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When her best friend disappears, Katie puts on her detective hat

A typical Sunday night in the Midwestern town of Mells Bells included fourteen- year-old Katie up way past her bedtime typing out her latest article. Her articles covered topics ranging from the harms of pesticides to the new mayor’s dog’s death. Katie attended Townsend High, the local prep school, with her best friend since first grade—Xavier. Katie was there on scholarship. Xavier was there because his mom was the principal.

Tonight, though, Katie’s article was a little too close to home. She furiously typed out the title: “The Kidnapping of the Principal’s Son” and began hammering away.

The night before, Katie and Xavier had been hanging out after watching their favorite superhero movie at the theater in the center of town.

“Katie, you should totally date the villain in the movie. You two are so alike!” Xavier teased.

Katie punched him in the shoulder and rolled her eyes. Xavier’s phone dinged, and he sighed dramatically.

“The most protective mother in the world is wondering where her awesome son is right now and insists that he return home in an instant!”

Xavier and Katie made plans to meet up the next morning, hopped on their bikes, and rode off.

When Katie woke up in the morning, she sent Xavier a text. After Xavier hadn’t responded to the next three she sent, she tried calling him. When she still couldn’t reach him, she called his mother, only to hear that Xavier had gone missing.

“When was the last time you saw him?” Katie asked over the phone.

“Last night, when I was saying goodnight to him,” his mother replied. “I’m sorry, Katie. I really have to go. Maybe we can talk more tomorrow at school?”

“Sure, Principal Smith. I’ll be there.”

After finishing the call, Katie jumped into reporter-detective mode. She grabbed a couple of recent pictures of Xavier and started knocking on doors in Xavier’s neighborhood to see if anyone had seen anything suspicious last night. Katie had ridden two blocks past the movie theater—a full eight blocks from Xavier’s home—before finding a single clue. Mr. Peanut, the elderly man who ran the drugstore, admitted that he had thought it was odd lights were on in the abandoned warehouse across the street. Her first clue! Katie sent a text to Xavier’s mom and sped back home, keeping her eyes open for more clues about Xavier.

The next day, Katie left for school early so she could catch Xavier’s mom before school started. Katie dashed to the principal’s office and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” said Principal Smith. Katie opened the door and walked in. Even though Xavier’s mom was good at hiding her emotions, Katie noticed her hair, which was usually pulled into an immaculate bun, was in a messy ponytail today. Principal Smith also had black circles under her eyes.

“Um, hello, Principal Smith. I want to ask you some questions about when you last saw Xavier.”

“Go ahead, Katie.”

“Okay,” Katie said, flipping through notes in her journal. “Maybe it’s nothing, but you know Mr. Peanut downtown? He said last night was the first night he’d seen lights on in tha told, abandoned warehouse. You think it could be connected?”

Principal Smith looked at Katie with a tired expression. “Katie, maybe we should talk about this a little more privately.”

“What do you mean by ‘more privately’?” “Follow me,” she said.

First, Principal Smith closed the door and the shutters, then went over to her light switch and pressed a button hidden under it. Katie’s eyes widened when she saw the floorboards slowly shift to reveal a hidden trapdoor.

“Wow,” Katie said, sucking in breath. “You have a secret office inside your office.”

“Yes, but Katie, this is really important and you cannot write about it in your story, do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Katie said. On a normal day, she would have been very grumpy about missing this scoop, but this was not a normal day. She followed Principal Smith down the stairway with her jaw dropped.

“Katie, before I met my husband and had Xavier, I was working for the Secret Service.”

“You were a spy?”

“Something like that. I believe that may be why my son was kidnapped.” “Alright. Tell me all you know.”

Principal Smith told her about all the people who could have wanted to kidnap Xavier—because of what she knew as a former secret agent and because of who she had put behind bars.

“Thank you, Principal Smith. This is very helpful,” Katie said, taking notes furiously. Running up the stairs and climbing through the trapdoor, she watched as Principal Smith closed the door and set everything back to normal.

Principal Smith took out a folder from her desk. It had a red stamp that said “Classified.”

