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When sixth-grader Emelia Newes finds the body of her math teacher, she decides to solve his murder. With the help of her mysterious new friend, Tanya, she manages to catch the killer. But then Tanya is arrested for murder and needs Emelia to clear her name. Meanwhile, eight and a half year old Kelsey's sister, Melody, has been kidnapped. Is it connected to Kelsey's own kidnapping three years earlier, and to the murder of Emelia's math teacher? Set in the wacky town of Something-Or-Other, this humorous young-adult mystery satirizes everyday life. You'll either die from laughing or from the suspense!
Excerpt from Hey Cool, I've Never Seen A Teacher With His Head Cut Off Before!:
To the wonderful teachers at Dodson Middle School who helped inspire me. Maybe middle school did help my writing after all!
Until the day I found the body, I hated the city of Something-Or-Other (also known as SOS, for some reason) and I especially hated Something-Or-Other School. For one thing, it was a combined elementary, middle, and high school, so it had 5,000 students and was a bit overwhelming for a sixth grader like me who had moved from an elementary school with less than five hundred kids in another state. I'd been at SOS School for a full week and I still couldn't find the way to half of my classes!
Secondly, five of my six teachers were complete idiots. My homeroom teacher, Mr. Gerhit, gave horrible punishments, such as a thousand standards for forgetting to push in your chair when you leave. And not short standards either. On the very first day of school, I'd had to write "I will never forget to push in my chair in this or any other class, and I will always check to make sure I've pushed in my chair, in this and every other class I ever take, as well as anywhere else that is not a class but has chairs." That is 50 words, written 1,000 times, for an incredibly minor offense, on the very first day of school! Mr. Gerhit was short and somewhat bald, with shaggy gray hair around the side of his head, and he always smelled as if he didn’t wear deodorant and hadn’t bathed recently. He looked fairly comical, and until he punished you for something, it would be easy not to take him seriously.
In first period I had science. My science teacher was Mr. Frog, which is really funny, especially considering what you do in science classes. He was tall with black hair and he usually wore a suit. He was not actually a mean teacher, and he probably did know what he's doing, but the problem was- he had a monotone. And the only thing he did during class is lecture. In a monotone. The only interesting thing that ever happened in Mr. Frog’s class was someone, I wasn’t sure who, flicking ponytail holders at him. It was the most boring class ever.
Except that it actually wasn't as boring as my English class, which was my second period and was all the way across the enormous school from Mr. Frog's class. My English teacher, Mrs. Rumguff, was medium height and had grey hair and nerdy glasses. She always wore a dowdy dress, fishnet stockings, and stiletto heels. Looking at her you'd guess she belonged in an insane asylum. After a day in her class, your impression would be confirmed. She did belong in an insane asylum. Every day she gave us a grammar worksheet. One hundred questions, and it had to be done by the end of the period or you’d get a zero. If you had finished ninety-nine questions and gotten them all right, and just as you were about to do the hundredth the bell rang, guess what grade you’d get? If you guessed an A, you should teach at SOS School. If you guessed a zero, you aren’t that stupid. While we did our worksheets, Mrs. Rumguff drank coffee, some of which she always spilled on herself, and read a dictionary. If you asked her a question about the worksheet, she'd say something like, "If you have to ask you'll never know," or "They say there are no stupid questions, but you just asked one." Some people said that she spiked her coffee, and by the end of the first week I was beginning to think that they might even actually be right.
