What makes the Internet fun – when you’re not being scammed, spammed. phished, hacked and generally annoyed—is when someone in an unexpected location visits your website.
I periodically check the stats on my site to track users, etc. I also make note of entries from some foreign hacker-friendly nations.
But, today was a sort-of delight.
Someone located in Sint Maartin, a nation in the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean looked up an old post on my website.
Yeah, it could be a hacker, but what the hell.
Sint Maartin is the Dutch half of an island which it shares with a French colony, Saint Maartin.
Sunny, beachy, touristy.
Sint Maartin is 41 square miles and has a population of 41,000.
The capital is Phillipsburg.
Which is what got my attention.
Because the post that was accessed was something I wrote a year ago about the Phillipsburg, N.J. town council messing with the Phillipsburg Free Public Library, in fact, considering closing it. Thanks to a strong civic outcry, the council backed off, although it is still hard to consider them friends of the library.
Now it’s possible the Phillipsburg, Sint Maartin town council is also feuding with its public library.
But I doubt it.
Had someone wanted to read about such a feud and Googled “Phillipsburg library budget” or something like that, my item would have appeared among the 22 million other references, including any potential such items from Sint Maartin.
If that had happened, and the reader clicked on the Google link it would taken them directly to the post.
But, according to the tracking info on my page, the reader first used said Google search to access the main page of the blog.
They then accessed the archive link and searched specifically for the Phillipsburg library item they read. A lot of work unless you were doing it on purpose.
Holy Dewey Decimal System, Batman.
Slow day on the beaches of Sint Maartin?
Anyway, thanks , and I hope you enjoyed the post.
Got me thinking, though.
I’m plotting out the next Frank Nagler Mystery, so far called, NAGLER’S SECRET, and this type of sneaky, Internet search and messaging would be a way for the person behind the secret, or who is the secret, to reach out to Nagler.
In this segment of my junior high school WIP, Jacob, the really smart kid, tells Theo he is setting up a betting scheme for a wall crawl contest between Theo and Bobby Danforth. Also, the story has a new name: SCALING THE WALL. As the story has progressed that idea that all the kids are trying to overcome something is the central theme.
“What are you plotting?” Theo asked, as he approached the grinning Jacob.
“That, my sporting friend, is the exact word,” Jacob replied. “How would you like to make a few dollars and get back at Bobby Danforth?”
Before Theo could speak up, a kid tapped Jacob on the shoulder, handed him two dollars and said, “On… ” the kid nodded to Theo. “What’s your name?”
“Right. Two bucks on Theo.”
“You have kids betting on me? What the heck, Jacob. I mean, Bobby is a jerk but I’m not gonna fight him. Jeez, Jacob!”
“Oh, no, Theo. I’d never ask you to do that, but your triumph over Bobby Danforth on the wall has gone viral on Tik Tok. Take a look.”
Jacob handed Theo his phone where student after student cheered Theo’s “victory.”
Theo passed the phone back. “He bet me a buck, and I didn’t have one. I had to beat him.” He stared into the playground, then shrugged. “Don’t get the fuss. Wasn’t that hard.” He cast a side glance at Jacob. “What are you getting me into?”
“Ah, my friend, don’t tell anyone it wasn’t that hard. It would change the odds.”
Theo leaned his head to one side, closed his eyes and tried to form a sentence. “Wha…I..Jac…wall, Mr.Younger…” And gave up. A sigh. “You’re taking bets that I can, what, crawl along the wall farther than Bobby Danforth.”
Jacob grinned. “Not just crawl farther, but traverse the fire escape, then conquer the rear door gap, which if you have looked at it, has a ledge but no footholds, and then of course, make it across the long playground side of the wall, which it high off the ground and the foot ledge is narrow and has a shaper tilt. Very difficult.”
“That’s right, I’m setting up betting line of all aspects of the crawl. The over all distance, of course, but a separate wagers on the fire escape, rear door and the playground wall. I am pondering a bet on the fastest run, but since no one has ever measured the time it took someone to complete the full crawl, I have no data upon which to create a reasonable odds.”
