Alexander Pipton &Wally Weir
The Professional Pranksters
The Right Thing
Doing the right thing can be tricky, for some people it seems as if no matter what they do it always goes wrong. At this very moment things were going horribly wrong for Alexander Pipton, an eleven-year-old boy who had nothing if not the best intentions. If anyone could see Alex, they might notice his dark brown hair, green eyes with flecks of brown and strong legs that he had naturally developed from running away. At the moment noticing these little details about him was impossible as he was crouching behind the central stairwell of Trippton Private School, after hours, praying that the two mean looking gentlemen he had spent the last half hour avoiding did not notice him at all. This might have worked if he had put more thought into how he had dressed before coming to school on his errand of goodwill, but as it happened he had not suspected that he would be cowering in the shadows and wearing his bright blue sneakers had seemed like a good idea.
"Starting tomorrow I only wear black shoes." Alex thought while trying his best not to make a noise. This was considerably more difficult than it sounded as the urge to remain quiet had him holding his breath. He slowly exhaled and filled his lungs as silently as he could, gasping for air would surely give him away. He turned his concentration to his ears as if he could tell exactly where his pursuers were by listening hard enough. The seconds seemed like hours as he strained his ears and eventually his patience was rewarded as he heard a door open and close. The men had left. He almost laughed as he rose from his hiding spot and stepped silently into the dimly lit hall. The mirth left him as he saw the back of the second man walking in the opposite direction of the door, they had split up.
"He hasn't noticed me." Thought Alex, at that exact moment the man stopped and tilted his head, "He knows."
Before Alex had time to panic an idea popped into his head. He had to move before the man could turn around. It would work, but he had to do everything perfectly. Acting without time to consider how stupid his plan was Alex darted into the room which he had originally been trying to escape from.
The man turned just in time to see a streak of blue entering a classroom.
John Tor had graduated from high school the previous year. He had thought he would spend the money his grandfather had given him as a graduation present to travel the world. He made it as far as Mexico before the thousand dollars ran out. It took him two weeks to hitchhike home to Trippton, while he spent most of his nights hungry. His parents had not been pleased to see how poorly he had spent his money, but his father got him a job helping him as the assistant janitor at the local private-school.
Being a janitor was not as bad as John thought it would be. Sure he spent most of the day cleaning up after kids, but after three when the lights went out and he had the place to himself it was peaceful, and he got to spend some quality time with his father.
The first week passed without anything important happening and his Dad had finally forgiven him for wasting his Grandpa's gift. Things were looking up and John was looking forward to locking up for the night and collecting his first paycheck when he heard a door shut.
His father was standing right next to him and all of the teachers had gone home hours ago. "What was that?" John said with a hint of nervousness in his voice. Years before when he had attended Trippton Private as a student instead of a janitor one of his friends had been convinced that the building was being haunted and all sorts of ghosts roamed the halls at night.
"Probably one of the students pulling a prank." His dad gruffed reassuringly.
His Father's words made John's thoughts about ghosts seem silly.
"We should go give the trouble maker a little scolding." his Father had a look on his face that John recognized. John shuddered, his Dad's scoldings could be very unpleasant. He had been on the other side of them often enough.
Together with his Father John walked towards where the sound had come from. No one was there.
He had been sure that the sound came from over by the stairs. John looked up the steps and saw the double doors that he had locked himself an hour earlier. He shrugged, if it was a prank the student must have run off before they had a chance to do any damage. His Father was less indulgent with pranksters and went hunting for the perpetrator in the lunchroom. John was ready to get back to work when he heard something.
He turned to see something blue enter a room he knew was locked.
John approached the door slowly, "The teacher must have forgotten to lock it." He thought without much conviction. He reached out and placed his hand on the doorknob which obligingly turned allowing the door to swing open. He stepped inside and saw the tip of something blue sticking out from behind a cabinet used to store art supplies. "I see you over there." He called, lumbering forward to confront the intruder, only to find that he was talking to a pair of empty blue sneakers.
The room was empty except for him and the shoes. He looked around desperately hoping to see whoever it was that had opened the door. There was no one, John mouthed the word that he couldn't bring himself to say out loud, "Ghost."
That solitary thought kept Alex moving as he slipped past the man who went to investigate the shoes he had hastily discarded.
He slipped out the door before it had time to close.
He ran and somehow managed to not make a single sound. He ran for the exit and found a door he knew was unlocked.
Alex had successfully escaped from the school.
He was lucky the man had seen the shoes and investigated, if he had turned his head he would have seen Alex hiding behind the door.
Thoughts of victory filled his head as Alex ran home. His classmates would be pleased the next day when they discovered all the things nasty Mrs. Crumblebum had confiscated the past month mysteriously taped to the bottom of their desks.
His plan was perfect.
The substitute, Mr. Goddy, had taught classes that morning when Crumblebum had come down with a particularly nasty illness called the 48 hour flu, and if the name of the disease was honest Mr. Goddy would be teaching again tomorrow.
The students would have time to reclaim their confiscated contraband and stash it somewhere Crumblebum wouldn't be able to get her boney fingers on it ever again.
This time he had planned everything perfectly.
This time he would get to be the hero.
This time things couldn't go wrong, not like the last four times he had pulled similar stunts.
That time in the first grade had not been his fault. His plan had gone perfectly and he had successfully managed to save the biology frogs from their formaldehyde fate. How was he supposed to know that the cheer squad would be practicing at the exact moment he let the amphibians free? He had been careful and no one knew it was him so that was okay.
He had to run away that time in the second grade when he had decided that the upperclassmen were hogging all the balls during gym. He hadn't considered that not having any basketballs during the opening game was bad for the entire school. No one saw his face so he was still fine, and the Trippton Saints always lost anyways.
He learned his lesson about thinking things through when, in the third grade, he decided to make the class field trip more interesting by changing the directions on the bus driver's GPS so the ancient man would take them to the county fair. He had been forced to spend an hour in the parking lot while the technologically illiterate driver swore at the machine for daring to go against his wishes. Still it was better than going to the paper factory again.
He didn't even want to think about his fourth grade incident with the class pet Mrs. Squeekums. He still had a scar on his bottom.
This time he had thought everything through perfectly.
He couldn't help but smile as he came within sight of his home.
Now that he was in the fifth grade things couldn't go wrong.
Things Go Wrong
Things went wrong immediately. Alex was so engrossed with his victory over the tyrannical teacher that he had not paid any attention to where he was going.
When he finally slowed down to examine his surroundings he was horrified to find that he was on Wildling Street.
Not that there was anything particularly horrifying about the street itself. Actually Wildling Street was one of the most beautiful places that you could hope to come across. A grove of weeping willows stood across from houses that looked like something out of a fairy tale.
Brightly colored houses, charming decorations and well-kept lawns lined the road that Alex feared.
No, it was not the road that Alex was afraid of, but the beast that lived there.
Three months ago there was an incident at the pound. A monstrous dog by the name of Biscuit had chewed through the chain the dog catcher used and escaped to the safety of Wildling Street. The Dog Catcher had been hunting Biscuit ever since but the animal had proven too clever to catch.
The only warning that Biscuit was near was the jingling of the chain still around his neck.
Alex had run into Biscuit twice over the last three months. The first time he had been minding his business going home via the pleasant road.
That was the first time he heard the jingling of Biscuit.
He had turned to find himself face to face with a dog as tall as him. He survived the experience by bolting up one of the weeping willows.
He had been stuck in the tree for what seemed like an eternity before the dog catcher showed up and sent Biscuit fleeing to whatever hole he had been hiding himself.
The second time Alex had been ready for him.
He had been keeping beef jerky on him at all times to distract the dog while he made a getaway. After a month of waiting for an encounter with the monster Alex heard the jingling. He threw the jerky and ran like his life depended on it, which he was sure it did.
That day he had escaped unharmed.
This night however Alex did not have any jerky with which to distract Biscuit.
Alex knew an encounter would surely mean his swift demise at the paws of his doggy foe.
He stopped completely and using all of his sneaking ability crept away from Wildling Street.
Alex silently made his way to a crooked road-sign. The glow of a streetlight made the sign just visible enough that Alex could make out a W.
Biscuit was snoring under the roots of a large willow tree.
He was having a wonderful dream.
He was in a vast meadow chasing hundreds of cats across grass that was made of the finest beef jerky.
In fact the grass smelled familiar almost like the wonderful boy who had fed him a while back. He loved that boy with all his heart.
He smelled like beef jerky.
Biscuit woke immediately that smell was unforgettable.
The beef jerky boy was here, Biscuit got so excited he couldn't contain himself.
He's here, he's here, he's here, he's here, he's here!
There he was, the jerky boy.
Biscuit ran towards him.
The boy leaped over a fence and was gone.
Biscuit curled up next to the fence the Jerky boy had jumped over and went back to sleep.
He was disappointed but that was soon replaced with dreams of jerky meadows.
There was a sharp pain in his foot.
Alex quickly lifted his leg to find something unrecognizable crushed where he had landed, looking around he saw that he was quite lucky that was all he landed on.
He was in the smallest yard he had ever seen.
It was four square foot patch of grass that Alex was having trouble standing in.
The reason Alex couldn't stand was the tiny yard was packed with garden decorations.
A flock of Pink flamingos jutted up from the ground next to seven gnome figurines bunched together several of them stacked in a corner. Half of a stuffed witch stuck out of the fence Alex had jumped and various ceramic animals took up the rest of the space Alex himself was not occupying.
The thing that had been crushed under his foot was a small ceramic ant that no one would notice was missing.
Someone had noticed though.
The light that was allowing Alex to do all this noticing was coming from the house to which the yard belonged.
The light was coming from an open door which silhouetted the figure of a boy slightly shorter than Alex.
The boy spoke, "You are standing on my ant."
Alex tried to come up with a good excuse as to why he should be in someone else's backyard in the middle of the night but all that came out was "Sorry."
Wally Weir of Wildling Street
A torrent of words burst from Alex's mouth making his former speechlessness seem like an impossibility.
The sounds came out so quickly and clumped together that it was impossible to make out any of what he was trying to say, or if there were even any words at all. Little bits could be heard if one listened carefully but mostly it was just things like.
After spouting gibberish for long enough to assure anyone that Alex was indeed a mad man he finally paused to take a breath.
"Hello, Alex." The words that came from the boy's mouth took a second to sink in. When they penetrated Alex's overheated skull he was left speechless once again.
This was the second time the mysterious boy had left Alex speechless. It was not a position that he was accustomed to and to be honest he did not like the sensation at all.
Wildly trying to compose himself Alex stared intently at the shape of his sudden host trying to figure out how he knew him.
Then it hit him. The person standing before him with a bemused expression was one of his classmates. He would have recognized him sooner if not for the oddness of the encounter.
It only took a moment after he realized where he knew him from to put a name to the face. Wally Weir The second smartest person in class, after himself of course.
"You don't look like you're trying to rob me, so why are you in my backyard in the middle of the night breaking my stuff?" Another moment passed before the meaning of the words sunk in, and Alex made a massive effort to compose himself.
Surprisingly he succeeded.
"Hi Wally, Sorry about your ant, but I was preoccupied trying not to get eaten by a vicious dog."
Alex was calmer now and found himself able to provide a perfectly rational excuse as to why he was in Wally's yard. It was looking like he would be able to explain away his intrusion.
"At 1:37, and why aren't you wearing shoes?" The questions, Alex realized, were perfectly reasonable things to ask for a person finding someone, even someone they know, in their backyard late at night.
Alex also realized that if he could not provide a good enough answer to these simple questions it would make it look like he was lying about the whole thing. In an agonizing instant he decided that it would be best to tell Wally the whole truth.
He launched into the story of the night.
Wally was larger than most of the kids his age.
His father was a giant of a man who had played professional football in his youth. Now he and Wally's mother were accountants.
Wally had his father's build and his shoulders were already several inches wider than his classmates, and he stood taller than most of his peers. He had dark hair and a chin that would only get squarer as he aged.
Wally had been unable to fall asleep that night.
His parents had left town that evening and would not be back until late the next day. This was the first time he had been alone in the house at night.
He had taken the rare opportunity that the lack of supervision provided and decided to play a prank on his teacher for confiscating his cellphone the week prior. She had made it clear that he would not be seeing it again for a long time, if ever.
She had called in sick today everything had lined up perfectly. All he had to do was work up the courage and he would fill her lawn with tacky ornaments.
It was the perfect revenge.
He had waited for the cover of night before going out on his secret mission.
Then he waited for the late night crowd to turn in.
Then he waited another couple of hours.
He had been staring at the pile of lawn ornaments since midnight trying to work up some nerve, and just when he had started considering giving up his master plan someone hopped the fence and landed on his ceramic ant.
At first he was so surprised that he almost called out for help when he recognized the person who had jumped in.
It was one of his classmates, boy Alex.
There were two Alex's in the class. This could have been confusing except one was a girl. This made remembering his name easier.
Alex had not seen him yet so as soon as Wally had composed himself he said hello.
Wally had never heard talking like the kind that spewed forth from Alex. He didn't even bother trying to make out what Alex was saying but it was clear that he was harmless. Wally waited for a break in Alex's monologue to ask him what he was doing there.
Wally had to wait quite a while for Alex to take a breath and the longer he talked the more relaxed Wally felt.
"You don't look like you're trying to rob me, so why are you in my backyard in the middle of the night breaking my stuff?"
The question seemed to snap Alex out of the rambling and he paused a moment then answered, "Hi Wally, Sorry about your ant, but I was preoccupied trying not to get eaten by a vicious dog."
"That would be Biscuit." Thought Wally but something else was bothering him so he asked. "At 1:37, and why aren't you wearing shoes?"
This paused Alex again and Wally could almost hear the gears turning in his head.
After a short break in which Wally looked intently at his unexpected guest Alex launched into an interesting story about his escapades which sounded to Wally like a tall tale.
As the story went on however Wally found himself believing what Alex said, and when he got to the part about liberating his classes confiscated goods Wally became excited.
If Alex's story where true he would soon be reunited with his pilfered phone. With this realization came a brilliant idea.
He was having trouble getting his revenge alone but with Alex's help he could pull it off in half the time.
Alex wrapped up his story and added a plea. "Wally, you're not gonna tell anyone about this are you?"
All he had to do was convince Alex to help him.
Alex finished his tale and braced himself for Wally to reveal his carefully protected secret to everyone.
After this got out it wouldn't be a stretch for someone to connect him to the other things he had done over the years. He would probably get blamed for a bunch of stuff he didn't even do.
Alex could see it now he would be spending the rest of his academic life in detention.
He was just starting to think about the various ways to break out of the detention hall when Wally spoke.
"I have a plan where everything will work out for both of us." Alex could hardly believe his ears, maybe he wouldn't be getting in trouble after all.
Wally continued, "I am just about to go out and get revenge on Crumblebum, if you help me pull it off I might just keep everything you just told me a secret."
"Oh so that's what all this stuff is for." Alex said a grin coming across his face.
A series of thoughts rushed through Alex's brain.
He thought about how far it was to old Crumbly's house from here, only a couple of blocks.
He had never tried something like this with someone else before, it could be fun.
Alex was starting to get excited all over again, his night was still far from over and he still had more adrenaline to pump.
"I'm in." Alex heard himself say.
"Great." said his new best friend.
"By the way what size shoe do you wear?"
The Taming of the Beast
After Wally lent Alex a pair of black sneakers, which were slightly too large for his feet, but he solved this by wearing an extra pair of Wally's socks, it was time to get to work.
The pair began gathering up the plastics and ceramics that would soon dot the yard of their mutual enemy. How they would transport them the two blocks to Crumblebum's house poised an immediate problem.
There was simply too much to carry in one trip with just the two of them.
Alex was about to point this out when Wally pulled an enormous knapsack from seemingly out of nowhere.
How Wally had managed to hide such a large sack in this tiny area was a mystery that Alex feared he would never solve.
Wally began to load up the materials into the bag and Alex did the same.
"It really is a good thing you showed up," Wally was saying, "This thing was going to be way too heavy to carry alone."
The knapsack seemed like it had been custom made for a giant. There was no possible way a normal human could have a back large enough to reach both of the straps, but it was a perfect fit for Wally and Alex together.
With Wally taking the left strap and Alex taking the right they managed to hoist the monster bag up on their shoulders leaving a comfortable amount of space between them.
At first moving with the bag was troublesome but after they learned to match their strides they were ready to go on their way.
Wally opened the front door and there was biscuit asleep ten feet away.
Biscuits dreams were interrupted once again, but this time the smell of jerky was accompanied by the odor of ceramic and strawberry shampoo.
He bolted up to see the jerky boy with someone else.
Biscuit bounded up to the boys and was about to jump up on jerky boy when the other's hand came out and set itself firmly on Biscuit's head.
Confused Biscuit sat down and looked up at the face of jerky boy's comrade.
"Good boy." The sound was soothing to Biscuits ears and the hand began scratching behind his ear. This felt good, and biscuit could feel his hind leg moving up and down rapidly.
"Good boy." There was that soothing voice again.
"Down." The voice was more firm this time, Biscuit laid down.
"Stay." Biscuit stayed and the two left.
Biscuit waited for a while watching the two of them make their way out of Wildling street and then followed.
Biscuit decided he loved the soothing guy as much as he loved jerky boy.
"That was amazing!" Alex exclaimed for the third time as they made their way toward Crumblebum's place.
"You must be some sort of monster whisperer."
"It was nothing serious." Wally said though he felt very proud of what he had done, "That dog had already been trained; it would have been different with a real feral animal."
"No way Wally, that was amazing." Wally smiled.
The conversation kept that tone for the entire trip to Crumblebum's house, to which the friends had already taken to shortening to crumblehouse.
Alex slipped out of his strap and ran up to the yard while Wally took out some flamingos.
"This," they said together, "is a great idea."
This is Not a Good Idea
The pair got to work.
Wally dumped the assorted imitation animals in a pile at the edge of the yard and Alex placed them with enthusiasm.
Wally began to plant the flamingos while Alex placed a ceramic cat in a tree and a toy dog at its base.
The bag emptied faster than Wally had planned for.
Things were going better than he had hoped.
Wally grabbed the last two birds and planted them in the middle of the yard before turning to Alex to make a motion that was supposed to mean let's get out of here.
If Alex had not been in the same mindset he would never have been able to understand the odd dance that Wally was making but he got the message and turned to make his retreat.
The air left their lungs as they saw the dog trotting towards them.
Maybe it was okay, all they had to do was leave.
Wally scooped up the much lighter bag and move towards the dog, Alex close behind.
Biscuit had been following the boys at a distance while they walked.
They were happily talking and Biscuit was happy to listen to the sounds of their voices.
After a time they stopped talking and shortly after that they stopped walking.
Biscuit stopped and looked on as they did the oddest things to a perfectly good lawn.
Biscuit waited and waited and after a short time he desired to join them in the weird task and he decided to go to them.
Biscuit trotted happily and the soothing guy turned around to greet him.
Biscuit gave a bark to greet his new friend.
Alex felt his heart stop in his chest. Wally was clearly experiencing something similar as he nearly jumped out of his skin.
Time seemed to stop as the lights in the house flicked on.
A face appeared in the window with a horrifyingly familiar hooked nose.
Alex ran as fast as he had ever run and Wally wasn't that far behind. Biscuit bounded along beside him with a look on his face that stated clearly that this was the most fun he had ever had.
At that moment Alex couldn't bring himself to be mad at the dog.
This was not out of sympathy but purely because he could only feel panic, and one other thing, he felt the eyes of Crumblebum on the back of his neck.
He had no place in his mind to think about anything but getting away. So he did his very best to do just that.
He ran and ran not noticing that Wally was getting farther and farther behind him, and he just kept on running
Alex ran past Wildling Street, and Wally's house.
He ran past street after street with the dog easily keeping in stride.
He ran down the road he should have taken in the first place earlier that night.
Alex ran home.
It only took him five minutes to get home at full sprint but it felt like an eternity. And when he finally made it he was gasping for air.
It would not be good if his noisy breathing woke his whole family as he was sneaking back in.
Alex spent another five minutes catching his breath and regaining his composure.
He had left Wally behind; he would have to apologize to him at school tomorrow.
Alex looked at the dog who was now curled up at his feet.
He would have to deal with that tomorrow as well.
This had been the most successful night he could ever remember having.
Alex climbed a tree with a convenient branch and opened the window to his bedroom that he had left unlocked.
As he entered his room he realized that he was exhausted and collapsed in his bed and fell asleep instantly with a broad smile on his face.
They had been seen.
Wally ran harder than he had ever run before and somehow Alex was still managing to pull away.
Wally watched, unable to do anything as he lost sight of the Alex and the dog.
Bag flapping in the wind Wally came to a sudden realization.
No one was chasing him.
Oh yes they might have been seen but there was no way Crumblebum would recognize them in the dark after having just woken up.
Calmer now, Wally started moving again, empty pouch dangling from his shoulder.
Wally walked; judging from the look that had been on his face he probably would not be seeing Alex again tonight.
Wally walked, the more he thought about it the better he felt about the night. He had done what he had set out to do and had escaped successfully. He would see Alex again tomorrow in class and they could laugh about the whole thing.
Wally kept walking until he saw a familiar sign lighted by the last lamppost of Wildling Street. He turned into the first house on the right and had a good night's sleep.
The Day Begins
Trippton Private School was a completely different place In the light of day.
The halls, which the night before had seemed so large an ominous, felt crowded and friendly with the steady flow of students.
Alex wanted to get to his class before the other students to pick up his shoes before anyone noticed.
The crowd bustled by, not paying any notice to him as he fought to make it to his class room. The substitute was still here today so he hadn't bothered with any bulky supplies that would slow him down.
He dodged past a pair of arguing upperclassmen and slipped into a crowd finally making it to room 11B.
He had expected to be the only one there except the snoring mound at the teacher's desk which was the substitute Mr. Goddy who could only be woken by the bell, which worked both to wake him up for the start of class and put him back to sleep for the end.
He was surprised to find a crowd of students gathered around the art cabinet.
A few mixed up possibilities ran through Alex's mind in the few short steps it took him to get to the crowd. None of them made any sense.
Alex jostled with the crowd trying to see what the focus of their attention was.
"What could possibly be so interesting about a pair of shoes, haven't they noticed all there confiscated stuff is back, wait a minute none of these people are even in this class, that one guy doesn't even look like a student he has a full beard." These things went through Alex's head as he peered over the bearded student's shoulder to get a look.
Then Alex he saw him.
Wally was in a good mood as he made his way to school that morning.
He was a little tired from his excursion the night before but the excitement served to wake him better than coffee. He walked through the front gates of Trippton and stepped into the crowd.
He had a relaxing journey allowing the flow of the students to take him to his destination like tubing down a river.
He hoisted his backpack full of things that probably wouldn't come in useful today, but you never know.
He moved steadily forward passing the stairs where the upperclassman would go to take their classes. Once past this the crowd thinned and he was able to easily break away to room 11b where he would be spending the next eight hours.
Wally looked in on an odd spectacle. A crowd of students were gathered around someone holding a pair of blue shoes.
Looking at the crowd he noticed a couple of things that were strange.
First was Alex looking panicked trying to make his way through the crowd of spectators.
Second was that the person holding the shoes, who Wally now recognized as a student of the class Ike Tor, was making some outrageous claims.
"These," Ike said with a dramatic flourish of the shoes, "Are ghost shoes."
Of all the things he could have said that was probably one of the least expected.
The surprise was most apparent in Alex's body language, while it had been frantic just moments earlier a look of relief washed over his form.
"Whatever that was it looks like it turned out alright." Wally thought as he made his way to his desk.
He plopped down and listened at a distance While Ike weaved a tale of how his brother had bravely faced off against the ghost of Trippton the night before.
Ike was a strange guy. His hair was always sticking up at odd angles and he wore too large shirts and the same bright red pants every day.
Wally had asked him about the pants last year and he had confided that he had gotten them at a strange shop and they had the power to protect whoever wore them from being possessed he kept a closet full of them at home.
Wally looked up to find Alex next to him, he had somehow managed to get next to him without him noticing.
'Those are my shoes." Alex was grinning ear to ear as if the news was the funniest joke he had ever heard.
"Apparently I am the ghost of Trippton." Alex said this as if it would make perfect sense to anyone and Wally had to ask for clarification.
Alex explained again what had happened the night before explaining to Wally how he had used the shoes to make a quick getaway.
He quieted as the ghost crowd left Ike and the rest of the class began to file in.
"People are going to start noticing what's under their desks." Alex said in a conspiratorial whisper, and with that he made his way back to his own seat.
With all the excitement that had been going on Wally had nearly forgotten that his phone was secured to the bottom of his desk.
He groped under the desktop and felt smooth tape around a small object.
That's when it started, "Hey that's my mine!" said Samantha Glade a redhead who sat near the front of the class.
