Rule #1 in any quality heist film is Don't get caught.
So I'm quiet as I slip out my bedroom window, cross the roof in the cool darkness, and drop from the garage onto the wet grass. Overhead, my parents' lights may be off for the night, but this is a terrible idea any way you look at it. It's stupid, irresponsible, and borderline suicidal. But I'm going anyway.
Blame every movie hero I idolize, blame Tami Cantor, blame Mr. Watson's stupid classroom banner. Blame whomever and whatever you want. This is poor decision making at its finest. But I'm still going.
I stay to the sidewalks because lurking in shadows would only make me look suspicious. In the shadows, I'm a potential burglar, but on the sidewalk, I'm just another sixteen-year-old kid out for a walk-"on my way to a friend's house, Officer" if I get stopped by the cops.
It's Heist Rule #2: Be cool.
Like, bank vault combination changed at the last minute? Be cool.
Someone on your crew double-crosses you? Be cool.
Security guards show up unexpectedly? Be cool.
It works for Vin Diesel stealing cars in The Fast and the Furious. It works for George Clooney robbing casinos in Ocean's Eleven. It works for Timothy Hutton on Leverage. Even John Travolta, back before he got all bloated, played it cool when the Russian mob wanted him dead in a movie called-wait for it-Be Cool.
So if it works for them, it has to work for me, right? You might as well just go ahead and add me to the list-Vin Diesel, George Clooney, Timothy Hutton, prebloat John Travolta, and Max Cobb: cool personified.
The only problem is "cool" and "Max Cobb" go together about as well as sharp knives and dull minds.
It's more like, three-day weekend coming up? Sit at home watching movies with my parents.
Score in the forty-ninth percentile on the ACT three times running? Scream into my pillow until I'm hoarse.
Be best known for passing out in front of the class in ninth grade? Contemplate fashioning the bedsheet into a Snoopy-themed noose.
Screw those people who say, "Be yourself." Being myself has only gotten me a stupid, boring life. So for once, I'm doing the opposite. Tonight, there's no Max Cobb or, as Tami Cantor called me, Just Max. As in "Oh, don't worry about him, that's just Max."
No, tonight I'm Not Max, which means keeping cool. I refuse to play it safe and turn back like Just Max begs me to. Instead, Not Max keeps a steady pace, forcing himself not to flinch at every passing car, his heart quickening when the lights of Asheville High School appear in the distance.
AHS is an ancient building that was constructed about the time Pangaea split to form the continents. If it weren't for the soccer, baseball, and football fields nearby, you'd think you were looking at a decaying mental institution, which I suppose all schools are in a way. My destination's the water tower sitting on the edge of school property. With its massive rusting legs stretching into the night sky, the tower's Asheville High-Home of the Golden Eagles can be seen by the entire town. I'm halfway across the soccer field, walking in the weird gray light of the full moon, when I catch movement out of the corner of my eye.
My heart almost explodes through my chest. It's a girl's voice, but I can't see whose.
"Max? Is that you?"
She's coming toward me now.
Screw Be cool.
I sprint away, running with no clear destination. I need gone, away from this stupid decision before something bad happens.
Not Max...what the hell was I thinking?
After only twenty feet, I'm panting like a two-pack-a-day smoker. I might as well be running in thick mud. So of course, slow ass that I am, whoever she is catches me. And not just catches me, but tackles me from behind, driving me to the soccer turf. Then I'm flipped over, flat on my back, and looking up into the face of Ellie Wick from my Introduction to Philosophy class. She's straddling my chest with her black spandex yoga pants and grinning as big as the moon.
"Hey, Max! You got an invitation too?" she says. "Isn't this awesome?"
Heist Rule #3: If questioned, be evasive.
Ellie's face pinches. "Maxwell Cobb, you know darn well why you're out here. It's the same reason I am."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I was just out for a walk."
Ellie pins my arms to the ground. She's freakishly strong for someone so small. "Here, I'll help you," she says. "Repeat after me. Say, 'I'm here because of the Chaos Club, Ellie.' I'm not letting you up until you admit it."
You have to love a girl who considers chest-straddling a punishment.
You have to love it even more if that girl is Ellie Wick and you've liked her since seventh grade. But even if I'm all for Ellie staying on top of me all night, we have a ten o'clock date to keep, so I enjoy the contact for a few more seconds before saying, "Okay, I'm here because of the Chaos Club."
Inside, my hormones give me the finger.
"See how easy that was?" she says, standing up. "Come on, we don't want to be late. We're about to become a part of history."
As we start across the soccer field for the gate, I look at Ellie from the corner of my eye. With her blond hair and big green eyes, Ellie's as wholesome looking now in eleventh grade as she was back in middle school. Well, by now I don't mean now-now because Ellie certainly doesn't look wholesome at the moment. In fact, she looks lava hot. Black spandex tends to have that effect on me.
"So where was your invitation?" she says. "Mine was under my windshield wiper after school."
"Taped inside my locker," I say. I don't tell her that even with my name on the envelope, I double-checked the locker number to make sure it was actually mine.
"They really can get anywhere," Ellie says. "It's like they're ghosts. It's so awesome."
Awesome is the right word for the Chaos Club.
In just the last two years, the four-decade-old organization has:
1. Stacked tires all the way up the flagpole.
2. Filled a guidance counselor's entire office, floor to ceiling, with water balloons.
3. Hacked the district's website so anyone visiting was redirected to BarnYardLove.com.
4. Punished the school board for banning Slaughterhouse-Five by projecting pictures of them with Hitler moustaches on the scoreboard during the homecoming game.
There's even a website dedicated to documenting their pranks.
But making the Chaos Club even more awesome?
Its membership is anonymous.
Its movements are untraceable.
And no one's ever been caught.
So the big question is, why in the world was I, Max Cobb-Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life, Mr. I'm So Lame the Career Interest Survey Recommended "Worker" As My Future Profession-chosen to receive an envelope with this message inside:
10:00 tonight at the water tower.
Tell no one.
I sure as hell don't know.
But I do know that as we cross the dark parking lot, Not Max is fifty yards from finding out.