By Arthur Taylor
(Based on the Episode Mystery Man from the Secret World of Alex Mack, I own no rights)
"Good Morning Drewberg!" The scratchy voice thundered from the radio loudspeaker mounted on the bedside table. AJ Thatcher's eyes snapped open as the DJ continued his daily dosage of daybreak deliveries.
"It is 8 minutes after the hour here in Drewberg, and Mr. E is here to make sure that you all made it home safe and soundly from that lovely place you call Dreamland. For alas, all good things must come to an end, including those sweet dreams you were having just a moment ago, for those of they who are still sleeping WAKE UP!"
AJ shook his head, chuckling to himself as a piercing siren sounded from the radio. AJ laughed out loud as he heard a startled cry and a loud thump and groan from across the hall. His sister had fallen victim to the Mr. E wake-up call.
"Now that you are all wide awake, I have good news and bad news for the students of Croandike Junior High. The bad news is, there are only 52 minutes until first period! So those of you who did not do your homework, whoops, you in big trouble now!" AJ laughed again as the DJ changed to a southern accent for that last line.
"AJ" His mother called through his door. "Breakfast is ready!"
"Down in a minute!" AJ hollered back. He slipped into a green-and-white baseball shirt as Mr. E continued his broadcast.
"The good news, is that there are only 425 minutes until school is out! Ha Ha Ha! So students, turn your eyes to that clock second hand and feel free to count out the ticks with me, or better yet, keep your eyes and ears tuned into what your teachers are saying, for who knows, you might actually understand what they're trying to force into your thick heads."
AJ laughed again as he struggled into a pair of faded jeans.
"AJ" His mother knocked again "Hurry up or you'll be late!"
"I'm coming!" AJ grabbed his backpack and dashed out the door.
"Caller on line one!" Mr. E's voice blared from the kitchen radio as the Thatcher family sat eating breakfast.
"Mr. E, this is Henry Beuford, from Croandike, eighth grade." AJ paused with his fork still in his mouth, his tongue barely tasting the scrambled eggs.
"Hellooooo, Henry!" Mr. E replied. AJ's sister Amanda came into the room yawning sleep out of her eyes. AJ silenced her as Henry continued "Well sir, I'm just calling to say that I am your biggest fan. I know that a lot of people claim to say that, but I truly am your guy."
Amanda gargled her milk, causing the whole family to laugh.
"That is quite a generous statement, Mr. Henry. Quite a statement indeed. May I ask you a deeply personal question sir?"
"Yea, shoot away"
"BADABOOM! Did you do your homework last night, Mr. Henry Beuford?"
"Yeah! Well, most of it, but I got involved in some personal family business last night"
There was a pause then Mr. E said "AHA, I love ya Henry, but Mr. E says, you got to do the homework thing, Flusheroo!" AJ and Amanda laughed as the sound of a toilet flush followed them out the front door.
On the way to school, AJ met up with Henry and his girlfriend Rachel. "I cannot believe I got flushed by Mr. E." Henry was sulking.
"Are you kidding? That was beautiful! Hey, did you do your homework last night?" AJ lowered his voice in an imitation of Mr. E.
"Uh, yeah, most of it" Rachel lowered her voice and they both laughed. Henry shook his head, but grinned.
"Hey baby, he gave me the flusheroo once too" Rachel placed an arm around Henry's shoulder. "It was a great honor"
"Thanks babe" Henry and Rachel's lips met for a second.
"Seriously though" AJ continued as they reached the school. "I don't understand why there's all the mystery surrounding Mr. E. If you were like him, and everyone loved you, wouldn't you want them to know who you were, so you could reap the benefits of your popularity?"
"No way, Mr. E is too cool for that kind of popularity. That's why he travels only after dark, you know, incognito." Henry crumpled up the milk carton he had been drinking from.
A mocking laugh made them turn around. Stephen Clark, the gossip kid, stood behind them. "You guys have no idea what you're saying" He mocked them.
"Oh, and I suppose you do?" AJ countered
Stephen nodded, "Of course I do. As a matter of fact, I happen to know who Mr. E is"
Rachel laughed "Yeah right".
