Chapter 1: A Big Day for Ricki
Ricki wakes up and looks out of his bedroom window.
It’s a nice sunny morning. The sky is blue. He sits up in bed and remembers that this is an important day for him. “Today is the day!” he says to himself. “Today, I’m going to try out for the basketball team!”
Ricki’s school, Howard High, has the best basketball team in the state. They win every game that they play. They also have the best coach, Mr Bergman. Training with Coach Bergman is difficult and tiring. He makes the team practice every day after school and twice on the weekends. He’s a tough coach, but that’s why the “Howard Hawks” are the best.
All the boys want to be on the team, and today Coach Bergman is going to choose the players for next season. Ricki’s a good player, but he’s only a junior and there are a lot of senior boys who want to play too.
Ricki’s mom interrupts his daydreaming.
“Ricki, time to get up!” she calls from the kitchen.
“Yeah, Mom!” Ricki answers.
He jumps quickly out of bed. He has a shower and goes downstairs. His father is at the stove cooking breakfast and his mother is making coffee. “Good morning, Ricki. Do you want two eggs and toast this morning?” his father asks. “It’s a big day for you, son. You have your team try-outs! You need a good breakfast inside you!”
“Yes, thanks. Two eggs, please, Dad,” replies Ricki, grinning. “I’m nervous too!” he adds.
He takes some milk from the fridge and sits down at the table. “Don’t be nervous, Ricki. You’re a good player. I know you’re going to get on the team,” his mom says, smiling. “You practice enough!”
“Thanks, Mom,” says Ricki, “but I’m only 16 years old. Don’t forget, I’m only a junior. There are lots of seniors who want to play. They are big and strong.”
Mr Anderson puts Ricki’s eggs and toast on the table. “There you go, Ricki. Have some orange juice too – you need all your energy today!”
Ricki eats his eggs and drinks the orange juice.
The doorbell rings and Ricki’s best friend, Tony Caruso, comes in. “Hi, Ricki! Hi, Mr and Mrs Anderson! Still eating, Ricki?”
Tony asks and sits down next to his friend.
“Hello, Tony. You have a big day today, too!” says Mrs Anderson, “You’re trying out for the team too, aren’t you? Would you like some orange juice or coffee?”
“Yes, thanks, some juice, please,” replies Tony. “Yeah, we all need all our strength today! Coach Bergman’s going to be really tough on us this afternoon!” laughs Tony.
“You and Ricki are both talented players and you’re better than some of the seniors. You’re going to do well,” says Mrs Anderson.
“Thanks,” says Tony. He looks at Ricki’s father. “What are you reading, Mr Anderson? Isn’t that a photo of Howard High School on the front page of the newspaper? What does the article say?”
“Crime in our high schools is increasing,” quotes Ricki’s dad. “It says someone broke three windows at the high school last night. They think vandalism and crime is increasing in schools in our area.”
At that moment, the phone rings. Mrs Anderson answers it.
“Yes, he is. Just a minute, please. Ricki, it’s for you. It’s Stacy.” Stacy is Ricki’s new girlfriend. She’s in his class at Howard High. She’s the prettiest girl in their year and she’s intelligent. Ricki likes her a lot. “Hi, Stacy!” Ricki laughs. “What? Oh, thanks! We need some luck. Yeah, see you at school. Bye!”
“Stacy’s a great girl, Ricki. You’re really lucky,” says Tony.
Ricki is a bit embarrassed. He doesn’t like to talk about his girl-friend in front of his parents.
“Uh, yeah, I know, Tony. Your girl, Trish, er… is nice too,” he says. “Listen, we want to go to a movie this weekend. Do you and Trish want to come with us?” he asks.
“Sounds fun! But, we have to think about basketball today, not movies!” says Tony. He picks up his glass of orange juice. “Here’s to us! Today we’re going to play like Michael Jordan!” The boys touch their glasses and drink.
Ricki looks at the clock. “Oh! It’s late. We have to go!” he says.
He picks up his plate, puts it into the dishwasher and gets his bag.
“Thanks! Mom, Dad, see you later!” he calls.
“Bye, honey. Good luck!” calls his mom.
“Good luck, son!” shouts his dad.
Chapter 2: Mysterious Messages
Ricki and Tony get off the school bus and walk towards Howard High. They’re both very tense and excited.
They talk about the try-outs all the way.
“It’s going to be hard to study today,” says Ricki. “I’m too excited, and we have an English test this morning, too.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s going to be difficult,” says Tony. They walk to their lockers to get their books.
“Hey, Tony! Look,” says Ricki, “there’s a note on my locker door.”
“What does it say?” Tony asks him.
Ricki opens the note and reads it aloud.
“Don’t go to basketball practice today – something bad is going to happen!”
Ricki looks at his friend, puzzled, “What does it mean, Tony?”
“I don’t know,” says Tony. “It’s probably just a joke. Maybe someone wants to frighten you. Maybe someone wants to make the team and doesn’t want you to come to the try-outs. Forget it, Ricki.”
He opens his locker. A note falls out onto the floor. “Hey, Ricki! I have a note, too!” he says, surprised. He reads his note to Ricki: “Basketball is for men, not boys. Don’t try out for the team or something bad is going to happen!”
“Who is sending these notes? Who wants to threaten us?” asks Ricki. “I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” replies Tony.
“Hi, Ricki!” says a friendly voice then, and Stacy Johnson walks over to their lockers. She is tall, with long blonde hair and blue eyes. She is smiling at Ricki.
“Hi, Ricki! Hi, Tony! How are you?” she says. She gives Ricki a hug.
“Oh, hi, Stacy!” replies Tony. “Great, how’re you?”
“What’s the matter?” she asks then, seeing his worried expression.
“Is something wrong?”
“Oh, it’s probably nothing,” says Ricki.
