It's about one o'clock, and the Valentine's Day dance is over and done with. But I still have to stick around. Why? Because Yolei Inoue, my short-tempered 'friend' with a mean left hook, had bullied me into it.
Life isn't fair sometimes.
The only good thing about it is that I'm not alone. Mimi's signed up to help out with the dance - even though she's just visiting - and she got stuck with the clean-up duty. She had to get other kids to help out, too. So she talked to Yolei and then Yolei went and got Kari, TK, Tai, Matt, Izzy and Ken. Plus me. And now the eight of us are cleaning together.
"Got the streamers, Davis?" Ken asks, walking by my ladder with an armful of empty pop cans that people probably left all over the floor. Geez, kids are messy! I push aside images of my room, and grin down at my best friend.
"Yeah, just about."
"Good. I want to get out of here."
"That makes two of us," Izzy complains, from nearby. "I've got a ten o'clock class in the morning."
"Maybe it would've been smarter to sign up for evening classes instead," Ken comments. "Then you wouldn't have to worry about your friends bullying you into joining clean-up crews and staying up late."
I laugh. Ken's pretty cool. Really cool, actually. In fact…
"Ooh, Kari, that is gorgeous!" Yolei suddenly squeaks. When I look over, I see the two of them huddled over a picture in Kari's hand. "Mimi, come over here!" the lavender-haired girl calls. "Look at Kari's prom dress! Isn't it great?"
Mimi quickly joins them, and the three of them squeal together for a while. Girls!
"That looks so expensive!" Mimi says, clasping her hands together. "How on earth did you get your mother to buy it for you?"
"I bought it myself," Kari explains. "Mom and Dad are having some financial problems, and I didn't want to be another burden." She smiles. "But it is nice, isn't it? I can't wait to wear it!"
"Why do they get so excited about some dumb dress?" Tai asks Matt. "It's just a bunch of cloth. Girls are weird."
"Well, that's not something you're going to have to worry about," Matt answers, leaning over for a quick kiss. I look away. That's gonna be me and Ken some day, I think to myself, and grin.
I just wish it wouldn't take so long.
"You looked really great tonight, Mimi," Kari's saying. "I love that outfit! It goes so well with your pearl necklace!"
"Oh, doesn't it?" Mimi reaches into her pocket and pulls out the necklace, beaming. "This necklace cost my daddy a fortune, but it was so worth it. I even wore it to the last dance, too - you remember, Kari, you helped me get ready."
"I remember." Kari nods, smiling. "It was lots of fun!"
Kari's real pretty. I know people think I still like her and all, but I don't really. It's just all part of my master plan. People think I'm always trying to impress Kari, because I was trying to impress her before. But it's not her any more - I dunno when, but… I guess… it's because… Ken's heart beats with mine… and we're already real close… and it's cool - special. Just thinking about him sometimes, it's... I dunno… I feel like I can see forever, and if it's got him in it, it's good but if it doesn't, it's bad.
So I'm sorta serious about him, in a way I never really was with Kari.
Don't get me wrong - Kari's great. But I just can't have much respect for someone who willingly dates a guy that wears Gilligan hats in public.
Speaking of which…
"I don't know what I'm going to do, Matt!" TK's voice is just a desperate hiss. I pretend like I'm not listening. "I don’t even have enough to rent a tux! And prom's just about around the corner! I'm never going to get enough to take Kari out in style! I don't know what to do!"
"Why don't you just borrow money?" Matt asks.
"I asked everyone!" His voice has a note of hysteria in it. "No one has the kind of money I need, and even if they do, they won't lend it to me!"
"Not even Izzy? He's practically rolling in cash!"
"He says I need to earn my own way, and he can't help me." TK slumps against the wall. "Matt, what am I going to do? Kari's going to kill me if I stop by her house on a bicycle wearing my dress suit from three years ago!"
"You'll think of something," Matt assures him. He has a thoughtful look on his face. "I'm going to go talk to Tai about something, TK. Can you take care of the rest of these banners?"
"Sure, no problem."
I don't know what Kari sees in that guy.
Then again, I don't have much money for prom, either.
But I do have a plan to get me a date. A real unusual, perfect date. Then I can be like Tai and Matt, at their prom. Kids still talk about them - not always in a good way, but they're famous! And I will be too when I get Ken to agree. My plan is just about foolproof.
See, my trying to impress Kari hadn't done me much good. I put two and two together after, and came with the answer that it didn't work because she knew I was trying to impress her. So I figure this time, I'll tell everyone I'm still trying to impress Kari, and Ken will never know that it's really him I'm trying to impress. That way, he'll really be impressed because he won't have a clue that he's the one being impressed.
