The Capitol Ghost chapter excerpt
Chapter 6 --
 Three days later, Karina sat in a meeting room at the Milani Research Complex
facing four Preliminary skaters. She tried to concentrate on their pleas for
assistance, but instead, her mind kept wandering back to her less-than-perfect prom

 “So you want to track down a ghost in the Capitol. And you actually brought a dog
into the Capitol to sniff out the ghost?” She stifled her laughter as she studied the
serious faces of the four children facing her.
Why did everything go wrong? Was it my
fault? Evan was so nice and I acted like a dork.

 “Yes, Coach Karina,” said Eric Ralph. “But all we did was get in trouble.”

 “I can imagine,” said Karina.
I wish I weren’t so smart. I wish I didn’t use such big
words in everyday conversation. I scare people away, especially boys.

 “I saw words on the closet wall,” said Mallory. “The walls had wallpaper and it was
scraped away and the words were underneath. But I couldn’t read the words. They
were too high up.”

 “Did anyone else see the words?” asked Karina.

 The children shook their heads and Karina asked, “So what’s your next plan?”
talked way too much. I just couldn’t stop talking. Evan didn’t seem to mind until I
started talking about math. I thought he liked math. He acted so polite about it and
pretended to be interested, but I know he thought I was a freak.

 “We don’t have any plans,” said Janet. “That’s why we’ve come to you.”

“You helped the Worldpol Officer find Daniella’s guardian,” said Mallory. “And you’re
so smart. My sister Eva is on your team, and she says you’re the smartest girl she
knows. Please help us. We don’t want Mr. Flowers to get fired.”

 “I think we need to get in the closet and see the writing,” said Eric Ralph. “It’s a clue
about the ghost. You could probably read it, Karina. You’re taller than we are.”

 “It was my idea for us to talk to you,” said Daniella. “You are

 Karina tried to hide her confusion and look magnificent.
What on earth should I say
to them? I have no idea how to track down a ghost. My mind is blank. Maybe Coach
Michaela is right. Maybe I’m experiencing burnout. No wonder prom was such a
letdown. No wonder Evan didn’t fall in love with me. I’m too busy to be in love.

 The four children stared up at her hopefully and she decided that the best thing to
do was call Chuck and talk over the ghost case with him. They always talked about
his cases when he called. It would be fun to surprise him and tell him that she was
working on a case, too.

Chuck called the day after prom to ask how it went. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him
that it was humiliating. When Evan asked me to dance, I know I looked like a spastic
orangutan. So I just told Chuck that the prom was wonderful. I’ll talk to Chuck about
the Capitol ghost.

 “Oh, no, I can’t talk to him!” Karina spoke out loud and the children looked at each
other in confusion.

 “Ma’am?” said Mallory politely. “Talk to who?”

 “No one, Mallory,” said Karina.
If I talk to Chuck about the ghost case, he’ll talk to
Mom, and both of them will forbid me from getting involved. She talked with him
about my failed skating test, and he agreed with her about my over-involved life and
told me to cut back a little. But I want to help find the ghost and save Mr. Flowers’s
job. I can handle it.

 Karina decided to stall for time. “I’ll tell you what, kids. Let’s get through your
practice tonight and then we can talk some more. We’ll think of something to help Mr.
At least Evan called me on Sunday. It was so sweet of him to pretend that
he had a good time with me at prom.

 “But we have to leave right after practice,” said Janet. “My mama is directing the
Children’s Choir at our church and Daniella and I are in it. Mama’s picking us up.”

If only I knew how to dance. Everyone at the prom said the band was really good,
the best in years. But I never listen to rock music. If only Chuck could be here to
teach me how to dance.

 “Dance,” said Karina. She frowned. “Choir. Music. Makeup. Brit. Stage. Show!”

 The children looked at her with puzzled expressions, and Mallory said, “Coach
Karina, are you all right? You’re actin’ funny.”

 Karina stood up and snapped her fingers. “We can do a show. The Preliminary
team can do a show down at the Capitol on the Fourth of July. There’s a show every
year on the holiday, sometimes more than one show, and you can be the show this

 Janet clapped her hands. “That’s right! My mama directed it last year. We can all do
a show.” Then she stopped clapping and asked, “Why?”

 Karina sat down again and leaned forward. “If we do a show at the Capitol, I can
sneak out while you’re acting or singing or dancing, and I can investigate the closet
in Room 10, the closet that Armstrong was sniffing.”

 The children nodded, and Eric Ralph said, “Can I be in the show?”

 “All the Preliminaries can be in the show,” said Karina. “I’ll start planning it tonight
and get Coach Jason’s permission and make the phone calls and send everyone on
the team an email. I know you’re all in town, because you’re skating at the
Fairgrounds that night. So all the parents should say yes. This will be great. I’ll get
Brit to help me. She’s had a lot of experience in theater.”

 In a small voice, Mallory asked, “Coach Karina, will we have to read something if we’
re in the show?”

 “Of course, honey, everyone will get to read a part,” said Karina. “I don’t want anyone
to be left out.”

 Mallory’s eyes were wide as she said, “I don’t think my parents will let me be in the
show, Coach Karina. I think we’re going to be busy.”

 “I’ll talk to them, Mallory,” said Karina. “Don’t worry. Everyone, it’s time for synchro
practice. Let’s hurry.”

