But when two of the best projects get smashed, bully Zack Jackson blames Billy McGee, the new kid in the fourth grade. Billy can be clumsy, but is he really a walking natural disaster? The robot's eye never lies, but will that be enough to save the science fair?
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Chapter 1: Disaster Area
It was a blustery Monday morning at Bayport Elementary School. Frank Hardy sat near the back of the classroom beside his friend Chet Morton.
"How long to recess?" Chet whispered to Frank.
Frank looked surprised. "We only just got here, Chet."
"I know, but I'm starving."
Frank grinned. "You know your problem?" he whispered back. "You live for food!"
Chet pretended to be surprised. "What else is there?"
"Listen up, fourth graders," Mrs. Burton said. "I've got some important news for you. Two pieces of news, in fact."
The class looked up.
"I hope it's good news, like extra recess," Chet Morton whispered to Frank. "Not bad news like an extra math test."
"The first piece of news is that a new student will be joining us today," Mrs. Burton said. "His name is Billy Magee, and he has just moved here from California. So please make him feel welcome."
"Sure, we'll make him feel welcome, won't we?" Zack Jackson grinned at his friend Brett Marks. Zack was known as the class bully.
Frank saw Zack's mean look. He hoped the new kid wasn't a shrimp. Zack loved picking on little kids.
"Billy is still in the office with his mother, filling out forms," Mrs. Burton went on. "He'll be here shortly. But I'm going to go ahead and tell you the other important piece of news. We're going to have a science fair."
"Yeah!" The class was really interested now.
Chrissy Parker in the front row raised her hand. "For the whole school?" she asked. "The big kids always win."
Mrs. Burton shook her head. "This time it's just for the third and fourth graders. You have two weeks to make your projects. Then they'll be on display in the auditorium. They'll remain on display until the open house next month so that your parents can see them, too."
"Will there be prizes?" Brett asked.
Mrs. Burton smiled. "A store called the Nature Place has generously donated a gift certificate for the first prize. There will be ribbons for the other awards."
"Big deal," Zack muttered to Brett.
"The Nature Place is cool," Brett answered. "I'll just have to win first prize."
"I wonder if I could invent a new food," Chet said thoughtfully. "Something that tasted good, filled you up, and had no calories."
"We have it already. It's called water, Chet," Frank answered.
At that moment the door opened and a, boy came in. Frank thought that he must be a fifth or sixth grader. He was bigger than all the other kids in the classroom. He had red hair and a lot of freckles. Just then his face was bright red, too.
"Yes? Can I help you?" Mrs. Burton asked.
"I -- I think I'm supposed to be here," the boy stammered. "I just moved here."
"You're Billy Magee?" Mrs. Burton sounded surprised.
The boy nodded.
Mrs. Burton smiled and held out her hand to him. "Welcome to our class, Billy. Let's see if we can find a seat for you." She looked around the classroom. "Ah, yes. There's a spare desk at the back of the room, next to Frank."
Frank waved and pointed to the empty seat beside him. Billy started down the aisle toward his seat. As he passed Chrissy Parker's desk he sent a stack of papers flying.
"Whoops, sorry," Billy said. He turned around, and crash! His book bag knocked a pile of books onto the floor.
"I didn't mean to -- " he began to say. He bent to pick up the books. There was a clatter as a pencil box fell to the floor. Pencils and pens rolled everywhere. The fourth graders were giggling.
"I think maybe you should sit down, Billy," Mrs. Burton said kindly. "Don't worry. Relax. Everyone is nervous on their first day."
Billy made it safely down the rest of the aisle. He went to sit down and knocked over his chair.
Zack Jackson was sitting on the other side of Billy. "Hey, Billy," he yelled. "You know how we can tell that you come from California? You're a walking earthquake!"
This made the whole class burst out laughing. Billy's face turned even redder.Frank could see how embarrassed Billy was feeling.
"That wasn't nice, Zack," Mrs. Burton said quickly. "Imagine how you'd feel on your first day at a new school."