Next I'd go to my art class, which was all the way back across the school and up a flight of stairs. Ms Junbit was a bit weird. She dressed conservatively, in a nylon skirt, a collared, tucked in shirt, conservative shoes, and stockings, and wore her black hair in a bun. She seemed to be in her early twenties. On the first day of school, someone asked if it was Miss Junbit or Mrs. Junbit. She jumped out of her seat and snapped, "None of your business!!!" The whole class stared at her, until she sort of came to her senses and said, "It's Ms" Still, it was definitely weird. Every day in Ms Junbit's class she had a student pass out paper and said to the class, "Draw something." Then for the rest of the period we drew. It wasn't a hard class, and wasn't really boring, but still. What kind of teacher just tells the class to "draw something”? She did let people talk to their friends, but the worst thing about SOS School was that since I was new, I didn't have any friends. There was one other girl in my art class who didn't seem to have anyone to talk to either, but she sat all the way across the room. I could have gotten up and sat down in an empty desk near her, but I wasn't really sure I wanted to. Her name was Tanya Yazi, and she was in my homeroom, science, and history class also, but she had a reputation as a trouble-maker. From what I'd heard, she'd been in sixth grade last year, but had "dropped out" in February and had had to repeat. The others kids seemed a bit scared of Tanya, so I wondered whether they had a reason to be, although I thought she seemed nice. She was medium height and fairly thin with black hair, and her left arm was in a black cast. She usually wore jeans and a long sleeved black shirt. I'd heard her speaking Spanish, although her English had no accent, and I'd also heard her speaking some other language. If she'd came over and talked to me, I would have talked to her, but she hadn't, so ever day I sat in art class drawing fairly bad pictures and jealously listening to other people talking to their friends. After third period we had recess, or nutrition, which was just as bad as any of my classes since I didn't have any friends. I mainly did my homework during nutrition and lunch.
My fourth period was PE. My PE teacher was Mr. Tirefin. He was tall and muscular and he always wore a t-shirt and gym shorts. There was nothing particularly bad about Mr. Tirefin or my fourth period class, except that it was a PE class and he was a PE teacher. In other words, he made us run laps, and miles, and circles around the enormous school.
My least favorite teacher was my math teacher, Mr. Kowzitz. He taught Pre-Algebra, but he didn't seem to know it. One day he taught us that four times four is eight and five times five is ten. Not only is that wrong, but that's not Pre-Algebra. When I raised my hand and asked him if he was sure he didn't mean plus instead of times, he started screaming that he was the math teacher and we were just stupid students who didn't even know the difference between multiplication and subtraction (I think he meant addition). Mr. Kowzitz was about 5’10” tall, and thin, with a particularly bony face, red hair, and glasses with rectangular frames. He wouldn’t have been particularly good-looking even if he’d dressed normally, but you’d have to be blind to describe Mr. Kowzitz’s style of dress as normal. For example, his favorite outfit was an expensive-looking pair of purple pants with an orange t-shirt and a green suit jacket. I heard someone say that the only way he'd gotten the job was that not many teachers had applied, and the first one they hired suddenly moved to Montana, the second one they hired suddenly moved to Brazil, the third one they hired suddenly moved to Siberia, the fourth one they hired suddenly died in a car crash, and the only person left was Mr. Kowzitz.
After fifth period we had lunch, during which I'd finish my homework. Sixth period, history, was the only class where I actually had a good teacher. Ms Yirsan was gorgeous, with long black hair that fell below her waist and eyes that always looked interested. She was nice, interesting, she didn’t give much homework, and her assignments were rarely boring.
My name is Emelia Newes. I am eleven years old (twelve in April), and, obviously, in sixth grade. I have light blonde hair, blue-grey-green eyes, and braces. I just moved to Something-Or-Other about three weeks before school started. I like to read and I like animals, and my favorite color is dark blue. I don’t have any siblings, or, unfortunately, any pets. My parents said maybe once we’re settled in we can get a pet. To my parents, “maybe” means “in your dreams”.
It was Monday of the second week of the school year. Panting from having run around the school in P.E., I dragged myself to fifth period. I was so exhausted I didn‘t even glance down until I was about to enter the classroom. When I did, I gasped in horror. Not two feet from where I was standing was Mr. Kowzitz. He was lying on his back, his hands at his side, and his head was no longer attached to his neck but resting upright on his chest.
Just then Brad Ponyti, a boy in my math class, came over. Upon seeing Mr. Kowzitz, he exclaimed, “Hey, cool! I’ve never seen a teacher with his head cut off before!”
I stared at him for a second, and then suggested, “Why don’t you, uh, stay here and watch the body. I’ll go call the police.”
“Okay,” he agreed, so with renewed energy, I ran as fast as I could to the main office. The secretary was sitting at the desk twiddling her curly brown hair. She did not look up.
