Chapter 13: The Newspaper Club
The 9th day of the seventh month. The third day of the practice camp.
“Good morning, everyone.” Arthur said as he entered the dormitory cafeteria. “Let’s eat. We’ll dig in and put in some hard work at practice today.”
Larry, whose right cheek was slightly swollen from Mr. Murdoch’s punch, and Seron, mumbled in unison.
“I’m tired.” “I’m tired.”
“Both of you did splendid work yesterday.” Nick said from behind them.
The previous evening.
Seron and Larry returned to the dorms past midnight.
After the discovery, Meg had glanced at the fuming Hartnett as she gave her father a phone call.
The limousine had arrived at once. The man was calm by then, so Meg guided him inside. The driver did not question her, as he had been notified by Meg’s father. Seron and Larry boarded as well. With Natalia, Nick, and Jenny behind them, the limousine left the campus.
The man was completely silent. His eyes widened when he heard that they were headed for the Sou Be-Il embassy, but afterwards he closed them.
A rotund, middle-aged colonel in a brown Royal Army uniform greeted them at the embassy. There was a good-natured look on his face.
Once Meg had explained the situation in Bezelese, ‘the unfortunate Westerner who was mistaken for Burt Murdoch’ was taken to the nurse’s office under the care of an embassy employee.
That was the last Seron and Larry had seen of Meg. They were taken to separate rooms afterwards and showered with questions.
The questioner interrogated every last detail about the day’s events out of Seron. Just when he thought it was over, the questioner started all over again from the first question. This was to make sure that he was not lying. In the end, Seron and Larry ended up giving the same answers four times each.
They were provided dinner by the embassy and questioned until midnight before they were finally allowed to leave.
Just before they stepped into the taxi that the embassy called for them, the colonel personally came up to say that Meg had gone back home with her father. Then,
“We’re sending the man straight back to his homeland. It’s all thanks to you kids. We’re very grateful.” The colonel smiled, saluting.
Larry stood up straight and saluted back on reflex. And as for Seron,
He put a hand over his chest and bowed deeply.
After breakfast, Seron and Larry went to the gymnasium with the drama club.
“Sorry, everyone! My mother’s all right now—one of my relatives came to look after her. Now, let’s get back to practice and make up for all that lost time!”
Ms. Krantz injected energy into the club as practice began. The orchestra and the chorus club also joined in.
Meg stepped into the gymnasium behind her three upperclassmen. When she spotted Seron and Larry, she gave them a wink.
And she put on a beautiful smile.
Silently, expressionlessly, Seron trembled.
Larry grinned and gave Seron a hearty slap on the back.
Then came the orchestra and their instruments, led by Portman.
“See you after practice.” Natalia said with a smile.
“I’ll do my very best as well. Although it’s unfortunate that Seron can’t join me.” Nick said, going up to the drama club.
In the midst of all the movement, Ms. Krantz seemed to say,
“By the way, Mr. Murdoch is on sick leave. Mr. Jobs from the social studies department will take over for him at the faculty office.”
But none of the students seemed to care.
Nick’s incredible performance, the orchestra’s powerful music, and the chorus club’s beautiful songs.
Seron and Larry lost themselves in the splendid combination as they went about doing their work. And in the blink of an eye, it was lunchtime.
“You guys can go ahead.” Arthur said to the helpers. “I’ll see you at afternoon practice.”
Seron and Larry left for the cafeteria before the drama club.
They were drinking tea in a corner of the cafeteria when Nick approached with an empty cup in hand.
“Pardon me. Did you wait long?”
In the distance they saw the drama club lining up to get their lunches.
“Look. I’m sure you already know this, but Seron’s not waiting here for you.” Larry said.
“It’s all right. Tea, Nick?” Seron offered.
Now it was Seron, Larry, and Nick drinking tea in silence.
“Hey! Not eating yet?”
Natalia and Meg showed up.
“We were waiting for you two, Lia. Got something to discuss.”
“Great. Let’s take lunch someplace else.”
“Huh?” “Hm?” “What do you mean?”
The boys asked in unison.
“Shaddap and follow me. We’re going someplace we can chat in peace.”
They did as Natalia said and had their lunches packed up in brown paper bags.
Students had a choice between grilled chicken sandwiches or clam chowder with a side of salad and bread.
Three students chose the sandwich, and Larry got one of each as usual. As for Natalia, she got two of each.
“…Don’t tell me you’re going to double that tomorrow, Lia.”
“Shaddap and get walking. We’ll get tea when we get there.”
And as for the rest of the students in the cafeteria,
“I… kinda want to join in over there.”
“Give it a shot.”
“No way. The one with the glasses scares me.”
“Since when were they so friendly with one another?”
“I know, right? They don’t even have much in common. Look at all the cute guys there.”
