"That was the worst game until you found whatever you did."
"Laura's failing English."
"Take a look at our last two games."
"It means there's not enough cheesecake."
Basketball Night in Canada
Chapter 5 - In On the Fix
The next morning, Caitlin let Laura sleep in. There was no use disturbing the girl; her mind was set. Caitlin gave a mental shrug. One less girl in the class meant one less girl to compete with for Mr. Baker's attention. All the girls had the fantasy of being the One, or at least appeared to have that dream. Caitlin knew there had to be girls there who didn't see Mr. Baker as a catch, beyond just Laura. The culture of the Academy forced the students to hide their true motives. The competition between fellow students was intense, and anything went as long as Rule Four was obeyed. Rule Four, "Don't get caught."
Caitlin took a few extra minutes in front of her mirror, making sure everything was just so. Her skirt was properly pleated, with the edges crisp. Her red hair was thoroughly brushed, then pushed back with a black headband to keep it out of her face. Caitlin wished her hair wasn't so straight; a little bit of curl to give her locks the right amount of bounce as she walked and talked, to add some extra animation. She sighed. Nothing to be done there. The redhead sat on her bed to put on her knee-high black boots. The Academy had rules on what colour footwear had to be; there was nothing specific about what the footwear could or couldn't be. Satisfied with her appearance, Caitlin marched to the door. "Let's go, ladies. Class awaits."
Autumn tossed away her brush. "You couldn't wait a few more seconds?" She grabbed her backpack as she rushed to catch up.
"Not so loud, Autumn." Skye looked over at their sleeping roommate. "Laura is mean when she wakes up." The tall girl grabbed her notebook and texts. "Let's go." The tall girl waited for Autumn to leave before closing the door behind her. "At least your nose is still in one piece." Skye touched her nose gingerly, wincing at the sting of pain.
"It's looking better than last night."
Caitlin tapped her foot. "We're losing time, ladies. The good seats will be gone before we get there."
"Unless Cassie is there before us, there are no bad seats," Autumn said. "And there is a way to slow her down."
"I will keep the razor wire in mind, Autumn. Cassandra is just a nuisance right now."
"She's an annoying nuisance."
"And she's ahead of us," Skye said. "She can probably hear you."
"Good." Autumn folded her arms. "I'm tired of her not even using my name when referring to me."
Caitlin patted Autumn's shoulder. "You're letting her get to you. Ignore her. Let her just slide off your back."
"Sure thing, 'Kitty-Cait'."
Caitlin stopped dead in the hallway. "You have been hanging around Laura far too long."
Autumn kept walking. "You're going to be late for class, 'Kitty-Cait'."
Laura woke up an hour later, feeling refreshed. She took a leisurely shower, letting the hot water wash over her as she washed her hair. Without the others around to rush her, Laura could go through her morning routine while savouring a fresh cup of coffee. A quick glance at the clock told her that she had half an hour before Chemistry class, plenty of time to go see the Headmistress.
Leaving her blazer behind, Laura walked through the empty halls, dodging a gaggle of Jennifers in the stairwell. She walked into the main office and waited at the reception desk until she was noticed. "Is Headmistress Stone in?" Laura asked. "I had questions about graduation." The receptionist told Laura to have a seat.
A few minutes later, the Headmistress came out from her office. "Laura, please, come in." She stepped aside to let the girl in. "Please, sit. I understand you have questions about graduating?"
Laura waited for the Headmistress to sit down before doing so herself. "Yes, Ms Stone. I don't know if I qualify for a diploma."
The Headmistress tapped a few keys on her computer. "I see. Give me a moment." She read Laura's file on screen, out of sight of the girl. "Right, this is the first school you've ever attended. You haven't written the OSSLT - that's the literacy test - nor have you done any volunteer hours. That makes things awkward. Maybe you can work toward the OSSC, the Ontario Secondary School Certificate, to show that you completed your education."
"The which?" Laura looked puzzled.
"Don't worry about the name. It's a way for you to get into the university of your choice." Headmistress Stone narrowed her eyes. "You are planning on going to university, correct, Laura?"
"I am, Ms Stone."
The Headmistress smiled. "Good. I like hearing that from my girls. Ambition isn't a bad thing, Laura. Remember that." She turned her attention back to her monitor. "Oh, that might not work, either. You'll need fourteen credits, and the most you'll get in one year is eight. That won't do. And the Certificate of Accomplishment isn't what you want."
Laura started playing with the hem of her skirt to keep her hands busy. "Is there something that can get me into university?"
"Academy graduates are usually sought, so I have no worries about you. However, Laura, I am seeing your early marks here." The Headmistress stared at Laura. "You really need to bring up your English marks. All Academy grads are capable of expressing themselves in a variety of manners, including written. And stop fidgeting."
"Yes, Headmistress." Laura forced herself to drop her hands to her sides.
