Chapter 3: Research
The 11th day of the seventh month.
The fifth day of the practice camp began.
The clouds had grown thick overnight and formed a grey roof over the city. They flowed endlessly along the powerful northerly winds.
The Capital District was already famed for its cool summers, but when it became overcast the temperature dropped even more with no sign of rising anytime soon.
“It’s almost cold. Weather report says it’ll start raining this afternoon.” Larry said, walking to the gymnasium in his sweats at the tail end of the line of umbrella-wielding drama club members. He was holding a black umbrella.
“It’s the perfect weather to catch a cold.” Seron said. Larry tilted his head.
“It certainly is. I feel perfectly fine, but it looks to me like the two of you may be coming down with something.” Nick said without even blinking. “Perhaps it’s because you left the window open overnight? It tends to happen if you stay in the bath too long and cool down too rapidly.”
“Nah, we closed—” Larry cut himself off, realizing what Nick was getting at. “Aha! You’re trying to get me and Seron to play hooky!”
“Yes. But please try to keep it down.” Nick smiled with a finger over his lips.
“We could always try that excuse if it looks like we’ll have too much on our plates today and tomorrow. It’s not likely, since they’re almost finished with the set pieces and there’s not much to do with the props, but still.” Seron said. Larry nodded.
When they arrived at the gymnasium, they were greeted by Ms. Krantz and her endless enthusiasm. After exchanging greetings, she told the students that her mother was doing better and would be able to come see the fall performance.
Soon, the dozen-plus orchestra club members and the four chorus club members arrived.
Both Natalia and Meg were wearing cardigans over their uniforms, like the other girls. And both shook their heads when they stepped inside. Neither had turned up anything, Larry and Seron realized.
“This is going to be a challenge.”
Like the previous day, the orchestra members tuned their instruments before the rehearsal. Drama club members who were finished with their work brought over chairs to watch the performance.
Because the less busy drama club members had brought in tea for everyone, all Seron and Larry had to do was open and close windows—which they did not have to do very much, as it was cool and overcast.
Break time finally arrived.
“All right. Let’s see if we can get some time off.”
Seron waited for Arthur to speak with Sophia alone before going over to him. He asked to take the rest of the morning off because he had other things to work on.
Completely ignorant, Arthur nodded. “Sure. No problem.”
“Go ahead. You deserve some time off.” Sophia said nonchalantly.
Finally, Seron and Larry received permission from Ms. Krantz to take the rest of the morning off. As they left the gymnasium, they looked at Natalia. Seron mimicked biting down on a sandwich and Larry opening up a newspaper.
* * *
“Are the spare keys ready yet?” Larry said the password.
“No one likes an impatient brat, Larry. And yes, they’re ready.” Jenny opened the door and let Seron and Larry inside. “You’re early today. Are you skipping? Also, is it raining outside?”
“We got permission to take the morning off. And it’s not raining yet, but it’s a matter of time.” Seron replied.
“All right. Take a seat. Want some lukewarm tea?”
Seron and Larry sat down, when the latter noticed something.
He spotted two long, thin paper bags lying atop her guitar case.
“She really brought them in, huh. You all right with this, Jenny?”
“Sooner or later she’s going to turn this into a music room. What’re you gonna do when she carries in a grand piano?”
“Hm. Maybe I’ll tear down the wall and expand the place?”
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Here you go.”
Jenny placed two cups of tea before them, then sat on a chair.
“Nothing on our end. We haven’t talked to Nat and Megmica, but they were both shaking their heads.”
“Yeah. I asked my family and looked at newspapers and magazines, but no cigar. It’s probably not a product name or some new show.”
“I guess SC Sophia would have figured it out by now if it were that easy.” Seron sighed, taking a sip from what had yesterday become his personal teacup. He complimented the taste.
“So maybe it’s something on campus after all?” Larry speculated.
“Yeah.” Seron agreed.
“Wait, what if I ask my brother? He was here until a four years ago. He should be on summer break now too, so he’s probably at the dorms.” Larry took to his feet. “I’m using the phone, Jenny.”
“Sure. That’ll be 100 Roxes per—”
“Hey, this is part of official club activities.”
Larry went up to the telephone and picked up the receiver.
