Brian Quinn signed up for journalism class expecting an easy A. But as he quickly finds out, there’s nothing simple about reporting the news. Brian is nervous when his teacher asks him to appear on That’s News 2 Me—a local news program run by children—but he goes along with it, hoping for a chance to hang out with Estella, the class’s star student. But when he starts reporting his story, this kid reporter stumbles on a very grown-up crime. A burglar has been raiding Redoaks, breaking into houses and making off with expensive electronic equipment. And when Brian tries to report on the High-Tech Burglar, his producer tells him to stay away from the story. But when a clue to the burglar’s identity falls into his lap, Brian is faced with a tough decision. Should he disobey the producer and break the news to the world, or let a criminal go free?
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Bait for a Burglar
By Joan Lowery Nixon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Joan Lowery Nixon
All rights reserved.
Brian Quinn took a deep breath and tried to keep his mind on what he was doing. He looked at the other eighth-grade students in his class, then back to the paper he was clutching. It was hard enough to have to read what he'd written to the rest of the class, but what Dad had said this morning bothered him. He couldn't concentrate.
"There's a high-tech burglar loose in Redoaks. We need to upgrade our insurance policy," Mr. Quinn had said in an undertone to his wife, but Brian had overheard.
"What high-tech burglar? Where is he? What are you talking about, Dad?" Brian had asked.
Mr. Quinn had looked at his watch. "Better hurry, Brian, or you'll be late for school. I'll tell you about it this evening."
Ms. McGowan, who taught journalism, broke into Brian's thoughts. "Well, Brian?" she asked. "Are you ready?"
Brian gulped and nodded. "Death is never good to talk about," he read somberly. "But yesterday, in Mr. Hightower's eleven o'clock biology class, death was on every student's mind. Maybe they didn't learn how to dissect frogs—which was the lesson of the day. But they learned lessons in life and death and in standing up for one's beliefs. Four students, who called the frog a creature to be respected, refused to take part in the lesson."
Brian added the details of the news story, then said, "The end." He gave such a loud sigh of relief, his friends laughed.
Brian laughed, too. He had thought journalism would be an easy A, but every time he had to stand in front of the class and read a news story he'd written, he groaned inside. The kids in the class gave a lot of grief to anyone who made even the slightest mistake. Ms. McGowan was tough, too.
Up went a hand. Amanda asked, "Brian, what kind of research did you do? Are you sure they were frogs and not toads?"
Brian reddened, but he said, "Mr. Hightower told us they were frogs. He's the teacher. He'd know."
"How about Mr. Hightower? Did you check him out? Does he have the proper background to teach biology?"
Ms. McGowan took charge. "Thank you, Amanda, but the research you're suggesting isn't important to the story. It's not about Mr. Hightower's background or even the frogs. The point of the story is that four students stood up for something in which they believed."
"Good job," she said to Brian, "although ..." She smiled at him as though they shared a good joke, then went on. "Your story was interesting and informative, but just a little too dramatic."
As Brian walked to his seat, Ms. McGowan told the class, "Many reporters tend to get emotional about their stories. It's a habit that's easy to fall into. But I want to break you of it now. That's my job. Your job is to give people information, not opinions. Let your readers or viewers become outraged or sympathetic by your facts, not by your adjectives and adverbs."
Brian's best friend, Sam, reached across the aisle to punch Brian on the arm. "You looked so cool," Sam whispered. "I have to read my story tomorrow, and I already feel like barfing."
Brian tuned Sam out. Ms. McGowan had called Estella Martinez's name.
Estella faced the class and said, "My news story has to do with food waste in the school cafeteria." She began to read, and Brian was impressed with her investigation. Estella hadn't just interviewed just the cafeteria manager, she'd also interviewed Miss Alice, one of the lunch line attendants, and Mr. Maxx, the custodian. All three gave their opinions about how much food was actually being thrown away.
When Estella finished, a few of her friends applauded and Estella blushed.
