Cary Retlin has challenged Kristy and the rest of the BSC to a little mystery war. He's going to leave clues around the school for them to find (each one will lead to the next), and they'll have 6 school days to figure everything out. If they do, they win and Cary will leave them alone. If they don't, he'll keep the watch he lifted off of Kristy. Even though Kristy kind of agreed to this without asking the other BSC members first, they're all up to the challenge. Cary Retlin is going down!
The girls get the first clue the next day before school. It reads: "Get Your Mother (understands)." At first, they think it has something to do with pay phones, so all the club members check the phones in SMS during the day. That's not the answer, so the club reconvenes at lunchtime. That's when they figure it out: Get Your Mother equals "gym" (look at the first letter of each word), and "understands" means under the stands in the gym. The girls gather there after school, and find their next clue. They're not alone in the gym, though; several boys are in there, playing basketball. That's not unusual, but the fact that one of them is a guy named Troy Parker is. He was given a long-term suspension not that long before, and isn't even supposed to be at school.
Meanwhile, SMS is experiencing a little mystery of its own. Someone used chalk, a permanent marker, and something sharp (a key? ) to vandalize a car in the school parking lot. The messages are all about how the teachers have no control, and they seems to be directed at Mr. Kingbridge. Too bad it wasn't actually his car that was vandalized! The graffitti is signed with the Mischief Knights "MK" signature....but in green, not their typical red. The art room is the only classroom with a view of that particular parking lot, but it was empty during the class period when the vandalism happened. Of course, the BSC suspects Cary Retlin, but he more or less has an alibi (he was in class with Abby, except for a bathroom trip).
Back to the BSC vs. Retlin mystery war. The second clue reads: "A drop of golden sun/just short of failing/a skater's figure/not him, you see, but/(where does it all come from?)." The girls take the clue line by line, starting with the first one. Since the line is taken from that Sound of Music song, they figure out that the answer must be "ray." Next, Claudia (the expert in coming just short of failing), figures out that the second part of the clue is "D." Then, Jessi comes up with "8" as a skater's figure, and Abby gets the last part (it's not him, but HER). They put it all together and get "ray-D-8-her," or "radiator." It's too late that afternoon to go back into the school to check the boiler room, where the radiators are, so they agree to meet the next day before school.
That evening, there's a school board meeting. Most of the BSC members attend, since the topic is the teachers' contract negotiations, and they're all curious as to what's going to happen. The teachers want a raise, but the board isn't exactly forthcoming with one. Ms. Karush, president of the board of education, is sympathetic towards the teachers, but Mr. Oates, the chairman of the board, isn't. He points at the recent vandalism in the parking lot as an example of why the teachers don't deserve more money; if they can't control their students, they don't deserve more money. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who agree with him, and the teachers are prepared to strike over the issue. That means school in summer, which doesn't make ANYONE happy.
The next morning, the BSC is out in full force and at school early. They head to boiler room, and sure enough, there's the next clue. This one says: "toasted gloves or barbecued bats, anyone?" Most of the girls have no idea what that means, but Kristy figures it out pretty fast; Cary is talking about the old equipment shed that burned down during her softball team initiation. Kristy isn't sure how Cary would have known about that, but she decides to go check it out at lunch. She's much faster than Cary expected; in fact, he's there leaving the clue when she arrives. The club decides to save it until their club meeting that afternoon.
That same day, someone sets off the fire alarm at SMS, and once again, there's a green "MK" near the alarm that was pulled. Unfortunately, Mr. Oates was at the school and was present for the whole fiasco. He sees this as one more reason why the Stoneybrook teachers don't deserve what they're looking for. The BSC members discuss this latest act of rebellion after school, while Abby and Kristy are waiting for their bus. Cary is still a suspect, but some of the BSC members don't think that vandalism or pulling fire alarms is really his style. Mr. Oates is brought up as a possible suspect; he could be doing all these things just to prove himself right. Also, Troy Parker is still being seen around school in spite of his suspension, and so is Brad Simon (remember him? The one who sold the "study guide" to Abby?). Finally, Mr. Milhaus, one of the SMS janitors, was seen walking by a classroom near the fire alarm that was pulled, just before it happened.