“Let’s see here…”
From his back pocket he pulled out his wallet and took out a scrap of paper, then began dialing.
Someone picked up. Larry straightened up instantly.
“Hello? My name is Larry Hepburn, secondary school student! I’d like to speak to my brother, Candidate Cato Hepburn! What? Oh… I see.”
Larry deflated quickly. And eventually—
“I understand. Thank you. Please excuse me…” He trailed off, hanging up.
“Well? Find out anything?” Jenny said sarcastically.
“Yeah… I found out my brother went out on an independent outdoor training camp with his classmates. They’re coming back in four days.”
“Yeah.” Larry sighed, falling into the sofa.
“Should we consult Mr. Hartnett?” Seron offered.
“‘It doesn’t ring a bell. I have no idea. I’ll contact you if I find anything, but don’t expect results.’ I think he’s busy with a really big case right now.” Jenny replied. Larry pouted. Then,
“Hey, what about Leena?”
“Good idea.” Seron stood. Jenny asked if Leena was his girlfriend.
“My sister. I’m using the phone, okay?” Seron replied cooly, picking up the receiver.
Because he was making a long-distance call, he had to go through an operator. One of the maids soon picked up, and Seron asked to speak to his sister.
Leena finally picked up.
“It’s me. Are you all right to talk? We’re having a quiz competition at school right now, and we have to guess an object based on a mystery phrase. I was having a tough time, but I thought you might know.” Seron explained.
He gave her the term ‘50th bee’ and asked her if she knew anything, or if it reminded her of anything. But—
“All right… Thanks. Yeah, I’m doing well. It’s a lot of fun here. I’ll probably go back in three days, in the morning. Say hello to Mother for me, okay?”
He hung up.
Seron returned to the sofa, joining Larry.
“Looks like we’ll have to figure this out before camp ends, for my sake too.”
“We will. The easiest way, though…” Larry trailed off.
“Yeah.” Jenny nodded. “It’s to ask SC Arthur himself. We know that.”
Larry thought for a while, then looked up.
“Wouldn’t it be better to just have SC Sophia confess after all?”
“That would be the easiest way.” Seron agreed with surprising promptness. “But we can’t do that. That’s not what SC Sophia asked us to do.”
“Yeah, but… what if we convince her to change her request?”
This time, Jenny responded. “That won’t be easy. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it do butterfly strokes.”
“‘You can’t make it drink’, Jenny. ‘You can’t make it drink’.”
“In what language?”
“Anyway, here we have a client who finally decided to pick up the weapon called ‘courage’ to take a stand and fight. If someone asked you for a tank to fight against another tank with, Larry, would you tell them, ‘I can’t get you a tank, so here’s a gun’?”
“…No.” Larry shook his head.
“Although if that really were the case, I could provide one from the Jones Motors warehouses.”
“Hey! Those are supposed to go straight to the Army!”
“Sure are. You want one too?”
“As if. Tanks are a pain to maintain. Just thinking about taking care of one alone gives me migraines.”
“I could always hire a personal mechanic using club funds.”
“…Jenny. What are you planning to use the newspaper club as a front for?”
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll start by demolishing the photography club’s snobby little office.”
“If you ever decide to run for president, I am going to become an assassin, Jenny.”
Seron finished his tea and finally spoke.
“We’ll look around campus before it starts raining. Who knows? We might find something. We’ll also look for bees—not real ones, but things that resemble bees or remind us of them. We’ll also have to check out the gargoyles on the older buildings.”
“I’ll go too. The more eyes, the better.” Larry volunteered. Seron nodded.
“We’ll come back at lunchtime with everyone’s food, Jenny. We can have another strategy meeting then.”
“Right. Take these—I keep the door locked even when I’m in. Feel free to use the office even if I’m not here.” Jenny said, taking out two keys from her pocket and tossing them at Seron and Larry. They caught the keys.
“Now I feel like a real member. Thanks a bunch.” Larry said.
Jenny pointed at them.
“Then here’s my order as president. Bring back results! I’m gonna kill you if you come back empty-handed.”
Seron and Larry took a step outside the building. The clouds had grown thicker and the sky darker.
“Dark clouds on the horizon, huh.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll be clear on the last day. Anyway, what’s our strategy? Where do we start?” Larry asked. Seron stopped to think.