My genius amazes me sometimes.
"Davis, I thought you were almost done!"
Oops. "Yeah, coming!" I grab all the streamers and stumble down the ladder.
When I reach the bottom, all the lights go out.
"Who turned out the lights?"
"Tai, if this is one of your jokes…"
"It's not, it's not!"
"Ouch! Hey, Mimi, you stepped on my foot!"
"I'm not Mimi, I'm Kari!"
"Ow! I don't care who you are - get off!"
"Ack!" I crash into someone. "Who's that? Ken?"
"Davis, watch where you're going."
"I can't! It's too dark!"
"Guys, the power must be out!" Matt's voice breaks through. "Someone's going to have to find the power and see what the problem is."
"I'll do it," Ken's voice answers, from beside me. "If we've just blown a fuse, I'll be able to fix it. You guys wait here." He grabs my arm. "Come with me, Davis. Let's go."
"Why me?" I ask, as he pulls me through the halls. Good thing he can't see that I'm blushing. "Wouldn't you want someone smarter, like Izzy?"
"I just need company, Davis. And anyone else would try to help out." He lets go of my arm. "Besides, I like having you around."
I go from hope to disappointment to happiness just in those three sentences. Ken…
"Here's the power!" Ken announces, finding the right door. "Come on, Davis."
I follow him. "So now what?"
"Now I fix the problem."
I keep talking while Ken works. I have absolutely no idea what he's doing, and I'm not even gonna ask. So I blab on about the others and about school and about stupid things, and he makes noises like he's listening even though I know he's not.
In the middle of a long play-by-play commentary about the soccer game last weekend, the lights suddenly come back on.
I forget what I was talking about. "Wow, Ken, you did it!"
He smiles. "It wasn't that hard, actually."
"I think it's great!" I tell him enthusiastically. Ken doesn't have problems impressing me. I just wish I could impress him some time. "You're the smartest person I know."
"Well, thanks, Davis, but - "
I don't get to find out what he was going to say because we're interrupted by a sudden, ear-splitting shriek.
Ken and I glance at each other, confused. "What was that?"
"Let's go find out!" I jump up and run back toward the gym.
When we get there, we find a small cluster made up of Mimi, Kari and Yolei, with Tai, Matt, TK and Izzy standing somewhat awkwardly to the side. Mimi is sobbing loudly and uncontrollably.
"I-I was just trying to g-get used to the l-light!" she gasps out, around her sniffles. "A-And then I f-felt in my p-pocket for my p-pearls, and they were g-gone!" She lets out a loud wail and dissolves into hysterical tears again. Yolei and Kari make crooning noises and try to comfort her.
"What happened?" I ask, coming up beside Tai.
Tai shrugs. "I think she lost that pearl necklace she was wearing."
"Damn." Ken whistles. "Do you have any idea what a necklace like that is worth? She just lost a small fortune!"
"How could she have lost it?" I ask, baffled. "It was in her pocket, wasn't it? If she dropped it, it'd be on the floor." The idea hits me all at once, and I grin. "Somebody took it!" I announce, pleased at my own genius.
"No kidding, genius," Matt says sarcastically. "We know."
"In that case…" I rub my hands together. This is my chance to impress Ken! Wait until he sees what a great detective I am! "We have a case to solve! And I know just the person to solve it!"
"Who?" Tai asks expectantly.
"Me!" I tell him indignantly. "Who did you think?"
Tai and Matt look at each other, and burst out laughing.
"Hey!" I spin around, and look at Ken and Izzy. Ken's smiling, and Izzy is covering his mouth to hide what looks suspiciously like a snicker. "You guys think I can't do it, don't you? Well, I'll show you!"
"Davis," Ken says, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Why don't you let Mimi's parents take care of it? I'm sure they'll be able to find out what's happened to - "
"No!" I scowl. "Don't you get it?" I lean over close to him like I'm whispering a huge secret. "This is my chance to impress Ke - Kari." Thank god I caught that one. "You gotta help me, not get in my way!"
He gives me a funny look. "What do you want me to do?"
"You can… be my assistant!" I grin, pleased with the thought. "All great detectives have assistants. Take Holmes and Watson, for example. It helps with the case and stuff." And it'll mean he's close to me so he can watch my brilliant mind working.
Ken rolls his eyes up toward the ceiling and sighs. "All right," he agrees. "But I really don't think - "
"Great!" I interrupt. "The first thing we'll need to do is question the witnesses." I glance over to the clump of Kari, Mimi and Yolei. "Separately."