Theo, fully suckered and agreeing, laughed. “What do I get out of it, besides all the glory?”
“A cut of the profits.”
“Ha! Awright, ya got me.”
Jacob stood, then Theo as Jacob began to walk away.
“I have piano practice,” Jacob said. “But, thank you. This silly wall crawl has importance beyond what you know. You must realize how many students before you tried and never made the first turn. To them it is more than a game. It’s a challenge, a measurement of themselves. They want to say when they leave this school they conquered the wall.”
Theo glanced at the long wall facing the playground. Some big deal, huh? “Yeah, okay. I get that. In Lakeside after school we boys used to run to my parent’s coffee shop and the last one in had to buy the sodas. We had swimming races in the summer and then see who would dare jump from the top of the hay pile in Anson’s barn to the floor.” He nodded and grinned at Jacob. “Yeah, so, everything was a challenge.”
“There’s more,” Jacob said. “Bobby Danforth and his friends have bullied more than a dozen kids just because they can.” They began to walk toward Jacob’s house. “No one will stand up to him. His family protects him.” Jacob smiled and patted Theo on the back. “Besides they are all tired of Bobby Danforth’s bragging. He’s telling his friends that he gave you that dollar out of pity.”
Theo smiled. “Actually, Jacob, I tricked him. I made it look harder than it was.”
“Oh, my, don’t tell anyone else that, either. I’d have no way to set the odds if students felt there was no contest.”
“Man, I don’t get you. The smartest kid in class, the piano whiz and a bookie.”
“Precisely. A plump-fingered, bespeckled piano player like me,” Jacob laughed as stared at his phone as a string of texts with bets arrived.
“Because it’s numbers, math, my friend, and math is easy. Besides it’s a family skill. My uncle ran numbers on horse races and one day I asked how he did it, so he took me to the track and showed me. I got it right away. No one guessed because he was an attorney.” Jacob turned. “See you soon.”
Theo watched as Jacob bobbed his short-stepped walk across Cherry Street, his feet and shoulders syncopated as if he was marching to a musical beat.
That little hustler.
He turned back to the school, and stared at the long side of the building that faced the playground when the whole stinking mess dawned on him. If he’s the hustler, then I’m his sucker. There’s something else even worse between Jacob and Bobby Danforth, and now it’s my problem.
In this scene from the WIP, BETTING ON THEO, a story about a middle school. Dev tells Theo she has entered the wall crawl challenge set up by their friend, Jacob. The scene also raises the question about how close Theo and Dev are becoming.Other entries on this website. Check the archives, or follow the site
She had a most imperfect face. Her square jaw jutted in defiance more often than not, warning that if you had a thought to touch what was clearly a soft cheek, she’d grab your fingers and bend them back, making it clear how wrong you were to even think about it. And her eyes were dark and hidden a lot, protectors of the secrets that they knew or maybe the pain; and her mouth was too often a straight line, narrow and hard, Imperfect, like the pieces didn’t fit. From an angle her nose seemed too big. Then she’d turn and her eyes would soften to a tease and after she bit her lip her mouth would curl into sweet wicked smile and all the imperfections would be gone.
At least, that was how Theo imagined it, head resting on the cement wall of the school, eyes closed because the setting sun stabbed around the corner of the building. The kiss would be magic after he ran a finger over her eyebrows and down her cheek to brush her lips, and how the muscles of her face would push her lips to his and … “Hey, T, T, wake up.” Dev pushed a fist into his left shoulder after she sat next to him. “Wake up, ya missed it, didn’t you?”
“What. No, I didn’t… missed what?”
“I climbed up the outside of the fire escape, across the top, and back down. Just hands. I’m thinking that Jacob should add that event to his betting pool.”
“You’re really doing it, the wall crawl.”
“You did. I figure it’s easier to win that prize for this stupid thing than doing farm work.”
“But, yeah, but it was an accident. If Bobby Danforth hadn’t challenged me… You really think it’s stupid?”