“We found two notes in our lockers,” says Tony. “We think it’s a joke, but…”
“Can I read them?” asks Stacy. She looks at the notes. “Mmm. I don’t think this is a joke. Let’s tell the principal!”
“Hey, wait a minute,” replies Ricki. “We don’t need to do that. I think Tony is right. The notes are jokes. I’m not scared. Let’s forget them.”
“Ricki, these notes aren’t jokes!” says Stacy. “Someone wants to frighten you. But why? Okay, don’t tell the principal, but please tell Coach Bergman.”
Suddenly the bell rings for their first class.
“Time to go,” says Ricki. “Look Stacy, don’t worry. These notes are nothing. See you at lunch.”
“Oh, okay, see you then!” and Stacy walks down the hall with a worried expression.
Tony and Ricki go to their computer class. They switch on their PC’s before class starts.
“I want to look at last night’s basketball scores,” says Tony.
He goes into the Internet.
“Yeah! The Los Angeles Lakers did it. They won! They beat the Chicago Bulls!” he shouts.
“I want to check my e-mail,” says Ricki, laughing.
Ricki types in the password for his e-mail.
“You have mail,” the computer voice says. Ricki opens up the first message. It’s from Stacy.
To: Rickia@hhs.k-12.il Subject: Good luck!
Message: Hi Ricki! Just a note to say good luck today at practice!
See you at school!
He opens up the second message.
To: Rickia@hhs.k-12.il Subject: warning
Message: Don’t go to practice today or something bad is going to happen!
“Tony, look!” Ricki whispers as their teacher comes in. “It’s another mystery message!”
“Wow, this is weird!” replies Tony. “Who is ‘Caper’?”
“I don’t know. The message doesn’t come from our school. Look at the e-mail address. Quick! Check yours and see if you have any messages from ‘Caper’.”
Tony types in his password.
“You have mail,” says the computer voice.
Ricki and Tony look at each other. Tony clicks on the new message. “Oh my God, it’s from ‘Caper’, too!” he says, opening it.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: warning
Message: Don’t try out for the basketball team today. This is your final warning!
“What are we going to do?” asks Ricki.
“I don’t know,” says Tony. “But I know one thing – these stupid messages aren’t going to stop us. We’re going to go to basketball practice tonight and we’re going to try out for the team and nobody is going to stop us!!!”
Chapter 3: The Basketball Try-outs
“It’s lunchtime. Thank God! I’m so hungry!” says Ricki to Tony as they leave their English class and walk to their lockers. “Me too! English is so hard, I’m always hungry after our English lessons!” replies Tony.
“It isn’t hard, it’s easy,” says Ricki, laughing, “but you have to do the homework, Tony!”
“Yeah, okay, I know,” replies his friend.
They put their books away, lock their lockers and walk to the lunchroom.
“Hey, there’s Stacy and Trish. Let’s eat with them,” says Tony. They walk over to the table where the two girls are sitting. “Hi! What’s the matter, girls?” asks Ricki, seeing their worried faces. “Ricki, we’re scared,” replies Stacy.
“About what?” asks Ricki.
“About those notes you and Tony found in your lockers,” says Trish. “Please show them to the principal,” says Stacy. “They could mean trouble.”
Just then two tall senior boys stop at their table.
“Hey, Anderson! Hey, Caruso! Are you trying out for the team today?” Kyle Martin asks them.
“Yeah, and I’m going to make the team, too!” replies Ricki, laughing.
“Oh yeah? Well, watch out, kid, you don’t want anything bad to happen today, eh?” says the other senior, Pat Jones, with a nasty smile. Pat and Kyle walk away, laughing, to go sit at another table.
“I don’t like Kyle Martin and Pat Jones. They’re bullies. They always make trouble,” says Trish, uncomfortably.
“Do you think they wrote the mysterious notes?” asks Stacy.
“Remember what Pat said – ‘You don’t want anything bad to happen today’- the same words as your note, Ricki.”
“No, I don’t think they wrote the notes,” replies Ricki. “They’re creeps but they just want to play basketball. Writing notes and sending e-mails is not their style.”
“Sending e-mail threats…? What do you mean?” says Stacy, looking at him.
“Oh nothing, honey, forget it,” replies Ricki quickly, as he sees Tony’s expression.
“Let’s talk about something else,” says Tony. “What movie do you want to see this weekend, girls?”
After school, Ricki and Tony go to the changing rooms to get ready for the basketball try-out. While they are putting on their sports clothes, Pat Jones comes in. He pushes Ricki roughly. Ricki falls against the lockers.
“Hey, watch out, Pat!” shouts Ricki angrily.
“Why? What are you going to do, kid?” Pat laughs and walks out of the changing room.
“Forget it, Ricki,” says Tony calmly, “he wants you to get angry. He wants you to play badly so you can’t get on the team.”
“Yeah, you’re right, Tony. He’s a moron,” says Ricki after a moment. “Come on! Let’s go out there and show them who’s the best!”
Ricki and Tony walk out onto the basketball court, grinning.
“Okay! Everyone, onto the court!” shouts Coach Bergman. Twenty-five boys get up and run onto the basketball court. Twenty-five boys want to be on the team but only twelve boys are needed. Everyone is nervous. The players practice for an hour. Finally, Coach Bergman shouts, “Okay, we are going to play a game now. I want to watch you play so I can choose the boys to be on the school team. Play hard and play well, boys! Good luck!” Tony and Ricki and three other boys are in Team A in the white shirts. Pat Jones and Kyle Martin are in Team B with some of their friends. They’re wearing the red shirts.
Coach Bergman blows his whistle and shouts, “Let’s play!” He blows the whistle again and the game begins.
