PROLOGUE Fall, Junior Year
Head football coach “Hollerin’ Hank” Killdare was having such a massive meltdown that even from where I was standing at the Booster Club’s concession stand, I could see his trademark blue vein popping in his neck and the usual flecks of spittle flying out of his mouth.
Well, maybe I couldn’t see the spit, but from the way demoted, one-time quarterback Mike Price—the object of the coach’s rant—kept flinching as Mr. Killdare tore into him, their noses inches apart, I was pretty sure Mike was getting a shower during the game.
Apparently, according to the beefy, balding coach, Mike, now a lowly running back, had done something “boneheaded” and “dim-witted” that was going to cost the Honeywell Stingers “the whole bleepin’ season.”
As the student reporter assigned to cover that particular “bleepin’” game—and daughter of Assistant Coach Jack Ostermeyer—I probably should’ve known what had just happened on the field. But the truth was, I didn’t really like sports and hadn’t been paying attention to the action, preferring to focus mainly on the book I’d brought with me—Understanding Kant: Concepts and Intuitions—and my pack of Twizzlers.
However, even I couldn’t overlook it when Mr. Killdare abruptly wheeled around and, completely unprovoked, drew back his big foot and booted our school’s costumed mascot, Buzz the Bee, right in the stinger, launching him across the sidelines. Which was—anybody would have to admit—pretty funny. Especially when Buzz, stumbling and flailing wildly, careened toward the cheerleaders and smashed directly into my archenemy, Vivienne Fitch, sending her sprawling on her butt, so everybody got a view up her flippy little “cheer”
That really should’ve made me laugh, but I actually kind of winced. If this ends up on YouTube, Viv is going to murder Mr. Killdare AND stomp a poor, innocent bee.
As Viv jumped up and tried to act like she hadn’t just been publicly steamrolled by a guy in a bug suit, I tucked my book in my backpack and took out my reporter’s notebook, thinking I should at least find out what was causing Hollerin’ Hank to go nuclear—which also happened way too often in the gym classes he taught.
This guy is nuts, I thought, echoing stuff my dad said all the time. A total whack job!
In fact, I was pretty sure my father was thinking something along those lines right then as he approached Mr. Killdare, obviously trying to get him to cool down. My dad was rabid about football, too, but at least he didn’t literally foam at the mouth, unlike Hollerin’ Hank.
“Come on, Hank,” I heard Dad coaxing while I edged past Principal Bertram B. Woolsey, who I thought should’ve done something more than bite his neatly manicured nails. And, pushing farther through the crowd, I heard a lot of parents and other fans muttering about why a foul-mouthed blowhard continued to be allowed to work with kids. Sentiments I knew they’d forget when the Stingers won yet another state championship trophy for our school’s already full case. “I think that’s enough, now!” Dad added. “Enough!”
But Hollerin’ Hank wasn’t done yet. In fact, he spun around and confronted my father, actually drawing back his fist.
I knew my dad could fight his own battles—his conflicts with Mr. Killdare were pretty much the stuff of legends. And more to the point, I was only five foot two and weighed about one hundred pounds, despite a steady diet of cheeseburgers and Little Debbie products. But without even thinking, I dropped everything and started to run to my father’s aid.
Before I could get there, though, the new quarterback, Chase Albright, stepped in.
Wrapping his hand around Coach Killdare’s big forearm, he stopped what had seemed like an inevitable punch.
The two guys stood there for a long time, Chase’s obscenely perfect, thick, dirty-blond hair riffling in the breeze, while everybody else seemed to suck in a collective nervous breath. Even the cheerleaders stopped chattering for once.
I glanced at the sidelines and saw that Viv was clutching her shivering pompoms to her locally legendary cleavage—and glaring at Mr. Killdare like she hoped for a fight. One that would result in the coach getting his butt kicked to the grass. I also caught a glimpse of my French teacher, Mademoiselle Lois Beamish, who was pressing her hands to her also large, but somehow not as attractive, chest, as though she was terrified for Chase, her prize student. And I once again thought, Ugh. She has a crush on him!
Then I returned my attention to Chase, who was saying something to Coach Killdare—although so quietly that I couldn’t hear a word. But whatever he uttered . . . It made Mr. Killdare’s face fade from crimson to pink, and his hands fall to his sides.
I stared at Chase—a mysterious, reportedly uber-rich kid who’d transferred from some pricey “academy” that nobody seemed quite able to pinpoint—wondering, What are you? A crazy-coach whisperer?
Honestly, it seemed possible, because the next thing I knew, Hollerin’ Hank pulled free of Chase and addressed Mike in a brusque, but civilized, tone. “Price—you’re benched.” Then, as Mike sat down to sulk, Mr. Killdare and my dad exchanged some gruff coaching-type words and the game got underway again, as if nothing had happened.
Retrieving my stuff from the ground—and brushing a footprint off my notebook—I climbed into the bleachers, trying to pay more attention, so I’d at least have something for the Honeywell High Gazette. But my mind kept wandering, and as the fourth quarter drew to a close, I found myself doodling a picture of the heavyset, universally despised coach with a knife in his chest and x’s for eyes, next to the word “Inevitable?” And just to pass the time, I inked a list of suspects, if the murder ever really did happen.
Dad (It’s true!! Wants that head coach glory!)
Mike Price—disgraced football hero, probably losing chance for scholarship
Mike’s parents—soon paying $$$ for college for meathead son!
I glanced again at the sidelines, where Viv had resumed hopping around with a scary-false smile on her plastic face, and added her, too.
V.F.—humiliated in bee incident + natural born killer
Then I tapped my pen against my chin, recalling a kid who’d recently been taken away in an ambulance during one of Mr. Killdare’s controversial “two-a-day” football practices, and who still wasn’t back in school. Rumor was, Roy Boyles had shriveled in the hot afternoon sun and might be a vegetable—or worse. I set pen to paper, writing “Roy’s family?” along with
Principal Woolsey—stuck with nutcase on staff (tenure!)
Anyone who’s ever met Coach, exc. his mother (maybe)
Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most narrow, practical list.