"I do" Stephen continued "His name is Buzz Brizalski. He used to be a DJ up in NYC, but they called him the Sludgeman there. I recognized his voice this morning."
"The Sludgeman?" Henry raised an eyebrow in a questioning look.
"Yeah, everyone knows that sludge is very big up in the city" Stephen looked at them, expecting looks of appreciation and admiration, but got none. "Especially me, you see, when you are Stephen J. Clark, you play by a different set of rules."
"The only sludge I've seen is the sludge in your head" Henry chortled, tossing the milk carton over his head at a wastebasket they just passed. "I play by my own rules and no one else's".
"Beuford!" A stern voice made all four of them freeze in their tracks. They slowly turned, their spirits sinking. Mr. Randolph was standing by the wastebasket. Tall and thin, his piercing eyes were locked onto Henry. Still watching him, he stooped suddenly and picked up something lying next to the wastebasket, Henry's milk carton.
"You know the rules!" Mr. Randolph barked as Henry groaned. "No student at this school is permitted to litter, even if it was by accident. No student may also throw or project items on school grounds. You will report to detention after classes!"
"Yes sir" Henry's reply sounded forced, but Mr. Randolph seemed satisfied. He dropped the milk carton into the trash can and marched away.
"So does Mr. Randolph follow those rules?" Stephen laughed as they entered the school gates.
(At this point, I think I should clarify a few things for the people who are not yet up to speed. Drewberg is a fictional town in upstate New York. It's pretty small, mainly built around the headquarters of an aircraft manufacturing company and a research lab. Most of the families that live here have at least one member in one of those two, like the Thatcher family. Mr. Thatcher works on the assembly line at the factory, while Mrs. Thatcher is a researcher at the chemical lab. Croandike junior high was named after the founder of the chemical lab. Mr. Randolph is the vice principle and no kid likes him. As for Mr. E, he is a DJ on KBI4 radio, and the local urban sensation. Part of the reason he is so popular is because no one knows who he really is. He appeared suddenly on the radio, and became a sensation overnight. Most of the kids in Drewberg enjoy hearing him. In fact, he's so popular some people are worried that if his identity is ever discovered, his show might be cancelled. But that doesn't stop kids from trying to find out who he is.)
When the school bell rang at 3 PM, the first thing that Henry and AJ saw was Mr. Randolph standing in the hallway.
"Guess I'll see you later" Henry groaned and shuffled towards the detention room. Mr. Randolph watched him enter, his stern look unchanging.
"Dude, Mr. Randolph seriously needs to chill out" AJ later complained to Rachel and Stephen.
"He can't help himself, man." Stephen bumped AJ's arm with his fist. "He's the vice principle, he's supposed to be like that."
"Besides, he's ex-military, imagine the kind of teaching he had" Rachel shuddered as she opened her locker.
"Military?" AJ looked at Rachel, "Where'd you hear that?"
"I hear everything" Stephen boasted as he walked away, chuckling to himself.
"I remember another teacher talking about it. Apparently he was highly ranked in some military unit". Rachel grabbed her bag and slammed her door shut.
"So, do you think Stephen was right about Mr. E being that Buzz guy from NYC?" AJ asked as he closed his locker.
Rachel frowned, thinking. "Who knows?" She finally said, shrugging her shoulders. Then a grin split her face "But I do know how we can find out"
AJ felt his neck prickle. Every time that happened, trouble came knocking. "How?" He asked warily.
"We go to the Radio Station and find out who he really is" Rachel looked at AJ, her face brimming with excitement.
"We?" AJ shook his head "Forget it"
"Aw, come on" Rachel pleaded "It would be totally cool to be the only people on first name basis with him" Rachel clasped AJ's hands under her own. AJ pulled out of her grip.
"As fine as that is, we're talking about Mr. E. You know he's all about the mystery theme and the radio station likes it that way. There is no way they will let us in to talk to him."
"Who said anything about asking them?" Rachel's grin widened.
