“Hurry up!” Marcy says.
I walk faster. A lot of leaves have fallen onto the sidewalk overnight. I don’t see anything in front of me until I nearly step on it.
“It’s a backpack.” Marcy picks it up.
“It probably belongs to someone from our school,” Kyler says. “Maybe there’s a name inside.”
“Nope,” he says.
“Let’s get going,” Marcy says. “We’ll hand it in at the office.”
The bell rings and kids take off running.
Kyler tosses the backpack to me. “Here,” he ways. “You found it. You can turn it in.”
I sigh and head to the office.
Mrs. Granger is pulling out late slips when I get there. She loves lecturing students about being on time.
She is opening her mouth when I start talking. “I found this backpack. It was lying on the sidewalk near the school.”
I lift it and something shifts inside. A pencil box and a picture book nearly fall out.
“Was it open when you found it?” Mrs. Granger asks.
“No. Kyler opened it. He was looking for a name.” I push everything back inside.
“Was anyone else with you and Kyler?”
“Marcy,” I say.
I give her the backpack. Mrs. Granger looks disappointed that she doesn’t get to write out a late slip. I smile and go to class.
It’s lunchtime when some announcements come over the PA system.
“Marcy, Kyler and Alex—report to the office. Immediately.”
I close my locker and look at my friends.
“What do you think that is about?” Marcy asks.
“No idea,” I say.
Mrs. Granger is waiting for us at the office. “You three kids had better talk fast.”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know what’s going on.” She plunks the backpack onto the counter. “Do you recognize this?”
“Of course,” I say. “I brought it here.”
“And you all touched it this morning?”
“Then you better explain to me why thirty dollars is missing from inside it.”
“Thirty dollars? But we didn’t—”
I look at Mrs. Granger’s face. She does not believe us. I have an idea.
I reach down and turn my pockets inside out. Kyler and Marcy do the same. “Look, no money.”
“You can check our lockers too,” Kyler says.
“Don’t play games with me!” Mrs. Granger is shaking with rage. “I have worked with students for a very long time—and this proves nothing. Clearly you have hidden the money somewhere else.”
She glares at each of us in turn.
“I will say this just once: until you repay the money, all three of you are suspended.”
As we walk out of the school, Marcy’s lip quivers. “I’ve never been suspended before. My mom is going to be really mad.”
“Mine too,” Kyler says. “Mrs. Granger has probably phoned our parents already.”
“What if they believe her about the money,” Marcy says. “Maybe we should try to borrow thirty dollars to give to her.”
“No,” I say. “We didn’t steal any money. That wouldn’t be fair.”
We are almost home. I grab their arms and pull them to a stop.
“Since we’re already in trouble,” I say, “let’s not go straight home.”
“Alex, are you nuts?” Kyler says.
“Yeah,” Marcy says. “Do you want us to get in even more trouble?”
“Of course not,” I say. “But we have to prove that we are innocent. Let’s retrace our steps to where we found the backpack.”
“Yeah,” Kyler says. “Maybe the money fell out when I opened the backpack.”
“Exactly,” I say. “So we need to search for the money.”
“Or a wallet,” Marcy says.
We look everywhere—from the front door of the school, to where we found the backpack. We kick about a ton of leaves out of our way. But still, we don’t find a thing.
“What if someone picked it up?” Kyler says.
I nod sadly. “Yeah. We found the backpack three hours ago.”
We slump down against a tree to rest.
“I guess there’s nothing else to do,” Marcy says. “We have to go home.”
I shake my head. “There must be another way to prove we’re innocent. What do they do in the movies?”
Kyler laughs. “In the movies, they have fancy surveillance equipment. We don’t have that.”
“But there are security cameras around the school,” Marcy says. “Remember they installed them last year after someone broke a bunch of windows?”
Kyler and I sit up straighter.
“You’re right, Marcy,” I say. “We could tell Mrs. Granger to check the video cameras.”
