Authors: Michael Harmon
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2011 by Michael Harmon
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Harmon, Michael B.
The Chamber of Five / Michael Harmon. — 1st ed.
Summary: When seventeen-year-old Jason Weatherby, the son of a congressman, is invited to join the secretive Chamber of Five, an elite group of students who run Lambert School for the Gifted via a shadow government, he sees how corrupt the institution is and decides to work from the inside to take it down when things go too far.
[1. Revenge—Fiction. 2. Politics, Practical—Fiction. 3. Schools—Fiction.
4. Family problems—Fiction.] I. Title.
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For Sydney and Dylan
in one of the brass-studded and leather-backed reading chairs in the study hall like a king drunk on his own power. The kind of power I’d grown up around, and the kind I didn’t have much use for. With his tie loosened and his pressed white dress shirt untucked under his uniform sweater, he watched me walk in as I wondered again why I didn’t have the strength to stand up for what I believed in.
The Joseph T. Lambert School for the Gifted study hall looked more like the cigar room at the Lidgerwood Country Club, which my father was a preferred member of, and Carter fit right in. Smoke and mirrors, I reminded myself. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
Carter scratched his ear, hooking a leg over the arm of the leather-bound chair and slouching further into the padded thing. We were alone, the doors closed, a freshman stationed out in the hall guarding the entrance. “Hello, Jason.”
I nodded, sitting across from him. “Carter.”
He studied me for a moment, his eyes black pools. “It’s a high position.”
“Yeah, it is,” I answered.
He smiled, speaking easy and soft, his thin lips moving precisely. “I’ve got to admit, most guys don’t need more than a blink to accept.” He eyed me. “It’s been two days.”
I’d already been chosen last year, my sophomore year, to be a member of the Youth Leadership Group, thirty-three members strong, and I thought that was enough. Nothing was ever enough, though, and now I was up for the holiest of the holy, a position in the Chamber of Five. Five guys chosen to oversee the Youth Leadership Group, and the school.
And like I said, you didn’t just sign up for these groups, you were chosen. And the guy sitting in front of me was the chooser. The mysterious and infamous Carter Logan, president of the Chamber of Five.
With my selection last year into the Youth Leadership Group, my father had told every friend he had at the club before I’d even accepted. And now, a year later, I was sitting here with the king. They officially call it the presidency, but there was nothing democratic about it. Carter held the power. The rest of the Chamber simply filled chairs. With my mind returning to the conversation at hand, I shrugged. “I haven’t thought much about it.”
He leaned his head back, staring at the burnished beams of the ceiling. “Decisiveness is the key to leadership, Jason, and this school is about leadership. You should know that. Your father is a congressman for this great state.”
Most everything that came out of Carter Logan’s mouth was
tinged with lazy sarcasm, and he twirled his finger, still staring at the ceiling, when he said it. He bled confidence, oozed charm, reeked of intimidation.
I looked to the closed doors. The doors separating real life and the life I’d been born into. Smoke and mirrors. It doesn’t matter what you think you are, my father had told me a dozen times. It matters only what others think you are. It dictated success, defeat, and the future. The golden key to politics was to be what they wanted you to be.
It was how he’d become a Washington State legislator with his eye on senator in the future. It was also how he’d become such a jerk.
My dad was like a thousand-pound octopus wrapped around my life, and having a screwup for a son when you were a politician wasn’t acceptable. I sighed. The Chamber. I had to admit that the position with the Chamber, along with my dad’s influence, would nail down admission into any Ivy League college I’d like. And more importantly, it would get my dad off my back.
I knew all the good reasons, all the ways that the Chamber would open doors to more opportunity and choice. The problem was that there wasn’t an ounce of desire in me to be what I was supposed to be. Another problem was that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see anybody I liked.
I shook my head, blinking. None of it mattered anyway. I’d take it because if I didn’t, the biggest dog of hell would be unleashed in the form of my dad not only ripping off my head and crapping down my neck, but doing it repeatedly for the rest of the year. “I’ll take it.”
Carter nodded like I was a three-year-old kid who’d wiped
his ass without getting any on his hands. “Good. We’ll see you tomorrow at four, then. The first meeting of the five will convene in the Chamber.”