Tony takes the ball and throws it to Ricki. Ricki dribbles down the court, dodging his opponents, to the basket. He plays the ball well. He sees Pat Jones coming towards him and tries a shot at the basket. It’s a good shot but he’s too far from the basket. He misses. Tony catches the ball on the rebound and shoots. Swish! The ball goes straight into the basket! Two points for Team A! Kyle Martin catches it and runs off down the court. He crashes into Tony who falls to the floor.
“Hey, Martin! Watch out!” shouts Coach Bergman.
“Sorry, Coach!” shouts Kyle hut Ricki sees him look at his friend Pat and grin.
The teams play for fifteen minutes. In the end, Team A wins by sixteen points to twelve.
“What do you think?” asks Ricki, as he wipes his face with his towel.
“I don’t know. It’s going to be a really difficult decision for Coach Bergman. I sure hope we make the team, Ricki!” replies Tony.
“Me, too,” says Ricki.
“Anyway, Tony, one thing is sure – those mysterious messages were just a joke. Nothing bad happened at the try-out.”
“No, it didn’t – not yet,” says Tony.
Chapter 4: A Hit-and-Run
The next day Ricki and Tony arrive at school early. There is a van from the local newspaper in front of the school. Two journalists are talking to a group of students outside the school gates.
“Why are those news reporters here?” asks Ricki, surprised.
“I don’t know,” replies Tony. “Look! Trish, Stacy and Mr Stockton are talking to them. Let’s find out what’s going on.”
“Mr Stockton, we are doing another news article about the increasing problem of crime in our high schools. Is there a lot of crime at Howard High?” one news reporter is asking the principal. Mr Stockton says, “No, we don’t have much crime here. Sure, we have some vandalism and we have some minor discipline problems. A few students have truancy problems, but there’s nothing major. I think our students feel safe here.”
“Stacy and Trish, do you feel safe at this school?” the other reporter asks the girls.
“Yeah, usually I feel safe,” replies Trish, “but there are some bullies at the school.”
“What exactly do you mean? What do they do?” asks the reporter.
“Well, some students are using notes and e-mail…”
But Stacy interrupts her friend, “No, we don’t have a lot of crime at our school, sir. We feel very safe here.”
She frowns at Trish and whispers, “Not yet. We don’t have any proof, Trish.”
Trish nods her head. She smiles at the reporters.
“Yes, all in all we feel safe at Howard High – it’s a good school.”
“Well, thank you, Trish, Stacy and Mr Stockton for your time,” says the reporter, closing his notebook.
“Don’t mention it,” replies the principal.
“You’re welcome,” say Stacy and Trish.
Tony and Ricki run to catch up with Stacy and Trish.
“Hey, what did they want?” asks Ricki.
“They’re writing another story on crime in high schools like the one in the newspaper yesterday. Remember the broken windows at school the other day?” says Trish. “They’re trying to find out what happened, who the vandals are and why they did it.”
“So why were they asking you?” asks Tony.
“I don’t know, maybe because we’re so gorgeous!” jokes Trish.
“Ricki, you and I have two famous girlfriends!” he replies and everybody laughs.
“Hey, what happened at the try-outs yesterday?” Stacy asks then. “Are you two on the team?”
“We are going to find out at lunchtime,” says Ricki.
“Let’s meet at the gym then,” says Trish.
“Okay! See you there!” replies Ricki.
The four friends meet at the gym later. Tony and Ricki see two boys standing near the coach’s door. Their heads are down. They’re not smiling.
“Oh no!” says Ricki. “Eric Caplin and John MacMillan aren’t on the team. Look at their faces! They’re seniors, too. I think they’re very good players.”
“Well, obviously, Coach doesn’t agree. Keep your fingers crossed,” says Tony. “Let’s hope we make the team.”
They walk to the noticeboard outside Coach Bergman’s door and look at the team list anxiously.
“Yahoo! Congratulations, Ricki and Tony!” cries Trish suddenly. “You’re on the team! Look, there are your names!”
“Hey, that’s great!” shouts Stacy, hugging Ricki. “You’re the best!”
Eric Caplin comes over to them.
“You were lucky this time, Caruso and Anderson!” he says furiously. “But remember you’re just kids. Coach made a big mistake,” and he walks away.
“Why is he so angry with you?” asks Trish.
“I suppose it’s because he’s a senior but he isn’t on the team,” replies Tony, shrugging his shoulders.
“Okay, bur why is he so nasty? He’s really hostile,” says Trish, puzzled. “Hey, forget Eric Caplin – he’s an idiot,” says Stacy. “Let’s celebrate guys! Let’s go have pizza for lunch!”
Ricki, Tony, Stacy and Trish walk out of the school towards the pizzeria, laughing and talking. Ricki turns to say something to Stacy as he steps off the curb. Suddenly, a car with dark windows comes round the comer. It speeds towards Ricki, getting faster and faster. Nobody knows whose car it is. They can’t see the driver.
“Ricki, watch out!” shouts Tony, and Stacy screams, but it’s already too late. The car hits Ricki and knocks him down onto the road, then speeds off without stopping. He lies on the road; his face is white. His friends surround him.
“Ricki, Ricki, are you all right?” cries Stacy.
“Ricki, can you hear us?” shouts Tony.
A small pool of blood is forming under Ricki’s head. His eyes are closed. He doesn’t reply.
Chapter 5: Emergency
“Ricki? Ricki, can you hear me?” asks Mr Stockton.
The principal kneels next to Ricki and puts his hand on his head. Ricki is lying on the ground but he isn’t moving. His eyes are still closed.
“Stacy, call Ricki’s parents and tell them about the accident. Tony and Trish, ask for an ambulance. Ricki needs to go to hospital.”
Stacy uses her cell phone to call Mr and Mrs Anderson.
Trish runs into the school to call the hospital but she can’t find a telephone. She stops one of the students and says, “Please help me. This is an emergency. We need an ambulance – can I use your cell phone?”