She was talking to a blonde boy whose name Wally couldn't remember. He was holding what looked like a vanity mirror. It was under my desk." He said as he handed the compact to Samantha.
With that the whole class began relieving their desks of the cargo stowed there the night before. Most stuff belonged to the people sitting there and with a little trading everything was back with its proper owner.
Wally pulled his cellphone from its place and slipped it into his pocket. The bell rang and Mr. Goddy stirred.
As if each student were completely in synch with one another the retrieved items seemed to vanish from sight as Goddy raised his head and made his way to the front of the class.
The Day's Middle
The class after that morning's excitement went the same as yesterday. Goddy got up in front of the group for ten minutes handed out the assignment for the day and went back to his desk to get some more sleep.
During class instead of slumping down onto the desk like he had before the bell he put on a pair of tinted glasses and propped himself up on his arms.
It would have been a convincing facsimile of an alert authority figure if the man didn't snore.
The assignment was as simple as it was pointless. Chances were that Goddy wouldn't even collect them and even if he did it would not affect his grade. Alex crumpled his up and tossed it in the garbage can.
The time passed slowly and Alex began to wish he had kept the assignment just to have something to do.
As half the day went by most of his classmates had fallen asleep and the usually energetic Alex found the idea more and more inviting, he lay his head on his desk.
He awoke with the bell and for one moment all he could think about was how he was acting like Goddy when he noticed the class once more alive with activity.
They were talking about the return of the confiscated items.
"We should put them back." Gregory Smith, a freckled boy was saying, "We will all get into trouble if we don't." Greg had always been a nervous guy but Alex had thought he would be a little more thankful to get his game boy back.
"What are you talking about?" said Amanda Hardy, "It was probably Goddy who gave it back to us." Alex laughed along with most of the class.
"Why on earth would he do a thing like that." Said a voice from the other side of the class, It was either Emma or Hannah Breen twins who's voices he could never tell apart. "All he ever does is sleep."
Alex looked to the desk and was a little surprised to see that Goddy wasn't asleep; in fact he wasn't there at all.
'Who else could it have been, Crumblebum wouldn't have done it?" Amanda shot back at one of the twins. The idea of Crumblebum giving them back there things sent half the class into fits of laughter.
"Maybe it was the ghost." said Ike.
Alex had been expecting more waves of laughter and was a little surprised when they didn't come.
For the first time Alex spoke up in a conversation concerning himself. "Ghosts aren't real Ike."
Alex found himself overwhelmed by a flood of enthusiastic believers telling him that he was, in fact, wrong about the previous sentence.
"The ghost of Trippton is too real!" someone was saying very loudly in his ear. "He dumped a swarm of frogs on the cheer squad a while back."
"Yeah, yeah." Someone agreed, "And he also made all the Basketballs disappear right before a big game."
"Two years ago he messed up the GPS for the field trip and we all got lost." The twins said at the same time one at each of his ringing ears.
"And last year what he did to Mrs. Squeekums." The whole class paused in respectful silence.
"But those are all bad things." Greg chipped in. "Why would he give our stuff back."
"The cheerleader thing was pretty funny." Said Tom Glass, a tall guy in the back.
This earned him a smack from Alexandra Spacey, who was of course a cheerleader.
"He can do whatever he wants." Ike snapped, "He's a ghost."
This logic was apparently irrefutable and the class quieted down.
Ike was staring at him and Alex knew that he was expecting him to take back what he said about the ghost.
Alex was shocked that all of the things he had done had been credited to some stupid ghost. He wanted to say that he had given everyone there things back and let the ghost take credit for the other things but he knew better.
"All right," Alex admitted, "Trippton ghost is real."
Satisfied with his victory Ike started telling anyone who would listen about how his brother had encountered the ghost the night before.
"Tonight." Ike boasted. "I will have proof."
Ike boldly made the declaration to the class after talking down the non-believer.
He was a little surprised that of all people Alexander Pipton was the doubter. He was a little surprised that the usually silent Pipton was the one to speak up but his unexpected outspokenness had worked out perfectly for Ike's plans.
"This Saturday night I will sneak into the school and get photographic proof that this ghost exists." Ike proclaimed to his peers. "Who wants to go with me?"
A smattering of students wanted to go.
Tom Glass said he wanted to volunteer and Alexandra Spacey followed him immediately. The twins followed Spacey and Walter Weir said he was always up for a bit of fun.
Pipton did a turnabout and said he wanted to go to.
Not as many people as he thought wanted to come but enough volunteered that it wasn't a waste.
"Meet me at the school gate at midnight Saturday." Ike confided to the group.
As if on cue, the door opened and Goody entered the room sending the group scattering back to their desks.
Goddy looked suspiciously at the students for a moment but he returned to his desk.
"Alexander Pipton to the office." Goddy announced before falling back asleep, Alex felt all the tension he had built up last night jump through his body all at once.
Alex rose to his feet and walked mechanically to the door while his mind raced.
He was caught.
The door closed behind him and Alex found himself in the same hallway that had seemed small and cramped before class.
The hallway had reverted to the ominous form that it held when he had intruded the night before, though this time there was no thrill of excitement to fuel his feet.
There was only dread. Alex no longer had the desire to move quickly. He adopted the trudging pace of a prisoner on the way to the executioners block.
The worst part was that he wasn't sure what he what they had gotten him for.
The first thing his mind jumped to was that Crumblebum had called and told on them about last night, but if that was true then why wasn't Wally called with him.
Maybe they would interview them separately trying to make each think that the other had spilled the beans.
Alex's thoughts spiraled into ever more unlikely scenarios on the long walk to the office, until he was convinced that there would be armed guards waiting to arrest him when he walked through the doors.
He had just started naming the fictional officers when he reached the double doors that held his fate behind them.
He took a deep breath and opened the doors.
A smile spread across his face.
The Day's End
Relief washed over Alex at the sight of the familiar pair in the office.
He was not in trouble.
At least not for anything he had done to the school.
It was just his parents.
The knot that had disappeared from his stomach moments ago was replaced with a new one.
What were they doing here?
Alex walked up to his mother and Father with a smile on his face and greeted them.
He did his best to sound nonchalant. "You really saved me," He confided. "The substitute has us doing busy work."
His father smiled down on him and a tingle ran down Alex's spine.
He didn't know what was about to happen but he knew that he would wish he was back in Goddy's class.
His mother was the first to reply. She was in her late thirty's and had warm eyes that always seemed to be smiling even when she was managing to hold her face straight.
"This is a big day Alex" she said with an air of excitement in her voice that she did not bother to disguise. "We have an appointment to keep."
He looked at his mother again and noticed how she was dressed. She looked like a noble woman. After glancing at his father he noticed that his customary tee shirt and jeans had been replaced by a suit that made him look like someone not to be trifled with.
His father usually felt very approachable and people around town would often find themselves confiding in him even when they didn't mean to.
Now he looked like someone who had somewhere to go.
"What's going on?" Inquired Alex, his confusion mounting with each passing moment.
"We have been invited." His father pitched in.
He paused for effect and Alex found himself suddenly without patience he was about to demand to know what they had been invited to, the exact reaction his father wanted, when Mr. Pipton finished his sentence.
"To Maxwell Manor."
Alex felt his jaw drop.
Magnus Maxwell was the richest man within a thousand miles of Trippton. And he was the great grandfather of Alex.
The old man was a grandfather on his mother's side who had mysteriously vanished in the 60's, he had reappeared in the 90's with a pile of money and majority shares in half a dozen businesses. Alex had met him on a handful of occasions and hung on everything his ancestor said.
The man was a goldmine of advice on how to live life and he was Alex's hero. He had been the one to inspire his very first caper to liberate the frogs.
He was looking forward to reporting his first completely successful mission.
His parents were happy to have such an influential person take an interest in him and they had encouraged their relationship since day one.
They had never however made him wear anything special when he went for a visit. Alex was more than a little curious. "Why can't I just wear this?" Alex sighed.
Before they made the Drive to see the Mr. Mason Alex had to put on something less ordinary.
"You have to look presentable for Magnus's birthday." And there it was. Grandpa Magnus's birthday was today.
He had never been in town for his birthday as far As Alex could remember. He had always been somewhere exotic like Paris or Brazil. Alex had never gotten a chance to celebrate Magnus's birthday.
When they got home his mother presented him with a navy blue suit and gave him the choice of a tie or a bowtie.
Alex looked at the floral patterns on the two choices and determined that he would ditch whichever he wore at the soonest opportunity.
He put on the tie and doubled his resolution. The fabric around his neck reminded him of nothing more than a noose and he felt constricted. The suit however he liked.
The family got into the car and they began their journey.
It took an hour to get to the manor but as soon as they arrived the trip seemed like nothing.
Maxwell Manor towered over the rest of the landscape spiraling up with enormous turrets and artistically trimmed hedges.
Though everyone called it a manor Alex was positive this was a castle. His toes curled with excitement as they drove through the front gates and had a five minute trip simply going up the driveway.
They passed a hedge garden and a private zoo that Alex was sure hadn't been there the last time they visited.
Grandpa knew how to live.
The manor itself was every bit as wonderful as the ride in had been. The front gates were so large there was no way they could have been designed with humans in mind.
No this gate was obviously made so that large and mysterious items could be brought in freely. Three elephants on top of one another could comfortably pass through the entrance to his grandfather's home.
As if the sheer magnitude of the place weren't enough, every inch of it had some new marvel for Alex to wonder at.
He wished he could do more than glance. He wanted to run up and see every bit of the place in detail, but his parents pushed forward and they made their way inside the incredible structure.
Alex immediately forgot his desire to examine the outside now that he was on the inside. He looked up and the ceiling seemed forever away.
He could have been fooled into thinking he was still outside if it were not for the lavish furnishings that made the place seem nothing short of royal.
A series of odd shapes stood against a wall that Alex was close to and he went to investigate the out of place ornaments.
Along a wall was a row of mysterious contraptions.
"These are all artworks and inventions that Mr. Maxwell took an interest in." a voice said behind Alex.
Alex turned to see Sebastian Copper, the caretaker of Maxwell manor while the man himself was off gallivanting around the globe.
"This is one of the newest additions Mr. Maxwell brought back from a science conference in Paris.
Sebastian approached a thick cord of machinery that was hanging from what Alex recognized as a Metal tree.
He did something and the machine sprang to life slithering around and then off of its perch, and Alex recognized it for what it was.
A mechanical snake.
It was enormous far larger than any real snake that Alex had ever seen from anything short of a monster movie.
The thing weaved elegantly from the tree onto the ground though there was so much of it that the back end stayed elevated on the metal branch for a long time.
Though the body was purely mechanical the head had a more familiar reptilian shape to it.
"Though it is still metal the head leans more towards the aesthetic qualities of a real snake." Sebastian recited upon noticing Alex's attention focus on the head.
The mechanical marvel had apparently also noticed the attention it was getting from Alex and made its way toward him.
It rose up on combine coils and raised its head to eye level with Alex, though it had no eyes.
The metal plates flapped around where its mouth would have been had the machine a need to either eat or breathe.
The robot let its head hover for a moment before it resumed its slithering and eventually made its way back up to its tree.
"That." Said a new voice that Alex recognized, "Is Kaa."
Magnus had acquired the snake at a robotics display where he had witnessed dozens of machine imitations of various animals.
All of them had been amazing in their own ways. He had seen a robot with large baboon arms lifting amazing amounts of weight.
He had seen a prototype of a jaguar that could really run around but it was not as fast as the real thing and he could tell that it broke down with regularity.
Head had even seen a mechanical fish that blended in well with a group of real fish, though it had been eaten by mistake by one of its larger tank mates.
Then a Brazilian scientist had brought out the snake.
One of his fellow observers had informed him that the snake was a less complex animal and therefore that was why the machine was able to reproduce so perfectly the feel of an actual boa constrictor.
Though he had sounded sure the man was unable to keep the awe out of his voice as the snake moved across the floor of the display room.
The scientist who had brought in the snake spoke of his scientific breakthroughs and how advances in the minimization of parts would recreate the entire field of robotics.
Magnus knew that he would have a hand in that field, and that he would have that snake.
Now he owned two of the top Robotics manufactures in the world and that scientist worked for him.
He owned the snake.
Magnus watched as one of his Great grandchildren watched the mechanical snake and saw the wonder on his face that he had felt inside himself on the day he had first seen the machine.
That look was a wonderful birthday present.
Alex turned and hugged his great grandfather. Though the man was in his late seventies he was still as energetic as he had ever been.
He had a strong form and crisp pure white hair and matching solid white suit and cane.
In the presence of his great grandson he also wore a wide smile.
"It is good to see you Alex." Said his grandfather.
"Happy Birthday." Said Alex
"Now it is time for you three to join the rest of the family in the living room." Said the master of the house.
The Piptons complied following Sebastian through the enormous house passing wonder after wonder on their way to meet the rest of the family.
Alex didn't even stop to stare at the various wonders that Maxwell Manor had to share.
He had said that they were meeting family.
He wasn't even aware that he had any family on the Maxwell side besides grandpa.
He had cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and all other sort of relative on the Pipton side but they lived far away and he didn't think that Grandpa would have called them to the manor like they had been.
"Who exactly are the family we are going to meet." Alex asked his mother who until this point had been absorbed in looking at the various pieces of art that hung on the walls.
"We are going to meet my cousins and their children." She said easily slipping into the mood of a mother teaching her child.
"Magnus had three children of his own two boys and one girl. That girl was my grandmother who had one child my father." She continued on and Alex had to work at paying attention, he did want to know the answer after all. "I was an only child and I became a Pipton after marrying your father."
"Magnus's sons married and had kids of their own, and they kept the Magnus name. I saw them only once when I was growing up, but I still send them Christmas cards. One had two sons and the other had two daughters. One of the boys is a year older than you and the other is only six the girls are thirteen and fourteen I think." Alex was surprised that he had never heard of his relatives even if they were a bit distant.
"The girls are the Bishops the younger is Shelly and the older is Carinthia. The boys are Maxwells Simon is the younger and Patrick is the eldest." She concluded
Alex was the only Pipton. He felt a bit outnumbered by his previously unknown family.
"Everyone is waiting in here." Sebastian chimed as he easily opened a door that was four times his sized without the slightest hint of effort.
Alex walked through the doorway to meet his family.
The room Alex entered was not as expansive as the rest of the house had been but it felt much more lived in.
He could see the appeal of having a more cozy place to stay so as to not be overwhelmed by the magnificence of the house but this felt like an altogether different place.
Indeed as he absorbed his surroundings Alex came to the conclusion that Magnus had placed a smaller house inside the Manor.
Not this this place seemed any less lavish than the rest of the manor.
There was an elegant fireplace around which were placed large armchairs that inspired thoughts of hot coco on a cold night.
Not that the cold of the outside world could penetrate the manor.
Alex turned his head looking for the family that he had been expecting and after the brief moment it took to survey the room he spotted a group of people sitting around a table.
The adults had stood and were walking over to greet his parents and two girls remained sitting at the table engrossed in a game of chess.
Alex remembered the last name and gave a quick greeting. "Hello Mr. and Mrs. Bishop."
The pair looked at him. They fit in well at Maxwell Manor.
The father was a large man with an enormous beard with the beginnings of gray stroked through it.
The Mother was younger and she wore an elegant dress. Her face reminded him slightly of his mother's and he warmed a bit to the idea of meeting his family." You must be Alex said the woman a little smile on her lips, "How nice to finally meet you."
"The pleasure is mine." Said Alex, doing his best to remember his manners, his mother walked up and the women began to talk.
Mr. Bishop gestured at an armchair and his father joined him in the comfortable looking seats.
Alex went over to see who was winning the chess game.
Shelly was going to win this time, she knew it. She had lost to her sister every time they had played ever since she took up the game.
It was beyond frustrating that she could practice so hard and her sister would still win without even trying.
This time she had her, Carin had made a mistake and Shelly captured her queen. All she had to do was sacrifice a knight and control of the board switched to her favor.
Shelly barely even noticed the other family walk into the room or her parents get up to greet them.
She didn't even notice the boy walk up and begin observing the game.
Her sister noticed though.
"Hi are you a Maxwell?" she inquired.
Shelly looked up. "If he was a Maxwell there would be two of them." She said before Alex could respond to her sister's question.
"The little Maxwell is only six he might have stayed with his parents." Carin defended.
"My name Is Alex Pipton." Interjected the boy, "And you must be Carinthia, and Shelly Bishop." He added.
"Don't call me Carinthia, my name is Carin." Her sister shot. She said this so often to so many people that Shelly thought it would be easier to give up and just go by her full name but Carin was stubborn.
"Alright Carin," he said, "who's winning?
"Me" thought Shelly her focus going back to the monumental game that would mark her first victory against her sister.
"Me." Announced Carin as she put Shelly into checkmate.
The shock was so evident on Shelly's face that Alex could not help but smile a little bit.
The timing Carin had put into her victory had been absolutely perfect.
This as it turned out was the exact wrong thing to do in this situation, and while Carin seemed to appreciate the humor in the situation Shelly did not.
"You think it's funny do you?" she demanded.
Alex was finding it less funny by the moment though his first instinct was to say that yeah it was a little funny, the sane part of his brain stopped him before the words came out.
Instead he said "It was a good win."
This as it turned out was also the wrong thing to say, but he suspected that anything he said would be wrong at this particular moment.
Carin wasn't making things any better as she rocked with silent giggles on the other side of the table.
"Think you can do better then let's see you beat me." She challenged.
Alex had never seriously played chess before and though he knew the rules he could tell that he would not be winning against this girl.
He had also never turned down a challenge before.
Against his better judgment he sat down in the seat offered by Carin. "You're on." He said
This he feared would turn out to be another mistake.
His father had taught Alex the basics of chess when he had first started school. He had learned that in order to win you had to think ahead and try to see what was going to happen before it happened.
This worked in other areas of life as well.
Alex had tried to apply this lesson to school.
He always read one chapter ahead of the rest of the class. This worked amazingly well and while other students were struggling to learn a new concept he rarely got confused.
Once you were ahead it was easier to keep ahead but once you fell behind it was a struggle just to keep up.
While he had never really taken to the game itself he had remembered the rules.
"You can have the first move." Shelly boasted
This little insult served to motivate Alex, he was no pushover.
He lost his first piece immediately and the rest followed quickly after.
Shelly brought out her queen and had somehow managed to take about half of his pieces with it.
He was very discouraged but he saved his king by sacrificing a knight.
He knew never to give up, another of the game's lessons that could be applied to every aspect of life.
She was ruthless as she cut down his pieces one by one.
He dodged his bishop out of her queen's line of fire but she just took a pawn instead.
"What happened to all the smiles Alex?" She taunted "You can just surrender you know."
"If you don't fight you'll never win." He retorted and saw his opportunity.
He needed to be sneaky if she saw what he was doing it would be easy for her to counter him.
He needn't have bothered worrying, she was so sure of victory she barely noticed where he put his pieces anymore.
He attacked her queen with his knight and she dodged out of the way. Just like he had planned.
A confident smile was set on Shelly's face.
Carin noticed first and began giggling.
Alex's bishop was in the perfect spot, entirely on accident, and with the knight out of the way his rook was free to attack.
"Checkmate" he said with a perfectly straight face as he moved his rook into position.
Alex was only able to keep his cool because Carin was doing all of the laughing for him.
Shelly was speechless something that Alex was all too familiar with.
Carin couldn't believe it.
This guy Alex obviously didn't really play chess but he had still managed to beat Shelly.
Her sister had taken up the game a year ago and had gotten really good.
As the older sister of course she couldn't lose so she had been practicing online.
Shelly got better very quickly but through hard work and stubbornness Carin had managed to keep ahead.
She of course would never admit to Shelly that she practiced, she had to keep up appearances.
Now Carin watched as her sister sat stone faced across from their cousin who was doing a good job of keeping his cool.
This had to be too much for her sister to bear.
"My turn." Carin said in a singsong voice breaking the silence between Alex and Shelly.
"Wait a minute I have to beat him." Complained Shelly, but she had already taken the board and was resetting the pieces.
"You can be white." Carin said it without the taunt that had been so evident when her sister said it.
She quickly crushed Alex being careful not to fall for any traps he might manage to set.
He never had a chance.
After she was done with him Alex had lost all enthusiasm for the game and despite Shelly's insistence he was done.
"Well then." Carin said with all the authority she could muster. "Let's go say hello to the Maxwell's."
She was a monster.
Alex had been so thoroughly beaten by Carin that the game he had won against Shelly seemed like a distant dream.
Shelly bugged him to play again but he knew that his lucky win would not repeat itself. These girls were just too good.
"Let's go meet the Maxwell's." the monster sung never once losing the smile on her face.
He had been too distracted to notice the family enter the room but it was obvious who they were.
The father was every bit a younger Magnus Maxwell and the mother took to the Maxwell name like a swan to water.
The older boys were larger than Alex but there was a definite similarity in there features.
The kid stood behind his brother a peered out at them.
His name was Simon Alex recalled, and the other was Patrick.
Alex gave Simon a smile and he retreated further behind his brother.
Alex walked towards them but Carin got there first.
"Hello Patrick," She said quickly, "Hello Carinthia." He responded in turn, Alex saw that they knew each other, and from the way she held herself they were not friends.
"And you're Simon, do you remember me?" she said lowering herself to head level with Simon.
The smile which had vanished momentarily when she greeted Patrick returned as she cooed to Simon.
Simon came out from behind his brother and went to Carin.
While she was busy playing with the kid Alex went to say hello to Patrick, he noticed that Shelly made no move to say hello.
"I suppose that makes you a Pipton." The words coming from Patrick's mouth were so smug that Alex was momentarily taken aback.
"Yes I am Alexander Pipton, and you must be Patrick Maxwell." Alex tried to sound as important as possible giving his full name. "Yes, I must be." Patrick said sarcastically.
Alex was having trouble with the unpleasant person he was talking to.
It was all the worse because they looked so similar. Alex decided to change his approach.
"Nice to meet you Pat." He said in an attempt to do away with formalities.
The grimace that passed along Pat's face stated clearly how he felt about Alex. Pat turned and went to talk to Shelly who did not look as though she wished to talk.
"This is an interesting family." Thought Alex as he went to play with Simon and Carin.
Alex played with Simon who was much friendlier than his brother once you took the time to know him.
Shelly and Pat's conversation did not last long but that didn't matter as something new happened that demanded the full attention of everyone present.
Magnus Maxwell walked into the room.
Everyone fell silent as he strode into the center of attention.
He spoke, and Alex listened.
"I have invited you all here because, as you know it is my seventy ninth birthday." He began.
"We will, of course, indulge in the usual festivities but I must confess that there is another reason that I have asked for you all to be here today."
This was getting exciting.
What secret purpose could the old man have for wanting Alex to be here?
"To be more precise I wanted all of my great grandchildren to be here today. You see I want my descendants to be successful so as to keep the Maxwell blood flowing strong. For generations our family has been at the forefront of business and technology, and the skills needed to be successful in these fields must be trained in order to flourish."
This speech was interesting and as usual Alex hung on every word that came from his grandfather's mouth.
"And because I wanted to help ensure the success of the next generation of my family I came up with an idea. A challenge to encourage you kids to make something of yourselves."
Alex saw that his cousin's faces had the same look of excitement that he felt.
"I have created for each of you a bank account containing five thousand dollars. By this time next year I want you all to double that money in whatever way you can. If you can manage that, which I'm sure you can you are my blood after all, then I will have another opportunity for you next year."
This announcement was met with excitement from the children and mixed responses from the adults.
Alex noticed his parents talking quickly with one another.
Would they say he couldn't do it?
He looked at them and they smiled back.
The other parents looked more pleased with the prospect than his own. The Maxwell's looked smug as if they had known this was coming all along and Mr. Bishop was chatting happily with Grandpa Magnus.
Patrick heard challenge and accepted it eagerly.
His cousins might not be up to the task but he was confident that he had what it took to be a businessman.
Well Carin might be able to pull it off he admitted grudgingly to himself.
He looked over to his brother.
What was grandpa Magnus thinking giving the challenge to Simon as well he was too young to even fully understand how money worked.
Well he would just have to carry the slack for the both of them.
He could do it he told himself, after all turning 10,000 into 20,000 wasn't that much different from turning 5,000 into 10,000.
He wouldn't let his brother fall behind.
Then there was the matter of Alexander.
He hadn't even known about the Piptons before coming here and seeing Alexander was a bit of a shock.
Alex looked so much like him that there was no denying that they had the same blood.
Still he wasn't a Maxwell like Patrick.
Patrick was confident that he would earn way more over the next year than his cousins.
He walked over to wish his grandpa a happy birthday and to get a piece of cake of the tray that Sylvester was wheeling in.
The day after that was fun.
Alex had cake and they all travelled deeper into the manor to a private movie theater to watch a screening of a movie Alex was convinced hadn't come out yet.
After the movie it was starting to get late and Alex remembered that he had barely gotten any sleep the night before.
