About the Book
Title: ELIZABETH WEBSTER AND THE COURT OF UNCOMMON PLEAS
Author: William Lashner
Pub. Date: October 15, 2019
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, Kindle, Audible, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBD
Welcome to Elizabeth Webster’s world, where the common laws of middle school torment her days . . . and the uncommon laws of an even weirder realm govern her nights.
Elizabeth Webster is happy to stay under the radar (and under her bangs) until middle school is dead and gone. But when star swimmer Henry Harrison asks Elizabeth to tutor him in math, it’s not linear equations Henry really needs help with-it’s a flower-scented, poodle-skirt-wearing, head-tossing ghost who’s calling out Elizabeth’s name.
But why Elizabeth? Could it have something to do with her missing lawyer father? Maybe. Probably. If only she could find him. In her search, Elizabeth discovers more than she is looking for: a grandfather she never knew, a startling legacy, and the secret family law firm, Webster & Son, Attorneys for the Damned.
Elizabeth and her friends soon land in court, where demons and ghosts take the witness stand and a red-eyed judge with a ratty white wig hands out sentences like sandwiches. Will Elizabeth’s father arrive in time to save Henry Harrison-and is Henry the one who really needs saving?
Set in the historic streets of Philadelphia, this riveting middle-grade mystery from New York Times best-selling author William Lashner will have readers banging their gavels and calling for more from the incomparable Elizabeth Webster.
Chapter 4: An Annoying Thing To Learn
Henry Harrison’s house always gave me the creeps— even before Henry Harrison lived in it.
It was a stone mansion built on top of a hill a hundred or so years ago. By the time I was old enough to first notice it, the house was deserted and falling apart. A pillar was slanted, the roof was collapsing, vines were crawling everywhere.
And there were stories about it—of a teen gone missing on Halloween night, of shifting lights and eerie howls coming from the ruin. But the house didn’t need stories to make it frightening. There was just something sour about it.
And then, for some cracked reason, the Harrisons came along and bought the place.
They tried to spiff it up. The pillar was straightened, the roof was fixed, vines were chopped down. But the gloomy never went away. The pillars still looked like huge, gaping front teeth, and the shuttered windows still looked like evil eyes. At night, dimly lit, the house was the head of a giant monster with the body buried deep beneath the ground.
The sight of the monster’s head up on that hill convinced me again that I should have said no when Henry Harrison asked for math help. I actually thought I had said no. I hugged myself in the chilly fall night and headed up the long driveway. I told myself I was just there to make a quick twenty-five bucks and then run right on home.
I banged on the front door. A dog barked. There were no lights on inside. I hoped for a second that no one was inside. But then the door opened with a creak, and there he was, Henry Harrison, in jeans and stockinged feet. A little dog yapped noisily.
“You came,” he said. “I wasn’t sure you’d show.”
“You didn’t give me much choice.”
He pushed away the dog with his foot. “Don’t mind Perky. He’s still just a pup.”
“It seemed to fit.”
“I hate perk.” The dog kept jumping and yelping. “Maybe you could give it a pill.”
“Let’s work in the kitchen. My folks are out.”
“Oh,” I said. The house was dark, the parents were out, the dog was yelping. This didn’t seem right. Not at all. “My stepfather’s picking me up when we’re finished. He’s waiting for my call.”
“Good,” he said. “I thought we could work on some word problems.”
We set out his textbook and some writing pads on a wooden table in the kitchen, and got right to work. The word problems from the first few chapters were easy as pi. I taught him how to create equations from the stories, and then how to the flip the equations to make them easier to graph. I moved baby step by baby step so his chlorine-filled brain could keep up.
Perky lay on the floor beneath the table, whimpering. Henry asked a few questions here and there, but they were less about the problems and more about me, which was sort of annoying. And then every once in a while, in the middle of one of my explanations, he would abruptly get up from the kitchen table and run upstairs to check on something.
He was so distracted that I got distracted and I started making mistakes. I actually had to scratch out wrong figures on the paper, which bugged me. I was working in pen, of course—I mean, it was only math.
“I thought you were supposed to be a genius,” he said.