“But he did, and there’s no going back. If you can do it, I can do it. And yes, it’s stupid. All you little boys, trying to prove yourself.” She shook her head. “Prove yourself by working.”
“Hey, I worked. I told ya, helped my parents at the coffee shop, hauled hay and picked fruit.”
“I know. You’re different. Come on. I need to get out of your mother’s clothes.”
Dev stood and held out her hands. Theo reached up and she pulled him to his feet with little effort.
“You’re strong,” he said, trying not to sound too surprised.
“T, I’ve been picking vegetables since I was eight. My hands are already tough. Didn’t you notice when we held hands the other day?”
In this section of what now is called BETTING ON THEO, Theo, the new kid in town, is chased through a neighborhood by the school bully and his friends. Passing an old factory, a gate opens and Theo reunites with Dev, his friend who had been missing for a couple days. The scene starts in the middle of the chase.
With Bobby Danforth and his buddies more than a block away, Theo leaned against the iron gate. When he heard Bobby Danforth yell, “Wait up,” he waved and ran a few steps, vaulted a couple tree trunks, jumped through some thickets and emerged back on the main driveway about a fifty feet from the gate. He stopped just long enough for them to spot him. “Wait up, man.” That was Bobby Danforth. Theo liked the frustration in his voice. At the cellar, Theo sprinted up the side path and ran till he got to the wooden fence. He made a couple rights and a left and stopped at the corner that would lead back to Main Street and his house, but took the other turn toward County. Guess I lost them. Ha! He brushed his right hand along the wooden fence, slapping it once in celebration.
Ahead, a section of the fence opened. “In here.”
It was Dev.
“T, what are you doing?” She closed the door and locked it with a thick wooden latch.
“What. Dev? Wait, over here,” and Theo led her to stand behind a wall. “Bobby Danforth and his guys are following me. Shhh.”
He smiled at her while they waited to hear if Bobby and his boys were still on his trail. She was tired, her eyes withdrawn and dark.
More than tired, he thought. Beaten down. Lost.
A fist thumped the fence near the gate. The wall shifted with an outside push. “Come on,” Bobby Danforth said. “If you can hear me, Thee awful lee, this ain’t over.”
Theo and Dev waited in silence. Another thump against a far wall echoed. “Had him running, didn’t we?”
When the street fell silent, Theo asked, “What are you doing here? How long…?”
Dev reached for the bar on the gate. “You can go, T.” They won’t get you now.”
“No, I just got here. It’s been a few days, you know. Been pretty worried about you. How’d you know it was me?”
“Heard you running. Nobody goes by here, so when I hear someone, I peek through the wall, just in case.” She stepped back into the main factory building which was missing windows and half its roof. “It’s an old woolen mill. You’d be surprised how much stuff is still here. This room is warm and isolated.”
Theo glanced around. And dirty and wet and filled with moldy junk and probably rats…
“Why are…?” Theo held his head with both hands to organize his thoughts. “I know about the farm,” he said and saw her shoulders sag before she turned away. “The grocery manager…”
Dev turned back, face locked, eyes hard. “Did the grocery manager also tell you he knocked on the school bus every night demanding that I service him? ‘Oh, my beautiful little chicka, I have something for you. I want to make you sing.’”
“Why didn’t you report him?”
“To who? You were there when I said something about Bobby Danforth playing with himself when I came out of the shower. They were embarrassed for him, not me.” She touched his face. “You’re a sweet boy, T. But just go. I can deal with this for a while and one day soon after the farm pays me I’ll move on.”
He took her hand. “I ain’t going anywhere. I mean I don’t know a lot about all this, but I know what’s it’s like to be alone. What am I trying to say? “I don’t know why you changed your name to Devlin …”
“How do you know I changed it?”
“Jacob told me.”
She pulled back her hand and sat on a dusty chair. “Jacob. That little busybody.”
Theo pulled up a wooden box for a seat. “That little busybody can help. He’s had his own Bobby Danforth trouble.”
“Why don’t you use of own real name?” she asked. “Theophile, right? Du-boi, not Du-boiz?”