He was just about to tell his parents that he was ready to go home when Grandpa Magnus came over to talk with him.
Alex remembered all the things he had to report and began talking to his grandfather.
His grandfather smiled and listened as Alex launched into the tales of what he had done.
He told him how he had pulled off a successful endeavor the night before.
He told him how he had made friends with Wally and the ensuing adventure with him.
He told him how that day at school everyone thought it was a ghost.
And just when Alex was running out of things to tell his grandfather the old man spoke.
"You did a wonderful job Alexander, in fact you are one of the most talented young man I have seen since I was a boy." Grandpa Magnus spoke and Alex listened. "You are a big part of the reason that I wanted to do this little test of mine, I want you to do your very best and if you can do well enough I want you to be a part of my company, but you have to double what I have given you. If you want to do that you are going to have to come up with something clever, but I believe you can do it, good luck."
"I can do it." Alex promised
After Alex had been taken away Wally just knew that he was next.
He waited for the moment that he would be called in next.
He waited for Alex to come back and tell him what had happened.
He waited for the bell to ring and let him go home.
He got tired of waiting.
The rest of the class had fallen back into their stupor and Wally worrying was not going to fix anything.
He had to do something.
This led to a new series of thoughts and worries that left him no closer to the truth.
He could ask Goddy what happened to Alex.
Wally looked over to the desk where a snoring Goddy had let his head slip from his hands and fall to the desktop, his sunglasses had skidded off and slid several feet away from the desk.
Wally had been so preoccupied with his own thoughts that he hadn't even noticed.
He decided that he had to know what was going on.
Wally looked up at the clock hanging above the door.
It read 10:35.
The clock was off by 2 hours and 20 minutes but it had become second nature to Wally to read the correct time. The lunch bell would be ringing in five minutes.
He could slip away while no one was paying attention.
He waited for his opportunity and with a clear goal in mind the time passed quickly.
All of the hesitation that had built up in Wally since Alex was taken vanished.
He had a plan.
As soon as the bell rang and the class filed out of the doors the hesitation was back in full force.
Wally had to time it right.
What would he do once he got there?
Surely Alex wouldn't still be in the office would he?
While the questions piled up in Wally's mind the classroom had nearly emptied.
He got up and left with a couple of the stragglers.
He walked with the group until they reached the doors of the cafeteria. He turned and made his way to the office.
"Hey where are you going?" The voice belonged to Nella Andrew's a girl who had earned herself the nickname nosy Nella by the rest of the class.
"The office." Wally had learned long ago that whenever you were caught doing something it was invariably best to act like that is what you are supposed to be doing.
"Why?" Why couldn't this girl just mind her own business? Was the first thing that came to Wally's mind but instead he said. "Because I need to ask a question, It will only take a minute see you in there Nella."
To Wally's relief she entered the cafeteria without any more questions.
Wally made his way to the office and with a deep breath entered the doors.
It was not as intimidating as Wally had feared
No one was waiting to punish students who broke away from their classes.
The only person in the room was an elderly lady who sat behind a desk reading a book.
She looked up when Wally entered the room, "How can I help you?" she chimed.
He decided that being straightforward was the best option. "When is Alex getting back?"
"He left with his parents hours ago dear." She said simply and went back to reading her book.
"Thank you." and with that Wally went to join his classmates.
He needn't have worried.
The rest of the day was much more relaxing and Wally daydreamed his way through it.
Three came and with it the bell releasing the students from school and Goddy from his slumber.
Wally hoisted his bag over his back and started the journey home.
He had almost made it out the door when he was stopped once again by the intrusive voice of Nella, "So what was up with you at lunch today Wally?" she said as if it was any of her business.
"That is a rather personal question Nella." Wally said deciding to tease her a bit now that he had nothing to do.
The nonanswer served to fire up Nella's already overactive imagination.
He could see the possibilities of just what something personal could mean dancing just behind her eyelids.
He could tell she was getting ready to send a barrage of questions his way.
He cut her off before she begin her inquisition, "Who do you think returned all of our things?"
The question served its purpose and Nella mentally readjusted herself to the new topic.
"Well it's got to be the Trippton ghost." She said without a hint of hesitation.
"Come on Nella not you too." Wally complained, "Alex was right you know ghosts aren't real."
"But you're going on the ghost hunt with Ike." Replied a startled Nella who by now had completely forgotten her original questions, "If you don't believe why are you going?"
Wally smiled and leaned in conspiratorially even though no one was within hearing distance.
Nella leaned in listening eagerly, "It's a secret."
Wally turned to go leaving a confused Nella behind.
"But I want to know." She called out to Wally's back.
"Then come with us on Saturday." Wally spoke without turning around.
He didn't have anything planned for Saturday night but things were always more fun with more people.
He made it back to Wildling Street to find a surprise waiting for him in front of his house.
Biscuit the dog, who had been curled up at his doorstep, bounded up to him.
"What am I going to do with you?" Wally complained to the dog who easily put his paws on Wally's shoulders.
Wally managed to keep on his feet despite how heavy the enormous dog was.
"I don't have enough room to keep a dog." Wally complained pointlessly to Biscuit.
"Bark." Replied biscuit.
Wally sighed and scratched Biscuit behind the ear.
Alex woke up Saturday morning.
Yesterday seemed like a dream but he knew that it wasn't.
Still though yesterday he had been excited at the challenge his grandfather had posed him the prospect of earning 5000 dollars seemed impossible.
He didn't even know where to begin.
He had asked his parents last night but they had just told him to get a job.
A job wasn't enough. And no one would hire an eleven year old anyway.
He had to start a company like his grandfather but how does someone even do something like that.
He couldn't think in this cramped room. He slipped out the window and scrambled down the tree.
"Why can't you use the front door?" called his father, who was mowing the lawn at the time.
But Alex was already gone.
Wally poured himself a bowl of cereal while his father read the paper.
"Can I have a do?" Wally had hoped that if he timed the question while his father wasn't paying attention then he might be able to get a positive response.
He was mistaken.
"No." came a dismissive voice from behind the sports section.
Wally knew that it was unlikely from the start but if he didn't ask he would never know for sure.
He ate his breakfast to the occasional sound of the rustling of a newspaper.
The doorbell rang and his father went to answer it.
"It's for you."
Wally got up.
Alex had been expecting to see Wally when the door to the first house on Wildling street opened.
Instead he was face to stomach with the largest man that Alex had ever encountered.
It was no wonder Wally had not been afraid of Biscuit the other night.
He lived with a real monster.
Alex peered up to see the giant's face looking down on him.
"Is Wally in?"
With that the two were together again.
Alex told the tale of his trip to Maxwell Manor and to his satisfaction Wally seemed suitably impressed with his story.
Alex finished off by telling Wally about the money and how he had to double it by next year.
"Any suggestions?" Alex said hopefully.
Wally thought about it for a moment but he couldn't come up with anything either.
Alex had just put the question of what to do about his money problem out of his mind when Wally thought of something.
"So you have 5000 dollars?" He queried
"Yeah, I just finished telling you about it." The question seemed stupid and Alex was a little disappointed.
"And you can do with this money whatever you wish?" Alex was beginning to catch on to Wally's train of thought.
"I have to use it to make more money." He told Wally.
"Or." Continued Wally, not to be deterred by a little logic. "You could spend it."
This had not occurred to Alex, It was not as if he had to give the money back.
He could do whatever he wanted, but no he had to double the money not spend it.
He told Wally in a much more confident way than he felt that he would not spend the money unless he was using it to make more money.
"Well you have to spend money to make money so what are you going to spend your money on?" The conversation was going in circles and Alex had enough of it.
"I don't know, I will come up with something later."
Wally did not look satisfied but he agreed and they went inside.
Wally's house looked small when Alex compared it to the manor where he had spent the previous day.
It looked even smaller when he looked at the giant who lived there but it was a friendly place and Alex felt at home there.
Wally's mother came out and gave them snacks while his father was in the garage doing something that Wally described as "Tinkering."
The pair played video games and talked about making a company.
Wally insisted that he needed a website where customers could visit but Alex though he was getting ahead of himself.
He needed to come up with a product first everything else could come after that.
The day wore on and Alex began to think about that night.
Ike's group would be meeting at midnight to hunt for the ghost. Alex had only decided to go along because Wally had said he wanted to go.
"You know there isn't going to be any ghost?" he reminded Wally as if he had forgotten that the whole thing had been started by Alex's failed adventures.
"I know." Stated Wally, "But do you have anything better to do."
Besides sleeping there was nothing but the money that Alex had planned so he conceded to his friend's wishes.
"Besides" added Wally just as Alex was thinking of dropping the subject in favor of going back to talking about ideas for his company. "We just might see a ghost."
Despite his words Wally did not really believe in ghosts.
He just wanted to plant the idea in Alex's head so that tonight would be more interesting.
Things really were better if people got into the mood.
Wally also had a plan that he would need Alex's help for if he wanted it to work, and it involved getting to school before Ike and the others showed up.
"Hey Alex" Wally said trying his best to sound like he didn't really care whether or not he got an answer.
"How did you get into the school the night you gave everyone's stuff back?"
"Oh that." Alex said a smile spreading across his face. "It was easy, I just put a piece of tape on the lock of the door by the cafeteria entrance."
"Is that so." Wally said with a nonchalant air that did not fool Alex for an instant. "And, is that that tape still there?"
"Yeah it should be I was taken out of class before I got the chance to get rid of it." Alex confided, "What did you have in mind?"
Alex already had a good idea of what Wally had in mind but he waited for him to say it.
Wally told his plan and Alex listened excitedly.
Tonight was going to be fun they thought together.
It was as brilliant as it was simple.
Alex was a little miffed that he hadn't come up with it himself.
He was the ghost of Trippton after all.
The night was going to be boring if no ghost showed up after all, they were doing Ike a favor.
The two agreed to meet at the school at ten before the others showed up and set their plan into motion.
Together they would make tonight a memorable experience for Ike and the ghost group. They would be talking about this for months.
As soon as he could manage it Alex went to bed saying that he was still tired from his trip and slipped out the window to get to the school.
He had been thinking of things to do in order to make a ghost encounter believable.
As hard as he thought he could only come up with a few simple tricks. He hoped that Wally would be able to take care of the convincing.
He made it to the school and went around to the cafeteria entrance.
The door was still open from the tape he had stuck there two nights ago. He peeled it off and they went inside to prepare.
Wally had brought a large bag full of things that Alex could only guess at.
Before he had a chance to inquire Wally opened the bag and Alex was less than thrilled with the Halloween decoration that Wally wanted to pass off as a ghost.
"No one is going to be fooled by that!" Alex complained.
"It's perfect," Wally insisted with a grin. "it's going to be dark, no one will notice."
Alex was beginning to think this plan wasn't going to work but Wally just kept saying that it would be fine.
"It has nothing to do with how real it looks." Wally explained. "It is all about the mood."
"It would be better if there were a storm tonight but you can't control everything."
Alex looked at the rest of the supplies and a couple of other things caught his eye that he hadn't noticed because of the tacky looking ghost.
Inside the bag were a speaker and an cooler.
Alex reached in and opened the cooler.
He jumped back as smoke burst out of it.
"What is that?" Alex demanded.
He was a little irritated to see the look of satisfaction on Wally's face.
"That's dry ice." Wally explained.
"What are you going to do with dry ice? This isn't a haunted house you have to be a bit more realistic than that."
"A realistic ghost." Wally shot back and Alex didn't have a response.
"The smoke will be diluted it is just there to add a bit more to the mood and the real secret is this."
Wally pulled out the speaker and Alex saw that it was connected to a little device.
Wally knew that this was going to work.
He was a little disappointed that Alex did not like his ghost but that didn't really matter.
He had the noise.
The noise couldn't be heard by human ears. It was similar to a dog whistle but the crazy thing about it was that it made people afraid.
He wasn't really sure how it worked the explanation said something about it being at such a low frequency that the human ear couldn't pick up on it.
But you could feel it.
Wally had tested it out that day by listening to the sound in his room.
He could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
He didn't need to rely on the toy ghost to trick people give them an hour and Ike would be running out of the school with his tail between his legs.
Alex didn't look convinced but that would change when he saw the things that it could do.
Wally flicked on one of the switches near the door of the cafeteria.
It turned on a third of the lights just enough to be able to make out everything in the big room.
They got to work setting up the speaker in the lunchroom.
He hid the speaker behind curtain on a stage that the school sometimes used for plays and announcements.
He plugged in the speaker and turned it on.
Alex didn't see what the big deal was with the speaker.
Wally had told him something about a ghost sound and he thought that he would be hearing doors slam off in the distance.
Instead Wally plugged it in and nothing happened.
Wally didn't seem at all disappointed with the failure of the speaker.
Quite the opposite in fact he seemed happy with the silent machine.
Alex turned and looked at the cafeteria.
Much like the halls this room seemed enormous when the school was empty.
Alex felt the hairs on his arm bristle and he started to feel nervous about the whole night.
This was a better room for a ghost than Alex had given it credit for.
He moved to turn on the rest of the lights.
Even with the room well light it didn't help much.
Alex turned to Wally and knew that something was up.
"What did you do?" Alex said more interested in the speaker now.
Wally just smiled although from the look on his face it was clear that he was experiencing the same uneasiness as Alex.
They got out of the school and Alex could feel the uneasiness leave his body.
They got out and waited for the rest of the group to show up.
The Ghost Group
They didn't have to wait long for the group to start arriving.
It was already 11:30 by the time they left the back of the school and they had only just made their way to the front gate when they saw their first face.
It was Nella looking uncomfortable walking alone in the dark.
She looked relieved to see that she was not the only one there and ran up as soon as she spotted them.
The next one to arrive was Tom and Alexandra who did not seem to share Nella's fear of travelling at night.
The pair were chatting happily as they walked up to the group.
The next was Ike who was lugging around what appeared to be a very expensive camera.
He grinned widely when he caught sight of the group.
When he walked up Nella asked a question that had been running through Alex's mind.
"How do you plan to get into the school, Ike?"
Alex had spent a long time trying to figure out ways to get into the school before he came up with the tape trick and there was no way that it would work on the front door.
"Simple." Ike said as he brandished what was unmistakably the ring of keys that the janitor used.
Alex was impressed, if you wanted to open a locked door the best answer was obviously to use the key.
With five minutes until midnight Alex suspected that everyone who was going to show up had shown up already.
"Why don't we head inside, It's cold out here." Alex suggested.
There was a general murmur of agreement but Alexandra spoke up. "Wait Emma and Hannah aren't here yet."
As if on cue two shapes appeared out of the shadows.
"Thinking of going in without us?" Emma accused to Alex, "How mean." Hannah scolded him.
Both girls broke into giggles and ran up to be with Alexandra.
"Now that everyone's here." Ike said with authority, "Let's go catch a ghost."
More people showed up than Ike expected.
He was getting more excited by the moment as he flipped through the keys looking for the one that opened the front gate.
After a moment of fumbling he found the correct key and the door opened with a creak that set the mood for his excursion perfectly.
He entered the pitch black school with an entourage of ghost hunters following him into the lair.
"Ike flipped on a miniature camcorder that he had attached to his hat and began recording his first grand attempt at ghost hunting, for posterity.
Plus it also served as a flashlight.
"Let's start where the ghost was last seen." Ike said to no one in particular and no one in particular answered.
Alexandra was whispering with the twins Tom was by her side and Wally and Alex had seemed to form a group when Ike hadn't been paying attention.
Nella was trotting along slightly behind Wally.
Alex gave him an encouraging nod and he was off to their classroom where the blue shoes had been discovered.
The door was locked, of course, and Ike began ruffling through the keys again.
A sudden thought struck him.
Would the entire night be spent flipping through keys, without a ghost to be found?
He found the key and the door obligingly swung open.
He felt a tightness in his chest and all the whispering had stopped. He stepped into the room and flipped on the lights.
There was nothing.
The classroom being the only lit room seemed odd.
They all filed in and with a crowd of people who spent every day in this room the situation felt almost normal.
Looking out the window and seeing that it was night was one of the most surreal images Ike had ever seen.
"Let's make the classroom our base of operations for the night." Ike said
"What!" said Nella, "How long do you think we will be here?"
"A ghost won't appear to a large group." Explained Ike with exaggerated patience. "We will have to split up into groups and spread out over the whole school."
Alex and Wally looked at each other, Nella moved a little closer to Wally and Alexandra grabbed Tom's arm.
The groups had split.
The pair had not counted on that but the unexpected development added to the fun in Alex's opinion.
In fact this might be better than he had hoped.
The girl Nella joined him and Wally and Ike left with the twins in toe.
Tom and Alexandra had split of into a group of their own, no surprises there, and they all agreed to meet back at the classroom in half an hour.
With the groups split up like this they could take their time and watch as each group went into the cafeteria.
In order to that though he had to think of a way to get rid of Nella.
They couldn't just tell her about their plan could they?
Could she be trusted not to warn everyone else and spoil all the fun?
Alex was walking along letting Wally pick their path while he puzzled what to do.
He wasn't really paying attention and almost walked straight into Wallywhen he came to an abrupt stop.
"Someone left the cafeteria door unlocked." He said smiling at Nella. "Let's take a look inside.
Wally held the door open and the three of them into the lunchroom.
Wally turned on one of the three switches turning on just enough light to see but it was still dark enough that Alex bumped into things that he hadn't known were there.
The fog from the dry ice had dissipated or it was too dark to see but Alex felt it.
The room had a chill to it that felt very ghostly.
Despite Alex's best effort he felt the fear build up inside him.
Even though Alex knew better this room felt haunted.
Nella was visibly shaking and Alex couldn't blame her.
This was scary.
It was working better than he had hoped.
Wally felt the sound even though he couldn't hear it and he knew that being in this room without bracing himself would have made him panic.
He saw Nella darting her eyes around and he saw the effects that the sound was having on her.
Nella worked her way over to the door and flipped on the rest of the lights.
"I think this place really is haunted" she said nervously.
"Good." Said Wally and Alex together.
Nella gave them a suspicious look and Wally hurriedly clarified. "That is the point of ghost hunting."
She accepted that answer and Wally decided to push it a bit further. "Will the ghost come out if the lights are so bright?"
Nella didn't answer but moved closer to the pair and confided. "I don't like it in here."
"We come in here every day." Wally soothed "You just feel this way because it's night."
The sound of metal clattering against floor was enough to make Wally gasp and Nella Jumped into the air.
It was just Alex who had knocked over a chair.
"Sorry" Alex said And Wally did his best to shoot a scowl at him.
The sudden noise had pushed Nella over the edge. "I'm going back to the classroom!" She said with a hint of franticness in her voice.
"Alright let's go meet the other's." Wally calmed her.
"But." Began Alex but a look from Wally was enough to tell him that it was time to leave.
As the left the Cafeteria Wally hit all but one of the lights.
For the next group.
Nella was glad that they had agreed to go back with her.
If they had stayed she was positive that she would have ended up running all the way home.
Wally had reminded her that they had agreed to meet the others.
As they left the Cafeteria Ike's group came running up to meet them.
"We heard a noise." Said Hannah looking happy to have something happen.
"Are you alright?" queried Emma who seemed to be focusing her question on Nella more than the boys.
She was about to respond when Wally began talking.
"There is something not right about that room!" He said with none of the calmness he had demonstrated when he was comforting her. "We are going back to the classroom, I'm not going back in there."
Wally seemed almost fearful but Nella wasn't quite convinced.
He had not been that scared a moment ago.
Nella had calmed down considerably just from walking out of the lunchroom, and it looked like Wally was the one who was starting to panic.
"It would be better if you came back to the classroom with us to wait for the others." Alex added, the boy's sudden cowardice surprised Nella. "It would be best if you didn't go in there."
Ike's face lit up with enthusiasm at the potential ghost sighting.
Nella couldn't figure it out what they were doing.
It was almost like these two wanted Ike's group to go into the unpleasant room.
They were definitely acting very suspicious.
Nella looked closer at Alex and saw that he was smiling.
He had just finished some spiel about going back to the room together that he knew Ike wouldn't listen to and he was smiling.
Something was definitely wrong here and Wally and Alex were in on it together.
"Maybe we all really should go back to the room together." Nella said trying to warn away the group.
"Nonsense!" proclaimed Ike as he barged into the dimly lit lunchroom.
"C'mon" pleaded Nella to the girls but they had already disappeared into the lunchroom.
"We should get back to the classroom." Wally said placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Okay" she agreed.
Now all they had to do was get Tom and girl Alex to go into the lunchroom and the plan would be a complete success.
Sure it didn't look like there would be any running and screaming but hey he couldn't have everything.
Nella looked like she was getting a little suspicious and she had tried to keep Ike's group from going in but she hadn't succeeded.
Actually having her along had added to the realism of their story.
Wally was not sure how convincing he would have been if there hadn't been someone genuinely scared there.
Wally led them back to the classroom.
They walked in to find Tom and girl Alex already there.
"Where is everyone else it's been half an hour?"
Had it really, well time flies when you're having fun.
"They went into the lunchroom." Wally said putting on his best worried voice.
"What's wrong?" Said Alexandria.
Wally weaved a tale of how awful it had been in the cafeteria and how Ike had dragged the twins in with him.
"They looked so scared." Said Wally with an ominous tone.
Alexandria looked worried and she and Tom went to go check on her friends.
The two of them rushed off to join the trio in the ghost room.
Wally smiled when the door closed behind them.
"What is so funny!?" Nella demanded.
Alex fell silent immediately and Wally shrugged.
They had already gotten everyone to go into the room it was probably fine to tell Nella what was going on.
Wally began explaining and Nella listened stone faced while he gave her the details of what he had done.
Wally was impressed with her. He had no idea what she was thinking while he told her about the prank that he had set up.
He expected her to be mad when he told her about the fake ghost and how he had lured them all into the cafeteria.
She surprised both of them however when instead of outrage or shock or even running off to warn the other's, which he had been a little scared of, she burst out laughing.
Well it was pretty funny.
The Night Ends
Alex was a little surprised that Wally was telling Nella about the plan.
It was his fault he supposed.
He shouldn't have laughed when Wally had tricked them into going to the cafeteria.
Wally had been impressive that night.
Alex had watched as one after another Wally had gotten everyone to fall into his trap.
He had watched as Wally was calming someone down one moment then scaring someone else the next.
Wally had even guessed that Nella would be cool about the whole thing.
Alex knew that he needed Wally to help him with his future plans.
The guy knew how to get people to do what he wanted even now he had Nella eating out of the palm of his hand.
He realized it was the same with the dog the other night.
Wally had a way of getting inside your head.
"Let's go check out how everyone is doing." Wally said and Alex got up.
He was doing it to him too.
Alex decided that it was time for him to take charge of the night.
He got up and led the pack to the lunchroom and decided to show off a bit himself.
"Follow me" Alex whispered and Wally and Nella followed.
Wally wasn't the only one with tricks up his sleeve.
Wally followed Alex down a hallway that was definitely not the one that led to the lunchroom.
He was a little excited to see what Alex had in store.
Alex had never failed to astound Wally with everything he did.
Ever since he had appeared out of nowhere in his backyard Alex had been doing one incredible thing after another.
He had been able to get into the school effortlessly and he was easily able to adapt to any situation that popped up.
Alex was always eager to do the next thing.
Even though he had his own problems to deal with he had still been eager to help Wally with his own plans.
That first night when he had instantly decided to help him with his revenge against Crumblebum and tonight he had dropped everything to help him scare their classmates.
Wally followed Alex down the wrong hallway and just when he was about to say something about it Alex turned to down a hall that Wally had never noticed before.
"Where are we going?" Nella asked Wally and all he could do was shrug.
Alex was the one to answer.
"We want to look in on the cafeteria without being seen right?" he began.
"Yeah" Nella returned tentatively.
"This is the way to the kitchen." Wally finished for him.
Alex looked back at Wally with a grin and nodded.
He opened the door and the three of them entered.
Cutlery glittered in the pale light coming from the windows into the Cafeteria.
Nella was about to turn on the lights when Wally stopped her.
"They'll see." He whispered.
The three of them gathered together at the window and looked out into the large room.
There was a ghost in here he just knew it.
Ike felt the dread pool in his stomach and the desire to bolt from the room grew steadily in the back of his mind.
The twins were huddled close together and he could tell that they felt it too.
A real ghost.
His terror was drowned out by his excitement as he cast about the room looking for anything that could be the source of this ethereal emotion.
He had never been this close to a real ghost before.
Tonight was the night he had been waiting for, he knew it.
Why had they agreed to come here.
Emma wanted to leave. Hannah was gripping her arm tightly.
She wished she had listened to Wally when he had told them to go back to the room with him.
She turned to leave when the Cafeteria door swung open.
She heard her sister scream.
She joined in.
Alexandra was a little worried about the twins.
Wally had seemed adamant about how they shouldn't be in there.
What if the ghost got them.
She hurried her pace and Tom was right next to her the whole time.
