Excerpt for The Adventures of the Clairville Trio - Book 1, May: Foul Play in Clairville by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Adventures of the

Clairville Trio




Book 1, May



Foul Play in Clairville



by Walter Thompson




If you wish to contact the author: ClairvilleTrio@gmail.com




Copyright 1998 to 2017 by Walter Thompson, All rights reserved.



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Chapter 1 (May 16, Monday, 4:30 PM)

“I have a job for you Meade,” said Brian Goss into the telephone with a cold hard voice.

“Yea, what’s up?” asked Meade, taking a long draw from his cigar.

“I helped a guy, Jeff Stubner, get a city contract to do some work,” began Goss. “He’s supposed to pay me $500 a month for my efforts. It’s the middle of the month and he still hasn’t paid.”

“You want me to knock him off?” asked Meade.

“Oh sure,” said Goss sarcastically, “that’ll get me my money. Just shut up and listen. He’s working the construction contract I gave him over at 9th and University.”

“What if he has the money?” asked Meade.

“Then take it,” growled Goss. “Then do something to let him know I don’t like late payments! Every time I arrange for someone “win” a contract, I take a risk. One person starts paying late, everyone will walk all over me. Now go do your job!”

“Isn’t the city going to start figuring this out?” asked Meade.

“Don’t worry about that,” replied Goss. “The only guy who could cause trouble is about to go down. I’ll be running the show within a month.” That thought brought a big smile to Goss’s face.

“You need me to knock someone off?” asked Meade.

“No, I don’t need you to knock anyone off, you idiot! Mind your own business!” Goss slammed down the phone.

Meade hung up the phone smiling and grabbed his baseball cap. He enjoyed being the enforcer for Goss’s illegal contracts game, and he enjoyed annoying Goss almost as much. He didn’t have it all figured out, but he did know that Goss worked for the Clairville Contracts office. Somehow Goss was able to get people jobs doing work for the city and in return they gave him money every month. The payments better be on time. If not . . . well, that’s the part Meade liked, collecting.

Meade walked the few blocks to the construction site. The city was clearing some old buildings to make room for a new park. Goss had seen to it that the “right” man got the job. There was only one man working there, he was driving a bulldozer.

“You Jeff Stubner!” yelled Meade above the engine noise.

“Yea!” yelled the driver. “What do you want?”

“Goss sent me!” Meade yelled back.

The man’s face turned pale. He turned off the bulldozer and jumped down.

“Listen, I’ll get Goss his money,” Jeff started out, nervously handing a $100 bill to Meade. “This is for you, I’ll pay Goss everything I owe him first thing next month. Honest.”

Meade took the money and put it in his pocket. He loved to watch people grovel.

Jeff continued, “Look, I’ve had more expenses than I anticipated getting this job done. The rental company is demanding payment now or I’ll lose the bulldozer and . . .”

“Goss don’t care none,” interrupted Meade as he punched Jeff in the stomach. “Goss don’t mess around. I’ll be back tomorrow.” Then Meade turned and walked away.

“But there is no way I can have the money by tomorrow!” groaned Jeff, doubled over in pain.

Meade smiled wickedly, “We’ll see about that.”

________________

The quiet middle class neighborhood just four miles away was a sharp contrast to the construction zone, but they were about to be tangled in the same web. Nathan Johnson sat in his room looking intently at his computer screen, scanning yet another Internet site for some inspiration on what kind of computer business he could start. At the age of 12 (almost 13 he was quick to tell everyone) life seemed pretty complicated with girls, school, and trying to figure out what to do with his life. Little did he know that some stranger running a scam would suddenly make it much more complicated.

Nathan leaned back, relaxing his eyes and looked around his room. There were airplane pictures on every wall, clothes strewn across the floor, and a bed that looked exactly how it had when he first climbed out in the morning. A stack of computer magazines towered along one wall and Nathan wondered how high the piles would go before they fell over.