"TK just went out that way," Tai points out helpfully.
"Tai!" Matt elbows him. "Stop encouraging him!"
"It's too late anyway," Tai shrugs. "What's the big deal?"
I resent that.
Making a face at Tai, I go running out of the room, with Ken right behind me.
"Wait for a minute, TS!" I call out, seeing the blonde ahead of me. "Slow down! I wanna ask you a couple of questions!"
He stops, and turns. "You know, my name is TK."
"Yeah, yeah." I brush that aside. "Okay, so…" I try to remember what a great detective would ask... "Where were you when the crime took place?"
TK gives me a funny look. "Huh?"
Ken sighs. "Davis… he was in the gym, remember? With everyone else."
I realize how stupid my question was, and flush. "I mean… what… did… ummmm…"
"Did you notice anything weird?" Ken takes over.
TK takes off his hat and scratches his head. "What do you mean by 'weird'? The power was off, I think that's pretty weird." He looks away from me, at Ken. "All I know is that I tried to stand really still so I wouldn't bump into anyone, and then the lights came back on and Mimi's necklace was gone."
"You didn’t notice anything?" I ask.
"I just said that, Davis." He sounds annoyed.
I blush some more. "Right. I just… wanted to ask again, to make sure."
"Okay." TK gives me another funny look. "Well, I've gotta get home, so I'll see you guys later." He turns and leaves the building.
I scratch my head again, feeling stupid. Dude… that didn't go very well…
"Davis." I look up at Ken; he's shaking his head. "You're going to have to do better than that if you plan to actually solve this."
I feel pretty low. "Yeah…" Then I get an idea, and brighten. "Let's go find Tai and Matt - maybe they know something!" I turn away from him and run back the way I came. I can tell he's following me, though.
" - unless you want someone to see this."
I stop when I hear that, without going any further. It's Tai's voice, but he sounds like he's saying something suspicious. I wave at Ken to get him to be quiet, then peak around the corner. I can see Tai, Matt, and Izzy standing in the hallway.
"This is completely unfair!" Izzy says. He looks angry. "It isn't moral!"
"Yeah, whatever, Iz," Matt tells him, coolly. "We know you've got money - pay up, and we'll give it to you. Then you can do whatever you want with it. Don't, and we tell everyone just what you did."
"You two are… are… despicable!" Izzy sputters. "We are supposed to be friends!"
"And this is a favor between friends, right?" Tai is grinning. "Come on, it won't hurt that much. It's not like you haven't got money to spare, right?"
"Besides," Matt added, also grinning, "doesn't this evil deed hang on your conscience? It'll be better if you do have to pay for it, right? Fair's fair, after all."
Izzy scowls at them. "Fine! I can't argue with your twisted logic! I'll give you as much as you want."
"I knew you'd see it my way," Tai says smugly.
I turn and look at Ken. His expression tells me that he's about as confused as I am. 'What do I do?' I mouth, and he shrugs helplessly. Okay then. It's up to me.
"Hey Tai!" I stroll around the corner like nothing's wrong. "Hi guys! What's up?"
"Nothing." Tai shrugs. "Except Mimi's pearls being missing."
"Oh right." I scratch my head, as Ken comes up behind me. "Hey, did you guys notice anything weird happening?"
Tai and Matt look at each other. "Nope," Matt says, shrugging.
Izzy is scowling. "No," he says flatly. "I'm going home," he continues shortly, and then he stalks past me and out the door.
"Dude." I watch him go. "What's up with him?"
"Dunno." Tai shrugs, and slides an arm around Matt's shoulder. "Come on Matt, let's get out of here." He turns to leave, and something falls out of his back pocket when the blonde slides an arm around his waist in return.
Ken hurries forward and picks it up.
I watch them go too. Hmm… those two are definitely up to something! But what?
"Curious," is all that Ken says. He shows me what he's just picked up. It's a picture of Izzy. He's standing outside an apartment building, just about to go in, and there's a blurry image of a clock in the background.
The apartment looks familiar somehow…
"Yeah, major curious." I turn around and watch Kari and Yolei lead a sniffling Mimi out of the gym. "We'll have to wait until tomorrow and talk to them, too."
Ken winces. "Why don't you let me do the talking, Davis?"
"I wasn't doing anything." Kari crosses her arms over her chest. "I was just trying to stand still. I can't believe someone would steal Mimi's necklace!"