She was in such a hurry that when she finally reached the doors she pushed them open a little harder than she should have.
She heard screams.
They were in trouble, she rushed in.
Things went mad in an instant.
The twins started screaming and Ike frantically tried to see what was wrong.
Another group had entered the cafeteria and the twins were panicking.
Alexandria rushed over and was trying to calm them down.
Tom was standing over them looking bemused.
He flipped on the lights.
The room was different in the full light with so many people in it.
He still felt the presence of the ghost but he knew that it would vanish if he did not do something quickly.
He ran to turn the lights back down so that the ghost would not flee.
A noise came from the kitchen.
That is when he saw it.
A silhouette in the window.
There it was, a ghost, he finally had proof that the ghost of Trippton existed.
In his excitement he called out. "It's a ghost!"
Looking in from the kitchen the three saw a scene that did not disappoint.
Wally worried for a moment when Ike looked in their direction.
Ike shouted about a ghost and everything happened at once.
All of the girls ran from the room so fast Wally almost missed it.
Tom chased after the girls and Ike was frantically scrambling with a camera on his hat.
Alex, Wally, and Nella slipped out of the kitchen and went back to the room.
No one was there.
They had run right out of the school and they wouldn't be seeing them until Monday.
The three of them were laughing when Ike burst into the room.
"There was a ghost." He exclaimed. "I have the proof."
With that Ike was gone and the three had the whole school to themselves.
After another fit of laughter they hit the lights.
Wally collected his speaker and the three of them left Trippton.
The Return of Crumblebum
The next day Alex devoted himself to coming up with ideas for the money but much like the other times he had devoted himself to coming up with ideas he came up dry.
Wally was better at the whole idea generating thing.
Alex sighed and resigned himself to a lazy Sunday at home with his parents.
They weren't any help either.
They said that they were not supposed to help him with the challenge from their grandfather.
His father told him to take his time and come up with something good.
He just couldn't bring himself to like waiting, he liked doing.
He went out to Wally's house but no one was home.
He couldn't even find Biscuit.
The next day he had to go to school and he was determined to come up with something good.
He made his way to class just before the bell rang, and there was Crumblebum sitting at her desk.
She reminded him of nothing more than a vulture.
She was unusually tall even when sitting down and was always looking down on everyone.
Usually this was evenly distributed among all the students but when Alex walked in her gaze fixed on him like a predator catching sight of her prey.
He swallowed involuntarily.
She had been waiting for him.
He had been mistaken in thinking that he had gotten away with anything.
He could tell that everything bad that he had every done was clear to her.
She knew about the yard.
She knew about the ghost prank.
She knew about all the things he had done over the years.
She even knew about the money his grandfather had given him, though he wasn't sure why that would make her mad, but he felt sure she knew everything that he had tried to keep a secret.
He looked down feeling defeated already.
There was no way she could know all of those things.
He tried to convince himself that her glare was the same glare she gave everyone and that his imagination was getting away from him.
He looked up and for a brief instant their eyes met.
Nope not his imagination the woman sitting behind that desk knew everything.
He looked around the class of beaten down faces and caught Wally's eye.
He had lost much of the color from his face and Aex knew that he had also been given the stare down from Crumblebum.
The look on Wally's face was all the conformation the Alex needed.
Crumblebum knew it was them who hit her house.
*tap* *tap* *tap*
The teacher's fingers taped the desk and the sound sent a shiver down his spine far worse than Wally's haunted noise.
"Get to your seat Pipton" Crumblebum rasped.
Apparently she was still suffering some of the symptoms of her ailment, or maybe she just liked the way she sounded with a rasp.
Alex went quickly to his seat and the bell rang.
It was the longest day that Wally had ever experienced.
He had arrived to class early to find a group of students gossiping.
He listened in on the conversation expecting them to be talking about the ghost, and to his amusement found they were talking about how Crumblebum's lawn had been filled with flamingoes.
He laughed and his classmates started to join him when the sound abruptly stopped.
Towering behind him was Crumblebum looking at the group with such disdain that all of the students held their breaths waiting for the horrible wraith of the elderly woman.
"Sit down." She commanded the class sat down.
She glared at Wally and he knew that she knew.
He put his head down and waited for the glare to end.
He looked up.
The rest of the day was torturously slow.
The elderly terror was up in front of the class rasping about colonial America.
Alex's attention had just started to slip when he heard her harsh voice snap.
At first he thought she had noticed the slight change in his posture as his mind began to wander, but as it turned out the focus of her attention was Ike.
"If you don't want to pay attention in my class" she fumed "You can leave and become a janitor like the rest of your worthless family."
Ike started to protest but a withering look from the old woman took the fight out of him.
Ike was sensitive to cracks about his family, and Alex had thought that he would vehemently defend them to anyone and had seen him to do so to people many times his size, but it was not that easy to oppose and angry Crumblebum.
"Hey that's uncalled for." A familiar voice rang out.
Wally was speaking.
"If you have time to speak out of turn, Weir." Rasped the woman. "Then you have time to spend after school in detention. Maybe that will teach you not to deface people's property."
Alex couldn't believe his ears.
The injustice of the whole situation was appalling but Alex was sure that she had been waiting for an opportunity to get Wally all day.
Did this mean she blamed the whole thing on Wally.
Well it had been his idea.
This was because Alex had left him behind that night.
And he still hadn't apologized.
"He was just defending Ike." Alex heard his own voice say.
"Oh Pipton, it looks like you want to join Weir in detention."
Alex stared defiantly at her and he knew immediately that it was a mistake.
"Two weeks for both of you." She cackled and returned to lecturing about the Salem witch trials.
Two weeks of detention Crumblebum had said.
How on earth would he survive that.
He looked over and gave him a thankful smile.
It wasn't all that bad, at least he would have time to think about his as yet nonexistent business.
At the end of the day Alex and Wally went to the detention hall where they would be watched by Mr. Crick.
Mr. Crick coached the basketball team and had been burdened with the duty of watching over the schools undesirables.
Alex and Wally were told to report to the detention hall five minutes after class got out.
The detention hall was downstairs.
Most of the student who attended Trippton didn't even realize that there was a downstairs and Wally was no exception.
He followed Alex down hallway after hallway.
He opened a door that led into a secondary stairway that was not properly lit and the pair went down.
The first door he saw was where they kept the cleaning supplies and past that there was a single door at the end of the hall.
This door opened into a large room filled with the desks that the other classes didn't want anymore.
At the desk sat Crick who looked as unhappy to be there as them.
Wally attempted to greet Crick but all he received for his trouble was a gruff, "Sit down and shut up."
They did so and were joined by a dozen other students who had each earned their stay in some way or another.
Some were regulars that Alex recognized from his last trip to detention.
Others looked out of place being in trouble.
There was nothing for it but to wait for the time to be over.
One of the students had the idea to get some work done while they were down there.
This earned him a Bark from Crick.
He made it very clear that they were in trouble and doing anything of their own volition made being in detention less of a punishment.
They had to sit there sit up and stare at the board for an hour.
Alex hoped that Crick would not be like that the whole time but as the hour inched forward it became painfully apparent that Crick had no intention of letting up on the students.
The sound seemed to jerk Crick out of his punishment mindset and he went to answer the phone.
After listening for a brief moment Crick spoke "I will be right there." And with that the detention hall was unsupervised.
The tension in the room broke and the stone faced students came alive with their comparative freedom.
The students spoke and Alex got the general feeling that his fellows felt the same about Crick's methods as he did.
"Someone should put that muscle brain in his place." Said a female voice, which sparked an immediate consensus and a focal point for further discussion.
"Yeah I would give anything get that guy back."
And there it was.
An idea blossomed in Alex's head.
It was the perfect solution to all of his problems but he had to pull it off carefully.
Wally was listening to all the various insults the students could think up to describe Crick.
He was enjoying himself as someone called him a bloated buffoon when he heard Alex's voice over the crowd.
"You know if you really wanted to get back at Crick you could just buy a prank." He said innocently.
He immediately had the full attention of the class but what was he talking about.
"How do you buy a prank." Someone said mirroring Wally's own thoughts.
"There is a group called Professional Pranks that pranks people for money." Alex said matter-of-factly as if this was common knowledge and everyone should know.
Wally had a glimmer of an idea of what Wally was doing.
"Weren't they the ones who filled Crumblebum's yard with flamingoes?" Wally said playing along.
"That was them." Said a voice in the crowd.
"That name sounds familiar." Said another and it was on.
Everyone was asking Alex how they could call Professional Pranks and have them get Crick.
"Well" said Alex "a prank usually goes for about a hundred bucks." And you have to know how to get in touch with them.
"I know how to get in touch with them" Alex said.
"You have to Email them." Wally added helpfully.
If Alex pushed it too far they might get suspicious.
"I can chip in five bucks, if it will get back at Crick." Wally said.
It had the desired effect.
People began promising money and a hundred dollars was reached in no time.
All right Alex said I will email them tonight and everyone bring the money tomorrow.
The decision reached the class excitedly began talking about what Prank would be done to Crick.
Wally listened intently trying to get a few good ideas.
Alex was amazed that the plan he had come up with on the spot had been so successful, and once again Wally had helped him pull it off.
After a minute of the room being abuzz with speculation over the fictional group Alex had just created, Crick returned to reinforce why everyone in the room wanted revenge.
He was in an even worse mood now than he had been before leaving and the room retuned to dead silence.
Alex sat and stared at the wall with everyone else, but now he was planning how he would make Professional Pranks into reality.
He wanted to talk to Wally about it but even though he was only sitting a seat away it may as well have been a different planet.
The hour passed slowly but it did eventually end and he got up and eagerly left the room with everyone else.
He and Wally broke away from the group and Wally was the first to speak.
"So how are you going to pull it off?" He said with an expectant look in his eye.
"I have the perfect prank in mind," Alex confided. "but I need help with the rest of it."
The two brainstormed until they each had their own assignment.
This was a great idea.
A Great Idea
Wally was full of good ideas for how to set up the site for Professional Pranks.
He got to work and Alex was amazed when an hour later he came back and showed Alex the fruits of his labor.
It was just a webpage with the title Professional Pranks emblazoned at the top, but it was a start.
He had worked it out so that people could email them and it would be sent to the site.
It needed something more though and Alex added a single sentence across the page.
Only contact if you have legitimate business.
It was perfect all they had to do was get people to contact them.
It was getting late and Alex was getting excited when Wally asked the question.
So what are we going to do to Crick?
He had no idea.
"Well he could add a suggestion option to the site." Wally added.
"No that makes it look like we don't know what we are doing." Alex countered.
"We don't know what we're doing." Wally reminded him.
"No one else needs to know that." Alex paused thinking but it was Wally who came up with the answer.
"How about instead of suggestions we call it requests." Wally suggested.
Wally's idea was good. If the people were making requests for what pranks they would be doing that would mean they were asking favors instead of being helpful.
"Perfect!" Exclaimed Alex as he made the next link titled requests that would send an email to their new page.
Now all we need is to set it up.
Setting it up was not as easy as they had hoped.
The next day at school seemed even longer than yesterday had been.
Alex and Wally were trying to think of how they would get the word out about their site and took to discussing it over lunch.
Alex had just started eating his baloney sandwich when Nella plopped down beside them and started talking.
"What are you two whispering about over here?" She said.
"We are not whispering." Alex corrected her, "We are talking in normal voices."
"Your normal voices sure are quieter than normal." She accused through a smile.
"We might have been a little whispery." Wally confessed.
"So what about?" She continued not to be deterred.
"Well." Started Wally and Alex looked at him in shock.
He was not about to tell someone else about their plans was he?
It was a secret.
It was their secret.
She would ruin everything.
"We were just talking about this new group we heard about in detention yesterday." Wally finished.
That was certainly vague enough not to give away what they were doing but she wouldn't be answered with just that.
Alex relaxed though as Wally started talking.
Wally wouldn't give anything away he was sure, and a little sorry for doubting him even if it was only for a moment.
Wally and Nella talked and Alex ate his sandwich.
After a minute one of the twins called to her and she darted off.
"What was that about?" Said Alex through a mouthful.
"Nella is the biggest gossip in the school." Wally said as if he had answered Alex's question.
Alex swallowed and asked why her being a gossip mattered.
Wally gave Alex a look and for a moment Alex felt dumb.
"By this time tomorrow," Wally explained with exaggerated patience. "The entire school will be buzzing about Professional Pranks."
Alex stared at him.
Could it be true?
Certainly it made sense but could just one person have such an impact on the entire school.
"That is how rumors work." Wally said matter-of-factly.
They received more visitors during the short lunch break than they had expected.
Several students sat down with them to give them the money for the Crick prank.
Wally gave each of these people the name of the site.
Just before the end of lunch another person sat down next to them.
It was Ike.
"I want to say thank you for yesterday." Ike said staring at the table top while he spoke.
"You got in trouble for speaking up when it should have been me doing the talking." He blurted out.
"I'm such a coward I can't even defend my own family."
Ike looked like he was about to cry and Alex looked desperately up at Wally clearly not knowing what to do.
"It's okay Ike" Wally said putting his hand on the hunched boy's shoulder.
"We did it to ourselves, Crumblebum was wrong to talk about your family like that."
Ike looked up at Wally and he could tell that Ike was struggling not to cry.
"I owe you." Ike said. "If you ever need anything just ask.
Wally looked at Alex and smiled.
"I'll do just that Ike." Wally said.
The lunch bell rang and the pair suffered through the rest of the day under Crumblebum's scrutiny.
After that they had to report again to suffer under Cricks harsh glare but when they arrived at the dank underground room they were surprised to find that Crick wasn't there.
Instead of the menacing man a familiar snoring lump sat asleep at the desk of detention hall.
Goddy was there today and Wally had never been happier to see the substitute teacher.
"There is a basketball game today." Someone explained.
Crick would be away for just today.
A swarm of students crowded around Alex delivering the other half of the money that had been promised for the prank and Wally filled them all in about Professional Pranks and how they could request their own pranks.
He would have to talk to Alex about the pricing.
If he was going to double the five thousand in a year they would have to do better than a hundred dollars a prank.
And it would be nice if he could be paid.
Alex and Wally hurried to Wally's house when Goddy released them from their detention.
Alex excitedly opened his emails when he got home to find that the inbox was empty.
There would be no helpful suggestions from his classmates to help him deal with his Crick problem.
They had already accepted the money he needed to come up with a good prank.
He put his head on the table and imagined that this must be how Goddy felt all the time.
"We aren't going to come up with anything good sitting around like this." Wally said snapping Alex out of his funk.
Wally got up and left. After a minute of staring at the wall Alex followed.
When he opened the door to the outside he saw Wally playing with biscuit.
It looked like fun.
He joined them and together the three of them burned the last hours of sunlight.
The next day was no better.
They couldn't think of anything and with each passing hour Alex felt the pressure build.
When the school day was over and he went down into the underground for detention he could feel their stares even as he stared at the front wall.
Crick was back today and he was in an even worse mood than usual.
The Trippton Saints had of course lost yesterday's game and he was not happy about it.
After detention was over a few of his fellow inmates stopped to ask him how the prank was going.
He didn't know what to say.
How could he explain that without an idea the supposed Professionals couldn't do anything?
Wally was the one who answered their questions.
"They mostly work on the weekends." He stated with a confidence that Alex did not feel.
Now they had a deadline and still no idea what they were going to do.
It was already Wednesday and that left them only two days to plan.
Wally had successful distracted the people wanting to know when the prank would be but they weren't any closer to actually accomplishing anything.
Alex seemed to be in a slump and he wasn't even chipping in any ideas anymore.
It was up to him.
But he was in the same spot as Alex.
He didn't even know where to start.
He didn't even know that much about Crick.
And then he realized that was where they had to start.
If they wanted to prank Crick they needed to know more about him.
They would have to talk to the basketball team.
Did they even know anyone on the basketball team?
Everyone had gone home by now but at least he had an idea of where to start.
He shared his idea with Alex who quickly latched onto the idea perking up immediately now that he had something to do.
"Isn't Tom Glass on the team?" Alex asked.
The rest of the day went like it had yesterday.
Alex had no idea where Tom lived but he knew that he would see him tomorrow and that was enough for now.
Biscuit happily greeted them as they turned onto Wildling Street.
It was becoming the routine to play with the dog as they made their way back and Alex had grown fond of Biscuit.
Instead of the scary monster that he had been, and still was if you took a second and looked at him, Alex was starting to see Biscuit as kind of goofy looking.
His big face which had scared him before drew back in a dopey grin every time he approached him and his tail wagged furiously causing his entire body to shake with it reminding Alex of a giant fish.
Wally had been right in saying that Biscuit had been trained.
He followed most of the commands that Wally gave him and some of the ones that Alex tried.
Alex and Wally soon learned that Biscuit knew how to play fetch and that became a game of choice for the dog.
He would not always return with the same thing that they threw but he would always return tail wagging furiously and drop a slobber soaked item at their feet and sit expectantly.
At first they had thrown sticks but they soon learned that Biscuit would return with branches that were far too large for them to throw.
Wally started using a tennis ball and that worked better but Biscuit would sometimes bring things that he wanted to play with back instead.
He had returned with an old doll, a bicycle tire, part of a street sign and a deflated volleyball.
Alex was always sad to leave biscuit outside, but the dog seemed content and the weather was good.
He and Wally started leaving food out for him.
The chain around Biscuit's neck was depressing.
It made him look like some escaped animal, which he was.
He and Wally went into the Weir house to borrow Wally's father's bolt cutter to liberate the animal from his chains.
They played with Biscuit until the sun went down and Alex left Wally to go home.
Tomorrow they would figure out what to do about Crick.
Tomorrow they would talk to Tom and come up with an idea for getting back at the coach.
Wally was glad when Alex suggested they get the chain off from around Biscuit's throat.
Maybe he would get biscuit a collar to wear.
He really was a sweet animal and he deserved better than the life of a stray, but what could Wally do about it.
Tomorrow he had to think about how to ask Tom about Crick without him getting suspicious about why he wanted to know.
Was Tom trustworthy, if he figured out that he and Alex were going to prank Crick would Tom warn his coach?
Wally thought about how they would get Tom's help and after thinking about for a minute he came up with an answer.
"Yeah that would work" Wally thought and went to sleep.
Wally's plan was a simple one.
All he had to do was get Alexandria on his side and Tom would help easily.
Now the question he was facing was how to get Alexandria on his side.
For that he needed Nella.
This was getting needlessly complex Wally realized and decided that it would be far less of a hassle to just ask Tom.
He went to class early that day and sure enough there was Tom and Alexandria.
He went over and struck up a conversation with Tom.
"Sorry about the game." He said as casually as he could manage.
"It's fine." Tom said curtly.
"Crick must have been furious he threw a fit in detention yesterday." Wally said easily.
Tom smiled and started complaining about Crick.
It was perfect they both talked smack about the coach for a while and Wally slipped in his questions.
He got more information out of Tom than he had hoped.
He found out where Crick lived and learned a bit about his schedule.
Most of the information wasn't very useful but Wally was able to get one interesting detail that he thought would come in useful.
Crick had a swimming pool that he did laps in every morning before school.
This sounded like an opportunity though he wasn't sure how to exploit it yet.
The bell rang and he spent the rest of the day under the hateful eye of Crumblebum.
At lunch he got the gossip from Nella.
Apparently the students were all talking about a tape video that Ike had taken during the ghost trip.
It was about time that happened thought Wally but he continued to listen as Nella told him all about how there was an actual ghost on the video.
There wasn't any news about Professional Pranks but that was okay.
It would be the only thing people talked about come Monday.
The school day was boring and detention even more so.
Wally had talked with Nella all lunch so Alex had never gotten the chance to talk to him about how they were going to get the information out of Tom.
He got his chance after detention and talked to Wally after they got out of the underground.
Alex was surprised to hear that Wally had already talked to Tom and pleased that Wally had gotten some good information.
That was perfect and Alex knew exactly what to do though it would take a little preparation.
They needed to go to the store to pick up some supplies.
Alex had a plan.
Wally could see it in the newfound energy he displayed while he talked with him about Crick's schedule.
Wally had to work to get the details from an excited Alex who had already begun planning.
When Wally heard the plan he had no idea if it would work.
Alex wanted to buy a bag of mix and turn Crick's entire pool into jello.
Wally thought about it and the longer he spent thinking the more amusing it seemed.
"But that can't be cheap." He said.
We are going to have to start charging more if we are going to be pulling stunts like this.
The pair went out and Alex took Wally to an outlet store that sold bulk everything.
The walk to the store took them the better part of an hour and the place they arrived at looked more like a warehouse than anything else.
The area in front of the building was in disrepair.
The inside of the building looked even worse than the outside.
Half of the lights were blinking and the place seemed like it was not designed for customers buying groceries.
Wally looked around and saw pallets of odd food stuffs and barrels of various liquids.
Alex seemed to know where they were going and Wally followed him through a maze of towering toiletries and piles of irregular jeans.
He walked them to the far end of the store and Wally found himself staring at a wall stacked with bags of different kinds of powdered foods.
He looked at powdered milk, Chili powder, and powdered chocolate milk mix and there it was a whole stack of bags of powdered jello.
Wally wanted to buy some something with color but Alex insisted that they get something plan and tasteless.
"That way he will dive into the pool." Alex said with a mischievous grin.
The idea of Crick diving into a pool filled with jello left the pair of them unable to control their laughter.
This earned them the glares of several of the store's patrons who were buying in bulk like they though the world was ending soon.
"If he is going to be diving into the pool we need to see it." Wally said.
How could they see it and not get caught.
Wally knew the answer they needed to set up a camera to record the whole thing.
The idea was perfect they needed to record the prank and then later put it up on the website for the whole school to see.
Wally picked up one of the bags of jello and they brought it up to the counter.
The bag of jello mix only set them back fifteen dollars but this was a lot of work to be doing for such a meager profit.
Wally threw the bag over his shoulder and the two went home quickly doing their best not to be seen by anyone.
The bag seemed to get heavier each step they took and Alex took a turn carrying it.
Eventually they made it back and dumped the bag in Alex's backyard with a groan of relief.
The next day was Friday and they needed to get that camera from.
The only person who Wally knew with recording equipment was Ike, and it fell to Wally to ask him.
He had said that they could ask him for anything so that shouldn't be a problem.
Also Wally wanted to see the ghost video that Ike was spreading across the school.
With a clear goal in mind Alex and Wally approached Ike the next day at lunch.
At first he was reluctant to part with his recording equipment but after a little smooth talking from Wally Ike was happy to help.
Ike told them to meet at his house after they got out of detention and they could watch the ghost tape before they borrowed the camcorder.
Alex wasn't sure he could survive another day in detention.
All that sitting still with nothing to do had started to really mess with him.
The longer he sat the crazier the things his mind came up with to keep him from dying of boredom.
He eventually settled on planning everything out for this weekend's adventure.
Ike had said that the machine could only record for three hours before it automatically shut itself off and had to be restarted manually.
That meant that in order for them to get a good recording they had to time it so that they finished right before Crick got up.
That meant pulling the prank in the early morning rather than the cover of night.
That also meant that he would be exhausted.
When you try to pull a prank while exhausted you are more likely to mess it up.
He didn't like the idea but the more Alex thought the more he knew that he would have to drink coffee the night of the prank.
He hated the taste of coffee but he knew that if he wanted to do this right it was the only way.
Energy drinks were out of the question because they made you more likely to make mistakes while you are under their influence than if you were just tired.
No it had to be coffee.
Alex grimaced just thinking about the taste of the putrid liquid.
The look on his face earned him a reprimand from Crick.
Crick probably loved coffee.
Once they were out of the underground and he was able to move about freely Alex's thoughts began to return to normal.
The pair made their way to visit Ike at the Tor house.
Alex had never been to Ike's house before and wasn't even sure where he lived.
Wally said the he had been there when he and Ike were younger so he led the way.
Ike lived closer to the school than either Wally or himself and it only took them a minute to walk to there from the school.
They approached a row of identical houses each one looking more normal than the next.
Wally confidently strode up to one of the houses, though how he was able to tell one from another Alex had no idea.
He rang the doorbell and a flurry of noise erupted from the other side of the door.
The sound of dogs barking and people trying to control them filled the house and after a minute the chaos ended and the door opened.
A man in his early twenties opened the door took one look at them and said, "You're here about the ghost video; people have been coming all week to get a chance to see the ghost."
With a brush of his arm he corralled them in and herded them over to a couch that sat across from a roll up screen.
The man turned on a projector and the screen came to life with a familiar scene.
It was the Cafeteria from that Saturday.
They were seeing the ghost prank from Ike's point of view, or to be more accurate the point of view of Ike's hat.
Alex noticed almost immediately that Wally's fear sound had made the crossover with the video and the creepiness accompanied the images filling the screen.
The effect of the noise was greatly lessened by the recording abilities of the camera and the effect of the sound was nowhere near as potent as it had been that night.