"You wanna sneak in?" AJ could not believe what he was hearing. This was Rachel, she'd never even broken a rule in her life, much less a law! "Are you sure you're feeling okay?" AJ reached out to feel her forehead. Rachel giggled and backed away.
"I'm fine AJ. I just really want to know who Mr. E is." Rachel formed a puppy face, pouting her lips, turning her head and gazing at him.
AJ found himself falling for it and shook his head to clear himself. "Why do I have to be involved in this?" He asked, hoping to distract her.
"Because I really want to show up Stephen". Rachel replied, her face unchanging.
"You want to do this tomorrow?" AJ leaned against the wall. "Can't it wait until the weekend?"
Rachel shook her head. "I'll see you at the Radio Station at 6:00 tomorrow morning"
AJ's jaw dropped "When? That is…" AJ didn't get to finish because Rachel grabbed him in a bear hug.
"Oh thank you, thank you." She exclaimed, finally breaking away. "I knew I could count on you. Henry and I will meet you outside the radio station at 6 AM tomorrow morning." Rachel spun on heel and walked away, practically skipping with excitement. AJ watched her leave, still mystified about what he had agreed to.
(The next morning)
The next morning, AJ was crouching behind a parked car outside the radio station. He was monitoring the main gate where a single uniformed guard sat between two gates. As he watched, a black car pulled up and stopped in front of the gate. The guard looked up, and waved the car through the gate, saying something to the occupant, who AJ couldn't see. A man got out and walked into the station, passing another guard at the front door.
AJ felt a tap on his shoulder and spun around to find Rachel and Henry standing above him. Henry was panting slightly.
"There you are" AJ commented. He'd been waiting for nearly fifteen minutes and was starting to get annoyed. "Anything wrong?"
"No everything's fine. My parents just aren't used to seeing me up this early" Henry raised his head to peer at the gate.
"I told them that he was coming to my place to finish some homework" Rachel explained, dropping to her knees to rifle around in her bag.
"And they really believed that?" AJ probed, raising an eyebrow.
Henry shook his head. "I doubt it".
"Look" AJ was still having second thoughts about this. "I'm not sure this is such a good idea. I say we forget the whole thing. Let's go back to my place. I haven't even had breakfast yet."
"Are you kidding? No way!" Henry was clearly as excited as Rachel was yesterday.
"But even if we do meet Mr. E, and if we learn who he really is, no one's going to believe us" AJ reasoned.
"Oh yes they will" Rachel pulled a camera from her bag. "We'll have photographic proof".
Even now, AJ was trying to think up other excuses
"Look AJ" Henry placed his hands on AJ's shoulders. "It's not like we're going to steal anything. We're just going to sneak in, find Mr. E, and sneak out again"
AJ groaned, gritting his teeth. "Oh, all right. Let's try to find a way in". Moving quietly the threesome dodged between the parked cars until they were standing at the rear of the fence, out of sight from the guard booth.
Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher were having breakfast in their house.
"Where's AJ?" Mrs. Thatcher asked.
"He said he had to take care of something. He left early this morning". Mr. Thatcher replied.
"Should we be worried?" Mrs. Thatcher asked, her face frowning.
"Nah" Mr. Thatcher turned a page of the paper as Amanda came into the room. She switched on the radio and Mr. E's broadcast filled the room.
"Before we get to our next hit on today's chart. I have a little announcement about two students at Croandike Junior High. Rumors about the breakup of two eighth graders Ernie Berger and Leah Zimmerman have been proven to be premature and their kaput is history. You are one lucky dude Ernie. Leah has thought it over and decided that all is forgiven! Take Mr. E's advice, and go buy her something really nice!"
Amanda smiled, "I thought those two would never stop fighting. They've been arguing and avoiding each other for days now"
(Back at the station)
Back at the Radio Station, AJ, Rachel and Henry approached the rear fence, pausing as a car drove by on the other side. They reached a gap in the hedge wall.
"This looks like a good spot" Henry said "You go first"
"What? Why me?" AJ asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Just do it" Rachel snapped "We're running out of time".
AJ shot her a dirty look, but began to scale the fence, and clambered over the barbed wire top. He landed gently on the ground.
