And now for something a little different for this blog: some fiction. A colleague recently mentioned how Florida's test, the FCAT, is transported from Texas to Florida in a fleet of armored trucks protected by armed guards. I said, "What do they expect, third graders with Uzis to try to steal the test enroute?" And then I smiled-- the idea for this story was hatched. The Federal Assessment and Review Test is a guest concept from the novel Portents, which I wrote with my son.
(or TestTaker: A
Tale of Intrigue, Danger, and Data)
By David Lee Finkle
looked down in the darkness through his infrared goggles, glancing between his
Batman lunchbox and his jet black backpack where they hung on tree limbs. The
backpack held his gear; the lunchbox held the snacks he’d been grazing on all
evening. It had been a long night, but it wouldn’t be too much longer. Barry
glanced at his glow-in-the-dark watch: it was nearly midnight. The truck should
be coming through soon. He focused his
goggles and zoomed in on the highway below. At this hour the two lane road was
nearly empty of cars.
He adjusted himself on the thick
tree limb, and then looked over to a neighboring tree. Aiming his watch toward
it, he tapped out a message in Morse code, using a small red LED light near the
analog number twelve.
Not much longer. Ready?
The response came back. Ready.
And then he heard it, the rumble of
an armored truck. Lights appeared down to his right, glowing over the crest of
a hill. Barry grabbed his backpack, fastened it tight to his back, and prepared
* * *
James, they’re ready for you,” the secretary said. “And bring your backpack.”
Barry stood up, shaking out of his
reverie even as he shrugged his backpack over his slim shoulders. The pack was
lighter now than it had been on that night three months ago.
He entered the principal’s office,
and the secretary, Mrs. Klebb, proffered the
sign-in sheet for him. She was plump, prim, and wore a polka-dot dress.
She pursed her slightly wrinkled lips at him and arched one eyebrow at him when
“Do I really have to?” he asked.
“You know who I am.”
“You need to follow the rules,
young man. I think it’s about time you learned that. Fill in the chart.” Her
voice was stern, sharp—the kind of voice that made most people jump and obey.
Barry jumped a bit himself, but then gave her a long, slow stare before he took
the black pen in hand and filled out the required information.
NAME: Barry James
STUDENT ID: 007
REASON FOR VISIT:
Possible criminal charges.
He put down the pen and followed Mrs. Klebb
down the hall. His stomach flipped around inside him, but he kept his face
impassive. His stomach had flipped around worse three months earlier, but it
hadn’t stopped him then.
* * *
leapt from the limb just as the armored truck drove under the tree. He pulled a
string on his belt, and a black airbag burst from his torso, its downward side
full of suction cups. He hit the roof with a padded, muffled thud, nothing the
driver would notice, and the suction cups held him there. He looked across the
metal roof top to where another figure had also just landed. Like Barry, this
figure was also clad all in black and suctioned cupped to the roof. Over the
roar of the engine, Barry spoke into the microphone that hung from his goggles.
“So far, so good, right, Quentin?”
“Yeah, Barry. Now comes the hard
Barry watched as Quentin pulled a
cylindrical device out of his backpack, fastened it to the roof of the truck,
and pushed a button. A thin beam, intense and molten red, emitted from the
bottom of the device and began to carve a circle in the roof. Barry smiled at
Quentin. This might just work!
gave Quentin a weak smile as he entered the principal’s office and found his
best friend already sitting in one of the uncomfortable black chairs facing the
The principal’s office was a large room,
windowless, with a bank of TV screens covering one wall and a bank of computer
screens covering the other. The TV screens displayed views of various hallways
and balconies around campus, a never ending parade of security camera views;
the computer screens displayed student test data on graphs, charts, pie charts,
and a running tickertape live feed from the electronic clicker quizzes being
administered in various classrooms. The wall behind the desk was a blank
expanse of white cinderblock broken only by three diplomas. The principal’s
desk was dominated by a large, black three ring binder filled with papers that
were filled with charts like the ones on the screens. It was a sacred relic of
the past: the principal’s data notebook.
