Tuesday October 12
Tuesday morning had finally arrived, and it was time to go back to school. The three-day weekend had come and gone, and most of the kids dreaded the idea of returning to their classrooms—except for Andrew. He couldn’t wait to get out of the house, especially after being trapped inside and scolded for the past two days! And he was eager to see Steven, so they could discuss their plans concerning the briefcase and the mysterious daggers.
The two troopers hadn't seen or talked to each other since early Sunday morning, when Officer Moore had driven them home. Andrew couldn’t call Steven, even to say hello, because he was being punished. And Monday was the worst Columbus Day he ever had. He had to spend the entire day studying for the big history test, and endure constant reprimands from his parents for hanging around with hoodlums.
“Come right home after school!” his mother had warned him when he headed out the door.
“Yes, mom.” He sighed and waved goodbye. “I’ll see you later.”
Steven and Suzy were already at the bus stop when Andrew arrived, and Suzy gave him her usual big smile. He could see her braces sparkling in the sunshine from a block away. They were only a year apart, and she had had a major crush on him since preschool—a crush he found to be quite annoying at times. But he was happy to see Steven, whose nose was still swollen from his fight with Butch. They gave each other a high-five, then immediately compared their punishments, as though it were some kind of competition...
“One month of no television!” Steven grumbled. “And I have to do all of Suzy’s chores on top of mine!”
“That’s nothing,” Andrew replied, almost boasting. “Three months of no television for me! And no phone calls either—unless it’s school related. Oh, and no allowance for a year. Free labor for my dad!”
“Who needs allowance?” Steven said, with a cocky grin. “We’re rich, remember? Or did you forget about the briefcase already?"
“Shush!” Andrew pulled him aside. “Your sister might hear you,” he whispered. “Don’t talk about the money around her.”
Luckily for them, Suzy wasn’t paying much attention to their conversation; she was too busy going over a list of chores she made for Steven.
"Alright.” Steven, lowered his voice. “What about the daggers? What’d you do with them?”
“Nothing. They’re still in the wooden box. I hid them under my bed for now.”
“Okay then, captain. We’ll talk about the briefcase later.”
“STOP calling me captain!” snapped Andrew. “Mr. Pippo’s going to expel me from the Youth Troops. I just know it. I’m never going to be Junior Troop Captain.”
“He won’t expel you!” Steven retorted, narrowing his eyes. “Don’t be so negative all the time.”
“Trust me, I know him very well. I’m not going to be a trooper anymore—which means goodbye to becoming Junior Troop Captain!”
“If that’s the case, then I won’t be a trooper either.” Steven rolled his eyes. “I’m just as guilty as you are for sneaking out and going camping.”
“No you’re not. I’m going to tell Mr. Pippo that you only came to support me...that I dragged you along and it was all my fault.” Andrew patted Steven’s arm. “It’s the least I can do for you. He won’t kick you out of the troops.”
“We’ll just have to wait and see.” Steven shrugged. “He might not even know about it yet.”
Andrew shook his head. “He’ll find out soon enough. According to my dad, the whole town’s been talking about you and me, and Woody Hills Park since Sunday!”
It was true; the entire town of Thornbrook was in an uproar, and people were gossiping about the strange events that took place over the weekend. Some claimed they saw a U.F.O. with bright lights hovering above the park; others claimed that bigfoot was spotted attacking a police officer, and most talked about strange noises they’d heard. But the boys knew what really happened, and they knew the truth would eventually come out.
“We better go back to the park today,” said Steven, anxiously. “Before someone else finds the briefcase!”
Andrew pulled him closer, still worried about Suzy eavesdropping. “We can’t go back there,” he whispered, “my father said the park is off limits; the police shut it down.”
This was also true. As of late Sunday morning, the entire park was off limits to the public until further notice. Any trespassers would be fined, or possibly arrested. And that put a big damper on their plans to go back for the briefcase!
“Plus the fact that we’re both grounded!” Andrew reminded him. “You’re not thinking straight, Steven.”
“But we can’t just leave it there!” Steven protested. “We need to figure out a way to go back there without getting caught.”
“Are you nuts!” Andrew shook his head. “We can’t just waltz into the park while it’s being guarded by the police. And to be honest, I’ve had enough of that park for a lifetime.”
They continued to argue, going back and forth, until the bus arrived, and they agreed to discuss it later...
When Andrew and Steven entered the school, all the kids stared at them with curious eyes. It was bad enough they had to deal with all of that on the bus ride to school, but this felt a lot worse. The ENTIRE school seemed to be aware of what happened to them over the weekend (minus the demon creatures and superheroes of course) and it made Andrew uneasy.
But what really surprised Andrew, as the day went on, was the sudden and unusual respect he was getting from some of the bullies—the same bullies that would normally pick on him. And Steven was getting the same, peculiar treatment.
“Ummm, this is weird,” said Steven, as they walked down the hallway towards the cafeteria for lunch break. “Why are the bullies being so nice to us?”
