It was the flashing light that caught Danger's attention. The small gray remote control had a blinking green light on it. Danger saw it as soon as Professor Eland walked into the room. Every muscle in Danger's body tensed. He was so focused on the remote in Professor Eland's hand that he didn't realize he had gotten out of his chair.
Professor Eland caught Danger's stare. The professor slipped his hand into his coat. But Danger saw in Eland's eyes that he knew the damage had been done.
"Got yourself a new toy?" Danger asked when the professor walked closer.
Professor Eland narrowed his eyes at Danger. "I do. Not that there's anything you can do about it. It's much too late for --"
"Melvin, will you please take your seat?"
Mr. Chambers was looking right at him. The bell must have rung.
Mr. Chambers was standing at the front of the classroom. He was ready to start the lesson. The TV was on and the DVD was ready to go. They'd watched a movie every day in Mr. Chambers' class. Not that it really mattered but Danger felt that in an 8th grade English class, they ought to read something sometime. So far, Danger hadn't read so much as a subtitle.
Danger was pretty sure that Mr. Chambers was illiterate.
It was generally agreed that Mr. Chambers was the second worst English teacher at East Marion Barry Memorial Junior High School. The school had only hired him because he was a decent baseball coach. If he'd coached a more interesting sport, like basketball or football, he wouldn't have had to teach anything at all -- he would only have had to bark orders at kids during P.E. Mr. Chambers got the next best thing to teaching P.E; he was teaching a subject that no one cared about: English. It wasn't like Spanish: the kids all seemed to be able to speak the language. What more did the district expect from him?
The class was staring at Danger. The kids snickered at him.
His face burned. He quickly dropped into his chair and slid down low, hoping to escape the class's view.
Danger glanced to his right. Professor Eland was sitting in his seat, grinning victoriously.
He had been so excited at the start of the semester. He thought that sitting just three rows away from his arch-nemesis would have been great. He thought it would give him a chance to keep his eye on the professor.
Now Danger wasn't so sure.
He took a deep breath. The professor had something. He was up to something. Danger had a job to do. He tried to push his embarrassment out of his mind and focus on the professor.
The professor wasn't a professor. At least not yet. He was still working on his under-undergrad. Maybe even his under-under-undergrad. Danger wasn't sure, he hadn't done the math.
In fairness, Danger wasn't Danger's name. Not his first name anyway. His first name was Melvin. But Danger hated that name. That's why he always introduced himself with by his middle name: Danger. Every time he did that, adults would say, "Wait, is that really your name?"
Danger would always say yes.
"Your first name?"
And Danger would have to say no. But it was his middle name. Melvin Danger Robertson.
After they heard that, no adult would call him Danger. No one except his dad.
The professor did call him Danger. And Danger called him Professor Eland. A little bit of professional courtesy.
The professor wasn't a real professor but he was a real evil genius.
Danger had known about the professor since they were both in the fourth grade and Danger had inadvertently foiled the professor's scheme to destroy the monkey bars.
Danger was on the trail of his previous arch-nemesis, Bobby Duncan. Bobby had been running a counterfeit Pokemon scam. The counterfeits were terrible. They wouldn't fool a second grader. Luckily for him, Bobby was only selling to first graders.
Danger had gotten one of Bobby's men to flip on Bobby. They were going to go to the principal and bust the scheme wide open.
Danger was going to meet up with the kid and go over things one last time before taking him to the authorities. They were supposed to meet at the monkey bars.
Danger was running a little late. He'd had to stay after class to correct his math homework. He'd never been good at math.
When he saw the two thugs dragging his snitch off, Danger assumed that Bobby found out they were going to the principal. But then Danger saw the goons. They weren't Bobby's goons. Bobby's guys were fifth graders. These guys had five o'clock shadow. They had to be at least thirty. Bobby's guys had been held back a couple times but they weren't that old.
Danger ducked behind a trash can and watched his snitch get dragged away. It killed him inside but there wasn't anything Danger could do for him at that point.
The goons left with Danger's snitch. Only one small figure was left standing near the monkey bars. He was a short, chubby kid. He was turning a sucker thoughtfully in his mouth.
Danger crawled forward as slowly and as quietly as he could.