“Wait, you’re including the blond one too?”
“Hm? He’s not bad, right?”
The drama club girls whispered as the five students left.
Sophia, the freckled vice-president of the drama club, watched uneasily.
The five students left the building and crossed the grassy grounds. It was clear overhead.
“How much longer do we have to go, Lia?”
“Man up and follow orders, blondie.”
Natalia continued to lead them in a march.
Seron walked just 2 meters behind Meg, just as silent as she was.
Eventually, the group arrived—
“I knew it.”
“You did, Seron?”
“This is the only place other than the cafeteria and the faculty office where you can get tea.”
—at the door to the newspaper club.
“Please excuse us.” Meg said and knocked on the door.
“Yeah, yeah.” Jenny replied from beyond, and the door opened. “Hey there! Come on in, everyone. You have my permission to enter.”
“Here you are, Jenny! A little something from big sis Natalia.” Natalia said, handing over a paper bag containing two sandwiches.
“Thanks.” Jenny took the paper bag and spun on her heels. “Here it is. The lunch you’ve been waiting for!”
“I appreciate it. So this is the 4th's famous cafeteria food.” Someone replied. The boys stepped inside and spotted the owner of the voice.
Sitting in the sofa was Hartnett, holding a mug. His hair was slicked back and he looked as intimidating as ever, but his attitude was more upbeat.
“Oh? I’m not sure we’ve met before, sir.” Nick joked.
“This is what I usually look like.” Hartnett laughed. He was in a button-up shirt with a tie. His navy suit jacket hung from a clothes hanger on the side.
“Sit wherever you feel like. I’ll brew the tea. Just to warn you, it’s gonna be really good. And don’t complain about all the cups being mismatched—I’ll give the ugliest one to Larry.”
“That’s fine. Just don’t mix developing solution into the tea.”
“Now that’s a great idea.”
“Don’t worry. I make it a personal policy to never waste a drop of developing solution.”
There was only room for six on the sofas. Hartnett got up and sat in a nearby chair, pulling out his sandwich on the desk and quickly digging in.
“This is great! I can’t believe you get to eat this well every day.”
Hartnett finished off an entire sandwich before Jenny had brewed tea.
Jenny placed the teacups in front of everyone and took a seat herself.
Three boys sat on one side, and three girls on the other. Seron and Meg were in the middle of their respective sofas. Nick was across from Jenny.
The teacups were all different in size and shape. Larry’s was compact and decorated with twee pink flowers.
“You know,” Nick chimed in. “That happens to be a Rous-Reçel teacup.”
“Is that supposed to be a place name?”
“Yes. Supposedly each and every white porcelain cup they produce costs about as much as a car.”
Larry quickly withdrew his hand from the cup. Jenny waved him off.
“Don’t worry about it. I just brought in stuff no one was using at home. The rest of the set is broken anyway.”
“I… I see.”
“Thanks for waiting, everyone. Let’s eat.” Jenny said, taking the first bite.
The rest prayed before their meals or waited for the others before starting on their lunches.
“There’s a few things I need to tell you.” Said Hartnett, turning his chair around. “You can keep eating.”
“This is great.”
Jenny was savoring her sandwich. She nibbled at it from the corner like a small animal.
“The Confederation Police received word from the Sou Be-Il embassy early this morning.”
Seron’s hands stopped.
“You can keep eating, Seron. I’m just giving you a report.”
Seron bit into his sandwich. A bit of sauce got onto his mouth, so he wiped it away with a thumb and licked it.
“According to the embassy, the Westerner you brought in yesterday was officially confirmed not to be Burt Murdoch, the former Roxchean soldier and brother to Mark Murdoch. I don’t know how they did it, but that’s what happened.”
Meg beamed as she nibbled away on her own sandwich.
“You like the sandwich?” Asked Natalia.
“Yes, I love the sandwich!” Meg replied.
Hartnett continued. “There’s nothing the police can do at this point about the embassy’s stance. Mark Murdoch is still being questioned about his idiotic misunderstanding. He was adamant that he hadn’t been wrong, but things are pretty much set in stone at this point.”
“Poor guy.” Larry bit into his sandwich with a slight smile. His swollen face was still quite visible.
“And as for me, the bigwigs were happy with how I solved the case so quickly.”
“That’s wonderful.” Nick said between bites. There was a resigned look in Hartnett’s eyes.
“I suppose. That’s all for the report.”
Meg looked up at Seron opposite her and placed her half-eaten sandwich on its paper bag.
“Seron, and Larry… were you both afterwards all right?”
Seron had finished his sandwich. He replied gently,
“Yeah. The questioning just went on a little too long, that’s all. The colonel saw us off personally and hired a taxi for us and everything.”