There was a scream.
The camera turned violently to see the twins clutching each other and making a racket.
"Wait for it." Said the man eagerly.
The lights flicked on and the images quality dropped as the camera made the adjustments to the now lighted room.
The man paused the film.
"There!" He announced triumphantly.
Alex squinted to see what he was talking about.
All he saw was the flare of a light on the lens.
"Right there." The man said, this time pointing to the screen and letting a few frames go by.
The picture improved some and Alex looked where the man was pointing.
It was the window into the kitchen.
A shadowy figure was silhouetted in the next room while the ones in the cafeteria panicked the figure melted away.
It did look strange but as Alex studied the image he realized what it was he was seeing.
Wally could probably tell as well but he made no outward sign to show it.
It was the three of them in silhouette.
The shape of all Nella, Wally, and himself mixed together didn't look quite human, and it seemed he had been mistaken for a ghost once again.
The effect was actually kind of cool looking; Alex did not think they could pull that off again if they had a hundred tries.
"John!" The voice of Ike came from upstairs and his body followed it. "I wanted to show them that."
Alex and Wally spent the rest of the evening with Ike and John Tor talking about ghosts and John shared the story of how he had chased the blue shoed ghost through the halls of Trippton high.
Wally smirked at Alex and he shot back a glare the clearly stated that he had better shut up about the whole thing, even though he hadn't actually spoken.
John made them all popcorn and they watched Ike's movie again.
After a while John had to go to work and left them all alone.
Ike gave them the camera and made them give a solemn vow that they would returned it unharmed.
"Thanks Ike." They said in unison.
"Anytime." Ike replied.
The First Professional Prank
Alex was impatient.
He wanted to do the prank tonight.
They had been setting up the stunt for what seemed like forever and he was ready to put their plan into action.
He had rehearsed everything he had to do a dozen times already.
The plan had two hard parts.
First off he had to add the jello mix early on in the night in order for it to have time to set properly.
Crick lived at 600 crony drive which was about half an hour away if they were carrying the powder.
That meant that he would be going over there at midnight to pull off the first part of the plan.
The next part was the one he wasn't comfortable with.
In order to get the video of the prank they would have to return to the scene and set up the camera hours later in the early morning.
What if he woke up?
What if there plan was discovered early and he was caught returning to the scene.
He was a little excited by the extra danger involved in going there twice.
Wally however was less than thrilled with that aspect of the plan.
He agreed however that it needed to be done and that night the pair of them snuck out with the heavy bag of jello mix and headed for Crick's house.
The first complication to the plan arose immediately.
Storm clouds were rolling in blocking out the moon.
With only the street lights to guide them and the looming threat of rain the pair needed to hurry.
Even though the situation called for them to increase their speed the pair slowed down.
Without being able to see the ground ahead of them clearly and the burden of the bag, which seemed heavier than it had when they had originally gone to pick it up, their pace fell even further.
Lightning cracked behind them as the clouds came closer and closer to ruining their carefully laid out night.
If they got caught out in the rain the powder would be ruined and there was no time to turn back and try again another night.
Wally had learned the address of Crick from Tom but in the dark it was difficult to make out the numbers on the houses.
Without being able to tell the houses apart their cumbersome pace slowed even further and Alex began to think that maybe this wouldn't work.
He supported the weight of the bag by himself while Wally went up solo to inspect the number on one of the mailboxes.
The simple task seemed to take forever as the bag felt heavier and heavier.
Wally grabbed it and said that they were almost there.
Alex felt something tickle the end of his nose.
Could it be a raindrop?
Where they already too late?
Wally moved forward to one of the houses as lightning ripped across the sky.
The area lit momentarily and Alex saw the 600 on a house across the street.
They crossed the road just as the rain began falling in earnest.
Wally tossed the bag over the fence and Alex scrambled over.
Alex lifted the bag off the ground and glanced around for the pool.
He had almost landed in it when he jumped the fence.
Had he stumbled a few feet he would have made a splash that would have gotten him caught for sure.
This part had to be done right.
Crick's pool was set up with a Jacuzzi attachment the constantly poured into the pool with a waterfall effect.
He decided to pour the mix into the Jacuzzi and let the hot waterfall mix the jello for him.
He tore at the bag and didn't even leave a scratch.
The rain was pouring harder now and he was having trouble seeing.
He groped around at the ground near the house hoping and he was rewarded with a rock.
It wasn't sharp but it was enough for ripping the top of the bag open with a few swipes.
He poured the powder into the Jacuzzi.
HE turned and found that with the combination of dark and rain he could no longer see the fence to make his escape.
He groped blindly as the water came down even harder as if it was determined to stop him from making his getaway.
Stuffing the now empty bag under his shirt he made his way towards were he thought the fence was and his fingers met the brick of crick's house.
Following the wall he made his way and collided with the fence.
If it weren't for the rain's ever increasing volume the sound of his face meeting the wooden planks would surely have alerted Crick to his presence.
He struggled to get his foothold on the slippery material but with an grunt of effort which he did his best to minimize he lofted himself over the fence and landed clumsily in Crick's front yard.
Wally was waiting in the relative dryness of tree cover and Alex moved to join him.
They could barely see.
They were soaking wet.
They had done it.
Though the rain did its best to cover them Alex could just make out Wally's smile illuminated in the pale glow of a street lamp.
He felt his own face break into a smile and they left Crony drive.
After they had gotten away from the suburban area the two of them laughed.
They took cover under the awning of a bus stop to wait out the rain.
Bursts of weather like this never lasted long in Trippton and after twenty minutes the rain turned into a drizzle.
"That storm will do a perfect job of mixing the jello into the pool." Wally mused as the soaking boys made their way home.
"I think it would have worked just fine without the rain." Alex muttered.
"This weather should be gone completely by the time we have to set up the camera.
"How could you possibly know that." Exclaimed Alex.
"The weather reports." Said Wally, matter-of-factly.
Alex stared at him.
He burst out laughing and Wally joined him.
While Alex was mixing the mix into the pool Wally was scouting the best place to set the camera.
He saw a good spot on a nook in the fence but he decided that it was more important for the camera to not be seen that it was to have a great picture.
He saw a promising looking tree that had branches that looked over the fence and found good spot to place a camera.
He climbed the tree and its branches offered some protection from the rain.
It would be practically invisible unless you knew where to look for it and it offered a good view into Crick's backyard.
He jumped out of the tree just as Alex came from back over the fence.
It was not Alex's most graceful moment but it looked like he had gotten the job done.
The two made their way home and Wally would be back in the morning.
Wally told Alex that he could take care of placing the camera in the morning and Alex could go to bed.
At first he was reluctant but Wally could see that Alex was tired and insisted he went to sleep.
Alone Wally did not have the confidence he did when Alex was with him and he felt nervousness build inside him as he went to place the camera.
The world smelled fresh after the rains had left and the early morning air was chilly.
Wally stepped out to find Alex waiting for him.
He was glad for the company and the two went out and set up the camera.
On the way back the sun started to rise and the world seemed completely new.
Wally was ready to get some sleep.
The pair parted and each went home to get some rest.
Wally went into his house fell onto his bed and fell asleep instantly.
It seemed as if he had only just managed to shut his eyes when he was being shaken awake by his mother who disliked sleeping in.
It was 10 and Crick would have already made the dive.
A deep satisfaction washed over him as he picoted the man suspended in gelatin.
He would need to retrieve the camera.
Should he wait until tonight or should he chance getting it in the light of day.
His common sense told him that he should wait for the cover of night, but he wanted to see the video now.
He stepped outside to find Alex holding the camcorder and looking victorious.
The pair flipped open the device and watched events unfold on the tiny screen.
After several hours of nothing they watched as Crick came outside shaking the morning out of his joints.
Alex watched the yard that he had been in the night before and saw the rock that he had used to open the bag.
He watched as Crick, yawning, stepped onto the diving board and walked up to the edge.
He stood for a moment and Alex was afraid that he would notice, but after a moment he bounced on the board and dived in.
It had worked perfectly.
Though the pool hadn't become exactly as solid as they had hoped it had turned into goo that was, if anything, even better than regular jello would have been.
Crick's face as he scrambled out of the pool covered in the goo was livid and they could see the vein on his temple throb even on the little screen.
Ike had a very nice camera.
They loaded the video to their site with a sense of satisfaction and went out to enjoy their Saturday.
When they returned to the site the next day Wally was a little surprised by how quickly the video had attracted the attention of the students.
The inbox was full of students clamoring about their success and he noted that some of the people who had paid for the prank were saying what a good deal it was.
Even more so there were emails that were not about the video.
The pair scrolled through them and noticed a series of requests to do other pranks.
Wally got to work replying to the people who had sent in requests.
No they would not prank the president.
They did not work for free if you wanted them to prank your grandma you would have to pay.
No they were not hiring help at the moment.
The requests piled in and Wally added a new post to the site saying how to request and pay for pranks.
Professional Pranks was beginning to feel like a real company.
They had enough requests here to keep them in work for weeks and the emails kept flowing in.
One email popped out to Wally's eye and he opened it and read words that shocked him.
"That" the email read "Is my camera."
There was a knock on the door and Wally had a feeling he knew who it was.
Wally opened the door to find Ike looking very serious.
"Hey Ike" Wally began but Ike cut him off.
Explaining the situation to Ike took a while but after he got his camera and the full story he didn't look like he was going to rat them out.
In fact he smiled as the two hastily tried to explain themselves to him.
"If you guys are going to keep doing this you are going to need my camera." Ike said
Wally wasn't sure whether this was good or bad.
Certainly they could use Ike's help but entirely too many people were learning about what they were doing for his comfort.
Alex looked happy to have Ike's help and Wally could do nothing but shrug and welcome Ike.
"Looks like we are hiring after all." Alex said
"Does that mean I get paid?" Ike said hopefully.
"We have to make money for anyone to get paid." Said Alex, deflating a little bit.
"I think I might be able to help with that." Said Wally and Alex could tell he was planning something.
Spend Money to Make Money
Together the three of them got to work, and there was plenty of work to be done.
Crick had been replaced by Goddy on the Monday after they pulled the jello prank and the whole school was talking about it.
Alex and Wally hated to be stuck in detention when there was so much to be done, but with the addition of Ike they were managing to keep up a steady flow of work.
Ike responded to some of the requests on the site while Alex and Wally were in detention and the three of them pulled off prank after prank.
Wally and Alex got out of the underground for the last time and felt the fresh air of freedom outside of the school.
They began working full time after school and in a month Professional Pranks was the biggest thing that Trippton had ever experienced.
The people buying the pranks paid online through a bank account that had been set up by Alex's Great Grandfather and Wally pushed them to expand their horizons.
The problem as he saw it was that there just wasn't enough money to be made from their school mates and indeed many of the requests came from places outside of Trippton.
They needed a way to get to some of the farther away places that could really pay for their pranks.
For that they needed a couple things.
For starters it would be essential to get a car and someone to drive them,
This proved hard to come up with and for a while they put this idea off until they could come up worth a way to make it work.
It was also getting harder to get out of the house without the notice of their parents
Of course they were fooling themselves thinking that their parents didn't realize that they snuck out but their parents chalked it up to them being rebellious and Alex and Wally were able to continue like that.
Alex hadn't realized how many things they would need if they wanted to make Professional Pranks work.
All the different pranks required different supplies that they would have to go out and buy every time they wanted to go out and do something.
They needed a place to keep all of their materials and Alex eventually decided on using some of the five thousand to rent a storage unit.
They were only making just enough money to break even and it was clear to all of them that if they wanted to keep going they would have to expand.
They needed to buy a car and hire a driver.
No one took them seriously when they went to the used car lot to buy an old pick up and they were forced to go home empty handed.
They needed to find someone older if they wanted Professional Pranks to be taken seriously.
Who could they get to help them though?
Neither Ike nor Wally knew any of the upperclassman well enough to trust them with something like their secret and who would want to work for a couple of kids anyway.
They couldn't even publicly advertise that they needed help without giving away that they were the ones behind all of the pranks.
There was already enough evidence piling up and people were starting to get suspicious.
Nella for one had taken to harassing Ike about what it was they were always up to.
Wally said he would "take care" her but Alex had a feeling that she wouldn't be shaken off that easily.
They had set up a help wanted sign on their site and though many people responded nobody they felt was trustworthy came forward.
They had been in business for two months now and they had made just under a thousand dollars.
The storage and supplies were expensive so if they weren't constantly working they wouldn't make enough to justify all the effort they were putting into it.
Alex was beginning to fear that at the rate they were going he wouldn't be able to double the money in time to win his grandfather's challenge.
Wally was thinking hard about who they could ask to help them that they could trust.
He could think of no names.
They cruised along barely making enough money to break even when a request came through for a prank.
It was in for the next town over.
The request was to steal the mascot of the neighboring football team and they were being offered a thousand dollars if they could do it before a game on Saturday.
That settled it they would need to find a driver now.
Nella had been suspicious of Wally and Ike since they got out of detention.
They were always whispering things to each other and she got really suspicious when Ike started joining in with them.
They had been acting strange for over a month since the ghost thing and since they had played the prank on the ghost group a mysterious company called the Prank Professionals had popped up.
She wanted to follow them and see what they were up to after school every day but that seemed to be a little stalkerish and she never had the time anyway.
She decided to confront Wally directly at lunch but he always seemed to be in the company of those two doing.., whatever it was they were doing, though she had her suspicions.
She resolved to figure out once and for all what it was they were up to and cornered Ike one day in the hallway to question him.
Dragging a confession out of Ike was harder than she though it would be.
He was tightlipped about what they were doing, but when she threatened to tell Crumblebum about what she knew, which was nothing but Ike didn't know that, he agreed to talk to them about letting her in on the secret.
He refused to give her any more information than that and had been avoiding her ever since.
It had been a week since then and she was getting impatient when Wally came to see her.
The Prank Professionals
Wally approached Nella just after class ended.
Her habit of sticking her nose into the business of others had cropped up in his affairs again and he had to deal with it.
He didn't dislike Nella but she had a way of making his life more difficult than it needed to be.
That generally didn't bother him as he liked having challenges pepper his life but with the company keeping him as busy as it was the addition of Nella's nosing around was not appreciated.
He wasn't sure what to say to her so he decided to let her do most of the talking.
Things generally went best that way.
"Hi Nella, Ike said you wanted to talk to me." Wally innocently greeted.
He her do most of the talking and she happily complied, for talking was one of the things she was best at.
Wally listened as she spoke about his suspicious behavior.
Wally listened as she chirped about how he was always up to something ever since they had spent the night in the school together with the ghost group.
Wally listened as she went on and on about stuff he knew nothing about ranging from a conspiracy that he and the twins were starting an underground fight club to him raising money to help Afghani orphans.
He was having trouble keeping up with what exactly it was she wanted but eventually she got to her point.
"You and Alex are working for Professional Pranks I just know it." She surmised
Wally did his best not to show any outward signs that she was so close to the truth.
"Are you ready to go Ms. Andrews." A voice said from behind Wally.
He turned to see a tall man in a suit talking to Nella.
"Yeah I am ready to go." Said Nella.
He couldn't just let her leave after she told him her suspicions about them working for Professional Pranks, while not quite the truth it was enough to get Alex, Ike, and himself in trouble .
"We haven't finished talking." Wally said before she had a chance to leave.
"We can talk in the car." Nella said and the next thing Wally knew he was being shepherded into an expensive looking car by Nella.
Things were going better than Nella could have hoped.
Before she hadn't even known where he lived and had no idea how to find out.
Now he was in her car giving directions to his house.
She had accused him of everything she could think of and not given him a chance to speak up for himself and then left without even taking a breath.
She had been a little afraid that he would just let her walk away after standing there but just like she thought he was not someone to take accusations lying down.
She was just about to try to get some information out of him when he spoke.
"I had no idea you drove to school every day, where do you live."
"I live up on Trippton Heights the big blue house." She answered without thinking.
She was caught off guard by the question, after all she was trying to learn more about him and here he was getting all of her information.
"Cool." Said Wally. "That whole area is very fancy, I had no idea you were a rich girl."
The topic was shifting quickly away from where she wanted it to go but she couldn't help but be embarrassed by the attention he was giving her.
They talked about her family for a while and he talked about his for a bit and she was having a very nice time when the car stopped.
"This is my house." he said.
He was standing in front of a house that looked like it had been lifted straight out of a storybook.
On the other side of the street was a row of the most beautiful weeping willows that she had ever seen.
The whole street seemed to have been made for aesthetic appeal.
Wally stepped out of the car and a huge dog with floppy ears that stood as high as his shoulders bound up to meet him.
It was the most adorable creature she had ever seen.
"Who is that?' she said her inner dog lover coming to the forefront of her personality.
"This is Biscuit." He said. "He is a stray but I have been training him, he's a good dog."
"A stray the poor thing." Cooed Nella
"Bye Nella." Wally said and the car started to pull away.
She wanted to stay and play with biscuit, but the car had started moving.
"Stop!" she called and the car stopped.
She got out and approached the dog who stared at her with a big grin on his face.
He cocked his head and she fell in love.
Nella had been playing with Biscuit and Wally for the better part of an hour.
She had a car.
She had a driver.
She was perfect, but could she be trusted.
The gears turned in Wally's head while Nella scratched Biscuit's belly.
Wally couldn't help but smile at the look of pure joy on Nella's face.
The driver waited in the car patiently.
How much would it cost to get somebody like him to work for Professional Pranks.
Eventually Nella parted from the dog which trotted over to sit next to Wally.
Good boy he knew who to be loyal to.
Wally shifted back and forth about whether or not to tell Nella the story behind Professional Pranks.
She had already guessed most of it what could it hurt to tell her the rest, but even if he told her it didn't mean she would help them.
"Can I come back and play with Biscuit?" she said.
"Anytime, why don't you come by tomorrow." He said.
The matter of whether or not to tell her could wait that long, and it would give him a chance to talk to Alex about it.
"Deal." She said and hugged him.
Then she was gone.
"Maybe it would be best to tell her after all." Thought Wally.
To Tell or not to Tell
Alex had just gotten back from replacing all of the toilet paper in his latest job's house with sandpaper when Wally came with the most ridiculous request he had ever heard.
He wanted to let Nella in on their plans.
Not that he had anything against Nella but she was hardly the most trustworthy person to keep a secret.
She was the biggest gossip in the school, Wally had said so himself on a number of occasions.
If she knew about them then everyone would know about them by the next day.
What was Wally playing at thinking of telling her about them?
"She already knows about the company." Wally said in the matter-of-fact tone he sometimes used when he wanted people to think he knew what he was doing.
Alex nearly fell out of his chair when what Wally said sunk in.
"You told her!" Alex exclaimed superbly shocked at his friend for this betrayal.
"She guessed." Wally clarified with a shrug. "It would be better to get her on our side rather than letting her run her mouth all over the school."
He had a point but how had she guessed? He had done such a good job keeping it a secret.
"It's not like you have been doing such a good job of keeping it a secret, someone was bound to notice us eventually." Wally was using that tone again and Alex was feeling like Wally could read his thoughts.
"Plus she has a car and driver." Wally added innocently as if this news meant absolutely nothing.
Alex did fall out of his chair this time.
As he was getting to his feet Alex managed to blurt out the obvious question.
"How is that possible, she's younger than me?" He exclaimed, and as an afterthought. "Besides even if you tell her that doesn't mean she will help us.
"She will help us." Wally said like he believed it, but Alex had learned that Wally wasn't always as confident as he acted.
He looked at his friend who was doing an incredible job at holding a poker face.
"You should really gamble." Alex muttered and this managed to get Wally to show another expression though it was only confusion.
"All right," Alex surrendered, "Do whatever you think is best."
"Always do." Wally said with a smile.
What had he just agreed too?
Wally had a way of bringing people around to his way of thinking and that had served them well so far but if he was going to start bringing other people in there could be problems.
What was the worst thing that could happen from just adding one more face?
"Oh and we will probably have to tell the driver too." Wally added with a smirk.
"Only joking." He quickly added looking at the expression on Alex's face.
Was he joking? Alex was having a harder time telling every day.
Wally teased Alex more than he should but he couldn't help it.
How would they convince the driver to take them anywhere without him knowing the reason?
They could make something up but that would surely just make him suspicious.
That would be a problem for later. Wally scolded himself to take things on step at a time.
He still had to convince Nella to join them and despite what he had said to Alex he was not as confident about being able to bring her over too their side as he had acted.
He was pretty sure she would be cool with them doing the Pranks themselves, probably.
Nella had a pretty good sense of humor after all, but would she help them?
He pondered this as he made his way home from Alex's place.
He really wished that things could go smoothly just this once.
It would be so nice if he could just ask her and have her say yes.
Why couldn't he just ask her?
It was as good as any other approach.
Really, if he just honestly went up to her and told her that he needed her help that might work better than any round-about way.
It wasn't like he could trick her into helping him.
Or could he trick her into helping?
If Nella thought that she would get into trouble if anyone found out about the company she would be forced to help them out.
That might work, it wasn't as though he could just pay her to help them.
Or could he?
Everybody needed a job at some point in their life and she already thought they worked for a company.
He could keep up the ruse of he and Alex being employees of a larger company and offer to get her a job.
Everyone needs money right? Then he remembered that she was rich.
Wally thought about the various ways he could get her to help but none of them were as foolproof as he would like.
What if he asked her tomorrow and she rejected him.
Wally was suddenly very nervous about seeing her tomorrow.
He would put her in a good mood first.
They could play with Biscuit for a while and then when she was good and happy he would ask her to help.
Maybe he should bring a gift.
If he gave her something nice maybe she would be more likely to say yes.
Wally worried all the way home about a thousand different ways that the confrontation with Nella could go until all of the confidence he had built up slipped away and all he could picture was her turning him down.
In a thousand different ways Wally pictured her rejecting him and each was more unlikely than the last.
While in the middle of a scenario where she was telling everyone about the company and Wally was being hauled off to prison Wally drifted off to sleep.
He had nightmares that night.
After the girl left and the Soothing man went inside Biscuit was left alone again.
He went to chase some squirrels and run around by his trees.
He was the king of the street, the biggest best animal in charge of all of the smaller animals around.
He went to sniff the fence that a smaller dog was hiding behind.
He barked at him and Biscuit barked back.
This was the good life.
He heard a familiar engine and smelled a familiar smell.
It was tuna a fishy smell that Biscuit hated.
Not because he didn't like fish.
In fact Biscuit loved just about every sort of food he could get his paws on.
No he hated the smell because it was the distinct odor of the most evil being in the world.
Biscuit didn't fell much like the king of the street anymore.
He tucked his tail between his legs and ran to his tree.
He ducked under the roots and lay as still as he could.
There it was.
The van drove slowly by and Biscuit peeked at it from behind the safety of the tree's roots.
That evil hat.
That evil mustache.
That evil tuna sandwich.
It was the dog catcher.
Biscuit hid himself as far down as he could manage and waited for the evil to pass.
Wally couldn't find Biscuit.
Nella would be coming by that evening to see him and Biscuit had chosen this moment to disappear.
It was a little weird.
The dog had always appeared before him when he spent more than a minute in front of his house.
"Biscuit." Wally called out.
He had never needed to call the dog before he had always come running up to him.
"Biscuit!" He called, a little louder this time.
Wally was finding his abrupt lack of dog to be very inconvenient.
Maybe he was over by Alex's house.
He went over there sometimes, but always made his way back to Wildling street.
Wally went off to see if Biscuit was with Alex.
"Biscuit." The voice called to him waking Biscuit from a troubled sleep in which he was captured once again by the evil dog catcher.
"Biscuit!" the insistent voice again.
Biscuit shot up out of the roots of the protective tree and ran to be with the soothing guy.
There, he was calling him facing the other direction as Biscuit ran to him.
There, he was walking away as Biscuit felt a sharp pain in his side.
As the world got darker Biscuit got the overwhelming urge to sit down.
And lie down.
And close his eyes.
The voice calling him seemed to get farther and farther away.
Biscuit felt himself get lifted up and carried.
He was vaguely aware that he was being dumped into a very familiar van.
A sense of urgency welled up in Biscuit, but it too was overcome by the darkness.
Biscuit fell asleep.
Wally was on his way to Alex's house when he was passed by a van that was driving too quickly.
He read the side of the van and saw that it was the dog catcher.
The significance of this took a minute for Wally to register.
He felt a sudden chill run down his spine.
He was just doing his rounds.
Biscuit would be waiting at Alex's with that grin on his face.
It was unusual for biscuit not to come to him.
It was probably nothing the dog was fine.
Wally could not shake the building sensation in his chest that told him that was not the truth.
He felt himself going faster as he made his way to Alex's.
He broke into a run and made it in half the time.
There was no dog waiting there to greet him.
He knocked on the door and no one opened it.
He looked at the driveway and saw no car there.
What was Alex doing at a time like this?
He had a phone but Alex never carried one.