He heard the doorbell ring and voices at the door. Then his sister, Natalie, with as annoying a voice as any seven year old had ever produced yelled, “Nathan, you’re girlfriend is here!” Nathan winced. Stephanie was about the prettiest girl in school, but they were just great friends, that’s all. He was interested in girls, sort of, but Stephanie was different. It would be weird for her to be his girlfriend. Actually, as clumsy as he felt around most girls, it’d be weird to have a girlfriend at all, he thought.

“Ignore the rat,” yelled Nathan, referring to his sister, “and come on up.”

Stephanie had brownish blond hair and was a full two inches taller than Nathan. He knew he would probably be taller than her someday but he was still a little embarrassed that she seemed to tower over him. He consoled himself with the fact that she was almost six months older than him and of course was taller. Stephanie bounded into his room and plopped on his unmade bed.

“How’d you do on the Science test?” she asked.

Nathan knew she got a perfect score, she was a whiz at math and science. “I got a 92, I’ll bet you got another 100,” he said.

“Not this time,” said Stephanie, “I forgot to do the second part of problem 3, so I got a 97.”

“Whoa! Did Stephanie Miles actually make a mistake?” teased Nathan.

“Hey, I have to give the rest of you slackers a chance,” she laughed.

“Duh-uh, you talking to me?” joked Nathan.

“Find anything yet that’s going to make us all rich?” she asked, referring to his search for an Internet business.

“No,” said Nathan. “There’s so much stuff out there. I did see something about Dustin’s dad though on one of the local news services.”

“What’d it say?”

“His dad is under investigation for some sort of fraud. His family is so up tight, I can’t imagine his dad doing anything illegal.”

“What does his dad do anyway?” asked Stephanie. “I know he works for the city somewhere.”

“I’m not sure. Something about contracts,” said Nathan. “Sounds sort of lame to me.”

“Really,” said Stephanie. “Clairville is so boring, he probably let someone dump the wrong size rocks on a playground. That would be front page news around here.”

The doorbell rang again and Nathan heard someone walking up the stairs. He wondered who had managed to get in without his sister making some annoying announcement. He looked toward the door and was surprised to see Dustin Reid standing there. It was Dustin’s dad who was being investigated and Dustin’s face definitely showed something bad was going on. Maybe that explained why Natalie hadn’t said anything rude. “Could she really be a human after all?” Nathan wondered and then quickly dismissed the thought.

“How are you doing Dustin?” asked Nathan sincerely. “I was shocked to see on the internet that your Dad is under investigation.”

“Yea, and my dad seems really worried,” sighed Dustin. “My parents won’t say much when I’m around. I enter the room and they change the subject to school or the weather or something. I asked mom what was going on and she started to cry and asked if I could go hang with some friends.”

“Wow,” sympathized Stephanie, “that must be really tough. Do you think he did anything wrong?”

As soon as the words came out of Stephanie’s mouth she regretted saying them. The look on Dustin’s face was a mixture of hurt and anger.

“I’m sorry,” apologized Stephanie. “I know your dad is not guilty of anything. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know!” said Dustin with despair in his voice. “That’s the reason I came over here. You two and Nicholas always seem to know the answers to everything. What would you do in the same situation?”

The doorbell rang again, this time Natalie was back in form. “Nathan, the third stooge is here!” He heard scuffling and figured Nicholas, the final part of the Trio of Stephanie, Nicholas, and himself, was probably messing up Natalie’s hair.

