Happy Wednesday everyone! I am excited to be participating in the Ambrose Deception blog tour today, hosted by Rockstar Book Tours and sharing an excerpt. They are also hosting a giveaway for 3 finished copies (see details below).
THE AMBROSE DECEPTION
By Emily Ecton
Pub. Date: February 13, 2018
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Melissa is a nobody. Wilf is a slacker. Bondi is a show-off. At least that’s what their middle school teachers think. To everyone’s surprise, they are the three students chosen to compete for a ten thousand-dollar scholarship, solving clues that lead them to various locations around Chicago. At first the three contestants work independently, but it doesn’t take long before each begins to wonder whether the competition is a sham. It’s only by secretly joining forces and using their unique talents that the trio is able to uncover the truth behind the Ambrose Deception–a truth that involves a lot more than just a scholarship.
With a narrative style as varied and intriguing as the mystery itself, this adventure involving clever clues, plenty of perks, and abhorrent adults is pure wish fulfillment.
At Morton Middle School
The transaction took less than a minute. The red-haired girl slid the completed worksheet across the table just as the boy in the Blackhawks shirt walked by. She didn’t look up. And the boy didn’t even pause as he slid the worksheet into his notebook, dropping a wrinkled five-dollar bill onto the table in its place.
The girl palmed the five without taking her eyes off of her book.
Neither one of them noticed the two men watching from the corner of the library. They didn’t notice as the stocky man gave a subtle nod. They didn’t notice the taller man snap a photo.
At Noyes Central
The kid with the bouncy step paused as he turned the corner into the hallway. A large bully was in the process of trying to stuff a small, podgy boy into an even smaller locker, with limited success. Neither the stuffer nor the stuffee noticed the new arrival. They also didn’t notice two men watching from the shadow of a doorway.
After only a moment of hesitation, the bouncy kid continued on his way, whistling loudly, seemingly oblivious to the scene at the locker. He was also seemingly oblivious to the bully’s books balanced on the trash can.
The bully paused in his stuffing as the kid got closer. “Not your problem, Johnson.”
The kid nodded amiably. “’Course not. Wouldn’t dream of interrupting.” He smiled. “But you do realize you have an audience.”
He nodded toward the men in the doorway.
“Wha?” The bully loosened his grip as he turned awkwardly to peer over his shoulder, giving the small, podgy victim the chance he needed to wrench free and make his escape.
“Aw. Tough break,” Johnson said, making a sad face before slapping the bully on the back and walking on, pausing only to casually hip-check the trash can as he passed by. The bully’s schoolbooks teetered precariously and then fell with a squishy thud into an unappetizing mass of discarded food containers.
The stocky man in the shadows smiled to himself and nodded discreetly. The tall man with him snapped a picture just as the kid bounced off down the hallway.
At Sutherland Academy
In the school office, the secretary rushed forward to greet her two visitors. She stepped carefully over the feet of the sniffly boy seated by the door. His legs, which seemed too long for his body, spilled awkwardly into the traffic area of the room.
She used both hands to shake the hand of the stocky man. “We’re so honored to have you with us today, sir. Both of you sirs,” she added, smiling enthusiastically at the tall man.
“Not at all,” said the stocky man. He wasn’t looking at her. He was watching as the sniffly boy cracked his knuckles and then blew a piece of hair out of his eyes.
The school secretary frowned and scanned the paperwork on her clipboard. “Now . . . I think you’re all set. You should have everything you— Oh! I forgot to give you your badges.” She stepped back over the boy’s feet and leaned across the front counter, knocking a pad of tardy slips onto the floor. Without a word, and hardly seeming to move, the boy stretched out a long arm and pocketed them.
The stocky man cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow at the tall man behind him. The tall man discreetly snapped a picture.
“Here you are!” The school secretary proudly held out two name badges. The stocky man smiled at her and shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, madam,” he said. “In fact, I don’t think a tour will be necessary, after all. We have everything we need.”
Letter to the Principals of Morton Middle School, Noyes Central, and Sutherland Academy in Chicago:
Your school has been selected for a great honor. Three students have been chosen citywide to compete for a prestigious Kaplin/Baron $10,000 academic scholarship. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, with very selective screening procedures. The Kaplin/Baron academic scholarship is a grant of nationwide renown, and the schools that successful competitors attend are given additional points toward national rankings.