The principal’s large, black,
high-backed leather office chair was facing away from them. A low female voice
spoke from its depths. “Please sit down, Mr. James. We’ve been awaiting your
The door slammed behind him, and Barry
turned to find the campus police officer, Deputy Spang, and another dark suited
man were standing rather ominously behind him.
“I believe she requested you to
sit,” said Spang, gesturing toward the chair, his pale face unsmiling. The dark
suited man said nothing. Barry sat. What else could he do?
Barry glanced at the name plate on
the desk. It read Dr. B. Feld: Principal of the Year. The black chair swiveled
around to reveal Dr. Feld. She was pale and round faced, and her close cut,
pink dyed hair gave her the appearance of baldness. She wore a simple, pitch
black dress with large black buttons down the front and a high collar similar
to a priest’s. On her lap sat what appeared to be a fluffy white cat, but Barry
knew better. The cat was actually a clever cross between a stuffed animal and a
puppet, and Dr. Feld’s hand was really up inside the cat’s guts.
“Mr. Bubbles is unhappy, Barry,”
Dr. Feld cooed, stroking the cat’s fur with her left hand and also moving her
right hand so the cat appeared to nuzzle her. “Can you guess why Mr. Bubbles is
Barry hated this game. This was how
she talked to all the students at the school, by transferring her emotions onto
the cat and talking about the cat and to the cat. It was all he could do to not
roll his eyes. He glanced at Quentin, who widened his eyes slightly in warning:
Barry turned back to Dr. Feld and
shrugged. “I don’t know why he’s unhappy. His kitty litter needs to be changed?”
A long, slow cruel grin spread
across Dr. Feld’s face. “Mr. Bubbles doesn’t believe you are in a position for
such facetiousness. That’s a big word. Mr. Bubbles wonders if you know what it
means.” She stroked the cat’s fur and then pretended to make it purr.
“Yes, I know what it means. Would
you like to make it into a multiple choice question?”
Dr. Feld suddenly lurched across
the shiny top of her desk, sending Mr. Bubbles ahead of her and making the
fluffy cat hiss loudly. Barry jumped back despite himself. “Yes—now we have
come to the heart of the matter, Mr. James. Multiple choice questions! You
cheated on the Federal Assessment and Review Test!”
Barry stood, defiant now. “I didn’t
cheat. My eyes were on my own paper the whole time! I didn’t look at anyone
Dr. Feld leaned back and soothed
Mr. Bubbles. “Yes, by the time you sat down with your number 2 pencil, you’d
already done the cheating, hadn’t you? You cheated a month earlier—on a highway
at midnight ten miles from here!”
Barry slammed back down into his
chair, suddenly feeling defeated.
* * *
armored truck slammed over a pothole and Barry felt as if he was about to slide
off the roof. Fortunately, the suction cups on his black airbag held.
With a sudden hiss, the laser
device stopped its buzzing, and Barry saw Quentin remove it from the metal roof
and stash it in his backpack. A small hole had been burned into the truck’s armor.
Quentin nodded toward him. It was Barry’s turn. Barry disengaged the suction
cups and let himself slide across the roof toward the freshly minted hole. The
truck sped up, and Barry suddenly found himself sliding too quickly, heading
toward the edge of the roof. He saw the line of trucks, the armored convoy of
test-mobiles, behind them, and knew that if the fall to the road didn’t kill
him, one of those vehicles’ massive tired would.
His hands grasped for something to
hold on to, but the roof was as smooth as a Teflon skillet. As he neared the edge,
he suddenly saw Quentin hurling himself across the roof toward him. They were
both about to go over the edge. Quentin grabbed his hand, and they suddenly
halted with Barry dangling over the edge. How had they stopped?
He glanced up questioningly at
Quentin, who pointed down at his suction cups. He’d reengaged them at the last
There was no time to waste. Barry
scrambled to the roof, slid over to the hole, and reengaged his own suction. He
then reached to his belt and pulled out another black device, this one a small
rectangle of plastic. He took the device, and carefully lowered it down the
opening in the armor, careful not to singe himself on the still-steaming metal.