 She and the children stood up, but then Karina motioned for the children to sit down
and lean close to her. She spoke in a low voice. “Kids, we can’t tell anyone about the
Capitol ghost and our plan to find him. They won’t let us look for the ghost. Promise
me that you won’t tell anyone that I’m going to sneak out during your play. Promise?”

If anyone finds out that I’m trying to solve a mystery, they’ll tell my mother and she’ll
say no. She’ll talk to Chuck and he’ll say no, too. I can’t say no. I can’t. This is too
important to these kids and to Mr. Flower

 The children nodded solemnly and Karina stood up again. “Thank you. Let’s go
before we’re late.”

 The Preliminary practice turned out to be as frustrating to Jason and Karina as it
was to the skaters. Although most of the program was clean, the stars and stripes
wheel that Jason had created on the computer was a disaster.

 “Try it again! Push, push, push!” Jason called out instructions, but no matter how
hard the skaters who were part of the stars stroked, they couldn’t get to their spots.
Dozens of unsuccessful run-throughs with and without music failed to straighten out
the problem.

 “Take a break, kids, I’ll page Coach Michaela and let her watch.” Jason stroked to
the boards and picked up the pager.

 “If you weren’t so slow, Janet.” Donald Pleasance’s sweatpants were soaked after
many falls.

 “I’m not slow! The program just isn’t right, that’s all. Even if a computer did it.”

 “Stop!” Daniella did a snowplow stop that sprayed Donald with ice crystals. Donald
backed away uncertainly, remembering the time a few weeks before when Daniella
had chased a teenaged hockey skater around the ice screaming French swear
words and flailing her fists at him.

 “Daniella, stop picking on Donald,” called Karina.

 “I was not, Coach Karina. Donald was mean to Janet.”

 “Skaters, stop, please.” Karina put her head in her hands. “I know you’re all tired of
doing the maneuver over and over, but we have to get this wheel right. We only have
five weeks until your exhibition at the Dorton Arena. That’s only five more practices.”

 Jason stroked over to the team and said, “The program works just fine when ‘I’ve
Been Moved’ does it on the computer. Let’s try it again now that Coach Michaela is
here.” He waved to the Head Coach, who had climbed up into the bleachers. Then
he started the CD with the remote control.

 The Preliminaries began their program in a tight knot and sprayed out into a
“firework,” which became a circle-inside-a-circle formation. Janet and three other
skaters performed cross-scratch spins with blinding speed in the center of the two
circles, and then joined the team for the first line of footwork, a difficult line of Juvenile
Moves in the Field. The tired children skated sloppily, but stayed on their feet. The
transition into the block was clean and the skaters managed to perform the
“cannon,” a maneuver which Jason had created on the “I’ve Been Moved” program
where the middle lines of the block “shot” out of the rest of the block. The skaters
moved up and down in time to the music during the eggbeater. Then came the
intersections. Several skaters collided and fell, but managed to stand up and get
back into their lines. Another circle of footwork, and finally, the team prepared for their
“stars and stripes” wheel, an intricate formation consisting of two small pinwheels
with two five-person “stars” at the ends.

 At this point, Janet and her line were supposed to form one of the stars. Their
strong stroking was completely off the musical beat. They never made it to the end of
the “stripe,” but instead, did their star in the middle of the ice surface. This made it
impossible for the ends of the two stripes, Mallory and Donald, to pull the lines into
position for the final formation, a heart to symbolize “I love America.” The program
ended with a confused oval of children who argued back and forth about who had
messed up the program. And Janet was crying after a fall on her elbow. Daniella
hurried to comfort her.

 Michaela shook her head and ran down out of the bleachers to stand by the gate.
While Karina tried to control the restless skaters, the two coaches studied the
printouts of “I’ve Been Moved,” and Michaela nodded when the computer
programmer admitted, “I think there’s a bug in the computer program.”

 Mallory skated up to the coaches and waited politely until Jason finally glanced up
from the printout.

 “Coach Jason.” Mallory spoke in a soft voice. “I think there’s a mistake in your
computer, sir.”

 Michaela smiled at Jason. “What a coincidence, Mallory. Coach Jason was just
saying the same thing.”

 The two coaches listened intently as Mallory explained. “Coach Jason, I think that
the problem starts back when we’re doin’ that circle of footwork. You need to put the
lines outside and the stars inside to begin with and then fan out into the stars and
stripes. That’s just the opposite of what the computer says. I think the computer has
gotten it all backward.”

 Jason frowned and looked out onto the ice, visualizing the program. He used his
hands to picture Mallory’s suggestion. After a few minutes, he turned to Michaela.
“Mallory’s absolutely right. I made a mistake in the algorithm, and it’s switching the
children in the middle of the program. It looks fine on the screen, but when we try to
actually do it on the ice, it’s impossible. I’ll fix the computer program tonight.”

 “Good job, Mallory.” Michaela gave the girl a quick hug.

 Jason shook Mallory’s hand and then stroked with her back to Karina and the group
of quarreling Preliminaries. Raising his hands for silence, Jason explained the
problem and Mallory’s suggestion for fixing it.

 “Excellent,” said Karina. “Very clever, Mallory.”

 “And Jazzicals, this was my fault, and I apologize,” said Jason. “My computer
program obviously needs debugging. I’m sorry you had to go through all this trouble
and take so many falls. You’ve all been good sports about this. Next practice I’ll bring
a treat, OK? Now let’s line up and try it again.”