Authors: Dan Poblocki
MONSTERS and MISCHIEF
This book is dedicated to my favorite monsters:
Bigfoot, Bloody Mary, the Jersey Devil, and
especially … Nick Eliopulos, who is a scary-good
editor and to whom I owe so much more than a
mere book dedication
THE BULLY IMPOSTOR
(A ?????? MYSTERY)
When the final bell rang at Moon Hollow Middle School one afternoon in late March, four friends raced from their classrooms, not knowing that a surprise awaited them. In separate parts of the hallway, Sylvester, Rosie, Woodrow, and Viola each opened their locker doors. They were too distracted by the pieces of folded notebook paper that fell at their feet to notice who was watching them.
They retrieved the papers and unfolded them. Inside, written in thick black ink and in the same messy handwriting, were the words:
Meet me on the tennis courts in five minutes. Mickey
. If someone nearby had been listening very closely, he might have heard strange gasping sounds as four mouths collectively dropped open in shock.
Mickey hadn’t signed his last name, but everyone knew Mickey Molynew. He spent most of his time making
his classmates knew him as the school bully. And now, he was demanding that the four members of the Question Marks Mystery Club meet him in a secluded area around the corner of the building, where a rusted
fence rose high above the cracked green surface of the so-called tennis courts. Where no one could see them from the street. It was a perfect location for an ambush.
Making eye contact with one another, Sylvester, Rosie, Woodrow, and Viola noticed the pages in one another’s hands. Without exchanging any words, the four understood that they were all feeling the same thing.
Seconds ticked by, and the hallway hustle and bustle began to peter out. After gathering their homework supplies, the four came together.
“I wonder what he wants,” said Viola. “It could be anything.”
“Like stealing our money?” asked Sylvester.
“Or making fun of us for actually showing up,” Rosie suggested.
“I have better things to do than answer to Mickey Molynew,” said Woodrow.
“Yeah,” said Viola. “Rosie and I have an audition for the school play in twenty minutes. We have to get ready.”
The friends stared at one another in silence for a few seconds, glancing at the pages they held between them — invitations to what would surely be a terrible party. No one spoke, but they realized what they had to do. They were the Question Marks, and here was a perfect question: What did Mickey want?
“He’ll be waiting,” said Viola, checking her bright green watch.
“Let him wait!” said Woodrow.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” Sylvester asked. “Hold on, don’t answer that.”
Rosie sighed. “If we’re going to do this, we’d better get moving.”
Woodrow rolled his eyes, then shoved his scrap of paper into his jeans pocket. His everpresent key ring rattled on his belt loop. “But he didn’t say
Outside, the afternoon light was making the shadows long. As the four rounded the corner of the school onto the sloped pathway that led down to the courts, a chill seeped through their jackets, sweaters, and scarves. Above, the crystal sky was brushed with feather-light, pink-tinged clouds.
In the center of the courts, a thick boy with a big skull stared up at them through the chain-link fence. He’d shoved his fists deep in the pockets of his brown canvas coat. A purple knit cap hugged his head tightly, hiding his buzz-cut hair and making his ears look even bigger than usual. His mouth was curled up in a pensive, mysterious grimace. As Viola came closer, she pictured one of Mickey’s familiar Hawaiian shirts underneath his bulk of clothes.
The group paused at the gate, which was closed and latched. Without a word, Mickey
removed one fist from his pocket, then waved them forward. Sylvester glanced back up the incline to see if someone might be watching from a classroom window — anyone who could help. To his disappointment, they were alone.
Rosie flipped the U-shaped latch up, then pushed the gate open. “Come on, you guys,” she whispered. “Don’t worry. It’s four against one. We’ll be fine.”
“Did you see the size of his fist?” asked Sylvester.
“Show no fear,” Viola answered, stepping forward. Then, with confidence, she said, “Hi there, Mickey. What’s up?”
As they approached, Mickey stared at the floor of the court. Then, taking a small step to his left, he pointed at the ground. “Check this out.”
Keeping outside of Mickey’s punching distance, the group gathered to examine what had caught his attention. Written on the ground in fat silver strokes were the words
Mickey was here
“Principal Dzielski might be watching from one of the art room windows,” said Sylvester. “Are you trying to get us in trouble?”
Mickey shook his head. “If anyone is getting in trouble for this, it’s me. Not you.”
