This is an excerpt from my latest young adult thriller, Time Crunch. (Be sure to check out Parts I and II if you haven’t read them yet!)
Chapter One: The Jet
Mr. Scherrer–the eighth-grade math teacher–grinned smugly.
“Okay, here’s a good one . . . Steve is going to paint the city’s cylindrical water tank. If the tank is ten feet tall with a radius of fifteen feet–and if one gallon of paint covers ten square feet–how many gallons of paint does Steve need to buy?”
Kids around the room instantly bent over their desks, punching at calculators and scribbling on scraps of paper. Near the back of the room, Chase McCord scrunched his nose. He’d seen a peculiar gleam in his teacher’s eyes and knew the problem couldn’t be as straightforward as it seemed.
Trick question, he thought. But what . . .
He quickly sketched a cylinder to represent the water tank.
Looking for the surface area, he thought, visualizing the formula.
But there has to be more to it than that.
Several students had already finished their calculations and were waving their hands, hoping to be called. Students able to solve the teacher’s notorious challenges were excused from the day’s assignment, which would be at least an hour’s work at home.
Surface area, Chase thought again. Not of a cylinder … but of a water tank!
He grinned, knowing he’d nailed it. Surface area described the “skin” of the cylinder. But a water tank would be sitting on the ground … so you wouldn’t have to paint the bottom!
He began punching his calculator, figuring the surface area without the bottom of the tank. He then figured out the amount of paint he’d need, coming up with 164.85 gallons.
He began to raise his hand, but quickly stopped himself.
Point 85 gallons?
No one was going to buy .85 gallons of paint.
He quickly rounded the number up and raised his hand.
“Max,” the teacher finally said to a boy in the front row. “You had your hand up first. What’ve you got?”
“He needs 235.5 gallons.”
Mr. Scherrer sucked in his breath and scrunched his nose. “Oooh! So close!”
Max’s face fell, and half the hands in the room dropped as students with the same answer checked their notes, wondering where they’d gone wrong.
The teacher took another few answers—none of them right—then turned to Chase.
“Mr. McCord, you’re smiling at me. Like to tell your classmates where they slipped up?”
Chase felt a rumble of appreciation for his teacher. Mr. Scherrer hadn’t asked for Chase’s answer: guessing he’d figured out the trick, he was asking for Chase to explain it.
“Good one, Mr. S.,” Chase said. “It’s a double trick question. The first thing is that since the tank’s sitting on the ground, you don’t have to paint the bottom”—
There were moans from students who’d fallen for the trap, and Max actually slapped himself on the forehead.
—“and when you calculate the amount of paint you get a decimal, so you have to round up to the nearest gallon.”
There were more groans as frustrated students realized they’d been fooled again (and most of them now realizing—like Chase—the question had been way too easy).
The teacher stopped as a sullen-looking man strode into the room.
“Excuse me for interrupting,” the principal said. The man looked around the room, spotted Chase, and crooked his finger. “Mr. McCord, would you come with me, please? Bring your backpack.”
Surprised and a little worried (being pulled out of class by the principal was rarely a good thing), Chase stuffed his books and papers into his pack, then followed the gloomy man from the room.
“What’s going on?”
“You’re not in trouble,” the principal said. “But your father’s called and excused you for the rest of the day. Someone’s coming to pick you up.”
“Don’t really know,” the principal said, though his voice suggested he didn’t approve, whatever the reason.
The man turned down a hallway … and not the one leading to the office.
“Where are we going?”
The principal used the same brooding voice. “Apparently, you’re not being picked up by car.”
Chase didn’t know how to process that, but heard a rumble like approaching thunder before he could respond. The noise increased, becoming so loud it began shaking the building. The principal opened a door leading outside, motioning for Chase to lead the way.
The thunderous noise was coming from the sky, and Chase looked up to see a jet aircraft approaching the school football field. Rather than streaking through the sky, the strange plane was actually slowing as it dropped toward the grass. Chase saw the engines rotate, pointing down to allow the craft to land vertically.
Ah, he thought. One of Mr. Wolff’s new toys.
Mr. Wolff—the father of Chase’s best friend Zach—was CEO of a company that built exotic airplanes. Mr. Wolff often took Zach on business trips, and Zach—in turn—sometimes invited Chase along.
“Gotta have someone to hang out with,” Zach once explained. “You know, when dad’s in meetings.”
As a result, Chase had often flown on the company’s unique airplanes, though never on one able to take off and land vertically.
Haven’t even seen one of those!
The jet kicked up wind like a hurricane—dust and leaves and frenzied bits of paper whirling across the field—then settled softly to the grass. The whine of the engines subsided as a startled gym class gawked from behind a fence.
“Zach came to get me?” Chase asked, raising his voice to be heard over the engines.
“Don’t really know,” the principal said in the same glum voice.
After a moment a clamshell door opened behind the flight deck, dropping a set of steps to the grass. Chase expected to see Zach come bounding out of the plane, but instead a tall, thin man in a white shirt appeared. The man looked around, spotted Chase, and began waving.
Chase looked up at the principal—
“Sorry ’bout this!”
—then sprinted across the grass toward the jet.
The man in the door was the pilot, a man Chase met during an adventure a few months earlier. Chase raced across the field and up the steps.
“Captain King! Hi!”
“Hello, Chase,” the pilot said, shaking Chase’s hand. “It’s good to see you again.”
“You, too.” Chase glanced past the pilot into the flight deck: the copilot—a man Chase didn’t know—was adjusting knobs and flicking switches. A skinny birdlike man sat just behind him, pecking away on a laptop. “Where’s Captain Carter?”
“On another assignment today—”
Chase had already turned away, looking back into the cabin. Eight tough-looking men in jungle-camouflage fatigues were sorting through some kind of supplies. But—
“Zach’s not here,” one of the men called. He was a gruff-sounding man with a face that could have been made from an old football. He gestured to Captain King, who gave Chase a clap on the shoulder before closing the door and returning to the flight deck.
The brusque man dropped into a seat and motioned for Chase to join him.
“What’s going on?” Chase asked as the engines began spooling up.
“We’re not actually joining Zach and his father, as you probably thought,” the man said in a voice like broken gravel.
“Then where are we going?”
The man nodded toward the other men before turning back to Chase.
“This,” he said, “is a rescue mission.”
I hope you’re liking this! I’m already working on the third book to the series, and I hope you’ll take a look at Time Snap and Time Crunch!