Chapter 19

“Ari,” demanded Arden as she reached the Daylatch Academy gate right behind him. She paused to catch her breath. “Have you thought about this at all? How are we supposed to get through this gate?”

“I don’t know,” he replied.
The stone wall loomed tall, gray, and ominous. There was no easy way to get over it, and the iron gate was locked shut, as usual. “When Uncle Ellery had an appointment, he pushed the button on this speaker box and they let him in.”

“Hmm…” mumbled Arden. She reached through the gate, her finger hovering over the call button. Suddenly, she pushed it.
The black box emitted a crackling splutter of noise, followed by the squawking, impatient voice Ari recognized as Helga, the squat secretary.

“Yes?” blurted Helga.

“Hello,” began Arden, in as adult a voice as she could manage. “We’re here to repair the…”

“Dishwasher!” whispered Ari.

“Dishwasher,” repeated Arden. “What do you mean dishwasher?” she hissed at Ari. “Why would they have a dishwasher?”

“We did not call for any repairs,” replied Helga snippily. “Our students wash the dishes here.”

“I’m sorry,” said Arden, “It seems I’m looking at the wrong page of my repair book. I meant…”

But she was interrupted by the blaring of a truck horn. Ari turned. The Sneezy’s Feed’em Cheap truck was barrelling down Duchy Street. It slammed to a halt, facing the gate, as Arden and Ari jumped out of the way.

“Hey kid,” hollared the driver, leaning out the truck window. “Do me a favor and punch that button!”

Ari shrugged and pushed the black button.

“We did not call for a repair!” bellowed Helga through the speaker box.

“Repair?” hollared Mr. Sneezy from his truck. “Who said anything about a repair? It’s Mr. Sneezy! You want your chow or not?”

“Mr. Sneezy?” blurted Helga. “Watch the gate please!”

Ari wondered if any boys would try to escape in the Sneezy’s truck this time. But he only wondered that for a second before he realized that if a kid could escape in the truck, maybe a kid could un-escape in the truck.

The gate started to creak and groan, and slowly slide open.
“Come on,” said Ari, pulling Arden quickly along with him. He couldn’t tell whether Mr. Sneezy could see them or not, but he knew it was now or never. He grabbed the handle and opened the truck’s rear door, hoping that the creaking sound was drowned out by the clanking and rattling of the Daylatch gate opening.

Ari clambered into the truck, with Arden right behind him. They squished themselves between boxes labeled “Gruel with gravy” and “Instant pork chops–just add water.”

“I don’t think he heard us,” whispered Arden.

“Good,” replied Ari, shaking his head in disbelief as the truck lurched forward and a bag of “Sandwich rolls–plain,” fell on top of him.
About two minutes of stomach-churning jolts later, the truck squealed to a halt and they heard the driver’s door open, then close with a bang.

“Now what?” whispered Arden. “What are you going to say when he opens the door?”
But Ari had no time to respond before the door swung open and Mr. Sneezy’s flabbergasted face was inches from his.

“MISTER Sneezy!” began Ari in an important tone.

Arden butted in. “These instant pork chops are not being transported under proper refrigeration!” she scolded. “Do you want to be reported to the Food Safety Bureau?”

“The WHAT Bureau?” spluttered Mr. Sneezy. “They don’t need refrigeration! They’re instant!”

“Oh,” said Arden. “I see. Mr Soffit! Why didn’t you inform me as to the status of the pork chops?” She grabbed Ari by the arm and pulled him out of the truck behind her. “Next we must inspect the bathroom tissue supply.”

“Hey kid!” hollared Mr. Sneezy.

“Run,” said Arden under her breath. “That way.”

“You got a lucky break this time Sneezy!” shouted Ari as they dashed away, and around the drab brick building where the truck was parked.

“Do you think he’ll come after us?” asked Arden. They were crouched behind a dumpster which smelled exactly, she supposed, like rotting instant pork chops would smell.

“Well,” replied Ari, “we’re not really his problem. Maybe he won’t care. Let’s just figure out how we’re going to break two-hundred kids out of this jail.”

There was scarcely a sound other than the banging and muttering of Mr. Sneezy wrestling with his hand truck on the other side of the building.

“They might be in class,” suggested Arden.

“It’s a holiday,” Ari reminded her. “We’d better just look in windows until we figure something out.”
They peered in the window next to the dumpster. It appeared to be dining hall storage–more boxes with labels like ‘dehydrated juice–artificial apple flavor.

“Maybe there’s a gymnasium,” suggested Arden.

“Here?” said Ari dismissively. “I doubt it. But they’ve gotta be somewhere.”
It was easier than they’d expected to dart from building to building, thanks to the thick shrubs which had been planted many years ago, but were now overgrown from neglect.

There were no students in a classroom building. None in a bleak dormitory where metal beds lined the wall. And perhaps more surprising than the absence of students was the conspicuous lack of the blue-shirted, motorcycle-riding security force.

“No guards,” whispered Ari.

“Maybe they went to the fight,” replied Arden. “What about over there?”
She pointed toward the newly constructed, cold and modern building Ari had noticed when he came here with Uncle Ellery.

“No windows though,” he said. “We’ll have to go in to see if that’s where they are.”

No windows meant that they could approach the door easily enough without being spotted, but the big question remained–what would be behind the door when they opened it?

“Oh, we’re about to get tackled by seven goons, is my guess,” suggested Arden. “I hope you’re ready.”

“Yep,” replied Ari. He opened the front door. Gentle music tinkled sweetly from overhead, and the smell of orange blossoms wafted faintly through what appeared to be a comfortable reception area.

“Well, hello,” came the lilting voice of a beautifully polished lady behind the front desk. “Welcome to the home of Hunka-Vites vitamins for children! We’ve been waiting for you!”

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