MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Peter Newman twisted in his seat, squirming in unbearable pain. He held his hands tightly over his ears. Still, he couldn't escape the bloodcurdling sound.
Peter's best friend, Bo Wilson, tugged on his arm. "What does that sound like to you?" he asked over the hideous wailing.
Peter shrugged helplessly. He couldn't begin to describe the horrible noise.
Bo answered his own question. "It sounds like cats being slaughtered."
That was exactly what it sounded like! Murder. Pure, bloody murder.
Why isn't anybody putting a stop to this? Peter thought. It's cruel and inhuman to allow this to continue.
But continue it did.
More than two dozen people, Peter and Bo included, just sat there as Gerald MacDougal worked his instrument of torture.
"Bagpipes." Peter groaned. That was Gerald's evil instrument. "What kind of dweeb plays the bagpipes?" he went on, slumping down in his seat at the back of the school auditorium.
Bo laughed. "He's the worst act yet," he said in Peter's ear.
Peter had to agree. In the half hour since the school day had ended, he and Bo had seen some pretty awful acts, but Gerald MacDougal's was definitely the worst.
"The kid's got guts," Peter told Bo. "No talent, but a whole lot of guts."
"Too bad for him this is supposed to be a talent competition." Bo laughed even harder.
It was the audition for the school talent show. The show was being held at the end of the week, and twelve acts would be chosen. But judging from what he'd seen so far, Peter didn't think it was going to be much of a competition.
Bo was enjoying it, though. He was having a great time making fun of all the kids up on stage. He'd even brought along snacks.
As Gerald gave one last agonizing yowl on the bagpipes, Bo tore into the wrapper of another candy bar. He broke it in two, handing half to Peter. Then he tossed the empty wrapper over his shoulder.
"Don't throw the garbage on the floor," Peter scolded him. "We'll get into trouble. We're not even supposed to be eating in here."
"Nobody's paying attention to us," Bo said as the teachers sitting in the front row politely applauded Gerald's awful performance. "Who cares about—"
"What's this?" A deep voice cut off Bo's words.
Bo was wrong. Somebody was paying attention to them.
Peter and Bo froze in their seats, eyes straight ahead. Neither of them had the courage to turn around and face the voice.
The discarded candy wrapper dropped from above into Bo's lap. Still, neither Peter nor Bo moved.
"No eating in the auditorium," the voice said.
Peter glanced over his shoulder. The school janitor loomed over them.
Janitor Bob was more than six feet tall and was built like a professional football player. But for someone so big, he moved as silently as a shadow. He was always appearing out of nowhere to catch kids doing what they shouldn't be doing. This time he'd caught the two of them.
"That's strike two," Janitor Bob said, holding up two enormous gloved fingers.
"Strike two?" Bo repeated, practically jumping out of his seat. "How can that be strike two?" he protested. "We don't even have a strike one."
"Oh really?" Janitor Bob glared down at them. "Who drew the lovely picture of Mrs. Dingleman on the mirror in the boys' room last week?"
Mrs. Dingleman was the principal. And the picture in the boys' room wasn't "lovely" at all. It was actually pretty rude.
Peter and Bo exchanged guilty looks. But neither said a word.
"One more strike and you're out," Janitor Bob whispered menacingly. Then he turned around and headed through the back doors of the auditorium as silently as he'd entered.
"Oh man." Bo sighed. "No way Psycho Bob knows we drew that picture."
"Yes, way!" Peter shot back. "Didn't you hear what he said?"
Every kid in school was scared of Janitor Bob. Because every kid in the school knew that he had superhuman strength and a superexplosive temper. Peter had heard that Janitor Bob once lifted an entire school bus by himself, just to move it out of his parking spot. Even if the story wasn't true, Janitor Bob was not somebody Peter wanted to mess with.
"What do you suppose happens when you get three strikes?" Peter asked nervously.
"I don't know," Bo answered. "Nobody's ever gotten three strikes before. At least nobody who's lived to tell about it. For all I know, he may just kill you and bury you in that basement office of his."
"Don't drop any more wrappers," Peter ordered Bo. "There's no way I want to get three strikes."
"Okay, okay," Bo said. "Now shut up. We're missing the whole show."
The next act was almost over. It was two girls from Peter's class dancing around the stage in frilly tutus. They looked pretty silly. But they'd finished their dance before Peter and Bo could start making fun of them.
"Look who's up next." Bo nudged Peter with his elbow.
"Oh, puke!" Peter groaned. "It's Mary-Margaret Mahoney." He spit out the name like he was spitting out poison. "I hate that girl."
"Me too," Bo said. "She thinks she's such hot stuff."
The two of them cringed as Mary-Margaret Mahoney strutted onto the stage in a bright red, rhinestone-studded cowgirl costume, carrying a baton.
"Oh, brother," Peter said. "She's going to twirl her stupid baton again."
"Of course she is," Bo told him. "It's the only talent she's got."
Peter laughed. "So what's she going to be when she grows up—a professional baton twirler?"
"No," Bo answered. "She's going to be Miss America. Remember? That's what she always tells everybody."
"Not with that face, she isn't," Peter said. "I'd be surprised if she could win a dog show."
"For real," Bo agreed. "But she's been bragging all week about how she's going to win the school talent show. She just might do it, too. It's not like she has any competition. Besides, she really does know how to twirl that baton. She's even won state competitions."
"I know, I know." Peter rolled his eyes. "Every time she gets her stupid picture in the paper, Mrs. Dingleman puts it up on the bulletin board. Then Mary-Margaret walks around like she really is Miss America. If she wins this show, she'll be totally obnoxious about it."
"Well, she's going to win," Bo said. "Look." He pointed toward the stage.
Mary-Margaret was standing at the foot of the stage. She handed her baton to her mother, who'd been whispering something to the teachers who were judging. Peter watched as Mrs. Dingleman, the head judge, nodded at Mrs. Mahoney.
A second later, Mrs. Mahoney lit the baton on fire and handed it back to Mary-Margaret.
"A fire baton!" Peter was shocked. "I can't believe they're letting her do a fire baton in school."
"They let Mary-Margaret do anything she wants to do," Bo griped. "Besides, it's the fire baton that always wins her the state competitions. The judges think it's great."
"If Mary-Margaret gets to dance around with fire, she's sure to win." Peter moaned.
Bo grinned. "Not if we do something to mess her up.
"Like what?" Peter asked.
Bo didn't answer. He was too busy fishing around inside his backpack. A second later, he pulled out a rubber band and a bag of peanut M&M's.
Mary-Margaret's hoedown music started to play. Within seconds, her silver baton was a fiery blur. She passed it behind her back and under her leg. Then she tossed it high up into the air and caught it.
With every trick, the judges burst into loud applause. Mary-Margaret danced around the stage, smiling smugly.
But not for long.
Bo loaded a peanut M&M into the slingshot he'd created with the rubber band and his fingers. He took careful aim and let it rip.
A second later, catastrophe struck. But as Peter watched, it felt as if it were happening in slow motion.
Mary-Margaret had turned sideways. She'd lifted her leg to pass her fire baton beneath it. Suddenly the peanut M&M hit her in the butt, and Mary-Margaret let out a loud squeal. The fire baton flew into the air, twirling out of control.
Peter started to laugh. He thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen—until the swirling ball of flames slammed right into the stage curtains.
Copyright © 2012 by Annette Cascone and Gina Cascone