Authors: Ron Roy
“Not one of these people could have made that footprint,” Ruth Rose said.
“Who’s the last name?” Dink asked.
“Mr. Palmer, the gym teacher,” she answered.
Josh crossed his fingers. “Maybe he’s the one!” he said.
They found Mr. Palmer sitting behind his desk. He smiled when the kids walked into his office.
“I read your note,” he said.
“Thanks for seeing us,” Dink said. “May we measure your shoes?”
Mr. Palmer grinned. “Sure. But I guarantee I didn’t steal that skeleton yesterday morning. I was in the emergency room at the hospital.”
He stood up and held out his left foot. There was a white cast on it. “I slipped on some ice getting into my car yesterday,” he said.
He pointed to a pair of crutches leaning in a corner. “I can hardly carry my lunch, let alone a skeleton!”
“I hope your foot gets better fast,” Dink said.
“Thanks, and I hope you find the skeleton,” Mr. Palmer said.
The kids left and walked toward their room.
“We must’ve figured something wrong,” Josh said. “One of these people has to be the perp.”
“The perp?” Dink said.
Josh grinned. “Yeah, you know, the guy that did it.”
“So if it wasn’t anyone on this list, who was it?” Ruth Rose asked. “That footprint didn’t get there by magic.”
“I wonder if it could be a trick footprint,” Dink said.
“What do you mean?” Josh asked.
“I read a story once about some kids who made fake bear tracks to fool their parents,” Dink said. “They taped some rolled-up socks onto an old rake. Then they stamped ‘bear’ tracks in the snow all around their house.”
“But why would the skeleton snatcher leave a fake footprint?” Ruth Rose asked.
Dink shrugged. “Why would anyone steal the school skeleton in the first place?”
“Well, whoever did it is pretty mean,” Josh grumbled. “Playing tricks on innocent kids isn’t nice!”
Dink and Ruth Rose burst out
laughing. They were still giggling as they got close to their room.
“Wait a sec, I want to put this drawing away,” Josh said.
“STOP!” Ruth Rose shouted as Josh stepped up to his locker. “DON’T MOVE!”
“What!” Josh gasped, smacking his chest with one hand. “You almost gave me a heart attack!”
“Look what you almost stepped on!” Ruth Rose pointed to a circle of white powder on the floor. In the center of the circle was a footprint.
It was a very familiar footprint.
Ruth Rose grabbed Josh’s footprint sketch from his hand and knelt next to the new print. “Check it out, guys,” she said.
Dink and Josh bent down for a closer look. It was a left footprint with a zigzag pattern. When Ruth Rose
placed Josh’s drawing on the floor, the two footprints were identical.
“Oh my gosh!” Josh cried. “The skeleton snatcher was here!”
Just then Mrs. Eagle popped her head through the door. “What’s going on?” she asked.
Ruth Rose pointed at the footprint. “Look, Mrs. Eagle.”
“He’s back!” Josh said.
“And he came right to your locker,” Dink added, grinning. “The zombie is after you!”
“No way!” Josh argued. “See, the footprint is halfway between my locker and yours.”
“Maybe he stole something from one of your lockers,” Ruth Rose said.
Mrs. Eagle knelt and put her finger in the white stuff. Then she lifted her finger to her nose. “Hmm,” she said. “This smells like talcum powder. Why don’t you boys open your lockers?”
“You go first,” Josh told Dink.
“Okay,” Dink said. “Since you’re such a scaredy-cat.”
“Boys,” Mrs. Eagle said.
Dink pulled open his locker door. His jacket hung on a hook. On the shelf, his books were neatly arranged. His lunch bag sat on top of his books.
“Nothing’s missing,” Dink said. “Now you, Josh.”
“No problem,” Josh said, flipping up the latch on his locker door. His jacket hung on the hook. His books were stacked on the shelf. His brown-bag lunch was perched on the books.
But in front of the lunch bag was a twisted piece of white paper.
Josh asked. “I didn’t put that there.”
Dink leaned close and whispered, “Maybe it’s a note from the snatcher!”
“Yeah, right,” Josh said, grabbing the paper twist. “Hey, there’s something inside!”
When Josh untwisted the paper, a metal object fell onto the floor.
But Dink, Josh, Ruth Rose, and their teacher were all staring at the paper in Josh’s hand.
It was a drawing of a smiling skeleton. Someone had sketched a big “2” in the center of its forehead.
Mrs. Eagle bent down and picked up what had fallen. “How odd,” she said, showing the kids a shiny key.
Dink, Josh, Ruth Rose, and their teacher walked back into the classroom.
“Now we have another mystery to solve,” Mrs. Eagle told the class. “Josh, why don’t you and Dink and Ruth Rose tell the class what you’ve been up to?”
The three kids told their classmates about the first footprint and showed them Josh’s drawing. Then they explained how they had traced and measured each teacher’s shoe to try
and find the one who had left the footprint.