The girl looks shocked. She gives Trish the phone.
“Hello? 911? We need an ambulance at Howard High School immediately. There has been a road accident. It’s an emergency! Please hurry!”
“Ricki, can you hear me?” asks Mr Stockton again. He looks at Stacy. “Stacy, you try. He knows your voice,” he says. Many of the students are coming out from the school now.
They stand together, pointing at Ricki and talking.
“What’s the matter?” asks one girl.
“Ricki Anderson had an accident. A car hit him,” replies another girl.
“Is he dead?” says the first.
“Oh God, I don’t know, but he isn’t moving.”
Stacy is trying to talk to Ricki. She is crying but she tries to make him hear her voice.
“Ricki, can you hear me, honey? Ricki, it’s Stacy. Please, say something!” Mr Stockton looks carefully at Ricki, “He’s breathing normally. I don’t think he is hurt badly but his head is bleeding. He could have concussion.” Mr Stockton looks at the crowd of curious students.
“Did any of you kids see the accident?” he asks.
“Yes, me,” says Charlie Bell. “A red car came out of the parking lot very fast. It went straight at Ricki and knocked him down.”
“What about the driver?” asks Mr Stockton. “Who was it?”
“I don’t know. The car had dark windows, but I think there were two people in the car,” replies Charlie.
“Did you recognise them?” asks Mr Stockton.
“No, sorry, Mr Stockton,” replies Charlie.
Suddenly, Ricki moves a little bit. He groans. “Ohhh, my head hurts!” he says.
“Oh, Ricki, you’re okay!” cries Stacy. She holds his hand. She is crying. “My leg, I can’t feel my leg,” Ricki says weakly. “Help me, please.” Tony kneels down next to his friend.
“Ricki, listen. Don’t move. The ambulance is coming. Your parents are going to the hospital,” he says.
Ricki is very weak. He can’t speak hut he nods his head.
The ambulance drives up to the school, its siren flashing, and two paramedics get out.
“Move please, kids,” says one of the men. “We want to talk to the boy.”
“What’s your name?” the paramedic asks Ricki while his colleague examines him carefully.
“Ricki… Anderson,” replies Ricki very quietly. He tries to move and groans with pain.
“No, don’t move, son. Where’s the pain?” asks the paramedic.
“In my head and in my leg,” replies Ricki.
“What happened?” asks the other man, looking at Mr Stockton.
“It was a hit-and-run,” says Mr Stockton. “A car knocked him down, then drove away.”
“In that case we must inform the police,” replies the paramedic, pressing a number on his cell phone.
They put Ricki on the stretcher and take him to the ambulance. Stacy gets into the ambulance too.
“Ricki, don’t worry. You’re going to be okay. I’m going to the hospital with you.” She holds his hand.
“Are you a relative, Miss?” asks one of the men.
“No… but…” begins Stacy.
“I’m sorry, Miss, but you can’t come in the ambulance,” says the paramedic.
Stacy gets out again. She is very upset.
“Don’t worry, Stacy, we’re going to the hospital,” says Tony. “Come on, we can go by bus.”
Trish, Tony and Stacy are shocked by Ricki’s accident. They sit in silence on the bus. All of them are thinking that maybe it wasn’t really an accident.
“We have to find the driver of that red car,” says Stacy. “I’m sure he has some connection with the notes and e-mails you guys got. Those notes were not a joke. Someone wants to hurt Ricki. And Tony – you’re next!”
Chapter 6: In Hospital
The ambulance arrives at the hospital. Mr and Mrs Anderson are already there. They watch anxiously as the paramedics pull the stretcher out of the ambulance.
“Oh Ricki! Are you all right?” asks his mother. She runs to her son’s side. “Yes, I think I’m all right, Mom,” replies Ricki. “Don’t worry.”
“What happened, son?” asks his father.
“You can tell your parents the story later,” says one of the paramedics. “You must rest now. Then the doctor is coming to see you.”
They take Ricki to the Accident and Emergency department and put him to bed. When they move him from the stretcher his leg hurts very much. His parents are worried when they see the pain on his face. What’s the matter with Ricki’s leg?
“The doctor is coming soon,” the paramedic tells them and leaves the family alone in the room.
Ricki starts to tell his mother and father the story. “We were all walking out of the school gates. One minute Tony and I were talking about the basketball team, and the next minute a car knocked me down. I don’t remember anything after that,” he says.
“Basketball team?” asks Mrs Anderson.
“Oh yeah, Mom – I made the team! Our names are on Coach Bergman’s list,” says Ricki. He smiles and then he groans in pain as his leg starts to hurt again. His mom takes his hand.
“Don’t worry, honey, the doctor is coming now,” she says.
At that moment, Trish, Tony and Stacy arrive.
“Ricki, how are you?” asks Stacy. She comes over to the bed. She takes his other hand.
“I’m all right, Stacy. Thanks,” Ricki says smiling.
“The doctor is coming to examine him now, Stacy,” Mrs Anderson tells her.
“We know about the accident,” says Mr Anderson to Tony. “Do you know who the driver of the car could be?”
“No, I’m sorry, Mr Anderson, I don’t. I didn’t recognize the car,” replies Tony.
“The car has dark windows,” adds Trish. “But Charlie Bell thinks there were two people inside.”
“It must be someone who hates Ricki,” says Stacy sadly.
“Hates Ricki? Who could hate him?” asks Mrs Anderson, surprised.
Tony frowns at Stacy. He doesn’t want her to tell Ricki’s parents about the mysterious messages.
A nurse comes in then and introduces himself.
“Hello, I’m Drew Carlson. I’m your nurse. Ricki, please put this thermometer under your arm. I’m going to give you an injection to stop the pain, then the doctor wants to do some tests on your leg.” He turns to the others, “I’m sorry, but you must all wait outside for a few minutes.”