His face crumpled. “I told you. My grandfather…”
“I know. A white Frenchman changed his name so he could pass for normal.”
“Stings don’t it? Try being the brown-skinned teenage daughter of a Mexican migrant farmworker. What, you thought I had a tan?” She laughed. “I chose Devlin because it was the whitest Irish name I could think of, and no one noticed I don’t have red hair and green eyes, or talk about the ‘old country’ with mist in my eyes.”
Theo stood and pulled Dev from her chair and held both her hands.
“Why you doing this, Dev? I’m your friend. I don’t care that you … whatever. It’s like you trying to drive me away.”
“Ah, T. Don’t you get it? Nobody cares about people like me. What got me in trouble at school? I stole a carton of milk. They didn’t ask why I needed to steal the milk and the I only reason I got caught is that Mrs. Nelson was out that day. I live in a stupid old school bus. It’s like it doesn’t bother them because you can’t really see it from the street and it’s not in their neighborhood.” She nodded to an opening to another room. “I got a stove and made a bed outta old wool for covers.”
“No, Dev. No.” Theo screwed up his face and close his eyes. “It just hurts to..”
“Don’t do that to yourself, T. Don’t take it on. You gotta learn to be like the others. The school doesn’t want to do all that paperwork because in Mrs. Sternman’s mind, I’ll be gone in six months, like all the others.”
“Farm workers, T. Migrants, immigrants, illegals… hiding in the shadows, here for six months till the crops are harvested, then gone. Why bother?” Her voice broke and she covered her face. “I’m nothing, T. Nothing.”
Theo crossed and hugged her, holding Dev as her rigid body tried to pull out of the embrace. After a moment, Theo released her and said, “Get your stuff. You’re coming with me.”
“We got a spare room.”
“T??” “My Mom grew up without a mother. If she knew I left you here, she’s ground me for the rest of my life and then come and get you herself. So, let’s go.”
In this scene from BETTING ON THEO, the story of three outsiders banding together to challenge the Cherry Street School establishment, Theo and school bully Bobby Danforth face off in a wall-crawl challenge. If Tom Sawyer and a whitewashed fence come to mind, well, so be it.
The idea of crawling around the wall of Cherry Street School nudged Theo up County Road and into the school’s deserted parking lot. Why’d Jacob make it sound like such a big deal?
He jumped onto the cement base. Clinging with one hand, Theo ran a finger over a couple of the textured bricks and felt the sharp ridges. He thought there must be a lot of kids with little cuts on their fingers. He dropped back to the ground.
Halfway down the right side of the school stood a three-story metal fire escape with platforms on the second and third floors at emergency exits and sets of steps that crisscrossed to the ground.
He wondered if you have to crawl around it, or could you jump back to the ground and walk to the other side and then climb back onto the wall.
As he examined the fire escape he reached up to touch hand and foot holds that would make it possible to climb it and never touch the ground. No worse than climbing the walls and hay chutes in Anson’s old barn, he thought. The hay wagons would back up and Theo and half the kids it town it seemed tossed the bales from the wagons to the loft and then on slack days climbed up the piles along ladders nailed to the walls and jumped or slid to the hay covered floor boards, or slipped down the chutes of the feeding bins to a loose pile of hay below.
Theo smiled at the memory of walking home pulling hay out of his hair, shirt and pants.
He turned to the sound of footsteps at the front of the school.
“You’ll never do it, you know, Thee-awful-lee,” said Bobby Danforth, leaning on the corner of the school. “If Mr. Younger catches you, he’ll put you in detention for a month.”
Theo tipped his head to one side and released a scoffing breath. “How many months you been there?”
Bobby Danforth grinned back. “I don’t get caught. But you, a new kid? Country boy, you don’t know how things are done here. There’ll probably be a note on Mr. Younger’s desk on Monday.”
“I’ll make sure I check,” Theo said before starting to walk away around the back of the school, but stopped. “Why are you following me? Or are you here to practice so you can beat your brother on the wall crawl?”
Bobby Danforth stiffened. “You think you know so much. I can do better than he did. I can do better than you.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard. I ain’t ever done it.” “Put you’re money where your mouth is. A buck to who stays up the longest.”
