The story was that he was a dangerous, ruthless renegade. Nobody thought he would ever come back, after “disappearing” five years ago, to take a final bow before the curtain closed on his act. He was like the midnight train that had jumped the track. He moved like a ghost, and he always had his earphones hanging down around his neck. He was a legend at Northwest Academy. Daniel the King, Renegade Quade. Everyone had different names for him. Though most had forgotten him, no one had forgotten those days on the riverbank playing Camelot. In a way Daniel was just an ordinary kid, with a strange way of making you do what he wanted. And he didn’t even know he had that power over people. He was just someone people listened to. Like Hitler. And that’s what scared the teachers. In reality, Daniel was a sweet, creative boy, and he got a kick out of the fact that everyone thought he was a hood. Especially since it proved how gullible people really are, and it made the plan so much easier.
The parking lot was empty except for one midnight blue model T. It was raining. The grass was dusted with silver, brightening the green of the abundant poplars. Almost everyone was standing at the floor-to-ceiling window in the cafeteria, watching him. From the Ford trunk, he took his old beat-up guitar case, slung his black bag over his shoulder. He wore jeans and a blue NWA hoodie that was pulled up to hide his dark hair. The stillness of the cafeteria allowed us to hear the steps of his boots. He walked up the steps of the North Dorm House and disappeared.
The clock on the far wall ticked loudly, and the monitors hadn’t noticed our preoccupation yet.
“Daniel William Quade,” someone breathed. “The King is back.”
We glanced at each other, than back at the boarding house. The door never opened again. Conversation restarted in low, uncertain murmurs. What was he doing here? He was supposed to be gone without a trace, having been forgotten from our minds since we were thirteen. The only person left now at the window, I pressed my hands to the glass and peered into the rain. Room sixty-seventy-nine, seven floors up. Daniel was there, watching me.
I was the only one who knew why he had “disappeared,” and I knew why he was here now. With a slow, deliberate motion, he put his finger to his lips with a little smile.
The King was back, indeed.
“Ali!” exclaimed Felicity Colter like she had been looking for me everywhere. “Principal Thomson requests your presence in his office at once! Make haste, if you please!” Felicity was obsessed with talking like an eighteenth century Londoner. I dumped my breakfast tray on the cafeteria conveyor belt and wandered into the hall. If Mr. Thomson said he wanted to see me in his office, he really meant that he was being held up in the hallway by some business call and I would have better luck finding him in the Garner wing. I knew him. Sometimes it felt like I was his personal servant or something. I was chagrined to see that I still had fifteen minutes before my first class.
When I found him, I walked alongside him. He was striding down the wing flanked by Ms. Gregson and Mr. Hart, whom Daniel and I liked to call his government officials. He was shouting at some poor unfortunate soul over his bluetooth headset. Daniel and Mr. Thomson shared the same thick dark hair and wide brown eyes, though Thomson’s were always popped out of his face in rage and Daniel tried to keep his narrowed and fierce.
“Will you hold on a minute?” he screamed irritably, and it was only evident that he was talking to me when he halted his furious stride and fixed his eyes on mine.
“Ali. I need you to run the recompense initiative by Mr. Sandlan again, he just doesn’t seem to understand. Sometimes I think that man is a just a lazy little–well, never mind.” he grimaced and pressed his finger to his ear again. “Hello! Yes, about the student files…”
I mashed my teeth together as I walked back toward the main building. Just because I was student body president…This was just part of the plan, just part of the plan. I worried that this was working a little too well.
The recompense initiative. Designed to reward the good behavior of students, it centered around grades, attendance, and general behavior. Every percent and days you go to school goes into your recompense account, and interest rises or falls depending on your attitude. If you landed in the principal’s (Mr Thomson’s) office, you got recompense taken away, and you could use more to get yourself out without a record. If you got a poor score on a test you could carry over your score from an assignment to make it look better, except that one test percent was worth eight assignment percents. I created the whole thing, and now it was up to me to put it into effect.
I went to class early and sat reading my full collection of Sherlock Holmes. It was almost the only time I got to myself. The guy amazed me, and his science of deduction was fascinating, if not mind-boggling. The classroom soon filled up, and I knew when Daniel walked in the second silence dropped over the room like a cloud. Like in the cafeteria, it seemed like the only sound was that of his black boots. I hardly looked up from my book to catch him sauntering in, staring broodingly at a couple of people and an extra-long stare at Professor Sandlan. Inside I was dissolving with laughter. This was not the boy who was afraid of moths and thought I Am Number Four was the best thing that had happened to humanity. Just the other day he was standing in the topmost branches of the old sycamore tree trying to signal Pittacus Lore or the Mogadorians or something. Now he kicked his boots up onto the desk in front of him, flipped back his rain soaked hood, and nodded at the teacher. Letting him know that he, the life of the crowd, had arrived, and the party could begin.
We usually met at the river, but the weather was still giving us grief so we decided to meet in the old home ec room at lunch. He was restless, pacing back and forth. The small enclosed room enticed him to lean against the wall as if he could hold it back. He wasn’t quite Daniel Quade yet; the King had quite a grip sometimes. I announced myself by dumping my bag on the desk.
“Glad to have you back.”
“Yeah, well, i didn’t think my father would manage to make such a mess of everything.” He was talking about the recompense initiative.
“Um, yeah. Totally. Your father did that all by himself, that’s right.” I shut my mouth. I would never need a polygraph in life. I was a terrible liar in the first place. I don’t know why I didn’t just tell Daniel the truth, that it was me who had done it, not Mr Thomson, because that would mean I had deviated from the plan. I didn’t want to face him, and I didn’t know who I would face. Daniel or the King. I didn’t want to find out.
“So what’s our status on Operation: Plan B?” Daniel asked, perching on the stool next to me. I flinched away, thinking that he would somehow read my mind. It wouldn’t have mattered. In short, this was not good.