“Hello, Ricki, I’m Dr. Brown. How are you feeling?” she asks kindly.
“Not too bad, Doctor, but my leg hurts a lot,” replies Ricki.
“Hmmm… Let’s have a look,” she says. She feels Ricki’s left leg. Ricki cries in pain.
“I want some X-rays of that leg,” says the doctor to Nurse Carlson.
“Please take Ricki to the X-ray room. I think your left leg might be fractured, Ricki. But don’t worry, it’s not too serious. We can fix it.”
“Can I still play basketball, Doctor? I made the school team today and I want to play in the championship this year,” says Ricki.
“Congratulations!” replies Dr. Brown. “But I don’t think you can play basketball for some time. We must put a plaster cast on your leg and you need to rest it for a few weeks.”
“But we start basketball practice on Monday!” says Ricki, desperately.
“Sorry, Ricki,” says Dr. Brown. “Now I want to talk to your parents,” and she leaves him alone.
Ricki’s friends come back in.
“Ricki, we were talking about the notes you and Tony received at school. The notes were right – something bad did happen,” says Stacy.
“But who is behind all these threats?” asks Trish.
“I don’t know,” says Tony. “What about ‘Caper’? That’s the name on the e-mails.”
“I think we have to find the driver of the car,” says Trish. “Who has a red car in our school?”
“That’s going to be impossible, Trish. I think it was a Subaru, but there are a lot of red Subaru’s in town and the car could be stolen.”
“Wait a minute, I remember something,” says Stacy slowly. “The car has an unusual wheel! The back wheel on the right was different from the others.”
“That’s a good clue,” says Tony. “I’m sure ‘Caper’ and the red car are connected. When we find Caper, we find the mystery driver!”
“Don’t worry, Ricki, we’re going to find out who is doing all this,” says Trish to her friend, and Stacy and Tony nod in agreement.
Chapter 7: More from Caper
The next day Ricki comes home from the hospital. His friends telephone him from school. Stacy puts her phone on “speaker” so that they can all talk to Ricki and hear him. “Hi Ricki! It’s us. How are you?” asks Stacy.
“I’m fine,” says Ricki. “But my leg’s in a cast so I have to stay in bed. I want to be at school with all of you. It’s boring here at home alone.”
“You need to rest so that your leg can get better,” says Tony. “I’m going to talk to Coach Bergman today. I think he’s going to let you stay on the team. He’s a good guy.”
“Thanks, Tony,” replies Ricki. “Oh, and a news reporter is coming over to my house today. She wants to interview me about the accident. I’m going to be on TV!”
“Mr Stockton wants to see us today, too. We’re going to tell him about Caper,” says Stacy.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. He’s going to think we’re just stupid kids,” says Ricki. “We have to find out some more about Caper first. We need more proof. Then we can tell the principal.”
“Okay,” agrees Tony after a pause, “but I don’t like it. These people could be dangerous – look what happened to you, Ricki!”
Ricki hears the school bell ringing.
“We have to go to class now,” says Trish. “See you after school! Bye.”
Later that day the doorbell rings at Ricki’s house. Mrs Anderson brings a news reporter, a sound technician and a camera man into the living room. Ricki is lying on the sofa. The camera man sets up his camera and begins to film the interview. The sound technician holds the microphone over their heads and begins to record their conversation. The news reporter introduces herself to Ricki. She asks him a lot of questions about crime in his school, the accident, and his injuries. She thinks Ricki’s accident could be connected to the vandalism at school. Ricki isn’t sure. He tells her about the basketball team and how he can’t play in the championship until his leg gets better, but he doesn’t tell her about Caper and the messages. He doesn’t tell her that he suspects some of the basketball players. He knows they can’t prove there is a connection between them and the accident. Not yet.
During lunchtime at school, Tony, Trish and Stacy go to the computer room. Tony opens his e-mail. There is another strange message. It says:
Message: Anderson’s accident wasn’t an accident. You are next Caruso!
“Tony, I don’t like this,” says Trish. “Let’s tell Mr Stockton now.”
“Not yet, Trish. I want to send our friend Caper an answer this time,” says Tony. He hits the “Reply” button and writes his message.
Message: I’m not afraid. We’re going to find you. Start running sucker!
“Tony, do you think that’s a good idea?” asks Stacy. “If Caper gets angry, who knows what he’s going to do?”
“I want to provoke him,” replies Tony. “I want to know who ‘Caper’ is. I think if he gets mad, he’s going to make a mistake, and then we can identify him.”
“Let’s go to Ricki’s house and talk to him about it after school,” suggests Stacy. “We can make a plan.”
“Good idea,” agrees Trish. “Four heads are better than three!”
After school, the friends go over to Ricki’s house.
“How’s your leg, Ricki?” asks Tony.
“It really hurts. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to walk, much less play basketball,” answers Ricki, gloomily. “How was school?”
“Tony got another e-mail from Caper,” Trish tells him. “We’re worried.” Tony tells Ricki about the message and his reply.
“We have to find out who Caper is,” says Ricki. “That’s the key to the mystery.”
“I think he’s a basketball player,” says Stacy. “He wants to hurt you and Tony because you made the team. It you two can’t play, Coach Bergman is going to need two more players. Maybe Caper hopes to get on the team that way.”
“Maybe it’s Kyle!” says Trish. “Remember, he knocked you down at practice, Tony.”
“Yeah, but maybe it’s Pat. He said something bad was going to happen in the lunchroom,” answers Ricki.
“Or, maybe it’s Eric, or John. They’re seniors and they’re not on the team,” adds Tony.
“How can we find out who Caper is? There are too many suspects,” says Stacy.
“Listen,” replies Ricki, “I have an idea.”
Chapter 8: Ricki’s Plan
His friends listen carefully as Ricki explains his plan. “I want to have a party. I want to invite all the players from the try-outs. Maybe one of the players knows something about the messages and the accident!” he says.
