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Horror at Harvard Cont #3
Natalie nodded. “Good detective work,” she said picking at her eye. “Sorry, continue.”
“Well, the officer alerted Mr. Duncan. I don’t blame him from banning me from tennis, making me serve 150 hours of community service, working for Flo at her stand, paying a fifty dollar fine, and being on quarantine, plus after-school detention for the rest of the semester.”
Bella sucked in a breath. “That’s crap, sorry,” she sympathized. “Tell me about it,” Abbi agreed. “But, like I said, I don’t blame Mr. Duncan. I would have done the same thing if I were in his shoes and had his power. He even said that as much as he likes me he has to play fair and punish me like he would punish anyone else. But I know that deep down he knows that I didn’t put that in my bag. I wish there was some way to prove to him that I’m innocent.”
“I’m so sorry. OMG, if I was banned from volleyball, I would die. Bella will figure this out, it’s her turn. We love to solve ‘small crimes’,” JJ put in. Bella looked nervous. No one was supposed to know their undercover disguise. She didn’t think that JJ had given anything away, but still, she wasn’t sure, and it was always good to stay on the safe side.
“Yah,” Bella laughed nervously. Abbi didn’t seem to notice. “I hope I don’t get kicked out of Harvard. I am learning more here than I learned all through middle school and high school, and I’m making great friends. But, Mr. Duncan said that if I can’t prove that I’m innocent, kicking me out of my beloved Cambridge University is the only option,” Abbi explained sadly as she munched on a goldfish.
Natalie rubbed her back, continuing to mess with her eye in unsanitary ways. “It’s okay,” she said dully, trying to match the mood. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Chapter 13: Investigations
Two days later, after taking a rest of Friday, Bella called Abbi up, asking if she could come down to ask some more questions. Abbi said it was absolutely fine, and that Paige was gone for the day, and so she didn’t have to worry about her. Bella hung up.
“You know, you can so tell that Abbi is scared of Paige. Paige bosses her around, and Abbi is horrified silly. Why does she hang out with the girl?” Bella wondered aloud to her friends. JJ was half asleep, curled up to Natalie, who was watching Dora (don’t ask) on TV. Natalie shrugged and continued watching her show. Since it was the weekend, most people just lounged around and studied, unless they had Saturday classes.
Bella rolled her eyes, checked her makeup, grabbed her purse, and headed down to Abbi’s dorm in another building. It was a sunny Saturday morning, making Bella that much more homesick for her beloved home town, and her family and school friends. She had been texting them all as often as possible, but it wasn’t the same.
Bella took a deep breath before she rang the doorbell. She heard shuffling inside before Abbi answered the door. Abbi was small and petite, with sort of strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes. She had a small, red mouth, and I guess you could consider her somewhat good looking in a sort of way if you studied her features long enough. Bella smiled warmly. “Hi,” she greeted in a fresh, chirpy tone. “Hey,” Abbi said. “Come in.”
Bella stepped inside and looked around. The apartment was well furnished, with a mantle, holding three picture frames. One was of Abbi, one of Paige, and a photo frame in the middle of the shelf held a family photo of Abbi, her father, and her mother in the hospital, with a set of twins tucked gently into Abbi’s mother’s arms. Bella studied the picture intently and then continued browsing the contents of the house. It had dull colors, but was cozy and warm. The only splash of color was a small flowering plant on a side table beside the gray, overstuffed couch.
“Please, sit down,” offered Abbi kindly. “Thanks,” Bella said, and seated herself on a brown recliner. Abbi sat beside her on the couch, fiddling with her charm bracelet.
“Okay, can you tell me again who is on your tennis team?” Bella asked, taking out her notebook. “Well, there is a lot of girls, but the two that you and I know the best are Paige, my roommate, and Gwen Cramer, the beauty of the school.” “Okay, would either one of them want to harm you or your tennis career in any way because of a grudge or jealousy, perhaps ability to play tennis?” Bella hinted.
“Well, honestly, I think that Gwen is a better player than me, so why would she want to ruin my career? I’m not a threat to her,” explained Abbi thoughtfully.
“Hmm,” Bella nodded. “What about Paige?” “Well, she could use some work on her serves. She always did seem a bit sour whenever coach praised me, and coach did give her an awful lot of criticism.” Bella smiled faintly, jotting down notes. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” she noted. “Can you tell me where…..wait, what’s this?” Bella cut herself off. Abbi looked confused. “What?” she asked. “That booklet over on that table, get it for me, would you please?” Bella asked politely, fidgeting in her chair. “Sure thing,” Abbi said, jumping up from her seat, her lips twisted into a confused grimace.
She retrieved the booklet and brought it back to Bella. Bella eagerly pounced on it, flipping through the pages. A picture of Suzy Yank fell out of the glossy pages. “Why is this in your dorm?” Bella asked faintly, holding up the book with trembling fingers. “I don’t know, I’ve, I’ve never ever even, seen it before,” Abbi stuttered truthfully. She was quite baffled at how ghostly Bella looked.
Bella flipped through the glossy pages, then squinted her eyes shut, remembering the conversation she, Natalie, and JJ had had with Zoey Bates what seemed like decades ago. I love lime green. I love lime green. I love lime green. The words echoed in Bella’s mind as she remembered the lime green leather planner with pictures and notes stuffed into it that Zoey had been holding. The same pictures that were stuffed into this one.
Bella’s pulse started thumping in her ears. It couldn’t be. Zoey couldn’t have done it; she was a nice, grieving girl. But, as she continued to flip through the pages of the planner, marked up with lime green pen, she was convinced that it was Zoey’s planner. And, if Abbi had never invited Zoey to her dorm, then the only way it could have gotten in the house was when Abbi was away and Zoe was there when she wasn’t supposed to be there. Bella’s breathing got harder and her next question was so faint that Abbi had to strain to hear.