"You need to call the police! Mr. Kowzitz's head was cut off!" I told her.
At that she glanced up at me through her star shaped glasses
"Your teacher's head was cut off? I think you've been watching too much television," she said skeptically.
"No, it's true." I insisted.
"I think you'd better go back to class. If his head was cut off, he'd be dead."
“He is dead!!!”
“Are you sure he isn’t just sleeping?”
“His head was chopped off!”
“Well, he’s probably just asleep. Teachers work very hard and often have to stay very late at the school to work on the complicated lesson plans for what they are going to teach you.”
I was saved from having to convince her when Eddie, a boy in my math class, ran into the office wailing his head off. Bad choice of words, but you get the picture. "Mr. Kowzitz is deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!!!!!!!!!! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!! He's deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!"
"I think maybe I should call the police," the secretary said weakly, and did so.
Two months earlier:
Even when she was little, Kelsey had been shy, and being kidnapped at age five and a half and kept locked in a closet for almost seven months had done nothing to make her any bolder. At age eight and a half, Kelsey still had large, wary eyes that followed everyone, and, except in the company of her adopted sister, Melody, Kelsey rarely smiled.
Today, however, her eyes were more than just wary, and her face was pale. Her dark brown hair hung in her face, not quite covering her eyes. She winced when anyone addressed her, a habit she'd gotten over almost two years earlier.
"Kelsey? Are you feeling all right?" asked her karate teacher.
"I'm fine," she replied, too quickly, in a voice hoarse from crying.
"N-nothing," she insisted unconvincingly.
"Do you want to go home?"
"No! I'm fine!"
Kelsey's teacher did not believe her. That was probably because Kelsey was lying. She was not fine. She had not been this frightened
since her kidnapper had left her with a babysitter and threatened to chop her into bits if she told anyone that he was not really her dad. Out of sheer desperation she had managed to tell the babysitter, Melody, the truth, and since then she had been living with Melody and Melody's twenty-two year old sister Alexia, who had just gotten a job with the Something-Or-Other Police Department (SOSPD).
Alexia, at her work, was as terrified as Kelsey.
"What's wrong?" asked her partner, Officer Miranda Swenny.
"N-nothing. What do you mean?"
"You look worried." That was not true, and both Miranda and Alexia knew it. Alexia did not look worried. She looked panic-stricken. Strands of her blonde hair, which was always tied back neatly, were hanging out of a sloppy ponytail. Her face was pale and although the police-car they were in had its air condition turned up full blast she was sweating.
"I'm fine," she said.
The previous day, after driving Kelsey to her karate camp, Melody had gone to the library. She'd left a note on the table for Alexia, saying she'd be back by one o'clock. She was not. At one fifteen, Alexia's cell phone rang.
"Hello," said Alexia into it.
A male voice said, "Hello. I have your sister. If you call the police, or tell any of your coworkers, I'll kill her. If you don't call the police, I'll let her call you every week. And I have… contacts… everywhere, including the police station. If you say a word to anyone, I will know."
"Alexia?" Melody called frantically.
"You can talk to her in a week if you don't tell anyone," said the man. "Oh, and say hi to Kelsey for me." He hung up.
He did call the next week, and every Sunday after that at exactly four pm. The kidnapper didn't let Melody give her any information, but Alexia and Kelsey at least got to hear her voice. Kelsey identified Melody’s kidnapper’s voice as probably belonging to her own kidnapper, who had never been caught. Alexia, of course, recorded all the calls.
Alexia virtually stopped sleeping, getting an average of about twenty hours of sleep a week. During the day she worked, and in any other time she had she analyzed the phone calls, searching for any hint that could help her find her sister, or identify Melody's abductor. Alexia even snuck them into the police station, and used the lab's audio equipment to enhance the sound. She found nothing.
By the time the police arrived, our whole class was in the main office. Two officers came into the room: a blonde woman with intelligent green eyes whose nametag read Miranda Swenny and a short man with prematurely graying brown hair, dull brown eyes, and several days worth of five o‘clock shadow, whose nametag I couldn’t read since he was behind the woman.