I stood, starting for the doors, then stopped. I looked back at him. “Hey, Carter?”
He turned his head, looking at me. “Yes?”
“Did I have a choice?”
He smiled. “Of course not, Jason. Who would turn down the Chamber?”
Me, I thought, if I wasn’t a big pussy. “Then why did you even ask me?”
This time, he laughed. An easy and friendly thing that was almost infectious, and that almost made me feel like we were friends. “If I didn’t know you better, Jason, I’d think you actually contemplated turning it down.”
“You don’t know me better, Carter.”
He chuckled. “I know
you are, Jason. That’s enough.”
As I opened the doors and walked down the hall, I glanced at my watch. Twenty after three. I stepped up my pace, hitching my pack further on my shoulder and hustling to make tennis practice by three-thirty. Coach Yount would bitch anybody up one wall and down the other if they were late.
I slowed, turning, and Talbott Presley, otherwise known as Elvis, windmilled his disjointed and too-long legs after me. We’d been friends for a year, and I liked him because he was so incredibly smart that he didn’t know the first thing about being social. He was brilliantly retarded, but he knew it and kept trying not to be, which was entertaining and irritating at the same time. I
couldn’t understand why anybody would want to be popular. “Hey, Elvis.”
He walked alongside me. “Late for practice?”
We walked past one of the posters strewn around the school announcing plans for the new five-million-dollar science and technology wing. State-of-the-art computers, high-tech equipment, a forensics lab, all the good stuff. Lambert was scrambling for backers to fund it, and as with everything at Lambert, money was number one. “Yeah.”
“You were in a meeting, weren’t you? I heard Naomi Oxley talking about it.”
I rolled my eyes. This place was gossip central, and I knew why Elvis was talking to me. “Maybe.”
“With the grand pooh-bah, huh?”
I didn’t answer.
His eyes brightened, and he took a skip. Elvis had been dying to be chosen for the Youth Leadership Group since he’d transferred here last year, because Elvis had spent his entire life trying to be included in things nobody would include him in. Sometimes he reminded me of a hamster on a wheel endlessly running to get somewhere he would never reach, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the destination sucked. “Cool,” he said. “What was it about?”
“You know the rules, Elvis. It’s confidential.”
“I know, I know, but you can tell me. I won’t say anything. I promise.” He looked around, smiling. “It’s not like I
tell anybody, Jason. You’re the only one who talks to me.”
I sighed. The code of silence surrounding the Chamber of Five didn’t mean a thing to me. I just didn’t want to talk about
it. Elvis would never be chosen for Youth Leadership because there was one unspoken stipulation. Money. He didn’t have much.
There were two types of students at Joseph T. Lambert. One kind was preceded by truckloads of cash or status, and the other was Elvis: truly brilliant to the point of freakish dysfunction, and admitted for the reason the school had begun seventy years ago. He was gifted. You were either gifted at Lambert, or your parents gifted Lambert. Cut and dried.
“Did he say anything about me? You put my name in for the group when school started, and they haven’t contacted me. Are they done choosing?”
When the Chamber chose new members for Youth Leadership, it was done in private. There were no announcements. “I don’t know, and no, he didn’t say anything about you.”
“Elvis, I don’t know. I’m not in charge of how any of that works, okay?”
He deflated as we walked. “He chose you for the Chamber of Five, didn’t he? Michael Paulson was the fifth member, but since he’s graduated, they’re short one.” He glanced at me. “You’re it, aren’t you?”
I was, but I didn’t want to tell him. My decision. My belief. My awe-inspiring rugged individualism and courage to stand up for what I knew was right for me. I could give him a five-minute oration on why I’d been chosen, but it would be five minutes of polished spin and outright lies.
The only reason I was at Joseph T. Lambert in the first place was because my dad bought my way in.
Grooming you for the
. I could still hear his words, but I wasn’t gifted. Good grades, sure. Anything other than average? Ha. “Why do you want to be in the Group so bad, Elvis? It’s boring. And besides, you’re a math genius, not a future politician.”
“It’s more than that.”
I rolled my eyes. “Life isn’t a popularity contest, Elvis.”