“Did you ever invite Zoey Bates to your house?” Abbi shook her head slowly. “I don’t know who that is. Bella what’s going on?” she demanded. It was Bella’s turn to shake her head. “And, what day were the drugs found in your bag?” she continued. “March 29th. I was away visiting my parents that morning. Their house is only ten minutes tops drive from the university. So, I stopped by, came back, gathered my tennis gear, and prepared for the random security drug check. I guess that was the only time anyone could have planted the drugs, everyone knows that I pack my tennis bag and leave it by the door the night before every lesson. The only way that someone could have found out that is if they have inside sources or if they are a fellow tennis player. Bella, you look sick,” Abbi worried.
Bella breathed in and out rapidly as she flipped to March 29th in the planner. There, in lime green ink, on the day March 29th, was the word Abbi. Meaning only one thing. Zoey had planted the drugs in the bag, and left her planner by mistake at Abbi’s dorm. As the realization hit Bella, it was too much for her, and she fainted, the planner falling out of her hands and landing on the floor with a thump.
Chapter 14: Depth
“Bella!” screamed Abbi, patting a damp rag against her forehead and rubbing her wrists. It took a full five minutes for Bella to weakly open her eyes. “Oh Bella!” Abbi sighed, hugging the limp Bella to her chest. “Let me help you into your chair.” Abbi struggled to seat Bella in the recliner, gather up the leather planner and its contents, and hand it back to Bella.
Bella took a deep breath and opened the planner again, revived. Her eyes expertly scanned the planner for key words.
Suddenly, her face lit up. She had been looking for important information listed around the time of March 29th. There, on the day March 27th, it said meeting with Paige, 10:00 AM. “Hmmm,” Bella puzzled over it. “Paige has something to do with this. This is certainly a mystery with no end to the depth. Let’s search Paige’s room.” Abbi looked terrified. “If she ever finds out she…” That’s why she’s not going to,” Bella interrupted firmly. “Abbi, you have to face your fears. Stop letting Paige size up to you. She’s not your boss. And if she has something to do with this whole drug thing, then I’m going to find out what it is, no matter what the costs.” Abbi hung her head. “Paige has never been a very good friend. I guess you’re right, Bella,” admitted Abbi. Bella nodded. “Good. I’m glad you feel that way. Now show me to Paige’s room.”
Natalie called up Paige. She had to figure out how Paige knew they were the spies, and how Jerry fit into everything. Plus, she planned on going to the cafeteria that evening, because she figured Becca Sanchez might be there to fish some information out of. Natalie’s plan for her date with Paige was this. She was going to pretend she had some feedback on the “spies” but pretend she and her friends weren’t spies themselves. She could give fake information, and say that Mr. Duncan had told her that Paige was looking into it. Natalie “decided to help out.” Hopefully, if she built trust, she could figure out how Paige developed the strategy and who clued her in on the spy fiasco.
Paige was scheduled to meet Natalie in forty-five minutes at Taco Bell. Natalie’s heart was thumping as she dressed in nice clothes, for a good impression, and smoothed her hair. Mr. Duncan agreed to drive her to Taco Bell, for she had clued him in on the scheme. Plus, Bella was gone doing her own business and wouldn’t be back, so Natalie had no one else to drive her.
Mr. Duncan gladly took responsibility and drove Natalie to Taco Bell in his black sedan. Paige wasn’t there yet, for which Natalie was grateful. She didn’t want Paige asking why she drove to Taco Bell in a different vehicle instead of her Camoboy van. Natalie had almost forgotten about the car fib they had told when they were staking out at Paige and Abbi’s dorm that night.
Natalie thanked Mr. Duncan and walked into Taco Bell. She ordered a 99 cent burrito and a medium-sized Sprite and waited for Paige to join her at a corner booth.
Soon Paige entered Taco Bell and waved at Natalie in the corner. While Paige was ordering her food, Natalie remembered that she had to use her fake name and rehearsed what she would say to Paige. She hated to trick Paige like this, but it was the only way she could find crucial clues about the case for Mr. Duncan, her two friends, and most importantly, Brooklyn Bates. She had to do her part.
“Hey Gabby! Do you mind if I call you that?” Paige asked. “Not at all,” said Natalie. “Do you mind if I call you P?” Paige smiled slightly. “No, I don’t mind. Most people do call me that.” “Why don’t you sit down?” Natalie said. “I have some information for you about these strange spies. Mr. Duncan didn’t think you’d mind if he told me. So he told me all about your suspicions, and told me exactly what you told him. Then, I did some of my own research, and discovered some shocking facts. Why don’t you sit down?” Natalie repeated.
Paige didn’t reject. So far so good, Natalie thought to herself. “So,” Paige said excitedly, “give me the inside scoop.”
Absolutely nothing of consequence happened during the conversation, except that Paige bought all of the fake information that Natalie was feeding her. Natalie made it up as she went along, and Paige sat and nodded through the whole conversation. Natalie couldn’t help but to enjoy herself.
“So, that’s the story, Paige. Hope this helps,” Natalie added. “Oh, immensely, I can definitely use this. How can I ever thank you?” Paige gushed. Natalie wondered if Paige was faking and knew all along that they were the spies. But, Paige looked pretty doggone happy with everything, and Natalie’s first impression was that Paige wasn’t a good liar. So, she doubted Paige was faking anything.
“Paige, I’m amazed at you. Where did you even get a hunch that there were spies in the school?” Natalie asked craftily, keeping her face innocent, but hoping the flattery would work. Paige smiled. “I’m flattered,” she said. “My mom’s brother Jerry called me up and warned me that spies were in the school. He told me that he worked for them, and that they were up to no good.”
That does make sense. We always call him up to make sure that he’s okay with us working on the case. I never once thought that he was working against us when he was making those “important phone calls.” He trained us from age 11 up to now to be the best detectives we could be, and now we can’t trust him! Natalie thought, clearly disappointed. “He described them, and at first, I thought you and your friends were the spies,” Paige finished. Natalie pretended to look offended. Paige’s eyes widened. “Please don’t feel bad. I just….it was a prediction and I jumped to conclusions, I’m sorry.”
Inside Natalie was smiling. This whole thing was working perfectly. “It’s okay, it’s just, me, a spy? I can’t believe the notion!” She laughed and Paige joined in. “He told me that several times he’s called up other people, so they’re aware of these strange girls, but the girls always solve the mystery anyway. This time, he called me to catch them.”