"I wouldn't destroy the classroom like Godzilla," Zack muttered to Brett. "Come to think of it, he looks like Godzilla, doesn't he?"
Frank remembered how Zack had loved to tease him when he first moved to Bayport. He decided to be nice to Billy.
At recess Frank waited for Billy to come out to the schoolyard. "Hi, I'm Frank," he said. "Don't mind Zack. He's a pain. The other kids are nice. Come and meet my friend Chet."
Even Chet looked small beside Billy. "Hi," he said. "Do you want to share my chips?"
"Thanks, but I've got my own," Billy said. He pulled an identical pack of chips from his jacket pocket.
Chet's face lit up. "You like the same chips as me! Nacho cheese flavor!"
"Never go anywhere without them," Billy said. "I always keep a snack handy, especially Nacho cheese chips."
"Me, too!" Chet said. "I chose a jacket with extra big pockets so that I could always have a snack with me."
"What a great idea," Billy said. "Back in California we were big football fans of the Oakland Raiders. My big brother bought me this Oakland Raiders jacket. Maybe my mom could sew me extra pockets inside it."
"Hey, Frank, this guy's okay." Chet slapped Billy on the back.
"You want to play kickball with us?" Frank asked Billy. He headed for a group of fourth graders.
Frank's younger brother, Joe, was shooting hoops as they passed. "Hey, you guys," he called. "Did you hear about the science fair yet?"
"Mrs. Burton told us this morning,"
Frank answered. "I think I've got a great idea already."
"Me, too," Joe said. "I think I've got the best idea."
"Did you hear that the first prize is a gift certificate to that store called the Nature Place?" Mike Mendez, Joe's friend, joined them. "Isn't that cool? They have the best stuff in there."
"You just might win, Mike," Joe said. "You make great inventions."
"Yeah, but we're competing against fourth graders," Mike said. "It will have to be something totally awesome to win."
They went back to shooting hoops as Frank walked on with Chet and Billy. The kickball game hadn't started yet. Two captains were still picking teams.
"We're playing, too," Frank called.
"Okay, you guys can be on my team," a boy from the other fourth-grade class said. "We could use some boot power."
"What about earthquake power?" Zack taunted.
"Cut it out, Zack," Frank warned. He stood in line to kick the ball.
"I hope Mrs. Burton gives us plenty of time in the library today to research our science projects," Chet said. "I'm not too great about thinking up ideas."
Brett Marks was standing in line ahead of them. He turned around with a grin on his face.
"You guys are wasting your time. That first prize is as good as mine."
"What are you talking about?" Chet demanded. "You're not so hot in science."
"Both my parents are scientists. I know they'll help me come up with an amazing project."
Chet and Frank exchanged a glance. They didn't want Brett to win the first prize.
"I was in a science fair back home in California," Billy said.
"What was your project on -- earthquakes?" Zack dug Brett in the ribs.
"That must have been easy for him to demonstrate." Brett chuckled. "He just hadto walk up and down the room and kerboom -- instant earthquake!" Brett laughed hard at his own joke. "Hey, that's what we should call him -- Earthquake Magee!"
"Good name," Zack yelled. "Earthquake Magee. I like it!"
"That's not funny, you guys," Chrissy Parker said. "He just got here. Be nice."
"Don't listen to those guys, Billy," Chet said. "Go ahead and make something fantastic for the science fair. That will show them."
"Oh, don't worry about me," Billy said. "I'll find a way to get even."
He stepped forward and kicked the ball. The ball flew across the schoolyard.
"Hey, that's some foot you've got there!" Frank exclaimed.
"Yeah, my brothers are football players," Billy said. "They've been teaching me since I was a little kid. Just wait until we're in high school and I get to tackle Zack!"
He grinned at Frank and Chet. Billy's okay, Frank thought. I don't need to keep an eye on him. He can look after himself.
Copyright © 1999 by Simon & Shuster Inc.