Andrew shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. But I’m not complaining.”
“There they are!” shouted a tall, red-headed lanky boy, running in their direction from down the hall. It was Matthew Bruce, fellow Youth Trooper and friend; the one who told Steven about the wolves in Woody Hills Park.
“What’s up, Matt?” said Andrew. “Everything okay, buddy?”
“Never better!” Matt responded. “We need to talk.”
“Haven’t you heard?” Matt raised his eyebrows. “We’re free!”
Andrew narrowed his eyes. “Huh? What are you talking about?” He braced himself for one of Matt’s crazy stories.
“It’s all over school!” Matt went on. “You guys went camping with Butch and Shane over the weekend, and now you’re all buddies.”
“We are?” chimed in Steven, raising an eyebrow.
“Yup,” Matt grinned. “Tommy Walsh was picking on little George Hope before, and you know how mean Tommy can be.”
“Sure do,” said Andrew, nodding his head. If there was any bully in school that came close to rivaling Butch or Shane, it was Tommy “The Terror” Walsh. He was even bigger than Butch, and just as strong.
“Why was he picking on little George?” asked Steven.
George (Little George) Hope was even smaller than Andrew, a peanut compared to Tommy Walsh, and he was also a member of The Youth Troops.
“Because that’s what bullies do,” chimed in Andrew. “And I’ve had my share of bullies for a lifetime!” He looked over at Matt. “But what does this have to do with Butch and Shane?”
“Everything!” said Matt. “We don’t have to worry about bullies anymore.” He grinned from cheek to cheek. “Those days are long gone for us my friend. We can walk these halls without a care in the world.”
Andrew and Steven glanced at each other, puzzled and shrugging their shoulders.
“What are you trying to tell us, Matt?” asked Andrew impatiently. “Get to the point already.”
“Oh yeah... sorry,” Matt said, catching his breath. “As I was saying, Tommy was giving little George a rough time. I think he was trying to take his lunch money or something like that. Then out of nowhere, Shane Reilly popped up, and stepped between them. At first I thought Tommy and Shane were going to gang up on poor little George, but boy was I wrong!”
“Oh yeah?” Andrew, now curious, raised his eyebrows. “So what happened?”
“Well,” Matt continued, still grinning in excitement, “Shane told Tommy to leave George alone—and Tommy listened. Tommy may be big and strong like Butch, but even he won’t mess with Shane. Man was it great!”
“So...is that the whole story?” asked Andrew.
“Nah, there’s more.” Matt’s eyes lit up and his grin became wider. “I’m getting to the good stuff now.” He took a deep breath before continuing, and Andrew waited patiently. “After that little incident between Tommy Walsh and Shane, Shane put the word out all over school that if ANYONE picks on Andrew Harper, Steven Jacobs, or ANY of their friends, they'll have to deal with him!”
Andrew's eyes lit up. “Really? No wonder the bullies are being so nice to us!” His grin grew wider than Matt's. “Now it all makes sense.” He looked over to Steven. “Told you Shane was alright.”
But Steven rolled his eyes. “It’s the least he could do, considering we saved his life!”
“You saved his life?” asked Matt.
Steven nodded his head, but refrained from getting into any detail. There were enough stories going around already, and he and Andrew agreed not to talk about it too much, at least not yet.
Later on, when the day had ended, and the big history test was over, Andrew was relieved and confident that he had passed it. He bolted out of Mr. Robinson’s classroom and met Steven near the main entrance of the school. They continued to talk about the briefcase, and what they should do about it.
Andrew thought the whole idea of going back to the forest was crazy, considering they were both grounded, and supposed to go home after school. Plus the fact that the park was off limits to the public. They got into another heated argument, each one stating their own opinion, but they were suddenly disrupted when they heard a familiar voice in the distance, shouting their names.
Andrew looked over his shoulder and saw Shane standing right outside the doorway, waving them over.
“What’s up, troopers?” said Shane, in a friendly tone. “I never really thanked you guys for saving my life—and I want to thank you for not ratting me out to the police.”
“Are you okay?” asked Andrew, concerned.
“Yeah, I’m fine, buddy.” Shane gave Andrew a pat on the shoulder. “I thought about what you told me the other night, about Butch leaving me for dead when those demon-wolf things surrounded me. It all makes sense now. I just didn’t want to believe it; he’s the only person I ever considered a true friend.” He shook his head and frowned, and Andrew could see sadness in his eyes. “And who knows? Maybe if he would’ve helped you guys come rescue me, he wouldn’t be where he is right now—wherever that is.”
“He may be a jerk and all,” said Andrew, “but I don’t wish him any harm. I just hope they find him soon, but I haven’t heard anything yet.”
“Neither have I,” said Shane, a hint of concern in his voice. “But Officer Mullen told me the police are working hard to find him.”
“Officer Mullen?” asked Steven. “Who’s that?”
“My JPO,” said Shane, slightly embarrassed.
“Your what?” Steven was clueless.