Natalie furrowed her brow and fake concentration. “Did he say why he wanted to catch these girls before he solved the case? If it’s because they’re violent, then we certainly need to catch them and get them out of here! I’m with you Paige!” Natalie said.
“Oh, no, I don’t think violence is it. The only reason I’M chasing the girls is because my uncle told me to. I think he said something about how he’s been their agent forever and is sick and tired of them getting all the credit. So, obviously, he wants to ruin their chances of solving the mystery so he can do it himself and get the glory.”
“Hmm, good observation. Why don’t you give me his number, and I can talk to him and I can then tell you what he told me?” Natalie suggested. Paige decided to be stubborn. “Oh, it’s not a big deal, I can call him,” she said nonchalantly, sipping her water. Natalie didn’t feel like being a push-over here. She was going to get some answers, and that number, whether Paige liked it or not. So she put on her sweet voice and said,
“Oh, I would like to talk to him though. I want to ask him some tips so I can do some of my own sneaking around to catch those spies. Oh, could I please have the number? I’ve always wanted to talk to a real detective agent.”
That seemed to win Paige over. She grinned. “Oh, alright.” She wrote down his number on a scrap of paper and handed it to Natalie. “Oh thank you!” Natalie gushed, “This is so exciting!” She tucked the number into her pant pocket. “Hey, Paige, did he say what type of mystery the girls were solving? I heard about something with planted drugs in a tennis bag. Is that what they’re here for?” Natalie asked, trying to sound nonchalant. She wanted to see Paige’s reaction when she mentioned the bags. Maybe, if Paige looked suspicious or embarrassed, it was something that needed to be discussed with Bella concerning Abbi’s case.
Paige thought for a moment, not seeming to look suspicious or embarrassed in any way. “I think Uncle Jerry said something about a murder, probably the Brooklyn Bates one,” Paige guessed, finishing her taco and chewing on the leftover ice in her cup.
“Huh, that makes sense. Well, look, I have to leave, I have a study group type thing to go to, but let’s get together again soon,” Natalie said, not really meaning it. “Great,” said Paige, her eyes bright. “Need a ride?” “Nope, I’m going to refill my drink, see you soon!” Natalie said, already heading to the soft drink machine.
Paige waved and headed out the door. Natalie watched as she refilled her sprite and headed into the bathroom to call Mr. Duncan.
She certainly was being nice. I wonder why she’s so mean to Abbi, mumbled Natalie aloud, as she slumped against the bathroom wall and punched in Mr. Duncan’s number on her phone. This mystery has lots of depth.
Chapter 15: Searches
JJ walked into Mr. Duncan’s office. He looked up and smiled warmly. “Hi, Janae, can I help you with something?” he offered. JJ asked, “Yah, could I do some “investigating” in the secret room?” “Fine, fine, you have my permission, I am very busy today,” answered Mr. Duncan, bending over his paperwork. JJ thanked him, and skipped out the door.
JJ was very excited to begin her search of the secret room. She had been looking forward to it all day, and was glad that she, Bella, and Natalie got to skip class that day to do their investigations. She hoped no one in the classrooms was getting suspicious. At least the teachers knew they weren’t REAL students, and wouldn’t be wondering.
Mr. Duncan had made JJ and her two best friends a copy of the key that opened the secret room, and left it in their dorm yesterday. JJ was clenching it in her fist as she climbed up the rickety staircase that led to the room she was going to spend all afternoon in.
As she was walking along the creaky hallway, she tripped on a loose floorboard; the same one Bella had skinned her knee and shin on. “Ouch, crap!” Janae muttered. “They need to redo their flooring.” She continued walking until she got to the room.
With much difficulty, she unlocked the door, and stepped inside the dusty room. Papers were scattered all over the place. She smiled. Where would she begin?
“I haven’t found anything yet, Abbi,” Bella called. She was still rummaging through the drawers in Paige’s room. Paige was out with Natalie at the time, and would be at a conference with her dad the rest of the day, so everything was okay.
“Abbi, why are you so scared of Paige?” asked Bella, grunting as she moved a box and started sifting through it. “Well,” Abbi said timidly. “Go on, tell me,” Bella encouraged.
“Okay, it’s like this,” Abbi began, seating herself on the edge of Paige’s bed. “Paige’s dad and my dad have been friends for a long time. Paige and I have known each other forever too. My dad has always said that if Paige and I broke our friendship, then he didn’t think he could be friends with her dad. My dad is the most important person in his life, and his best friend, is Paige Davis’ dad, Jay Davis. I wouldn’t want to break their relationship for anything.”
“But, I know my dad, and if anyone hurts his baby girl, then them and their family will not be associating with him anymore. So, when I told Paige that, she figured she could be mean to me and I would always be her friend, for my dad’s sake. I didn’t realize when I told her that she would take it to the extreme, make fun of me in front of her other friends, put me down, scream at me, and boss me around. But, my dad and Jay Davis are as close as ever, and I don’t want them to change. But, what makes me mad is that Paige knows that, and she does whatever she can to make my life miserable. Half the time,” Abbi raged. Bella had never heard her so angry, but of course she had a right to be so mad at Paige.
“Half the time?” Bella asked, confused. She had been so absorbed in Abbi’s great storytelling that she had temporarily stopped sifting through Paige’s materials.
“Yah, well, Paige really is a nice person. But her other friends changed her into being the brat that she is now. Mostly that’s the side that I have to deal with, and it’s that side that everyone sees. But, half the time, I see her other side, the side that I liked when we first became friends. She was the nicest girl I had ever met, and then, well, her other friends came along and stole her right from my arms.”
“She still thinks we’re best friends, but of course she’s not really my friend. I don’t really have any friends, except for Joe I guess, because Paige keeps me from meeting anyone new, but she doesn’t spend much time with me anyway,” Abbi said, fingering a fringe on Paige’s bed comforter.
“I think that Paige is jealous of you, your tennis abilities, your beauty, and shyness. Everything about you is good, Abbi, and I think that the only thing that possesses one to change personalities for the worse that drastically is pure jealously,” Bella put in. After all, Bella had been studying Abbi, and she was very pretty. Petite, blonde hair, blue eyes, big smile, thin red lips. No wonder Paige acted the way she did.