Once he felt it settle on top of a cardboard box, he hit another small switch
with his finger, as they had rehearsed, and the rectangle opened wider—to
approximately eight and a half by eleven inches. He hit another switch and a
blinding light shone from the metal aperture.
The device was doing its work. The
blinding light was penetrating the cardboard box, scanning the top page of the
top booklet within. And when it finished with that page, the light would
increase incrementally to scan the print on the reverse of the same page, and
so on down. It would check to see that there were no missing or upside down
pages, but it would not stop on the pages with a stop sign symbol as directed.
It would keep on scanning until it had the whole booklet converted into digital
And Barry would take that data
A sudden sharp crack sounded behind
him, and Barry heard a ping against the metal of the roof. He and Quentin both
turned to look at the convoy behind them. Dark figures had appeared outside the
cab of the truck behind them. They were aiming their rifles at them. Another
sharp crack made Barry wince.
* * *
sharp crack of a book being slammed against the principal’s desk made Barry
wince. “PAY ATTENTION!” Dr. Feld barked, sliding the Webster’s Unabridged
Dictionary back down into a drawer. “We know you cheated. We have you on video
from that night. We see everything!” She gestured toward the security camera
feeds. “We see everything!” She leaned in close with Mr. Bubbles. “Mr. Bubbles
wonders—how did this plot of yours start? Who gave you the idea to cheat on
such a grand scale?” Mr. Bubbles was suddenly right in his face, nose to nose,
and if Barry didn’t know any better, he’d swear he heard it growl.
* * *
had all started in Mrs. Bruce’s class, actually, on a day just before Winter
Break, when she was discussing what they would be doing in class when they
returned in the new year after break.
“When we come back, you all need to
buckle down. We will be getting ready for the Federal Assessment and Review
Test, which will be in March. You have never taken this test before, but it’s
very, very important for third graders. I don’t want to scare you or pressure
you, but if you don’t pass the Reading portion of the test, you won’t be able
to pass third grade. You’ll be here again, while all your friends leave you
behind. But don’t stress out! No pressure! Just don’t fail!”
Barry glanced across the tables in
his group and caught Quentin’s eye. He could tell they were both thinking the
same thing. Quentin would pass; Barry would fail, and they would be separated
for the rest of their school careers.
No more working on outrageously
complicated history projects, like the detailed Egyptian Pyramid made to scale
out of sugar cubes. No more incredible Science fair projects, like the
simulated black hole built from an old vacuum cleaner and crepe paper. No more
creating math problems more complicated than the ones in the textbook and
stumping the teacher. It would all be over. Barry saw their friendship flash
before his eyes.
Because Quentin was a good reader
and a good test taker. Barry had trouble reading, so he avoided it. And he
wasn’t a good test taker, except maybe at Math. But the Reading FART would doom
him. He could see himself sitting in third grade when he turned 18, his arms
dangling to the floor as he sat in his tiny little blue plastic chair. Dr. Feld
would finally come in and tell him he had to drop out.
When recess time came around, they had
gone out to the swings and pumped their legs until they were flying higher and
higher, as if to put themselves above everything. They spoke in short bursts
and snatches of words as they passed each other, flying to and fro on their
“This stinks! I’ll never…” said
“…pass!” finished Quentin as they
drew near each other.”We won’t be in the same grade together again! I’ll
“…a whole year earlier than I
The two boys swept past each other,
back and forth, Barry’s pale skin and black hair coming forward, and then
receding as Quentin’s red hair and freckles came forward.
“We need to find a way to make you pass!”
“Maybe we should ask…”
“…the teacher! Yeah, Mrs. Bruce.
She could tell you how…”
“…to pass the test!”
But when they asked Mrs. Bruce, all
she said was, “Pay attention in class and try harder!” Not helpful at all.
night, Barry slept over at Quentin’s house. Together they discussed the
situation far into the night in a tent set up in Quentin’s bedroom. It would take a miracle to get Barry to pass
the test, they decided.