The Trio had been best friends since Nicholas and Stephanie had moved onto the same street as Nathan three years ago. Nicholas had moved from a different part of town, Stephanie from California. They were different, but enough alike that they did everything together and had a lot of fun doing it. Stephanie was a brain. She was great at math and science and loved to work with electronics. Her room was a worse disaster than Nathan’s and Nathan was sure he was going to be electrocuted sometime with all the wires and gadgets in her room. Nicholas was the athlete. He was good at every sport and spent every spare moment outdoors pushing himself in one sport or another. He was very smart, especially in math, but just didn’t have the interest in school that Nathan and Stephanie did. Nicholas had the distinct misfortune of sharing his room with a younger brother who was almost as bratty as Natalie. Thus by default, Nathan’s room became the official hang out place for the Trio (or three stooges as Nathan’s dad had once referred to them and Natalie immediately picked up on). Almost every day they would get together, either after school or after dinner, comparing notes, doing homework, and daydreaming. Nathan would sit in the computer chair, Stephanie would take the bed, and Nicholas would jump into the stuffed chair and settle in with one of his legs over the arm of the chair, the other on the floor.

“Let’s go out and play some ball,” yelled Nicholas as he bounded up the stairs into Nathan’s room. His face showed obvious surprise at seeing Dustin. Glancing around the room he said, “What’s the matter, everyone looks pretty glum? Catch!” he said throwing the ball to Nathan and jumping into the stuffed chair.

“Dustin’s dad is being accused of some sort of fraud and Dustin was just asking us what we would do if we were in his situation,” summarized Stephanie.

“Well what’s the scoop?” asked Nicholas.

Dustin sighed, “I don’t really know. My dad is being investigated, not accused,” he said emphatically looking at Stephanie, “of something and he won’t tell me much about it. I know he didn’t do anything. The city building is such a zoo.”

The thought of a mystery or adventure appealed to Nicholas. “Okay, we’ll take the case,” he said matter-of-factly.

Nathan and Stephanie gave him a blank stare. “What in the world are you talking about?” asked Nathan. “We’re not detectives, or even wanna-be detectives. The police will investigate and figure it all out.”

“Well, we can at least look into it. You always say you can find anything on the world wide web,” said Nicholas in a mocking voice. “Maybe it’ll give us a lead. Anyway, it’s more fun than that stupid English assignment Barker gave us.”

“Come on, please,” pleaded Dustin to Nathan. “Things seem to be falling apart. You got your dad out of trouble, help mine.”

Nathan’s face turned red. “How did you know about that?” he asked.

“What happened to your dad?” asked Stephanie puzzled.

“My dad was accused of stealing money,” Nathan said quietly, shuddering at the memory. He felt angry with Dustin for bringing up his dad and that whole ordeal. He wondered how Dustin even knew about it. The look on Nicholas and Stephanie’s faces told him he had to go on.

“Not long after Nicholas and you moved in,” Nathan continued, “my dad came home one day and said some money had come up missing at work. As the accountant, everyone was pointing their fingers at him. It started getting real ugly and he had to get a lawyer.”

“What happened?” interrupted Nicholas.

Nathan really didn’t want to go on, but he felt compelled. “Dad mentioned something about some new accounting software they had started using. It gave me an idea. I begged him to take me to his work so I could look over the program. It was poorly organized and the program architecture was designed for a . . .” Nathan noticed their eyes glazing over so he decided to give the short version. “Anyway, I tracked down an error in the program. The company who wrote the program wouldn’t admit the error at first. Dad’s boss believed me and made them come to the office. I was able to prove there was a flaw and so they finally fixed it. When all the data was re-ran, everything balanced and Dad was off the hook. It sounds so simple now.” Nathan paused. “What a nightmare.”

That didn’t hurt so bad, Nathan thought to himself. It almost felt good to talk to someone about it.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Stephanie a little hurt.

“I didn’t want you to know,” Nathan replied. “I guess I was too embarrassed that my dad was being accused of a crime. You two were my new friends and I wasn’t sure how you would react. I was afraid you wouldn’t want to hang with me anymore.” Nathan felt tears start to come to his eyes and he quickly fought them back. “After it was over I didn’t want to brag, and I really didn’t want to think about it any more. I’m good at computers, but I’m no detective. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“But you know what we’re going through,” said Dustin in a pleading voice. “Just look into it.”