"I know she's pretty, but stop staring," Sam whispered to Brian.
"Get lost," Brian mumbled.
Ms. McGowan beamed at Estella. "That was an excellent reporting job," she said. "You gave us all the facts, and your interviews were wonderful. What a good idea to get Mr. Maxx's opinion. Great work!"
The bell rang, and—as usual—there was a great deal of noise as all the kids picked up their books and got ready for the next class.
"Sam, Cindy, Danny, and Marion," Ms. McGowan called out. "You'll read your news stories tomorrow. Brian and Estella, I need to see you both for a moment, please."
What did I do now? Brian wondered as he walked to Ms. McGowan's desk. He glanced at Estella, who whispered, "What's this all about, Brian?"
Brian took a deep breath. "We'll soon find out," he said.CHAPTER 2
Ms. McGowan pulled two pieces of paper from a folder. She handed one to Brian and one to Estella. Brian took a quick glance and saw that it was a printed form.
"You two have a real talent for journalism. That's why I immediately thought of you for Channel Two's program, That's News 2 Me," she said and smiled.
Estella stood up straighter, her brown eyes huge. "Do you mean that local television news show for kids on Saturday mornings?"
"That's right," Ms. McGowan answered. "The producer has invited all the schools in the greater Redoaks area to take part. The kids who are picked will have a week to work behind the scenes as editors, camera people, and reporters. I was told to choose two reporters."
Brian tried to take it all in. Ms. McGowan wanted him to be a reporter on TV? He didn't think he'd like that at all. He did like being a Casebuster with his nine-year-old brother Sean. The Casebusters' private investigations were done quietly—even secretly.
On television, anything he investigated would be in front of the cameras with everybody in Redoaks watching! Brian gulped. It was scary just to stand up and read a news story in front of his journalism class. Think what it would be like to know that hundreds—no, thousands—of people were watching!
There was no way he was going to put himself in that spot. But he couldn't say so because Ms. McGowan was still talking. Brian tried to pay attention.
"You'll be given story ideas from the assignments editor," she said. "Then you'll do the research, the interviews, you'll write the report, and give it on the air." She smiled. "What do you think?"
While Brian tried to come up with a polite way to say "no," Estella bounced a few times, hugged her books to her chest, and said, "Oh, yes! I'll do it!" She glanced at Brian and grinned. "You will, too, won't you, Brian? We can work together."
All of Brian's doubts immediately vanished. Instead of saying "no," he found himself saying, "Sure. I'll do it, too, Ms. McGowan."
"That's great," Ms. McGowan said. "Have your parents sign the permission slips I gave you. On Monday afternoon you'll meet with the Channel Two assignments editor and the other students who are working on this project. And please remember, I'm here if you need me."
"Thank you, Ms. McGowan," Estella said.
"Uh—yeah, thanks," Brian added.
"Congratulations and good luck," Ms. McGowan said.
As they left the classroom Estella clasped Brian's hand. Her eyes shone as she said, "This is going to be great. I can't wait to tell my mom. It's going to be so much fun working with you, Brian. You really did a great job with your news story."
Brian's mouth opened, but his heart started thumping. All he could manage to say was, "Uh, thanks. Right now I guess we gotta go to class."
Brian felt as if he were in the shower while the dishwasher was running and the water went from hot to cold and back again. One minute he was happy with the idea of working with Estella. The next minute he'd think about having to give a report to all those eyes watching their TV sets.
Brian kept his news until his family was seated around the dinner table that night.
"Guess what," he said. "I'm going to be on TV."
"When?" Mrs. Quinn asked.
"Where?" Mr. Quinn said.
"How come?" Sean asked, his mouth filled with mashed potatoes.
"Ms. McGowan picked Estella Martinez and me to represent Redoaks Junior High on That's News 2 Me." Brian said. "We'll be investigative reporters."
"Wow!" Sean shouted. "You'll be a television star!"