“Do you think ‘Caper’ is going to come?” asks Stacy.
“If he’s one of the players, he’s going to be invited,” replies Ricki.
“I think it’s a dangerous idea,” says Trish. “This Caper is a dangerous person. He could do something to hurt you or Tony at the party.”
“But we want to find out who Caper is,” answers Tony. “He wants to stop us from playing basketball but I’m not going to let him.”
The friends plan the party. They’re going to have a lot of food and drinks. They are also going to have music and dancing. The party is going to be in Ricki’s back yard. Tony says he can bring his new CD player, and Trish and Stacy are going to buy the food. Ricki makes a list of twenty-five people to send invitations to.
The friends write the text of the invitation together. It says:
You are invited to Ricki’s “Get well soon” and birthday party! On : Friday, February 4th At : 9:00 p.m.
Where : Ricki Anderson’s house 495 Columbus Drive
Friday night comes at last. Everything is prepared for the party. There are hot dogs, burgers, salads and chips. Tony brings the Cokes and sodas. Ricki walks with his crutches out into the back yard. Tony is putting up lights and setting up the CD player.
“Sorry that I can’t help much,” says Ricki.
“Hey, don’t worry. You have to rest so you can get better quickly, then you can play basketball again.”
The doorbell rings.
“Oh! Here is our first guest!” says Ricki. “I want to answer the door. Remember our plan, everybody.” The others nod. They are going to try and find out about Caper by talking to the players during the party. They need to know who is jealous of Ricki and Tony and who drives a red Subaru. They also need to find out who uses e-mail a lot. Could the name “Caper” be a code word for something? The friends all feel excited and tense. What’s going to happen tonight?
Two of the basketball players from the team are at the door.
“Hi, Ricki!” says Anthony. “Good to see you. How are you? We miss you at practice.”
“I miss it too, but Tony always tells me about it,” replies Ricki.
“You guys work hard! The party’s out back in the yard. Have fun!” Later Stacy is talking to Ricki when the bell rings again.
“Oh, hi, Pat. Hi, Kyle,” says Ricki. “Nice to see you! Come in – the party’s in the yard.”
“Thanks, Anderson. We’re here with Eric Caplin and John Roberts.”
“I don’t see them,” says Stacy, looking out into the street. “Where are they?”
“Oh, they’re parking the car,” replies Pat, looking away.
“In the next street?” asks Stacy, incredulously.
“Oh, umm… Eric’s car makes a lot of noise, so he’s parking it in the next street,” replies Kyle quickly. “He doesn’t want to annoy your neighbors.”
“That doesn’t sound like Eric Caplin at all,” thinks Stacy. “He’s not usually so considerate!”
Eric and John arrive soon after and join the rest of the party. The music is playing loudly and a lot of people are dancing. Trish notices Eric and Pat talking together in a dark corner of the garden. She looks around to see if anyone is watching her, then goes around the trees behind them so that they can’t see her. She goes nearer and listens to them.
“They don’t suspect anything,” Eric is saying. “They’re too stupid.”
“Well, it was a risk to bring the car tonight. That wasn’t clever, Eric,” replies Pat.
“I parked it in the next street so they can’t see it and the mechanic is going to change the wheel on Monday. No one will recognize my car then,” says Eric.
“I hope not. We could get into trouble.” Pat is nervous.
“Hey, don’t worry, Pat. Anderson isn’t going to play basketball again, and we’re going to stop Caruso, too,” replies Eric.
“Mmm. Let’s go back to the party before someone notices us,” Pat says. Trish quietly comes out of the shadows and goes over to Tony.
“Tony, quick! Get Stacy and Ricki and meet me in Ricki’s room in five minutes. I have something important to tell all of you.”
The four friends are sitting on Ricki’s bed looking expectantly at Trish.
“What is it, Trish?” asks Stacy.
“I think I know who the driver of the red car is!” replies her friend.
“Who?” asks Ricki.
“Eric Caplin. Now he wants to stop Tony too.”
Tony’s face is white. “How do you know that, Trish?” he asks.
“I heard them talking in the garden. They didn’t see me,” she explains.
“What are we going to do now?” asks Stacy, afraid.
“I don’t know yet,” replies Ricki. “Let’s go back to the party before they notice we’re not there. Perhaps we can catch them out if they think we don’t know anything.”
Chapter 9: The Caper Mystery Is Solved
It’s 1: 00 a.m. and the party is finished. The last guests leave and the four friends start clearing up.
“The party was a success,” Tony is saying, “and so was our plan. Now we know the driver of the car but the seniors don’t think we know anything. Trish, you’re a good detective! I’m going to call you Miss Marple!” They all laugh.
“Yes, you are like Agatha Christie’s detective, Miss Marple!” jokes Ricki. Trish smiles.
“Sorry, everyone,” says Stacy with a serious face, “but in fact we don’t know Eric is the driver, all we know for sure is that the red car is his.
Maybe another person drives it sometimes. We need more information.”
“And we need more proof to connect Eric with ‘Caper’,” adds Tony. They sit in silence, thinking.
“There must be a clue in the e-mails that can lead us to the culprits,” says Stacy. “Caper. C-A-P-E-R… hmmm. Eric Caplin. But I where’s the connection?” She writes the name “Eric Caplin” on a piece! of paper and studies it.
E C C E
E Caplin Eric C Er Cap CapEr I
“Look!” she shouts suddenly, “Caper!”
Stacy shows them the paper. “Look at Eric’s name. Eric Caplin. Do you see the connection?”
“I don’t see anything,” says Tony, puzzled.