“Let me see if I can find anything on the net,” Nathan replied half-heartedly, not wanting Dustin to get his hopes up.

Nathan turned around to his computer and started a couple searches to see if he could find anything of substance. After a few minutes of silence, he said, “Nothing much here, but I can try a couple more in-depth searches. I doubt anything official has made its way onto the net yet.”

“Why don’t you go home and see if you can get more of the story from your dad or mom,” Nicholas said to Dustin. “Ask them point blank. You don’t even know what’s going on and we really need some idea of who, what, and when.”

“All right, but I doubt they’ll tell me anything,” said Dustin as he headed out the door. Then turning around he added, “Thanks guys.”

After Dustin had left, Stephanie whispered, “We could always bug their house. Dustin can hide it somewhere and listen to his parents talk. After all, he is their son, he has a right to know what’s going on.”

“No,” said Nathan flatly, “that wouldn’t be right. It’s probably also illegal. And what if they started talking about other things, it could be real embarrassing.”

“Wooo Wooo Wooo,” laughed Nicholas. “Besides where are we going to get a bug anyway?”

“I have about six sets of walkie-talkies,” said Stephanie. “Let people know you like electronics and you get a set for every major occasion. We could have Dustin hide one of the walkie-talkies with the power left on and the transmit button taped down. He could have the other one in his room. With him not in the room, his parents will talk freely and he can find out what is going on.”

“Yea, I tried that once to catch my little brother getting into my stuff,” said Nicholas, “and the batteries wore down in about 15 minutes.”

“Good point,” thought Stephanie out loud, “I will need to add a voice activated switch and extra batteries. Just in case, I can probably boost the power so Dustin will be sure to get a good signal.” It was obvious Stephanie was in her own world now; any project that involved tinkering with electronics would have her undivided attention. She was still mumbling about triacs, resistors, and power levels as she walked down the stairs and out the front door.

“Bye Stephanie,” muttered Nathan knowing she couldn’t hear him. He still felt that spying on Dustin’s dad was not right and doubted that it was going to help the situation. Oh well, that would be Dustin’s decision.

“Well, guess I’d better go do my English assignment,” said Nicholas. I’ll be going to school early tomorrow to get in a little baseball practice, so I’ll see you in class.”

“Okay,” said Nathan, “see you there.”

Nathan turned back to the computer to continue searching for anything about Dustin’s dad as Nicholas left the room. Nathan doubted they would be able to do anything to help, although he really wanted to. His dad’s ordeal had been very painful for the whole family and was rarely talked about afterward. As he thought about it now, he began to remember some of the excitement he had felt at being involved and solving the problem for his dad. He could relate to what must be going on at the Reid house right now. He would help any way he could, and the thought of getting involved made him feel some of that excitement again. One thing he knew for sure, Dustin’s dad wasn’t a crook.

Chapter 2 (May 17, Tuesday, 6:30 AM)

Nicholas woke up to pouring rain. “Well so much for getting in any baseball practice this morning,” he muttered to himself.

“Huh, what are you talking about?” his little brother Brendan asked sleepily.

“Never mind,” said Nicholas, “go back to sleep.” Nicholas looked at Brendan as he drifted back to sleep. How could anyone look so peaceful when sleeping and be such a brat when awake?

Brendan was Nicholas’ half brother and was only five. Nicholas’ dad had left when Nicholas was Brendan’s age, it seemed like an eternity ago. Nicholas had never heard from his dad again and sometimes wondered where he was and if he even cared that he had a son. He liked his step dad a lot, but it still wasn't the same.

Nicholas got dressed and called Nathan to say he would walk to school with Stephanie and him. The Trio walked or rode their bikes to school together most days. The school was only a mile away, but it gave them an additional chance to talk. The rain had dwindled to a drizzle and the clouds were beginning to break by the time they started for school.