"That's close enough," the kid with the sucker said.
Danger froze. How'd the kid do it? Danger had been quiet. He'd been careful.
"Your shoes," the kid said.
"Your sneakers light up every time you take a step."
"My men will be back for you momentarily."
"So you're Bobby's printer?"
"Bobby Duncan. The guy you print the Pokemon cards for."
The kid laughed. "I don't work for anyone."
"Oh, so you're here because you like the monkey bars but can't stand waiting in line at recess?"
"I despise the monkey bars. Children dangling by their arms like prisoners in a medieval dungeon. No, there will be no monkey bars. When I have eliminated the monkey bars, the school will be forced to buy new playground equipment. And I, Professor Eland, have carefully cornered the local market on playground equipment. The school will be forced to pay me for the perfect toy: the tire swing."
While the professor was busy monologuing, Danger crept up to the monkey bars. The professor's men had wired a bundle of dynamite to the base of the monkey bars.
Danger's mouth ran dry. Up until then the most dangerous thing he'd run into fighting Bobby Duncan was the possibility of a swirly. He'd never had to defuse a bomb. He had no idea how to defuse a bomb. He hadn't thought it would come up. It would be another two years before he'd watch a video on YouTube that told him how to defuse a bomb.
Danger knew that, on TV, they'd cut a wire to take care of the bomb. But he didn't know which one to cut. And he didn't have anything to cut wires with.
Danger knew he was out of time. He grabbed the bomb and pulled it off the monkey bars and threw it at the men who were walking back from disposing of Danger's snitch.
He ran until he was out of breath, which wasn't very long. Danger wasn't much of an athlete. He stopped to catch his breath in front of the school.
He heard someone knocking in the trunk of a car parked next to the curb. The driver's door had been left unlocked. Danger hit the trunk release. Danger's snitch crawled out of the trunk.
"Hey, uh, I don't think I wanna do this anymore ..." The snitch said and he quickly limped off.
That summer Bobby Duncan's dad got a job out in Chicago. Danger didn't mind though: he had a new arch-nemesis.
A note fell onto Danger's desk. Danger was sure it was something insulting from one of his classmates. Probably a note about how he was too stupid to know how to sit. Maybe it would include a drawing with stink lines. Or a joke about Danger's mom. The note would probably misspell two or three words.
Tinny brass music came from the TV. The class groaned. It was another Shakespeare movie. Danger had to hand it to Mr. Chambers, the movies that he chose to show the class were at least vaguely related to books.
Mr. Chambers was sitting at his desk. He was playing on his computer and rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Danger knew that he was watching videos of dogs on skateboards. Danger knew that for a fact -- Professor Eland didn't take up all of Danger's time.
Danger pulled the note off his desk and unfolded it in his lap.
"T-minus fifteen minutes, Danger."
Danger shot a glance over at the professor.
He flashed Danger an insulting smile.
Danger hissed at the professor. "You'll ne --"
Mr. Chambers cleared his throat. He was standing right over Danger.
"What's that you've got, Melvin?" Mr. Chambers nodded at the note in Danger's hand.
Danger took a deep breath and hoped his hunch was right. "It's a note from my mom," he said. "I've got a doctor's appointment." Danger handed the note to Mr. Chambers.
Chambers unfolded the note and studied it for a minute.
"Sorry I forgot about it," Danger said. He glanced at the clock. "But I think she's probably waiting right now."
Chambers handed the note back to Danger. "All right, but you're going to miss the rest of Othello."
Danger grabbed his backpack and hurried to the door before Chambers had time to think about it. "It's okay, I'll just read it at home."
Mr. Chambers laughed.
Danger got a couple yards down the hall before he slowed down. He had no idea what the professor had planned. Even worse, he had no idea where the professor might have hidden it.
Since the incident at the monkey bars, Danger had kept a close eye on the professor's investments. But the professor hadn't moved any money around in the last few months. Even his shell companies had been pretty quiet.
Danger gnawed at his bottom lip. He had about ten minutes and nothing to go on.
Then a poster on the wall caught Danger's eye. "Come join the volleyball team! Because you have to!"
