Josie Has a Secret, Chapter Four

CHAPTER FOUR

Josie raced through her long division and began reading a book every day that week, and every day Ms. Dopplemeyer took the book away and locked it in her combination-lock drawer.

I tried to convince Josie to do her division the same way everyone else did, so Ms. Dopplemeyer would stop giving her a hard time. Josie told me that getting her books confiscated was all part of "The Plan."

Word got around that Josie had become my "patron," which means someone who supports an artist. No one bothered Josie since she got my notebook back from Todd, and somehow since she was my "patron" this meant no one bothered me either. So I had plenty of time at recess to work on sketches for my new painting. Josie hung out with me and messed around with a deck of cards, whistling Carmina Burana. Every once in a while she'd glance over my sketches and nod appreciatively, or slap me on the back and call me maestro. This was a major improvement from my usual recess activity -- getting my sketchbook stolen by Todd -- and I resolved to give Josie a truly great painting.

Every day after school I rushed home and worked on the painting. It had to be just right.

I finished the painting that Thursday night. "Is it exactly 3 feet by 4 feet?" Josie asked when I told her on the phone.

"Of course, just like you said," I told her.

"Great." Josie sounded ecstatic. "Bring it to school tomorrow, and I'll let you in on part of The Secret."

The next day in Math Class Josie did her division long-hand, just like the other kids. "I'm glad to see you've finally decided to be cooperative," Ms. Dopplemeyer told her.

"I didn't mean to be antagonizing or adversarial," Josie said, which seemed like exactly the response Ms. Dopplemeyer was looking for, since she smiled broadly. I noticed Amanda Droober covertly scribbling those words down to look up later.

Ms. Dopplemeyer made a speech about how glad she was that Josie had finally learned her lesson, and how important it was for us to listen to our teachers and parents, so that we'd grow up to be proper little gentlemen and ladies, blah, blah, blah. She called Josie a model of good behavior that every student should look up to, which made Josie smile angelically. Then, as soon as Ms. Dopplemeyer turned her back, Josie passed me a note.

"Meet me in the cafeteria right after the last bell," it said. "Bring the painting. We're staging a heist."

****

"I looked up the word 'heist,'" I announced as soon as I found Josie after school, "And you're totally crazy."

"Ha!" she smiled, climbing up onto the window-ledge. "That's what they said about Wilhelm Reich!"

"I looked him up, too. He believed that he could glow in the dark, turn deserts into rainforests, and disprove the second law of thermodynamics."

Josie stopped trying to bang the window open for a second It was the kind that lock automatically when closed, and they're always hard to open. "Maybe he was a bad example," she said, frowning slightly. "Anyway, we don't have much time -- give me a hand with this window."

It's amazing the lengths an artist will go to just to please a patron. For instance, forcing open an old window that hasn't been used in a gabillion years when we were supposed to be gone from the building.

"This will never work," I told her as we got the window open. "Principal Laquit checks every room before they lock up for the night."

"Of course it will work," Josie said, digging through her knapsack. "For three reasons: One, Principal Laquit has a painting class with Aunt Leslie on Friday nights, so he'll be in a hurry. Two, people see what they expect to see. And three, you're a genius." She pulled some double-sided tape out of her bag. "I assume you have the painting?"

****

We watched them lock the school up from the Vampire Bushes out back. Sure enough, Principal Laquit only glanced at the cafeteria for about half a second before rushing off to the next room. As usual, he and Ms. Dopplemeyer were the last to leave the building. Ms. Dopplemeyer tried starting a conversation about how dutifully obedient her students had been that day, but he mumbled an excuse and rushed off as soon as he was sure the front door was locked.

"Hmph," she said to herself as he drove off. "How uncooperative."

After Ms. Dopplemeyer left I killed time by estimating how many skateboards tall the Vampire Bushes were. Josie practiced slipping playing cards from her sleeve to her hand, till she could do it so fast you couldn't tell where the card had come from.

"It's dark enough," she said finally. "Let's go."

We crept up to the school on our bellies, for no reason that I could figure out other than that it seemed like something people on a "heist" would do. I'm pretty sure Josie was humming the theme from Mission Impossible.

At first I didn't want to climb the tree, but Josie made a big deal about how she was my patron, and I was already an "accomplice" anyway, and did I want to miss the Adventure of a Lifetime? Eventually I gave in, probably more because I wanted to see what would happen than because of anything she said.

