"Leave her alone!"
"I want her and her friends arrested!"
"I'm in witness protection! I can't take that chance!"
"We have until Friday."
Basketball Night in Canada
Chapter 7 - Bishop to Queen's Level Two
Laura didn't try to stifle her yawn as she approached Mr. Baker's classroom. Her roommates, tired of her complaints about the early hour, tossed her out before she could even make coffee. She stopped in front of the doorway; the door was already open. Mr. Baker sat at his desk, marking. Laura almost obeyed the urge to run, but steeled herself. She knocked on the door. "Mr. Baker?"
Mr. Baker looked up from his work. "Ah, Laura, yes?"
"Yes, sir. Are you busy? I can come back."
"Come in, please." Mr. Baker swivelled his chair around to face Laura. "How can I help you?"
Laura took several hesitant steps into the classroom. "It's my mark. The Headmistress recommended a name to help me but I don't know who she is." Laura fished out the Post-It note the Headmistress gave her. "Megan O'Leary," she read.
Mr. Baker raised an eyebrow. "Megan." He rubbed his chin. "I can get you in touch with her, but I need to know one thing." His eyes met Laura's. "How serious are you? Your marks can be raised, but you will have to make an effort, Laura. Before I send you to Megan, tell me that you are serious."
"I--" Laura shoved her hands behind her back to keep them from fidgeting. "I don't know, Mr. Baker. I need to pass English, but I just don't get it."
"That's a start, but you never answered my question."
Laura felt her cheeks grow hot. "I know." She took a deep breath. "How can I know? I mean, I know how to read. I'm doing great in other classes. I wouldn't if I couldn't read, you know? But here?" Laura sighed. "I'm lost. Poetry doesn't make any sense." She pulled out several papers from her book bag. "I've been trying." Laura handed the pages over to Mr. Baker. "I just don't get any of it!"
Mr. Baker looked over the new girl's writings. "Can I hold on to these to read later?"
Putting the papers on his desk, Mr. Baker leaned forward, getting closer to Laura. "Come back here after school today. I'm not convinced you are serious, but you are troubled. I'll introduce you to Megan then."
Relief washed over Laura. "Thank you, Mr. Baker."
"Go take a seat, Laura. Your classmates should be arriving soon."
Laura forced herself to walk to a desk. She took out her notebook and a pen, getting ready for the class. Other girls started to arrive. Cassie was first to enter, gliding in as she tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder. She waved to Mr. Baker before taking a front row seat away from Laura. Caitlin and the rest of Laura's roommates followed soon after, joining the new girl, sitting around her. The redhead also sat in the front row, in front of Laura and across from Cassie.
Autumn nudged the new girl. "Well?"
"Well?" Laura repeated.
"Oh, come on, Laura. You had time alone with Mr. Baker."
"Yes, talking about my oh so stellar marks in this oh so early class."
"You are so not a morning person." Autumn brought out a thermos from her backpack. "Here. This should make you bearable."
Laura eyed the thermos with suspicion. "What is it?"
"Coffee, duh. All of us know that you can't function without your morning java."
Skye leaned over. "Autumn put it on after we threw you out."
Without taking her eyes off Mr. Baker, Caitlin added, "You really are scary when you wake up. That still leaves the question of Megan."
"I meet her after school today." Laura opened the thermos and took a long drink. She closed her eyes as the warmth travelled down her throat. "Thanks."
The redhead turned in her seat to face Laura. "After school? Laura, that won't do."
"I don't have a choice, Caitlin. I need to pass this class. If I don't show up, I might as well just hide with the Jennifers."
"A fate worse than death. Fine, I'll adapt." Caitlin faced back toward the centre of the room as Mr. Baker got up from his desk. "Now, shush. Class is starting."
At the end of the school day, Caitlin marshalled her troops. She led Skye and Autumn off the Academy's campus and into town. The lack of Laura should be easy to work around, the redhead figured. The new girl's forte was in preparation and research. It'd take some time before Laura was ready for proper field work, but Caitlin saw the girl's potential. Laura wasn't needed to deal with Phil Wheeler.
Autumn's research on Wheeler resulted in a list of hobbies, names of associates, a home address, and a work address. The last item was where Caitlin wanted to go. Wheeler worked at a machine shop. Arriving there should throw him off balance, the red-haired girl reasoned. Caitlin had the cab stop several blocks away. Walking in would allow the redhead and her team to give off an air of control right away.
Caitlin took point as the trio entered the machine shop's parking lot. The redhead marched towards the door. An older man, his chestnut brown hair thinning, stepped out the shop's main door. "About time you showed up," he said.
"Ah, Philip Wheeler."
"And you would be Caitlin Kane-O'Shaughnessy."
Caitlin stopped in her tracks. "I see you've been informed. Jennifer Carpenter, I imagine."