Y-You think I’m p-p-pretty?” stammered Abbi with surprise. “And shy and nice and athletic?” Bella nodded. “Yes, I do, and nothing can change the way I feel,” Bella stated firmly. “Abbi immediately got up and hugged a bewildered Bella. “Now, you, Bella Swift, are my best friend.”
Chapter 16: Searches are wrapped up
JJ wiped her brow. It had been two hours since she had come into the secret room. She had gone through article after article after article about Bates and Barlow and their stupid insurance companies. At this point, JJ didn’t really care anymore. She might as well give up, and just start looking for Joe. She wished she had Natalie’s job. All Natalie had to do was talk to Paige and find out why Becca Sanchez had been snooping. JJ had to search the room where Bella Sanchez was snooping. It seemed that she always got the short end of the stick.
When you added it up though, JJ had found a lot of information, even if it didn’t seem like it. The first productive thing she searched for were genealogical trees. Every possible piece of information on Barlow’s/Bates was crammed into that room, which was what made it so frustrating. JJ didn’t know where to look first. After searching for twenty-five minutes, to the point where she didn’t think she could go much longer, she found a file stuffed into one of a dozen overloaded briefcases behind a file cabinet, a pack of genealogical charts, dating back to Megan Barlow and Brooklyn Bates’ great, great, great grandfathers. Janae found that, indeed Megan Barlow was the daughter of Nolan Barlow, and the reason Bob Bates hadn’t paid the school the promised money, was because of his distraught condition after losing his daughter, and the $200,000 stolen from his company in ’04 was finally catching up with him.
Apparently, after purchasing an extravagant yacht, and a brand new $6,000,000 vacation house in Florida, he was sued $30,000 by Barlow Insurance. Why? JJ hadn’t found that out. She was now searching through the last of 20 boxes for important clippings before she finished her last few suitcases and attacked the file cabinets. Then she still had the desk and the piles of loose papers and crucial information surrounding her. The only problem was she wasn’t sure which pieces of evidence she needed, unless she dug through all of the crap to find the vital stuff, the stuff that could solve the case.
Janae had been muttering to herself while searching, it seemed to help her sort her jumbled thoughts. If only someone could do some sorting of the jumbled papers in this room! She didn’t want to disturb anything, so after she examined it, instead of shoving the things aside she left them exactly how they were positioned.
“No, no, no, that’s just an old photo, no, no, I don’t need personal belongings, no that’s not important, neither is that, or that, no, wait, what’s this?” mumbled Janae out loud. She picked up some sort of doll. It looked like cabbage patch kids, or something that either Megan, or Brooklyn (as they were the only girls in their immediate families) would have played with. It only made sense that it was one of theirs; otherwise it wouldn’t be in the Bates/Barlow information room.
Janae decided to move on. She had bypassed many other personal belongings, but for some reason the doll stood out to her. She set it aside and made a mental note to examine it later. She found several more clippings and articles, which she stuffed in her bag, along with the doll to look at that night in the dorm. She stood up and moaned. She had been squatting and sitting for three hours and it hurt like the dickens to stand back up again.
JJ turned off the lights of the secret room and locked it. She reminded herself not to step on the ridiculous floorboard, and carefully descended down the stairs she had come up more than two hours before.
She headed to Mr. Duncan’s office and peered into his glass window. The office was vacant, so she stepped inside and decided to write him a note so he knew she had taken some articles and items out of the B and B room, as she decided to start calling it that.
JJ rummaged around on Mr. Duncan’s desk until she found a pad of sticky notes and a ball point pen. She wrote:
Hope you don’t mind that I took some things from the room and am taking them up to the room to examine them. I’ll bring them back later…
Janae looked up and was surprised to see Joe standing in the doorway smiling. Um, hi, I’m just leaving a note for Mr. Duncan, I’m Tara-B,” JJ concluded nervously before Joe could suspect her of snooping in Mr. Duncan’s things.
Joe smiled. I’m Joe Hagerdorn, and I’m uh, here to see Mr. Duncan, is he in?” “I’m sorry he’s not, but you can do what I’m doing and just like, leave him a note or something.”
Janae shook her head, as if to clear her brain. She didn’t know why she was acting so scatterbrained and stupid around him. He definitely wasn’t attractive and she didn’t really have feelings for him at all. It was that he was so superior and perfect in his own way that your knees shook in his presence. You could tell he was one of those guys that would be just perfect if he were attractive. JJ knew quite a few guys back home that were like that, as well. Instead of James, who would put any Hollister guy model to shame, Joe was more lowly, meek if you will. He had greasy black hair; lots of untreated acne on his lower jaw, and coal black depthless eyes. They were dead-pan, you couldn’t see any end or any meaning to them. Like the mystery JJ was trying to solve. A puzzle with a missing piece. Maybe he needed a girl in his life. Maybe that was his missing piece. Or maybe it was God. Was he religious? JJ didn’t know why she was thinking these things.
She realized that Joe Hagerdorn was talking to her. “I think I’ll do that,” he said warmly. He found a pen and peeled off a sticky note from one of Mr. Duncan’s many pads of paper. “So, Tara-B, how long have you been here?” Joe asked. “Freshman, just enrolled,” JJ answered bluntly. “Really, same here,” Joe answered, and signed his name with a flourish on the paper. “I recognize you! You’re that cleaning lady, Moe or something. Wait, but your name is Tara-B at the same time?” Joe got a cute, confused look on his face.
Great, so now I have a fake name, to take over for my fake name, which is in place of my name, thought JJ. I really screwed up. “Umm, actually my friends and I were sorta eavesdropping and kinda sorta by chance put on some cleaning suits and forgot our names?” JJ answered in a question format. Joe threw back his head and laughed. “You’re too funny,” he guffawed. “Kinda sorta? Well, I kinda sorta do that a lot; I would put you to shame with my eavesdropping skills. At least you only did it once.”