The painting was only attached by its top edge, so we were able to climb through the window without pulling it down. Once we were inside Josie broke out the flashlights and we both took our first good long look at the painting, hanging there in the window. I had to admit it looked exactly like what the window would look like if it were shut and locked, with the three o'clock sun behind it.

Josie hummed the Mission Impossible theme all the way to Ms. Dopplemeyer's room, until finally I poked her in the ribs and told her to cut it out. She made a disappointed face but agreed that we didn't want to get distracted from the Heist.

Our homeroom looked totally creepy at night. While Josie was messing around with Ms. Dopplemeyer's desk I dug my sketchbook out and did a few quick studies for my next piece, Pitch-Black Room Full of Zombies Who Are Exactly 3 1/2 Skateboards Tall.

Josie very gently slid a pen-knife behind the knob of the combination lock.

"If you're trying to pull the knob off, you can forget it," I told her without looking up from my sketching. "I hear Todd Raskin tried to get his baseball glove back last year, the one time Ms. Dopplemeyer stepped out of the room, and he couldn't budge the thing."

"Abracadabra," Josie said quietly, and slipped something out from behind the knob. It looked like a metal washer, except that it was covered in scratches. I stopped sketching to ask what she was doing, but she dramatically motioned for silence.

Josie held her penlight in her mouth and shined it on the washer-thing in her left hand. With her right hand she turned the combination knob:

12... 32... 16... nothing happened.

16... 32... 12... still nothing.

32... 12... 16... it opened.

"How did you do that?" I whispered.

Josie pulled a big leather-bound book from the safe and handed it to me. "Page 82," she said.

First I read the cover: The Craft of Illusion, by J.P. Taylor; A Complete Course in Stage Magic, With a Bit of Real Magic Thrown In! The title page was signed in gold ink, and each page explained a magic trick. Page 82 talked about "The Little Joker," a safe-cracking method invented by two bank robbers over one hundred years ago.

Meanwhile, Josie replaced her prize with another leather-bound book that looked almost identical: The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf.

"So she doesn't notice anything's missing," Josie said, tapping the side of her nose. "I'll get it back before Gra'ma and Aunt Leslie notice it's gone."

"You said you'd tell me part of The Secret," I reminded, handing her the book.

"This is exactly the same as the book Gra'ma gives her students," Josie told me, flipping it open. "Except that it includes an extra chapter on Real Magic. She took that whole section out before getting it published, and as far as I know this is the only complete copy. Listen:

Those wishing to dabble in Real Magic should forget it. Real Magic is dangerous, unpredictable stuff. Only a magician who has completely learned, understood and mastered every stage trick in this book should even think about attempting Real Magic, and here's what they should think: Forget it. Real Magic should only be done in extreme emergencies, and even then all parties concerned must be willing to pay the price.

"What's the price?" I whispered.

"I dunno," Josie said, sliding the book back into her knapsack. "I guess I'll find out soon enough."

"Are you crazy?" I asked. "The book says not to do Real Magic!"

"...Except in extreme emergencies," Josie replied.

I folded my arms. "So what's the big emergency?"

"I can't tell you," Josie answered sheepishly.

I guess I looked like I might cry, because Josie put her arm around my shoulder the way Dad does when I'm close to blubbering. "I'm sorry, Darla, it's nothing personal. It's just that... Real Magic is delicate. All I can tell you for now is that I need to learn every single trick, like the book says, and then I'll be ready."

"Ready for what?"

Josie looked like she wasn't sure how much she could say.

"C'mon, Josie," I crossed my arms. "You never would have gotten the book back if not for me. Ready for what?"

Josie sighed, motioning for me to head back towards the cafeteria with her. "Gra'ma learned magic from a guy called 'Garbanzo The Splendiferous,' about a gabillion years ago," she explained. "She doesn't talk about him much, but in the book she says he's a genius. With a special gift for Real Magic."

Once we reached the cafeteria Josie began gently pulling down the painting.

"I checked in Gra'ma's address book. Garbanzo lives in Sortilege, which is only an hour away by bus. When I'm ready -- once I've mastered every stage trick in the book -- I'm going to ask him to help with... the emergency."

"But the book says Real Magic is usually a bad idea," I pointed out. "What makes you think he'll do it?"

Josie got a funny look in her eye. "I think when you're that good at something, and someone asks, you can't help but do it."

She handed me back my painting, all rolled up so it would fit in my bag.

"Don't you?"

How did Josie open the combination lock? See "Little Joker" on the page with all the answers.
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