Wheeler smiled. "Your imagination isn't that good, Ms Kane-O'Shaughnessy." He took a folded pieces of paper from his shirt pocket and shook it out. "Let's see. Caitlin Kane-O'Shaughnessy, student at the Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy for Unruly Girls, started there in Grade Seven. Prior to that, led a student revolt at the James Boyle Unlacke Public School in Halifax, guarenteeing acceptance as an Unruly. Parents are Lieutenant Colonel Anna Kane-O'Shaugnessy, Canadian Air Force, and Commander John O'Shaughnessy, Royal Canadian Navy."
Autumn stepped closer, enough to whisper in Caitlin's ear. "There's no way Carpenter knows how to dig that deep."
Caitlin maintained eye contact with Wheeler. "Thanks for the obvious, Autumn." The redhead walked further towards Wheeler. "I see you've done your homework, Mr. Wheeler. I assume, then, you know why we're here."
"Naturally." Wheeler matched the distance Caitlin walked, getting closer to the Academy students. "You're not going to get what you want, though." Behind Wheeler, three younger men came out of the shop. "My boys will escort you girls off my property." Wheeler made a show of counting first the girls then his men. "I seemed to have been misinformed. There are only three of you."
"Apparently." Caitlin half-turned. "Come along, ladies. We have some work to do."
"Yes, Ginger, you do." Wheeler laughed as the Academy students walked away.
Laura knocked on Mr. Baker's classroom door. The English teacher beckoned her inside. With him stood a woman in her early twenties, her hair starting black at the roots and lightening to platinum blonde at the tips. "Laura, thank you for coming back." Mr. Baker ushered the new girl further in. "Laura Jones, this is Megan O'Leary. Megan is a former student of the Academy's. She's now at Trent University, here in Oshawa." The teacher turned to the young woman. "Megan, this is Laura Jones, a new student here at the Academy. She's having problems with English and could use your help as a tutor."
Megan held out her hand. "Hello, Laura." She smiled.
"Hi." Laura shook the proffered hand.
"I'll leave you two alone. Laura, I've explained to Megan what's going on in class and the issues you're having. You can discuss here or can go somewhere more private." Mr. Baker returned to his desk and marking.
"Let's go to the library, Laura," Megan suggested. "We can take once of the study rooms there."
Laura shrugged. She let Megan take the lead down to the library. The pair avoided a swarm of Jennifers on the main stairs. In the library, Laura found a room not in use, out of sight of the entrance and away from other students. She sat down across from Megan. "Mr. Baker told me about your writing." Megan smirked. "Getting someone else to do your homework? He's seen that dodge before."
"So I've been told." Laura retrieved papers from her book bag. "Here. My writing samples."
"I don't need them." Megan put the papers aside. "Tell me how you write, Laura."
"How? I don't know. I sit down, pick up a pen, and, you know, write, I guess."
"There's your problem."
"Okay, I'm lost."
"Which is why you're having problems with English. Mr. Baker said you were homeschooled, right?"
Laura nodded. "Right. My parents taught me to read and write and basic math, and I learned more advanced math and chemistry on my own."
"Let me see one of your chemistry reports."
"I guess." Laura took out a marked chemistry lab from her book bag. "Here." She handed the log book to Megan.
The young woman read through the lab report, skimming pages and ignoring the equations. "Your spelling needs work."
"Isn't that what spellcheckers are for?"
"Spellcheckers only work on computers." Megan waved the handwritten report in the air. "Not so good when you're printing." The young woman put the report down on the table. "How did you write this, Laura?"
Laura pulled the report back to her. "I had the data from the experiment, I had a template my teacher wanted followed. All I had to do was explain what I did and what happened. Took me half an hour."
Megan pointed at the English homework. "Did you do the same for this?"
"I didn't have a template or data or anything useful." Laura pulled out the poetry assignment Mackenzie wrote for her. "This is my best mark."
Megan read the poem. "Scans decently. This is the one you got someone else to write. I hope you paid well for it. Mr. Baker was a little harsh with his marking."
Laura's cheeks turned crimson. "I suppose."
"Someone special?" Megan winked. "I won't say a word. For sonnets, though? You should use that feeling when writing." The young woman stood up. "There's potential. The problem isn't that you can't write, though you could use some work there. I want you to think over a couple of things for me. First, why do you think it's easier writing up a chem lab instead of your English homework?" Megan held up a finger to forestall Laura's answer. "Don't tell me yet. Think about it and tell me Saturday. Second, you're an Unruly, just like me. Sure, this is your first year, making you a Jennifer, really, but think about how your sisters would go about an assignment they hated without paying someone else to do the work."
"You were planning on leaving town? I'll come pick you up at the gate Saturday morning. How early is too early for you?"
Megan gave the younger girl a broad smile. "I like you. Okay, Saturday at one, after lunch. Will you be up by then?"
"Good. Don't forget to bring your books."
Laura followed Megan out of the library. She was halfway through the library's door when a thought hit her. "Megan," she started as she turned to face the young woman, "what are you taking at Trent?"