It's time for that's day's BSC meeting, and the next mystery war clue. This one's a doozy: "cafeteria hamburger+A Theory of Man and Woman-SMS on street= a fly on the wall of..." The BSC doesn't have any idea what it means, and they aren't any closer to figuring it out the next day. That's also when the SMS vandal strikes again; this time, they flood a girls' bathroom. Once again, Mr. Milhaus is right there, on the scene, and the girls agree at lunch that day that he definitely seems suspicious. Stacey has also figured out that Cary most recent clue is numerical. What the numbers representing the cost of a hamburger in the SMS cafeteria, the Dewey decimal number of A Theory of Man and Woman, and the street address of SMS are added/subtracted, they get 116. The girls still have a little time before lunch ends, so they dash of to room 116. Sure enough, there's the clue...right behind a giant picture of a fly. The next clue is: "Nothing personal, Claudia, but check your spelling." Claudia figures out that Cary must be referring to her old personals column, so they head to the SMS Express offices after school. Claudia logs into a spelling program. After she finishes the test, a message from Cary pops up: B2 or not B2...that is the question. (Are you sitting down?)" Well, the only place in SMS with numbered seats in the school is the auditorium.
The BSC in the auditorium, just about to grab their clue, when things just sort of happen at once. Mr. Kingbridge arrives with Mr. Oats and a reporter from the Stoneybrook news, just when some crashes and screams are heard from behind the curtains onstage. Someone had messed up a bunch of stuff from the last school play. Mr. Oats tries to get the BSC blamed for the mess (they WERE in the auditorium, after all), and Kristy starts to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Cary wanted it to happen that way. She's mad enough at the very idea that she pulls Mr. Kingbridge aside and tells him what she and the rest of the BSC member suspect about Cary. That, in turn, makes Cary mad enough to turn up at the BSC meeting that day and prove to Kristy that he did indeed have an alibi for the times when things were done. She feels bad, and actually apologizes. The mystery war is still on!
The next clue is: "Hey Abby. IPA2tFotUSoAand2tR (there's a drawing of four witches at this point) look up." The following Monday, the girls figure out that the note is a shorthand version of the Pledge of Allegiance. During homeroom, Abby finds the final clue tucked into the flag holder. It's not a riddle; it reads "Bring me the head of the false Mischief Knights." The girls are clueless; they have their suspects, but aren't really any closer to picking one. The thing that really stands out about all the fake Mischief Knight pranks is the lack of attention to detail. Mr. Kingbridge has a red car....but the one vandalized was a similar one in green. Then, there's the fact that the signature is always in green, rather than the typical MK red. Mary Anne is the one who figures out that the culprit must be color blind, and Claudia is the one who realizes that it's got to be Troy Parker. His outfits never seem to match, and it doesn't seem to be intentional. The club needs proof before they can formally accuse him, and they decide to enlist the help of Cary. They need him to open Troy's locker, even though it means forfeiting the mystery war.
The whole group heads to Troy's locker after school. Sure enough, they find a bunch of plenty of evidence to support their theory. Troy Parker himself catches them in the act of snooping, but ends up confessing everything...just in time for Mr. Kingbridge to hear. Now that the vandalism has been solved, the school board agrees to continue negotiations with the teachers.
Subplot: Inspired by their own mystery war, the club creates scavenger hunts for their charges.
Thoughts and Things
- Why didn't the club get in trouble for breaking into Troy Parker's locker?
- Mrs. Martinez from the last mystery makes a brief return appearance in this one (she's a teacher at the high school, so she obviously has a strong interest in the outcome of the negotiations).
- The cover: Cary Retlin looks like a future serial killer, and Mary Anne is wearing the exact same skirt as she was on the last mystery cover. Her shirt is different, though. Also...could Kristy have a weirder expression on her face? What did the Kristy model do to make Hodges angry? Finally, the "MK" should be green or red, not black.
- Only 11 mysteries (and 2 super mysteries) left and I'll be done. Can't say I'm heartbroken...