Theo stared back at Bobby Danforth’s scowling face and tried not to smile. “Sure. You go first. I need to see, ya know, how it’s done.”
“Candy from a baby,” Bobby Danforth said. “Start here,” and he walked to the front door where the top of the slanting cement base was about two feet high, reached up with both hands to a row of bricks a foot or so above his head and pulled himself flat to the wall.
That was easier than I thought it would be, Theo mused.
Bobby took a deep breath and slid his feet along the cement and with one hand at a time grabbed a new slot in the bricks. The wall took an outward ninety-degree right turn to a new wall, and he easily stepped around the corner and worked along the new twenty-foot wall to another outward corner which this time turned right toward a third wall.
He was breathing harder and coughed out a few breaths of dust. At the next corner, an inward facing ninety-degree turn, he paused and reached to his right across the space to the new wall and tested his balance. He bounced on his toes and with a grunt, shifted his right side across the opening and for a moment straddled the corner before trying to correct his stance. His feet were too close together and his hands could not grab a gap between the bricks. He swayed and slipped down the face of the wall, his fingers scraping on the sharp edges of the bricks. He hit the ground and fell backward, his left hand clutching the bleeding fingers of his right hand. “Damn it.” He winced and reached for his handkerchief to wrap his fingers. “Beat that.” He stood up and limped a few steps. He had cracked his left knee on the cement.
“You okay?” Theo asked.
“No big deal,” Bobby Danforth hissed through clenched teeth. “Your turn.”
Theo stepped to the front of the school, thinking with a tiny smile, thanks for the lesson. He rubbed his hands together, spit on them, and rubbed them again as he examined the brick face. He reached up with his right hand and found a deep gap in the bricks and pulled himself up. He spread his legs wider than Bobby Danforth had and stood on his toes rather than the soles of his feet. Theo alternated the height of his reach as he crossed the wall. At the third turn, the one that had tripped up his opponent, Theo paused. He noticed that the depth of the gaps between bricks on the new wall at his eye level were shallower. That’s what messed up Bobby, he thought. Less to grab.
Theo tip-toed closer to the corner before stepping across the gap. The shift reduced the length of his first step and helped maintain his balance. “Whoa,” he cried and then seemed to slip, before crossing the gap and taking a deep breath.
Theo cling to the wall and seemed to be resting when he heard Bobby Danforth groan and mutter, “Crap.”
Theo slithered along the wall for another ten feet to a set of windows that created a fifteen-foot gap in the bricks. The bottom of the window frames was chest high, but ten feet from the ground with a sloped, wooden sill. Theo reached under the frame and found a space between the top of the bricks and the sill and grinned. Gotcha. He leaned back a little and fumbled along the wall for a few apparent slippery steps and then pushed off. He landed on his feet, but rolled just for the effect.
“Windows are tough,” he said, brushing off his jeans and shaking his head with determination. “I’ll have to remember that.”
Bobby Danforth sucked on two fingers to stop the bleeding. He pulled out a dollar bill and handed it to Theo. “Beginner’s luck,” he said. “I pay my debts.”
“Maybe,” Theo said as took the bill and watched Bobby Danforth turn and leave. He wiped the blood on his jeans and smiled.
Good thing I won, I didn’t have a buck.
“Hey, Bobby,” Theo yelled. “Stop messing with Dev.”
“Whatcha gonna do about it, Thee-awful-lee? First things first. You, then her.” He waited for a reply; when none came he walked off.
Theo smiled and rubbed his hands, feeling the scrapes on the tips of his fingers. Everyone gets theirs in the end.
In this segment of the Cherry Street School story, Theo finds something new and concerning about his friend Dev. He hasn’t seen her in a couple of days, not since he saw that she had a bruised eye after a scrap with the school bully Bobby Danforth. Theo has been in his new town about two weeks. At times his loneliness for his old home surfaces, as it does here. At the same time he is gaining some confidence.
The story also has a possible title: Betting on Theo.
