Chapter 2

Ari’s first day back at school wasn’t as bad as he’d been afraid it might be. Finbar Fenker smirked at him, and even snorted a little. Ari shrugged, but didn’t feel like he needed to count to ten. Luckily, at square dancing time, Mrs. Kirkle assigned partners and Ari only had to touch Flossie Beemis once or twice during the right and left grand. Arden Feeny still glared, but there was something a little less glary about it.

When the dismissal bell rang Ari left by the main entrance, planning to kick a can back to the Deli by way of Spoke Street, but there was something frighteningly suspicious about the way Flossie Beemis seemed to be waiting…for someone…by the flagpole. What if she was waiting for him? Ari did a quick U-turn around the enormous black walnut tree by the main entrance and headed out the backdoor of the school to kick his can up Duchy Street instead.

A tall gray stone wall ran along the west side of Duchy Street as it climbed the hill toward the center of town. A dreary, cold stone wall which separated Daylatch Military Academy for Active Boys from the rest of the town of DiRosa. The same stone wall that Uncle Ellery spent most of his teenage years behind. But there was something drearier about it now. Something colder.

Uncle Ellery told stories about how the boys, in blue t-shirts and white sailor caps, would row boats on the harbor (Daylatch boys rowed for exercise and discipline) or visit a nearby farm (Daylatch boys baled hay for sport and discipline.) Uncle Ellery said that Daylatch Academy used to be the best school around for hard to manage boys. He said that several mayors and many fine citizens of the town of DiRosa had once been students there. But even by the time Uncle Ellery was a student, things were changing. That’s when Wilton Daylatch, the founder’s great-grandson, came to teach. And eventually, become the school’s headmaster.

Ari couldn’t remember ever seeing a boy leave Daylatch Academy anymore. And the gray wall, which used to be a favorite nightspot for feisty neighborhood cats looking for a fight, was now topped with an ugly coil of barbed wire.

And here, at the crest of the hill, was the gate. A tall black gate of spindly wrought-iron with the words “Daylatch Military Academy” starkly bolted to it in tarnished brass. Closed, as always. But, to Ari’s great surprise, it was now slowly creaking open.

Ari almost never saw the gate open. He stopped the can with his foot, and stared curiously at the Daylatch gate. A battered truck with the words “Sneezy’s Feed ‘em Cheap” painted on the side was coming out. It must have just delivered some of that notorious Daylatch grub. Uncle Ellery still shuddered when he talked about Daylatch meals and the horrible day when Wilton Daylatch had fired the entire, friendly, dining hall staff and brought in workers and a new menu of his own choosing.

Ari kept watching as the Sneezy’s truck began to turn onto Duchy Street. But the noisy truck, as much as its engine clanked and popped, was no match for the sudden blaring of an alarm on the Daylatch gate, and a voice bellowing, from nowhere in particular, “Attention! Sneezy’s truck! Please halt for inspection! Attention! Sneezy’s truck! Please halt for inspection!”

The truck driver looked startled, but showed no sign of stopping until a pair of gleaming black motorcycles with blue flashing lights squealed through the open gate, roared around him, and blocked his exit.

Something about this situation made Ari feel very uncomfortable, but he was too intrigued to leave now.

A black car emerged from beyond the gray wall and stopped behind the Sneezy’s truck. The man who got out of the car was tall and spindly, like a spider on two legs, and he was followed by a short, scrawny twig of a man. Ari recognized the tall one. He’d seen him in town and in the newspaper. It was Wilton Daylatch, headmaster of Daylatch Academy.

The Sneezy’s driver rolled down his window.
“Whazza problem?” he hollered.

“It seems,” said Wilton Daylatch coolly, “that you may be leaving with more than our gratitude for your services.”

“Whaddya mean?” hollered the driver.

“Sir,” continued Wilton Daylatch with snaky smoothness, “Kindly open the backdoor of your truck.”

“What for?” hollered the Sneezy’s driver.

“Now please,” insisted Daylatch, “so that we can all get back to work.”

Finally, the Sneezy’s driver shrugged, got out of the cab, and unlocked the truck’s back door.

“Hey!” the driver howled. “What are you doing in there?” He clambered into the truck, then out again hauling a scrawny boy of about eight or nine with him.

“Thank you driver,” said Wilton Daylatch crisply. “Inspection is over. Please check your empty crates next time to be sure they are, in fact, empty.”

Daylatch snapped his long, bony fingers. The motorcyclists rolled to either side of the shaking boy, hoisted him by his arms, and zoomed back into the Academy grounds.

“Well Mr. Hunker,” said Wilton Daylatch to the small man beside him. “I hope this embarrassing little incident won’t affect your confidence in our new partnership?”

“Frankly Mr. Daylatch,” replied Mr. Hunker in a thin reedy voice, “I’m impressed by your efficiency. The same efficiency which will, I trust, be used to manufacture Hunka-Vites for Children?”

“Efficiency is our policy Mr. Hunker,” said Daylatch with a thin smile. “Daylatch boys are nothing like the average spoiled schoolchild. Keep them hungry for that next meal, Mr. Hunker, and they will get the job done.”

Ari realized, with a sudden queasy feeling, that he’d been noticed.

“Young Mr. Soffit,” said Daylatch, facing Ari with a reptilian smile that was probably supposed to seem friendly. “Yes, I know you. And your Uncle. How fitting that you should overhear this talk of two old family businesses joining forces. Hunker and Daylatch. Get to know those names. If you’re anything like your uncle–and I have heard rumors that suggest you are– you might have a future here.”

Daylatch smiled again. He reminded Ari of a spider about to bite.

“And by the way,” Daylatch continued. “You might mention to your uncle that his deli’s sitting on a fine little piece of real estate. A valuable little piece of real estate. He and I will need to talk.”

Ari said nothing, gave his can a serious kick and chased it up Duchy Street toward the alley he used as a short cut, and down the alley to home.

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