“Actually, I think there might be a few
miracles in my dad’s basement,” said Quentin. “I think he’d let me borrow
Barry’s dad sold vacuum cleaners at Sears,
a less than thrilling profession. But everyone thought that Quentin’s dad was
even duller: he sold toilet flappers. But what everyone thought was wrong, it
It was a quarter past two in the morning
when Barry and Quentin reached the bottom of the basement stairs. Barry
realized he had never been into Quentin’s basement. As he watched his friend
punch a complicated password into a keypad by a metal door, he realized why.
The door hissed open, not wide like a
regular door, but to the side like a door on Star Trek, and they entered a dark
room full of metal cabinets, metal tables, large screen computers, and blinking
colored console lights.
“Lights up,” said Quentin. The lights came
up to reveal a room that Thomas Edison would have envied.
“I thought your dad sold toilet flappers!”
“Well, he invented the world’s best toilet flapper, and that patent
drew the attention of the government. Now he invents… other things for them.”
Quentin pointed to a plaque on the main desk that read Quinn Cue, Inventor of
Non-Lethal Weapons and Surveillance Hardware.
“Are you really supposed to be in
here? Am I really supposed to be in
here?” asked Barry, backing towards the door.
“I’m in here all the time, just
usually with Dad. Hey, look at this—it’s an underwater Taser.”
“But how can this stuff help me
pass the FART?” asked Barry.
“And look at this thing—it can turn
individually packed snack packs of pudding into mini stink bombs.”
“Would you focus?” Barry pleaded.
“Okay fine. Here’s how this stuff
will help you pass. We use it to get our hands on a copy of the test.”
* * *
told Dr. Feld about his fear of being separated from his best friend, but not
about his best friend’s father’s inventions. That aspect of the tale needed to
remain a secret. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Dr. Feld. I didn’t
cheat. I’ll admit I didn’t want to fail—and that I didn’t want to get separated
from Quentin for the rest of my school years…”
Dr. Feld raised an eyebrow at him
from across the desk. “A very touching story. But you should have thought about
the possibility of being held back before you decided to be lazy and stupid.”
She scratched Mr. Bubbles behind the ears. “Shouldn’t he, my little fuzzy-wuzzy?”
She looked back at Barry and flipped through her data notebook. “I mean look at
this, pages and pages of data, numbers that practically spell out the words,
‘Barry James is stupid and lazy!”
Quentin finally spoke up, his
indignation overcoming his timidity. “He isn’t lazy, or stupid! Do you realize
the research we had to do?” He stood up, nearly leaning across the desk at his
principal. Then his skin went pale, throwing his freckles into stark relief, as
he realized that he had just spilled the beans.
“Ah, ha!” shouted Dr. Feld
triumphantly. “You admit your guilt! You are now officially implicated as well,
Mr. Cue. You are no longer merely a person of interest.” She realized she’d
held her arms aloft in a gesture of victory for a moment, thus ruining the
illusion that Mr. Bubbles was a real cat. She sat back down, adjusting the
puppet into its feline-like pose again. “Mr. Bubbles is very happy that we’re
getting to the truth! Aren’t you Mr. Bubbles?”
And she was indeed getting closer
to the truth, Barry realized.
* * *
had been a ton of research. Using Mr. Cue’s research lab, they had tapped into
secret databases and hidden records of the CIA, FBI, NSA, and the Department of
Education. They read document after official document. There were too many for
Quentin to cover on his own, so Barry had, of necessity, waded into the ocean
of digital text, layers and layers of densely worded education-ese and
government double speak. They discovered the location in Texas where the FART
was produced, and then, bit by bit, they had learned how the tests were transported
by armored and armed-guarded transport from Texas to the other states where it
was administered. Millions were being spent to transport hundreds of thousands
of pounds of test booklets across state lines. Eventually, they discovered the
specific type of armored vehicle and the route it would take to get to their
state—a route that would send it right past their town.
