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“Try me. Everyone here already thinks you’re a liar and a thief. Ninety percent of the students and a hundred percent of the faculty are convinced you cheated to get in. Given that, do you really think they’d believe you over me? After all, seeing is believing.”
Nick wanted to deny it, but he knew the truth. Many of his classmates hated him. And those who did would love to see him tossed out on his rump. To have him go to jail would be the bonus round.
That would kill his mother.
Don’t ever go to jail, Nicky. Whatever you do, don’t be like your father. I’ve worked too hard and sacrificed too much to see you come to that end. She said that to him so much that it kept a constant earworm going in his head.
“Why would you do this to me?”
The coach gave a cruel smirk. “Because you have the skills I need. I have a list of items and a very short time to gather them. If I fail, you won’t like what happens to you. That I promise. But if you help … I will reward you greatly.”
Why would he need Nick’s help to steal? “What? You got a gambling problem or something?”
“You’re a smart kid. This is one debt I have to pay and one I will do anything to meet. You help me and I’ll help you.”
And if he didn’t, the jerk would send him to juvie. He shuddered at the very thought.
Then an idea hit him. “What if I borrowed the money you need? You could pay back your loan sharks or bookie or whoever, and everyone would be happy.”
The coach shook his head. “My items are very specific. Money won’t do either of us any good, and it won’t pay my debt. Or keep you out of jail.”
“Look, I don’t want to be a thief.”
“Fine. As I said, borrow them. I don’t care how you get what I need so long as all the items are in my possession and they are the exact, and I do mean exact, items on my list from the people I tell you to take them from. You understand? There can be no substitutions whatsoever.”
Nick nodded. If he could borrow them, that wouldn’t be so bad. Except he knew the coach wouldn’t return them.…
Man, how did he get into these things?
The coach handed him a folded-up piece of paper. “You have six days, Gautier. After that, I’m going to make Mr. Head very happy where you’re concerned.”
Nick watched as the coach left. His heart pounding, he unfolded the paper and read it. Stunned, he felt his jaw go slack over what the coach wanted him to take from his classmates. But one item in particular leapt out at him.
The coach wanted him to steal Nekoda’s solitaire diamond necklace.
No way. I won’t do it. He had no intention of hurting Kody. Not in any way or form. He wouldn’t do it.
The coach could roast, for all he cared.
And he held that resolve tight until his sixth period, when the police came and arrested Dave Smithfield out of their classroom.
Dave cried like a baby while they handcuffed him and read him his rights. “I don’t do drugs. I swear it! Someone planted that in my locker. I’m telling the truth. Why won’t you believe me? I didn’t do it. I didn’t!”
They refused to listen as they hauled him out of the school while Nick and the rest watched on in horror.
Until he met Coach Devus’s satisfied smirk and warning gaze. Then he knew the truth.
The coach had planted it in Dave’s locker and he’d probably called the cops, too.
And later that night, after football practice, while Nick watched the news at Kyrian’s house, he learned just how sick his new coach really was.
The woman commentator’s face was sad as she read from the teleprompter. “A tragedy tonight coming from juvenile lockup. A fourteen-year-old student at St. Richards High School, David James Smithfield, who was arrested earlier today after drugs were discovered in his locker at school, was found dead in his cell an hour ago. Authorities are awaiting the autopsy results, but at this point, they believe it to be a suicide.…”
Yeah, right. Nick had a really bad feeling about that as he pulled the pendulum from his pocket. Dave wasn’t the kind of person who’d kill himself. Not even after being arrested. He’d known the guy for years. Always happy-go-lucky, Dave had never been involved in anything immoral or illegal. And as small as their school was, Nick would know if he had.
His heart pounding, Nick opened his book on the desk and flipped to the pendulum page.
Holding the chain the way Grim had taught him, he concentrated on his question. “Was the coach responsible for Dave’s death?”
Without hesitation, it swung over yes. Forcefully. Then it started moving in a strange pattern he couldn’t identify. Unable to decipher it, he turned to a blank page and made sure that neither Rosa nor Kyrian saw him use it.
“All right, book. Tell me what’s going on.” He used the pendulum to prick his finger before he let three drops of blood fall.
It made bright splashes against the white before it began twisting and moving like an exotic snake. Nick watched as the words wrote themselves on his pages.
Easy come, easy go.
The future is sometimes hard to know.
But if you don’t follow through …
Your life you will soon bid adieu.
His stomach drew so tight, it could form a diamond. “Follow through what? What the coach wants or with my convictions?”
The page turned completely bright, blood red, then exploded. Literally. The words rearranged into more fluid script.
Through the fog light will shine.
Then the answer will be thine.
What the crap did that mean? Why did he even use this worthless thing?
Nick growled. “You stupid, flippin’ book. You’re not going to answer me, are you?”
You have the answer you have sought.
No matter what you do, you will be distraught.
Life is never easy, no matter what they say.
And every decision you must carefully weigh.
In the end, the consequences are yours and yours alone to face.
So think it through and be wary of the race.
Now he had a migraine from trying to decipher all that. But one thing kept chasing through his mind. One thing he had to have answered. “Did the coach kill Dave?”
That answer already came your way.
Asking again, the outcome won’t sway.
But, yes, the coach is not what he seems.
And you are at the heart of all his schemes.