You will be pleased to learn that one of your students has been selected for this rare scholarship opportunity.
Please contact us at the number listed below to arrange an organizational meeting. This offer will not be repeated.
At Morton Middle School
Morton Middle School guidance counselor Judy Orlin tapped her fingertips on her desk as she stared at the computer monitor. Something was just not right.
“Melissa Burris,” she said out loud. Then she frowned as if the name had left a bad taste in her mouth. She typed on her keyboard and sniffed.
“Melissa Burris,” she repeated.
“What?” Miss Baker stuck her head out of the copy room. “Did you say something?”
Judy Orlin shook her head. “Melissa Burris. Does that name mean anything to you?”
Miss Baker stared at the ceiling while she thought. Judy Orlin tapped impatiently.
“No,” Miss Baker said finally. “Should it?”
“No, it absolutely shouldn’t,” Judy Orlin said, frowning at her computer again. “She’s not one of my Shining Star gifted students, she’s not in any of the Racing Rocket athletic programs, she’s not in Mathletes or BandTastic or Chess-perts or the Jazzercise Singers or even the AV club. She’s not in anything. She’s a complete nobody.”
“So?” Miss Baker had fifty copies to make before the bell rang. “What’s the problem?”
“The problem, Miss Baker, is that Melissa Burris has been chosen to compete for a prestigious scholarship. A very prestigious, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And she was the only Morton Middle School student chosen. The only one in our entire district.”
“Well, that’s strange.” Miss Baker looked puzzled. “Why?”
Judy Orlin narrowed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. “Exactly.”
At Sutherland Academy
Office receptionist Chad Brown chuckled and crumpled up the piece of paper he’d been reading. Then he tossed the wad at the trash can. It landed two feet short, almost hitting three other balls of paper. It bounced sadly and then rolled over to where Mr. Andrews was coming out of the mail cubby.
Mr. Andrews picked up the wad and uncrumpled it. “What’s this?”
“Some scam. Scholarship con or something.” Chad rolled his eyes. “How dumb do they think we are?”
Mr. Andrews scanned the paper. “Scholarship, huh?” He shrugged. “It’s good to be cautious, Chad, but I have to say, this looks legit.”
Chad hopped to his feet. “No, I know what you mean—I thought so, too, at first. But see there?” He pointed to the paragraph at the bottom of the page. “They chose Wilf. Wilf Samson? They didn’t even pick a believable kid.”
Mr. Andrews frowned. Wilf was in his third-period math class. Most of the time, anyway. “Okay, Wilf. Why not Wilf?”
“Well, you know . . .”
Mr. Andrews didn’t say anything—he just waited.
Chad coughed awkwardly and peered at the letter. “Okay, I guess it could be real. I just thought Wilf . . . funny kid to pick, don’t you think? He’s not exactly a go-getter.” He’d dismissed hundreds of letters as scams. He didn’t see why this one should be any different. But he wasn’t going to let a stupid letter get him in hot water, not if Mr. Andrews wanted to believe it.
Mr. Andrews waggled his eyebrows. “Might as well tell him. Not that he’ll bother doing anything about it.” He grinned as he picked up his coffee cup.
Chad grinned back. What harm could it do? It was Wilf, after all. He probably wouldn’t even read the letter. “Sure thing. I’ll let him know.”
At Noyes Central
It’s not that I have anything against Bondi,” Mrs. Gray said, pursing her lips as she passed the letter to Principal Bart Fleming. “God knows, he’s entertaining enough. But . . . an academic scholarship? Honestly, I can think of a hundred kids more qualified than Bondi Johnson.”
Principal Fleming frowned at the letter. “Wait, our Bondi? Really?” He read the later carefully. “Bondi of the lunchroom serenade?” He looked to Mrs. Gray for confirmation. “The one who got that, oh, what was it—?”
“The one who got Sneezy, the classroom rat, elected school president? Who petitioned the governor to make ‘the Bondi’ the official state dance? Yes, that Bondi.” Mrs. Gray nodded.