While running to her first class, she bumped into her chemistry teacher, whose golden blonde hair fell around her shoulders. Her sparkling emerald eyes caught Katie’s. She had been at the school even before Principal Smith.

“Hello, Katie. Working on your newest story?” asked Mrs. Jimena Cent. Mrs.

Jimena Cent preferred the students call her by her first and last name. “Yes, ma’am. I’m working on the story of Xavier’s kidnapping.”

“Kidnapping,” she said, with concern sparkling in her big, innocent eyes. “I hadn’t heard. Is there any way that I can help poor Xavier? He was one of my favorite students and an excellent chemist. Have you found any clues?” Mrs. Jimena Cent asked with interest.

“I think so. I’m a pretty good reporter.” Katie showed Mrs. Jimena Cent her notes so far.

“Wow, Katie. I must admit that is impressive.”

Katie looked at her phone and realized that Principal Smith had called her. “I’m so sorry, but I really have to go.”

Mrs. Jimena Cent nodded. “Keep looking out for clues, Katie. Best of luck.” “Thank you, Mrs. Jimena Cent.” Katie walked to Principal Smith’s office.

“Hey, Principal Smith. Sorry I missed your call. I was talking with Mrs. Jimena Cent to see if she had any ideas about Xavier’s kidnapping.”

“Yes . . . about that,” Principal Smith said with a wince. “Katie, maybe you shouldn’t talk about Xavier’s kidnapping with other people, especially Mrs. Jimena Cent.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand,” Katie said.

Principal Smith took out a folder from her desk. It had a red stamp that said “Classified.”

“I found this in Mrs. Jimena Cent’s desk.” Katie opened the folder and saw a picture of a much younger Mrs. Jimena Cent. She was smiling up at the camera and under her picture it said Gilm Tuly.

“Gilm Tuly was a thief. When I was working as an agent, I caught her stealing military intelligence. Since it was all a hacking job, I tracked her, handed the info over, and never saw her face. And she never saw mine. Because we were never able to track her to her source, she only served twenty years. In my ‘retirement’ from the Secret Service, the agency set me up with a stable job. This was it, they said. I have since realized that they also wanted me here in case they needed more information on Tuly. She has obviously discovered my identity.”

“Wait . . . I’m confused. Why does Mrs. Jimena Cent have Gilm Tuly’s name?” “Because Mrs. Jimena Cent is Gilm Tuly. Two names for the same person.” Slowly Katie saw it coming together.

“What do we do?” Katie asked with a gulp.

Principal Smith looked at her with grim eyes. “Well, considering this is topsecret stuff, I’m ordered to handle it personally. Let’s meet at the warehouse tonight. Prepare for battle.”

“Um,” Katie said, “maybe not battle . . . how about a super-duper spy mission?” “Sure,” Principal Smith said, with a small smile. It was the first one Katie had seen since Xavier had disappeared.

At the warehouse, Katie and Principal Smith crept inside as quietly as they could. Their goal was simple—find Xavier and avoid Gilm Tuly.

Old cardboard, wood, and metal boxes littered the ground. The warehouse smelled musty. Small, flickering lights that hadn’t been replaced in a long time hung from overhead. There was a door at the end of the warehouse with a small control panel on its right.

Katie and Principal Smith took a small step forward, looking through the gloom of the warehouse. They were about to go deeper until . . . CRASH!

In a hoarse whisper, Katie asked, “What was that?” They ducked behind an old metal box.

Katie asked, “Is it Xavier?”

They heard Gilm Tuly walk across the room murmuring to herself. “Does that answer your question?” Principal Smith asked sharply. “Yep,” Katie said.

For ten minutes, Katie and Principal Smith whispered a plan. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do.

Then they put the plan in action: Principal Smith searched the room they were in for Xavier. Katie snuck behind boxes and up to the control panel, not sure if Gilm Tuly had left or was still there. She turned around, scanning the room. She looked back and saw the door close behind Gilm Tuly. She had left the warehouse.

This was how Gilm Tuly had tricked Xavier into coming to the warehouse that night!

