Chapter 14

Finbar Fenker and Flossie Beemis shrieked and cheered and clung to the ropes of the boxing ring. In one corner, Ari wiped the sweat off Uncle Ellery’s brow and handed him water. In the opposite corner crouched Wilton Daylatch, with eight lanky tarantula legs, all tapping impatiently for the bell to resume the fight, while Granny Frappler, with a whistle in her mouth, refereed from the center of the ring.

RRRrrrring! went the bell. Ari smacked the snooze button on his alarm clock and blinked at his room until he was quite sure that there was no tarantula-Daylatch hybrid lurking in the corner.

It was Sunday, and the scent of cinnamon-raisin bagels wafting up from the deli oven pushed the last remnants of the dream out of his head. Ari got dressed quickly. Luckily Uncle Ellery had baking help on Sundays, and luckily they closed by mid-day, but the Sunday morning rush required all available hands, so Ari hurried downstairs to help at the counter.

“Now Ellery, I’m worried,” said Mrs. Stoutling as she waited for her usual half-dozen onion bagels. “Boxing can be a dangerous sport–and you with your brother’s child to raise…” She shook her finger scoldingly as she reached for her bagel bag.

“Not to worry Mrs. Stoutling,” said Uncle Ellery casually. “I’ve been training.”

There were only a few bagels left in the bin by the time Uncle Ellery locked the front door for the afternoon. He sliced the two remaining sesame seed bagels, slapped on some turkey, tomato and mustard, and handed one to Ari.

“That fight isn’t going to happen anyway,” said Ari before taking a big bite of his sandwich.

“It’s not a big deal,” replied Uncle Ellery. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I no’ worried abou’ it,” mumbled Ari with his mouth full of bagel, “because it’s not going to happen.”

“Is that your guarantee to me?” said Uncle Ellery with a smile. “Well, here’s mine to you. You’ll never go to Daylatch Academy. We’re going to work this thing out, and stay on our feet.”

Ari smiled back. It was okay if Uncle Ellery didn’t believe him. He just needed to believe it himself.


“Ka-pow! Ka-pow!” taunted Finbar Fenker, feigning boxing moves as Ari put his lunch in his locker at school the next day.
“Who’s gonna make your tasty lunch,” chanted Finbar as he did a rap dance in the middle of the hallway, “when Hunker throws the one-two punch?”

“Fenker,” said Ari darkly, “shut up.”

Finbar did not shut up. Instead he danced some crazier dance steps and pulled a stack of dollar bills out of his pocket. “Place your bets, I’m earning loads,” chanted Finbar, “When Ellery Soffit’s head explodes!”

Someone grabbed Ari’s elbow and abruptly pulled him down the hallway away from Finbar Fenker.

“Walk,” said Arden firmly. “Just walk, and go in the classroom.” She pushed him through the doorway to Mrs. Kirkle’s class.

“Ari!” called Flossie Beemis, pausing just long enough to glare at Arden. “Oh Ari! What if you become an orphan? Living in an orphanage would be so tragic!”

“Don’t sweat it,” said Ari. “I’m already an orphan.”

Flossie clasped her hands tragically. “But you’d be an even more orphaned orphan!” she said.

For once, Jimmy Jasper’s off-key humming was a welcome sound as Ari tried to ignore the stares of curious classmates and focus on history.

“Class,” said Mrs. Kirkle, “who can tell me something about the ancient Greeks?”

Jimmy Jasper’s hand shot up. “Greece is where the Olympics started,” he called out. “And they even had boxing in the early days!”

“True,” replied Mrs. Kirkle. “But we’re not going to talk about boxing today.” She cast a sympathetic glance at Ari, which he found almost more painful than Finbar’s taunts. “Anyone else?”

Math was no easier than history even though Mrs. Kirkle stopped Finbar from reading his word problem that started out “If it takes three punches to break your nose, and five punches to rupture your spleen…”

But Mrs. Kirkle was nowhere to be seen at recess as Finbar Fenker collected dollars from students placing bets on the boxing match, and he stayed annoyingly close to Ari as he added verses to his rap song. “Another dollar says that Dudge, pounds Soffit to a greasy smudge,” rapped Finbar.

“Don’t listen,” insisted Arden. “Let’s brainstorm about who Blackeye could be.”

“I’m trying not to,” Ari assured her. “Blackeye…Blackeye…”

“Two black eyes and a bloody snout when Hunker punches Soffit out!” sang Finbar, right behind Ari.

“FENKER!” shouted Ari. He spun around, fist clenched and ready to swing.

“No!” yelled Arden, grabbing his arm. “Don’t do it!”

“What’s going on here?” bellowed Mr. Spambly the other fifth grade teacher. “Let’s try to cool it off boys! Mr. Soffit, maybe a little talk with the counselor will settle you down.”

Arden shrugged and made a face that was probably supposed to mean “calm down,” as Ari followed Mr. Spambly into the counselor’s office.

Miss Flowers the counselor had a brief and kindly talk with Ari before excusing him to go back to class. So he was feeling slightly better as he left her office, but as he entered the main reception area his blood froze.

“Young Mr. Soffit,” said Wilton Daylatch with oily smoothness, as he reached for a file folder the secretary was handing him. “I was just collecting the records for a student who’ll be transferring from here to my school.”

Ari thought instantly of Marky Booker, the fourth grader who’d set off three bottle rockets at last week’s assembly. But he said nothing in reply, and continued into the hallway with the uncomfortable feeling that Daylatch was right behind him.

“A little trouble on the playground?” asked Daylatch.

It sounded like a taunt to Ari.

“Why didn’t you hit him sooner?” asked Daylatch.

Ari looked at Daylatch, but still said nothing.

“We could train you,” continued Daylatch. “At my school. The Fight Club has grown quite a bit since your Uncle’s day.”

“I’m not going to your school,” said Ari. He turned toward his classroom.

“I see,” said Daylatch coolly. “You’ll never find it alone, you know.”

Every instinct in Ari’s body told him to ignore Daylatch, but in spite of himself he stopped. “Find what?” he said.

“Dewey’s compass,” replied Daylatch. “It’s well known that he set up some kind of crazy treasure hunt before he died, but it’s also well known that he belonged in a looney bin. You’ll never find it. The trail’s too cold.”

“I’m supposed to be in class,” said Ari.

“But perhaps if we compare notes,” said Daylatch.

“No way,” said Ari. He nearly ran into the classroom. A reprimand from Mrs. Kirkle for slamming the door was better than another word from Daylatch.

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