Neither Dev nor her father was at the school bus. Theo wandered through the small downtown looking for her, and taking the time to learn more about the village. He peered into the windows of the café, the hair salon, a barber shop, a hardware store. Cars lined the street as other prowled, seeking parking. Mothers clustered on corners their arms tugged by little kids, who sometimes broke free and with elbows crooked, swirled around a street sign pole until their mothers stepped from their circle of women, snatched their hands and pulled them away from the street. A man stepped from the barber shop and removed his cap before running a hand through his newly cut short hair; he replaced the cap and lit a cigarette. At a far corner, along a wall of a vacant lot, a few kids leaned and sat, waving at friends as they drove by.
That was me, Theo thought, suddenly empty again, me and my friends sitting on the wide front steps of the Lakeside grocery, drinking sodas, grabbing a handful of chips from the giant bag that Jeff had bought and refused to share, laughing at his protest until he passed the bag around, saying, “Hey, not too many.”
Drawn by a blatting, deep whistle, Theo stopped to watch a tugboat and barge enter the lock of the nearby canal. A chipped blue and gold painted sign said it was the New York State Barge Canal. Theo was fascinated by the process of lowering the water to allow the vessels to continue passage. The growling echo of the tug engine rose as it sank inside the lock’s walls, the air filled with black exhaust from the stack, which settled about street level at the lowest point. The engine groaned and the water boiled as the tug and its barge crept out of the lock.
Theo coughed and spit out the black air. Need to learn about this place. Maybe then I’ll know more about Dev.
Finally he went to the Red and White and asked the manager if he had seen Dev, not really expecting an answer, but the man said, “Not in a week, her old man longer than that. Try Thornton’s truck farm on County Road.”
“About a mile outside of the village,” the man said. “They supply us vegetables and fruit, in season. Plantings started. They’re probably out there with the rest of their kind living in one of the shacks on the farm. The bus is a trade off so the girl can attend school. I’d move it if I could. But I don’t want the trouble.”
“Trouble?” Theo asked.
The manager glanced around, leaned toward Theo and hissed, “Immigrants.”
Theo felt the sting of the word, but nodded a stiff thanks. Outside as he stared at the purple bus, sadness filled his eyes, then passed as he slapped the tan bricks of the grocery store with his palm, each slap harder than the last. “Jerk,” he said,” then kicked at some weeds growing out of a crack in the driveway.
County Road ran straight from the center of the village. Theo pounded out his frustration and concern for Dev in every step. Past Cherry Street where the road narrowed to two lanes the houses thinned to open land, stands of trees and fields that surrounded a red barn. An electric fence ran along the road. Cows.
The wind carried in the sounds of machinery and faint shouting. As Theo crested a small rise, he saw a vast farm spread on both sides of the road, fields, sheds, barns and greenhouses and a billboard announcing, “Thornton’s Farm Seasonal fruit and vegetables” over a faded background of greenish fields, a white barn and little blobs of color that were probably animals. Along the bottom was a white arrow outlined in black that said, “Truck entrance ¼ mile.”
Theo had played with his Lakeside friends on their farms and had come to recognize how time and the plantings intertwined.
It was early May. The hay was fresh and green, awaiting first cut. In Lakeside when the Franklins made their first cut the air was sweet and succulent. The last cut in fall was as dry and scratchy as dust. Before him Theo watched as tractors hauling harrows rolled up the black dirt casting a musk that made the air taste gritty, rich and dark, stinging of manure. The early greens were chopped at the root and tossed in boxes to a flatbed; buzzcut cornfields hid new fresh stalks among the hollow bones of last year’s crop, a fuzz of soybeans, onions, asparagus, cucumbers and eggplants ran for acres squared by rutted paths; the gate to last year’s corn maze leaned on a bent frame. Later, he knew, warm June, the berries would arrive, fat and ripe, then snap peas and green beans. Somewhere tomatoes, and maybe in the greenhouses to the rear, flowers. By August, hot and parched, squash and sweet corn, round pumpkins, apples roadside in half-bushel baskets; later still, fist-sized jack-o-lanterns, tied bundles of corn stalks needing witches’ hats. Then chill and darkness, fields vacant, resting and silent.