Principal Smith came up to her and whispered, “Xavier is not in this room. Let’s check the next.” Katie pushed the button and they ran through the doors. They found themselves in a small room with only a computer in the center. Katie dashed up and scanned the computer. It had a question instead of a number code, and a microphone below. On the screen flashed “What does my name mean?”

“Katie, we have to answer the question, fast! We have only thirty seconds before the warehouse blows up!”

“How do you know?” Katie asked.

Principal Smith pointed at a countdown on the wall: 28.

“That’s very clear.” Katie groaned. Katie and Principal Smith both stared, panicking, at the question. “What does my name mean?!”

“Hurry, hurry,” said Principal Smith. 10, 9, 8, 7 . . .

“Thinking . . . thinking . . .!” 5, 4, 3 . . .

“GOT IT!”

2 . . .

“I AM INNOCENT,” Katie screamed into the microphone.

“Disabled,” said a voice over a speaker. And the door opened. Principal Smith gave Katie a side look. “What?!”

Katie shrugged, “Jimena Cent. Innocent. They sound alike.”

They went into the room to find Xavier snoring on the ground. No guards, no traps, just him—asleep.

“Is he okay?” Katie asked

Principal Smith checked his forehead and snorted. “Sleeping drug—that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

“Wait, so we go through all of that trouble only to find out he was sleeping?!” Katie cried.

“Shhhhhh,” Principal Smith scolded. “You’ll wake him up.” “Serves him right,” Katie grumbled.

Principal Smith carried Xavier in her arms, not slowing until they got back to her house. Katie panted trying to keep up. They put Xavier in his room, and Katie stayed with him while Principle Smith went into the kitchen.

While she was gone, Katie examined Xavier, looking for any injuries. Katie frowned, seeing a corner of notebook paper sticking out of Xavier’s pocket. She carefully pulled it out, unfolded it, and read:

Dear Xavier,

This is your friend, Katie. I have something very important to tell you. Meet me at the warehouse, a little ways away from the movie theater. Come quickly—it’s urgent.

Love, Katie

P.S. Do NOT in any way tell your mom where you are. I don’t want anyone to know.

Katie took a deep breath and looked up. This was how Gilm Tuly had tricked Xavier into coming to the warehouse that night! One of the greatest drawbacks of texting—Xavier had probably never seen Katie’s handwriting.

Principal Smith walked back into Xavier’s room: “I think this will do the trick.” “Why do you have an antidote for a sleeping drug in your kitchen cabinet?”

Katie asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Old spy supplies. When you’re a secret agent, you’ve got to be prepared.” “I found something,” Katie said, handing the note to Principal Smith.

“This explains a lot,” was all Principle Smith said when she was done reading. “That’s all!” Katie cried. “Just this explains a lot! Why on Earth would Xavier believe that—he has a lot of fluff behind his ears, but I certainly didn’t think he was that dumb.”

Yellow Light
Yellow Light

Principal Smith ignored her.

“It’s also worrying that Gilm Tuly knew you and Xavier were such good friends. She really paid attention to the details,” Principal Smith said.

“Why would Gilm Tuly want to hurt Xavier?”

Principal Smith sighed. “Revenge is a powerful thing. It eats some people up. And the best way to hurt someone is to hurt someone that person loves.” Principal Smith leaned down and touched Xavier’s forehead, her face softening.

When she spoke again, there was nothing soft in her command: “Hand me my phone. Now, we’ll call the police and they’ll handle Gilm Tuly.”

Gilm Tuly was arrested for kidnapping the next day. Her handwriting matched that of the note found in Xavier’s pocket. Xavier woke up with no memory of the kidnapping.

When Xavier read Katie’s article, he laughed so hard he couldn’t breathe, thinking she had switched to writing fiction. Because, of course, he didn’t believe one bit that he had been kidnapped.

Katie went on to become a famous reporter and detective who specialized in solving kidnapping cases. Xavier became a dream and memory loss expert. Though Katie wrote a lot of great stories, the one that meant the most to was her article “The Kidnapping of the Principal’s Son.”

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