Sherlock Holmes may not have been a journalist, but that doesn’t stop high school senior Kennedy Carter from embracing his methods. With her sights set on becoming an investigative reporter, Kennedy lives by the famous detective’s rules: observe the obvious, eliminate the impossible, and avoid romantic entanglements at all costs.
Kennedy has her heart set on winning the $10,000 Excellence in Emerging Journalism award so she can finally escape her small town and see the world with her very own kind-hearted Watson—best friend and school photographer Ravi Burman.
But research into a local urban legend and a murder investigation she can’t resist are threatening to derail her plans. To find the killer preying on her graduating class, she and Ravi team up to investigate the deaths and work to uncover the story of a lifetime—if it doesn’t cost them their lives first.
Excerpt from Bury the Lead by Mischa Thrace
The Consulting Detectives Rules for Investigative Reporters
1. There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.
2. The little things are infinitely the most important.
3. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
4. Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.
5. Dogs don’t make mistakes.
Interview clothes are the devil.
The starched white collar of my button-down squeezes at my throat like a noose, doing exactly nothing to assuage my nerves.
“Remind me why I’m doing this,” I say, waving a leather folder at Ravi, who has spent the past ten minutes waiting for me to remove myself from his passenger seat. “This isn’t even the kind of story we tell. We’re better than this.”
“Well, yeah. I’m better than most things.” He offers me a goofy grin. “But don’t you bring me into it. This is your grand plan, Captain Overachiever.”
“This was a stupid plan. This”—I slap the dashboard with the folder—“is stupid. It’s just human interest.”
“It’s what they asked for,” Ravi says. “And it’s good. You know that.”
“It’s boring.” Sweat pools beneath my equally boring black blazer.
“It’s a requirement. You’re the one who wanted this internship, remember?”
He’s right. He usually is, although even under the pain of torture, I wouldn’t admit it, because I’d absolutely never hear the end of it.
“I just don’t want to be pigeonholed. I don’t want to report feel-good stories about cute kids overcoming obstacles. Anyone can do that. I want the stories that matter, that mean something, that are more interesting than my sister and her horses. There’s no mystery there—no scandal. It’s all rainbows and fluffy bunnies.”
He pins me with a stare over the rims of his black glasses and holds it until I squirm.
I sigh. It’s the outfit. It has me out of sorts. “Okay, fine. Obviously her life isn’t all fluffy bunnies, but you know what I mean. I want to be taken seriously, and this doesn’t exactly scream serious.”
“This is your foot in the door. Stop trying to find a reason it won’t work. You did what was expected. You told a story. A complete story, a unique story. This isn’t some half-assed interview with an uncle who wants to relive his glory days of getting paid to shoot brown folk in other countries.”
The assignment for the senior internship application was to find a community member to feature in a Profile in Courage. Submissions could be written or filmed, depending on which department the applicant hopes to be placed in. I did both, even though I know my chances of getting an on-air position are slim. Which is fine by me. On no planet do I want to read canned stories other people got to investigate. I want to find my own stories, write my own exposés, and present my own findings on my own terms.
This internship could be my ticket to those stories, and those stories could pay for my ticket out of Maplefield. Mine and Ravi’s both.
BayStateNews covers everything from local charity events to national politics, and somewhere in there is the story that will help me win the Excellence in Emerging Journalism Award, a contest sponsored by the New England Journalism Association that awards $10,000 to a student journalist—money I desperately need if I’m ever going to get out of Maplefield.
“I’m dying here,” Ravi says. The air conditioner in his car is on the fritz, and unless we’re going over fifty, it only hisses vaguely warm air from the vents. Sweat plasters black curls to his forehead, and I’m glad my pixie cut is short enough to avoid that particular look. “The clock’s ticking. You doing this or what?”
“All right, yes. I’m going.” I gather up my stuff. He turns the car off and leaps out, running to open my door for me. I roll my eyes, even though it’s cute. “You’re such a dork.”
He bows, offering me a hand. “Just reminding you that chivalry’s not dead.”
“No, but you might be if you keep acting like this,” I say, but I let him pull me up out of the car.
“You wouldn’t. You’d be lost without your cameraman.” He trots back to the driver’s side to retrieve his messenger bag and camera. “Plus, you’d never find a replacement as pretty.”
He’s right on both counts, though I care far more about the first point than his relative prettiness, even if it is objectively quite high. When we’re on a story together, Ravi’s like an extension of my own body, my own brain even. He knows just what to shoot and exactly how to frame it to convey the feeling I want, even when I can’t put it into words. It’s one of the many factors that makes him my favorite human.
