It was not a dark and stormy night but rather a clear spring evening, the sun just going down, rays of golden light streaking across the sky. It was a night for being out, for great adventures, for having fun before the expected rains began to fall the next morning.
And so it was that Jon Michaels and Steve Johnson huddled against the back wall of the high school, obscured by shadows that had fallen as the sun slowly sank below the horizon.
Steve, the older of the two, had bulk and brawn on his side. He played football, basketball and baseball, the star of all three. The golden boy, the most popular kid in school, but not necessarily the brightest.
Jon, on the other hand was slim with narrow shoulders and hips. His head barely came up to Steve’s abs, but what he lacked in size he made up for in dexterity. His fingers flew over the keyboard, tapping out code faster than any other kid in school, even faster than his teacher.
For some unknown reason the two dissimilar boys were friends. Had been since Jon moved into the neighborhood during the summer before freshman year. Shortly after Jon climbed out of the family’s minivan, Steve showed up. Four years later they were still friends.
Tonight, however, would test the strength of that friendship and Jon knew it. Success depended upon him and he was so nervous that his teeth chattered.
Steve stabbed Jon in the chest, pushing him up against the wall. “Look, you can do it. You’ve practiced it a hundred times.”
“No, I can’t,” Jon whined. “My hands are shaking.” He held both hands out for inspection and then stuck them in the pockets of his baggy jeans.
“Just remember the steps,” Steve said. “It’s not rocket science.” He turned Jon around to face the downspout. “All you have to do is shimmy up, find the door and pick the lock. Piece of cake.”
Jon attempted to step away, but Steve had him trapped. “What if I can’t climb this thing? What if I get caught?”
“It’s Sunday night. There’s no one on campus. You won’t get caught.” He smiled encouragingly and slung his arm over Jon’s shoulders. “We’re buds, remember? Buds help each other out. I’ve been keeping you safe from the bullies, now it’s your turn to save me.”
Jon sighed. “What if there’s an alarm, hunh? I’ll be caught while you run away.”
Steve wrapped Jon’s hands on the spout. “Climb.” He held his interlaced fingers together, forming the first step of the climb. “Do it. Now.”
Jon put his right foot in Steve’s hands and using his own, pulled himself up to a standing position.
“Pretend it’s a rope. Use the clamps as leverage.”
Jon climbed, but it wasn’t easy. The bricks left his knuckles red and raw. His sneakers slipped over and over, causing him to slide down several inches each time he moved his hands up. The spout, despite being made of metal, seemed fragile. Jon was afraid that it would collapse, sending him flying to the ground where his body would break into a thousand pieces.
Because of his fear, it seemed to take forever, far longer than either boy had imagined.
The plan was simple. Scale the spout. Pick the rooftop lock. Go down to the first floor where English classes were held. Pick the lock to Grady’s classroom. Find the test on Grady’s desk and take just one copy. Then go out the front doors even though it would set off the alarm and run like heck. By the time the cops showed up, both boys would be sauntering down Main Street as if nothing had happened.
To prepare they had watched videos on YouTube about picking locks with nothing but a hairpin. Getting the pin was easy: Steve took one of his mom’s when she was watching television. She’d never miss just one.
Unfortunately it took ten before they successfully picked the first lock, then another three before they could do it in five seconds or less. With his nimble fingers Jon was the fastest, which is why he was now scaling the spout.
Up and up Jon went, moving slower than a snail, but making progress. Steve whispered encouragement, not daring to shout for fear that a passing neighbor might hear noise and investigate.
It was scary enough waiting until all the groups of kids shooting hoops had left. Steve and Jon had joined in, pretending to be interested in the activity, all the while silently hoping that the others would soon give up and go home but it wasn’t until sunset that the playground was finally empty.
Jon reached the roof and slithered over the small wall at the top. He landed heavily on his left side, temporarily pinning his arm under his body. It hurt like heck. Added to that was the pain from the scrapes, the cramps in his legs and the persistent shaking of his entire body.
He lay there for what felt like hours but was probably only a minute or two. Once his breathing had stabilized, Jon stood, leaned over the wall and waved at Steve. But Steve was not there.
Jon looked all over for his friend, but couldn’t see him huddling against the fence or by the wall. He shrugged. “Might as well get to it,” he said.