“…I’m not sure. We still have time before lunch, so let’s go around the campus and slowly head to the cafeteria.”
They began to walk.
On their way across the vast campus, they found several things.
Three honeybees near a flower bed.
A hundred and seventy-four ants, which was as far as Larry got before he gave up on counting.
Countless tiny insects, and the birds circling low overhead seeking an easy meal.
A bent tie pin someone must have dropped the previous term.
And three pieces of laundry that had flown over the campus walls from a nearby apartment building. A men’s shirt, a pair of children’s pants, and women’s underwear.
* * *
“We’re technically not empty-handed, though.” Larry said, lightly shaking the paper bags in his hands. There were eight of them containing lunches for six. They had given the clothing they found on the grounds to the security guards at the gates.
For lunch, students had a choice between wild rice with chicken soup or fish burgers and chips. Seron and Larry elected to get burgers for everyone, as they would have needed separate containers for the soup.
The burgers and chips alone did not seem like enough vegetables, however, so they filled Larry’s lunchbox with boiled carrots, peas, and corn from the salad bar.
“Definitely a challenge.”
Seron was carrying in one hand a bag containing the lunchbox, a small packet of salt, and six forks. In his other hand was a black umbrella held over both himself and Larry. They walked side-by-side to the newspaper club office. The wind sometimes strengthened, scattering rain on their legs.
The sound of music was faintly drifting from the gymnasium.
“Well, at least Lia won’t get mad about lunch being late.” Larry remarked.
They entered the building.
Instead of giving a password, Larry opened the door with his own key.
Jenny was sitting on the sofa with an intense expression. She looked up.
“Anything? If not, I’ll eat you alive head-first.”
Larry held out one of the paper bags. “We didn’t find a thing. But if you’re that hungry, you’ll probably prefer this to either one of us.”
“…Hm. I forgive you.”
* * *
It was almost noon. Seron was pouring boiling water from the kettle, and Larry was arranging paper bags, napkins, and forks on the coffee table.
“We’re here. Open up.” Natalia called from the hallway with a knock.
Jenny and Seron furrowed their brows.
Larry, who was closest to the door, grinned. “Password? Make sure it’s something nobody else knows, or it wouldn’t be much of a password.”
“In first year of primary school we had this beautiful blond teacher. And on the class picnic, Larry—”
“NO!” Larry yelled, throwing the door open.
“Thanks.” Natalia smiled. Larry was drenched in cold sweat.
“Lia… are you trying to kill me?”
“I’m not an executioner. Just a witness to history.”
“They should make it illegal for childhood friends to reveal embarrassing secrets.”
“Then make that your campaign promise, Larry. I was just answering a question.”
“We’re not working on a password system anymore, Lia. Get your key from Jenny.”
“Good to hear. Too bad I already got mine this morning.”
In Natalia’s hand was a key with a red ribbon.
“Lia… but you…”
“Didn’t you see the flutes?”
“Now that you mention it…” Larry trailed off, turning. Seron gave him an apologetic look as he poured tea into the cups.
“I was going to remind you, Larry, but…”
Larry hung his head.
“Tsk tsk. You’re going to lose a lot of good men on the battlefield if you can’t think fast enough.”
Larry could not respond.
“Wasn’t that a nice lesson?” Natalia said, walking past him without so much as blinking.
Meg followed Natalia inside. “Hello, everyone.”
And Nick followed Meg. “I’d love to hear the details, but I suppose it’s not right to unearth a secret so desperately hidden. May I have my key, Jenny?”
Nick put three umbrellas into the stand by the entrance.
Natalia took a seat.
“Thanks for the food. Any good news? Like, ‘mystery solved! Job’s done!’?”
Seron replied as he brought over a tray laden with six cups of tea.
“No. We’re having fish burgers and boiled vegetables today.”
“I see. We didn’t find anything either, so let’s dig in. Who do we pay?”
“It’s my treat.”
They all took their seats.
As usual, the boys sat on one side and the girls on the other. Seron and Meg sat in the middle of their respective sofas, and Larry was across from Natalia. Their places were more or less set in stone by this point.
The students all prayed and began to eat.
Jenny took big bites out of her burger with her tiny mouth.
“It is very delicious.” Said Meg. “I was cold today, but thank you for boiling tea.”