They researched Mr. Cue’s devices,
discovering which ones might be useful and which ones to reject. When it came
time to plan the actual heist, Quentin felt that Barry wasn’t quite “getting”
how a mission was supposed to run, so he handed him spy novels: Ian Fleming,
John le Carré, Ken Follett, Robert Ludlum. At first, Barry found them too hard,
but with a little coaching from Quentin, he began to pore through them. Once he
got the idea, he proved to be an expert planner, and soon their mission plans
had begun to coalesce.
* * *
“It’s all coming together, now,
isn’t it Mr. Bubbles?” Dr. Feld gloated. “Quentin Cue has as much as admitted
the deed!” She looked from Quentin over to Barry. “Would you like to confess as
well?” She paused, but Barry remained silent. “No matter. You are in trouble
now, no matter what. You are in the biggest trouble of your life!”
Not on your life! thought Barry. We were in more trouble that
* * *
the bullets flew around them, they tried to crawl further up the roof of the
truck to get away from the gunmen. But they couldn’t move fast enough; there
was nothing to grip on the smooth surface, and it was too risky to deactivate
their suction cups anyway.
“Execute Manuever PD-5!” Quentin’s
voice yelled through the speaker in Barry’s ear.
Barry thought for just a moment,
then remembered what the code meant. He reached back into his backpack and
pulled out a gun of his own—a modified Super-Soaker squirt gun. He managed to
swing around and faced the truck behind them. He aimed carefully, using the
digital targeting on his goggles, and fired. A glob of green slime flew from
his weapon, flew downwards and hit the muzzle of one of the guard’s rifles. The
guard seemed not to notice, but when he tried to fire again, nothing happened.
Barry watched him as pulled the rifle up and looked at the muzzle. He tried to
pull the gunk off, but only succeeded in getting his hand stuck to it. The
guard behind him raised his rifle, only to receive his own dose of gunk from
Quentin’s squirt gun.
Within minutes the guards were
nearly all neutralized. The two boys high fived each other, and stashed their
nearly spent non-lethal weapons back in their packs. At that moment, a beeping
sounded in Barry’s ear. The scanner device was done. He swiveled around,
reached down the hole in the roof, and retrieved the device which now held his
scanned version of the FART.
He felt elated, sure of their
victory—until he saw a black gloved hand rise over the edge of the truck roof
and slam down on the metal surface with a magnetically charged glove. The
guards had come to them.
* * *
let’s bring this all home, shall we?” Dr. Feld said, leaning back in her chair.
“We caught your face on security video, on the roof of the armored test-mobile,
Mr. James. Your collaborator, here, Mr. Cue, was fortunate enough to evade our
cameras, but confessed to the crime. And your test scores speak for themselves.
What do you have to say for yourself?”
“What do you mean, my test scores
speak for themselves? My test scores stink because I’m stupid—and I didn’t cheat!”
Barry knew he wasn’t lying. He really hadn’t cheated.
* * *
point!” Quentin yelled as two more guards managed to climb onto the roof.
Barry turned and looked. Ahead of
them, a pedestrian footbridge spanned the road. “On my count!” he yelled.
“One!” They disengaged suction and flipped onto their backs. “Two!” They pulled
grappling hooks with tethers off their belts and aimed them at the top of the
cyclone safety fencing. “Three!” They fired the hooks, which latched onto the top
of the fence. A guard reached out with his magnetic glove and gripped Barry’s
backpack. Barry felt himself being pulled backward. He saw Quentin make a
motion, shining a flashlight in the
guard’s night vision goggles, blinding him. He screamed and let go of the pack.
Barry and Quentin hit buttons on their belts and flew upwards toward the
bridge. Once they were on the fence, they quickly climbed over the top and only
glanced down briefly at the rest of the armored convoy rumbling past.
A quick jaunt down the pedestrian
trail, a brief stop to grab their lunch boxes out of the trees, and they were
back to Quentin’s house. They snuck in the back door, careful not to wake Mr.
Cue and Mrs. Cue, and went up to their tent, in Quentin’s room, where an MP3
file of their endless chatter was playing on a loop to make the room sound
They uploaded the file to Barry’s
laptop and opened it.
