I stayed up pretty late that night. 12:30 or so, going over the codes and ciphers book. I didn’t even get my math done. I figured I’d do it real quick on the bus the next morning. (I’m a whiz at math.) I finally settled on a code I liked. It was a substitution code, which is pretty basic, but what I liked about it was that it was pretty hard to guess because all the letters were substituted by a series of a’s and b’s; like this:

A= aaaaa B= aaaab C= aaaba D= aaabb E= aabaa F= aabab

G= aabba H= aabbb I/J= abaaa K=abaab L= ababa M= ababb

N= abbaa O=abbab P= abbba Q= abbbb R= baaaa S= baaab

T= baaba U/V= baabb W= babaa X= babab Y= babba Z= babbb

So when you write the whole message it looks like complete gibberish. We would all have to learn the new alphabet, but I figured we’d keep crib sheets at home in some safe place. I thought we should try to memorize it though, just to be safe.

We were due to meet after school the following day at Round Table. Sam was supposed to have a strategy worked out and Sharon was supposed to have her revenge fantasies in order. I fell asleep around 12:30 with the codes and ciphers book still in my bed and crib sheets scattered all over the place. There was one small incident that woke me up about an hour later. I guess Mom had woken up and decided to clean up the dinner dishes. All I could hear was Dad screaming at the top of his lungs about the wooden-handled steak knives and why did she always put them in the dishwasher?! He says the heat from the dishwasher dries the wood and causes them to splinter. He always tells her and she always does it anyway and says she forgot. I think she does it on purpose as just a small tiny way of getting back at him for how mean he is, but I can’t be sure.

*****

We all arrived at Round Table about 3:30pm the next day. We had our books with us and some pads of paper and pencils. Sam believed in the divide and conquer technique. We would lure each one individually from the group.

“Nope,” I said. “It’’ll take too long and by the time we get to the end of the list, they’ll be wise to us.”

“We could make them hate each other.” Sharon suggested.

“That’s great!” said Sam, and quoting from the book he read, ”We’ll breed discontent and resentment among their ranks.”

“That sounds like a great way to start,” I said.

“Okay, yes, but then what?” asked Sharon.

“Then,” said Sam, “one by one, we lure them into our trap. We’ll start with a prank on one of them and make sure they believe another one of them is responsible for it. Then, as they are picked off, one at a time, separated from the pack, and humiliated, they won’t know who to trust.”

“Yes!” said Sharon. We’ll pin the first crime on Michelle Taylor!”

“No.” said Sam, “Save her for last.”

“Okay,” I said, “credit for the first prank goes to Jill.”

“Dolores,” I said.

“Okay,” Sam got into the game, “The next prank is performed on Jill and pinned on Rudy, and so on and son on, until…”

“Yes! This is great!” I exclaimed. “By the time it happens to all of them, but Michelle, we won’t have to pin anything on her because they already will have!”

“YES!” said Sam, pounding the table with his fist.

“Shhhhhh!” I said. Some people were looking over from another table.

“Let’s have a look at those revenge fantasies, Sharon.” Sam reached his hand into the middle of the table and Sharon put her hand on top of his. I put my hand on top of hers and we all leaned in and whispered,

“YES!”

Sharon dug a piece of binder paper out of her pocket and handed it to Sam. It was a very detailed list that even scared me a little. No one would get physically hurt, but each one was so humiliating, I cringed. Also, they fit the person so well it was amazing. I guess she’d been thinking about this for a lot longer than just since we formed the goats and made this plan.

“Well thought out Sharon,” said Sam. “Good job. Carson, the code?”

I handed them each a crib sheet. “Here’s the key. Memorize it. For now, take it home and hide it someplace safe. From now on we communicate only in code. We can’t risk anyone overhearing us, and hide those revenge fantasies too, will you?”

Just then, Dolores walked over to our table. “Looky here,” she sneared, “It’s the geek patrol. Who said geeks were allowed to sit here?”

“Who said you were allowed to be so ugly?” I said, before I could stop myself. (I was saying things like this more and more all the time. Besides she was acting ugly. It doesn’t have to just describe her appearance, the word can be used to describe behavior, but this subtly was lost on Dolores.)

“Up yours,” she said, and walked away. Luckily she was alone, so we didn’t have any more trouble.

“You’re mouth is going to get you into it one day, Carson.” Sam said.

“I know,” I said, “I’m starting to think I don’t care. I’m starting to think I want to get into it.”

“Okay,” said Sam, “Fair warning.” I always wondered what that meant. Did he know? Was he warning me from experience?

“Better be careful, Carson” said Sharon, “You don’t want to tip them off.”

“I’ll watch it a little more, okay?” I said. But I knew I wouldn’t. I couldn’t anymore, that was the point.

Dolores is kind of ugly for a popular girl. She hides it with lots of makeup, or maybe the makeup makes her look ugly, or maybe it just oozes out from her insides. Anyway, she’s no great beauty. She’s tall and thin with short curly black hair, super white freckled skin and a horsy face. Her eyes become like these dark slits when she’s spewing her venom at people. She’s very bossy, even to her friends. The other thing about Dolores is that she is really crude. She has a mouth like a gutter. She’s also always talking about boys and sex in this really crude way, like I don’t even want to describe. She’s gross. But the main thing now about Dolores was that she was our first target. We made a list of her weaknesses, just verbally this time, no more writing stuff down until we learned the code. Sam said we should pinpoint where she was most vulnerable.

She’s stupid

She’s vulgar

She thinks she’s a really good artist, but she’s not

She’s bossy

She’s prideful

She has a crush on Clark Winthrop – who is not considered “cool” by the kids at school, especially the ones in her crowd.

Secretly, I think Clark is cool. He’s this really great artist at school, but nobody understands him. He pretty much keeps to himself. I think Dolores likes him because Mr. Godfried, the art teacher, is always making a big deal of him and the projects he does. Usually, I would expect Dolores to be jealous, because he puts her to shame, but, somehow, she’s not. I think she’s got it in her mind that she could mold him into what she wants him to be and they could be artists together or something. Too bad she doesn’t know how truly bad she is at art. I don’t even mean she has potential. She doesn’t “get” art. She doesn’t have the soul of an artist like Clark does. She just likes the idea of being an artist, like its glamorous or something. She doesn’t get that it takes work and dedication and that artists are born not made. Dolores seems like the kind of person who would sell out, first chance she gets. Like she’ll marry for money or something. Anyway, I should have realized that life would probably get Dolores in the long run because she would make choices that would make herself miserable, but at the time, we just really wanted to punish the guilty a little faster than life would, and most of all, we wanted to see it, to watch it happen.

“So where is she most vulnerable?” asked Sam (as if he didn’t know).

“Clark.” We all three said in unison, and I got a pit in my stomach.

“Give me that revenge fantasies list.” I said to Sharon “I’m going to translate it into code and then burn it.”