“Have you forgotten that we’re suspended? That means we aren’t allowed back to school.”
I take a deep breath. “We don’t have any choice.”
We step into the school. Lunch is almost over and people are swarming everywhere. Nobody notices us .
“Where would we find the video cameras?” Marcy asks.
“Let’s check the office,” I say. “Act casual.”
It’s not easy to act casual when you’ve been suspended. But we slip inside the office. Right away, we hear Mrs. Granger’s voice.
“Oh no!” I say. “Fast—in here!”
We run into the storage closet by the front counter. We don’t have time to fully close the door before we see Mrs. Granger.
“So you lost your backpack this morning, Nora?” she says to a little girl in grade two.
“Yes. On my way to school.”
“Can you describe it to me?”
“It’s blue with red straps. It has a picture of Dora the Explorer on the front.”
Marcy, Kyler and I nod. That sounds exactly like the backpack that we found.
“Is your name inside it?” Mrs. Granger asks.
“No,” Nora says. “But I had a pink pencil case inside and two picture books. And my lunch.”
Nora has a little voice and we press closer to try and hear her.
“Anything else?” Mrs. Granger asks.
At that moment, Kyler trips over Marcy’s foot. He tumbles to the floor and the closet door slams shut.
“Who’s in there?” Mrs. Granger says. “Open the door immediately!”
Kyler, Marcy and I look at each. We have no choice. We slowly open the door.
Mrs. Granger starts yelling at us. But I hardly hear her. My mind is stuck on what Nora just said.
There was nothing else inside her backpack.
“Quiet!” I yell back at Mrs. Granger.
She is so surprised that she stops talking.
I turn to Nora. “Did you say there was nothing else in your backpack?”
Nora nods. “Just my pencil box, two library books, and my lunch.”
“Was there any money?”
Nora’s eyes grow large. “No.” She shakes her head. “My mom and my auntie don’t let me take money to school. They say it might get stolen.”
“So you never had any money in that backpack at all?” Kyler asks.
“No,” Nora says.
We all turn to Mrs. Granger. “But you said—”
Marcy is the first to speak. “You were trying to get money from us!”
“You have no proof of that,” Mrs. Granger says.
“Maybe we do,” I say.
I dash into the principal’s office. Mr. Sheldon, our principal, is sitting at a small table in the corner. He is peering at a video screen.
He looks up as we enter. “Just a minute, kids,” he says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this machine. It’s been malfunctioning lately.”
Mrs. Granger flashes an evil smile.
“Luckily though,” Mr. Sheldon says, “we have a back-up system in the caretaker’s office.”
He phones Mrs. Crouter who soon appears with a tape in her hand.
Kyler takes it from her and puts it into the machine. Our eyes grow as we watch Mrs. Granger searching through dozens of backpacks and lunch kits. We even see her finding money and stuffing it into her pocket.
“Mrs. Granger!” Mr. Sheldon says. “I can’t believe this!”
“I do!” I say. “She suspended us until we pay back the thirty dollars that she SAID we stole from Nora’s backpack.”
Nora shakes her head. “I never bring money to school. My mom and auntie said it would get stolen.”
“Your mom and your auntie are right,” I say.
“And since there wasn’t any money there,” Marcy says, “she lied and said there was.”
“Mrs. Granger, you are permanently suspended from your job!”
Mr. Sheldon turns to Kyler, Marcy and me. “This isn’t the first time money has gone missing. I will review the entire video carefully. I’m sure I will find it most interesting.” He glares at Mrs. Granger who turns and slinks out of the office.
“We’ll be in touch!” Mr. Sheldon calls after her.
“Don’t hurry back!” I say.
We all laugh.
“Thank you, kids, for solving this case. I’m sorry you were suspended from school—even for just an hour. Welcome back!”
I look at the school motto written above his desk. “Together is always better.”
I look at my friends and I smile. Yes, together is definitely better!