"The Jennifers are missing."
"This Jennifer might know something."
"Someone could be getting them ready for transport to where they'd sell well."
"But that means we all go to the Jennifers' lair."
The Great Jennifer Round-Up
Chapter 3 - The Lair of the Jennifers
Caitlin led her troops down the hall towards the first-year student dorm. While the red-haired girl marched with purpose, the rest of her roommates weren't as sure of themselves. Autumn kept close behind Caitlin, never focusing on anything any longer for several seconds. Laura followed the Asian girl by several paces, eyes wide, jumping at any creak. Skye brought up the rear, keeping watch for the group and ready to leap to the front if trouble arose. The group's footsteps echoed in the hallway. Lights flickered overhead, adding to the unease the group felt.
Laughter and scurrying bounced off the walls. Caitlin held up a hand, bringing the troop to a stop. She waited, trying to hear if the noises continued. "Hello?" A beat started, a soft tapping on pipes at first, growing louder. More tapping joined in, off the main beat, using wood instead of the metal pipes.
"Caitlin, I don't like this." Autumn turned in a slow circle. Her eyes darted left and right, up and down. "Caitlin?"
Caitlin resumed her pace. "You can go back anytime you want. Alone."
Autumn looked back the way the group had come, at the lights failing, plunging the route to the exit into darkness. "Alone?"
"Cait, I think we're surrounded." Skye slipped past Laura to join the red-haired girl.
"Good. They have us right where we want them."
Laura sidled to Autumn's side. "People aren't going to be happy if I disappear, Caitlin."
"No one's disappearing." Caitlin kept walking.
Laura grabbed Autumn's hand and ran to keep up, dragging the Asian girl with her. "Caitlin, I'm serious."
Autumn shrieked in terror. "Caitlin!" With the redhead now looking at her, Autumn pointed back the way they had came at three girls with makeshift spears.
"Ah, good." Caitlin pushed in between and past Laura and Autumn. "Hello, there," she said, keeping her tone friendly. "We've come to talk."
"Parlay?" Laura added. Caitlin shot her a glare. The new girl shrugged. "I liked the movies."
The armed Jennifers kept their distance. Caitlin took a few steps towards them, only to be greeted by the girls raising their primitive weapons. "There's no need for hostility."
A voice called from a side passage, "Sure there is." Another young girl stepped out into the light. Caitlin recognized the girl from earlier. "I should have guessed." The Jennifer pointed at Laura. "There's your roommate again."
"That's not why we're here."
"Of course not." The young girl jerked her head at the passage. "This way."
Caitlin followed the Jennifer down the side hallway to a large dorm room. Her own roommates followed, keeping close. The Jennifer walked with an easy gait belying the growth spurts her arms and legs were showing. "Not one peep from any of you seniors since school started until this weekend. Not one. Too stuck up to pay us any attention. This weekend? Union Station here."
"Other seniors have been by?"
The Jennifer stopped at an open door. "In there." She stepped inside to let Caitlin and her roommates get through the door and into the huge room beyond.
"Kitty-Cait! I knew you'd come to save me!" Cassie sat on a cot, surrounded by four Jennifers. "And you brought Skyescraper, Lorelei, and the geek with you!"
Caitlin looked over at the lead Jennifer. "We don't do garbage removal." She turned to leave.
The lead Jennifer snapped her fingers. The three young girls with spears stepped forward, brandishing their improvised weapons. "You're not going anywhere."
"You can't hold the entire senior class hostage."
"I don't need all of you." The Jennifer pointed at Laura and Autumn. "These two should be enough."
Caitlin pointed at Cassie. "You already have her."
"I need valuable hostages. You paid for one of your roommates before. You can have the blonde back."
"I think you should keep her. Her roommates are going to worry about her."
"Who do you think sent her? Take her back, or I keep you with her and let your roommates go."
Caitlin glanced at the spear-wielding girls at the door. "You drive a hard bargain."
Autumn pulled on the redhead's shoulder, turning her around. "You can't just give us to her!"
"Laura needs to be here anyway." Caitlin flicked her eyes at the hand on her shoulder.
Autumn let go of Caitlin. "Laura, yes. I don't!"