“Totally false! I was spying on you and Mr. Duncan and Abbi, and then we were the ones that were…” “Supposedly “studying the map” right?” Joe interrupted. “Yah, I was pleading for Abbi. I really like her and it makes me upset that Mr. Duncan is blaming her for something she didn’t do.” Janae nodded. “I got to know Abbi. She’s a nice girl, and it upsets me too, it really does,” JJ agreed. “Mr. Duncan recruited me as a spy to investigate Abbi’s case. As a side job I’m investigating Brooklyn Bates’ murder. I don’t know why I told you that. I’m not supposed to tell anyone,” Joe said, embarrassed. “That’s all right, because I’m a spy too. My name is not Tara-B; it’s not Moe, but Janae. Janae Windcoop. I was hired with my two best friends to investigate the murder and my friend Bella Swift is investigating with Abbi for a side job. You might have heard of JNB Detective Agency?” Joe’s face displayed surprise.
“You’re THE Janae Windcoop? And you and your accomplices Bella Swift and Natalie Gird are the ones that crack all those bizarre cases?” Janae smiled. “We’re the ones.” “So, what’s your real name, Joe?” “Well, actually, I didn’t have to switch names because it’s not as dangerous for me to be here. I’m not as famous as you three. So, indeed, my real name is Joe Hagerdorn,” Joe explained. Janae nodded. “Makes sense,” she concluded. “So, did you know Abbi before you were assigned this case?”
“No,” Joe admitted. “I got to know her through this case, and I really like her, I mean LIKE her! I wonder how she feels about me,” Joe wondered. “So, any investigations by Joe Hagerdorn I might have heard of?” JJ questioned. Joe smiled. “Only one. Did you hear about the murder I investigated in Wyoming?” JJ started to shake her head but then stopped and thought. “As a matter of fact, I think I know what you’re talking about. You…yes…I watched a news broadcast on that.”
“That’s the only mystery, besides this one, that I’ve ever taken part in. Mr. Duncan heard about it, and he decided to recruit me because he liked my work. He told me that I could work on Brooklyn Bates’ murder on the side, but that there were some pros coming that would pretty much put me to shame. I decided not to try too hard. He must have been talking about you,” Joe decided. Janae blushed. “We’re not that good,” she said modestly.
“Well, neither am I,” Joe agreed. “I haven’t figured out hardly anything, because I don’t know very many people. But I did meet one person that knows Brooklyn Bates. Matt Smith. He’s been hanging out with me just in case I find something out about Brooklyn. He likes to wear black, and it makes everything more mysterious.”
JJ grinned to herself. She now knew who Matt Smith was, Joe’s mysterious gothic companion! It made sense that he wanted to tag along to see if there were any clues about Brooklyn. According to Zoey Bates, he was like in love with Brooklyn.
“Well, I better go; I have some work to do concerning this case. But, how about tomorrow, ten-thirty, Taco Bell?” Joe offered. “Sounds great,” JJ grinned. He just asked me out, she thought, but I know it’s just a friendly gesture. Maybe he can tell me some things about Abbi’s case. “See you soon!” Joe waved over his shoulder and left Mr. Duncan’s office. JJ almost screamed with delight. At least now the mystery with Joe was out of the way and she could work even harder on the clues about the B and B room.
Bella was contemplating the information Abbi had given about her “friendship” with Paige. Maybe Paige had planted the drugs out of pure jealousy. But, she seemed not to find anything that suggested Paige being the culprit, so she decided to stick with her theory that Zoey Bates was responsible, for one reason or another.
“Nothing here, Abbi,” Bella said sadly. “But, hey, I think that Zoey Bates may have some very interesting things that I may be interested in. I’m going to call her up. I’ll arrange for her to meet you at Taco Bell so that I may search her room.” Bella pulled out her phone and punched in Zoey’s number.
“Hello?” Zoey answered. “Hey Zoey, this is Bella. I have a friend here Abbi, and I have been telling her about you, and she would like to meet you. Say, in ten minutes at Taco Bell?” “Sounds great,” Zoey said. Bella thought she sounded a little nervous, which would make sense if she indeed was the one that had planted the drugs, but Bella couldn’t tell over the phone. “K, I have some things to do, but Abbi will meet you at Taco Bell in ten minutes. Also, I have your planner, and I can drop it by your dorm. For some reason it was in Abbi’s dorm. Bye!”
Bella hung up the phone and looked over at Abbi slyly. “Better go meet her,” she suggested, and Abbi smiled a big grin.
Bella and Abbi separated, Abbi driving to Taco Bell, and Bella walking back to her dorm parking lot to get her car. Then she thought, she didn’t have a key to Zoey’s room. She knew Mr. Duncan could pull some strings for her. She had remembered to get the planner from the table, so she would have an excuse to go to Zoey’s place. She hoped Yolanda, Zoey’s twin sister, and Suzy Yank had Saturday classes so they wouldn’t get in the way of her searching.
Bella stopped by Mr. Duncan’s office. At this point, JJ was still searching the B and B room, and Natalie was talking to Paige at Taco Bell. Their appointment would probably be done by the time that Abbi and Zoey arrived to “talk.” Bella skipped into Mr. Duncan’s office.
“Mr. Duncan, I need to ask a favor,” she pleaded. “Can you tell me if Yolanda Bates and Suzy Yank have any Saturday classes?” “For you my dear,” Mr. Duncan joked, and started to look up their schedules on his computer. Bella grinned. Good old Mr. Duncan, she thought.
“They have an extra jury duty class until 2:00 today, so you should be safe, whatever investigations you’re planning to do. Need anything else?”
“Yes, do you have a key to Zoey Bates’ dorm?” Bella asked. “I have this hunch.” Mr. Duncan considered this request and then went over to a wall and took his extra key for Zoey Bates’ dorm off a peg. “Don’t lose it,” he warned playfully. It had her dorm number on the back of the key. Bella couldn’t remember if they had exchanged dorm numbers so she figured this would come in handy. She thanked Mr. Duncan repeatedly and walked out to her car.
Bella’s heart thumped excitedly to the beat of her rapid footsteps against the blacktop. She found Zoey’s dorm and unlocked it quickly with the key Mr. Duncan had given her. She stepped into the dorm and crinkled her nose. Not because of the smell, but because of the sight. The room was a mess. She didn’t know where to start.