It was blank.
“The magnetic gloves,” said
Quentin, crestfallen. “They erased the data.”
* * *
have all the data we need to expel you, to bring you up on criminal charges, to
sue your family for everything they’re worth!” said Dr. Feld, sitting back in
her black leather chair with a self-satisfied leer. “Your face on the video.
Your friend’s confession. Your test score.”
Barry found himself shaking his
head in bafflement. “What about my test score? It must have been a ‘1’ or ‘2’
because I didn’t cheat!”
“No, Mr. James. It was not a ‘1’ or
‘2’ or even a ‘3.’ It was a ‘5,’ very nearly a perfect score. Very nearly as
perfect as your friend’s.” She nodded at Quentin.
Barry sat back in his chair, his
head spinning. How can this be? I didn’t
cheat! I just sat and took the test. How did I suddenly get smart?
Dr. Feld gestured to the door, and
the man in the black suit stepped forward. “This is Mr. Goldfinger, a
representative of the testing company, SPECTRE. He will be serving your parents
with legal papers that will hold you accountable for the loss of test
reliability and damage to the armored truck and to the weapons you ruined in
your elaborate scheme to cheat the test.”
Barry slumped downward in his seat,
and he saw Quentin do the same. It was all over for them.
“You will both be sent to Underage
Delinquent Charter School to be reformed. You, Mr. James, will of course be
kept in 3rd grade because you cheated on the test.”
Barry leaned forward, put his hands
over his face. He wasn’t going to let this woman see him cry.
“Mr. Bubbles thinks this is all too
delicious, don’t you Mr. Bubbles?”
Barry wanted to strangle Mr.
Bubbles, even though he was just a puppet.
At that moment, the door swung
open, and they heard the secretary saying, “You’re not allowed to go in there,
sir, this is a private meeting!”
“And one my son is in! I’m
attending this meeting, thank you very much!” came a British-accented voice. Barry
turned and saw a tall, red-haired, mustached figure in a pin-striped suit
towering in the doorway. “Hello, son,” he said to Quentin. “Hello, Barry. Sorry
Dr. Feld stood in her seat. “Mr.
Bubbles is very unhappy at this intrusion!”
“Stop telling everyone on this
campus about the feelings of a ridiculous stuffed animal. It’s the most asinine
thing I’ve ever seen! Mr. Cue, who happens to be me,” he said, speaking in
third person, “is very unhappy about not being invited to this meeting.”
Dr. Felt sat down, glaring at Mr.
“I understand you have a confession
from my son and a video of Barry from the night the armored test mobile was
Now Dr. Feld smiled. “Yes, indeed,
Mr. Cue. We do.”
Mr. Cue stood behind his son.
“Could you tell me exactly what my son said?”
“Why, I believe I have it recorded,
right here!” said Dr. Feld, pressing a button on a console in her top desk
All the video screens turned to one
image: an image of the office they were in some ten minutes earlier. From the
perspective of a camera up in the corner of the room, Quentin could be seen
saying, “He isn’t lazy, or stupid! Do you realize the research we had to do?”
“You see?” Dr. Feld asked
“I see that my son defended his
best friend from being called lazy and stupid by his principal, and then
admitting to doing research. Is research illegal at this school, Dr. Feld?”
“Well, no… but…”
“Then I see no admission of guilt.
As to the video, you say that it shows the face of the person involved in the
theft of the test booklet?”
“But it wasn’t an unretouched
photo, was it? You had to sharpen it, to optimize it, to make it look like
Barry, didn’t you?”
“Well, yes… But it’s a very valid
investigative technique. I’ll show you!” Dr. Feld hit another button, and the
video screens all went to an image of the top of an armored vehicle. It was in
extremely grainy black and white.
As the image came into focus, Mr.