"You'll be safe. I'm sure Jennifer won't let any harm come to you."
"As long as you do as I need," the lead Jennifer said, "they'll be safe."
"You're not going to believe her, Caitlin, are you? What do they want from us?"
Caitlin turned back to face the lead Jennifer. "I believe we're on the same quest, finding the other Jennifers."
The Jennifer leader nodded. "You find them, you get your people back."
Caitlin hammered her neighbour's door with the side of her fist. Vamsi opened the door, annoyance palpable in her stance. The redhead pulled Cassie into view. "I believe this is yours."
"We already have one." Vamsi began to shut the door.
Skye shoved her foot into the doorway. "Check again."
Cassie rolled her eyes. "It's like you don't like me, Skyescraper."
Vamsi sighed. "Where was she?"
"In the Jennifers' dorm," Caitlin answered. "They're taking hostages."
"I'm right here, Kitty-Cait." Cassie crossed her arms. "This isn't funny. Vammie, be a dear and put on some tea?"
Vamsi ignored her blonde roommate. "So? What does that have to do with me?"
"Nothing, except it was either leave two of mine or stay with the Jennifers myself with Cassie."
"Poor Lorelei, being forced to stay in that horrid dungeon, surrounded by those feral girls." The blonde looked at everyone's annoyed glaring. "Oh, and Geek-Girl, too. What a brave sacrifice they made, them for me."
Vamsi moved aside. "All of you, come on in. Cassie, too."
Caitlin gave her blonde neighbour a push before following her into the dorm. Inside the room, Caitlin took in the decor, an eclectic mix of classical art, depressing black, technical diagrams, and small knick-knacks. "Where are the twins?"
"Off violating who knows how many laws of nature and decency." Vamsi got out a mug for everyone. "Coffee? I got a shipment in, dark roast. Original buyer fell through and it's not fancy enough for the juniors."
"I'll have one, Vammie."
"Tea, please." Caitlin sat down at the table.
Skye stood behind Caitlin. "I'll have coffee. You should ask Laura once we get her back."
"Right. Have to remember to put your room back on my rounds." Vamsi glared at her blonde roommate. "You just had to bring her back." She put on a kettle to boil, then prepared the coffee maker.
"I have my reasons," Caitlin said. "First, I have people in where I need them."
Cassie darted over to give the redhead a hug. "Second, Kitty-Cait, you couldn't just leave me to those bad little girls. We seniors should just march back down and give them a spanking."
"Cassandra!" Caitlin wriggled out of the blonde's hold. "No one's giving anyone a spanking. Besides, the Jennifer in charge wants her year back, too. She just doesn't have the resources to find them."
Vamsi leaned against the counter. "That's why she has your roommates. Leverage. Do you have a plan?"
"Of course. We have two lines of thought, but both require an insider."
The kettle whistled. Vamsi took it off the burner. "Hold that thought. Caitlin, what sort of tea do you want?"
"Do you have rooibos?"
Vamsi opened a cupboard and pulled out two boxes. "Your choice, red or green." She held out the boxes to let Caitlin inspect them.
After a moment of examining the boxes, Caitlin choose. "The red."
"Excellent choice. Cassie?"
"Green peppermint, Vammie."
"Of course." Vamsi prepared the tea and handed the cups to Caitlin and Cassie. "So, insider."
Caitlin dipped her teabag in the hot water. "Or insiders. I can't narrow it down yet. Do you have cream and sugar?"
"Yeah." Vamsi set out the sugar shaker, then walked to the mini-fridge. "Why an insider or insiders?"
"How many strangers make it in and back out?" Caitlin added a spoonful of sugar to her tea. "You remember the car Laura came in."
"Scored a tidy profit from that." Vamsi got out a carton of milk. "I get your point. The Jennifers had to know who it was."
Skye sat down. "We're looking for an Unruly?"
Vamsi set the milk down on the table. "Or a teacher. Or some other staff."
Caitlin added milk to her tea, turning the drink a light brown. "You'd be first on my list of suspects, Vamsi."
"Who is the first person any of us seniors turn to when we need something that's, shall we say, difficult to get without entanglements?"
Vamsi shrugged. "Fair enough, but what would I do with the entire first year class? I handle goods, not people."