"I can't believe that no one's ever snuck in here before." He commented as Henry began to climb. "This is too easy".
But almost as soon as he'd finished speaking there came from behind him a siren and the squealing of breaks. Rachel gasped and Henry leapt off the fence. Spinning around, AJ saw a blue car had stopped a few inches from him. Two security guards had leapt out of the car. Before AJ could move, they had grabbed him.
"Hey, wait! What are you doing?" AJ protested, but the guards didn't answer.
"Let me go man! You don't understand! "AJ struggled against them, but their grip was like iron. Rachel and Henry watched helplessly as AJ was lead over to the car and forced into it. As he vanished into the car's interior, he locked eyes with them, but there was nothing they could do.
"Oh no" Rachel gasped as the car drove away. Luckily the guards hadn't spotted either of them. "What'll we do?"
"Come on" Henry started running, with Rachel right on his heels.
(Inside the station)
Inside the station, AJ was dragged be the guards through the dimly lit halls. One of the guards opened a door and they dragged AJ into what looked like a studio. They threw AJ into a chair and left, closing the door behind them. AJ sat in a room facing another chair whose back was turned to him.
"Welcome son" said a familiar voice coming from a man whose back was to him. Slowly he spun around in his chair. AJ's eyes widened as he recognized the man sitting in the chair.
"I think you have some explaining to do" The man said, leaning forward. AJ gulped nervously.
Meanwhile, Henry and Rachel burst through the kitchen door of the Thatcher house and came face to face with Mrs. Thatcher and Amanda.
"What's going on?" Mrs. Thatcher asked, looking curiously forming on her face.
"AJ's in trouble" Henry gasped, panting from the run. Mrs. Thatcher looked more confused.
"I thought AJ was with you" Amanda looked away from the radio.
"He was. But when we tried to sneak into the radio station-"Rachel began, but Mrs. Thatcher cut her off
"What were you doing at the radio station?" She asked, hands on her hips.
"Well, we were trying to sneak in to find out who Mr. E was" Henry admitted, looking guilty.
Amanda leapt to her feet "Who is he?" she half-asked, half-demanded. Her face flushed with eagerness.
"We don't know!" Rachel sank into a chair. "The guards caught us before we could even get inside. They grabbed AJ and took him away, and we don't know where he is now!"
"What?" alarm flared on Mrs. Thatcher's face and everyone stood there, looking at each other.
"AJ Thatcher" Everyone spun to look at the radio ad AJ's voice began coming through it.
"Yo wassup dogs! This next song is an oldie-but-goodie and I'ma shooting it out to all my compadres at Croandike Junior High. Keep on rocking, dudes and dudettes!" A popular song blared from the radio speaker as Mrs. Thatcher turned back to Henry and Rachel, the alarm on her face replaced by a look of annoyance. Henry looked embarrassed, while Rachel giggled nervously. Amanda didn't move. She just stood there staring at the radio.
An hour or so later, Henry and Rachel were walking to school when they saw AJ cutting through a park.
"Hey AJ!" Henry hollered, running to catch up "Wait up yo!"
AJ saw them and slowed to let them catch up.
"Man, that was wild!" Henry exclaimed when they'd reached him. "You should have seen your sister's face when you came on the radio."
AJ grinned, "Yeah, that was pretty cool" he admitted.
"So how'd you get away from the police?" Rachel asked, switching her bag to her other shoulder.
AJ thought for a moment "Well, let's just say I made a little deal"
"A deal?" Henry looked confused, "With whom?"
"Mr. E" AJ replied.
"You mean you spoke to him?" Rachel's eyes widened. AJ nodded.
"What kind of deal did you make?" Henry asked.
"Well, when the guards brought me inside the station, I saw him and…" AJ started
"You SAW him!" Rachel shrieked.
"Yeah" AJ admitted "But don't get any ideas. I swore an oath of secrecy and I can't tell anyone what he's like or who he is"
"WHAT?" Rachel screamed. AJ winced
"But you can tell us right?" Henry pressed "After all, we are best friends"
AJ shook his head. "Not even you guys, sorry".