First, she decided to look through the planner. She sat down and thumbed through the stuffed book. She didn’t see anything useful, so she began her search in the small dorm room. There was a double bed where Yolanda and Zoey slept, and then a falling apart cot next to it for Suzy Yank.
Bella excitedly went over to Yolanda and Zoey’s desk to check for evidence. She didn’t know what she was searching for, which made it harder. After a few minutes, she came across a folder labeled Tennis. “Hmm, useful,” Bella thought. She opened up the folder carefully and ruffled through some of the papers. They were mostly just scribbled, lime green notes, in Zoey’s handwriting, no less, about Abbi and her tennis team, their schedules, Abbi’s dorm number, computer password…wait, computer password? How in the world did Zoey get that kind of info? Bella thought.
She thumbed through the rest of the papers, shaking her head as she went. Zoey certainly had access to a lot of information that Abbi wouldn’t share with anyone. Except one person. Bella’s eyes widened. The only person that Abbi spent night and day with, all of the time, was her “best friend” Paige Davis. She couldn’t help but wonder if Paige had paid Zoey to do the job.
Suddenly, she stopped. She saw a key labeled with Abbi’s dorm number, and a schedule that looked really confusing.
Bella pulled out the key and set it on the desk and then pulled out the confusing schedule. She studied it carefully, but couldn’t make sense of it. Bella gasped. She thought her eyes would pop out of her head. This was all the proof she needed.
She tucked the key, and the schedule back into the tennis folder and tucked it under her arm, along with a diary of Zoey’s that she thought might be of some use. She was about to search Suzy Yank’s desk, and Yolanda’s bag for evidence that they might of helped Zoey with her job, when she heard fumbling at the door to the dorm.
Bella’s heart thumped nervously. Abbi hadn’t kept Zoey away long enough, and now she was only seconds away from opening the door and discovering everything. She frantically searched for a place to hide, but it was too late. A surprised Zoey walked in the door, and saw Bella standing there with her hands full with everything she needed to prove Zoey was the one who had planted the drugs.
Bella wasn’t scared anymore. She smiled, almost wickedly, atZoey Bates, who was standing there, trying to pick her jaw up off the ground. Bella raised her eyebrows and held up the folder and diary. “Gotcha.”
Natalie was lounging back in the dorm, that Saturday afternoon, waiting for her friends to get done with their searches. She was very pleased with how her lunch date with Paige had gone, and she figured that she could hang out in the room and watch TV while updating her Harvard file while she waited for her friends.
That night, Natalie was planning on going to the cafeteria to give Flo some business and see if Becca Sanchez was there. Bella had told her that Becca was in the cafeteria when she met Libby, and maybe she would be there every night.
Natalie hoped she could find Becca and get some information out of her about why she was snooping in Mr. Duncan’s secret, off limits room. Natalie gasped. She had almost forgotten about Jerry! She had to call him and find out what was going on. And she knew that she was the perfect one for the job. Jerry had always favored her.
She dug his number out of her pocket and switched off the TV. It was pretty ironic that even though he was her agent, she had to get his number from someone else! Bella probably had it memorized, but she was glad she had asked Paige. She wasn’t even sure if Bella or JJ knew it, and she didn’t want to wait around till they got back to make the phone call.
She rattled off the numbers in her head and punched them into the phone sitting by the pull out couch, where Bella slept. They got an extra big dorm room reserved for seniors and special guests. The pull out couch was where Bella slept, and Natalie and Janae slept on the double bed on the other side of the large room.
The phone rang three times, before someone answered. Natalie recognized Jerry’s voice. “What have you been doing?” she demanded angrily. “I beg your pardon?” Jerry asked, confused, and not seeming to recognize Natalie’s voice over the phone.
Natalie took a deep breath. “Jerry, this is Natalie,” she explained. She expected him to hang up but when she asked, “Hello?” he was still there. “Jerry, Paige told me that you called her to tell her to stop Bella, Janae, and I. You’re our agent. We’re going to have to fire you. I think you want all the glory for yourself, and that’s why you want to stop us, so you can solve the mystery and get the credit. I’m done playing games with you mister!” Natalie yelled into the speaker.
“You know what? I’m through with you brats. My scheme didn’t work this time, but I’m sick of not being mentioned in any newspapers. I admit that I have given you a lot of extra trouble in a lot of your cases. I always send people to mess you up, but you always prosper. At least you never caught me, until now. I made the mistake of mentioning Paige to you, and then you pounced on it when she mentioned me. My last words to you are, “Good work, and it would be my pleasure if you fired me.”
Natalie heard a click and she hung up the phone with triumph. “That’s settled,” she said as JJ and Bella walked into the door. She ripped up the number and threw the pieces on the ground.
“We don’t have an agent,” she said. She saw that her friends were confused, so she relayed the day’s events, including her lunch with Paige at Taco Bell, and her conversation with Jerry.
Everyone grinned. “So, now all you have to do is get dirt on Becca, and your work is done,” concluded Bella. “Yup, and it feels good,” Natalie said. Her friends laughed.
Bella was next to share about her adventures. She told them everything up to the part where Zoey caught her red-handed.
“Zoey admitted everything to me!” Bella exclaimed excitedly. “She told me that she was disoriented after losing Brooklyn, and she took Paige’s offer and money without thinking too much about it. Paige has always been jealous of Abbi, her skills, and beauty. She paid someone other than herself to plant the drugs and ruin Abbi’s chances of doing anything good with her tennis career.
“Zoey thought it would be a good way to get money, and she hoped that working with Paige would help her find out if Paige had something to do with her cousin’s case. She, just as we thought, also believed Paige was a prime suspect in the case. I don’t hold anything against Zoey though. She’s going to come with me to Abbi’s dorm tonight to apologize and talk about it with Abbi. I don’t think she would have done it if she wasn’t worried about Brooklyn. She was just confused and wasn’t thinking clearly. I’m also stopping by Mr. Duncan’s office tonight to tell him that the case of Abbi and the planted drugs is solved,” finished Bella, clearly satisfied at her good leads and impressive thinking strategies she had used to help her get her part of the work done.