He thought that he could be tracked if he carried a phone on him.
It was true but who would want to track him.
Wally started walking back home the quick in his step gone.
When he made it back he saw a Nella's car waiting there
Nella had just gotten out of the car when Wally walked up.
He told her that he feared Biscuit had been caught by the dog catcher, and she was distraught.
What would they do to the poor dog?
He was probably confused and scared and cold and alone and shivering and sad and they probably weren't feeding him properly either.
"We are going to the pound." she announced.
Wally hopped in the car and they were off.
Nella had never set foot in the pound before.
When she walked in she was hit by the odor, this placed smelled as if it had never been cleaned.
"Why didn't you give him a collar so this couldn't happen?" She demanded of Wally.
"He is a stray; I can't keep a dog at my house." Wally said meekly.
"Then I guess I will just have to keep him at my house." She said with finality.
She walked up to the counter and a man with a mouth full of tuna sandwich looked at her and smiled.
"You want to see the puppies little miss?" He said.
"I want Biscuit." She announced.
A smile left the man's face at her words.
He clamored that it would really be better if she took a smaller dog, a friendlier dog, a cat, a fish, anything but the monster he had been chasing for months.
She stood resolute and the man went into the back and wheeled out a cage with a tranquilized Biscuit inside.
'What have you done to him?" she snapped as she rushed to the cage.
James did the paperwork and in ten minutes Biscuit was hers.
Wally watched the scene unfold as Nella saved the dog he had thought just minutes earlier was gone for good.
Now Biscuit would be living in style in one of the fanciest places Trippton had to offer.
He would miss the happy greeting the dog gave him every time he came home.
It would be a little lonely without the animal waiting for him.
"Can I visit?" Wally said.
Nella seemed shocked.
Wally had not expected Nella to be so shocked at his question.
Wally had not realized the idea of him visiting her house would be meet with such a negative response.
"What are you talking about?" she said, "He's your dog you can see him whenever you want."
Wally smiled, and he went to check on biscuit whose tranquilized form caused him no small amount of worry.
"Is he going to be okay?" Wally questioned.
"He's a big guy," Said the man "He will be fine in an hour."
They loaded biscuit into Nella's car and took him to her home.
As the man had promised after an hour the dog began moving and then he sat up and was back to his former self.
Wally felt the relief wash over him as Nella hugged the animal.
The day had gone quickly, and though Biscuit was now safe, Wally still hadn't told her.
After Biscuit had disappeared his uneasiness had gone with him, but now that the problem was out of the way he felt himself worry about how to convince Nella to join them.
All the plans he had thought up to get her to help fled his mind and he was not sure how to proceed any longer.
She had just saved Biscuit he owed her.
Well he was sure now that he wanted her to be a part of the company after all she had helped him.
All this thinking was accomplishing absolutely nothing.
Wally took a deep breath and cleared his head.
He smiled it was peaceful without all the worrying.
"Hey, Nella." He heard himself say.
She looked up from Biscuit. "Yes."
He tried not to think about what would happen if she said no.
He told her everything.
Nella was a little shocked at what Wally had to say.
First off she had all but forgotten why she had been questioning him in the first place.
With the trouble Biscuit was in she didn't have time to worry about such little things.
Now Wally was telling her that the entire company Professional Pranks was something that he and Alex had made up together.
It was quite a shock but she guessed it made sense that Wally could do something like that.
When he asked her for her help she wasn't all that ready to give it.
She didn't want to do anything illegal after all.
He made her promise not to tell anyone.
That was fine but she still wasn't going to help them.
But she was curious what was this big prank that they needed her help with.
"We are going to steal the mascot from the Faldon football team."
Oh well that wasn't so bad people stole mascots all the time it was practically a tradition.
No one could get really angry over something as simple as stealing the Faldon mascot.
The Faldon mascot, Phantom the monkey…
Wally and Alex were going to steal Phantom the monkey.
Nella had always wanted a monkey.
Their tiny little fingers, and their furry little bodies and that cute little tale, monkeys were so cute.
Wally wanted her to come get a monkey with him and Alex.
Stealing a mascot could hardly even be considered bad, people had always stolen the other teams mascot it was expected no one would even care if she stole one little monkey.
She would feed it bananas and hold it and play with it and it would climb on her shoulder it would be wonderful.
It couldn't be helped, she would simply have to go with them.
Wally wasn't surprised that she didn't want to go with them.
It was a lot of trouble after all.
He didn't know what he had been expecting her to do.
He made her promise not to tell anyone about them and she agreed.
That would have to be good enough for Alex after all.
Then she asked him what they were doing.
He probably shouldn't tell her but he had already told her so much that it probably wouldn't make a difference with just this one more thing.
He told her about how they had been hired to take the mascot from the Faldon the neighboring town.
The look on her face as he said this was one that he couldn't quite place.
He could tell that there was a lot going on in her head but he couldn't figure what she could possibly be thinking so hard about.
She seemed to be struggling with something in her mind and for a minute Wally could see a look of deep longing on her face.
Now he was curious.
Nella seemed to have resolved whatever internal struggle she was having, and looked at Wally with a face that said clearly that she would be having her way.
"I am going with you." She announced leaving no room for objections.
Wally was a little taken aback by her complete change in position but the opportunity had presented itself and Wally was not about to question the gift he had been given.
"Alright, we leave tomorrow at eight bring the car." And with that he had her.
They spent the rest of the day caring for the recently revived Biscuit and when it came time to go the dog moved to go with him.
"Stay." Wally said in his best commanding voice and the dog stayed.
Nella led him to her yard which was enormous compared to the tiny scrap of land that lay behind Wally's house.
The dog bounded out into his new home and Wally returned to his.
Alex hadn't seen Wally since he had told him about his plan to incorporated Nella into their plans.
Wally could probably do it to and with that they would be able to go off to steal the Phantom the monkey tomorrow.
Trusting that Wally could get Nella and the car Alex had been the planning how they were going to get their hands on Phantom.
He had initially thought that it would be easy, but the more he learned about Phantom the harder it seemed to get close to him.
Ike had told him that Phantom was usually kept at the zoo with the other monkeys.
When football season started he stayed with his trainer.
That is where he would be tomorrow night, hopefully.
Alex wasn't confident enough to sneak into a zoo in the middle of the night and steal the animals.
Though as he thought about it the idea seemed fun.
No he couldn't pull that off without the entire zoo's population going into an uproar.
After he was taken from the zoo by his trainer he spent most of the season with her.
That was equally hard to deal with.
Alex was not keen on the idea of breaking into someone's house in the middle of the night and stealing their monkey.
That was a good way to get him shot.
The best time would be to grab phantom en route somewhere when he would be in his carrying case.
If he could just swoop up and grab the case while the trainer wasn't looking that could work.
The problem with that was the monkey was never unguarded.
This was starting to seem impossible.
Alex let out a loud sigh of frustration when he heard the door knock.
It was Wally and of course he had managed to get the car they needed.
Alex was looking frustrated when Wally came over.
He was having trouble thinking of a way to steal phantom.
Wally hadn't given a single thought on how to actually get their hands on the monkey and now that it looked like they would be able to get there they wouldn't be able to do anything.
Well that was just great.
Well they were being offered a lot of money of course it wouldn't be as easy as just walking up and asking for Phantom.
They would have to learn a little more about the trainer if they were going to have any chance all of pulling this off.
Wally sat down at the computer screen that was showing the Professional Pranks site and scrolled down the requests.
There was the job request for the monkey.
The username attached to the request read MTheThird.
That name popped up a few other places as well.
Not just in the area requesting a job MTheThird's name was also attached to a file in the request box.
Wally had overlooked this before and apparently so had Ike and Alex.
The request section was so bogged down with ideas for pranks that the group rarely had time to go through them all.
Now Wally opened the request.
Phantom will be unguarded in the Johnson building from three to six on the 25th of April.
Wally closed the letter and looked over at Alex who had been worrying about nothing other than getting the monkey.
He could tell Alex about the letter and they could go pick up the monkey together.
Wally grinned as he thought about the look on Alex's face if he just walked into the building and waltzed out with Phantom like it was nothing.
It would be pretty fun to be the one with all the answers.
"Don't worry", Wally said to Alex who had taken to pacing across the floor of his room. "I have a plan."
Alex was curious but Wally managed to keep the secret by pretending that he had some mysterious master plan to snatch Phantom.
Alex was suitably impressed, after all he should be.
Alex hadn't thought of a way to get their hands on the monkey, and he had been thinking about little else the past two days.
Now he could stroll in after just acquiring a car and an escort and in five minutes have the solution to all of their problems.
Of course most of how he had managed the car had little to do with any skill Wally possessed, but so what.
He could get the monkey, though not because of anything he had done, and when it all came down to it that was all they needed.
Alex was demanding an explanation while Wally thought about the letter from their employer.
Now that the problem was taken care of the letter itself started to bother him.
There was something about it that didn't seem quite right.
Wally started trying to put his finger on just what was wrong with the whole situation when Alex threw a pillow at his head, "C'mon tell me."
Thoughts of the letter forgotten with the imminent threat of projectiles being launched at him Wally retaliated with a barrage of linens.
Alex was determined to get his answer and Wally was happily denying him the information that he sought.
It was great fun.
The fight went on until they both lay exhausted on the floor.
Wally propped himself up and managed to sit cross legged in preparation for another onslaught from Alex.
Alex changed his questions now that it had become clear that Wally wouldn't be sharing so easily.
Have you seen Biscuit around, I haven't seen him in the past couple of days.
The question reminded Wally of what Nella had done and he shared the story with Alex.
He did not seem happy that Biscuit would no longer be greeting them but he admitted that Nella was better than the dog catcher.
Wally lay back and thoughts of the Monkey returned to him.
Tomorrow was the 25th and they had to get there in the afternoon while the monkey would be vulnerable.
Alex worried about what it was Wally was doing.
He had been obsessing over how to go about the capture of Phantom, and then Wally walked in saying that he would handle everything.
It just wasn't right.
This was his company after all and he was the one who should be doing the actual work.
It was a relief to know that Wally had a plan, but Alex couldn't help but feel that he was being overshadowed by his friend.
He had started to feel his blood boil every time he looked over at Wally.
He wanted to compete.
He wanted to win.
He didn't want to lose to Wally.
But Wally wouldn't even share what it was that he was planning.
Alex felt useless as he followed Wally around while they prepared.
At around noon Wally got up and said that it was time to go.
Alex was shocked, how on earth was he planning to do anything in the middle of the day?
They would surely be caught, or seen, or something.
These things were really better left for nighttime and he said as much to Wally.
But Wally brushed him off saying that Alex should trust him, and sit back and watch.
Alex had no idea what they were actually doing.
He was starting to get nervous.
He was not used to having so little control over a situation.
He almost wanted to let Wally go and do it himself but he knew that he couldn't do that.
They were partners, and if one of them let the other do all the work then Alex couldn't claim to have any part in his own company.
At around one the pair met up with Nella, and Wally finally told them where they were going.
He said that Phantom would be in the Johnson building at three and James, the man who drove Nella knew where it go.
And with that they were driving to the Faldon.
Nella seemed happy to be coming along, and Alex wondered how Wally had managed to convince her to join them.
In fact how had Wally managed to do any of the things he had done.
The more Alex thought about it the more impossible the entire situation seemed.
They had needed a car and Wally had procured a car, they had needed a plan and Wally had one.
Alex thought about the other night when Wally had walked in and announced that he had a plan.
Alex had been trying to come up with a good way to get Phantom when Wally had walked in.
They had talked about how he had managed to get Nella to help them.
That wasn't a stretch, Wally and Nella had always been on good terms.
After that Alex had confessed that he couldn't think of a way to get Phantom.
Wally had looked at the site for a minute and then he had the answer.
What had he been looking at?
Something on the site must have given him the clue he needed.
Alex though for a moment and then decided that he would bluff the answer out of Wally.
"So," Alex said to Wally while Nella wasn't paying attention. "Can we trust whoever told you how to get Phantom?"
Wally looked at him a minute and Alex thought that maybe he hadn't done it right.
Maybe Wally had come up with a genius plan that Alex just couldn't hope to match.
"The person who hired us said that the monkey would be unguarded in the Johnson Building from three to six. It's our only shot at getting Phantom." Wally sighed.
Alex was relieved.
Now that he knew where the answer had come from he felt better about the situation.
Then he thought about it.
"But why didn't they say anything when they hired us?" Alex pondered aloud.
"Maybe they were waiting for a response from us." Wally said. "The entire thing is a little weird but this is our only shot at getting Phantom." He postulated.
It was true.
But if the people who had hired them had already staked out the monkey then why didn't they just do it themselves.
"Well there is no use worrying about every little detail." Alex said cheered now that he had his answer.
Wally gave a small sound that Alex took as agreement and then turned to see Nella staring accusingly at him.
He was a little surprised to see her glare when he hadn't been expecting it and he exclaimed, "What?!"
"What are you two whispering about over there?" Nella accused.
She was sitting close enough so that she had probably been listening in, but she was going to make him say it.
"We were just talking about how we are going to get Phantom." He explained.
As it turned out Nella wasn't very interested in the how of what they were doing.
She just wanted to have the monkey and didn't much care how they went about getting him.
Alex wasn't sure that they should be letting her do as she pleased and wondered how much Wally had told her about what they were doing.
If she took part in the monkey heist she couldn't exactly turn them in afterwards without getting in trouble herself so they were probably safe on that front, but he still couldn't shake the uneasiness of having so many people knowing about what he was doing.
He had always done everything on his own.
Then he had met Wally and everything changed.
Now he had a whole group of people helping him, and he wasn't sure if he liked not having as much control as he was used to.
Still since he had partnered up with Wally he had gotten far more done than he had ever managed before.
Perhaps having more people was a good thing.
Knowing the plan replaced Alex's previously somber mood with excitement.
Wally thought that maybe it would have been better if he had just told Alex everything in the first place.
But that wouldn't have been any fun.
They approached their destination and Wally realized that besides the name of the building he had no idea where they were going or what he was getting them into.
This early on into the caper and he was already trusting James, a man he didn't even know, to take them to a destination he knew nothing about.
It was so exciting.
He was jumping into the job basically blindfolded.
He had a mysterious driver taking him to a mysterious location to do a job for a mysterious patron who had mysterious connections to Phantom.
He really didn't know anything about what they were doing and he was the one who had planned this whole thing.
Alex had started trusting him far more than was wise in Wally's opinion and here was Nella along for the ride thinking that they must know what they were doing.
It was absolutely the best time Wally had ever had.
He watched as the scenery zipped past the sleek vehicle and carried him to the future.
Alex landing in his backyard was the most fortunate thing that had ever happened to him.
His worry over their mysterious employer faded from his mind as he felt the excitement overcome him.
Whatever happened next was sure to be interesting.
Knowing now how Wally got his information alleviated Alex's worry for only a moment.
The employer was definitely suspicious.
The future was terribly uncertain.
What if this all turned out to be a trap.
The company had been gaining popularity recently.
What if that had attracted the notice of the police?
What if there was a squad car just waiting for them to pick up the monkey just so they could catch them in the act?
They would be caught.
They would be thrown in jail and left there to rot forever.
Alex had always managed not to get caught by having an escape route ready at all times.
Now he had no escape route and they were headed into a situation that was being controlled by someone else, and as he had just found out, that someone was not Wally.
Worse, Wally had clearly lost all his sense of danger.
He sat looking wistfully out the window as they drew ever nearer to a situation that Alex wax becoming more and more convinced was a trap.
How could he escape if it turned out it was a trap?
It was no longer a simple matter of running away if things turned messy.
The car was a liability, Alex realized that now.
If the car was captured everyone was as good as caught.
He looked around at his friends and he could see that they had no concept of just how bad it would be if they were caught.
Nella seemed interested only in playing with Phantom and Wally was just enjoying the thrill of the prank.
He was the only one who seemed to care about getting away safely.
It was up to him to make sure that not only he got away, but also see to it that Nella and Wally were safe as well.
If he was going to do that properly he had to start now.
No more taking the back seat.
He would need to take control of the situation if only to ensure their safety.
"James you are going to need to park at least a block away from the building when we reach the city." He instructed.
Nella looked at him for a moment and then she repeated what he had said so that the driver would be sure to comply.
He gave a simple acknowledgment that he would and Wally looked curiously at Alex as if to ask him what he was doing.
"Trust me." Alex said simply and Wally nodded.
That was all he needed to know.
Alex would tell him about why in detail later but right now it was more important that he set up an escape plan.
Wally would need to think about escaped plans as well.
The more plans the better.
Alex's thoughts went to the building itself.
If there really were people waiting to capture them it would be better to travel quickly and discreetly.
He would have to get a look at the building itself in order to make a concrete plan.
He cursed to himself.
They really should be doing this at night, what had he been thinking sneaking into a building and stealing something in broad daylight.
He would have to be extra careful.
How would he get into the building?
Well during business hours it would probably be unlocked.
That was one plus side to daytime robbery that he hadn't considered before.
The rest of the plan would have to wait until he could see what the building looked like.
How many people would be in there?
If it was full he could use the cover of the crowd.
If it was empty he would have to be able to explain his presence.
All the different things that could go wrong where piling up in Alex's head but the act of thinking how he would be dealing with each possible obstacle kept his mind focused and he felt ready.
He had never done anything like this before.
All the new and possible situations that could crop up seemed new and exciting like he had discovered a whole new world to play in.
He pondered what he would do first as the car drew closer to Faldon and the Johnson building.
This vaguely familiar sense of doing something new reminded him of the time he had freed the biology frogs.
He had been trying to save the poor animals then.
Why was he doing this?
He wasn't saving anything.
It was just for the fun of it.
And he could tell that the rest of the day was going to be fun.
If it turned into a trap just let them try to catch him.
He looked at the window and saw the city looming ever larger on the horizon.
They were here and he was ready to have some fun.
He met eyes with Wally.
He wasn't the only one having fun.
Alex smiled and Wally laughed.
Nella looked at them like they were both crazy, and hey, maybe they were just a little crazy.
Wally wasn't exactly sure why they were parking so far away from the building but he guessed Alex knew something he didn't.
Alex had been doing this for longer than Wally, and it was best to defer to his judgment when he said things with a serious tone.
Alex and Wally walked to the Johnson building while Nella stayed in the car.
It didn't take them long to get to the building which as it turned out was part of Faldon City College.
Apparently they supported the team of the high school that shared its name.
Alex took to examining the building on all sides while staying out of sight of any passersby.
Wally wasn't exactly sure what it was that Alex was looking for but he examined the building himself just to match him
He saw that there were few people in the building but every few minutes someone would enter or leave through the front doors.
Just past the doors was a counter with a bored looking student sitting watching the entrance.
Who he was watching for was anybody's guess.
He doubted that the student was there to guard against monkey-nappers but hey you never know.
This was all Wally could see that seemed at all important.
Alex on the other hand was darting about looking at all sides of the building occasionally pausing to consider what he saw.
Every time he paused he would stand still for a moment and then shake his head as if denying whatever thoughts had failed his test.
Wally amused himself for a minute observing the odd behavior of his friend.
If anyone happened to pass by this would be the very definition of suspicious behavior, but Wally knew that people rarely took any real notice of the things kids did.
If a grown man was behaving as Alex behaved he was sure someone would have called the police by now or at least confronted them.
After a short time Wally tired of watching Alex do whatever it was he was doing and sat at a conveniently placed bench and waited.
Alex looked for the best way to get a monkey out of the building.
He was sure he wouldn't have any trouble getting in, but getting out with a monkey on him was impossible.
At least getting out through the front entrance was impossible.
He checked the building's sides for any opening he could get out of that wasn't guarded.
He saw a few doors but none of them seemed like a reliable way to get out.
One that could work had a fire alarm rigged to it.
Now this could work.
It would attract the attention of everyone immediately but people must use it not realizing what it was all the time.
No one would think twice about it.
He also didn't like the idea of walking through the front door where anyone could see and remember him.
He looked some more and saw a window that was too small for him to get through.
A plan formed and he was ready.
He went to Wally to tell him what he needed to do.
Alex told Wally to wait under a window while he went inside.
It took Wally a moment before he realized what it was that Alex intended to do.
It wasn't a bad plan Wally had to admit.
He didn't want to be seen by anyone walking out of the building with a monkey so he would drop the animal out of the window and walk out empty handed.
It was really very clever and Wally was reminded why he had teamed up with Alex in the first place.
He waited under the window and was a little surprised that Alex didn't circle around to go in the front door.
Instead he just stood there waiting.
What was he doing?
Wally was just about to ask him when a door that wouldn't open from the outside swung out and a sharp looking man carrying a leather tote bag exited.
Alex caught the door with his foot and slipped inside.
Wally went to the window and waited.
He had thought that it would be boring just waiting for Alex, but on the contrary Wally felt tension as every moment the pressure mounted.
He would have felt more at ease being the one who went in but Alex was better at these sorts of things.
He had also picked out a good spot.
The window he waited under was tucked around a corner and though people passed through the door that Alex had went through none of them noticed Wally sitting in the bushes waiting.
And he waited.
He knew that Alex must at this very moment be trying to locate Phantom and then figure out how to get him without anyone noticing and then transport him to the window and then pass him to Wally all without getting caught.
Wally reconsidered his desire to be the one going in.
He decided he was happy waiting at the window.
Some time had passed when the window above him creaked open.
A bag dropped into his waiting hands and he looked inside.
There was Phantom looking unhappy at being stuffed through a window.
Other than that it looked like the animal was very accustomed to traveling in his bag and looked perfectly comfortable being carried around.
Wally looked up but Alex had already gone.
He needed to get back to the car.
Alex would meet him there.
Alex was fast and would probably beat him back to the car.
Wally put the bag over his shoulder and walked leisurely away from the Johnson building looking, for all the world, like a kid carrying a bag.
He walked away without anyone bothering him.
No armed men stopped him and asked what he was doing with Phantom.
No curious students wondering what a kid was doing on their campus.
Wally walked back to the car.
Everything had gone perfectly.
Alex was surprised by how smoothly things were going for him.
He did not know what he had been expecting but whatever it was that should be happening was not.
When he had entered the building he found that the layout was small and easily understandable.
Just as he thought to address the problem of how he was going to find Phantom he had seen him.
The monkey was sitting asleep in his carrying case next to a woman who he guessed to be the trainer.
The woman had set the monkey down and after a short wait had walked away, leaving phantom momentarily unattended.
Alex approached and easily snatched the animal from his resting place and made his way to the window to drop the animal down to Wally.
Something was definitely wrong.
Things were going far too smoothly.
Now he was just standing in the building the mission complete.
Luck had swung his way today.
He slipped out from the building as easily as he entered and made his way back to the car.
As he moved he didn't even feel like running.
There was nothing to run from, this did not feel like an escape.
It had almost been like the trainer had let Alex take Phantom, but that was ridiculous.
It felt like surely this had to be a trap but here he was free.
Alex's tried to piece together what was wrong with the situation.
By all accounts everything had gone perfectly, maybe Wally had been the one to fall into the trap, but there had been no commotion.
He made his way back to the others occupied by his thoughts.
He found himself standing in front of the car with an eager Nella waiting for him.
"Where's Wally?" she said.
The two words ignited every fear he had all at once.
Wally had been captured in whatever nefarious trap had been set for them.
Wally was probably being held in custody right now, he was probably being questioned about his accomplices at this very moment.
Wally was standing behind him.
He had phantom in the bag.
Relief washed over Alex, sometimes things just worked out.
He put the uneasiness out of his mind.
Now was a time to celebrate.
The trainer had been hauling around the stupid monkey for the past eight years.
She had grown to hate having to attend the monkey when she herself had never had any particular fondness for animals.
The fact that she had chosen to become an animal trainer even though she hated animals might seem a little confusing to people who only knew her a short time but the reason for her career choice was apparent to anyone who knew her family.
She was the great granddaughter of a certain famous scientist who specialized in studying the behavior of gorillas.
Ever since her famous relative had made their mark on the world every member of her family had taken up jobs dealing with animals.
Her siblings all worked with animals.
Her parents and aunts and uncles all worked with animals.
And she had known ever since she was a little girl that she too would end up working with animals.
Everyone around her had always expected her to, and when she had graduated from college the monkey hands of fate had grabbed hold of her and she had been looking after monkeys ever since.
She had managed to reduce the number of primates she had to deal with by becoming the exclusive trainer of some school's mascot.
Now she only had to deal with this one filthy monkey.
She had lived that way for years but eventually she could no longer stand the constant presence of the smelly primate.
But what could she do about it?
Taking care of monkeys was all she knew.
It was then that she stumbled upon a site that might help her with her problems.
After reading their site she came up with an idea that would rid her of her furry burden.
She paid the site to come and kidnap the monkey right before the game.
She told them where to go and when and she took the monkey to the spot she had specified.
She slipped some sleeping pills into the creature's lunch and waited.