“Pay attention. Shirley has a plant a half a foot tall that grows an inch each month and she wants to know how big it will be after a year and a half. Now let’s build the equation.”
“What kind of plant is it?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to Shirley.”
“But it doesn’t matter to us,” I said. “It’s just a stupid plant.”
“Is it pretty? Does it have flowers?”
“I don’t care.”
“That’s just sad, Webster. Everyone likes flowers. What do you do for fun?”
“Do you ever just hang out, play video games, throw balls against the wall?”
“No. Can we get back to work?”
“I’m just trying to get to know you a bit. You know, to help the learning process.”
“What helps the learning process is doing the learning.”
“You’re good at this,” he said, “because you figured out my problem right there.”
“Can we just do this equation?”
“No need. I think I get it now.”
I looked up at him. “I think you got it from the start.”
“It’s only linear equations, Webster. It’s not rocket science.”
“It is if you want the rocket to go up,” I said before slowly closing the book. I wasn’t even angry at him, I was angry at myself for getting roped into this. How could I have expected anything else? “So this was all one big joke, right?” I said as coolly as I could. “You’re planning to haze me like you hazed Grimes.”
“The kid you stuck in the garbage can.”
“Oh him, yeah,” said Henry. “I didn’t do that, but I didn’t stop it, which is just as bad.”
“So . . . what? Is something going on upstairs? Are you setting up a prank for the math geek so all your friends will have something to snicker about tomorrow? I’m sorry I won’t be able to provide hours of entertainment. I’ll take my twenty-five dollars now.”
I thought he’d be mad, or embarrassed, or even break out in laughter. But what he did instead was smile sort of sadly.
“You’ll get your money,” he said, “I promise. And you’re not geeky, or at least not as geeky as I thought you’d be. And I wasn’t punking you. I asked you here because I need your help.”
“But not in math.”
“No, I’ve had that pretty much down since second grade. But there is something upstairs I need to show you.”
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and started to unlock the screen. “I’m going home.”
“Please don’t,” he said. “It’s not anything like you think, I promise. I really need your help, Webster. Really. If there was any other way, I’d take it, but there isn’t. Help me, please.”
Part of my brain told me to get out of there as quickly as possible. But I didn’t listen to that part of my brain, the sensible, responsible part that sounded so much like the voice of my mother. Instead I put away the phone.
What was it that made me stay? Had I somehow caught Natalie’s ambition of being friends with the popular swimming star like you catch the flu in homeroom? I don’t think so. I think it was something else, something even more troubling.
I could tell by his sad smile that Henry wasn’t trying to play a trick on me. He seemed just then like nothing more than a scared kid who needed help. My help. And here’s the thing. In a way that I couldn’t explain, just his asking for help made me feel responsible for him. Talk about an annoying thing to learn about yourself. It would have been so much easier to turn my back and walk away, but instead I was face-to-face with a truth as undeniable as a wart: He needed my help, and because of that I felt like I had no choice but to give it.
“Okay,” I said. “But no funny stuff.”
“Trust me” he said. “There won’t be any funny stuff, at least not from me.”
About the Author
William Lashner is the New York Times Bestselling creator of Victor Carl, who has been called by Booklist one of the mystery novel’s “most compelling, most morally ambiguous characters.” The Victor Carl novels, which have been translated into more than a dozen foreign languages and have been sold all across the globe, include BAGMEN, KILLER’S KISS, FALLS THE SHADOW, FATAL FLAW, and HOSTILE WITNESS. He is also the author of GUARANTEED HEROES, THE BARKEEP, which was an Edgar Award nominee and a Digital Book World Number One Bestseller, THE ACCOUNTING, and BLOOD AND BONE.
Writing under the pseudonym of Tyler Knox, Lashner is also the author of KOCKROACH, described as “roaringly entertaining,” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “an energetic tour de force,” by USA Today. As Tyler Knox he has written a number of book reviews for the Washington Post Book World.
Lashner was a criminal prosecutor with the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. before quitting the law to write fulltime. A graduate of the New York University School of Law, as well as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he lives with his wife and three children outside Philadelphia.
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