“Wow am I tired,” said Stephanie. “I didn’t finish the walkie-talkie mods until about 9:00 and then I had to do all my homework. I didn’t get to bed until after 11:00. How about you Nathan, did you find anything?”

“Nothing much. It’s too early and it seems as though it’s mostly rumor anyway. I bet this whole thing blows over within a day.”

They heard footsteps behind them. They all turned to see Dustin running toward them.

“How’s it going Dustin?” Nicholas yelled first. “Did you find out anything?”

“No. I tried to ask mom and she just started crying. I finally asked dad, and all he would say is that I shouldn’t worry about it. Just before I went to bed, he finally admitted the situation was pretty serious. He said he hadn’t done anything wrong so it would all work out. He looks really worried.”

“You know Dustin,” started Stephanie slowly, “I modified a walkie-talkie last night to be a bug. If you want, you could hide it where your parents might talk and then hear what they are saying.”

“No way,” said Dustin looking at her surprised. “There is no way I am going to spy on my parents. There’s enough going on.”

“Nobody thinks it’s a great idea Dustin,” said Nathan a little impatiently. “Without knowing what’s going on, though, there is no way we can help.” Stephanie had a noticeable look of shock on her face. She did not expect Nathan to back the idea. “I don’t even know that we can help,” Nathan continued, “but we might be able to if we knew more.”

“I sure wish my parents trusted me more,” said Dustin sadly. “I’m 13 years old, it’s not as if I’m a baby. I can handle whatever is going on. It would be easier at least than being kept in the dark. I almost feel like an outsider in my own house.”

Silence descended as they walked the last two blocks to school. As they entered the school grounds, Jeff and Jerry, the two smallest and most obnoxious eighth graders in school, walked up to them. For some unknown reason, J&J (as the Trio referred to them) had a dislike for any seventh grader and the Trio in particular. Today it was Dustin who took the brunt of their abuse.

“Hear your dad’s a crook!” Jeff shouted for all to hear.

“Are you going to visit him in jail?” teased Jerry. “Let’s see, that will make your dad a jail bird and you a tweety bird?” J&J both laughed and starting calling out, “Hey tweety! Tweet! Tweet!”

“Oh grow up!” yelled Stephanie in disgust. “That's just stupid”

Dustin’s face turned bright red and the anger on his face made the Trio think he might tear into them. Instead he turned away and just kept walking. They all picked up the pace and entered the school.

“Wow, Dustin,” said Nicholas. “I thought you were going to explode out there.”

“My mom couldn’t handle me getting into trouble right now,” said Dustin, his mouth tight. “Otherwise . . .“ His voice trailed off, but the Trio knew what he was thinking.

The four of them had the same homeroom teacher, Mrs. Barker, who also taught English. While they did the required complaining about her, she was actually a pretty good teacher. She knew the kids all had individual interests and tailored assignments accordingly. The English assignment had been on “What contribution to society would you like to make?” It would not be a surprise to her that Nathan’s was about computers, Nicholas’ about sports, and Stephanie’s about electronics.

At lunch, Dustin joined the Trio. He normally ate with a different group, but today he felt the need to stick with Nathan, Nicholas, and Stephanie.

“Hey Dustin,” said Peter, one of Dustin's friends, quietly as he walked up to their table, “I know your dad is innocent. He wouldn’t take a bribe for any highway contract. Good luck.”

As Peter walked away Dustin’s face turned bright red again and he looked hurt. The Trio wasn’t sure what he was thinking since Peter was a friend and had been kind. Finally Dustin blurted out, “I didn’t even know my dad was being investigated for bribery. I know less about what’s going on than my friends!” There was an awkward pause; no one knew what to say. “I want to use your walkie-talkie, Stephanie. Show me how it works after school.”

“Are you sure?” asked Nathan.

“No,” said Dustin, “but I can’t take it anymore.” He continued quietly, “I’ve thought about it all morning. My dad will come home and they will go into the bedroom while he changes clothes. I’ll just hide the walkie-talkie in there and hang out in my room. How far away can I be?”