"No. I'll just be on TV once," Brian explained. "And then it's another school's turn. Estella and I have to get our stories ready in a week. Then on Thursday we'll be filmed, the tape will be edited on Friday, and the show will air on Saturday morning."
"Cool," Sean said. He shoved another forkful of mashed potatoes into his mouth.
"We're proud of you, Brian," Mr. Quinn said.
Mrs. Quinn's eyes sparkled. "We'll tell all of our friends," she said. "Everyone will be watching."
Everyone will be watching? Brian shuddered. It will be great working with Estella, he thought, but will it really be worth it?
The Quinns ate in silence for a few moments. Then Brian said, "Dad, what about the High-Tech Burglar?"
"What's a high-tech burglar?" Sean asked.
"He's not someone to be afraid of," Mr. Quinn cautioned. "He's someone to be prepared for." He turned to Mrs. Quinn. "After dinner let's talk about taking out a special insurance policy on our computers, printer, fax ... all our electronic equipment."
"Doesn't our homeowners policy offer them?" Mrs. Quinn asked.
"Only to a point," he said. "It doesn't offer complete coverage, and under the circumstances ..."
"Why are you worried about our computers and stuff? What's going on, Dad?" Brian asked.
"The police have seen a tremendous rise in home burglaries in Redoaks within the last month," Mr. Quinn answered.
"I haven't read anything about it in the newspaper," Mrs. Quinn said.
"The police have been keeping the burglaries quiet, and the reporter on the police beat hasn't picked up on the news yet," Mr. Quinn said.
"Why are they keeping the burglaries quiet?" Sean asked.
"Because they're not your usual burglaries," Mr. Quinn explained. "The police feel that the burglaries are being committed by one person. And what makes them unusual is that only electronic equipment is being taken."
"Like computers," Sean said.
"Yes, computers, VCRs, fax machines, electronic games, TV cameras, and other electronic equipment—all of which can easily be sold and not traced. The police have nicknamed the thief the High-Tech Burglar."
"Have they found any of the stolen stuff in pawnshops or other places where it might be sold?" Brian asked.
"No, and that's another strange thing about these burglaries," Mr. Quinn said. "None of the stolen items have shown up in or around Redoaks."
"Weird," Sean said.
Mr. Quinn went on. "Also, the crook isn't just targeting wealthy people. He's also stealing from apartments and middle-class homes, such as ours."
"So he knows who owns electronic equipment," Brian said. "Are you investigating this case, Dad?"
"No," Mr. Quinn said. "It's being handled by the police."
And maybe, Brian thought, by the Casebusters. He raised his eyebrows in a question as he looked at Sean. In answer, Sean nodded. Satisfied, Brian knew they were in agreement. The case might be too tough for the police to solve, but he'd like the Casebusters to give it a try.
Kids make good private investigators, because grown-ups hardly ever pay attention to kids. Of course, sometimes Brian and Sean were in danger, and then things got kind of hairy.
Brian shook his head and went back to eating his dinner. He wasn't going to worry about the bad times now!
Mrs. Quinn let out a sigh. "I'd hate to lose our camcorder and any family photos still in it. It's bad enough to be burglarized," she said, "but the thieves steal memories as well as the camera." She smiled at Brian and Sean. "Someday, I'd like to pass on all those wonderful growing-up photos to your wives."
"Wives? Gross!" Sean made a face and clutched his stomach. "You can't give anything to my wife, because I'm never getting married."
"I bet you will," Brian teased. He made kissing noises. "I bet you'll grow up and marry Debbie Jean Parker."
"Yuck! Quit it! Mom!" Sean yelled. He tried to shove Brian out of his chair.
"That's enough," Mrs. Quinn said firmly.
But Sean smirked at Brian. "How about you and Estella Martinez?" He began to sing, "Two little lovebirds sitting in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g."
Brian felt his face grow hot. "Where'd you learn a dumb song like that?" he asked.
Sean grinned. "From Grandma. She told me I'd know when to use it."