I double-check that everything is in the folder: the memory stick, the story, a resume, and a stack of printouts from the online news site I started three years ago. I set my phone to silent, then drop it in my jacket pocket. I’m morally opposed to purses, and my backpack, with its myriad of pins and patches, isn’t professional enough to bring in. The faux leather folder I nicked from Dad’s study will have to do.
“Noodz in forty-five?” I ask.
“Noodz in forty-five,” Ravi confirms.
Noodz, the city’s best ramen restaurant, is the reason Ravi volunteered to drive the forty-five minutes to the interview in the first place. Well, that and to avoid the herd of friends his sister currently had visiting.
“Then here goes nothing.” I turn to cross the street. The BayStateNews building is intimidatingly modern—all glass and metal angles, a world away from my cozy bedroom and homemade website.
“Wait, wait!” Ravi fumbles through his bag and curses to himself. “Ah, here it is.” He has a wild grin on his face that I can’t quite read. He grabs the edge of my blazer and fastens a small enamel pin beneath the lapel. It’s a black silhouette of a hawk-nosed man with a pipe and deerstalker hat overlaid with the words Weapon of Mass Deduction in silver script. I burst out laughing.
“For luck,” he explains, a flush creeping up his olive cheeks that I choose to attribute to the heat of the August sun. He flips the lapel to reveal a flash of the pin, then lays it back in place. “You still look all professional-like on the outside, but hey—secret Sherlock.”
It’s a perfect gift for someone who worships at the altar of Sherlock Holmes.
And I do.
There was a time when this would’ve been a strange choice of religion for an eighteen-year-old girl, but thanks to the BBC and Benedict Cumberbatch, that’s no longer the case.
I wish I could say it started with Consulting Cheekbones, because that would at least be understandable, but it didn’t.
It started in seventh grade, with a teacher who hit us with the best classic literature had to offer: the creepfest that was Edgar Allan Poe; Richard Connell’s diabolical The Most Dangerous Game; and most life-alteringly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Mr. Braxton’s penchant for violent reading assignments didn’t always go over well with parents, but I owe the man my life—or at least my mind.
I devoured the original canon stories like they were holy texts and spent months glued to my laptop as I worked my way through every film and TV adaptation I could get my hands on.
I wasn’t just a fan of Holmes; I was a student. I dreamed of being a reporter the way other kids dream of being ballerinas and astronauts. More specifically, I wanted to be the Sherlock Holmes of journalism and still do. His science of deduction would serve an investigative reporter as well as it served a consulting detective, and I embraced his methods with the enthusiasm of a newly converted cultist, wallpapering my room with quotes from the stories and series, and studying everything I could find about his methods. For my fifteenth birthday, I asked for—and received—a $200 course in micro-expression training. I’m lucky anyone still talks to me after an obsessive summer of practicing lie detection.
Ravi, the one person in the world I know would never lie to me, pulls me into a fast, hard hug. “You got this.”
“You know it,” I say, relaxed and easy now. Something about the pin—and maybe the hug—works. I do have this.
I was expecting a panel interview, but the receptionist shows me into a conference room with only a single man seated at the large table, scrolling through his phone. He’s about my father’s age, with thinning brown hair and yellow stains on the fingers of his right hand that tell of far too many cigarettes. He looks up as I enter but doesn’t stand.
“Welcome, welcome,” he says, eyes back on his phone. He gestures to take a seat. “It’ll just be a moment.”
The silence drags on forever while he finishes with his phone, and I have to fight to keep hold of the confidence I walked in with. I tell myself to acknowledge the nerves and set them aside. After a couple of breaths, it works. When he sets the phone down, I flash him a wide smile and stick out a hand. “Thank you for meeting with me. Mr. Jacobsen, correct? I’m Kennedy Carter, from Maplefield High.”
He looks somewhat taken aback and holds my hand for a beat longer than is comfortable. “Kennedy Carter? Like the presidents?”
I keep the smile pinned on and play into his question. “Indeed. I still think my parents should’ve named my sister Reagan, but alas, they went with Cassidy.” It’s just the segue I need. I pull my hand back and open my folder, removing items as I speak. “Actually, Cassidy is the subject of my Profile in Courage. I wrote up a feature-style profile of her experience with partial paralysis at age twelve—a result of a horseback riding injury—and her subsequent return to the sport. At only sixteen, she’s poised to represent the United States at the Paralympics next year in dressage.”
