Authors: Chris Grabenstein
FOR TOM, JEFF, STEVE, & BILLâ
MY BROTHERS AND
THE ORIGINAL TROUBLEMAKERS
SCHOOL WAS FINISHED FOR THE week and Riley Mack wasâ¦
RILEY, MONGO, AND JAKE RAN three abreast up the sidewalk,â¦
RILEY LED THE WAY THROUGH the Quick Pick Mini Mart'sâ¦
MEANWHILE, A FEW BLOCKS SOUTH of the Quick Pick, Riley'sâ¦
RILEY USED A CUP OF warm water from the coffeeâ¦
JENNY GRABOWSKI WATCHED THE POLICE car cruise up Main Streetâ¦
RILEY MACK HAD BEEN HAULED down to police headquarters aâ¦
MRS. MACK'S BOSS, CHUCK “CALL me Chip” Weitzel, had dreamedâ¦
THE NEXT WEEK AT SCHOOL, adoring fifth graders mobbed Rileyâ¦
THAT SAME AFTERNOON, CHUCK “CALL me Chip” Weitzel sat inâ¦
RILEY SKIPPED THE PIZZA PALACE after school.
MONGO HUGGED HIS MOM AND patted her on the back.
AT 9:01 A.M. ON SATURDAY, Jamal Wilson sent Riley Mackâ¦
RILEY SAID SO LONG TO Jamal and called an emergencyâ¦
THAT SAME SATURDAY MORNING, TWO shady men sat hunkered behindâ¦
AT NOON ON SATURDAY, RILEY Mack's Operation Blind Date wasâ¦
ACROSS THE STREET, CHIEF JOHN Brown strode into the Firstâ¦
“POPCORN! PEANUTS! CRACKER JACK!”
AROUND SIX P.M., RILEY'S CREW, joined by Jamal Wilson, reassembledâ¦
AT SEVEN O'CLOCK ON SATURDAY night, half an hour afterâ¦
“WELL, THAT WAS JUST CRAPTACULAR,” said Briana.
AT 7:30 ON SATURDAY NIGHT, Otto and Fred, the suburbanâ¦
AT A QUARTER TO EIGHT, Riley, Briana, and Jamal rodeâ¦
LATE SATURDAY, JAKE'S GPS TRACKING software showed the truck leavingâ¦
“SHUT UP, YOU MANGY MUTTS!” shouted Chief Brown as heâ¦
ABOUT 150 MILES TO THE south, Chip Weitzel found aâ¦
GRANDMA BROWN WAS TUGGING ON the garden hose, pulling itâ¦
AT EIGHT A.M. ON MONDAY morning, Otto and Fred, theâ¦
ON THEIR WAY TO THE Pizza Palace after school, Rileyâ¦
CHUCK “CALL ME BROKE” WEITZEL had left Atlantic City aroundâ¦
RILEY, JAKE, MONGO, AND BRIANA hustled up the sidewalk towardâ¦
WEDNESDAY NIGHT WAS GAVIN BROWN'S third night of dog dutyâ¦
“THERE IT IS!” SAID BRIANA from the backseat of theâ¦
RILEY TIED THE NYLON FISHING line around the trunk ofâ¦
BRIANA WAS ONLY UP TO page twelve of Grandma Brown'sâ¦
MONGO CHUCKED A SNOWBALL MADE out of ground beef upâ¦
RILEY MADE CURFEW.
ACROSS THE STREET, RILEY'S MOM was finishing up lunch inâ¦
OTTO AND FRED, THE SUBURBAN bank robbers, were sitting inâ¦
RILEY MARCHED STRAIGHT UP TO Chief Brown's desk.
RILEY INFORMED HIS CREW OF his mother's arrest and calledâ¦
CHIEF BROWN AND HIS MOTHER met in the diner atâ¦
RILEY'S CREW RECONVENED AT 6:30 p.m. at Jake's house.
AT EIGHT P.M., RIGHT ON schedule, Otto and Fred slippedâ¦
“I'M AT THE BACK DOOR,” said Riley.