Cassie looked up at her roommate. "You said you had people who would pay top dollar for me."
"That's Laura's idea," Skye said. "That the Jennifers were kidnapped to be sold."
The coffee maker stopped percolating. Vamsi filled two mugs with the steaming brown liquid, passing one to Skye. "Any other school, I'd believe it. Not here."
"That's where we split." Caitlin sipped at her tea. "Laura believes the girls could have been drugged. She's in a good spot to check. Skye, here, believes that bribery was involved. Either way, the Jennifers left without a fuss."
"I don't see why we're getting involved, Kitty-Cait. Such ill-mannered little brats."
Caitlin leaned across the table. "At some point, teachers are going to notice that the Jennifers are missing. They will tell the Headmistress who will come down on us. And, lest you forget, Cassandra, Ms Stone attended the Academy."
Vamsi sat down. "If the teachers don't notice, the parents will. They might call the Headmistress. They might call the police, or the Ministry of Education, or their lawyers, or all of the above. The Academy gets shut down, we get shipped off to other schools, either public or, worse, military school, depending on our parents."
"Assuming that we're here because the Academy offered a better choice." Caitlin set down her mug. "Some of the girls here would be facing juvenile detention."
Skye held her coffee mug in both hands. "There's also what whoever has the Jennifers has planned. They're a riot waiting to happen."
"I do like being here," Caitlin said. "I'm getting the juniors to sweep the grounds tomorrow after English. Vamsi, I could use your help in reading them the riot act later tonight."
"I'll be there."
"In the meantime, we need to keep staff from discovering anything. One word, the Headmistress will come down hard on us."
Laura paced around the Jennifers' barracks, well aware of all the eyes upon her. She kept her own set of eyes moving, looking for vents along the wall and ceiling. One set of vents ran along the ceiling, above the tiles, far out Laura's reach. The new girl traced the duct work, imagining where it would go from vent to vent. "Autumn, can you bring me a chair?"
The lead Jennifer ran over to Laura. "No. No chair."
"I need to see what's in those vents."
The Jennifer leader grabbed Laura's arm. "Tough. You're too big to fit in them anyway."
"I'm not trying to escape."
"Says you." The Jennifer pulled Laura back to the bed where Autumn sat. "I'm not risking either of you escaping or getting hurt."
"I'm not trying to escape. I'm trying to find out what happened to your classmates."
"By looking into vents. We're all too small to fit inside the ducts."
"Someone could have placed something in the vents." Laura sat down heavily on the bed, jostling Autumn. "If I could take a look, I can tell what did or didn't happen."
The leader of the Jennifers looked up at a vent. "Up in there."
The Jennifer eyed Laura. "What are you looking for?"
"Aerosol canisters with a sedative or soporific drug that would allow someone to lead your classmates away without a fuss."
Laura nodded. "Really."
"All they'd have to do is put a canister up there when there's no one around."
Laura got back up and strode to the Jennifer. "Why? Why is it so impossible?"
The Jennifer snapped her finger. "Kristie, grab the other one and take her to the door."
A Jennifer with fine brunette hair that fall over her shoulders looked up. "The door? But what about . . .?" She nodded her head at the door.
"It'd be found anyway."
Autumn held up her hands. "Wait, no. No way."
The brunette shrugged. "Okay, Jenn."
"'Jenn'?" Laura repeated.
"Yes?" The lead Jennifer faced Laura. "That is my name."
"So, you are really a Jennifer?"
Jenn glared as Laura. "Can we get past my name? Kristie?"
Autumn scrambled off the bunk bed. "No. You are not using me as a guinea pig."
"Kristie, will you get the scaredy-cat already?"
"Autumn, they're not going to hurt us," Laura added.
Kristie grabbed Autumn's elbow and pulled her to the door. "Open it," the younger girl ordered.
"Or what?" Autumn shoved both hands behind her back.
Jenn smiled. "The first thing you lose is your jacket. If you don't open the door after that, I claim your skirt."
Autumn's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Autumn, just open the damned door."
"Fine. If anything happens to me, I will haunt you." Autumn reached for the doorknob. She twisted her body, trying to stand as far away from the door as she could while still touching it. With great deliberation, she turned the knob. Autumn shut her eyes as she pulled the door open.