I pause to let him scan the article before continuing. “Dressage is like a dance between horse and rider and is difficult for the average able-bodied person to master. For Cassidy, it’s even harder because she no longer has use of her legs. In addition to the article, I created a video that highlights Cassidy’s commitment, dedication, and perseverance in the face of circumstances that would thwart most others.”
I say a silent apology to my sister, who would crucify me if she heard me describing her in such overzealous tones. Cassidy uses a wheelchair, yes, but it’s hot pink and covered in stickers, including one that says Not Your Inspiration.She only agreed to do the video to attract sponsors, which all the top riders have.
I slide the flash drive and a magazine across the table. “I’ve included the full fifteen-minute feature on here, along with a sampling of videos I’ve done for the Maplefield Monitor, the news site I created for my school. I also do a print edition at the end of each school year. That’s the most recent issue.”
From the look on his face, Jacobsen was expecting some kind of homemade fanzine—maybe stapled at the corner, with a clip-art title page—but that’s not what I’ve given him. The print edition of the Monitor features glossy, full-color covers and is professionally bound, with advertisements for local businesses scattered among the articles, reviews, and photos. Jacobsen leafs through it, the edges of his mouth tugged down, and nods occasionally to himself. I bite back a grin. No one else could present such an application packet. No way. I have this in the bag.
When Jacobsen finishes perusing the documents arrayed before him, he says, “Miss Carter, you certainly are a solid candidate. I am very, very impressed. But I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding. The high school internship has already been filled. The only position left is for a college student. I’m afraid I have nothing to offer you.”
The Making of a Monster
The thing no one tells you about vengeance is how much self-control it takes. It’s worth it though, in the end. I think people should know that. Just how worth it vengeance can be.
To make you understand, I need to go back to the beginning.
This isn’t the story about who I am today—the one with the power, the one with blood on my hands.
It’s the story about a little boy, one who grew up in a world that ground him down.
It’s the origin story of a monster.
“You don’t have time to change it. Come on,” I say. “It’s the first day, and we’re gonna be late.”
“I don’t care.” Cassidy dumps her makeup brushes on the bathroom counter. “The purple was a bad pick. I blame you.”
“Of course you do. But seriously. Late. Let’s go.” I couldn’t care less that her eye shadow is the “wrong” shade, not when it’ll take her at least fifteen minutes to redo it, and especially not when it looks perfectly fine the way it is. Cassidy’s gorgeous, with the kind of looks that would be perfect behind an evening news desk. Her choice of eye shadow isn’t going to ruin her. “Your adoring public won’t care about your makeup.”
“Yeah, but I will.”
“And I won’t. Let’s go.”
“You’re the literal worst,” she says, but she surrenders the shadow palette and wheels herself out of the bathroom.
I grab both of our backpacks, dump them on her lap, and snag the keys from the hook by the door. “Meet you out front.”
Most days, Mom drives, but this year, she’s taking the train into Boston a few days a week for work, so I’m on chauffeur duty those days. Not that I’m complaining. The blue Saturn might be older than me, but wheels are wheels.
I back the Ion quad coupe—affectionately called The Planet—out of the garage and am relieved to find Cassidy waiting at the edge of the driveway. It would’ve been just like her to turn around to change her makeup the minute I was out of sight.
I stash the backpacks while Cassidy transfers herself into the passenger seat, then load the chair in. With just the two of us, the titanium chair fits fully assembled in the back seat.
We leave with enough time to stop for iced coffees, which is a critical part of the morning routine, even in the dead of winter. We take it the same way: with enough milk and sugar to barely call it coffee, and with at least one flavor shot apiece. Ravi once tried to convert me to the wonders of tea—an addiction instilled by his British-born father—but it didn’t take.
The school parking lot is already packed when we get there. The first day is one of the few times everyone actually makes an effort to be on time. I pull in to one of the handicapped spots, and The Planet is immediately swarmed by a group of shrieking girls who must have been watching for our arrival.
Cassidy’s crew is nothing if not extra.
The instant she’s wheels-down, Cassidy is swept away without even a parting wave.
“That was intense,” Ravi says, appearing around the edge of the car. “Like a school of very peppy sharks converging on chum.”
“You’re not wrong.” I offer him my cup, but he grimaces and shakes his head.
“Too early for diabetes.”
We weave our way through milling pods of students and smile at Ms. Larson, the principal, who welcomes us back.
“No Henry?” I ask, disappointed.
“Already inside,” Ms. Larson says. “You think he’d miss the first day?”