Jon had never been on the roof so he had no idea what a maze of pipes and vents it was. He had to zig and zag to avoid tripping or banging against something. On top of that was the bank of solar panels that created deep shadows.
He was proud of the panels, though. It was nice to know that his school was embracing the new technology.
When he reached the door, Jon took out one of the hairpins which Steve had straightened using a pair of pliers so that it would easily slip into the keyhole. Jon bent down until he was eye-level and stuck the pin in the slot.
Jon maneuvered it as he had practiced, waiting nervously to hear the satisfying click, but nothing happened. He moved it up and down, side to side, over and over, taking way more time than any of the practice locks had taken. Finally, it happened. The click. Jon felt it and heard it. A sound so small that it there had been any noise, he wouldn’t have heard a thing. But it was there. It was real.
Jon turned the knob and pulled. The door opened and best of all, no alarm sounded.
It was dark inside, so Jon pulled a mini flashlight from his pocket, turned it on and flashed it around. There was nothing texcept a flight of narrow metal stairs, pretty much what the boys had expected.
He carefully went down the steps, wondering when he might trigger an alarm. But nothing happened. No screeches, no wails, no sirens.
Jon came to another door. He picked it, much quicker this time and pulled it open. That’s when it happened. The alarm went off so loud that it hurt his ears.
At first he froze, standing as still as possible, hoping the noise would end if there was no movement. But that didn’t work, so he ran down the remaining two flights of stairs.
At that point he had a decision to make: get into Grady’s classroom and steal the test or make a run for it out the front doors.
Steve would be angry if Jon didn’t get the test, so he headed to the room. As the alarm wailed, Jon calmly picked the lock. It only took one try. He ran in, found the test in the center of the desk and then took off down the hall and out the front doors.
As planned, he ran toward the trees next to the schoolyard fence and ducked behind the first one. He crouched down, making himself as small as possible. He hoped that his black clothes would make him invisible.
From his hiding place he saw a cop car pull up in front of the school, soon followed by another. Two cops got out of the first car, paired up and headed around the back of the building the remaining two went to the front. Jon watched their flashlights bounce as they walked. They scanned every window, most likely searching for a breech.
Jon had watched enough cop shows to predict what would happen next. He knew that once they found the unlocked doors, they’d search the neighborhood. So he took off running, hoping to find Steve huddled behind a tree or boulder.
He didn’t. He was alone with the stolen test tucked under his shirt.
When Jon came to the end of the trees, he stuffed his hands in his jeans’ pockets and strolled across the park as if nothing was wrong, even though the test seemed to burn his chest.
He came out on Second Street and turned left. He passed Melanie’s house which was lit up, a light on in every window. She was a senior like him, only super good at socializing. The type that belonged to every club on campus. Jon would have liked to be her friend, but he was invisible to her.
Next was Luke’s house. He was two years younger, but in his senior year. One of those super smart kids who skipped grades, graduating from middle school at twelve.
Jon strolled across Alder, waiting as a cop car zoomed by, lights flashing. He was surprised that the town had so many cops, then thought that maybe the chief had called for backup. That scared him so much that he almost peed his pants. He ducked behind a bush in front of a dark house and urinated against the wall.
Before stepping out, thankfully, he looked left and right. Another car went by, this time using its beacon to scan both sides of the street. Jon ducked down, making himself as small as possible, even though the smell of his urine gagged him.
He stayed like that until the streets were quiet. When he thought it was safe, Jon headed to Steve’s house.
When he threw a rock against Steve’s window, Steve opened it and stuck out his head. “Did you get it?” he asked.
“Yeah. But I almost got caught.”
“Hand it over.”
“Not until I get to look at it first. That was the deal,” Jon said, “and I’m sticking to it.”
Steve extended a hand and pulled Jon inside. “Let’s look together,” Steve said. “That way if anything happens to it, we’ll both have seen what’s on it.”
They sat on the bed. Jon took it out from under his shirt and smoothed it out. They bent over the paper, eager to find out what questions Grady was asking.
“Wait a minute,” Steve said as he shoved Jon in the chest. “You got the wrong test.”
“No,” Jon said. “I took the one from the middle of the desk, just like you said.”
Steve pointed at the top of the paper. “Read it.”
“First period. College Prep Junior English.” Jon fell back on the bed. “All that for nothing.”