The Headmistress leaned forward over her desk. "Obviously, Laura, there will be times when one of my girls will have problems in one area or another. You aren't the first to have problems in a class and won't be the last. The question is, what are you willing to do to pass?"
"I don't know, Ms Stone. I've never taken English before. I don't know what to do in it."
"That's a good start, accepting that you do have a problem." The Headmistress picked up a pen. She jotted a note on a Post-It. "Go talk to this person." She handed the note to Laura.
"Yes, Ms Stone. Thank you, Ms Stone."
Laura got to her feet. "Thank you, Miss Stone." She turned to leave.
"Oh, and Laura? Skipping English class isn't how you pass."
Laura's cheeks flushed red. "No, Ms Stone."
Laura caught up to her roommates at noon in the cafeteria. Caitlin was already seated, looking over notes as she munched on a sandwich. Skye threaded through the mob, head and shoulders over everyone else. In her wake, Autumn carried two trays. She set them down near Caitlin before taking her own seat. "They were out of edible food," the Asian girl said. "Here's some chemical concoction that pretends to be chicken and veggies."
Caitlin grunted a reply, remaining immersed in her work.
Laura eyed the food. "Do they even try to make it look good?"
Skye sat down. "Why? We don't have a choice on eating it." She pulled a tray to her. "As long as it stays down, no one's going to do anything."
Laura took a seat across from Caitlin. "As long as?"
"Get that thought out of your head, Laura," the redhead said. "It's been done."
"What thought?" Laura tried to look innocent.
"Adding something to the food to make people sick. Flora or Fawna tried it three years ago. She was caught before she even reached the food."
"Oh." Laura sat back. "What happened to her?"
"They made her clean up the kitchen for a month. You'd have to ask her if she had to use a toothbrush." Caitlin looked up from her notes. "Okay, this is odd."
Skye peered at the redhead's notes. "What is?"
Autumn took the other tray. "Still working on what happened at the game?"
"Of course." Caitlin picked up her notes and put them into her her satchel. "I cross-checked--"
"Excuse me?" Autumn interrupted. "Who cross-checked?"
Caitlin sighed. "I had Autumn cross-check everyone involved at the game - the ref, the scorer, the Loyalist coach, those three girls who took the dives. I wanted to see if there were connections. Someone had to know about the ref's proclivities and how he felt about them. Someone had to know he was assigned to the game, or assigned him there. At the same time, Powell, Carpenter, and Vincent were in on the fix. There is no way they would have acted like they did otherwise."
Laura blew on her soup to cool it down. "So, we're going to visit them and make them tell us what's going on, right?" Her roommates all stared at her. "What?"
"I wouldn't have been so direct," Caitlin said. "I would prefer to follow them for a bit to see who they talk to and where they go."
"It'd be easier to just lean on them."
Autumn continued to stare. "Where did you learn to do that?"
Laura shrugged. "If they have answers we need, that's where we should go. No?"
Skye returned to eating her alleged chicken. "Are you suggesting truth serums, too?"
Caitlin held up her hands. "No truth drugs." She looked at Laura. "Ever."
"I don't have any. Oh, do you think Vamsi can get some?"
Autumn slid her chair away from her new roommate. "Ignoring the scary girl for a moment, Caitlin, why not ask them directly? Skye owes one of them a bloodied nose anyway."
Caitlin leaned back in her chair as she thought. "Fine, we go ask them after school today."
Laura smiled. "Oh, reminds me." She fished out the Post-It note the Headmistress gave her. She passed it over to the redhead. "Do you know this person?"
The red-haired girl read the name. "Megan O'Leary? Doesn't ring a bell."
Skye shrugged. "Never heard of her."
Autumn shook her head. "No. Wait! Maybe. Mr. Baker mentioned a Megan. Ask him."
"Ask Mr. Baker?" Laura winced. "But that'd mean going to class early."
"If the Headmistress told you to see this person, then you don't really have a choice." Caitlin set down the remains of her sandwich. "Which means, it sounds like you're not supposed to skip morning class anymore. I will make sure you don't sleep in tomorrow morning."
Laura laughed nervously. "Great."
The rest of the school day progressed without any major problems for any of the girls. They met in their dorm room to put away their books before leaving. The cool chill of the coming fall kept most of the Jennifers inside, though a few still lurked. None bothered Caitlin and her cohort as they marched to the main gate to meet their cab. The drive into town was uneventful, though the cab driver showed his nervousness through beads of sweat on his brow. He sped away once he dropped the girls off.
Caitlin took a moment to orient herself, looking around while her roommates milled about. "This way." She walked down the sidewalk at a brisk pace. "Simcoe Secondary is a few blocks away, and all three of our targets live on this side of the school," the redhead explained. "We should see at least one of them around here."
The Academy students kept an eye out as they walked towards Simcoe Secondary. Shye spotted one of her on-court opposition a few blocks away. Skye pointed out the Simcoe student, a girl with long legs and long dark hair tied back in a pony tail, to her roommates. Caitlin took the lead again, letting the others fan out behind her. The Simcoe girl looked up from the cigarette she was trying to light. She snorted with disgust on seeing the Academy uniforms. "What do you pansies want?"