Josh’s drawing, Ruth Rose’s list, and the eight shoe outlines were on Mrs. Eagle’s desk. Also on the desk were the drawing of the skeleton and the key that Josh had found in his locker.
“One more thing,” Mrs. Eagle said. “Someone sprinkled powder on the floor near Josh’s locker, then made another footprint.”
She looked at the class. “Any ideas?”
Bobby raised his hand. “I think the same person who took the skeleton put
the key in Josh’s locker,” he said.
“But why?” asked Ruth Rose. “We don’t know what the key goes to.”
Mrs. Eagle took the key and walked over to the classroom door. She slipped the key into the keyhole and tried to lock the door.
“It doesn’t work in this one,” she said. Then she tried the key in her desk lock. “Nor this one.”
“We could try all the locks in the school,” Frankie suggested.
Mrs. Eagle nodded. “Good idea, Frankie, but there are dozens of doors and desks.”
“Could the key go to a suitcase or a safety-deposit box?” Dink asked.
Mrs. Eagle smiled at Dink. “Good thinking.”
“Maybe it’s the key to someone’s house,” Tommy said.
“These are all good ideas,” Mrs. Eagle said. “But it’s not practical to go
around Green Lawn trying the key in every keyhole.”
“What I can’t figure out is why he’s doing this,” Dink said. “Why leave footprints and a key that he knew we’d find?”
Josh raised his hand. “And why did the guy pick my locker to leave it in?” he asked.
“Maybe he didn’t,” Ruth Rose said. “The lockers don’t have our names on them. The guy might have just picked any third-grade locker.”
“You’re right,” Mrs. Eagle said. “Maybe the key was meant to be found by
in this room!”
Everyone looked at each other and started whispering.
Mrs. Eagle made a pile of all the evidence on her desk and handed it to Josh along with the key. “But now we have to get back to work,” she said.
• • •
It was windier and colder as Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose walked home after school.
“Let’s go to my house,” Ruth Rose said. “I’ll make hot chocolate.”
“With whipped cream?” Josh asked.
“Marshmallows,” Ruth Rose said.
“The big, fat ones?”
“No, Josh, the little, bitty ones,” Ruth Rose answered.
“I like the big ones,” Josh mumbled.
A few minutes later, Ruth Rose let them in with her key. She found a note from her mom, saying she’d taken Ruth Rose’s little brother, Nate, to the dentist.
In the kitchen, Ruth Rose’s cat, Tiger, was lying on the table in a patch of sun. Ruth Rose shooed Tiger away, then made hot chocolate in the microwave.
Dink and Josh sat at the table. Josh laid the key and the drawing of the
skeleton on the sunny spot vacated by Tiger.
“I think we’re missing something,” Dink said, looking down at the key and the drawing. “The guy steals a skeleton and leaves a footprint. Then he plants a key in your locker and leaves another shoe print in powder that he sprinkled on the floor. He’s trying to tell us something, but what?”
Ruth Rose brought three mugs and a bag of marshmallows to the table.
They all floated marshmallows on their hot chocolate.
“I just remembered something,” she said. “Didn’t Mrs. Waters tell us she was missing her powder?”
didn’t make that footprint outside my locker,” Josh said.
“I know,” Ruth Rose said. “But someone could have stolen her powder to use it to make that footprint. Maybe the thief wants everyone to suspect
Mrs. Waters of taking the skeleton.”
The kids sipped their hot chocolate and thought about that.
“It would have to be someone who can get into her desk to get the powder,” Dink said finally.
“Like Mr. Dillon!” Ruth Rose said.
“Yeah, but the footprints aren’t his, either,” Josh said. “Remember he was wearing those loafers with no tread on the bottom.”
“And why would Mr. Dillon steal something and blame it on his secretary?” Dink asked. “It doesn’t make sense!”
“I wonder if anything else has been stolen from the school that we don’t know about,” Ruth Rose said.
“Well, if anyone would know, it’s Mrs. Waters,” Dink said. “We could talk to her again tomorrow.”
Josh picked up the skeleton picture that had been wrapped around the key.
“What do you guys think this “2” on the skull means?” he asked. “The school doesn’t have
skeletons, does it?”
“The high school and the middle school might have their own,” Ruth Rose said. “Did anyone steal their skeletons?”
“I doubt it, or we’d have heard something,” Dink said.
“I don’t want to live in a town where some zombie goes around stealing skeletons,” Josh grumbled.
“Anyway, this key must mean something,” Dink said. He placed the key next to the skull’s mouth. “Talk to us, Mr. Bones!”
“Wait a minute!” Ruth Rose cried. She moved the key up a few inches, next to the big “2.” “What does that say?”
Josh dropped a marshmallow into his mug. “It says ‘key-head,’” he said. “‘Key-face’? ‘Key-bones’?”
Ruth Rose shook her head. She pointed at the key. “Key,” she said. Then she pointed at the number on the skull. “Two,” she continued. Then she pointed to the skeleton’s body. “Skeleton,” she said. “I think it says ‘key