“Stacy, you’re right!” shouts Ricki. “Look, Tony, Trish, she’s right! ‘Caper’ is Eric’s user name on the computer. He uses the initial parts of his name for his user name. In this case the first three letters of his last name, and the first two letters of his first name: C-A-P-E-R. Congratulations, Stacy! You’re too clever to go out with an idiot like me. “Good work, Stacy!” says Trish, “Now, let’s catch ‘Caper’!”
“How, Trish?” asks Tony.
“We’re going to send him an e-mail,” she replies.
“But he mustn’t know it’s from us,” says Ricki.
“Yes, you’re right, but we can send the message from my dad’s computer and use a false user name,” replies Trish. “He’s going to think the message is from Pat!”
“How?” asks Stacy. “We don’t have Pat’s password.”
“We can trick Eric. We can write to him with a new user name and tell him that it’s Pat’s new user name. We can say that he has a new user name now because the old one isn’t safe.”
“What are we going to write in the message?” asks Tony.
“It’s too late to write the message now,” replies Trish.
“We have to think about it carefully. Let’s meet tomorrow afternoon at my house to prepare the message. Tony, can you give Stacy and me a ride home?”
“Sure, I have my mom’s car tonight. It’s parked outside. Come on, girls, let’s go. Ricki, see you tomorrow.”
“Okay, guys, bye. See you,” replies Ricki sleepily.
On the way home in Tony’s car, Tony and the girls are talking about the party. Tony comes to a red light and puts his foot on the brake. But something is wrong. The car doesn’t stop. Tony pushes and pushes on the brake pedal, but nothing happens.
“Tony! Tony! What are you doing? Stop the car!” shouts Stacy.
“I can’t!” cries Tony. “The brakes aren’t working!”
Another car is coming towards them very fast. Tony turns the wheel hard to avoid the other car. The girls see the black post of the traffic lights in front of them. Stacy screams as the car smashes violently into the traffic lights. They all fall from their seats. A few minutes pass. They sit immobilized with shock. Trish recovers first and turns to look at her two friends. Tony is slumped over the steering wheel.
He isn’t moving. His eyes are shut. He looks very pale.
“Tony!” cries Trish. “Oh my God! Tony! Tony!”
Chapter 10: A Close Call
“Tony, Tony, are you all right?” repeats Trish, shaking him.
At first Tony doesn’t react. Then, slowly, he lifts his head. “Trish? What… what happened?”
“We hit the traffic lights,” says Stacy. “Are you okay?”
“The brakes!” says Tony. “The brakes don’t work… it’s strange. Oh, look at my mom’s car! It’s a wreck!”
“Don’t worry about that now, Tony. Let’s leave the car here and call a taxi. We all need to go home and rest.”
“Caper said I was next,” says Tony, slowly. “This situation is getting really dangerous. I’m scared.”
“Don’t think about it now,” says Stacy. “Let’s just go home.”
The next day Tony, Ricki and Stacy arrive at Trish’s house after lunch. Trish is sitting at the computer. She types a new user name and starts writing the message to Eric Caplin.
Subject: Change of user name
It’s P. I have a new user name – the old one wasn’t safe anymore. We must be very careful. No one must be able to connect us to the accidents.
C and A aren’t going to do anything – they’re too scared, they’re ready to quit the team I think – but we need to cover our tracks. Let’s talk tomorrow after school.
“There,” says Trish. “Now let’s see if Eric, or ‘Caper,’ replies and gives us some written proof.”
She sends the e-mail. The friends go to make some coffee. When they come back there is a reply to their message. It says:
Subject: Change of user name
Anderson and Caruso don’t know anything. No one can connect the accidents to us. Quit worrying – no one can touch us. See you tomorrow.
“That’s it!” shouts Trish. “We’ve got them!” She prints the message and puts it in her school hag. “Tomorrow afternoon we can go and see Mr Stockton and tell him everything we know.”
“But we still don’t know exactly what Eric and Pat did, or who helped them,” says Ricki.
“You’re right, but Mr Stockton can investigate that,” says Stacy.
“We don’t want any more trouble.”
The next morning Tony and Ricki are in the computer room at school working on a math’s problem. Suddenly Pat, Kyle and Eric come into the room. They close the door and Kyle puts a chair in front of it so no one can come in. Tony is nervous.
“What do you want, Pat?” he asks.
“Don’t move, Caruso!” says Eric sharply. “Sit down. Now!”
“You think you’re really smart, you two, don’t you? Well, we’re on to you,” says Pat.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replies Ricki, defiantly.
“Now, Anderson, that’s not very honest for a good little boy scout like you,” sneers Eric.
“Yeah, a boy that’s always top of the class and sucks up to Coach Bergman to get on the team!” adds Pat.
Eric shows them a print-out of their e-mail with the false user name.
“Kyle was at my house yesterday when I got this. He went to play billiards with Pat. He asked Pat about his new user name, but Pat didn’t know anything.”
Tony and Ricki say nothing. They feel scared.
“I suppose now you want to go blab to old Stockton, eh, Anderson? Well, we’re going to teach you a lesson. You have to understand we mean business.”
Ricki stands up but Eric steps forward and pushes him to the ground. He’s very angry. Ricki tries to get up but Eric pushes him again.
He pulls Ricki’s hair and lifts his arm to punch him.
“Get off the basketball team, Anderson. I’m going to fix you!”
Tony tries to catch Eric’s arm, but Kyle and Pat hold him back.
“Eric, don’t!” he shouts. “That’s not the way. Don’t make any more trouble.”
“Shut up, Caruso, you’re next!” shouts Eric.
Chapter 11: Return to the Team
Suddenly they hear voices in the corridor outside. Ricki sees Stacy’s face at the glass panel in the door. Someone tries to open the door from the other side. Kyle shouts to Pat to help him keep it shut. Eric is too angry to notice. He hits Ricki on the head. Ricki is on the floor. He can’t get up because of his leg. Then he sees his crutches next to the computer table. If he can reach one of them…
He grabs Eric’s leg and pulls him down. Eric falls and, at that moment Ricki grabs the crutch and pins him down with it.