It felt good, he thought, to know all that.
At a driveway, Theo saw a “help wanted” sign.
Maybe. I could use the money.
He stepped off the road as a truck with slatted sides rumbled by and turned into the farm. A dozen workers jumped from the back, and with their broad cloth hats slapped dust from their clothes and stamped their feet to loosen the mud from their boots. The truck pulled away and the workers in pairs and threes chatting in accented English and another language walked toward the row of wooden shacks and trailers that lined the backside of the inner farm road. Theo stared at a pair of girls in black clothes and ball caps walking arm-in-arm; he heard them laughing, a sound then crushed under the growling engine of a passing tractor.
Theo in his head heard the harsh, spitting voice of the grocery store manager: Immigrants.
In this installment of the so-far untitled story about Theo and the Cherry Street School, Theo meets Jacob Sheridan, and the issues about the school bully and the mystery of Dev, deepen. To keep in touch with this story, please “Follow” the website at the link below.
To learn about the Frank Nagler Mysteries, visit the website, and open any of several links.
Half way across the parking lot, he heard his name.
He hadn’t heard the boy walk up. Nobody knows me.
“What? Who are…” The boy extended his hand. He was eight or so inches shorter than Theo, with a round face, round metal rimmed glasses and a crew cut. He wore a red, blue and yellow striped shirt, creased gray pants and black loafers.
Theo shrunk a little, feeling sloppy and underdressed in his faded jeans with the patched right knee, black sneakers and green Farmington State sweatshirt. That was all he had time to unpack.
“I’m Jacob Sheridan,” the boy said. “I’m the seventh grade student president, which make me the official greeter to Cherry Street School.”
Theo shook his hand. “Is that a real thing? Official greeter?”
“Ah,” Jacob said. “Yes and no. It’s something I take on personally, when circumstances call for it. I’m in Miss Wilson’s class. I understand you are in Mrs. Schreck’s classroom.”
Theo wiped his hair. Who is this kid?
“Look, I need to get to her classroom. My papers got messed up.”
“May walk with you? You’ll have about fifteen minutes before they lock the doors.”
Locking doors, Theo thought. They’re always locking doors. He nodded to Jacob. “Sure, thanks.”
Jacob was smiling. “My, that was some play you made to end the game.”
“Thanks. Try not to think, just react. Bounced it because we didn’t have gloves.” Theo replied. “You don’t play?”
“My mother dissuades it,”
Dissuades it? “Oh, sure.”
“She convinced the principal that my time would best be spent in advanced math and science, not physical education,” Jacob said. “I’m taking calculus and freshman chemistry.”
Theo bit his lip. He had no idea what subjects he was supposed to study. “You some kind of genius? No offense.”
“Oh, none taken. I’m smart,” Jacob said with a short, firm nod. “I was reading at three, playing Brahms at four, and performing piano solos at church at five.” …
Theo pointed to a pair of boys hanging from the school’s brick wall. One fell, bouncing off his feet and rolling backward.
“What are they doing?” Theo asked Jacob.
“Ah, that’s the wall crawl, a Cherry Street School rite of passage.” “What‘s that mean?”
“Status is everything at this school,” Jacob said. “Do you need to return home immediately?” Theo shook his head, no. “Excellent. I live a block way.”
The street had cleared of students and vehicles; they walked alone.
“The athletes band together,” Jacob continued, “The pretty girls cling, the less fortune huddle in the corner of the lunchroom. Clothes matter, your parents’ car, your address, your favorite music, all are subject to judgement. You have to be cool to be included.”
“Wow. All that matters?” Theo asked.
“More than you can imagine,” Jacob said.
The tone of the reply puzzled Theo. So lonely sounding.
“I take it you’re not cool.”
“I am busy with, well, things, rehearsals and such. I am certainly not an athlete. Besides, my piano concert master would not allow it.” Jacob held out his soft, perfectly manicured hands.