Henry sighed "Well, I guess I can understand that. I really do"
"Well I don't!" Rachel snapped, spinning to face the two boys. "You know that sneaking into the station was my idea."
"Sorry" AJ shrugged and walked on ahead.
Henry and Rachel watched him walk on. Henry sniggered, trying not to laugh.
"What is so funny?" Rachel snapped, glaring at him.
"Sorry babe, it's just that the irony of this is just sickening. OW!" Henry yelped as Rachel bopped him with her bag.
"AJ, wait!" Rachel dashed after AJ, leaving Henry standing on the street corner, rubbing his sore head.
There would be no peace for AJ today. After hearing him on Mr. E's broadcast, nearly every student at school had come to the conclusion that he knew the secret identity of Mr. E. All through the school day, there were pleads, threats, and money thrown in his face. He just kept saying "I can't tell anyone who he is". But it got harder and harder as the day went on. He just about lost it during lunch when he was confronted by Stephen and a bunch of other students.
"What?" Stephen spluttered when AJ replied to his request.
"I told you Stephen, I can't tell anyone who he is. I promised him I wouldn't". AJ moved to sit away from the crowd, but it followed him.
"So you can't even tell us what he looks like?" Stephen begged. AJ shook his head.
"I heard that he's really a deformed man, with ugly scars and moles, which is why they keep him a secret" A girl commented, but no one agreed with her.
"But he is from New York City, right?" Stephen pressed, hoping to get something out of AJ.
"I'm not saying anything" AJ was really getting annoyed now. But Stephen wasn't giving up.
"Okay look. You don't need to tell us, just nod or shake your head. Okay? Now, does he have long hair?"
That was it, AJ stood to face Stephen. "Look" he began. "Maybe there's a reason why no one knows who Mr. E is. Maybe there's more to him than meets the eye! Maybe that's why he is so mysterious. Or maybe you should just be happy that he's here, doing what he does, and stop asking me such stupid questions!" AJ pushed through the crowd and stormed off, leaving Stephen and the others staring after him.
Chuckling, Henry joined the group. "Forgive him. We were up early this morning. He didn't get enough sleep." He patted Stephen on the shoulder.
Stephen grunted in anger, smacking his hands together. "This bites, man. I just know it's Buzz, but he won't admit that I'm right".
"Students!" Everyone jumped at Mr. Randolph's voice. He was standing right behind the crowd, yet no one had heard him come up. "This is an unauthorized gathering on school grounds! You have 50 seconds to disperse!" He held up a stopwatch. "Go!"
Everyone scattered. No one wanted to argue with Mr. Randolph.
Things got better when AJ got home. At least his parents weren't pestering him about Mr. E. But Amanda was, and it was nearly as bad as at school. Finally she left for a piano lesson and AJ relaxed on the back porch. His mother came out.
"You know? Now that I know who Mr. E is, I realize that it's not as fun listening to him anymore. Not only that, but the kids at school won't leave me alone now. Maybe I should just tell them so they'll stop bugging me".
Mrs. Thatcher sat down next to AJ. "I understand son, but you promised Mr. E. Besides, telling everyone would ruin the whole thing for them as well."
"When Rachel first suggested sneaking into the radio station, part of me wanted to doing because I thought it would be so cool to know who he really was. But, kind of like the kid who peaks at his Christmas presents, I have to admit it's not as great as I thought."
Mrs. Tucker smiled. "You know what I think?" She asked "Sometimes a little mystery can be a big thing."
The next day everyone woke up to an announcement.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, due to unforeseen circumstances, Mr. E has temporarily gone off the air. It is unknown at this point when he will air again. In its place, we offer our listeners this alternative program".
As soon as AJ heard this, his heart sank. He was afraid this might happen.
At the breakfast table things were quiet. The replacement show was airing on the radio, but no one felt like listening.
At school, everyone was silent, almost all the bustle had been gone as if everyone was mourning the loss of Mr. E. AJ also noticed that people kept throwing him dirty looks. The reason for this was made clear in class.