“I think he means his Junior Probation Officer,” said Andrew, glancing at Steven.
“Bingo, Harper.” Shane smiled again. “The cops nabbed me coming out of the pine groves near Kengsington Avenue when I left you guys. They knew who I was right away, and took me down to the station and called my foster parents and my JPO. I had to sit there for a few hours, and they were hounding me with questions about Butch, and where he might be.
“Officer Moore popped in after he took you guys home. He was heading back to Woody Hills Park but had to make a pit-stop at the station. Anyway, he told me you guys tried to cover for me, and that you didn’t mention my name. But he’s not stupid; he knew I was with you guys the whole time.”
“Yeah," said Steven. "We heard the police found you after you ran off. Now Andrew and I are in deeper trouble than before.”
“How come?” Shane asked.
“Because Officer Moore warned us not to keep any secrets from him, or we’d been in a lot worse trouble than we already are. Now that he knows you were with us, we’re doomed!”
“No worries, Jacobs.” Shane smiled and patted him on the back. “I told him that I threatened you guys not to mention my name, and that you had no choice but to keep quiet, otherwise I’d beat you both up. He believed it, so you’re both off the hook."
“You did that for us?” asked Andrew, a surprised look on his face. “Thanks, Shane, but you shouldn’t lie, especially not to the police! I only covered for you because I didn’t want you to go back to reform school—and even that was wrong.”
Shane chuckled for a second. “I know, Harper, and I appreciate it, but I didn’t want you two getting in more trouble because of me. It’s the least I could do after you guys saved my life.”
“Does this mean you’re going back to reform school?” asked Andrew, in a somber tone.
“Nope,” Shane smirked. “I lucked out. I’ve been assigned to a youth social worker. She’s coming to our house today or tomorrow, to meet with my JPO and my foster parents. She’s working on some kind of program for me; kinda like a last ditch effort to keep me out of reform school.” He shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll see what happens.”
Andrew was relieved to hear that Shane wasn’t going back to reform school, and wished the best for him.
“Do you still want the briefcase?” asked Steven, abruptly changing the subject. “How bout we split the money between the three of us?”
Shane raised an eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t know what happened to it?” He cracked a smile. “You guys keeping secrets from me?”
Andrew glared at Steven, then elbowed him in the ribs, but it was too late. The damage was already done.
“Oops.” Steven’s eyes widened, realizing he just goofed up. “I mean...I don’t actually know where it is per say...I was just curious if you're still interested in it.” He forced a fake smile that didn’t fool anyone.
“Don’t worry about it, Jacobs. It’s no big deal. I don't even care anymore.”
“Hey, you know something?” said Andrew, looking up at Shane. “Butch never told us how he knew the money was there in the first place. Did he tell you?”
“No, not really,” said Shane. “He just told me there was a lot of money hidden in the cave. I didn’t ask him anything else. But I’ll leave it up to you guys to do whatever you want with the money. I wouldn't mind a new mini bike though.” He smiled and nugged Andrew’s arm.
Andrew and Steven looked at each other and nodded.
“Fair enough,” said Andrew. “But after that, the rest of the money goes to the police. That’s the deal Steven and I made.”
Shane nodded his head in agreement. “Sounds good to me, Harper. What I’d really like though, is a favor from you if possible.”
Oh great, another favor! Andrew thought to himself. What could it be this time? “Sure, Shane...what can I do?”
“Okay, I’ll make it quick so you guys don’t miss your bus. The social worker that I’m meeting with is working on a program for me, and I don’t know much about it yet, but from what I’ve been told so far, part of the program includes keeping up my grade average. If I don’t keep my grades up, I’ll be sent back to reform school for sure.”
“Bummer,” said Steven, a bit of sarcasm in his tone. “Guess you’ll have to study like the rest of us.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” said Shane, smiling. He glanced back at Andrew. “That’s where you come in, Harper—if you’re interested.”
“Oh?” Andrew was playing dumb, but he knew what Shane was going to ask him.
“You’re like a genius,” Shane went on, “everyone knows that. So I was wondering if you could help me with my homework.”
“You mean do your homework for you?” Andrew shook his head. “No way, Shane. I’m never doing that again for anyone!”
“Nah, I don’t mean it like that,” said Shane. “I need to learn on my own. I was just wondering if you could tutor me, that’s all. But it’s okay, I won’t force you into it. Just think about it for a few days and let me know.”
“Fair enough," said Andrew. “Will do. In the meantime, we need to figure out a way to get the briefcase.”
They told Shane where the briefcase was hidden, and how they couldn’t go to Woody Hills Park with police patrolling the area. But Shane told them he couldn’t help them, not with his current situation, and the troopers understood.
Later on, after the bus dropped them off, Andrew and Steven decided not to go back to Woody Hills Park just yet. It was too risky, especially with all the police and search crews looking for Butch Johnson, and they needed a good excuse for their parents to let them leave the house. So they agreed to wait a few days, to think it over and brainstorm some ideas.
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