“Hmm. Yes. I never did learn ‘the Bondi,’” Principal Fleming said, shaking his head. Then he smiled and shrugged. “Well, you can’t say they’re not thinking outside the box. And, if I recall correctly, he did score well in the last round of state testing. . . .”
Mrs. Gray raised her eyebrows. “So Mr. Personality has a brain. Still, why couldn’t they have picked a more serious student?”
“Whatever their rationale, this seems quite clear. There is to be one scholarship contestant per school. And ours”— Principal Fleming sighed, dropping the letter onto his desk—“is Bondi.”
He chuckled. “God help them.”
Dear Scholarship Candidate:
Remember, your appointment is at 10:00 a.m. this Sunday. Doors will close at 10:01 sharp. No latecomers will be admitted. No exceptions will be made, for any reason. Any candidates not inside the room at 10:00 a.m. will be immediately disqualified.
POST-IT Note on Melissa Burris’s clock radio:
Remember —scholarship thing today, 10:00 a . m . Check bus routes first thing. DON ’T FORGET.
Three minutes to ten. Melissa stared at the ticking clock above the desk in the scholarship office downtown and tried to look like someone more together than Melissa Burris. She didn’t even know why she was there. It wasn’t like she was going to win the scholarship—Mrs. Orlin had told her that flat out after she’d called her up to the office a couple of days ago.
When she’d heard her name over the intercom, Melissa had known without a doubt what it was about. She’d been dreading that moment for a long time. Someone had ratted her out for selling worksheet answers. Tommy Pittman, probably. Jerk.
She’d had her whole defense ready by the time she got to the office—it was all a misunderstanding, it wasn’t like it sounded, Tommy Pittman was a lying liar (or, if it wasn’t Tommy, then Caitlin Jarvis was a lying liar. Melissa was nothing if not flexible). But as it turned out, it wasn’t about worksheets at all. It was actually a good thing for a change—she’d been picked to be in some weird scholarship competition.
Or at least it had felt like a good thing until Mrs. Orlin opened her mouth and ruined it.
“They obviously meant Melissa Burke and just got the name wrong,” she’d said with a sniff, handing Melissa the letter. “Or maybe Melissa Jaffe. To be honest, any Melissa at Morton Middle is more qualified to represent the school than you are, Miss Burris. When I spoke with the organizers on the phone, I tried repeatedly to make them understand their error, but they refused to rectify the situation. We’ll just have to make the best of it. They’ll figure out their mistake soon enough. Try to look presentable, at least. And please, do your best not to embarrass the school.”
Melissa cringed just remembering it. She shifted in the uncomfortable office chair in her “most presentable” outfit and tried not to fiddle with the strap of her book bag. She didn’t know exactly how Mrs. Orlin thought she would embarrass the school, but fiddling with her bag probably qualified.
She just hoped no one would notice that frayed spot on the edge of her collar. She hadn’t seen it until it was too late to change, but even if she had, she couldn’t have done much about it. It wasn’t like she was Amber Whitmore or one of those kids with a whole closet full of fancy clothes to choose from. If she was, she sure as heck wouldn’t be doing worksheets for bus and lunch money.
She had to get that scholarship.
Two minutes to ten. Melissa frowned and looked around.
Aside from the tall man at the desk who was pointedly ignoring her, she was the only person in the room. And except for an abandoned messenger bag under the chair by the door, there wasn’t any sign of anyone else. That was weird. Melissa was pretty sure the letter had said three competitors, but she didn’t even hear anyone else in the hallway. She checked her watch. It said the same thing as the clock on the wall. One and a half minutes to ten. Melissa smiled. Maybe this was going to work out, after all.
Mothballs. That was the first thing Wilf noticed when he lurched up the final flight of stairs into the long hallway. The air had a tinge of mothball smell, with a slight whiff of peppermint. Wilf paused for a second to catch his breath, trying not to let the odors bother him. Then he launched himself down the hall toward the open door.
He thought he’d timed everything just right to get to the office by ten, but how was he supposed to know his alarm wouldn’t be loud enough to wake him up? And it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t have any clean underwear. Well, maybe it was kind of his fault, since he was supposed to have put his clothes in the laundry hamper, but shouldn’t his mom have noticed there was no underwear?