RILEY WAS CREEPING ALONG QUIETER than a cat hunting aâ¦
THE FIRST THING RILEY SAW inside the hardened steel safeâ¦
RILEY FLIPPED UP HIS NIGHT vision goggles, whipped off hisâ¦
“I GOT IT!” SHOUTED FRED from the vault room.
RILEY'S MOM WAS RELEASED FROM her jail cell before elevenâ¦
SCHOOL WAS FINISHED FOR THE
week and Riley Mack was itching for some action.
It was early May. Spring and mischief were in the air.
Riley and two of his best buds were sitting in their regular booth at the Pizza Palace on Main Street. Riley had already rearranged the letters on the pizzeria's sidewalk reader board from “Buy One Get One Free” to “Neon Beef Eye Grout.” That was fun, for like sixty seconds.
Now he and Mongo were playing pizza crust football.
“So Trystan Bordeau reached out to me today,” said Riley. He flicked his finger at a chunk of crust, sending it flying over to Mongo, whose real name was Hubert
Montgomery but since he was so humongous (freakishly larger than any twelve-year-old in the known universe), Riley, and, therefore, everybody else, called him HumongoâMongo for short.
Mongo finger-kicked the crust back to Riley's plate. “What'd he want?”
“For us to break into the school this weekend. Steal the answer key to his geometry final.”
“What'd you tell him?” asked Jake Lowenstein, the third member of Riley's after-school crew. Jake was too focused on thumbing out a text message to look up from his cell phone.
Riley grinned. “That we don't play that way on account of the brain surgery I might need in thirty, forty years.”
“Huh?” Mongo looked confused.
“Riley was creating a hypothetical scenario,” said Jake. As always, he was wearing his brown dragon-print hoodie with the lid up and kind of looked like a monk-warrior from a ninja movie. He was way smarter than Riley (or anyone else who had ever been in the seventh grade at Fairview Middle School), so he could use words like
“Oh,” said Mongo, still confused.
Riley helped Mongo out: “I told Trystan, âWhat if, when I get old, I forget to wear my helmet and fall off my bike? You think I want to be operated on by a
brain surgeon who cheated his way through middle and medical school?'”
“Good answer,” said Jake. Now his smartphone made a funny rumbling noise. Sounded like it was popping armpit farts.
“That's my new text tone,” he said, checking out his screen. “Uh-oh. Briana needs us. Immediately.”
“Where is she?” said Riley, sitting up straight and feeling his brain start buzzing. Maybe this was the action he'd been waiting for.
“Two blocks away. Quick Pick Mini Mart. Corner of Old Post Road and Sanford Street.”
“Fifth grader being harassed by Gavin Brown.”
Mongo's face went to code purple because the big guy despised bullies. “Brown?” He sledgehammered both his fists on the tabletop. The Parmesan and hot-pepper-flake shakers shook. “I thought that doofus graduated.”
“He did,” said Riley with disgust. “He's a freshman over at the high school.”
“So what's he doing harassing a fifth grader?”
“Guess he came back to pick on someone who
his own size. Makes the tough guy act a lot easier to pull off when your victims don't punch back.” Riley sensed his dull Friday was about to become extremely interesting. He got a devilish twinkle in his eye. “So,
Jakeâdo we know this fifth grader?”
“Nope. Briana says he's a newbie.”
Riley nodded. His wheels were spinning. He loved using his wits to go up against the big, the bad, and the Gavin Browns. “We know anybody on the inside? What's the adult interference situation?”
“Hang on,” said Jake, swiping his fingers back and forth across the glass face of his tweaked-out smartphone. “Accessing security cameras.”
Riley was impressed. “You can do that?”
“Only with CCTVs tied to the net.”
“CCTV?” said Mongo. “I don't think we get that channel.”
“CCTV means closed-circuit TV,” explained Jake. “Security cameras. Fortunately, all the Quick Pick shops feed their video into a centralized server.”
“Cool.” Riley leaned back. Let Jake's fingers work their magic.
“Okay, this is good. Mr. Karpinksi is behind the counter.”