The door opens with a crash and Mr Stockton and some of the senior boys burst into the room.
“That’s enough, boys!” he shouts. “Caplin, Martin, Jones – go to my office immediately. You’re in serious trouble. The police are coming for you.”
Eric is furious. As the seniors lead him and the others away, he shouts at Ricki and Tony, “I’m going to finish you! I’m going to break your other leg, Anderson – and yours too, Caruso!”
Later the four friends are in the lunch room at school when Mr Stockton walks over to the table. He smiles at the four students. “Kyle, Pat and Eric are not going to be in school for a while. The police are investigating their part in Ricki’s accident and the problems with Tony’s mom’s car. Kyle and Pat aren’t going to play basketball this year. Coach says he doesn’t want trouble-makers on the team.” He turns to Ricki, “I see you don’t have your crutches any more, Ricki,” he adds. “When are you going to start basketball practice again?”
“Well, the doctor says my leg is much better. I can start playing again next month,” replies Ricki.
“That’s good, but take it easy – you don’t want to hurt your leg again,” says Mr Stockton. “Now, there’s a newspaper reporter in my office who wants to talk you. He wants to do a story in the local newspaper about Eric and your accidents. Come to my office in thirty minutes. Stacy, Trish – you two girls, too.”
Later in the afternoon, Ricki and Tony are in the locker room. Tony is getting ready for practice when Anthony comes in and talks to them.
“Kyle Martin and Pat Jones are off the team. Coach says I’m on the team! I’m going to play in the game on Friday night!”
“That’s great, Anthony – you’re a good player, you deserve it,” says Ricki, smiling.
“I hope your leg gets better and you can start playing again soon, Ricki,” replies Anthony. “We’re going to be a fantastic team this year!”
They walk out onto the basketball court. Ricki sits down to watch the practice session. He thinks, “Now all the trouble is finished, I just want to play basketball!”
Chapter 12: Ricki’s Long Shot
Four weeks later the basketball championship starts. The boys from Howard High are in the gym practicing for their first game on Saturday.
Ricki is back! It’s his first practice since the accident. He wants Coach Bergman to choose him to play on Saturday. He tries to run fast but his leg hurts a bit.
“Take it easy, Anderson!” shouts Coach Bergman. “Don’t force your leg. We need you for the game on Saturday night!”
Ricki is pleased. He is going to play in the game! He works hard during practice. He shoots well, he plays intelligently in the practice game, he plays well with the other players. After practice, he and Tony walk to the showers.
“You played great tonight, Ricki,” says Tony. “If you play like that on Saturday, Redwood High doesn’t have a chance!”
Coach Bergman comes into the locker room to talk to Ricki. “Anderson,” he says, “I think you’re ready to play in a real match. I want you there on Saturday. You and Caruso are a great duo!”
“Thanks, Coach, that’s fantastic!” replies Ricki.
“Oh, and Ricki, I’m sorry for what happened to you and Tony. Caplin and the others were really out of control but they’re going to be punished. I hope now they understand their behavior was very wrong. You can’t become a good basketball player by threatening other players or hurting them. You and Tony are not only better players but you’re better sportsmen than they are.”
“Thanks, Coach,” says Tony. “We’re going to work hard. We appreciate that you chose us to be on the team, even if we’re juniors,” says Tony sincerely.
“Okay, boys. Show me I was right – win the match against Redwood High on Saturday!” laughs Coach Bergman.
It’s Saturday night and the arena is full. There are a lot of people watching the game. The band is playing loud music and the cheerleaders are dancing with their pompoms. The two teams run onto the court. They practice shooting and throwing the ball. Then the buzzer sounds and the game begins. Coach Bergman calls his players into a group.
“Well, guys, this is our first game of the year. Redwood has a good team. It’s going to be a tough match. Do your best.”
All the players nod. They join hands in a circle and shout, “Go, go, go! Fly high, Howard Hawks!!!”
The crowd jumps to its feet. Everyone is clapping and shouting, “Go Hawks!” Some people wave flags with pictures of hawks on them. The team feels the energy of the crowd. They are excited and tense. They want to win.
At half time, the score is 46-40 for Redwood. Both teams are playing very well. At the end of the second half the score is even at 63-63. There are only 15 seconds left. The crowd is wild with excitement. Coach Bergman calls a timeout.
“Okay, boys. We only have one more shot. Anderson, do you want to take the shot?”
“You bet, Coach,” Ricki replies.
“Okay, then. Do all of you remember the set-up?”
“Yes, Coach,” the players say. The buzzer sounds. They go back onto the court.
Tony passes the ball to Anthony who throws it to Don. Don dodges two Redwood players and passes to Ricki. Ricki jumps, takes aim quickly and throws the ball at the basket. Is the shot too short? He’s still a long way from the basket. It doesn’t go in. Ricki’s heart sinks but the referee is blowing his whistle. Ricki has two free shots!
He goes to the free-throw line. He takes aim and shoots. The hall hits the basket but it doesn’t go in. He misses the shot!
“I have to make this second shot,” he thinks to himself. “It’s our last chance!”
This is the longest shot of his life. He takes a deep breath, fixes his eye on the basket, and shoots. The hall goes around the edge of the basket twice. He thinks, “Go in, please go in!” Then, the ball drops – it’s in! Ricki scores! The crowd goes crazy! The Hawks win the game by one point!
The players carry Ricki on their shoulders around the arena and the crowd shouts and cheers. He sees his parents standing, waving to him – they are very proud. He sees Stacy jumping and cheering and Trish next to her. He knows that this is the happiest moment of his life. After all the difficulties he had before this game, now he knows it was worth it – the day he played the long shot.