He hadn’t been able to find his watch before he left, so he wasn’t sure of the exact time, but the door being open was a good sign, right? If it was the right room. Wilf wasn’t even 100 percent sure he was on the right floor.
He shouldn’t have stopped for breakfast. That had been a mistake in retrospect. And he should’ve known the elevator would never show up. He’d thought taking the stairs would save time, but he should’ve remembered that liking sports didn’t mean he was the athletic type who could do stairs three at a time. If he’d had to go up even one more flight, Wilf figured he probably would’ve just collapsed on the stairs and died.
Wilf staggered up to the doorway. “Am I too late? I’m too late, right? Is it ten yet?” His mom would kill him if he’d missed this. He never should’ve even told her about it, but once she’d read the fancy scholarship letter, there was no way he could skip out on the meeting. He hadn’t seen her 17
that excited about any of his school stuff in a long time. He was just glad that she didn’t really expect him to win.
The mothball smell was stronger in the room—probably coming from the tall man at the desk, who was acting like he hadn’t even noticed the crazy kid slam into the doorframe. One thing Wilf was sure of—the smell wasn’t coming from that angry-looking red-haired girl sitting two chairs down. She was apple shampoo all the way. She glared at her watch and then back at him again.
“Five seconds to spare,” the tall man at the desk said. “Quite admirable. Now, if you wouldn’t mind, the door? It is ten o’clock. Time to get started.”
Wilf nodded and pushed himself into a standing position. He hadn’t blown it. Not yet, anyway. Five seconds was plenty of time. He still had a chance at this.
Wilf turned to close the door, only to find the doorway now occupied by a wiry black kid holding a cup of hot chocolate.
“Don’t mind me,” the kid said. He stepped in behind Wilf and closed the door with his foot. Then he stuck out his free hand. “So, scholarship meeting, am I right? Bondi Johnson, pleased to know you.”
Wilf stared at the kid for a second, then gave his hand a loose shake. Bondi nodded at Miss Apple Shampoo and settled into the chair that had the messenger bag underneath. She didn’t nod back. She just glared at the clock as though it had personally let her down.
Bondi held up his hot chocolate cup as if toasting the tall man. “Found the vending machine, just where you said it was,” Bondi said, turning to nudge Wilf in the side. “I’ve been here awhile.”
Wilf thought Miss Apple Shampoo’s head was about to explode, she turned so red.
The tall man smiled anemically and got up from behind the desk. “Wonderful. Bondi Johnson, now that you’ve introduced yourself, may I introduce your competitors, Master Wilfred Samson and Miss Melissa Burris?”
The wiry kid, aka Bondi, nodded at Wilf and winked at Miss Apple Shampoo, aka Melissa.
“If you would be so kind, Master Samson?” The tall man gestured toward the chair next to Melissa Apple Shampoo. Wilf nodded and collapsed into it, stretching his legs far out into the room.
Wilf frowned. Maybe the mothball smell wasn’t coming from the man at all—maybe it was the chair upholstery, or the cabinet next to him. But that didn’t explain the peppermint. And the office didn’t look like a mothball type of place—it was just your generic corporate office. But it wasn’t like Wilf could do any investigating without being obvious about it. Once the meeting was over, though, he was out of there. Mothballs always did a number on him.
“Now, so we aren’t disturbed . . .” The tall man glided to the door and threw the dead bolt, locking them in. “This room is now officially sealed.”
Wilf glanced at the other two kids. Miss Apple Shampoo was frowning. Even the wiry kid seemed thrown.
The tall man clapped his hands and then held them together. “I’ll inform Mr. Smith that we’re ready. Let the games begin.”
Emily Ecton is a writer and producer for Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!,
the NPR news quiz. She has also been a playwright, a chinchilla wrangler, an ice cream scooper and a costume character. She lives
in Chicago with her dog, Binky.
3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE AMBROSE DECEPTION, US Only.
Ends on February 27th at Midnight EST!
(This giveaway is not sponsored by Books, Vertigo & Tea).