“Come by my house after school and we’ll play with it a little,” replied Stephanie. “I really didn’t have time to test it last night. It's supposed to work up to a mile away, but they never do.”

The bell rang to return to class. Stephanie couldn’t help feeling excited. She loved electronics and spent most of her free time building circuits or taking something apart. Modifying the walkie-talkie had been fun, but now that it was going to used, she felt great. She couldn’t wait for school to get over.

After school the whole gang dropped by Stephanie’s room. The room looked worse than Nathan had remembered it. His apprehension grew worse as he saw wires strung across the room in all directions. There were oscilloscopes and signal generators that had to be 40 years old. There was a table with tools, wires, and electronic parts scattered all over. Some box in the corner was humming loudly and giving off a greenish glow, Nathan had no idea what that was.

“How do you keep from electrocuting yourself, or at least hanging yourself with all these wires?” asked Nathan.

Stephanie ignored the question and enthusiastically began to explain to Dustin the modifications she had made. “It is locked into transmit mode,” she started, “so they can’t hear anything from you. As a matter of fact, I took the speaker out to make room for more batteries. It will only transmit when there is noise and should last about one hour. I don’t know what the range is, we can check in a second. Don’t turn it on too early or if there is much noise, it’ll go dead before you need it.” She paused, thinking, “Any questions?”

“No,” said Dustin hesitantly, “thanks for your help.”

“Okay,” said Stephanie, “let’s quickly test the range. You stay here and I’ll run to the farthest corner of the basement.”

She ran out of the room, talking as she walked. The signal was strong and clear all the way to the basement.

“How was it?” she asked as she ran back into the room.

“It was perfect,” said Nicholas. “I sure wish I’d have come to you when I was trying to listen in on my brother.”

Stephanie smiled proudly and handed the transmitter to Dustin.

“If you find out anything, come by tonight. All right?” asked Nathan.

“Sure,” said Dustin as he slowly walked out of the house and down the street.

“Well, I’d better get my homework done in case Dustin finds out something,” said Nathan, only too eager to leave. “See you later.”

“Me too,” said Nicholas and followed him out.

Chapter 3 (May 17, Tuesday, 5:00 PM)

Dustin looked at his watch, it was 5:00. His dad normally got home around 6:00, so he’d wait awhile before planting the walkie-talkie. Entering the house, he saw his mom was busy in the kitchen. “I’m home!” he yelled and went up to his room. He had just closed the door behind him when he heard a car drive into the garage. “Dad never gets home this early,” thought Dustin panicking. He grabbed the walkie-talkie transmitter and ran down the stairs. His mom was standing at the front door and there was no way he could get into their first floor bedroom and out again without her noticing. “All right,” said Dustin to himself, “don’t panic, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Just as he was about to give up, his mom opened the door and went onto the porch. Dustin dashed into their room, hid the walkie-talkie under some clothes and started back out. As he was about to leave the room, it struck him, “I forgot to turn it on!”. He ran back to the clothes and fumbled for the switch. He saw the bright red power light come on just as he heard footsteps on the porch. He ran out of the room as his parents entered the house.

“Hi Dad!” called Dustin, trying to sound cheery.

“Hi, son,” said his dad wearily. “Would you mind hanging out in your room for awhile, your mother and I need to talk?”

“Oh, okay,” said Dustin, now suddenly worried they would not go into their bedroom to talk. He went upstairs and turned on his walkie-talkie receiver. After several minutes, he could hear his parents talking softly, too softly for him to make out what they were saying. Then he heard their bedroom door close and they began to talk louder.

“So why you!?” his mom pleaded, sobbing.

Dustin was almost used to seeing his mom cry over the last couple of days. As he listened now to her tone and the pain in her voice, it made his stomach tighten and tears come to his eyes. The full seriousness of the situation was beginning to sink in to him. He began to feel guilty about listening in on them. He was invading their privacy and it made him feel uncomfortable.