Skye stepped forward. "I owe you a bloody nose."
Caitlin held out her arm to stop the tall girl's progress. "Bree Powell."
The Simcoe girl narrowed her eyes. "I asked you a question."
"You did." Caitlin gave Jennie a smile that lacked warmth. "We have questions for you about last night's basketball game."
Bree eyed each of the girls from the Academy. "What about it?"
"When did you know that the ref was fixing the game?"
Surprise flickered on Bree's expression, but the dark-haired girl recovered. "I don't know what you're talking about." She lit her cigarette and inhaled a deep puff.
"You and two others, Jennie Carpenter and Monique Vincent, were diving like you were on the swim team," Skye said. "You even elbowed me in the face."
Bree blew smoke into Caitlin's face. "I thought that was natural."
Caitlin waved away the smoke. "Bree, this could go so much easier for you. You could tell us now." The redhead lowered the arm keeping Skye back. "I could let Skye here perform some facial rearranging on you. Or, I can destroy your life, bit by bit, until you are left begging me for mercy."
The Simcoe girl turned away to leave. "Yeah, right."
Caitlin nodded to Autumn. The Asian girl said, "Brianne Elizabeth Powell, born July seventh, went to Oshawa Creek Public School from Kindergarten through to Grade Eight. Graduated from there middle of the pack. Started at Simcoe Secondary in Grade Nine. Marks aren't much to brag about. Arrested twice by Durham Regional Police, but the charges were dropped both time."
"Arrested?" Caitlin exaggerated looking shocked. "Naughty, naughty."
Bree stopped in her tracks. She turned around to face the red-haired girl. "Are you done?"
"Not at all," Autumn answered. "I have details about your parents, your brother Samuel, and a few other interesting members of your family."
"This is blackmail!"
Laura cleared her throat. "Closer to extortion."
"Be that as it may, it's now your choice, Bree." Caitlin took a step forward. "It's a simple question, one not worth risking your future over. Who told you the fix was in?"
The dark-haired girl tried to stare down Caitlin, but blinked first. "Fine." Bree waved away her concerns. "I found out from Jennie an hour before the game."
"Keep going. Who told Jennie?"
Bree shrugged. "I never asked. I just thought it'd be a great way to get at you Unrulies. Sam warned me about your school. He saw one of you lay into one of his classmates. Must have been three years ago."
"I see." Caitlin tapped Skye's arm. "We've got more work to do. Let's go."
"That's it?" Bree stepped towards the redhead. "That's all?"
Caitlin nodded. "Unless you want Skye to return the favour from yesterday's game. She'd be happy to oblige."
"It's not all," Skye said. She glowered at the dark-haired Simcoe student. "Our next game, no fancy dives, or I will make you wish I had just elbowed you in the face. Got it?"
"Yeah, I got it."
"Thank you for your time, Bree." Caitlin turned and walked away. Laura and Autumn fell in step behind the redhead when she passed them. Skye watched Bree leave in the other direction for a few seconds before catching up.
After a few blocks, Autumn asked, "Where now, Caitlin?"
"Jennie Carpenter," the red-haired girl answered. "With the time we spent on Powell, Carpenter is probably at home or off to who knows where. Ideas, ladies?"
Laura glanced back over her shoulder. "Those three are friends, right?"
Autumn nodded. "They usually hang out together."
"Then why aren't they hanging out right now?"
"Excellent question, Laura." Caitlin stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. "Suggestions?"
"It's obvious." Autumn smiled. "Detention or boyfriend, and I doubt that it's a detention."
"Makes sense to me," Skye said.
Laura's puzzlement was obvious on her face. "I don't get it. Why is it obvious?"
"See what you missed being homeschooled, Laura?" Autumn wrapped an arm around her new roommate's shoulders. "There are rules about being on school athletic teams, including minimum marks and codes of behaviour. Misbehave to the point of a detention, and you're off the team. Let your marks drop too far, and you're off the team."
Caitlin added, "If Jennie has more going on with her basketball team, she won't want to be kicked off, so she has to appear to behave."
"She also has friends on the team," Skye said. "Bree didn't seem upset with her, so there hasn't been a falling out."
Laura processed the information. "Okay, that makes sense, I guess. But then why a boyfriend?"
Autumn laughed. "I would totally ditch all of you if I had one."
"You'd ditch us if Jay Whitaker was anywhere near here," Skye said.
"Which he isn't." Caitlin started walking again. "Let's check the obvious place first."
Again, Laura was puzzled. "The obvious?"
Autumn struck a pose, pointing down the street. "To the mall!"
"I'm in witness protection! I can't take that chance!"
"I want her and her friends arrested!"
"We're really good with Rule Four."
"The longer we take, the more worried he'll get."