The name sounded familiar. Riley stroked his chin. “Karpinksi, Karpinskiâ¦”
Mongo rubbed the stubble on top of his huge head. “Karpinksiâ¦”
“Mr. Alexander Karpinksi,” said Jake. “Day manager of the Quick Pick. We helped his son, Alex Junior, out of a similar jam last year. Basketball game. The bully
under the bleachers? You orchestrated that fifty-person popcorn-box dump. Remember, Riley? Freaked the butt head out, big-time.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Riley, relishing the memory. “That was a good one.”
“One of your best,” said Mongo.
Riley shrugged modestly. “It did the job.”
“Briana says, âRUUP4IT?'”
“Works for me,” said Riley. “You guys in?”
“Definitely,” said Jake.
“Totally,” said Mongo. “But, well, I have to be home by five thirty to walk the dog.”
Now Riley looked confused. “Dog? What dog?”
“Noodle. She's our new goldendoodle puppy. She cost my mom fifteen hundred dollars.”
Riley's jaw dropped. Jake turtled his head out of his hoodie. Even Nick, the Pizza Palace delivery guy, who was clearing the table in the next booth, dropped his tub of dirty dishes in disbelief.
“Fifteen hundred bucks?” said Riley. “For a dog?”
“Well,” said Mongo, “Noodle is very cute. Sort of like a teddy bear with a tail.”
Jake's smartphone armpit-farted again.
“Uh-oh,” he said. “Briana reports âthe situation is deteriorating.' Gavin Brown is now jamming the little guy's head into the freezer case.”
“That does it!” Mongo exploded. “I'm gonna sit on
Brown's chest and pound his face!”
Riley placed a gentle hand on Mongo's furiously clenched fist. “Take it easy. We don't need Gavin Brown to be afraid of you. We need him to be afraid of this fifth grader.”
“Good luck with that,” said Jake. “On the security camera feed, the kid looks like he weighs less than a frozen burrito. Saving him from Brown is going to be tough.”
Riley smiled confidently. “Tough, my friend, is what we do best. Tell Briana we're on our way. We'll go with the Payoff Protection play. We'll need some ketchup, syrup, and cash. Have her clue in Mr. Karpinksi. Feed him his lines. Shut down the shop.”
Jake's fingers tap-danced across the smartphone's face. “Done and done.”
Riley gestured at the hunk of crust on his otherwise empty paper plate. “You want it, Mongo?”
“Nah. I want Gavin Brown!”
“Then let's roll.”
RILEY, MONGO, AND JAKE RAN
three abreast up the sidewalk, their JanSport backpacks slapping against their spines in time to their strides.
They heard a whistle. The two-fingered, big-city kind that can stop traffic. Train traffic.
“Yo, Riley! You guys! Over here.”
It was Briana Bloomfield, standing in the parking lot of the Quick Pick Mini Mart, windmilling her arms over her head. She was wearing a bright red wig, some kind of billowy silk scarf, and rhinestone-studded sunglasses. Briana was big on theatrics. She
(just about everything she said came out in italics) wearing costumes and pretending to be somebody she wasn't.
“Who are you supposed to be?” asked Mongo, his eyes wide with awe.
“It's a disguise!” gushed Briana. “I didn't want Gavin to know it was
“So you put on a clown wig and flashy glasses?” asked Jake.
“Exactly!” said Briana. “Would someone who was tailing you wear a costume so ridiculously conspicuous? No. They'd try to blend in. Hide in plain sight. They sure wouldn't dress like this! Gavin Brown never knew I was following him!”
Amused, Riley examined Briana's blazingly bright Bozo wig and shook his head. Riley himself had shaggy red hair but his was the orangish color of fox fur, not the freakish color of a fire truck.
“How we doing inside?” he asked.
“We're on script,” said Briana. “Mr. Karpinksi's behind the counter, yelling, âStop, stop,' threatening to call the cops. Gavin keeps pummeling the little guy, trying to snag his iPod, shake him down for cash.”
“And the fifth grader won't give in?”