“That was Seron.” Said Larry. Meg nodded.
“Thank you for the tea, Seron. I will enjoy it.”
“I-it’s nothing. Don’t mention it.”
Seron closed his eyes, moved nearly to tears. That was when Nick spoke up.
“Does anyone here know who this friend of SC Arthur’s might be?”
No one answered. Nick continued.
“I suppose it might be risky to ask that student after all. Then perhaps another person who might know him well? We may very well find a hint to solving this mystery.”
Jenny, who was once again first to finish eating, replied.
“I looked into it. I’ll explain while you eat.”
Jenny went over to the chair and picked up her notepad from the desk.
“Arthur Sears, born on the 19th day of the second month of the year 3288. Age 17, president of the drama club. Fifth-year student, never held back. Narrowly gets excellent grades. Enjoys theatre, film, canoeing, skiing, cycling, and cricket. His favorite food is kidney pie. Favorite drink is ginger ale.” Jenny recited.
“How did you get all that information?” Larry exclaimed.
“I asked a senior-classman yesterday. I can’t say who it was, but my informant is a big fan of our activities.”
“So you even have an intelligence network. I’m impressed, Jenny.”
“Well we are the newspaper club.”
“Right. What else?”
“His family runs Sears Patisserie, which has a 189-year history. Have you ever heard of them, Megmica?”
Meg responded with a carrot stuck on the end of her fork.
“Yes, I do know Sears Patisserie. Guests gifted Sears cakes to our home, and I have eaten them several times. They brought chocolate cakes, but the cakes were not too sweet and very delicious.” She then popped the carrot into her mouth and chewed.
Jenny looked at Meg—happy as she could be—and Seron—blankly but happily watching her—and continued.
“His home address is the same as Sears Patisserie—3 Ninth Street. He has a grandmother aged 69, a father aged 41, and a mother aged 45. His father is a patissier who married into the family. SC Arthur has a sister two years his senior, who chose not to inherit and instead works as a newbie fashion designer at Epstein. His younger sister is 13 years old and currently attends a specialty school for patissiers. SC Sears attended Eliza Knox Memorial Primary School near his home, and received top marks all six years. In fifth year he took second place in the primary school division of the Capital District Cross-Country Ski Competition. And he graduated as valedictorian. At the graduation speech, he said his dream was to become a respectable adult who would take over the family business and pass it on to the next generation.”
“That’s a lot of personal info. Your fan tell you all that?” Natalia asked, taking a bite out of her burger.
“No. I called the Sears marketing department and the primary school this morning.”
“I’m surprised they told you all that.”
“I told them that the 4th Capital Secondary School’s ‘official’ newspaper club was doing a story on the drama club. You know how their president last year was scouted by the Confederation Theatre Troupe? I just told them that people have been curious about the drama club since then.”
“What the heck’s the Confederation Theater Troupe?”
Jenny explained how former president Joshua Dennis had been scouted and Arthur was suddenly thrust into his position.
“Hm… I see. So he wasn’t actually supposed to be the president.” Natalia nodded.
“It is a strange custom of Roxche.” Meg said gravely. Natalia quickly corrected her, saying this was an unusual case even in the East.
“Seron and I didn’t know any of this until SC Arthur told us in person. You’re pretty good, president!” Larry exclaimed. Jenny grinned.
“It’s easy to write about people who’ve left school.” She explained. “I was actually planning to say he’d left because the school was haunted, but there were so many ghost-related stories I decided not to run it.”
“I take back what I just said.”
“Anyway, that’s all for Arthur Sears. Next is Sophia Ulericks. I don’t have as much info on her, since I didn’t have much time and we can always ask her in person. Vice-president of the drama club, fifth-year. Her family runs Ulericks Real Estate, which has its head office on Sarcey Avenue. It wasn’t hard to find, since her family name’s pretty uncommon. I had my personal driver check out the place, pretending to look for a room, and apparently the father told him a bunch of things when he heard about me. Sophia’s an only child, and her parents doted on her. Apparently she wants to become a lawyer, but her father hopes she’ll get married straight out of school and doesn’t mind if she doesn’t join the workforce.”
“We can help her to be married!” Meg suddenly cried.
“You’re quite the romantic, Megmica.” Said Natalia.