That Nick understood all too well. He would become one of the coach’s tools. The very thought sickened him. He didn’t want to do this. “Is there any way to avoid stealing for him?”
Ask your heart what it wants.
And never fear other’s taunts.
The problem was, he didn’t fear anyone’s taunts. He’d been spoon-fed those since his birth. What he feared was his coach sending him to prison for most of his adult life.
Or worse, killing him like he’d done Dave.
With that thought came the memory of the vision he’d seen. The one of him lying dead while clutching Kody’s necklace.
The same necklace the coach wanted him to steal …
And Grim thought his precog was broken.
Nick knew he needed leverage against the coach. The coach had said it himself earlier that he’d taught at a lot of schools. If he’d made a habit of stealing, then it stood to reason that he wouldn’t be able to stay in one place long without people catching on. Or one of his students getting caught and ratting on him. That would explain why he was so willing to pick up and move in the middle of the year.
While Nick waited on Kyrian to come downstairs and approve the order for a new coat, he did an online search that turned up nothing. Mostly because he wasn’t all that well versed in searching for people. He needed someone with a lot more computer experience.
Picking up his phone, he called Bubba.
“You’ve reached 1-800-Ca’-Bubba. Sorry I’m not available to take your call. I’m either tied up tending someone else’s computer nightmare or am out ridding the world of its zombie predators. Either way, leave a message, and as soon as I kill whatever pains me, I’ll get right back to you. Thank you for calling, and have a positive day.”
Nick shook his head as he laughed. At least once a week, Bubba changed out his message. How the man kept a thriving business given his lunacy was beyond Nick’s comprehension. That being said, Bubba was extremely entertaining.
After hanging up, he dialed Mark.
“Fingerman here … Hah, you’re talking to my voice and not me. Unfortunately, I’m off with Bubba and not a woman ’cause I’m dumb. No telling what I’m into, but if this is my parents, I assure you I’m not doing anything illegal or immoral, and I ain’t disturbing no farm animals. However, please reserve bail money ’cause you know the stuff Bubba gets me into, and I might be needing it soon. Everyone else, leave a message and as soon as I get back to an area where I have reception again, I’ll return your call. Even if I have to do it from the great beyond. Thanks.”
Farm animals? Now Nick knew Mark meant cow-tipping, which had been a pastime of Mark’s from high school (one that had stopped abruptly when a cow fell on him and broke his leg in three places), but the way he had that phrased …
Yeah, Mark needed a VM editor.
Nick sighed as he considered his other options.
Wait … He knew another geek.
Madaug St. James. If anyone could give Bubba a run for his money when it came to computers, Madaug was it. His classmate had been born with a keyboard in one hand and a modem chip in his brain.
Besides, Madaug owed him for saving his hide from the zombies the moron had created and then unleashed on all of them.
He scrolled through his contacts until he got to the right number and called him.
Nick let out a breath in relief that he’d finally reached a living person. “Madaug?”
“Nick Gautier. Um, I have a bit of a problem that I need some help with.”
“What’s ‘kind of’ homework?”
“You know the new coach?”
Madaug growled. “The troglodyte who let Stone defile my gym shorts and then wrote me up because I wouldn’t wear them afterwards? Yeah, I know him, may he choke to death on a jockstrap not his.”
Okay, obviously Madaug had issues left over from PE.
“What do you need me to do? And does it involve any kind of vengeance on him?”
Nick nodded even though Madaug couldn’t see it over the phone. “If what I’m thinking is true, that’s an affirmative. I was wondering if you could do a background check on him and find out where he’s taught in the past and what his record at those schools was.”
“That sounds tedious. Why do you want me to do that?”
“’Cause I think he’s hiding something.”
“Like what?” Madaug asked.
“I’m not sure. Suffice it to say that I think he has some skeletons in his closet that might be interesting and useful to us both.”
Madaug paused as if considering it. After a minute, he agreed to be Nick’s accomplice. “Fine. But it’ll cost you.”
“Cost me what?” Nick was aghast. “Dude, you owe me. Big-time. So log off Doom and help a brother out.”
Madaug sputtered. “How did you know what I was doing?”
Simple. It was all he ever did. If you ever asked him how his day went, his response was always his Doom progress report such as how many creatures he’d killed and how many zones he’d opened. “An educated guess.”
“All right. I’ll get started and call you if I find something interesting.”
“Thanks, M. Appreciate it.”
“Any time.” Madaug hung up.
Nick set his phone aside as he heard footsteps approaching his office. He’d just switched back to the online shopping cart when Kyrian came in. “Hey, boss. I have your coat ready. I just need a method of payment.”
“Top drawer on your right.”
Nick opened it, expecting to see one of Kyrian’s credit cards. Instead, it was one with Nick’s name on it.
Totally stunned, he couldn’t breathe as he stared at the NICHOLAS A. GAUTIER on the Visa card. Wow, it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen.
Kyrian walked over and closed Nick’s mouth with his forefinger. “It has a thousand-dollar limit on it, and it’s for business purchases only. If you prove yourself responsible, I’ll get you one of your own in a few months with a higher limit. Deal?”
“Yes, sir.” Thrilled beyond belief, Nick entered the number into the fields and finished buying the coat for Kyrian. “I also spoke with Kell, and he said that he’d have no problem putting blades into the Ferragamos if that’s what you want.”