17-year-old Max Cobb is sick of being “Just Max”—the kind of guy whose resume boasts a measly 2.5 GPA and a deep love of heist films. So when an invitation appears in his locker to join the anonymous, untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, Max jumps at the opportunity to leave “Just Max” in the dust.
Except that the invite is really a set-up, and Max—plus the 4 other kids who received similar invitations—are apprehended by school security for defacing the water tower.
This time, Max has had enough. Time for Heist Rule #6:
Always Get Payback.
Let the prank war begin…
I may not be a fan of heights, but I especially hate ladders. I always think the rung I’m on is going to break away and send me plummeting. So climbing the water tower ladder in the dark, the rungs sticky for some reason, only worries me more. But despite that, I’d be lying if I didn’t say how awesome this was. The higher I climb, the harder my heart pounds from the adrenaline. I feel like a jewel thief scaling a skyscraper at midnight on his way to stealing the Hope Diamond.
Up ahead in the darkness, Wheeler goes into a mock newscaster’s voice announcing, “Five Asheville High School students fell to their deaths last evening when—”
“Shut up,” Malone says.
The climb takes only two minutes but feels like an hour when the ladder ends at the base of a metal grating no more than four feet wide. If a strong wind blows, a waist-high railing is all that’s there to keep me from hurtling to my death.
“Wow, this is higher than I thought,” Ellie says, looking out over the lights of the town.
Malone, recording everything with her phone, says, “I wish I had my climbing gear. I’d love to repel off this.”
“What was it Jesus said, Ellie?” Wheeler says. “‘I think I can see my house from up here’?”
And me, I want down. And not just down, but to roll in the grass and kiss the earth. Then, as I’m about to wuss out, Ellie’s hand is in mine and she’s leading me along the platform.
“Come on,” she says. “Let’s look for the next clue.”
Her hand is soft and warm, and if the platform gives away right now, I can die a happy man.
“You get to open the next envelope if there is one,” Ellie says. “Or maybe it’ll be like in the movies, and there’ll be a cell phone that rings and—”
My foot kicks something metal sending it clanking and skittering across the platform before dropping into the night.
From the other side of the tower Malone says, “What was that?”
I look down at my feet and see four more of what I’ve just booted—spray paint cans.
And in one horrifying moment, I realize why the rungs were sticky when we climbed.
Red paint covers my hands.
I lean back for a better view of the water tower to see what’s been spray-painted there. The wet paint trails down from certain letters like red teardrops.
Heist Rule #5: When in doubt, run.
But we don’t get that chance.
Suddenly, the water tower lights blaze to life illuminating the newly painted message for the entire town to see.
Assville High School, Home of the Golden Showers.
Both Malone and Wheeler say, “Shit.”
Ellie says, “Wow.”
Adleta says nothing.
And then a voice booms from a bullhorn below where red-and-blue lights flash in the parking lot.
“This is the police. Come down immediately.”
So much for Don’t get caught.
Describe your book in 140 characters or less?
A high school nobody recruits a crew of misfits for heists and pranks to get revenge on the mysterious Chaos Club. #DontGetCaught
How did you come up with the idea for Don’t Get Caught?
Look, who hasn’t wanted to rob a bank? Or at least hasn’t thought about it? I can’t be the only one, right? Right? So, I suppose Don’t Get Caught is my way of robbing a bank without risking actual jail time because, let me make this clear, I would not do well in prison. I love capers, heists, and schemes, and while the crew in this novel aren’t robbing banks, they are satisfying my criminal thoughts by doing the teenage equivalent of bank robbery–wrecking havoc in their high school.
Tell us about the main character.
Max is a high school nobody, a kid who’s smart enough and nice enough to get by, but who doesn’t really fit in anywhere. So basically, he’s me at sixteen. But what Max has that I certainly didn’t have is a genius-level ability to scheme and a newly discovered gift for leading misfits. He’s underestimated by everyone, a fact that works to his advantage when he decides it’s time to write his name in the wet cement of the universe by destroying a forty-year-old secret society.
Did your class in high school pull any memorable pranks? Or is there one you wish you had pulled?
My prank life didn’t begin until college when I helped mastermind a promotion for a fake campus concert that almost led to my arrest. But in my final year of high school, the six-hundred members of my senior class were crowded onto bleachers for an all-class picture. I look at that picture now and see an opportunity for chaos. I mean, how much would it have cost to hire an airplane to drop a hundred gallons of water at the precise moment the picture was taken? Or to organize a group of kids to all wear neon shirts and arrange themselves into something profane within the crowd? It’s missed opportunities like this that keep me up at night.
What books formed your thinking or reflected who you were as a child and teen reader?
I read a lot of early Stephen King probably before I was old enough, and then through high school it was mostly comic books and classics. I do specifically remember reading Helter Skelter during my junior year, dragging that non-fiction monster around with me for a month or so. Looking back on it now, that’s probably all of the evidence needed to explain why I didn’t have a girlfriend in high school.
Kurt Dinan is a high school English teacher. He’s had several short stories published, including one in 2010’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with his wife, three young sons, and baby girl. Don’t Get Caught is his first novel.
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