Ravi holds the main door open, and we find the golden retriever there, sprawled on his back with all four feet in the air as a pair of giggling freshmen rub his soft belly.
Henry had been a bittersweet addition to the school, but a welcome one, and his arrival was featured both on the Monitor and in the local paper. He’s even listed on the staff page of the yearbook as Official School Dog.
He arrived two years ago on the heels of the school’s biggest tragedy, when Liam Mackenzie, a senior and gifted jazz pianist, committed suicide two months before graduation. Not a soul had seen it coming. He was what all the teachers called “one of the good ones,” well-liked by his fellow students and looking forward to attending Berklee College of Music in the fall. He was found in the boy’s locker room, although why he chose that spot was anyone’s guess, since he was as far from an athlete as a 120-pound jazz band kid could get. His typed note, taped to a locker, had said Sorry Now?
In the aftermath, many students found Henry easier to deal with than the counselors Ms. Larson brought in, and he soaked up a lot of grief for the remainder of that year. Everyone was happy when Ms. Larson announced he would be a permanent part of Maplefield High.
Ravi and I give the dog ample pets on the way by.
I think schools would be happier places if they all had Henrys.
Journalism is a senior-level elective taught by an actual legend. Mr. Monroe is the real deal, a retired investigative reporter who broke several high-profile stories in his day. Admittedly, those days are long in the past, but he worked with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at The Post during the Watergate scandal, and that alone makes him a rock star.
He keeps his classroom desks in a circle, and as the first to arrive, I have top pick. I take one with a good view of the board and drop my backpack on the one beside it to save for Ravi.
The next student in is Claribel Garcia, and she takes a seat one desk over from me. Claribel has her heart set on writing the next great Mexican-American novel and is one of few people other than Ravi I’m cool doing group work with.
The rest of the class trickles in, filling the circle of desks and trading stories of summer adventures. Ravi darts in just ahead of the bell and slides into his seat with a clatter. “Made it.” He huffs. “Shit, this is a long way from Art.”
“You’re here before Monroe though. That’s all that matters.”
He nods, still catching his breath. “Not making that mistake again.” Last year, when we had Mr. Monroe for Current Events, Ravi had once been late by less than a minute and was forced to spend the period in the hall, writing a ten-page essay on the electoral college.
The bang of a slamming door silences the chatter around the circle.
“All right, sports fans,” Mr. Monroe says, deep baritone rumbling in the dying echo of the door. He strides to the center of the circle. “Welcome to Journalism. I’m Mr. Monroe, but you can also call me sir, Your Journalistic Highness, or that hard-ass who assigns too much homework. I answer to all them.”
A quick glance around the room is all it takes to weed out who’s taken a class with him before and who hasn’t. The latter sits rigid and wide-eyed while the former try—and mostly succeed—to suppress grins. Monroe is a hard-ass, no doubt, but he’s one of the best teachers Maplefield has.
“If you know you do not belong here in Journalism,” Monroe continues, “then I suggest you remove yourself at once and stop wasting the time of those who are where they belong.”
No one moves. Even those I recognize from Current Events seem uneasy.
“Those of you who believe you do belong here, which appears to be all of you, would do well to question that belief. Ask yourselves,” he says with the intensity of television evangelist, “if you have what it takes to challenge yourselves. Do you have what it takes to look at the world around you and really see what’s there? I’m not talking about those little Pokingmen or whatever is on your phone screens; I’m talking about the realities of the world we live in. Do you have what it takes to see the truth not just in the world around you, but in yourself? Ask yourself: are you willing to do the work?”
He lets the question hang in the air, and I can’t tear my eyes off him. He’s easily past seventy years old, with deep lines etched into his dark face, but he’s electric in a way I can only hope to be. He’s not handsome, but he is charismatic. He can hold an audience in the palm of his hand, and I bet he did the same with his interview subjects—milked them like a cobra-charmer until he got his story. This is what I want to learn from him: presence and control.
“Because if you are not willing to do the work,” he goes on, “you are wasting my time. Not only that, you’re wasting your own time, and you’re wasting your classmates’ time, and I will not stand for it. If, by now, you have begun to wonder if this is indeed the class for you, leave now, because I expect nothing but your absolute best.”
No one moves. No one even breathes.
A toothy grin spreads across the old man’s wrinkled face. “Perfect. I always love it when I get a group that is here to work. Now, for those of you who don’t know me—yes, I am quite literally older than dirt, and yes, I do this job because retirement doesn’t suit me. I did not live this long by being stupid enough to tempt my wife toward murder by staying home and being in her way all day. Gentlemen, that is a lesson you’ll do well to learn now: happy wife, keep your life.”
