Crap. You only live once, right?

When the upstairs door closed behind her, I made my move. I skittered behind her desk, put a hand to the door behind it, and peeked inside.

It was an office, and a nice one. My heart thudded when I read the nameplate on the desk: WILLIAM PERRY.

Someone named William had signed the letter to my parents on SRF letterhead—the letter that encouraged them to send me to St. Sophia’s and not tell me what they were working on. If this was his office, he was an SRF bigwig—the head of the foundation, maybe.

I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have before Lisa came back, so I glanced around to see what could be checked quickly. There were framed diplomas on one wall, and the opposite wall held a desk with a tall credenza behind it.

There was a computer on the desk.

“Bingo,” I quietly said. I peeked back into the hallway to make sure the coast was clear, then moved in for a look at the computer monitor.

None of the programs was on, but the guy had a really messy desktop. There were icons everywhere, from files to Internet links to random programs. I scanned them quickly—I surely had only a moment before she came back downstairs again—and decided on his e-mail program.

When it loaded, the first message in the queue was from Mark Parker—my dad—and the subject line read, “DNA Trials—Round 1.”

My hand shaking, I opened it.

“Dear William,” it read. “To follow up from our last call, we’re beginning to pull in the data from the first round of trials. Unfortunately, we’re not seeing the DNA combinations we’d hoped to see. We’re still hopeful some adjustments in the component samples will give us positive results in this round, but adjustments mean more time. We don’t want to push the schedule back any further than necessary, but we think the investment of time is worth it in this case. Please give us a call when you have time.” The message was signed “Mark and Susan.”

Somehow, over the thudding of my pulse in my ears, I heard the clacking of Lisa’s footsteps in the lobby. I closed the program, ran away from the desk, and held up my paintbrush.

She looked inside Perry’s office, worry in her expression. “What are you doing in here?”

I smiled brightly and held my paintbrush up. “Sorry. I pulled this out and dropped it. It rolled in here. I didn’t mean to pry.”

“Oh,” she said, clearly relieved. “Well, let’s get you back into the lobby.”

When I was back in her safety zone, she took a seat behind the desk and gave me a thin smile. “Good luck with your drawing,” she said, but she didn’t sound very enthused. I might have had an excuse for being in the office, but some part of her wasn’t buying it. Time to get out.

“Sure. Thanks again for your help. Have a nice day.” I practically skipped out of the building, even though the urge to run back into the room was almost overwhelming. My parents had been on the computer in Perry’s office, talking about research—and clearly not the philosophical kind.

I walked outside, heart still beating wildly, and headed to an empty covered bus stop bench. I took a seat and took a moment to process what I’d seen.

Fact—my parents knew Foley. She admitted they knew each other, and I’d seen a letter they’d written to her.

Fact—that letter had been written on SRF stationery. That meant my parents were connected to the foundation, and that connection was strong enough that they got to use the letterhead.

Fact—my parents had talked to William Perry about “DNA” and what sounded like experiments. That meant my parents and Perry were still in contact, and they were giving him updates about their work. Whatever that was.

Conclusion—my parents weren’t just philosophy professors, and they were definitely researching something.

But what? And even if you put all those facts together, what did they mean? And what did they have to do with my being at St. Sophia’s?

And then the lightbulb popped on.

There was one more fact I hadn’t considered—Scout and I had snuck into Foley’s office one night to return a folder stolen by the brat pack. While we were there, we found the letter from William to my parents. He’d also written something like he’d “inform Marceline.”

William knew Foley, which meant that if I wanted more facts, she was the next person on my list. And although she’d cautioned me about digging too deeply, it could hardly hurt to talk to her about things, could it? After all, she was in the middle of the mystery just like I was. Realizing my next step, I walked out of the bus stop and back toward the convent. The school bells began to ring just as I reached the front door of the convent, but I ignored them.

I wasn’t going to class.

I walked through the main building and into the administrative wing. Her office was at the end of the hall, MARCELINE D. FOLEY Stenciled across the open door in gold letters. A sturdy-looking woman stood inside, dressed in black, clipboard in hand. One of the dragon ladies.

I made eye contact with Foley, who sat behind her desk, and stood a few feet away while she and the woman finished their discussion—something about tuition billing issues. When they were done, the woman walked past me. She looked at me as she passed, but didn’t offer a smile, just a tiny nod of acknowledgment.

My stomach knotted, but I made myself walk to the threshold of the door. I stayed there until Foley looked up at me.

“Ms. Parker. Shouldn’t you be in class right now?”

“I need to talk to you.”

“About?”

“My parents.”

Alarm passed across her face, but only for a second. And then she looked like the headmistress once again. “Come in, and close the door behind you.”

I walked inside and shut the door, then sat down in one of the chairs in front of her desk, my bag across my lap.

“I know you told me to think hard before I asked too many questions about my parents. But like we talked about, I know they’re connected to the Sterling Research Foundation.” I paused, gathering my courage to make my confession. “I went there a few minutes ago. I’m going to draw the building for my studio class. I went inside to ask permission, and kind of got a glance at a computer.”

“Kind of?” she repeated, suspicion in her voice.

I ignored the question. “I found an e-mail about my parents. It was to William, the head of the SRF, and it was all about their research. Something about DNA results and trials and what they were going to do in the future.”

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