Danger groaned. If the professor's scheme wasn't enough, he just remembered that this month the school was starting its mandatory sports program. Every student had to join a team. To pay for the increase in uniforms and equipment, the school had gotten rid of the unimportant subjects like History and French. English had been saved because Mr. Chambers and some of the other coaches needed some place to be during the day.
Danger wasn't excited about this. His grades in P.E. were only a little better than his math scores. Also, this would take away from the time he used to investigate the professor and his plots. This was just going to mean more surprises, like today.
Then again, Danger thought, it was also going to cut down on the professor's time to plot.
Danger froze. He knew what the professor had done.
The bomb was mounted behind the bleachers in the gymnasium. It was bigger than the one the professor had strapped to the monkey bars. Much bigger. The professor was going to take the whole gym out.
Danger closed his eyes and tried to calm his nerves. He'd lost track of time. He wasn't sure how much longer he had. Danger tried to push the time out of his mind and focus on the YouTube video on how to defuse bombs. The problem was this one was a lot more complicated than the one in the video had been.
For a minute, Danger thought about leaving. He thought he would just let the bomb go off. What was the worst that would happen? The professor would blow the gym up. And the principal would have to call off his mandatory sports rule. Danger would have his afternoons back.
He shook his head. Danger couldn't do it. It was the principle of the thing. He couldn't let the professor blow parts of the school up. Even if it meant he was going to have to play basketball. Or, even worse, if he had to join Mr. Chambers' baseball team.
Danger crawled up to the bomb. He looked around the side. He tried to follow the connections. He was looking for the power source.
He took a step back to try to get some perspective. His arm caught on something. Without thinking, Danger pulled it free. In panic, Danger tried to stop himself but it was too late. Danger had pulled three cords free from their housings.
Three. The video didn't say what would happen if you pulled three wires.
Maybe they weren't important, Danger thought as the bomb let out a long high-pitched tone.
"You know, Melvin, they have special training for principals these days." The principal looked across his desk. "You've got no friends. The kids, they laugh at you. You're a loner, Melvin. You fit the profile. I've been keeping my eye on you."
Danger looked down at his hands. They were still dyed green.
"I just never thought you'd do something like this. The gym is flooded with some sort of green goo. I never thought that you were capable of this. I've seen your grades in science."
That hurt. Danger's grades in science weren't that bad.
"The school district has a zero tolerance policy for this sort of destruction, Melvin." A smile slid across the principal's face.
The door opened.
Danger looked up. He was expecting his parents to come in. He was sure that the school had called them and told them he was going to be sent to some sort of penal colony because he'd tried to blow up the gymnasium. Danger thought that, even if he had tried to blow up the gym, it wasn't like he'd broken anything important.
Professor Eland walked in.
Danger's stomach sank.
The professor was probably there to see Danger get shipped off to military school to have his head shaved by a man with an affinity for leather boots.
The principal was not pleased to see the professor. "Carl, get out of my office. I'm in the middle of something." The principal gave the professor a look that let Danger know that the principal was keeping an eye on the professor too.
"I just -- can I say something quick?" The professor said. He was acting meek. Danger assumed that the professor thought this was how a good student acted.
"Not a good time, Carl."
"No, I get it. I just -- Danger -- uh, Melvin didn't blow the gym up. He was just ..."
The principal looked skeptical.
"The janitor just wanted me to tell you that it was a backed up septic tank," the professor finished.
"The janitor said that?" The principal said.
"I didn't think we had a septic tank."
The professor shrugged.
"If it was just the septic tank, what was Melvin doing in the gym in the middle of fourth period?"
The professor shrugged.
The principal thought about this for a minute, then got up. "Stay there," he said to Danger. The principal walked out of the room.
When the principal was gone, Danger turned to the professor. "Is the janitor really going to say that?"
The professor nodded.
"Does the school have a septic tank?"
The professor shrugged.
"So, Professor, what's the scam?"
The professor smiled and walked out of the room.
Danger waited nervously for the principal to get back. He was sure that the professor could have gotten the janitor to say just about anything. Danger just wasn't sure that the professor would do that. Not for him anyway.
The principal wasn't pleased when he came back to his office. "Looks like I was wrong, Melvin."
"Turns out you do have one friend."