“Definitely. It was fun, getting to check out the Sou Be-Il embassy. Don’t worry, Megmica.” Larry added.
“Is that so? I am happy. My father became angry to me. He said that I must not do dangerous things. But this morning the colonel phoned my home…”
Meg began choking up. Tears welled in her eyes.
“You okay? You don’t have to force yourself.” Said Natalia. But Meg wiped away the tears and continued.
“No, I am not forcing myself. I am all right. I am all right. The colonel spoke to me, that the man gave his message to us.”
“What was the message?” Asked Seron.
“Erm… This was the message. ‘There are still good people in Roxche, so I am happy. Thank you’.”
“…‘Still’, huh…” Seron trailed off, closing his eyes.
A moment’s thought later, he spoke again.
“I’d like to visit Sou Be-Il someday. And I hope I’ll be able to meet him there.”
“Yes!” Meg chirped. “Then I will too come as interpreter!”
Seron’s eyes flew open.
“Huh? …Er, yeah. …Thank you. I… I have faith in you.” Seron stammered.
“Please trust in me! We will have fun!” Meg smiled.
Jenny nibbled on her sandwich and said under her breath,
“Talk about dense.”
No one could hear her.
Everyone was finished eating, and they were on their second cup of tea.
“Anyway, there’s another reason I came to see you today.” Said Hartnett.
“I don’t believe you’ll need to make us swear to silence. We have no real evidence, so no one would believe us even if we posted articles about the incident all over the school.” Nick said. Jenny shot him a glare.
“You making fun of me, princess? Or is that supposed to be a challenge?”
“Please, call me Nick.”
“I know your name, okay? I just didn’t say it because I’m good at keeping secrets.”
Hartnett finally cut in. “Look, I’m not casting suspicion on any of you, including the newspaper girl.”
“Jenny, then. I’m here to talk about something else.”
“Like what?” Said Natalia. “‘A discussion with a police officer’ doesn’t have a nice ring to it.”
“I know this might sound foolish, but…” Hartnett began. All eyes but Jenny’s were on him.
Hartnett took a breath and said as casually as though asking someone to get him coffee—
“If anything happens, I want your cooperation.”
“What?” “Pardon?” “Huh?” “Really?” “Oh.”
Seron, Nick, Larry, Natalia, and Meg looked at him quizzically.
“What do you mean by that, Mr. Hartnett?”
“It’s just like you said the other day, Seron. A school campus—”
“A school campus is a difficult place for police to investigate.”
“Exactly. Especially a secondary school campus, and especially places like the 4th Capital Secondary School, where a good chunk of the student body is from wealthy backgrounds.”
Everyone was in silent agreement.
“Of course we can step in if someone files a report or if there’s clearly a case to be investigated, but we have our limits. If all we have are small hints or the case is concealed from us, like with the Murdoch case, the police will have a very difficult time.”
Seron was surprised. “So you’re asking us for help? That’s—”
“That’s not very responsible of you.” Natalia finished.
Hartnett conceded the point. “Yeah. I think so too.”
“Oh?” Natalia tilted her head.
“But remember this. When we—this insignificant group called the police—take action, it’s to help someone in need. Someone who’s suffering or in despair. But if no one brings those people to our attention, they’ll be left to agonize alone like Burt Murdoch was.” Hartnett said, his tone becoming grave. “If you don’t care that things like that might happen in your school, that’s fine with me. Just forget this conversation happened. Don’t spare a second thought for this poor bottom-rung civil servant who had to lie his way through the gates of learning with the claim that he came to apologize for the sudden cancellation of construction work!”
‘Just join the drama club already.’ Larry thought, but he did not say a word.
There was a long moment of silence.
Until a soprano voice broke the silence.
“I will help you!”
Meg stood from her seat. All eyes were on her.
“Something like this… it must not happen again anymore! If someone is crying nearby, a human being must hold out their hands to the someone!”
Hartnett rose to his feet and burst into applause.
Everyone stared at Hartnett.
“What’d he just say?” Asked Larry.
Jenny, who understood Bezelese, answered.
“He’s praising her.”
Meg stared, wide-eyed. “My gosh… you spoke Bezelese, Mr. Hartnett?” She asked in Bezelese.
“Very, very little. I studied Bezelese at uni-university. A police officer must do work in the wide world.”
“That’s incredible! I’m happy to cooperate. Please contact me if anything should happen. I will do my very best to assist you—it’s the duty of any upstanding citizen, no matter which side of the continent you happen to be on.”
“That is wonderful! You are a model citizen. Yes!”
“Not at all. I’m simply doing my civic duty.”
Larry began to elbow Seron.
“Hey… those two are getting pretty fired up. You just gonna sit back?”
Nick also joined in on the ribbing.