“I still have to work with Matt Smith and his background, but that shouldn’t be too hard,” Bella added.
Janae grinned. “Actually, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that.” Next, Janae explained that she had searched some documents, and found out all about Joe and Matt Smith. She had decided to stop by the library and study the documents, and then Bella found her and brought her back to the dorm, where Natalie was talking on the phone with Jerry. “I’m meeting Joe at Taco Bell tonight to discuss some things,” JJ said.
“But, since Bella has everything considering Abbi figured out, I might not need to go.”
“Oh, do it to make the man happy,” Natalie suggested. “You can tell him all about the case, and it will put his mind at ease. Remember when we heard him talking with Matt and thought he was the murderer? It made sense, but it just seems so bizarre now that we went through that whole cleaning lady fiasco for nothing.” Natalie laughed.
“Maybe I will go,” JJ said, “and I’ll come back early to study my documents. What are your plans for tonight, Natalie? We already know how Bella’s going to be spending her evening.” “I think I’m going to the cafeteria to find Becca and visit Flo,” explained Natalie.
The three girls updated their Harvard files over caramel lattes at Starbucks, and since they were sick of Taco Bell, they stopped by La Gondola for a late lunch of sandwiches before heading back to Harvard for their evening plans.
Chapter 17: Salt and Cafeterias
All three girls clasped hands to pray before their evening break. They needed God’s strength to help them through this mystery. As they said amen, they heard a knock on the door. “I got it!” Bella called over her shoulder. It was James, looking as gorgeous as ever, standing in the doorway of their room. “Uh, hi James, come in,” Bella said, startled.
“Thanks.” James took a seat on the pull out couch and put his head in his hands. “What’s wrong?” Natalie asked. “It’s Melissa.” “What about her?” “She won’t talk to me and I don’t know why!” James practically wailed.
“Did you do something maybe offensive?” JJ asked quizzically. “I don’t know. I took Libby out on a date the other night because I was double dating with Gwen and Nick, but Melissa was already busy. She won’t answer my calls, emails, texts, or IM’s. And whenever I go to her dorm to see if she’s there, she’s either out, or hides away and makes her roomies deal with me. I leave her notes by her door to meet me somewhere, but she never comes. I don’t know what to do with her.” James looked depressed. Bella wished she could do something to help her former crush. Still, he looked insanely fantastic when he was sad.
Bella nodded. “I think I know.” James perked up. “What?” he asked excitedly. “I think she likes you. Like, really likes you. She think you like Libby, and that just puts salt in the wound.” “What wound?” James asked, clueless.
“The wound that you gave her!” JJ said, finally understanding. “You’re all like, we’re just friends, and she knows that it can never be different. Have you not known this whole time that she loves you?” James hung his head. “I know that she likes me, but she doesn’t know that I like her. I always have.” “Then why do you always try to deny it?” Natalie put in. “Because it’d be so weird between us if our relationship was anything but friends. Gabriella, we’ve been friends since we were in diapers.”
James stood up. “Anyway thanks for your time, I better be going.” James rubbed his temples and walked out the door without another word.
JJ checked her watch. She had just arrived at Taco Bell for her “date” with Joe. She hoped she could convince him that the mystery with Abbi was cleared up for good, thanks to Bella. In a way, she didn’t want to tell him. It must be humiliating for him to know that he got the case and then Bella solves it in a day as her “side job.” But they didn’t know that he was working on it until that day, so it really wasn’t his fault.
Janae stood up when she saw Joe walk in the door. He looked awkwardly handsome tonight in what she guessed was his father’s tux. It was a little weird that he had dressed formally for Taco Bell.
When Joe saw that JJ was only wearing jeans and a T-shirt he blushed. JJ laughed. “Joe its fine…” Joe blushed again. “Oh well,” he decided, and sat down with a coffee and a medium sized soft shell taco.
JJ explained to him everything that Bella had found out. He didn’t seem in the least bit disappointed that it hadn’t been him finding the information. JJ guessed he was just happy that the case was solved.
“Bella is going to Mr. Duncan’s tonight to tell him about it, and is meeting with Zoey Bates and Abbi to discuss the crime,” JJ finished. Joe nodded. “Glad we wrapped it up,” he said, and leaned over to give her a friendly peck on the cheek. JJ gave him a hug and scurried home to start to work on the documents from the B and B room.
JJ had her reading glasses perched on her nose and she was cuddled on the pull out couch with only the company of articles yellowed with age about Bates and Barlow. She was getting really tired of reading charts about finances and finding random stuff.
Just as JJ was almost fed up with the lack of exciting contents in the articles she was reading, there was a knock on her door. “Come in!” she called, too lazy to get up herself and answer the door. A tear streaked face peaked inside the room. Janae was stunned. “Melissa Cartridge! Come here right now and tell me what the matter is!” JJ demanded. Melissa broke out in sobs and curled up beside JJ. Janae let Melissa cry for a few minutes, rubbing her back and babbling nonsense words in a soothing tone.
Finally Melissa picked her head up and wiped away her tears. She sighed. “I love James and he doesn’t love me. I won’t answer is calls because it’s just…I don’t even know.”
“Melissa he knows that there could be nothing but a friendship between you two, ever. I trust you two to work it out.” Janae smiled gently and patted Melissa on the back. “Don’t put salt in the wound.”
Natalie skipped down to the cafeteria, right past the students, and right up to Flo’s stand. Flo beamed and handed Natalie a Pepsi and a bag of Cheetos. Natalie smiled sweetly and bounced away, scanning the area for Becca.
She found her on the far side of a lunch table where Suzy Yank and Yolanda Bates were sitting. Natalie waved to them and went down to sit by Becca.
“Where’s your friend?” Natalie asked. Becca looked up, with question in her eye and clearly not expecting visitors. “Can I help you, and do I know you?” she asked, even more confused than before. Natalie smiled.
“I’m friends of Tara-B and Bella, and they told me about you and your friend Jordan. I’m Gabby. We’re sharing a dorm room now.” “Um, cool, but I don’t have time for chit chat. Plus, Jordan will be back any minute. She had to go talk to her dad about some “official business.”