“Here’s a simple solution,” said Woodrow. “Don’t write your name on school property with a permanent silver marker.”
Mickey squinted at him. “That’s the thing,” he said. “I didn’t write my name on school property.”
“Well, it sure looks like you did,” said Viola, leaning closer toward the graffiti marks.
” Mickey insisted. “Not here. And not any of the other spots either.”
“What do you mean?” Rosie asked.
Mickey sighed, and his breath clouded in front of his face. He shivered. “Someone has been going around the school writing ‘Mickey was here’ in all sorts of places. On my gym locker. The globe in Mrs. Huff’s geography class. The checkout desk at the library. All of it in this weird silver marker.”
you?” said Viola.
“That’s what I just said! Someone is trying to get me in trouble. And it’s working. Ms. Dzielski called me into her office this morning. She said that if she finds one more spot of graffiti with my name on it, I’m going to be suspended. And if that happens …” Mickey closed his eyes for a second. “Let’s just say, my dad won’t be happy with me.”
Viola crossed her arms. “What does this have to do with us?”
“Well … I heard you guys are good at figuring things out.”
?” said Sylvester.
Mickey chuckled nervously. “Mysteries. Don’t you all have some lame club?”
“Lame?” said Rosie, raising an eyebrow.
“I — I mean …” Mickey wore a look of defeat. As he opened his mouth to continue, he appeared to be in pain. “Look, I need to find out who’s doing this to me, so I can stop them.”
“And how would you do that?” Viola asked. Mickey pointedly cracked his knuckles. Viola shook her head. “Forget it. I’m not participating in something that’s going to end with someone getting smacked.”
“Not even if they deserve it?” asked Mickey, lowering his voice.
“No one deserves it,” said Rosie. “Come on, Viola. We’re going to be late.”
“Wait!” Mickey cried. “I won’t hurt anyone, I promise. I just want … I need this to stop.
I need your help
The four traded glances. Sylvester nodded toward the far corner of the court, then said, “We need to discuss. We’ll be right back.”
Near the fence, out of earshot, they put their heads together.
” Woodrow whispered. “That guy has practically tortured some of my friends with his threats and tricks and stupid games.”
“Yeah,” said Sylvester. “Someone is finally getting him back for everything he’s done to us.”
Viola squinted her eyes. “Even so … it’s not
fair. Nobody should be bullied, not even the school’s biggest bully.”
“That’s debatable,” said Woodrow, crossing his arms.
“Do we vote?” Rosie asked.
“I guess we’d better,” said Viola, checking her watch. “Our audition starts soon. I want to be ready.”
“Plus, Mickey’s not looking too happy.” Rosie nodded over her shoulder. Mickey was watching them intensely, as if trying to threaten them into agreement.
“If he wants our help,” said Sylvester, “he can relax.”
“Then you’re voting yes?” Viola asked. Sylvester shrugged. “And you, Rosie?” Rosie nodded. “How about you, Woodrow?”
Woodrow stared at the ground for a few seconds, then shook his head. “He’s been horrible to Kyle Krupnik, and if I voted yes, I’d be betraying my friend. Though I guess my vote is pointless now, since it’s already three against one.”
“I have an idea,” said Viola. “This is actually perfect. We can tell Mickey that we’ll help him, but he has to promise to be nicer. No more tricks or threats or games. He also has to promise that he won’t try to get revenge.”
“What do you think a promise like that is worth to someone like him?” asked Woodrow. “How do we know he’ll keep it?”
“ ‘Someone like him’?” Viola pursed her lips. “You know, bullies are usually bullies for a reason. He said that he needs our help to make the graffiti stop. He sounds kind of desperate — a good sign he’ll keep his promise.”
They headed back to Mickey. He wasn’t happy to hear about their conditions, but he assured them he’d try to change.
“We’ll need to ask you some questions when we have more time,” said Viola. “Like, who do you think might have something against you?”
“Try the entire school,” mumbled Woodrow.
“What was that?” Mickey said, glaring at him.
Viola stepped forward. “Can you meet us at four o’clock?” Mickey nodded. “How about at the Main Street Diner?” Sylvester made a choking sound, but Viola continued. “Sylvester’s parents usually let us hang out at the corner booth near the front window. Right, Sylvester?”
Sylvester turned red, but he managed to say, “Yeah, sure.”