"Media studies, mostly film and television, with a Political Science minor. Control the broadcasts, control the minds." Megan allowed herself an evil grin.
Laura said her goodbyes at the main door, then made her way up to her dorm room. Megan's questions rolled through her mind, answers not quite reaching her. One answer, the ubiquitous, "How should I know?" kept returning, but Laura knew that it was neither the answer Megan wanted nor the correct answer. "Because it's chemistry," answered the first well enough, but Laura knew there had to be more to it. The new girl shoved the thoughts aside. Dinner awaited in the cafeteria, and, as bad as the alleged food was there, it was far better than anything Laura herself could make. Cooking was almost as bad as English class. At least she now knew the difference between prawns and pralines.
Dinner was as bad as Laura expected, with the chicken tasting not quite real. She missed being able to order a pizza or Chinese or heading out to a tavern to get something cooked. Laura suspected the Academy was trying to teach a lesson, either on being self-suifficient or on how to cook for oneself, but all the new girl learned was how much she missed things she took for granted.
Laura made her way back to her dorm, taking her time. Her roommates should still be out shaking people down for information. Caitlin's approach was far different than anything Laura had seen before. Given a choice, Laura would prefer to use a more chemical approach, loosening tongues with a drug that would keep things pleasant. The red-haired girl preferred intimidation. Laura corrected herself; the red-haired girl was intimidating.
Up at the dorm, Skye and Autumn were standing guard out in the hall. Skye spotted Laura first and stepped in between the new girl and the door. "I wouldn't go in there," the tall girl warned.
"Caitlin's in a bad mood," Autumn added.
"I need to get rid of my books and do homework."
Autumn wrapped an arm around Laura's shoulders. "The library is nice this time of the evening."
Laura glared at the Asian girl. "I saw Kristie go in with a few other Jennifers. No, it is not nice this time of the evening. Do you know how loud the Jennifers get?"
Skye pulled Laura away from Autumn. "Things didn't go as expected this afternoon. Caitlin, well, she doesn't handle setbacks well."
"Too bad for her." Laura shrugged away from Skye. "She's about to suffer another one." Before her roommates could stop her, Laura darted into the dorm room.
Caitlin sat at the table, her back to the dorm's entrance. Her blazer hung draped on the back of the red-haired girl's chair. "I said I didn't want to be disturbed."
Laura hung up her own blazer in the closet. "That's what Skye and Autumn told me."
Caitlin swivelled in her chair to look at the intruder. "Laura, go. I'm busy."
"So am I, Caitlin." Laura sat on her bed. "I never had a choice of who my roommates were. I just got dropped into this nut house. I'm trying to be understanding and to make concessions and all that good stuff that makes living with other people easier, but you're not helping."
"Do we have to go through this now?"
Laura looked over at the table. It was covered with a map, which itself was half-hidden by papers and a laptop. "Are you planning an invasion?"
With a sweep of her arm, Caitlin shoved the papers to the floor. "Happy?"
"Caitlin, what happened?"
The redhead glared at her roommate for a moment. "He was waiting for us." Caitlin took a deep breath. "We went to Wheeler's work. He was well informed on who we are, or at least who I am." She clenched her hand into a fist. "He called me Ginger! Can you believe that? How dare he?!"
Laura shifted away from the red-haired girl. "That's it?"
Caitlin's eyes narrowed. "No one calls me Ginger. Not even family. And it was his tone." She ran her fingers through her red tresses. "He dismissed me, Laura."
"Need something to throw?" Laura asked. She picked up an empty plastic cup to hold out for Caitlin. "Works for me sometimes."
"No." Caitlin eyed the cup. "Yes." She took the cup and hurled it at the kitchenette counter. The cup bounced, rattling on the counter, the refridgerator, then the floor. "Thanks."
Laura still kept her distance away from the redhead. "Caitlin, it sounds like Wheeler called your bluff and raised the stakes. It happens."
Caitlin sat up straight. "Wait, what's that?"
"Wheeler raised the stakes. Like in poker. You lost the hand but you still have a stake,"
The redhead stood up straight, sending her chair crashing to the floor. "That's it!" She spun around. "Laura, you're a genius! That's why he was ready. He knew what I was going to do. It's not chess; it's a bloody poker game!"
"You're scaring me, Caitlin."
The door crashed open. Skye burst into the room. "I heard yelling."
Caitlin smiled. "Laura gave me a new insight. Wheeler wasn't playing chess. He's playing poker." She faced Laura. "I could kiss you right now!"
Autumn entered the room far more cautiously than Skye. "Is it safe?"
"Yes," Skye answered.
"No," Laura said at the same time.
The Asian looked over at Caitlin. "Tie breaker vote?"
"Close the door, Autumn. We have planning to do."
"I think I tripped an alarm in your rush."
"Something about following the Geneva Conventions."
"No more questions, Laura."
"Make sure you call the police in five minutes."