Tentative smiles flash around the circle at this and even a few outright laughs.
“While I’m sure you probably all know each other, at least by sight, alas, I do not. So, indulge me; let’s go around the room and engage in the diabolical torture known as personal introductions. Give me a name and something about yourself that will stick in my addled brain.”
He points to the kid closest to him, who looks startled as a result. “Hi, I’m, uh, Jackson Tolliver.”
“There’s nothing memorable about that, son.”
“I’m Jackson Tolliver, and I’ve broken twelve different bones in twelve different accidents?”
Monroe claps his hands. “Brilliant! Mr. Tolliver, accident-prone. Next?”
I sit through three more of these—Corey Roberts, who races dirt bikes; Natalie Franco, who knows ASL; and Isaiah Colon, who ate a spider on a dare—before it’s my turn.
I turn on my reporter voice and say, “I’m Kennedy Carter, and I’m the creator of the Maplefield Monitor.”
Mr. Monroe smiles. “Ah, yes. Ms. Carter. I remember you from last year. I’m a big fan of your site.”
The introductions continue around the circle, ending with a tiny blond girl, clad in an off-the-shoulder romper, who stares straight at me and says, “I’m Emma Morgan, and I’ll be interning at BayStateNews this year, where my aunt is a producer on the evening show.”
I almost choke on the shock before I can acknowledge it and set it aside. That’s my thing, my superpower. Compartmentalization. A good journalist is nothing if not objective, and had it been anyone else staring at me, I would’ve managed it, no problem. But not Emma, one of the pretty, effortlessly popular girls who seem destined to have the world handed to them on a silver platter. Not Emma, who’s been the absolute bane of my existence since middle school.
I landed on her radar in sixth grade, when we were partnered to peer-edit each other’s argumentative essays. I realized I might’ve taken the assignment too seriously when I saw she had written about the unfairness of the school’s cell phone policy, while I had lobbied for the importance of death with dignity on the platform that if we can do it for our pets, we can do it for our grandparents. Emma called me a psychopath in front of the whole class and since then has become the gnat in my ear—the voice that points out every real or imagined flaw I have. So no, I can’t just set aside the fact that she got my internship.
But I try. I force myself to focus on Mr. Monroe, who is saying, “In addition to weekly assignments, I want you all to start thinking about plans for your final project. It will be a yearlong inquiry into a given topic, but there’s no need to panic yet. Each quarter, we will build on it. The topic can be anything you want, but it must be approved by me and no repeats are allowed. Sign-ups will be open until October first, and anyone who doesn’t sign up in a timely manner will be assigned a topic by me, so unless you want to investigate the ins and outs of the newest hemorrhoid treatments, I suggest you start thinking about a topic now.”
“Are finals projects solo or group?” I ask.
“Up to you. But group members must clearly prove their individual contributions, and the quality should reflect the additional brains working on it. Rubrics for both individual and group projects are on the back of your syllabus, which we won’t be going over in detail because you are all seniors and thus capable of reading a one-page document.”
Ravi and I grin at each other, silently claiming each other as partners.
“Now, a show of hands. How many of you are here because you still need English credits?”
About half the class puts their hands up with varying degrees of sheepishness and more than a hint of fear.
“Down. And who is here because they have a genuine interest in pursuing journalism, in any form, as a career?”
My hand shoots up, along with Ravi, Emma, and a handful of others.
“Keep them up.” Monroe points to Isaiah, spider connoisseur. “What branch?”
Monroe nods. “ESPN is about an hour from here. You should look into their internship program. You might be too late for this year, but they have a robust college program.”
“I’ll do that, sir.”
Monroe points to Ravi. “And you?”
“Any particular area?”
“Nope, I’m open-minded.” Ravi leans back in his chair.
“Just don’t be so open-minded your brain falls out,” Monroe says. “Focus is important. Goals are important. Kennedy, what about you?”
“I want to tell the stories people would rather ignore. I want to uncover scandals and expose secrets the world needs to know.” Goose bumps spring up along my arms. “I don’t need to be famous like Lauren Wolfe or anything, but I need to be heard.”
Monroe is silent for a long stretch, and I wonder if I was too earnest, too corny. But it was true, dammit.
“I am very interested to see where you end up, young lady,” Monroe finally says. “Wherever it is, I expect it will be fascinating.”
If you’re as excited as we are to uncover Kennedy Carter’s story, preorder your copy of Bury the Lead at the links below.