Mickey grunted an agreement, then stomped off toward the chain-link fence. He turned and called out what sounded like
… but it might have been a cough.
Sylvester and Woodrow waited for Viola and Rosie outside the auditorium. When auditions were finished, a mass of their schoolmates spilled
through the doors, gossiping about who Mrs. Glick might cast in the leading roles.
“How did it go?” Sylvester asked the girls after they’d made their way through the crowd.
“I thought Rosie did a great job,” said Viola. “I can’t believe she’s never acted before.”
Rosie’s cheeks flushed. “Viola blew me away. Everyone could hear her clear to the back of the room. And her monologue … Gosh, I was practically in tears. It’s no wonder though. She’s been performing since kindergarten.”
“Only little parts in community theater,” said Viola, blushing too.
Sylvester nudged Viola’s shoulder. “Who knew?”
“I hope you both get a great part,” said Woodrow, pushing open the front doors of the school. “What’s the play?”
The Villain’s Web,
” said Viola with a smile. “It’s a mystery.”
“Speaking of which,” Rosie said, glancing at her watch, “we’d better get a move on if we’re going to make it to the diner by four.”
Woodrow rolled his eyes. “Let him wait,” he said. But the other three picked up their pace. Since Woodrow didn’t want to be left behind, he had to do the same.
Moon Hollow was a small town, and it was easy to get around quickly if you knew the shortcuts. An alley here, a backyard there, and before they knew it, the Main Street Diner stood
before them, the windows reflecting the late afternoon glare off the Hudson River, which was farther downhill. Sitting on the front steps, Mickey stared at the group. Even though they were there to help him, they slowed down and approached with caution.
Mickey stood and tilted his head at the entrance behind him. “This your place?” he asked Sylvester.
“It’s my parents’ restaurant,” Sylvester said, not quite believing he was having a friendly conversation with the boy who had once tripped him in the gym locker room. “They bought it from the previous owner before I was even born.”
“Let’s go inside,” said Viola, taking the first step. “It’s getting cold out here.”
The corner booth was empty. Viola, Sylvester, Rosie, and Woodrow squeezed in on one bench. Mickey sat alone on the other. Mr. Cho came over to the table, clearly happy to see them. “The usual?” he asked.
“Yes, please!” said the four, while Mickey stared awkwardly at the silverware.
Once Mr. Cho went to the kitchen, Viola mentioned, “We always get french fries. They’re the best. You can have some if you want.” Viola felt Sylvester nudge her leg with his knee, but she ignored him. “So, what else can you tell us about this graffiti impostor?”
“I don’t know,” said Mickey, keeping his eyes down. “Woodrow said it himself. Lots of people hate me at school.”
Woodrow raised his eyebrows. “You make it easy!” he cried, before he realized what he’d said. Surely Mickey would reach across the table and strangle him now.
But Mickey stayed seated. He didn’t even blink. “I guess I deserve it. I just thought …” He didn’t finish.
“You thought what?” Rosie asked.
“I thought if I was scary enough, everyone would leave me alone.” Mickey finally looked up. “Stupid. I know. But now that the principal is involved, and I might get kicked out of school for a while … I couldn’t care less if that happened, but my dad would be really upset. And you don’t want to see him when he’s upset. Trust me.”
No one spoke for several seconds. Then, as usual, Viola broke the silence. “Well, we’ll just have to make sure that doesn’t happen.” To everyone’s surprise, she reached out and patted Mickey’s hand.
For a moment, he flinched like an angry dog who didn’t want to be touched. Then, he showed a slight smile. “Thanks,” he said. “I mean it.”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” said Viola.
“I noticed the first graffiti mark on my gym locker last week. Bobby Grant went and told
Coach that it was there. Coach yelled at me, even though I said I hadn’t written it.”
“Okay,” said Viola, nodding. “So, we already have a clue about the culprit.”
“We do?” said Woodrow, concerned.
“Sure.” She threw him a questioning look, silently asking him to figure out what she meant. Woodrow folded his hands and squeezed his fingers, thinking hard for several seconds. Finally, he shook his head.
“Is the culprit Bobby Grant?” Mickey guessed. “The kid who told Coach about the graffiti?”
“I don’t know for certain, but we can’t rule him out,” said Viola. “We
rule out a whole bunch of other people though.
Do you know who