Rope whisked on metal. A blanket dropped from the ceiling, the edges weighted by washers. Autumn shrieked as the trap fell on her. Jenn and Kristie laughed at the spectacle. Laura quashed her laughter but still smiled. "I get it," Laura said. "Anyone coming in without knowing about the trap would be caught."
"Get me out!" Autumn fought against the blanket over her. She turned, getting more tangled in the bed covering.
"That's why there'd be nothing in the vents. We'd know when something was different."
"Laura!" Autumn tripped over the blanket and fell. "Someone, help!"
Laura nodded. "But what if the intruder was competent?"
"I heard that, Laura!"
"The trap would still be set off. Kristie, get the wuss out of there."
"Are the other first years as capable as you and your girls?"
Jenn shrugged. "Probably. Most of them have someone who can do this. I have Kristie."
Kristie helped Autumn to a seated position. "I was in Brownies and Girl Guides. I also know several different knots."
Laura tapped her foot as she thought. "Autumn, you started at the same age as Jenn and Kristie. Who would be able to get in here?"
Autumn poked her head out from the blanket. She ran her free hand through her disheveled hair. "Someone with drones to trip the traps." The Asian girl sat back on her heels as Kristie removed the blanket. "Someone who has been here before, like another Jennifer."
"Cassie got down here."
"That blonde twit?" Jenn laughed again. "She made so much noise, I found her long before she found me."
"Laura, if Cassie did get here, it was completely by accident."
Laura nodded. "But she got here."
"Even Cassie was a Jennifer once." Autumn stood up. She brushed the dust off her knees and stockings. "Oh, great, there's a run!" Autumn glowered at Kristie, who ran off with the blanket.
"Focus, Autumn. Would I get down here safely?"
Jenn nodded in agreement. "The scaredy-cat's right. You have no idea where the good traps are. You'd get caught. And, since you aren't wearing a uniform, you're fair game." The Jennifer leaned in close to Laura. "You really should get one soon."
"I'm waiting for mine to arrive." Laura walked over to Autumn's side. "You realize what this means, right?"
"That somebody owes me a new pair of stockings?" Autumn glared at her new roommate. "Ideally before Farewell Collegiate's homecoming."
"Talk to Caitlin. She's the one who left us here." Laura began pacing around the room. "Whoever has the rest of your class, Jenn, has to know the Academy well enough to know what to wear and where not to walk."
Jenn joined Laura in walking the room's perimeter. "Had to be a woman. Or a girl."
"Someone who could pass as a student here." Laura paused mid-step. "Autumn, the St. Dimples, would any of them know how to get around in here?"
Autumn smirked. "The St. Dymphna girls," she corrected, "also have the same rule about uniforms, also imposed by the city. They have to wear their own uniforms, even here."
"Really? That seems stupid." Laura resumed her pacing. "I mean, if I was going to break into a school to steal students, I wouldn't wear the Academy's uniform."
"The Headmistress cracks down on that sort of thing. You do something out of uniform, even if you've been tossed out of your room unfairly because two of your roommates are yelling at each other, you get kicked out of the Academy and sent to the worst possible place you can think of. Ms Stone would find a way to send me to North Korea."
"What about St. Dymphna?"
Jenn humphed. "Those pansies? Probably be sent home crying."
"'Those pansies' have nuns." Autumn shuddered. "I've heard stories about nuns."
"What's stopping them from stealing a uniform from the Academy, then?" Laura asked.
Laura stopped her pacing at a bed. "I'll ask Caitlin." She fell into the bottom bunk. "Speaking of Caitlin, we need to talk to her."
"No." Jenn folded her arms over her chest. "She gets back my class then she gets you back. Not before."
"Jenn, it's important. She needs to know."
Jenn looked over to Kristie. The brunette just shrugged. "And if your Caitlin forgets about me?"
"Then let one of us go back."
Jenn thought for a few moments. "Okay." She pointed at Laura. "You're staying. The redhead paid for you before. Kristie, get the scaredy-cat ready."
"About time you got back."
"What's going to happen to me?"
"Why would you kidnap me?"
"If she looks at you funny, hit her."