"No," Paige said.
"No way," Sidney said.
The girls took their usual seats in first period Art class, at the large round table where Hunter sat waiting to speak to them. He had chosen this moment, skipping breakfast in part because he had been up most of the night and was too sluggish to get out of bed on time this morning, and also in part because he didn't think the cafeteria was the right place for him to be asking for anyone's help. The lingering smell of scorched cheese would probably work against him.
"I didn't even say anything yet," Hunter said.
"You had that look," Sidney said. "You were going to ask us to do something. Right?"
"Actually, I just wanted to apologize for yesterday," Hunter said. "Really. I'm sorry."
Sidney slid her backpack under the table and glanced at Paige, who sat between her and Hunter. Then the two of them spent a long moment staring at him, apparently trying to judge his sincerity. Finally, Sidney sighed and said, "Okay. Apology accepted."
Paige nodded her agreement but said nothing.
"Thank you," Hunter said. "You have no idea what that means to me. Really. You guys are the best, and I mean that. Also, I need to ask you some -"
"No," Paige cut in.
"Absolutely not," Sidney said.
"But you don't even know what it is!" Hunter said.
"What what is?" asked Kevin McFarland as he slid into the fourth seat at the table.
"Hunter wants us to do something for him," Paige replied.
"But we're not doing it," Sidney added.
Frustrated, Hunter banged his fist on the table and uttered a low, irritated growl.
"Max? Are you trying to make some music for the class?"
Everyone's attention turned toward the front of the room. Miss Christine, as the Art teacher preferred to be called, had slipped quietly into the room and was setting a large and battered cardboard box onto her desk. In the hands of the prettiest teacher on the island, in a room filled with colorful paintings and graceful sculptures, the box looked very out of place.
"No, Ma'am," Hunter said.
"Oh, that's too bad," Miss Christine said. "I was hoping maybe you knew what today's lesson was going to be and you were prepared to thrill us all with an example of a musical form called Industrial Noise . Are you sure that wasn't what you were aiming for, Max?"
Miss Christine was the only teacher at Red Cloak willing to refer to the students by their chosen hero names. Most of the time, Hunter couldn't even get his friends to call him Invisible Max . He liked hearing her say it, even if she was calling him out for misbehaving.
"No, Ma'am," he repeated.
Miss Christine slammed one of her own slim fists on her desk. She was not an overly large woman, and the expression on her face was completely the opposite of angry, but she managed a loud and satisfying thump ! She followed this with a quick beat using both hands: thump - thump ! Then she growled, low and much more tuneful than Hunter had done, and thumped her fist twice more. The way she did it, it really did sound somewhat musical.
"Most often, Industrial Noise artists will create notes mechanically, replacing the pounding of fists with the percussion of hammers, for instance, and letting engines do their growling for them, but you get the idea. The point is that sounds we normally find unpleasant can be controlled and mixed to create music. And that fits nicely with today's lesson on the beauty of machines."
And just like that, class was in session, and Hunter had missed his first opportunity to tell someone about what he had heard in the park and to enlist one of his friends to observe the conspirators' four-thirty meeting behind the library. He stole a glance at the clock on the wall. Eight-fifteen in the morning. Seven hours and forty-five minutes to go, but really o