“It is cool! I hope that this will definitely succeed! We can do this! Do our best! Hyah!”
Meg clenched her hands and held them up like a child. Her pigtails shook.
“And one last thing of note. This is important.”
“What might that be?”
The other students had finished eating. All eyes were on Jenny.
“Sophia Ulericks was born on the 13th of the seventh month in the year 3288. In other words, her birthday’s the day after tomorrow. The last day of the practice camp.”
“I see. Now I understand.” Seron said.
“Huh?” Larry intoned, still in the dark.
“So that’s why she’s so intent on confessing to him on the final day.” Nick spelled things out for Larry.
“It’s a birthday gift to herself.” Natalia chimed in. “And she’s trying to work up the courage to say it. She must really like him.”
Meg applauded. “It is wonderful! Her love is great! Then on her birthday, we will gift her a boyfriend!”
“Well, that’s only if our investigation gets anywhere in the next two days.” Jenny said, closing her notepad.
“We will work more hard! Yes! It is a little—no, a large amount different than Mr. Hartnett’s words, but we can help someone who needs help!”
“Looks like you’re all fired up.” Natalia grinned. “Looks like we’ll all have to kick things up a notch.”
Natalia referred to everyone, but looked directly at Larry.
Larry nodded. “That’s right! Seron, it’s all on us. I’ll do all the heavy lifting, so you take care of anything that needs brainpower!” He slapped Seron on the shoulder.
“Y-yeah… I’ll do my best.” Seron replied, and looked forward again—
“I will trust you alone, Seron! Work hard, Seron!” The girl before him beamed.
He was instantly energized. “…Right! I’ll find the answer to this mystery!”
“It’s good to be young.” Jenny muttered like an old woman. “Anyway, let’s go over this again. What is the 50th bee? Just toss out some ideas.”
Seron agreed. “Yeah. It doesn’t matter how stupid you think it might sound. I want to examine this case from every angle. The meaning doesn’t even have to match up with the meanings of the words ‘50th bee’.”
“May I begin? I had been struggling with an idea for some time now.” Nick said, raising a hand. Jenny nodded, opening her notepad and picking up a pen.
“I personally find this quite unlikely, but…”
Unusually enough, Nick trailed off mid-sentence.
“It’s all right, Nick. We want as many opinions as possible.” Said Seron.
“I suppose so. It occurred to me that SC Arthur may be involved in something of the unsavory sort.” Nick said without blinking. The others gaped.
“SC Arthur? No way, he wouldn’t—” Larry began, but he cut himself off. “Sorry, Nick. I’ll let you finish.”
The others looked at Nick as well. He continued.
“This has nothing to do with Mr. Hartnett’s proposal the other day, but there are individuals in this very school who are involved in some shady business. Those who bully junior-classmen during club activities, extort others, or use their student status in order to hide illegal dealings. I doubt there are many in this school, but the number is above zero. They are simply hidden below the surface. After all, everyone is bound to have secrets. And in SC Arthur’s case, perhaps his secret happens to be a somewhat—no, a very dangerous one. One that is potentially illegal.”
It was jarring to hear such words from such a beautiful face.
“Perhaps this was why he created a code word? This object he seeks might be something alcoholic. Stores would never sell to minors like us, but perhaps he has a friend whose parents run a liquor business and circulates products among them. Perhaps the 50th bee refers to a liquor that SC Arthur is desperate to get his hands on. Naturally, this is only an example. You could substitute ‘liquor’ with ‘tobacco’ or ‘drugs’ in this scenario.”
“I see. That’s a possibility, yes. ‘Want to sell your own parents for’… ‘fifth-years now’…” Seron recounted Sophia’s testimony.
Jenny and Natalia also nodded.
But Larry was completely unconvinced. He pouted in silence.
“What can happen in this case?” Asked Meg.
“Perhaps something terrible, should we choose to uncover the mystery.” Nick replied.
“I… I suppose that is right.”
“Confessing to SC Arthur would become the least of SC Sophia’s problems by that point. I highly doubt she would procure something illegal to give as a gift, especially as she wishes to become a lawyer. And what will happen to the fall performance if the club president is punished? In the worst-case scenario, we may require Mr. Hartnett’s assistance once more.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” Larry said.