“Hey, so look, Jacob, I’m new here and don’t know anybody. And I think you’re cool. But you gotta show me around.”
Jacob’s round face split with a smile. “That, good sir, is a deal.”
“So, what’s the idea with the wall thing?”
Theo caught a look in Jacob’s eyes.
“Interested, are you?” Jacob asked. “It is a challenge and somewhat of a legendary event. It began years ago as just something to do before class. Boys would walk along the wall using the gaps on the bricks for hand holds. Suddenly it was a competition. If one boy went twenty feet, another would crawl thirty feet.”
“Anyone make it all the way? In Lakeside the challenge was to swim to Halfway Rock and back, more than a mile total.”
Jacob offered a winking smile. “One boy, several years ago. John Danforth.” “Any relation to Bobby Danforth?” Theo asked. “I had a run-in with him at lunch.”
“And he was the boy you threw out at third base to end the game.”
“What are you getting at?”
“Bobby Danforth is, shall I say, the lesser of the Danforth boys. John Danforth is a top student, captain on all the sports teams, the homecoming king…”
“What’s a homecoming king?”
“Did your school not hold ceremonies for graduation, and the like?”
Theo laughed. “Jacob, when we passed one grade to another, we started the next year by sitting on the other side of the room. Anyway, so I take it Bobby Danforth is not as good at stuff as his older brother.”
“And from what my mother says—she works for the Danforths — he is reminded of his position often.” Jacob’s eyes hardened. “The Danforths are the most prosperous family in this town. The library is named for them. Now they own banks. They are respected, but not well liked. From what my mother says, Bobby is falling short of the family model.”
“But he takes advantage of his family’s … whatever it is,” Theo said.
“Yes. How would you know?”
“Knew some kids like that in Lakeside. Families landed on the right side of the money and the kids thought they were owed something for it.”
They paused in front of a brick house with a wide porch.
“This is my house,” Jacob said. “Would you like to come in?”
“Thanks but I need to find someone. Look, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He took a step, then stopped. “There’s something personal between you and Bobby Danforth, right?”
Jacob sighed. “Yes. Last year at the schoolwide recital at the high school,
I was performing a short piano piece when he and two other boys rushed on stage and rolled the piano away. The audience laughed and I was humiliated.”
“And they got away with it.”
“They claimed it was a comic sketch and I was part of it. And that my shocked expression was all an act.”
“And it wasn’t.”
“No.” Jacob stared into the street a moment. “But, it passed.”
Theo shook his head. “Naw, naw, it ain’t. But I bet it’s hard to stand up to him, huh?”
“I’ll give you a hand, but I gotta find Dev.” Theo, with a wave, started to walk away.
“You mean Andrea Duarte.”
Theo turned back. “Who? No, Dev. Andrea Devlin.”
“Her name is…look, she should tell you.”
Theo didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t sound good. “Does that have anything to do with Bobby Danforth calling her ‘onion girl’?”
The Red Hand: “A winning origin story for one of modern fiction’s expertly drawn detectives.” — Kirkus Reviews https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Stephen-Daigle/e/B00P5WBOQC
“The Red Hand” was named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2019 Big NYC Book Contest
Named Second Place winner for mysteries in the 2019 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards
Named a Notable 100 Book in the 2019 Shelf Unbound Indie Book Awards
Named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2020 Independent Press Awards
A Nominee in the 2020 TopShelf Book Awards
Named A Gold Star Award winner in the 2020 Elite Choice Book Awards
The Frank Nagler Mysteries An Anthology https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1793859523/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i4
“A Game Called Dead” was named a Runner-Up in the Shelf Unbound 2016 Best Indie Book contest.
“The Weight of Living” was awarded First Place for mysteries in the 2017 Royal Dragonfly Book Award contest;
Named A Notable 100 Book, Shelf Unbound 2018 Indie Book Awards;
Named a Distinguished Favorite, 2018 Independent Press Awards.
Named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2018 Big NYC Book Contest.
Named a Finalist in the 2019 Book Excellence Awards.
Named A Gold Star Award winner in the 2020 Elite Choice Book Awards