Becca might as well have stuck her nose in the air and said “beat it.” “Well, I was with Mr. Duncan when we were searching the secret room, and I want to know why you were in there at all,” Natalie tried. “Megan told me to get her some papers or something. Said she wanted to look up her family history. Now, beat it!!!!” Becca practically screamed.
“Nice meeting you too,” Natalie said in a chipper, annoyingly sarcastic tone, and she sauntered out of the cafeteria with much more determination than when she had entered.
Natalie ran to Melissa, Becca, and Megan’s dorm room to talk to Megan. Why did she suddenly want to look up her family history? She knocked on the door and waited impatiently while she heard scurrying inside. Melissa opened it. “Hey, I need to talk to Megan. Is she here?” Natalie asked politely. “Yah, good luck with that,” Melissa muttered and let her in.
“So, Megan, where’d you put Brooklyn?” Natalie asked straightforwardly. Megan looked up in surprise. “Excuse me?” “Her family sued you because your father Nolan Barlow supposedly stole $200,000 dollars from the Bates’ insurance company. They sued you. Of course. $30,000. But, the only problem was, it didn’t make it to court. You’ve always been jealous of Brooklyn, and it doesn’t help that your family hates hers.”
“You decided to get Becca to search the room for articles you could use against Brooklyn. You stole the money for your father, out of pure hate, and stashed it somewhere in Brooklyn’s dorm. Then, you started looking for articles to use against Brooklyn, trying to find some excuse to make it look she had stolen her own family’s money for herself. Family history! Ha.”
“My friend found information about you suing the Bates Company. Whatever for? They were the ones that should have sued you. You stole their money and made it look like Brooklyn stole from her dad’s business!” Natalie raged. “Why did you randomly sue the rival company? My question! My friend was searching the room, and told me she found that you sued for some reason.”
Megan took out something from her purse. It was a knife. She twirled it in her fingers wickedly. “You’re right. My family wanted to sue. We hate the Bates’. The Bates tried to sue us and it didn’t work. We tried to sue them and it didn’t work.
Finally, the only revenge was Brooklyn, and using her as bait to make her family pay up. They stole all of our customers in ’04 and that is why we wanted to sue. It gets so we don’t even know why we’re suing, stealing, and fighting anymore. We just are, because we’re enemies.
I knew where the money was, and put more in there to frame her, but Brooklyn moved it right before I kidnapped her. She moved the money I stole. She got my threat emails and was worried. I was afraid she would talk, and stashed her. But not on your life will I tell you where.” Megan twirled on her heel and walked away.
Melissa was in the bathroom and completely oblivious. JJ was in the dorm, and she wouldn’t find what she was looking for because Natalie already had, and no way would it be written down. It was secret, and Natalie couldn’t wait to share it.
Natalie burst into the dorm, where Bella had just gotten back from straightening out the whole Abbi thing. Zoey was charged with all of Abbi’s punishments, but Abbi was too nice to sue. Mr. Duncan knew everything and apologized to Abbi for accusing her. Zoey and Abbi made up, and Joe was happy again. Yah, yah. That was great, but now they had Megan to deal with. They would have never guessed that Megan, who was “grieving” actually committed the crime.
Natalie, Bella, and JJ all raced to Mr. Duncan’s office and slammed through his door, out of breath.
“We know who did it!” Natalie panted. “Megan’s family was upset about the stolen customers and Megan stole the money and stored it in Brooklyn’s room to frame her and make it look like she had stolen money for herself from her family’s business.”
Brooklyn’s family of course sued because they believed the other company had stolen the money, but it didn’t make it to court. The Barlow’s were still upset about the breakdown of their company because of the stolen customers and sued again. It didn’t make it this time either. Their only option was Brooklyn, and Megan was perfect because she was in the same college and they shared a room. Ha. She faked being friends, and pretended that their family’s feuds didn’t matter.”
“She used Brooklyn as bait to make the family pay, and also because she was afraid that Brooklyn would spill about the threats that Megan sent to her. After the threats, and before she was kidnapped, Brooklyn moved the money and no one knows where it is. “Also, Becca was in the B and B room because she was looking for that evidence I told you about to frame Brooklyn of stealing from her family,” finished Natalie, out of breath. “The only things left to do are finding the money, and finding Brooklyn, plus putting Megan Barlow behind bars for good.”
*** (the ending)
JJ ran back to the dorm. She picked up the doll she had found in the B and B room that looked strange. Party because one of her eyes was missing. JJ shook the doll and a key popped out. She excitedly searched Megan’s dorm and found a compartment built into the wall. The money! She returned the two hundred thousand to the Bates’ Company and Mr. Duncan kept the rest safe for Brooklyn.
Next it was Bella’s turn to get a big break. She was standing in the shower, letting the hot water run over her, when she realized the bruise on her shin from that floorboard in the dusty hallway and she knew. She threw on her Snuggie, advertised on an infomercial and given to her by Flo, and slipped into her slippers. She raced up to the hallway and pried open the floorboard that was loose, revealing Brooklyn.
Everyone was overjoyed to have her back. Her money was restored to her, Barlow Insurance went out of business, and Megan Barlow was safely behind bars. Everything worked out.
“This is sooo much fun!” Bella shrieked. Melissa had organized a mixer party to celebrate Brooklyn’s return. She invited Brooklyn Bates, Matt Smith, Joe Hagerdorn, James, Nick, Gwen, Libby, Abbi (but not Paige, for she had forced Zoey to plant the drugs out of jealousy) Mr. Duncan, the only grownup, Yolanda, Suzy, Zoey, and the three detectives. “Ya’lls! I have an announcement. Our true identities are Janae, Bella, and Natalie, the famous detectives! We’ve been undercover investigating the case, and are glad we can now reveal our true selves!” Bella squealed, and everyone applauded. Bella looked around. Everything was absolutely perfect. Brooklyn and Matt were sitting on a park bench catching up. Abbi and Joe were standing by a maple tree with linked fingers and locked lips. Nick and Gwen were making out by the hot dog stand (how romantic) and Melissa and James leaned in for a passionate kiss. Natalie sighed. “The perfect ending to the perfect mystery.”