.
"But ... How did ... I," she stammered. No matter what she said, her face revealed what everyone already knew - she was busted, red handed.
"I knew it couldn't have been a common thief," Peter said, "because no one would go through the trouble and risk of stealing the janitor's keys just to steal a Walkman. If someone had keys to every locker in school, they wouldn't just stop with your Walkman. Why not take your purse and your money too? And then take stuff from everyone's lockers?"
Mary Sue stared blankly at Mr. Kennedy as they both listened to Peter.
"So I figured someone wasn't being totally honest about the situation. At first I thought Jenny might be involved when I saw the keys in her purse, but then I remembered that she knew the combination to your locker; she wouldn't need keys to break in."
"The keys you saw, Mr. Dodge, we probably the keys to the storage room," Mr. Kennedy said. "Ms. Meredith is in charge of taking the cheerleader uniforms and equipment over to the laundry room once a week. I signed those keys over to her last week."
Peter walked over to the locker and picked up and handed the janitor’s missing keys to Mr. Kennedy.
"At first, I was curious why you didn't go directly to the principal," Peter continued to Mary. "Sure, you'd get in trouble for having the Walkman in school, but at least you'd get it back. So I figured, the only reason you wanted me to find out was because you knew it'd be suspicious if you went to the principal yourself and said, 'Someone stole my Walkman, and I think I know who.' You didn't want to be that obvious.
"Then, when I heard you and Jenny talking in the hallway about yours and Mark's past, I knew something wasn't right. So I started thinking, if it was Jenny, what did she have to gain from setting Mark Marshall up? She's probably never even talked to him, much less been given a reason to get him expelled. So I knew it couldn't have been Jenny. I was pretty sure your story wasn't completely in tune, but I still couldn't prove it. When I saw your blond hair come in this morning, I knew I was right. Then all we had to do is wait."
Mary Sue looked down at her hands and began to cry.
"What I still don't understand, Ms. Parker," the principal said, "is why you would want to get Mr. Marshall expelled."
"She was afraid Mark was going to tell everyone about what happened in sixth grade," Peter said.
"I couldn't stand the humiliation if anyone found out what happened in sixth grade," Mary Sue added. "When people started talking, I figured the only way to save my reputation was to get rid of Mark so he couldn't say anything."
"You have a lot more to worry about than your reputation now, young lady," Mr. Kennedy said. "Normally, I'd let rumors run their course, but you took it a step too far. I'm afraid I have no choice but to send you home for the rest of the day. Tomorrow you'll start two weeks of in-school suspension."
Mr. Kennedy then turned his attention to Peter.
"As for you, young man, I hope this is the last time you pretend to be a detective. If you had been wrong, you could ruin someone's reputation."
Peter thought to himself, Well, I wasn't wrong. And I hope I won't be wrong next time, either.