Cue casually commented, “Yes, but depending on who’s using this investigative
technique, you get very different results… This is the image, taken the night
of the heist, from a camera mounted on a guard’s helmet. I took the liberty of
visiting your server, accessing your database, and sharpening and optimizing
the image myself, and I got a very different result. Now, if you’ll zoom in,
Dr. Feld.” The picture on the screens
narrowed in on the frozen image of a black suited figure firing a large squirt
gun toward the camera. “In my enhanced version, we see…”
Dr. Feld grinned as she clicked on
the remote. “… and we see that the culprit was Mr. Ja…What? It can’t be!!”
The face in the photo was round,
pale… and female. It was Dr. Feld’s face.
see how you’ve been getting your high scores at this school, Dr. Feld. It isn’t
difficult when you’ve pilfered the test.”Dr. Cue smiled pleasantly.
“No—that can’t be! I wasn’t there!”
Dr. Feld drew Mr. Bubbles closer to her, her eyes darting in every direction.
“Well, my photo was no more
optimized than yours, Dr. Feld. Once you start manipulating data, you find
you’re on a very slippery slope.” Mr. Cue pulled out his smartphone.
"Shall I send my version to the local and national media outlets to see if
they’d be interested in adding it to the 24 hour news-cycle, along with the
security camera clip of you calling one of your students stupid and lazy?”
“NO!” she screamed, picking up her huge
data notebook and hurling it toward the largest of the TV screens, which
exploded in a shower of sparks.
Mr. Cue pulled Barry and Quentin
from their chairs and toward the door, away from the sparking monitor. “My, my!
We must learn to watch our temper, Dr. Feld. By the way, you have no evidence that Barry cheated on
the test—your in-class security cameras prove that his eyes were on his own
test the entire time. He passed fair and square, and will be moving on to
Dr. Feld turned pale—or, rather,
paler—with rage. She flung Mr. Bubbles across the room and picked up her black
leather chair and hurled it toward the data screens. The chair crashed into the
screens, which cracked and crashed to the floor in a shower of sparks. One of
the monitors crashed down on the stuffed puppet cat, crushing it and catching
its fur on fire. “NO!” Dr. Feld crawled across the floor to try to rescue the
“Shocking, positively shocking!”
said Mr. Cue.
Mr. Cue turned to leave, to find
Mr. Goldfinger blocking his way.
“We know your son and his friend
were the culprits. We will find a way to prove it. We will have damages!”
Cue never flinched. “You move one finger in that direction, and I’ll have footage
of your men shooting at eight year old boys all over the news so fast it’ll
make your heads spin.” He flung the door open and led Barry and Quentin out
through the office, past the evil glare of Mrs. Klebb. Behind them they heard
the sound of all the remaining monitors in the principal’s office shattering,
and Dr. Feld shrieking her defeat.
Mr. Cue led them out into the sunlight
“Thanks, Dad!” said Quentin. “You were
Mr. Cue pulled them both in front of him,
and looked at them intensely, his lips pale. “If I was awesome, my son wouldn’t
have gone behind my back to help his friend cheat! If I was awesome, my very
intelligent son would have had the common sense to know he was putting my job,
not to mention two lives, at risk. I am appalled!”
Quentin’s lip trembled; tears built up
around the edges of his eyes. “I’m really sorry, Dad.”
A long moment passed. Barry wanted to melt
into the sidewalk.
But then Mr. Cue said, “But my inventions
all worked, didn’t they?” A crooked smile spread across his face.
Quentin sniffled and grinned, wiping his
nose on his sleeve. “They worked great, Dad!”
Barry heaved a sigh of relief. The tension
past, he voiced the question that had been bothering him since they were in Dr.
Feld’s office. “How did I pass that test—I mean I got an almost perfect score.
I’m terrible at test taking!”
“Tell me how you pulled off that
mission of yours, boys.”
“Well, we did a lot of research,”
said Quentin, “and a ton of reading.”
“And I read loads of spy novels,”
said Barry. “They were great! And then we had to write out plans out, and
create drawings and diagrams, and… and… Oh. I think I figured out how I got
“Clever boy. If only the schools
would realize what makes for a first rate brain,” said Mr. Cue.
“Well,” replied Barry, “if they
want first rate brains, maybe they should stop settling for number two