"Nice going AJ" Rachel snapped as she sat down at her desk "Thanks to you, it's good bye Mr. E".
"What are you talking about?" AJ asked, looking confused. "What do I have to do with this?"
"Yeah, come on Rachel" Henry turned to her "Maybe he's just sick or had a family emergency or something"
"Yeah, and maybe pebbles are more valuable than diamonds" Rachel replied sarcastically. "Face it, AJ learned his identity and it got him fired".
AJ didn't say anything, just sighed and slumped in his chair.
"Look I don't like this rumor either" Henry looked more concerned than angry "But it's spreading like wildfire and many people here have accepted it".
AJ looked at Stephen, who was throwing mental daggers at him. "It's not my fault Stephen" He protested "Maybe Mr. E just has some problems of his own that need to be sorted out before he comes back"
Stephen snorted "Yeah, or maybe the Radio business just had enough of him and shut him down. I still say it was you" Stephen turned his back on AJ.
"Pay them no heed" Henry was the only one in the room who seemed at ease. "They're just taking this hard. Do you know what actually happened?"
"No" AJ replied "Mr. E and I are not exactly on friendship terms"
Henry looked flustered for the first time "Well, is there something you can do?"
"Eyes at front class!" Mr. Randolph barked from the front of the room. Everyone jumped, no one had seen him come in. "Since your regular teacher, Miss Bryce was unable to make it to school today, I will be substituting for her."
No one looked happy at this news. Many people groaned.
"That's enough!" Mr. Randolph ordered, turning to the blackboard. "Please open your textbooks to page 49"
CLAP! A rubber eraser collided with the back of Mr. Randolph's head. He spun around as the class gasped. Everyone was looking towards the back of the room where AJ was half-standing out of his chair; his hand was raised in the action of having thrown something. Whispers and giggling erupted in the classroom as AJ and Mr. Randolph stared each other down.
Mr. Randolph's lips were pursed. It was several minutes before he could speak. "Mr. Thatcher" he finally spluttered, like an angry fuse. "You are hereby excused from the lesson. Go to my office and wait there."
AJ didn't say anything; he just reached down to grab his bag.
"I will join you at the end of the period" Mr. Randolph finished as AJ left the room. He turned back to the blackboard.
"They've been in there a while" Henry looked worried as the three of them stood outside Mr. Randolph's office. The blinds were drawn, so there was no way of telling what was going on in there.
"Hey, look" Rachel pointed at Ernie and Leah, who were standing by the lockers. Ernie presented Leah with a rose, Leah accepted it with a big smile, and they hugged each other.
"Hey guys" Stephen's friend Ronnie walked up with a clipboard. "I'm starting a petition to bring back Mr. E. You want to sign?"
"Sure" Everyone signed their name.
Suddenly, the office door opened and they emerged. Mr. Randolph was still looking angry. AJ looked calm, but annoyed.
"I hope you will think about what I've said" Mr. Randolph addressed him. "I'll see you tomorrow morning".
"Um- Mr. Randolph?" Ronnie approached him
"What?" Mr. Randolph spun to face her. Ronnie held her clipboard out.
"Would you like to sign my petition to bring back Mr. E?" Ronnie asked nervously.
"Why should I?" Mr. Randolph's eyes narrowed as he scanned the number of signatures.
"Because Mr. E is the lifeblood of this school" Henry replied, gesturing around.
"Yeah" Stephen agreed "Right now, everyone would be talking or laughing about what they had heard on his radio show."
As everyone watched, a group of students hung a poster by the school trophy case that read "BRING BACK Mr. E".
"And look at Ernie and Leah." Rachel gestured at the couple, who were still embracing. "You know, they weren't even speaking to each other until Mr. E mentioned them on his show and got them back together".
"Losing Mr. E is a major disaster to us" Ronnie stared at the floor. "We need him".
Mr. Randolph didn't look convinced, but he signed the petition any way. The bell rang for class. As the others left, Henry looked back and saw AJ say something quietly to Mr. Randolph. The shadow of a smile flickered across the vice principals face.
The next day, Mr. E came back on the air, to the relief of everyone. AJ was especially pleased.