“I think this might be an interesting venture, Seron.”
Seron rose to his feet, slamming his hands on the table.
The two who were already standing turned.
Seron took a deep breath—
“All right.” He said in Roxchean. “We’ll help out if anything comes up. There are still good people in Roxche!”
“Good to hear, Seron!”
“Yes! Seron is a very good person. I love people like that.”
Seron almost lost his balance in the flood of joy, but he managed to steady himself. And he said nothing.
“Man…” Larry sighed at the show of inaction.
“So it’s decided. What about the rest of you?” Asked Jenny.
“As long as it doesn’t get in the way of school. And all the better if it gives me an excuse to cut orchestra practice.” Said Natalia.
“If Seron’s in, so am I.” Larry chimed in.
“Then I will join you as well.” Nick finished.
“You don’t have to force yourself, Nick.”
“I’m hurt, Larry. I thought we were supposed to be friends.”
Jenny clapped her hands together.
“Then it’s decided. All five of you are joining the newspaper club! Congrats!”
Seron and Natalia frowned, and Larry voiced his disbelief.
“What’re you so surprised about? I was talking to Mr. Hartnett here before you showed up, and we decided we needed a place to compile and distribute information.”
“And that place is the newspaper club?” Larry asked.
“I also believe this is a suitable place.” Nick nodded. “The clubroom offers us a place to gather, is isolated from prying eyes, is furnished with a telephone, and has a darkroom where we can develop incriminating photographs.”
“I guess…” Larry agreed.
“So I’ll accept you all as club members so I can give you all keys to the room! I don’t mind if you’re pulling double duty with another club. And now it’s all sorted out. The newspaper club can finally go official!” Jenny cheered, her eyes sparkling.
“So you you admit it wasn’t before, then.” Natalia chuckled.
“Yeah, yeah. Anyway, you can make all the noise you want in here, so feel free to bring in a few instruments to play, Nat.”
“Sweet. I’ll haul in my guitar. I’m gonna be vice-president.”
“Got it. Now we just need a treasurer. Anyone willing to volunteer?” Jenny asked, scanning the room.
“You do it, Seron. I’m not interested.”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline as well.”
Seron, still silent, met Meg’s gaze. She was watching him expectantly, her eyes brimming with emotion.
He was conquered in an instant.
“Then it’s decided. The newspaper club has been born anew today!” Jenny declared. “From this day forward, we will investigate every last inch of this school to gather and report new information! The truth is in our hands!”
Nick applauded with a smile. Jenny bashfully stopped him.
“It’s nice to enjoy being young, but don’t forget about the cooperation deal.” Hartnett said from the back.
“Of course. The boys and girls here are all good citizens, after all.”
“No adults allowed, eh? I suppose I don’t really mind…” Hartnett pushed his chair back into place and pulled off his jacket from the hanger. “Now that you’ve agreed to help, my job here is done. I’m going back to work. Thanks for the sandwich, and keep in touch. I don’t know if I’ll see you during the break or after, but take care of yourselves.”
Hartnett walked out with a wave.
When the door closed, Seron fell back into the sofa.
Meg also took a seat. Their eyes met.
“We must use our best efforts!”
“We must use our best efforts and help people! All of us together!”
“…Oh. Yeah. You’re right.”
“Let us pile our hands!”
Meg held out her slender, pale arm over the table.
“Now! Put your hands on my hand. We will have a ceremony to the new newspaper club. We must say, ‘hip hip huzzah’!”
Larry grabbed Seron’s hand—
—and placed it on top of Meg’s.
The moment his palm touched the back of her hand, Seron’s face twitched. But no one noticed.
“I’m next. Don’t want any boys piling together again.” Natalia said, joining in.
“Am I next?” Larry’s muscled arm reached in.
“My turn.” Jenny’s tiny hand followed.
“I suppose I’ll top us off.” Nick finished elegantly.
Once all six hands were together, Meg smiled.
“Heh heh… this is slightly too heavy for my hand. I feel your weights. Then let us begin the cheers. For the newspaper club! Hip hip huzzah!”
Their hands rose and fell, then scattered.
Seron clenched his right hand into a fist.
“By the way.” Jenny said suddenly. “Lunchtime’s almost over. You sure you have time to be standing around here?”
In disbelief, the others turned to the wall clock.
“Shoot, Ms. Krantz is gonna have our heads! Let’s get going, Seron.”
“I believe I must go back to the gymnasium also.”
“Oh—yes! Please do not leave me back…”
The new members of the newspaper club rushed outside, waving at Jenny on the way.
“Bye guys. See you later.”
Jenny sat on the sofa with a teacup in hand and stared at the door that had again slammed shut.
“Looks like I’ll be busy for quite a while.”
She downed her tea in one go.