“Where’s the body?” asked the man. I told them, and they went to look at Mr. Kowzitz, warning us to stay put. The lunch bell rang, and most of the class grumbled about missing part of their lunch, although I was relieved not to have to sit through yet another half hour of loneliness. A few minutes later the man came back.
"So, who was it who first found the body?"
"That would be me," I said.
"Okay, I'm going to need to talk to you. The rest of you can go to lunch." They left. "I'm Officer Jack Teirs. What's your name?"
"Okay, Emelia. Well, I have some bad news for you. Your math teacher's dead." He waited for me to act surprised and upset, but since I had already assumed he was when I saw that his head was cut off, I said, "Yeah. I'm the one who found the body."
"Okay. Can you tell me what happened?"
I told him.
"Did you touch the body?"
"Did you see anyone nearby?"
"Are you the one who took everything out of his pockets?"
"No, of course not."
"Are you aware he didn't have anything in his pockets?"
"I wasn't until you asked if I took everything out of his pockets."
"Did you see anything on the ground near him?"
"Did your teacher usually carry anything in his pockets?"
"I think he had a wallet and all that. I saw him take it out one time to buy lunch."
"Did he usually wear shoes?"
"Always. This is a school. You have to wear shoes here." By now I was getting the feeling that this guy wasn't really that smart.
"Was he wearing shoes when you found him?"
"Yes, he was. You mean his shoes are missing?"
"No, he's still wearing them. We had a murder three years ago where the victim was barefoot, and I was just making sure it wasn't connected to this one. You can go now."
The secretary stopped me. "You've had a shock. You need to go to the nurse's office."
"I'm fine." I said.
"Well, after having a shock you should go to the nurse. If she says it's alright, you can go back to class."
I went to the nurse’s office, which was between the main office and the counselor's office. Tanya was inside talking to the nurse, a petite blonde wearing heavy make-up.
"What's that behind you?" Tanya inquired, and, as the nurse looked over her shoulder, Tanya quickly walked out of the office. I entered and stood at the counter.
"I don't see anything... hey! She does that every day. She needs a note for the cast on her arm, but every time I call her in here she does that! She's done that every day since the first day of school! What do you need?"
"The secretary thinks I'm shocked."
"Oh, because of that teacher dying. I'll take your temperature."
She took my temperature and said, "You don't have a fever."
"I know I don't. Being in shock doesn't give you a fever, and even if it did, I'm not in shock."
"Okay. I’ll get you some ice.” She handed me a frozen sponge.
I stared at it. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked.
“It’s ice,” she said, as if that explained everything.
“But I don’t need ice! I don’t have a headache, I’m in shock! Actually, I’m not in shock, so I’ll just go.” I left. On the way out of the building, I threw the frozen sponge in a trash bin. I didn't blame Tanya for tricking her way out of there, though I was a bit surprised the nurse had fallen for it so many times.
I went to my sixth period and sat in my seat. Tanya, who sat directly behind me, and a boy who sat across the class were the only people there. Ms Yirsan usually arrived just before the bell rang.
"Do you know if it's true that Mr. Kowzitz was murdered?" Tanya asked me. "I heard someone saying that he'd had his head cut off and I thought you'd know since you have math fifth period."
I told her about finding the body.
"Wow! He's the fifth math teacher to either mysteriously disappear or die!"
Just then Ms Yirsan walked in. By then about eight kids were in class.
"Did you hear about Mr. Kowzitz?" Tanya asked Ms Yirsan
"Mr. Kowzitz? What about him?"
"He was murdered." I said.
"WHAT?” She blanched. “He was murdered!!! I'll be right back." She walked out of the classroom and returned two minutes later. By then the whole class was there.
"Class, for those of you who haven't heard, your math teacher, Mr. Kowzitz, has passed away. Tomorrow the school counselor will be coming to your math class to discuss your grief.”
She then taught a lesson, on Mesopotamia, I think, but I wasn’t listening. I’d just remembered that I had Mr. Kowzitz’s address. He’d mailed everyone in his math classes a school supply list. The fact that the list merely said “a pencil” was immaterial. The envelope had had a return address on it. At that moment I consciously decided what I had subconsciously been thinking since I found the body: I would solve Mr. Kowzitz’s murder