"Quiet down, boys," Mr. Quinn said. He turned to Mrs. Quinn. "Just for safety's sake, I'll insure our electronic equipment. Agreed?"
"Dad, let me ask you a question," Brian said. "What makes you think the High-Tech Burglar is going to hit us?"
"Let me ask you a question," Mr. Quinn said. "What makes you think he won't?"CHAPTER 3
On Saturday morning Mrs. Quinn drove Brian and Estella to the Channel Two station. She told them what time she'd pick them up.
"Thanks, Mrs. Quinn" Estella said, as she climbed from the car. "My mom thanks you, too. She couldn't leave work. Saturday's one of her busiest days."
Mrs. Quinn smiled. "No problem, Estella. I'm glad you can ride with us."
As Mrs. Quinn drove off, Estella took a brush from her purse and smoothed down her hair. "Your mom's really nice," Estella said. She smiled at Brian. "Do I look okay?"
"Okay? Estella, you look really ... uh ..." Brian gulped. "Yeah, really okay."
Brian and Estella walked into the television station through the main doors and stood in front of the receptionist's desk.
"May I help you?" the receptionist asked.
"We're here for—" Brian began.
A telephone rang, and the receptionist said, "Channel Two ... The panel is on at nine o'clock tonight."
She looked up, and Brian said, "This is Estella Martinez and I'm—"
"Channel Two," the receptionist said into the phone as it rang again. "Please hold, and I'll connect you with the program manager."
She looked up again, and Brian spoke as fast as he could. "And I'm Brian Quinn. We're here for That's News 2 Me."
The phone rang yet again. The receptionist said, "Channel Two. Hold please." To Brian she said, "Third door on the left." Into the phone she said, "Channel Two. Yes, Jack. Sales meeting Wednesday.... Channel Two ..."
"C'mon," Brian said to Estella. "Third door on the left."
As they walked down a long, quiet hallway, Estella stopped smiling and began to look a little scared. Suddenly, she stopped. "Here's the third door," she said.
Brian's hand was clammy on the doorknob, but he managed to open the door and step inside, following Estella.
The room they entered was painted black, and banks of stage lights were on, making it incredibly bright. Brian and Estella blinked for a few seconds, letting their eyes adjust to the light.
"Hey, Quinn," someone called. Brian looked around the room and saw faces that were familiar because he'd seen them on That's News 2 Me, and a couple more he thought he recognized from Redoaks Junior High. But it took Brian a moment to recognize the guy in the blue shirt and jeans who had spoken to him and was now smiling.
"Hi, Jack," Brian said. He put his hand on Estella's shoulder and led her to meet Jack Bowman.
Jack had been a ninth-grader in Redoaks Junior High when Brian was in seventh grade. They were both on the student council and worked together on the Book Fair committee. Brian liked Jack, and he felt bad that some of the kids avoided Jack after hearing he'd been arrested for shoplifting. According to the rumors Brian had heard, Jack's parents took him back to the store to return what he'd taken, but the store pressed charges anyway. That was over a year ago. For all Brian knew, Jack might still be on probation.
"This is cool," Brian said as he glanced around the studio. "What kind of job do you have here?"
Jack ran his hand through his blond hair. "I work on That's News 2 Me every week as a cameraman."
A tall redheaded girl, who was seated nearby, leaned toward Brian and reached out to shake his hand. "Hi," she said. "I'm Holly Knowles, a sound engineer. You can call me a computer and media whiz. My dad likes to joke that not only will I someday be a NASA engineer, but I can even set the programming on our VCR." Holly threw back her head, laughing loudly.
Jack rolled his eyes. "I have to work with her," he whispered to Brian.
Brian recognized Holly from school. She was a bossy, take-charge kind of person.
Unfortunately, she also knew what she was doing.
"I'd like you to meet Estella Martinez," Brian said.
Excerpted from Bait for a Burglar by Joan Lowery Nixon. Copyright © 1997 Joan Lowery Nixon. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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