As they circle the building, Quentin, Ben, and Radar discover a rotting raccoon corpse, the source of the mall’s stench of death. Quentin feels relieved for a split second, but is still worried that Margo might have killed herself. They finally manage to bust through a piece of particleboard covering a broken window, and they find themselves in a room with shelves and old papers. There’s a waist-high hole in one wall with the words “TROLL HOLE” spray-painted above it. They go through it and find another empty room with another hole in the wall. The boys enter the second hole and discover a room that looks like an old souvenir shop. Everything is covered in thick dust. The final hole leads to an abandoned office, in which every desk has a calendar dated February 1986. On the wall, somebody has spray-painted “YOU WILL GO TO THE PAPER TOWNS AND YOU WILL NEVER COME BACK.” Quentin thinks the handwriting is unmistakably Margo’s. Unsettled, Quentin, Ben, and Radar leave.
Quentin uses his obsession with Margo and his idealization of her to analyze himself and modify his own behavior, even if he’s not doing so consciously. When Jase and Chuck were orchestrating the bullying at school, Quentin was able to use the self-confidence he developed during his adventure with Margo to stand up to them, and he used Margo-esque blackmailing strategies to get them to do what he wanted. Now, Quentin uses the idea of finding Margo as a way to let go of routines that have acted as his security blanket. Taking these risks doesn’t lead Quentin to make decisions that are characteristically prudent. For example, lying about being sick and skipping school to go on a wild goose chase to an address on a tiny slip of paper isn’t an objectively sensible choice. However, Quentin has been sensible his whole life. He obsessively notes the time of day down to the precise second, and is comfortable going through the same, safe motions of everyday life. Skipping school would have once been unthinkable to Quentin, but he believes that not following Margo’s trail will have consequences that far outweigh getting in trouble for playing hooky. He wants to be able to take risks and try new things in his life, even if he’s unsure where they will lead, and Margo is the catalyst for this.
The adventure on which Margo leads Quentin in Part One makes Quentin feel deeply connected to Margo. As he grows increasingly obsessed with figuring out where Margo has gone, he comes to believe that Margo has left clues for him specifically and that her disappearance is further forging their special connection. Margo tells
Quentin that she has picked him for her revenge spree, insisting that they are in it together and that they share a special bond throughout the night that goes beyond Margo simply needing a chauffeur. Indeed, Quentin has felt bonded to Margo since they found the corpse when they were nine. Margo’s mystery becomes Quentin’s as well.
For Quentin, Margo’s disappearance gives him a sense of purpose, since it allows him to take the role of both detective and hero. Instead of staying on the periphery and watching other people get involved, he asserts himself, taking action and getting wrapped up in Margo’s drama. Quentin also becomes much more obsessed with Margo’s whereabouts than his friends are. Although his friends are definitely concerned about Margo, and although they willingly go down rabbit holes to decipher clues, they also want to enjoy their senior year of high school. Searching for Margo gives Ben, Radar, and Lacey a reason to pursue other objectives. For Ben, the unintentional outcome of Margo’s disappearance is that it gives him a reason to get close to Lacey, something that never seemed possible given their high school’s social hierarchy. For Lacey, searching for Margo gives her the confidence to reject some of her old friends and be her true self. For Radar, searching for Margo gives him an excuse to dive into Omnictionary and immerse himself in that prized virtual reality.
When Quentin, Ben, and Radar get to the minimall and their fear sets in, Quentin switches from narrating in the past tense to narrating in the present tense. The use of present tense here puts the reader more immediately into the action as it unfolds, and Quentin’s feelings become tangible. The shift in tense as the boys exit the car and enter the abandoned minimall also indicates the shift between Quentin’s comfortable, routine lifestyle and the potential danger that he might encounter as he goes deeper and deeper into the mystery of Margo’s whereabouts. The scene in the minimall makes Quentin realizes that Margo might actually be gone for good