“I don’t know, dear. I suspect it’s Brian Goss. I don’t trust that 250 lb slug any farther than I could throw him. I’ve suspected him of fraud ever since he started working for the department. He’s got some connections somewhere. He’s too slick, too arrogant. He strongly opposed my decision to award the highway contract to Benning Corporation a week ago and I suspect he’s doing something to stir this all up. It makes me mad. I’ve given 20 years of honest, hardworking service to this city. The first hint of something wrong and they assume I’m a criminal!”

“Well, did you find out what makes them think you took a bribe?” his mom asked, regaining control.

“Nobody’s talking officially,” said his dad. “A friend from the District Attorney’s office told me, off the record, that during a lunch at some restaurant, witnesses saw a man give a bag to another man and some money fell out. The witnesses each have a different memory of the men but they all remember someone that looked like me. Anyway the man hurried away and climbed into a city car, at least that's what they are piecing together from the mish mash of witness accounts. It happened just before I announced the winner of the highway contract. Details are very sketchy and that’s all I could find out. It’s looking bad.”

“Is the city going to defend you?” his mom asked, beginning to cry again.

“No, we’re on our own. I got a lawyer today. It looks as if this could be a long hard battle. We really don’t have the money, I don’t know how we’ll make it,” his dad said sadly.

Dustin couldn’t take it anymore and turned off his walkie-talkie. “How could they do this to my Dad?!” thought Dustin. It made him sad and angry. Hearing his parents talk so gloomily also brought a feeling of helplessness. Right now the only thing he could think of to do was to share what he had heard with the Trio. He decided to go after dinner and after he’d removed the walkie-talkie from his parents room.

Nathan was just finishing up dinner when the doorbell rang. He thought it might be Dustin so he jumped up to get it. “No one deserves to have to face Natalie”, he thought, “especially Dustin”. As he opened the door, he was taken back by how dejected Dustin looked. “Hey Dustin, come on in. Were you able to find out anything?” asked Nathan quietly.

“Yea,” said Dustin wearily, “can we go to your room?”

“Sure,” said Nathan. “Go on up. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Maybe you could call Stephanie and Nicholas and have them come over. You can auto-dial them from my phone, their names are marked.”

Nathan knew that dinner at his house was a pretty rigid affair. It wasn’t bad, but there were no telephone calls allowed, no TV, and no one left the table until everyone was finished.

“Mom, Dad,” started Nathan as he walked back into the dining room. “Dustin is here and with everything going on with his dad, could I be excused.”

His parents looked at each other and his dad replied, “Sure son. Your mom and I appreciate the way you’re being a friend to Dustin during all this.”

Natalie immediately jumped on that one, “Hey, that’s not fair! I’m done too, then.”

Nathan ran upstairs as his parents quickly put down Natalie’s revolt. Nathan felt really good, his parents were pretty cool. He’d have to tell them that sometime.

Within 10 minutes the Trio had come together. They were all eager to hear what was going on and had dropped everything to come right over.

Dustin began slowly, “Well, I put the walkie-talkie in my parents room and heard them talking.” He paused and then said in an almost pleading voice, “Look guys, you’ve got to swear to never tell anyone that I did this. My parents would kill me.” They each promised as solemnly as they could and urged him to continue.

“Well,” began Dustin slowly, “it seems my Dad is being investigated on bribery charges in connection with a contract he awarded a week ago. Some friends of his at the DA’s office . . .”

“The who’s office?” interrupted Nathan.

“The District Attorney’s office,” continued Dustin a little annoyed at the interruption. “The District Attorney takes the information gathered by the police to determine if there is enough evidence to convict someone. Didn’t you pay attention in class? Anyway, some people in a restaurant saw an exchange of money take place because some fell out on the table. The man who received the money left and got into a city car. The witnesses don’t agree on what they saw, so it sounds weak, but dad is scared. He’s getting a lawyer.”