Riley slipped off his backpack. “I like this new kid already.” He unzippered the bag's main compartment.
“We need to hurry,” said Briana, whipping off her bedazzled shades. “Gavin's giving the guy a freezy wheezy.”
“Is that like a triple nipple cripple or ruby booby?” asked Jake, who had, apparently, studied Bully Lingo 101.
“No,” said Briana. “He has the kid's face stuffed in the freezerâright above the microwavable breakfast biscuits and Hot Pockets.”
Riley pulled two handy-talky radios out of his backpack, powered them up, and tossed one to Briana. “You give Mr. Karpinksi your cell number?” he asked Briana.
“When he calls, you know what to do.”
“Yep. But I might try a new voice or two, okay?”
“Fine. Just make it work.”
“Oh, I will.” She pointed a finger to the sky and proclaimed, “There are no small parts, only small actors!”
“I also locked down the set.” Briana gestured toward the Quick Pick's sliding glass doors. The Sorry We're Closed sign was flipped into place. “We have total control of the store. No grown-ups, in or out.”
“Excellent.” Riley tossed the second battery-powered radio to Jake. “Once Mongo and I have Brown's attention, slip in, stay low, and head behind the counter. When Mr. Karpinksi calls the cops, go to channel B.”
“Got it. You want me to make it squeal and stuff?”
“Can you do that?” asked Briana.
“Boo-yeah!” said Jake.
The other three stared at him.
“Sorry,” he said, retreating inside his hoodie. “Just a little pumped, you know?”
“Definitely,” said Riley. “I'm right there with you. Mongo, if you don't mind, mess up your shirt a little.”
Mongo popped open a button, tugged his shirttail out of his pants. “Like this?”
“Perfect.” Riley turned to Briana. “You grab the ketchup and pancake syrup packs off the condiment counter?”
Now everybody stared at
“Sorry.” She pulled a small plastic tub from her backpack. “I mixed it up already.” The ketchup was for color. The syrup thickened it up and sold the slop as coagulating blood.
Mongo took the tub. “Where should I put it, Riley?”
“Nose and mouth. Make it look like someone gave you a bad bone taco.”
“A punch in the face.”
“Oh.” Mongo dabbed his finger in the thick red goop.
Briana put a hand to her hip. “Have you ever worn makeup before, Mongo?”
“Once. For Halloween. I was a werewolf and glued teddy bear fuzz to my face.”
“Come here,” said Briana. She found a cotton swab in her makeup kit and used it to paint a line of fake blood dribbling down from the corner of Mongo's lips. Then she stuffed a thick gob of the ketchup concoction up his left nostril. “Let your schnozzle drip. Just like you do in the winter.”
Mongo nodded. “Okay.” The nodding made red goop splatter down the front of his shirt. Briana jammed another swab of the crimson crud up his snout.
“Don't shake your head again until you guys are inside, okay?”
“Okay,” said Mongo, catching himself this time before he nodded.
Briana balled up her fist. “You need me to punch you in the face so you can totally feel the pain?”
“No, thanks,” said Mongo. “I'm good.”
“Mr. Karpinksi lend you the cash?” asked Riley.
Briana handed him a stack of twenty-dollar bills. “Two hundred bucks.”
“Works for me.”
“He, of course, wants it back. I mean, he's grateful we saved Alex Junior last year but he's not
“No problem. We're not in this for the money.”
“Um,” said Jake as he fiddled with the portable radio, “you ever think about adjusting that portion of the Riley Mack credo?”
“No,” Riley said. “Why?”
“Well, money for a new Guitar Hero might be nice,” said Mongo.
Jake nodded. “Or a flash drive.”
“I need a new pair of vampire fangs,” said Briana.
“You guys?” said Riley, cocking up his left eyebrow.
“Sorry,” the other three said in unison.
Riley rubbed his hands together. He was ready to do this thing. “We know the fifth grader's name?”
“Wilson,” said Briana. “Jamal Wilson. And Riley?”
“Hurry up. With his head buried in the deep freeze, the poor kid looks like an eighty-pound sack of human ice cubes!”