She wasn't sure what to expect.
She had given them a wide window of time to take the primate but she couldn't exactly just leave it there.
She turned her back on the monkey for a moment to look around to see if she could spot the hired monkey-nappers.
She turned back and the creature was gone.
Wow, they were good.
She had made sure that the person at the front desk had seen her enter with the monkey.
She peeked around the corner to see if she could spot whoever had taken the animal.
She saw the bag that contained it slip around a corner and for a moment she didn't believe her eyes.
She had clearly seen the monkey being carried off by a child.
She waited a moment and then approached the guy at the front desk to report the stolen animal.
Wally was surprised at how easily they had managed to get away with Phantom.
Nella was excited at the chance to play with a monkey but was a little disappointed that Phantom was to sleepy to play.
She was not affected by the worries that plagued Alex and himself.
As the car put more and more distance between them and Faldon the uneasiness left as well.
It was in the past now.
They had Phantom.
Ike sat in his room thinking about how he could improve on the website design of Professional Pranks.
It still had the original format that came with the page and Ike felt that it was time for an upgrade since things were going well for Alex and Wally's company.
Ever since they came back from Faldon with Phantom the pair of them had displayed a subtle difference in attitude.
At first Ike couldn't put his finger on what it was that was different about them, but after a while he realized that they had become more confident.
Their successes were making them sure of themselves and they began tackling larger jobs.
The pair of them worked well together and with their new attitude they had started making more trips out of town.
The company was really taking off and Ike wanted the site to look more professional to reflect that.
Perhaps he should to talk to the pair about hiring a professional designer to revamp the whole thing.
With how well they were doing, a little investment in their advertising would be well spent.
He put those thoughts aside in order to focus on what was really interesting him at the moment.
His favorite supernatural newspaper was accepting submissions.
Ike had been reading The Weekly Haunt for as long as he could remember and this time every year the paper allowed their readers to send in their stories of supernatural encounters and Ike finally had one of his very own.
He had sent in the video and he was confident that they would be interested in publishing his story.
He was a little surprised that he was not in today's issue but these things took time.
Someone knocked on his door and he opened it to find his brother holding a package.
"This came in the mail for you from-" His brother started but Ike had already grabbed the package and closed the door.
They had sent him a reply.
He opened the package and was surprised to find that they had sent his tape back to him.
Well they were a paper he supposed they wouldn't need to keep the tape.
Along with the tape was a letter.
Ike opened it and began reading.
The look on his face quickly turned from one of excitement to something strongly resembling disgust.
Though we appreciate your enthusiasm for our paper we do not accept submissions that have been faked.
We are familiar with the technique you have used to create this video and are not so easily fooled.
Sincerely the True Believers
Ike was stunned.
What were they talking about, what technique?
He grabbed the video and watched it again.
What was wrong with it?
He needed answers and he knew where to get them.
It was nearing midnight and Agatha Hargrave was sipping tea in front of her fireplace.
She enjoyed the nighttime and felt more awake in the moonlight than she ever had in the sun.
A noise startled her out of her peaceful mood and it took her a moment to realize that someone was knocking at her front door.
Who could be calling on her at this time of night?
She rarely had visitors to her home and would have been surprised by the knock at any time but she lifted herself from her comfortable place by the fire and went to see who it was.
She found herself gazing at little Ike Tor standing at her doorstep.
He was a curious one and had asked her about her work on several occasions but they had only talked at her store.
She opened the door and studied the determined look on his face that clearly showed that he wanted answers and he intended to get them.
"What's wrong Ike?" She said.
"I need to know about this." He said brandishing a videotape as if it were some sort of weapon.
Ike knew that if anyone could tell him what was going on it was Madam Hargrave.
She ran the occult store that he frequented and she was the most knowledgeable person he knew on the subject matter of ghosts.
He knew that she would be able to tell him why he had been rejected.
Hargrave let him in and went to her living room where an enormous crackling fire illuminated a sitting chair.
He had never been in her house before but it was about what he had imagined it would be.
Agatha Hargrave was in her thirties and he suspected that she had at least dabbled in Witchcraft, unlike most witches however Madam Hargrave was not the least bit horrifying in fact she had a pleasant face and looked quite pretty.
She inserted the video into a television that he hadn't noticed earlier.
The screen seemed out of place in the otherwise unearthly room but his attention was immediately diverted to the contents of the screen.
They watched together as the tape Ike had seen countless times before looked as it ever had, but the accusations of it being false robbed the pleasure Ike had once taken in viewing it.
The tape came to a pause and Ike turned to Hargrave expectantly.
He asked the question that had been torturing him over since he had received the package from The Weekly Haunt.
"Is it a fake?" the words came out as a plea and Madam Hargrave had compassion on her face as she gave a confirming nod.
Ike felt as if she had taken the floor out from under him with the slight gesture.
He slumped into a chair defeated.
He still needed the details of what had happened but her confirmation was enough to assure him that encounter was indeed faked.
It had felt real he had been there but he trusted the expertise of Hargrave even over his own experience.
He needed to know how.
"I am sorry to say Ike that someone has pulled a prank on you." She said, and the words lit a new fire in Ike's heart.
He knew who had done it.
Alex and Wally had set up the whole thing, but the question remained.
What would he do about it?
Ike was in a difficult position.
On the one hand Alex and Wally had tricked him, but that was really something that they did all the time.
Really it wasn't too surprising that they had played a prank on him after all they hadn't even been friends at the time.
Still this could not stand, he would have to get them back.
The obvious answer was to prank them, but Ike didn't have the faintest idea of how to go about doing something like that.
He wasn't even sure where to begin.
Surely he could come up with something.
If those two could consistently prank everyone in town then surely it would be simply for Ike to do one little prank.
And so with that thought and the idea of revenge fueling him Ike did his best to come up with a plan.
Pranking was far harder than he had given it credit for.
How those two could on a consistent basis do it was a mystery.
Then the answer hit him.
Those two used ideas from the site to get inspiration for their pranks and so could he.
Wally had given him access to the site so that he could help with the maintenance and appearance of and he could look through the requests as easily as those two did.
He scanned the site looking for ideas and saw only childish revenge schemes or unworkable requests for revenge.
There was a lot here that was incriminating if he hadn't kept a cool head he might have been tempted to just turn Wally and Alex in and let them get into trouble, but they were his friends and he didn't want to shut down the business.
That's when it hit him.
He knew exactly how to execute the perfect revenge.
Life had taken a definite turn for the better for Nella.
Her house which had previously felt large and lonely had grown lively since she had become friends with Wally.
When she had gotten Biscuit she had started looking forward to going home after school every day, something she had never experienced before. Her parents were always off doing something of vital importance to somewhere, and coming home had always been boring but now she had that large lovable animal greeting her every time she came home, and since she had gotten biscuit Wally had been visiting often.
Now with Phantom her house had become a wonderful place to be.
Wally said she couldn't let anybody know that she had Phantom because that could be tricky to explain.
That was annoying, she understood that it would be bad if they got caught but why did that mean that she couldn't show Phantom to her friends?
She wanted to bring just a couple people over to see Phantom, the twins would be so impressed if they could see him, and she smiled just thinking about the looks on their faces if they saw.
But Wally had asked her with such a sincere look on his face not to show anyone that she supposed she would do as he asked.
She heard a knock at the door.
She was playing with the animals, but other than that she was alone at the moment.
She scrambled to get away from Phantom and Biscuit and managed to close the door behind her so whoever was at the door wouldn't see them.
It was probably Wally, she hurried down the hallway past expensive furniture and paintings that she had long since started ignoring.
As she turned a corner she nearly ran into a stupid statue by some guy named Rodin that her father had brought home from one of his trips to Paris.
She hated that ugly thing it was always in the way and she had nearly knocked it over more than once.
She patted the wrinkles out of her dress and adjusted her hair in a mirror that her mother had put next to the front door.
After making sure she looked presentable she looked through the peephole.
It was Ike.
Ike had never been to Nella's house before and he was a little intimidated.
He had always thought of her as just another classmate but as he walked past mansion after mansion it made him feel very small, he couldn't help but realize that she was far richer than him.
He had to share a bedroom with his older brother for his entire life though, thankfully, John had recently moved into an apartment of his own so he finally had the space to himself.
He could easily fit five of his houses into one of the palaces that Nella lived in.
Feeling very out of place in an area that reeked of money he walked through the gates that lead to Nella's.
Even walking up the driveway it was clear that this family oozed wealth.
He walked past bushes that had been sculpted into looking like various animals to a gilded door with a lion headed door knocker.
He lifted the ring from the lion's mouth and rapped at the door.
She was taking a long time to answer the door, maybe she was lost.
It did seem like you could easily get lost in one of these pointlessly large buildings or maybe she wasn't at home.
He felt a prickle of annoyance having to wait out here, was it too much trouble to open the door for someone without money, he knew that wasn't the case even as he thought it, but he couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy.
The door swung open.
It was only Nella, somehow he had been expecting a butler or something.
He banished all the useless thoughts, right now he had to convince Nella to help him.
Ike looked nervous as Nella invited him in.
He had never visited her house before and she couldn't remember ever telling him where she lived.
Wally must have told him she decided and asked Ike what he wanted.
"I need your help Nella."Ike began, "I know that you and the other two faked the ghost encounter on my video."
Nella was caught off guard for only a moment.
What should she do?
Her first thought was to deny everything but as she looked at Ike's face she got the distinct impression that wouldn't work.
Instead she took the next best approach and started crying.
"I really had no idea." She sobbed
She made some sounds that sounded vaguely apologetic between sobs.
"I will forgive you if you do one thing for me." Ike said not to be deterred by a few tears.
The stream dried up instantly.
"What do you need?" she inquired.
"Well those two pranked me so it is only fair that I prank them back." he said in his most convincing tone.
"Alright." She started cautiously, "What do you need me for?"
She didn't really want to prank anybody but it was fair she supposed and she had helped prank Ike, sort of.
"Nothing much, I just need to borrow your phone till tomorrow." He said innocently.
Well if it was just that what harm could there be?
"Okay if that's all you want." She conceded.
Ike smiled that it was.
Nella had been kind enough to give him a ride home.
He thanked her and waited for the car to pull out of site before pulling out her phone.
The first part of his plan now completed Ike started to feel anxious about the rest.
So many things had to go right in order for this to work that maybe it would be better just to back out now.
Then he thought of the rejection letter.
Alright he would go through with it but he had to play his cards perfectly or it wouldn't work.
He typed up a message to Wally that he would think was from Nella.
The first one was just to prime him, make him a little anxious so that later he would be ready to believe anything.
The message was a simple one that read.
Is it okay to show Phantom to just a couple of my friends please.
That would make Wally on edge about keeping the company secret and in the perfect mindset to fall for Ike's prank.
He didn't have to wait long before Nella's phone buzzed with the arrival of Wally's response.
Ike fumbled with the phone for a moment as it had locked when he put it in his pocket.
After a minute he managed to get the phone to let him back in and read the message.
It was a simple no.
Ike had been hoping for a bit more of a response from him, but maybe keeping it simple was for the best he didn't want to push his luck after all.
He went inside to his computer and logged onto the Professional Pranks site.
Scrolling through the functions of the site he had helped make he couldn't help but give himself a little pat on the back for how well made it was.
The site which had originally just been a logo connected to an email address had become a respectable website that allowed for feed-back from its users.
That feedback was what Ike would be using to give Alex and Wally a scare.
He created a fake account and sent them a message that was just vague enough to put them on the alert.
Only the four of them knew about which pranks they actually performed.
Some of the pranks made it up on a video feed on the website but many of them were done privately with no indication that Professional Pranks had anything to do with them.
So while everyone knew that Crick had been gotten by Professional Pranks only them and whoever hired them knew how they were responsible for taking the monkey.
Wally and Alex had already been suspicious of their employer during the monkey case; it would be easy to convince them that the mystery employer had sold them out.
He created an account with a similar user name MTheThird and started posting suspicious messages to the pair.
When they read their emails tonight Wally and Alex would think they had been caught.
Ike snickered, how long should he let them squirm?
Alex was preoccupied with thoughts of money.
Over half of the allotted time had passed until he needed to present his grandfather with double the money he had been lent.
He and Wally had been working furiously for the past half year and had finally managed to scrape together nearly all of what he had been challenged to earn.
If things continued like this he could make up the rest of what he needed far before the deadline.
His cousins probably were frantically trying to make the cut and he was nearly there.
What should he do with all that extra money?
Should he reinvest it into Professional Pranks and just keep going.
The company was dangerous as it was if it got much bigger they might attract the attention of the police and then he would be back at square one with a black mark on his record.
Maybe it would be best to make what he needed and then shut down Professional Pranks.
He hated the idea of quitting, but it was generally a good idea not to get too greedy.
Plus he had been working on nothing else but the company since Wally and he had started.
He missed the free time he used to have and maintaining the company had become stressful.
Most of the things they did were just petty tricks and he didn't feel fulfilled in the same way as he had when he had given everyone's confiscated stuff back to them.
He wanted to something meaningful, something important.
Maybe after he got the money for the competition he could talk to Grandpa Max about it.
He put the thoughts out of his head and turned on the computer.
The hard drive hummed with the effort of turning on, maybe he would use some of the money to buy a new computer.
The screen flickered to life and he went to check on his bank account to see if there was enough profit to buy a new machine.
There was not enough money to buy a good computer.
There wasn't enough money to buy a bad computer.
There wasn't enough to buy a stick of gum.
The bank account which the last time he checked had upwards of nine thousand dollars now had nothing.
Well he must be looking at the wrong page he thought frantically he flipped through pages and login codes to find no mistake.
He opened his email to see if there was some explanation from the bank and found several new emails from a username he recognized.
The email from MTheThird caught his eye not because of the vaguely familiar name but the subject which read, they are watching you.
He fished a cellphone from his desk drawer and called Wally.
When Alex wanted something he usually just showed up.
Wally was used to Alex jumping over fences and just sort of being there when he turned around.
That was why the call surprised him.
He wasn't even sure that Alex had his number but when he answered the phone it was Alex's voice.
The news Alex had was more disturbing than the call.
All of the money they had gathered for the past seven months gone in an instant.
Alex continued with the bad news.
Apparently someone was sending threatening emails on the Professional Pranks site.
He logged on himself to read the message.
There it was from MTheThird, the same person who had told the how to steal Phantom.
He clicked and read the message.
They know who you are, and underneath Wally, Alex, Nella, Ike.
He felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle as he read the email.
He needed to warn Nella and Ike.
He called Nella.
She didn't answer.
Just before he made the call to Ike his phone vibrated with the arrival of a text.
It was from Nella's phone.
She can't pick up right now.
She didn't live far away; he could be there in no time if he went quickly.
He bolted out the door.
Too many things were happening and Alex wasn't sure what to do.
There was something off about the email from their former employer.
All of the money was gone.
How was that even possible?
Thought swirled through Alex's brain as he fought back panic.
He was the only one who could access his bank account wasn't he?
If it were the police surely they wouldn't send vague threatening emails to them.
Also how could they, whoever they were, know all of their names?
This whole thing didn't make any sense.
Something was off about that email.
He looked back at the old emails they had gotten from MTheThird, and something definitely seemed off.
As he inspected the old emails a couple of things stood out for him.
First of all it became apparent that the MTheThird who had sent them the emails that day was not the same Mthethird who had hired them to steal phantom.
First off this MTheThird had joined the Professional Pranks site as a member earlier that day, and second the user name was slightly different.
That left even more questions than he had a minute ago.
This person was not related to their previous employer, had knowledge of the four of them, and knew that they had been hired by MtheThird to steal Phantom.
Alex could only come up with one answer that made any sense.
Someone within the four of them was behind all this, but why?
All of the money was gone.
None of them could have done that, could they?
Wasn't he the only one with access to the bank account?
He couldn't start doubting his friends now there had to be another explanation.
He didn't know what to do and Wally had run off.
He needed to get some answers desperately.
He pulled out his phone and realized he didn't have Ike's number.
He didn't live that far away, Alex thought.
He hoped Ike wasn't already asleep.
Alex ran as thoughts flowed through his head.
He could always think best while he ran.
When he let his body loose he could feel all the tension lift from his mind allowing him to see things clearly.
So many things had happened all at once that he was only now sorting the pieces.
Since he had met Wally Alex had learned how useful it could be to remain calm in an emergency, but still nothing made sense.
He wished Wally hadn't run off so suddenly, he wanted to talk everything through.
The most important thing was the money.
He needed to figure out how the odd messages where connected to whoever had taken his money.
He ran faster as he pictured some laughing faceless man stealing his money.
The messages seemed like warnings even if they were vaguely threatening and they had information that only the four members of Professional Pranks knew.
It could be that Nella had sent the messages.
Alex couldn't picture Nella sending him threatening messages though.
Far more likely she had told someone everything.
He considered the possibility, and though Nella gossiping was believable he still wasn't sure.
The only other possibility was that Ike had sent the messages.
But what would make Ike want to do something like that.
He could only ask.
He thought of what he would say when he saw Ike.
Well he would think of something when the time came.
He arrived at the Tor house and caught his breath before knocking on the door.
He waited at the door for Ike to answer.
After the first few messages Ike didn't have anything left to do.
He wished that he had some way of knowing how those two were acting but he would let them be until tomorrow.
It wasn't as satisfying as he had thought it would be to get revenge on his friends, and he didn't know if it had worked.
Ike let out a sigh as he stared blankly at the computer screen that held the messages he had sent under a false name.
His mind drifted to thoughts of the Trippton ghost.
If Alex and Wally had faked his last encounter then that meant he had never seen a real ghost.
He would have to go back and look for the spirit by himself.
The mistake he had made last time was bringing people with him.
It was his moment not anyone else's.
He decided in an instant he would go back to the school tonight.
He heard a racket at the front door, his brother and father must have returned from work, perfect he would lift his brother's keys and head out immediately.
He left his room expecting to see his brother and father but whoever was at the door wasn't coming in.
Whoever it was knocked three times.
That was very strange who would be visiting at this time of night?
Ike walked over and opened the door not sure what he would find.
It was Alex.
Ike nearly shut the door in his face but Alex was too quick for him.
He pushed his way into the house and herded Ike into the living room where he had once shown the ghost video.
"Ike, something strange is going on." Alex said importantly.
So he didn't know.
Ike took a deep breath and tried his best to act surprised.
"What's going on?" Ike asked in a convincingly innocent way.
"Someone has stolen all of the Professional Pranks Profits." Alex alliterated.
"What?!" Ike exclaimed no longer having to fake the innocence.
"You heard me." Alex snapped, "And I need you to help me figure out who did it.
Ike didn't know what Alex expected him to do but he was so relieved that this wasn't about his own revenge scheme that he was happy to oblige.
"What do you expect me to do about it?" Ike pleaded.
"Can't you track the IP address or something?" Alex exclaimed.
"What does that even mean?" Ike demanded.
Alex couldn't answer so it was up to Ike to do all the thinking.
"Well you better let me have a look at it." Ike said.
Alex logged into his account with the bank and handed the computer over to Ike.
He had been surprised when Ike had first opened the door.
He had seemed scared which seemed weird for Ike.
Alex had been under the impression that nothing short of Crumblebum could give Ike the shivers but when he had seen Alex's face he had gone pale.
Well paler than normal.
Once Alex had started talking to him his face regained its color and now he seemed more like the normal Ike.
Alex looked at the screen but Ike didn't seem to be doing anything special.
Maybe Ike was not as good with computers as Alex had thought.
"This is a joint account." Ike said snapping Alex out of his doubts.
"Well yeah I am not old enough to have a bank account all to myself." Alex admitted, "Why what does that mean?"
"Well for starters it means that you are not the only one with access to this account." Ike started. "Someone else had complete too everything that was here."
Alex heard what Ike was saying but it took a moment for the meaning to really sink in.
It was obvious now that Ike had pointed it out.
From the beginning there was only one person besides him who could have done anything to the money, but Alex was having a hard time believing that he had stolen the money from him, after all he was the one who had given him the five thousand dollars to begin with.
Why would Grandpa Max want to steal money from Alex when he was just about to reach the goal that he had set for him?
Just what was really going on?
Wally hurried through the night on his way to Nella's.
He didn't know what was going on.
An hour ago everything had been peaceful.
He didn't know who or why but somebody was threatening them.
Someone was threatening them and they had Nella's phone.
What would he do if something happened to her?
She hadn't wanted anything to do with Professional Pranks, he had talked her into it.
If anything happened to her the blame would rest squarely on his shoulders.
He tried to think.
He tried to think of who would do this.
He tried to think of what he would do once he reached Nella's house.
He tried to make sense of any of this crazy situation.
He couldn't think in these circumstances.
He needed to be able to calm down and sort everything out in his mind.
But he couldn't afford to calm down who knew what danger Nella might be in at this very moment he couldn't afford to slow down and think things through.
The one thing he did know though was that whoever was behind all this was going to regret it.
He wasn't as fast as Alex but he could move quickly when he needed to and Wally soon found himself in front of Nella house.
He didn't bother spending time being impressed with her luxurious home and made his way to the front door which opened easily.
He had not thought properly of what would happen when he got inside but he was greeted with a sight he had not expected at all.
A surprised Nella wearing her pajamas made a noise that could only be described as a frightened squeak when she saw him.
Nella had just finished brushing her teeth and was about to turn off all the lights when the front door swung open.
She heard herself make a noise that sounded like a mouse only to see that Wally was standing in her doorway.
"What are you doing here?!" She demanded
She flushed red both with surprise and embarrassment.
The surprise was a perfectly natural response to someone bursting into your house late at night.
The embarrassment was because she had never let anyone see her in her teddy bear pajamas.
Wally seemed to be at a loss for words as she stared at him, face bright red, waiting for him to say anything.
It was then that Biscuit who had been asleep in the other room charged the door and nearly knocked Wally off his feet.
"Well?" she said bringing Wally back to his senses.
"I thought you were in danger." He stammered.
"What." She puzzled.
Wally tried to explain the situation but he wasn't doing a very good job.
From what she could gather from what he told her he seemed to have thought that she had been kidnapped by someone.
Things were beginning to become a little clearer as Nella put the pieces together.
This must have been part of the revenge Ike had been talking about earlier today.
It was harsh to make him think that she had been kidnapped though.
Also she was a bit touched at Wally being so concerned for her.
"Wally I'm fine it was just a little joke." She said.
With that Wally's mood shifted into anger.
"What kind of sick joke is kidnapping yourself?" he snapped.
"I didn't kidnap myself." She quickly corrected, "It was just Ike had this idea-"
"Ike kidnapped you!" Wally said loudly.
This was getting out of hand.
The more she tried to explain the more Wally seemed to misunderstand.
She gave it one more try. "Ike came by earlier today and asked to borrow my phone for a prank so I lent it to him." She explained.
Wally seemed to think about that for a while.
It looked like he had finally calmed down now, and she was able to explain the whole story to him.
He seemed mad at Ike and when she explained about how he had found out about how they had faked his ghost sighting it did little to change his mind.
When he left she made sure to lock the door after him.
It wasn't good to let people just barge in like that.
Wally calmed down a bit on the walk back to his home from Nella's place.
It felt like a huge weight in his stomach had vanished when he learned that nothing had happened to Nella.
He still felt that What Ike had done was wrong and he would have to pay for it later, but right now he was just relieved that nothing had really horrible had happened.
Now that the excitement was behind him and he had a chance to think he remembered the other problem.
Alex had said that someone had stolen all of the money from Professional Pranks.
Could Ike have been behind that as well?
He was not happy with Ike at the moment but it seemed unlikely that he could have just stolen all that money right from under Alex's nose.
Alex would be tracking down whoever had taken the money right about now.
He had left his phone on the chair at Alex's house when he had run of after Nella.
It was late.
He was tired.
Now that no one was in danger he realized how tired he was .
The adrenaline that had been pushing him forward was wearing off and he really wanted to go to bed.
He would find Alex and figure out what was happening in the morning.
He would also have to think of what he was going to do about Ike.
Nella had told him to let it go but he was not feeling very forgiving at the moment.
He walked past landmarks that he could barely make out n the dark until he spotted the familiar weeping willows of Wildling Street.
He could deal with all of that tomorrow, he thought as he entered his house and fell into his bed.
The reality of what Ike had just told him was only starting to sink in.
How could his Great Grandpa Max have taken all the money he had worked so hard to make.
The betrayal stung Alex and he couldn't bring himself to believe I, but what other answer was there.
Grandpa Max was the only one who could get into the account; legally it was Max's account anyway.
What had happened to all of Max's millions that he would want to steal less than ten thousand dollars from his own flesh and blood?
Alex stared dumbly at the glowing computer screen.
He stared at the zeros that used to show the results of his hard work.
An unpleasant feeling was building up in the pit of his stomach.
The longer he stared at the zeros the more the unpleasantness built up until he felt like he might be sick.