She really does look like she can't believe it. She shakes her head, and looks at the ground.
"Well, it is worth a lot of money," I remind her.
Kari looks at me for a moment, then shakes her head again, a look of disbelief on her face.
"So you didn't notice anything at all?" Ken asks again. I think he's getting into this. I knew he would! I beam at him, but he doesn't seem to notice. "Nobody moving around or anything?"
"Well, except for when I stepped on Yolei's foot, no." She bites her lip. "I can't believe one of us would do this. It's just so… so stupid!"
"People sometimes do stupid things for money," Ken says.
"Yeah, but…" She frowns. "I don’t know."
"Well, thanks Kari." Ken stands up. "I guess we should be going."
"Okay." She walks us to the door. "Let me know if you find it, okay?" The look on her face is worried. Maybe a little… too worried. If you know what I mean.
"So what did we figure out?" I ask Ken, walking out of the apartment. "So far we've talked to TK, Tai, Matt, Yolei and Kari… do we need to talk to Mimi too, or just Izzy?"
"I don't think this is helping," Ken says, frowning. He's really starting to take this seriously. "I'd really like to find out what Tai and Matt were talking to Izzy about. If we ask the right questions, maybe we can get him to tell us."
"Cool!" I jump ahead. "Maybe if we show him the picture… you think?"
He smiles. "It's worth a try. I think your enthusiasm is rubbing off on me, Davis."
"Dude, that's great!" I hug his shoulders. "Just wait until you see my awesome deductive powers at work! I'll solve this case yet!" I think for a minute. "I just wish I could figure out that picture…"
"We'll piece something together," Ken tells me. "Come on, let's get to Izzy's apartment."
"No, I didn't notice anything unusual." Izzy looks grouchy about something. "I'd like to forget last night, if you two don't mind."
"Well…" Ken takes the photo out of his bag and holds it up. "Could you tell us what this is supposed to be, then?"
Izzy's face goes red and funny when he looks at the picture. He looks up at Ken, and his eyes narrow. "They're not getting any more money - you can just go right back and tell them!" he says, stiffly. "I think they're getting more than enough as it is."
Ken and I look at each other. "What does that mean?" I ask.
Izzy gives us a suspicious look. "You two aren't here for Matt and Tai?"
"Dude, no!" I say. "We found that thing when it fell outta Tai's pocket. What is it, anyway?"
"Oh…" Izzy looks suddenly nervous. "It's nothing. It's just part of a running joke between the three of us. You wouldn't understand."
Ken frowns. "Why not try us?"
Izzy shakes his head furiously. "I'm not supposed to involve other people… but I can tell you right now that it has nothing to do with Mimi's necklace. Absolutely nothing."
Ken looks skeptical, but he nods. "All right, then I guess we should be going. Thanks for your help, Izzy."
"Yeah… no problem." He still looks nervous when he's showing us out of the apartment. "I'll see you two later." The door closes abruptly in our faces.
"Huh." I glance at Ken. "That was weird."
"More than weird," Ken murmurs to himself. "He was acting fairly suspicious." He waits until we get into the elevator and the doors shut on us to finish what he was saying. "It sounds to me like he's being blackmailed."
"Blackmailed?" I repeat. I didn't even see it… how…?
"Think about it," Ken says. "He's nervous and jumpy, and he thinks we were sent from Tai and Matt to ask him for more money. The minute we show him the picture, he gets all excited. Something in the picture incriminates him - and Tai and Matt are using it to blackmail him."
"Oh." I feel stupid. It seems so simple when Ken says it - how did I miss that?
"The question is," Ken continues, "what is it about the picture that has him so worked up?" He glances at me. "What do you think this has to do with Mimi's necklace being stolen?"
"Maybe it doesn't," I suggest.
"Maybe." Ken looks doubtful. "Then again, maybe it does."
"What do you mean?" I ask, forgetting that I'm supposed to be the one in charge.
"Nothing really." He shakes his head. "But we can't discount any possibility, can we?"
"I guess not," I agree, stepping off the elevator when it reaches the ground floor. "So, where now?"
"Just a minute." Ken stops as we step out of Izzy's apartment building. "Take a look at the picture, Davis. You know the area better than me - is this a place in Odaiba? Do you recognize it?"
I look at the picture. Yeah… I have seen that building before… It's one that I've been to… I think when I was hurt, or - I stop thinking. That's it! That's what building it is! I knew I recognized it!
"Yeah," I say out loud, to answer Ken. I look up at him, confused. "But why would Izzy be worried about a picture of him going into Joe's apartment building?"