“That is all for my speculation. But I would like to add that I doubt SC Arthur would do such a thing. He is an honest and upstanding student. The possibility is not zero, however, and we should be prepared for the worst as well.”
“All right.” Jenny said, looking up from her notes. “That was an interesting suggestion. You, Seron?”
“To be honest, I never considered the possibility. I’ll keep it in mind, just in case.”
Having darkened the atmosphere in one fell swoop, Nick placed a hand over his chest and took a bow.
“I’d like to hear another opinion.” Said Seron.
“I’ll go.” Larry replied.
All eyes turned to him.
“Hate to say it, but I’m not as clever as the rest of you. So decided to go simple and thought maybe the 50th bee was the name of a role.”
Larry stopped there. Jenny urged him to continue with a twirl of her pen.
“As far as I know, SC Arthur’s a hardworking guy. In both school and drama. A senior-classman from my military sciences course introduced him to me over lunch, and he couldn’t be any more honest and upstanding if he tried. So I don’t think the 50th bee is anything bad. Seron and Nick already heard, but SC Arthur’s not going to become an actor, even though he loves theater. He’s going to attend university and graduate school to study management. That means he can only act while he’s in secondary school. Did I get that right, Seron?”
“Yeah. He might join a drama club in university, but he says he wants to study management and take over the family business.”
“Then maybe what SC Arthur wants so badly is a role called the ‘50th bee’. I don’t know much about plays, though. Has anyone ever heard of a role like that? It might be a really minor character, but we might turn up something if we looked into it. That’s all for my suggestion.”
“Yes, yes. Maybe that is right.” Meg chirped.
Jenny, however, disagreed. “Sorry, Larry. But I think that’s even less likely than Nick’s scenario.”
“Hm.” Seron nodded reluctantly.
“It’s cool, Seron. Tell me why.” Larry said.
“All right. It’s not completely impossible, but if it has something to do with theater I think SC Sophia would have figured it out by now.”
“Ah! Makes sense. You’re right. This is why I don’t do mysteries.” Larry said brightly.
“Er… may I speak?” Meg asked, raising her slender arm.
“Sure! So right ahead.” Jenny pointed her pen at Meg.
“Yes. I thought that I could find an answer among things I know. So I thought that the sound ‘50th bee’ might sound like Bezelese. There are not many people whose Bezelese speaking is possible, but I was very surprised to hear Jenny and Mr. Hartnett, you see. I think SC Arthur may have also took the class.”
“I see. So does it sound like anything?” Natalia asked.
“Yes, it sounds like several things. It was embarrassed so I wanted to tell Jenny alone later, but this is a good chance so I will now.”
“All right. Tell us.” Said Jenny.
“Sorry to butt in.” Larry said suddenly. “But wouldn’t Jenny have noticed if it really were in Bezelese?”
“My Bezelese isn’t that good. And besides—tell ‘em, Megmica.”
Jenny deferred to Meg, who seemed to have something to say. All eyes were on Meg again.
“Yes. There is a reason. There are many different Bezelese.”
“Huh?” Larry raised an eyebrow. Meg explained.
“Er… you see, no matter in what country you go in Roxche, Roxchean sounds almost the same, yes?”
Nick elbowed Seron. He jumped into the conversation.
“Yeah. Roxchean was created so it would be intelligible anywhere in Roxche, from Casna in the east to Iks in the west. We’re strictly forbidden to change pronunciations and meanings without reason.”
“But Bezelese is completely different. Bezelese is Sou Be-Il’s common language, but in different places Bezelese is different. What is the word? Er… dialogue? Dialep? Dialek?”
“Hm? You mean ‘dialect’.”
“Yes! That is the right word! Thank you, Natalia. In Sou Be-Il, there are many Bezelese dialects. In Sfrestus the capital, the royals and nobles use ‘proper Bezelese speaking’. It is the most elegant and most beautiful Bezelese. My friend Lillia speaks proper Bezelese speaking, so I was very shocked. Because I have a dialect.”
“Ah, so that’s what you meant. I was wondering what you were saying earlier.” Natalia said, recalling their conversation from four days ago.
“Yes. That is right. And when you leave Sfrestus and the dialect changes, sometimes the word will hear the same sound but the meaning is completely different. In one sentence, there are many different Bezelese.”