“Why would someone drive a city car to pick up a bribe?” asked Stephanie. “Duh. Does your dad drive a city car?”

“He has to,” said Dustin a little defensive. “Any business trip has to be in one of the city cars. It’s an insurance thing. There are about 20 cars, so it could be anybody. Dad sometimes talks about people who take a city car for personal errands so their boss will think they’re doing work.”

“Do you know the date or restaurant where the bribe supposedly took place?” asked Nicholas.

“No, dad didn’t know either. Sounds like the details are rather sketchy. He seemed pretty convinced that a co-worker of his, Brian Goss, was behind it. Dad doesn’t complain very often, but ever since Brian Goss went to work there a couple years ago, most of his complaints are about him and the quality of his work,“ continued Dustin.

Nathan turned to the computer. “I found a Clairville city web site when I was looking for information last night. I can’t imagine anyone really wanting to visit it, but it had organization charts for all the departments. Come take a look.”

Everyone gathered around the computer monitor. Dustin helped Nathan navigate to his dad’s department and there was a picture of Brian Goss. Dustin sat on Nathan’s bed and rested his chin on his hands.

“He looks like a jerk,” offered Nicholas as he looked at the almost sneering face. “If that’s the best picture they could find to put on the net, I wonder what a bad picture of him looks like.”

Mr. Goss was a heavy man with a handlebar mustache and a strange twisting smile that made him look as if he was sneering at you. Nathan downloaded the picture, enlarged it, wrote “LOSER” across the bottom and printed it. He hung it up on the wall and everyone had a much-needed laugh.

“According to the organization chart,” said Stephanie slowly, looking back at the computer, “he is not next in line to take over the department. I wonder why he would be involved. Maybe it’s this Don McKlel guy, he would take over if your dad stepped down.”

“Don has been out for a while, some sort of heart trouble,” said Dustin.

“What about this Jana Bartley then?” continued Stephanie.

“No, Dad said they saw a man take the bribe.” Then it hit him and Dustin jumped up from the bed and looked at the computer. “She’s been out because she just had a baby. Dad doesn’t think she’ll return.”

They all looked at each other as the same thought hit them. If Dustin’s dad had to step down now, Mr. Goss would be the only one left to take charge of the office. They didn’t know exactly what that would enable him to do, but with everything going on with Dustin’s dad, they bet he would make money out of it.

“Well it’s obvious what we need to do,” Nicholas said matter-of-factly. “We need to bug his office.”

Nathan, Stephanie and Dustin’s heads couldn’t snap any faster as they looked at him to see if he was serious. It was obvious he was. Their bulging eyeballs must have given them away, because Nicholas continued.

“Look, if we are going to find out what happened or who all is involved, we have to learn more about the only suspect. Dustin’s dad is just being investigated, that means they don’t have enough evidence to arrest him. If Mr. Goss is going to take over, he has to see to it that Mr. Reid is arrested. That means he is probably still working on the plot. We have to act now!”

Whether they really agreed with him, Nicholas never knew. He was proud of his argument and a little surprised at himself for coming up with it. In any event, they all shook their heads in agreement. It was settled, tomorrow after school they would go to the City Building and plant the walkie-talkie. Stephanie was already envisioning how to increase the broadcast range and make the batteries last longer. Nathan was beginning to wonder if they were getting into something way over their heads.

Chapter 4 (May 18, Wednesday, 4:00 PM)

Wednesday’s were spelling tests in Mrs. Barker’s class. How odd that the words for that day included criminal and illegal. The Trio looked at each other with grim faces. It was bad enough to help Dustin spy on his parents, but to go to the city building and put a bug in an office was far worse. In some ways the day dragged on, in others it went by way too fast. The feeling was similar to having a dentist appointment after school. Even if you didn’t like school, you hated for it to be over and have to see the dentist.


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