He closed the site and the computer obligingly took him to the Professional Pranksters homepage.
Ike had been sending messages on the site?
That was weird but Alex couldn't bring himself to focus on it until Ike moved to turn off the computer.
Suspicious Alex batted Ike's hand away and took a closer look at the screen.
Everything looked normal; it was same site as it always was.
Why would Ike not want him to see that?
Then he noticed the name with which Ike had logged in.
Alex had nearly forgotten about the emails, but now it all came flooding back.
Alex didn't understand his own thought process fully at the moment.
Maybe it was all the stress that had built up in the last hour, or maybe he was just going crazy.
Alex started laughing.
Ike had no idea what was going on anymore.
He was sure that Alex knew that it was him who sent the messages now and he was getting ready to dodge in case Alex threw something at him.
He had expected Alex to get mad at him.
He was ready for that.
Alex and Wally had made a fool of him and he deserved to get a little payback.
He was ready to argue with Alex.
He was ready to fight with Alex.
But Ike had no idea how to react to Alex laughing like an idiot.
He had looked shocked when he heard about his Grandfather.
He looked like he might throw up while he looked at the computer.
And now it looked like he was having trouble breathing through bouts of laughter.
The strange sight took the fight out of Ike.
It only lasted a moment but it felt like forever.
Alex stopped, and then it was like the laughter had never happened.
"Do you care to explain what is going on, because I can't figure it out." He asked.
Ike was thrown off again by the sudden shift in the atmosphere and he started explaining what he had done before he had a chance to think better of it.
He explained how he his tape had been rejected as a forgery and how he had discovered the prank that Wally and Alex had pulled on him.
Alex listened as Ike explained how he had come up with the idea to make Alex and Wally panic by making them think they had been caught.
He explained how he had enlisted the help of Nella in order to make his story more convincing and sent them the bogus messages.
"But my plan fell apart when the money went missing which I swear I have nothing to do with." Ike finished.
Alex nodded after Ike finally stopped talking.
A few of his questions had been answered and he was relieved to find out that Ike hadn't betrayed him.
The news that Ike had tried to get revenge on him was shocking.
Not that he didn't deserve it.
A prank for a prank made perfect sense, but he hadn't thought that Ike had it in him to pull a prank on him and Wally.
Ike was a member of Professional Pranks after all.
Alex looked over at Ike, it was clear by the look on his face that he was waiting for Alex to say something.
"Alright" Alex said, "We're even."
Now that that was done Alex decided what he had to do next.
The talk with Ike had given him a chance to clear his head and now that he was thinking straight he knew there was only one thing left to do.
He had to pay his Great Grandfather a visit.
He would have to do it tomorrow it was already late and Alex was exhausted.
He thought about giving Wally a call, but realized he didn't have his phone.
He turned to the computer again and brought up his personal email account and write him a quick message when he noticed something.
He had half a dozen angry looking emails from his cousins.
He opened the first of the messages which turned out to be from Patrick.
The letter accused Alex, Carin, and Shelly of conspiring together to make sure he lost. The letter contained colorful language and Alex could guess at what had happened to Patrick.
The next message was from Carin.
This letter was much more polite but it also had the undertone of accusation to it.
He opened a third from Shelly who was asking everyone what was going on.
As he read the messages he saw that they had all been talking to each other and trying to contact him in order answer some questions.
From what he could gather from what they were saying none of them had managed to contact Grandpa Max and all of them were upset.
Alex started typing a message to the tree of them.
"I am going to the manor tomorrow morning. Any of you who care about what is going on is welcome to join me." Alex sent the message and in a moment they were all agreed. They would be paying a visit to their great grandfather noon tomorrow.
Storm the Castle
The next day came in a flash and Alex found himself in the backseat of the car with Nella, Ike, and Wally sitting by his side.
Wally had been glaring at Ike since the four of them had gotten together and Ike was glaring defiantly right back at him.
Nella was squirming uncomfortably between the two of them but so far they hadn't said anything.
Alex was glad no one had thrown a punch but it was going to happen sooner or later.
Alex preferred later.
They had agreed to meet with the others at a coffee shop that Patrick liked and they would all go to the manor together.
He was a little anxious about seeing his cousins again. He had not given them much thought since he had last seen them half a year ago, but the tension between his friends made him worry about the impression he would make.
Right from the beginning he and his cousins had been set up to compete against one another and he didn't want to look bad compared to everyone else.
Bickering in front of the competition would be sure to make him look bad. Alex wondered if any of his cousins ever had this problem.
Patrick would have a fleet of people who obeyed his every word and he couldn't imagine Carin being unable to keep a group together.
Shelly was more like him, she might have to deal with this if she was even working with anyone else.
That was a thought.
Was he even allowed to accept help from others, he had never thought to ask it had just seemed natural to ask Wally for help and then they had needed help from Ike and later from Nella, before he knew it he was surrounded by people.
Just half a year ago he had done everything alone and now because of a stupid fight it looked like he might go right back to being alone.
The car stopped breaking Alex from his thoughts.
They had arrived at the meeting point.
For a moment he thought that he was the first one there but that thought was proved untrue when he heard the call of a familiar voice.
Shelly was calling him and right behind her was Carin along with another girl he didn't know who was shorter than either of them but had bright red hair and an unfriendly scowl that made her seem like she was so mad her hair had caught fire.
Shelly waved at them and they all went in to find a table big enough to sit the whole group. A waitress looked at the group with a raised eyebrow as they pulled tables together, but didn't say anything.
Alex sat down at one end of the table next to Wally and Carin while the flame headed girl sat next to Shelly and Nella with Ike sitting as far from Wally as he could manage.
The only ones who hadn't arrived were Patrick and little Simon.
"Just as well." Thought Alex he had trouble getting along with Patrick anyway.
Just as the thought crossed his mind the door opened and in strode Patrick, alone.
He looked to have grown several inches in the time that Alex had not seen him.
He was now the size of a full grown man and looked every bit like the Maxwell he was.
He surveyed the room and, spotting the group, strode over and took his seat at the other end of the table.
Now that Patrick was here it was down to business.
There was nothing to discuss really now that they were all together they would go down to Maxwell manor and demand to know what was going on.
The group filed behind Patrick as they left the coffee house.
Alex was both relieved and a little annoyed how everyone seemed to differ to Patrick but followed along anyway with his friends by his sides.
Outside Patrick led everyone to a large van that he had brought.
The van had enough room for everyone and by a silent agreement they all filed in so they could travel together
Patrick had changed in more ways than just his height since the last time Alex had seen him.
Last time he had was cold and unfriendly, but now while he was still just as serious as he had ever been his confidence no longer had smugness to it.
Whatever he had been doing since they had last been together had clearly changed him for the better.
Carin had taken the front seat next to Patrick and they were talking in a very serious tone. Obviously they were discussing what they would do when they reached the manor and suddenly Alex felt like he was being left out.
He shook off the feeling.
Hadn't he worked hard over the last half year?
He looked over and saw that Shelly must be having thought s very similar to his own as she wore a very pronounce frown.
What had she been up to for the past half year?
The thought vanished as Wally nudged his shoulder.
"Quite a family you got." Wally whispered just loud enough for Alex to hear.
Alex chuckled which earned him a glare from the fire headed girl.
Alex wanted to ask what the plan was, but at the same time he didn't want to show that he didn't have a plan.
He was saved when Shelly spoke up.
"So just what are we going to do when we get there" she asked.
Patrick and Carin stopped talking for a moment and Patrick was the first to speak.
"We are just going to have a word with the old man, he will clear this all up." he said easily.
For some reason Alex's instincts told him it wouldn't be that simple.
Maxwell manor was just as imposing as it was in Alex's memory, though unlike his last visit this time the roads were packed with other motorists trying to make their way into the manor.
Their progress slowed to a crawl as the cars became more packed and Alex noticed that some of the other cars had parked and their occupants had started walking up to the doors.
As they continued to fight their way through traffic walking looked better and better. Finally with a sigh Patrick parked the car and the lot of them joined the pedestrians.
"Why are all these people here?" Alex asked a random man who was making his way towards the manor. He shot Alex a disapproving look as if he should feel guilty asking a simple question and moved on without answering.
Wally asked the same question of a smaller anxious looking man, who reminded Alex of an overly large mouse, and he got a better answer.
"Mr. Maxwell has vanished." Said the mouse man before scurrying away to avoid any further questions.
As the group was jostled forward Alex tried not to get separated from the group. Wally was looking over to him with a look in his eye that was probably concern but it was Patrick who seemed to be the most affected by the little man's words.
He was storming ahead not seeming to care whether or not anyone was following. His oldest cousin had the same scowl on his face that Alex remembered from the first time they had met, though while then it had only made him seem unlikable now he looked intimidating.
Alex was glad to have Patrick to blaze a path through the ever thickening crowd of people and they progressed quickly towards the front doors of the manor, anyone who impeded their progress earned a glare from Patrick and decided it would be better to get out of the way.
Carin had fallen to the back of the group keeping everyone together and Shelly had given up trying to push through the crowd herself and fallen in with the rest of the group.
Wally seemed perfectly capable of plowing through the crowd himself but he had dropped back to walk with Alex, Nella, and Ike who were bringing up the rear.
Alex could have slipped through the crowds rather easily but he was unwilling to leave his friends at the moment.
None of them were asking questions and Alex was glad. He had no answers to give. There was no point in speculating what was going on and the steadily growing pit in his stomach told him the would find out soon.
They trudged on through the ocean of people until the manor itself came into sight.
The crowd around the front doors were densely packed and not so easily forced through as it had been until now, but Patrick was not so easily swayed as he charge into the throng. Alex was not one to be easily deterred either.
Alex's gaze swept around the crowded building until he saw what he was looking for. He made his way away from the crowd and up to higher ground where he could see the whole situation. Away from the chaos of the crowd and high enough to see what everyone was crowding around, Alex spotted a familiar face.
Standing separated by guards and a gate was Sebastian, he was standing above the crowd on what looked like a stage, the whole thing reminded Alex of a concert he had once been to though the crowd then had been slightly less menacing. Sebastian was talking to the people at the front of the crowd all of whom were desperately shouting their complaints. He gestured impatiently at some of the Maxwell staff behind him and Alex strained to hear what was being said.
Even if he were only feet away as were some of the crowd Alex doubted he would be able to hear anything. There were simply too many people talking at once to make out what was being said and Alex wished he could read lips.
Patrick was steadily making his way to the front and was almost there when Sebastian got what he was waiting for. He was standing in front of what looked like a podium and one of the house staff handed him a microphone.
Silence fell over the crowd as Sebastion's microphone made a loud high pitched sound earning a man behind Sebastian a withering stare. The sound faded and Sebastian started to talk.
"I know many of you have questions about what has transpired in the past twenty-four hours. Many of you are here because money which was being supplied by Mr. Maxwell has been withdrawn. I know this has upset many of you as the support of the Maxwell foundation is what keeps many of you in business. The reason for the sudden withdrawal of support is that there has been a change of management."
"Last night Mr. Maxwell, who had been sick for some time has succumbed and has fallen into a deep coma. Though he is under the constant care of his own staff of specialists he has been deemed legally incapable of running his estate. As such the care of his assets has shifted to his heir."
Sebastian continued talking as the stunned crowd began took in his words. Alex was shell shocked by Sebastian's speech. Grandpa Max was sick and he had never even suspected. Now someone had taken over everything that he had and was undoing all of Max's work.
Who was it?
Who had grandpa Max given everything too only to have it dismantled so disgracefully. He couldn't believe any of it. He had to see Max for himself.
While everyone's attention was on Sebastian Alex slipped away towards the back of the manor towards the servant's entrance, and slipped into the manor unnoticed.
He had to see it for himself in order to believe.
He came here to talk with Grandpa Max and that was exactly what he planned on doing.
Alex had disappeared while he was listening to the speech.
Wally was about to go looking for him when another man took the stage and relieved Sebastion of the Microphone.
The man began talking and Wally listened.
"Hello everyone, My name Mordred Maxwell, and I am the one who took everything thing from you. Now I would be happy to resume business with you if you would all line up in an orderly fashion to have all of your contracts renewed under my name there is plenty of room inside for all of you."
Wally could see Patrick's face at the front of the crowd go white as a sheet.
"Well this can't be good." Wally muttered
Alex slipped into the manor easily in the confusion caused by the stage. He paid no attention as a new speaker took the podium from Sebastian.
All of Alex's attention was focused on the sole task of finding his Grandfather and seeing if he really was…
Alex put the thought out of his mind.
The manor had its own medical facilities and that is where Grandpa Max would be if he really was sick.
Which Alex doubted.
Alex moved forward though wasn't sure exactly know how to get where he wanted to be.
He had only ever seen the medical facility once when he was far younger and even then he had gone in through the front doors.
Going through the servant's entrance made everything seem so different.
It was still the same manor he was used to but where going through the front gate you were treated to extravagant sights and sounds designed to impress guests, this was all business.
He didn't recognize anything familiar right away but he was sure that if he kept moving something would jog his memory.
Alex walked through a doorway into the central room in which he had played chess with Shelly and Carin.
He felt a moment of relief at the sight of something familiar though he still didn't know where he was going.
He closed the door behind him and saw that, though on the servant's side it was a plain wooden door, on the inside it had been dressed up to blend in with the wall looking nearly invisible to guests, allowing the staff to appear and disappear easily.
Looking carefully he saw several similar doors in hidden throughout the lounge.
Alex strained his memory for anything that might be helpful but came up with nothing.
"Keep moving forward", he told himself
The thought spurred him on as he went through another door that had been carefully hidden in the shadow of a bookcase.
Just as he was about to go through the hidden passage he heard footsteps.
It was coming from the other side of the door he was just about to open, Alex peeked silently through.
He saw a woman with an empty IV bag walking down the hall away from the very room he was looking for.
When the sound of her footsteps faded away Alex entered the room she had just been in, finally he would see his grandfather.
Wally had been trying to put the pieces together since they had arrived.
Alex's cousin Patrick, who had bullheadly dove right into the crowd, looked ashen faced as the man called Mordred made his speech.
Wally was finally starting to grasp just what was going on in this crazy situation, he had only been blindly following the group since they had left the café but no more.
Wally had been uncomfortable with all the strange things that had happened since they had arrived at the manor but the appearance of the Mordred Maxwell made sense.
This man had taken control of Maxwell estate and had been the source of all of the trouble that they had encountered with the money.
All these people who had gathered at the manor had come for the same reason as them last night vast quantities of money that had been provided by Alex's grandfather had been snatched away by this man.
Now in order to get that money back all these businessmen would have to do anything Mordred asked of them and they all gladly would in order to save their jobs.
This was bad news for Alex and his cousins.
While Mordred would be happy to make deals with all these men who relied on Maxwell Manor for support he would probably see Mr. Maxwell's grandchildren as potential competitors.
They would most likely never see their money again, and by the look on Patrick's face he had come to the same conclusion.
Wally sighed, things were turning out poorly, and Alex had vanished.
He would turn up before too long. In the meantime maybe Patrick could shed some more light on the situation.
Alex stared blankly at the ornate bed in which his grandfather lay sleeping.
He had never seen Max looking as old as he did lying there with a tube in his arm pumping some strange concoction into his system from an IV bag labeled with a sticker of a butterfly.
It didn't seem real.
Alex knew Max was old but he had always seemed so full of life.
The man in the bed didn't seem like Magnus Maxwell at all.
Alex felt like he had seen something he shouldn't have.
What was he supposed to do now?
Alex hadn't seriously considered the possibility that his grandfather was really ill.
He had somehow thought that it would all be a lie.
He thought that if he snuck in he would catch Grandpa Max sitting in his chair drinking coffee and laughing at the joke he had played on everyone.
He walked up to the side of the bed and looked upon the face of the man Alex had always considered invincible.
He didn't look like himself, his face which was usually so full of life had turned waxy.
Alex couldn't bring himself to be in this room any longer, he whispered some words and left.
"Please, don't die."
Magnus Maxwell's mouth twitched up.
Wally had tried to talk to Patrick but the older boy seemed to be in a world of his own.
With a heavy sigh he wished not for the first time that Alex would hurry up and get back, and as if summoned by his thoughts Alex appeared standing right next to him as if he had been there the whole time, though he looked bothered by something.
"Where did you go?" Wally asked while the others barely noticed his arrival.
"I went to see Grandpa Max." Alex said bluntly.
This got the attention of his cousins who had been too wrapped up in their own thoughts to take notice of his arrival.
It was Patrick who spoke first.
"How is he?" He asked.
Alex told them everything he had seen.
Alex looked terrible.
He seemed completely devoid of the energy he brought to everything he did.
Wally had never seen him like this.
The shock of what he had seen must have been huge.
Wally was saddened when Alex told them what had become of Magnus Maxwell, but he wasn't surprised, rather he felt a sense of relief.
He had feared that Alex's grandfather had passed away, he didn't know how bad of a condition Mr. Maxwell was in but at least he was alive, at least there was hope.
Alex finished his story and Nella hugged him, though it looked like Alex barely noticed.
Wally was glad Nella had come with them, she was so much better at these types of situations than him and Alex definitely needed it.
Ike was standing awkwardly to the side, like he didn't know what to do.
Wally wasn't really made at Ike anymore, but things had gotten uncomfortable between them.
Wally knew Ike hadn't done any real harm, just a scare.
It was just one more thing to worry about.
Ike was staring at the ground and shuffling his feet awkwardly, Wally couldn't help but sympathize.
Ike looked up and his eyes met Wally's.
Wally looked at him for a moment and then motioned for him to go over to Alex.
They both moved over to Alex and Ike put a hand on his shoulder,
One less thing to worry about, Wally stood with his friends.
Patrick began talking and Wally listened.
Patrick's face regained most of its color as he got into the story of Mordred Maxwell.
"I haven't seen Mordred in over ten years, he is the successor to Grandfather's estate, I had almost forgotten he existed." Patrick said in a matter of fact tone.
"Wait," Carin interrupted, "I thought that we were the only grandchildren Grandpa Max had."
"He is our uncle, and the youngest son of Magnus Maxwell." Patrick answered, "But, he is so young!" Carin argued.
"Maybe so, but to the best of my knowledge Mordred is the direct son of Grandpa Max, my dad told me the story." Patrick responded.
"A while back before any of us were born Grandpa Max had trouble with some of his businesses, and he lost most of his fortune. After that he ran off, no one knows exactly where he went, he was missing for nearly twenty years and when he came back he had not only brought with him a fortune bigger than the one he had lost, but also a child, that child was Mordred." As Patrick spoke, Wally saw Alex perk up at the mention of his grandfather.
"Mordred was being raised to take over the Maxwell estate and he was very talented. He turned out to be a natural born businessman, and everyone said he was just like Magnus, but one day he and Grandpa had a fight over something Mordred had done with one of the companies that grandpa had put him in charge of. I don't know all the details, but it turned nasty and Mordred left. It was real bad; Mordred changed his last name and vanished."
"All that happened ten years ago. I haven't heard anyone talk about him since he left, and I had thought that grandpa had cut him off from the estate, I had no idea he was still the successor." Patrick finished talking, though to Wally it looked like there was more to the story, but if Patrick knew he wasn't saying it.
"So, what should we do now?" Shelly asked.
"You go home." Commanded a low voice from behind Wally's back.
He jumped at the sound and turned to face the large bearded man who had spoken.
There was a group of people most of whom he didn't recognize but among them were two he did. Alex's father and mother were standing to the side of the bearded man.
"Dad" began Patrick.
So, the Bearded man was Patrick's father.
And that meant that the others were probably Carin and Shelly's parents.
Patrick was interrupted by his father before he could finish his sentence, "I said go home all of you, we will talk about this later."
"He's right said Alex's father you kids go on home now." And the others nodded agreement.
Patrick began to argue but was silenced by a look from his father.
The group turned to leave as their parents made their way to the manor.
They walked up and walked right past the line of businessmen who were queued up to talk with Mordred much to their annoyance, but when Sebastion saw who they were he let them in.
"Are we just going to leave, just like that?" Wally whispered to Alex.
"Not a chance." Alex fumed the life had returning to his eyes.
"Well then, what do we do?" Wally queried
"We need to hear what they are talking about in there." Alex said.
"I agree we need to know just what is going on but how are we going to get in?" Carin joined in.
"We ask." Alex said and walked past the line and up to Sebastian.
Heir to the Throne
Mordred had a striking appearance, standing at six feet four inches he was even taller than Magnus had been at his prime, he had jet black hair that he streaked back in waves and a piercing stare that made him resemble a large bird of prey hunting for its next meal.
"Sign it." commanded Mordred.
A bald man in a business suit scribbled his initials across a contract Mordred had put together himself.
"Thank you, sir." mumbled the suited man as he laid down the pen.
"A pleasure doing business with you." Mordred said through a smile that showed his teeth.
The man scurried out of the room.
Mordred knew he could make all of the businessmen who were lined up to renew their contracts with Maxwell manor sign at the same time and save a few hours of his time, but he preferred the personal touch.
He wanted each and every person to know exactly who they were working for.
Mordred frowned as the man closed the door behind him.
He had been working on this plan for a long time, and he wanted to enjoy it but he just wasn't in the mood.
Mordred was every bit as good as the old man ever was, and he had finally proved it.
This should be satisfying.
His entire life had been leading up to now, the moment he took everything from the old man and made it his own.
But Magnus Maxwell!
That spiteful man had taken the sweetness out of his day of victory.
He had expected a fight from the old man when he strolled in the doors to announce his hostile takeover.
Mordred had planned it perfectly, he could see the look on Magnus's face when he realized he had been beaten, but no.
There was no fight; there was no victory, only a shriveled old man in a hospital bed.
Mordred wiped the frown from his face and replaced it with a practiced smile he often wore when doing business.
The door opened, only it wasn't another businessman.
The smile left his face as his family filed into the room.
Alex waved for the butler's attention and Sebastian turned his head and looked genuinely pleased to see him.
"How are you holding up Alex?" Sebastian inquired.
"Not to good, I saw Grandpa and he looks really bad." Alex said and felt his heart drop as he said the words.
Sebastian's face tightened but quickly smoothed to his normal expression.
"Yes, Mister Maxwell has seen better days but don't give up hope your grandfather is under the care of some of the finest doctors in the world." Sebastian answered.
"Do you know what's wrong with him?" Alex inquired.
"I don't know for sure, but he fell ill soon after returning home from Africa." Sebastian confided.
"Sebastian, my parents are talking to that man and acting like it has nothing to do with me, but I am involved, I need to know what they are talking about in there, please can you help me?" Alex pleaded.
"It is impolite to eaves-drop Alex." Sebastian chided him.
"Please, I need to know." Alex said sincerely.
The butler studied Alex for a moment before giving him a smile.
"Of course, sir, right this way." Sebastian said with a formal bow.
Sebastian led Alex to the conference room where his parents were meeting with the man Mordred.
Alex put his ear to the door but couldn't quite make out what they were saying inside.
"You know mister Pipton," Sebastian said in a formal tone. "If you really want to know what they are talking about, you could just go in. Here take this they might want it." He concluded with an encouraging smile handing him a letter.
Mordred didn't recognize most of the faces of the group that stood across from him but from the few he could place and the superficial similarities he knew that they were his relatives.
One of them he knew all too well, his half-brother Simon.
Simon Maxwell was already a grown man when Mordred was born, and he had only seen him rarely as he was growing.
He had gotten fatter over the years and his beard had gotten far longer and had turned grey.
Simon's wife Vivian was standing next to him and he recognized on of the other couples as the Bishops Jacob and Sharin.
He didn't recognize the other couple, but he guessed they were the Piptons though he had never seen them.
The arrival of his relatives while not entirely unexpected came sooner than Mordred would have liked. He had hoped to be done with the business side of things before they could interfere.
Still them all arriving at once was a surprise.
He had not known that his family was on such good terms with one another.
Mordred strode across the room and took Simon's hand in his. "Hello, I am glad all of you could come, and you must be the Piptons." He said shaking each of their hands in turn with a swift practiced motion.
"What are you doing Mordred?" Simon spoke calmly but Mordred could see the anger in his eyes.
"Magnus has been sick for all of a day and here you come swooping in like a vulture." Simon accused.
"I'm hurt." Mordred said with mock indignation "I am merely taking care of business while father is unwell." He said smoothly.
"How is he?" Mrs. Pipton chimed in.
"I know little more than you." Mordred admitted. "The doctors say he caught something while visiting Africa, he has been unconscious since last night."
The group winced at the news, but Simon was not to be deterred.
"Why have you brought all these people here Mordred? This is hardly the proper time to be holding business meetings." Simon queried.
"I am not going to cancel something this big simple because Magnus is ill." Mordred announced.
"What is going on, Mordred?" Simon asked again.
"I am taking over Maxwell industries." Mordred said flatly.
He felt a slight satisfaction at the look of shock on Simon's face, but the moment was interrupted by a knock at the door.