Drexton Cage Middle School Private Eye

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The Diva Returns

After school Betty Ann and I sat in a small booth at Casa Cabo. It was an old but clean place with a dozen or so tables and booths. The walls were painted in a fake adobe with bricks exposed in spots. Lights hung above each table in funnel shaped tin shades. Hard, colorful Mexican tile lay underfoot. I sipped water with lime while Betty Ann pushed a tamale around her plate. Cabo had the best tamales in town, but I guess she’d lost her appetite.

“You okay?” I asked.

She moved her head in a funky gesture halfway between a shake and a nod. After a short forever Reno Vega came to our table, a starched white apron over his white T-shirt, a grey plastic bin of dirty dishes tucked under one arm. His face gleamed with steamy sweat and his Clark Kent curl hung lifelessly on his forehead.

“Hey guys,” he said.

“Reno.”

“Something wrong with the tamale?” he asked, nodding at the untouched food. “I can get you something else.”

Betty Ann shook her head slowly and I said, “Nah, I think we’re good.”

“No problem. My treat. Only fair after what you’re doing for me. I can get nachos. Or flan maybe--”

“No really, we’re good.”

“So how’s it coming?” His eyes full of anxious hope.

“Good. Real good. Narrowing down the suspects,” I lied. The list of possible perps was getting longer than my Itunes playlist.

“What do you need from me? Name it, it’s yours.”

“Nothin’ right now,” I told him.

“So what are you doing here?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that whoever stole the answers worked in the school office. Just like his girl Sylvia, who somehow forgot to mention that fact and freaked a little when I found out. I knew if I hung around Reno she’d eventually show and I could ask her about it.

Before I had to make up a fairy tale a voice called from behind the counter, “Reno, vuelve trabajar.”

Reno shrugged and said, “I gotta get back to work.” He lumbered off and started clearing a nearby table, dumping the half eaten plates and glasses into the bin.

We waited. Nothing else to do. I watched Betty Ann poke the innocent tamale a little, then drop the fork with a clatter. This was hard on her. I liked having her help with the case and the truth is I probably couldn’t do it without her. She knows practically everyone in school. But I hated her getting detention and it kinda bugged me that she gave up the school play. She deserved where she could fit in and shine. So this was my chance to get a little polish back on my armor. To get a little white back in my knight.

“Hey,” I said. “You know, maybe you should audition for the play.”

She turned to me and the bubbles came instantly back to her face. She practically fizzed. “Really? We could audition?”

“Me?” I said, genuinely surprised. “Ah, I can’t. I got the case. And stuff. But I think maybe you should.”

The bubbles didn’t stay long. “You don’t want me on the case?”

This was going bad again. How does this always happen? “No, I just thought you’d want to audition.”

Betty Ann glared at me a long, uncomfortable moment. “Geez, Drex,” she huffed and leaned her head back against the seat, closing her eyes.

I ran a frustrated hand through my hair. Girls are complicated.

Luckily I spotted Sylvia marching across the parking lot. She saw me through the window, stopped, then turned and hurried away.

I jumped out of the seat, touching Betty Ann’s elbow and raced out the door.

We caught up with Sylvia before she could make a clean getaway. “Sylvia.”

She flipped a wisp of penny-colored hair out of her eyes. “What are you doing here?” Her tone made me feel like a geek crashing a cheerleader slumber party.

“Trying to clear your boyfriend’s name,” I said. “Should I be?”

“What’s that supposed to mean, there?”

“You didn’t tell me you worked for the school office,” I said. Betty Ann clucked agreement beside me.

Sylvia looked around as if to see if anybody could overhear this conversation but we were alone in the parking lot. “You didn’t ask. Lots of students volunteer there. So what about it?”

“Whoever hacked the district mainframe got the password from there.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” she said, moving her purse from one shoulder to the other.

“Do you know where they keep the password?”

“I don’t know anything about com-pu-ters,” she snapped the three syllables doing the whick-whack-whock thing. “I volunteer for extra credit. I do filing. Answer phones and stuff. They don’t let me anywhere near a computer. Now go away.”

“I’m just trying to help him,” I explained.

“You’re not helping. You’re ruining everything. Leave us alone.” She tried to push past me for the restaurant but Betty Ann blocked her path.

“Why don’t you want us helping? Don’t you love him?” Betty Ann asked.

Sylvia’s expression turned to winter frost. Her teeth clenched so tight I could hear them grinding. “More than you could ever imagine.”

“You’d do anything for him,” I prodded.

“I want him to have the best life possible. Yes, I’d do anything for him.”

If I had Spidey senses they’d have tingled. She could’ve stolen the answers for him only to have the caper go horribly wrong. She had motive and ability. And she loved him enough. There it was, that love reason again.

All that was left was opportunity. “Were you working after school on Friday?” I asked.

“None of your business,” Sylvia snapped.

“Why not?”

“I’m not answering any more of your nosey questions.”

“It’ll be easy for me to find out,” I said.

“Doubt it,” Sylvia scoffed.

“Why is it a secret? There must be a schedule or something.”

“I’m not saying anything else to you.” She elbowed past Betty Ann and strode into the joint, her head held high.

Well, that didn’t tell me much and the clock kept running.

Tick-tick-tick.

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