"Okay all you couch potatoes". Mr. E's voice crackled through the speakers. "Mr. Shade, what's our next plan?"
"Well Mr. E" A deeper voice came through the kitchen radio. "I have a free movie ticket here that I'd like to donate to a worthy person."
"Very good, Mr. Shade. This free movie ticket is going to the first kid who can call me and correctly identify what the capital of China is. Caller one, Miguel Sanchez of Angel's Bluff."
"Ummm" A young boy's voice crackled through the static "Tokyo?"
"Flusheroo!" two voices said in unison to the sound of a toilet.
"You're gone Miguel" Henry chortled.
"Everyone knows the capital of China is Beijing" Rachel laughed as she ate her cereal.
"Flusheroo!" Stephen and Amanda echoed.
Stephen, Rachel, Henry, and Amanda were eating breakfast in the Thatcher kitchen. Mr. Thatcher walked in with the paper.
"Mr. Thatcher, where's AJ?" Henry asked.
"Oh you didn't hear?" Amanda chuckled.
"AJ is being punished for throwing that eraser at Mr. Randolph. He has to go to school early and help open the building, and then help close it in the afternoon." Stephen laughed.
"So, have you stopped pestering AJ about Mr. E's identity?" Mr. Thatcher asked, giving Stephen a look.
Rachel looked annoyed. "Well, AJ is now claiming that he made up his whole encounter with Mr. E because he wanted attention."
"I believe him" Henry countered. "He said that he was in a dark, soundproofed studio and that he didn't get a good look at him."
"Mr. Thatcher" Stephen turned to him "If AJ is indeed telling the truth, I would recommend taking him to some kind of specialist for treatment. I personally don't know if I buy his story"
"Yeah. Me either" Rachel finished her cereal.
"I've been saying that AJ needs special help for years now" Amanda joked, making everyone laugh.
Mr. Thatcher glanced at his watch.
"School time kids" Everyone rose from the table.
As they were leaving, they heard one final announcement from Mr. E.
"The Anti-cootie patrol would like to give a warning out to rugby coach Mr. Whittle, and to dispel rumors about his supposed dinner with a rival coach Mrs. Bobwhite from Shale County."
"The patrol says Wooaaahhh!" Mr. Shade's mocking voice made the kids laugh.
"Penalty, Mr. Whittle. Backplay in motion". Mr. E laughed.
At the radio station, the red ON AIR sigh dimmed and two people leaned back in their chairs, sighing in relief.
"I still can't believe you almost quit, Mr. E" Mr. Shade leaned forward to switch off the CD player. "Was it about me?"
"No" Mr. E chuckled as he placed a record back on the shelf. "I just lost the interest to keep doing this. It's doesn't exactly help pay the bills."
"But after all these years, it would seem more fun to be Mr. E than doing your other job" Mr. Shade commented as they left.
"Speaking of which, you want a lift?" Mr. E asked as they walked through the radio station.
"Sure". They quickened their pace.
As the kids arrived that morning, they saw Mr. Randolph talking to AJ, who was holding a mop. A wet floor sign was attached to the stars inside the front door.
"Having fun AJ?" Rachel giggled as she walked by. AJ made a face.
Mr. Randolph waited until the kids had moved on, than leaned down.
"Thanks Thatcher, for helping me get my views straight."
"No problem sir" AJ replied, putting the mop in the janitor's closet. "We may need Mr. E, but we need someone like you too. One to keep us in line, and one to make us laugh".
"Our agreement still holds right?" Mr. Randolph asked as the bell rang.
AJ nodded. Mr. Randolph's face became serious again. "Now get to class!" he barked. "And if you ever throw another eraser"
"I won't" AJ quickly shook his head.
Mr. Randolph whirled on a boy who was walking backwards.
"Mr. Marvin, you're walking a thin line, boy!" He barked. The boy jumped and took off.
"Oh it's good to be back, Mr. Shade" Mr. Randolf gave AJ one final look and walked off down the hall.
"And good to have you back, Mr. E" AJ grinned from ear to ear as he went to his first class.