Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) - Maureen Johnson Page 0,1

she had ever seen.

The school had a grand fountain that reminded her of the one in Central Park. The brick and stone buildings were like something from a story. Her room in Minerva House was large but cozy, with a fireplace (it was cold up here). There were books, so many fine books, and you could take out as many as you liked and read whatever you wanted, with no library fines. The teachers were kind. They had a proper science lab. They learned botany in the greenhouse. They learned dance from a woman named Madame Scottie, who ran around in a leotard and scarves and had giant bangles up and down her arms.

Mr. Ellingham lived on the campus with his wife, Iris, and his three-year-old daughter, Alice. Sometimes, fancy cars came up the drive on weekends and people in marvelous clothes stepped out. Dottie recognized at least two movie stars, a politician, and a famous singer. On those weekends, bands came in from Burlington and New York and music came out of the Great House until all hours of the night. Sometimes Mr. Ellingham’s guests would walk the grounds, the beads on their dresses winking in the moonlight. Even in New York, Dottie had never been so close to celebrity.

The staff was careful to tidy up, but the grounds were vast and full of hiding places, so they left traces everywhere. A champagne glass here, a satin shoe there. Endless crushed cigarettes, feathers, beads, and other detritus of the rich and wonderful. Dottie liked to collect these strange things she found and keep them in what she called her museum. The best thing Dottie found was a silver lighter. She flicked it on and off and was pleased by its smooth motion. She was definitely going to turn the lighter in—she just wanted to hold on to it for a while.

Since Ellingham gave its students freedom to work and study and wander, Dottie spent a lot of her time on her own. Vermont was a different sort of place—this wasn’t like climbing down fire escapes or up water pipes. Dottie acclimated herself to the woods, to poking around the edges of the campus. That’s how she found the tunnel on one of her first outings after she arrived at Ellingham in the fall. She was exploring the woods. Dottie had never experienced anything like this thick canopy of leaves and this deep quiet except for the occasional rustling noise. Then she heard something familiar—the sound of something thin and metal underfoot. She knew the drumlike sound immediately. It sounded exactly like the sound a sidewalk hatch made when you stepped on it.

Dottie opened the hatch and saw a set of clean concrete steps leading down into the ground. She found herself in a dark brick tunnel, one that was dry and well maintained. Her curiosity was piqued. She used the silver lighter to guide her down to a thick door with a sliding panel at eye level. She knew this sort of thing at once—they were all over the city. It was a speakeasy door.

The door was unlocked. Nothing about this tunnel seemed very secure; it was just there to be explored. So she explored. The door opened to a room about eight foot square, with a high ceiling. The walls were covered in shelving and those shelves were full of bottles of wine and liquor of every description. Dottie examined the ornate labels on the colored glass, labels in French, German, Russian, Spanish, Greek . . . an entire library of alcohol.

There was a ladder built into one wall. Dottie climbed it and opened the hatch at the top. She found herself inside a small domed structure with a glass roof. The floor was covered in fur rugs and cushions, several ashtrays, and a few errant champagne glasses. She stood on the bench seating that ran around the rim of the room and realized she was on a small island in the middle of the ornamental lake behind the Ellingham Great House.

A secret nook! The most perfect secret nook in all the world. This would be her reading spot, she decided. Dottie Epstein spent a lot of her time there, curled up in a fur rug, a pile of books by her side. No one had ever caught her there, and she felt sure that even if Mr. Ellingham did, he wouldn’t mind. He was such a kind man and so full of fun.

Nothing could be safer.

That particular