“Which is why even I can’t possibly know all the words it might sound like.” Said Jenny. “The dictionary I use only records Sfrestus-style Bezelese.”
“Then you mean there are words in different dialects of Bezelese that sound similar to ‘50th bee’?” Asked Seron.
“Yes. There are many words. Let me start…” Meg trailed off.
She pulled out an envelope from her uniform pocket. It was folded neatly in half. When Meg unfolded it, her name and address, along with a stamp, came into view.
“You addressed it to yourself?” Natalia remarked.
“Yes. There is my letter inside, where I wrote the Roxchean meanings I found in the dictionary. Please wait a minute. I will open it.”
Meg began to tear open the sealed envelope.
“Why did you bring it in an envelope?” Asked Nick. The answer came from Seron.
“The words you found must have been… unusual. You wrote them down for reference, but you didn’t want anyone to accidentally find it and look inside.”
“Yes, you are right.” Meg said mid-tear. “In this way, this letter will come back to me even if I drop it on the floor.”
“Hm.” “Not bad.” “I see.”
Nick, Natalia, and Larry were impressed. Meg shyly pulled out the contents of the envelope. But she did not read it.
“I am sorry… I hope someone will read this…”
“Then leave it to Larry.” Jenny said without missing a beat. “Larry? From now on, you’re the newspaper club’s head of public relations.”
“What the heck? Fine. Give it here, Megmica.”
“Yes… please read it.”
Larry unfolded the sheet of paper and scanned the page.
“Okay. First, ‘bomb explosion’.”
“Yes. They are the most similar words. It is sometimes used to simply say ‘bomb’ shortly.” Meg explained. Seron nodded in understanding.
“But… a bomb? I dunno.” Natalia said dubiously.
“Perhaps SC Arthur is a terrorist bent on the collapse of Roxche?” Nick suggested in jest. “And perhaps his friend happens to be a comrade in his cause.”
“As if, man! Next… ‘for pregnant women’. What’s this?”
“Er… to example, ‘this insurance is for pregnant women’. This is what it sounds like in that sentence.” Meg explained, growing even more quiet. “But I suppose this is wrong.”
Natalia sighed. There was a moment of silence.
Nick finally spoke up. “Perhaps SC Arthur got someone—”
“Let’s not go there, Nick!” Larry said quickly. Nick nodded.
“I suppose it’s not likely. Please, continue.”
“Right. ‘Stupid stupid!’.”
Rather than explain, Meg personally shot down the suggestion. “I do not think it is right. They are words that children say in anger.”
“All right. Next. …‘Inebriated’.”
Silence again. Natalia spoke.
“So it’s alcohol after all? Does SC Arthur secretly want to get completely and utterly hammered?”
Five seconds of silence followed. Larry waited for more reactions before reading the next item.
“Next is ‘sea cucumber’. Used in regions where sea cucumbers are eaten.”
Larry did not wait this time.
“Next is ‘hairy caterpillar’. Same idea as ‘sea cucumber’.”
Again, there were no reactions.
“Last one, guys. …Huh? Hm? Ah, I get it. Ahem. ‘Open brackets. A derogatory word reserved for young women. Has a worse meaning than ‘prostitute’ or ‘promiscuous woman’. Used in the southwestern coastal areas of Sou Be-Il. Cannot be used on radio or TV. If used by a politician, public resignation is guaranteed. Rarely used to refer to men, in which case it becomes more insulting. End brackets’.”
“I am sorry. I am sorry. It is a very, very awful word.” Meg shrank apologetically.
“What do you think, Seron?” Asked Jenny.
“I hate to say it, but I don’t think any of these are likely.”
“I suppose that is right. I think so as well.” Meg shrank even more. “I am sorry… I have wasted everyone’s times.”
“Not at all.” Seron said immediately. Meg looked up.
Seron’s grey eyes and Meg’s black eyes met.
“You did a great job, Megmica. Now we at least know that the 50th bee doesn’t have anything to do with Bezelese. Thank you.”
“Ah! Thank you, Seron!”
Larry folded the sheet of paper with a smile, his eyes on the beaming Meg and the stunned Seron.
“All right, who’s next? Natalia?”
“I think the 50th bee might not be code for something else.”
“Hm.” Larry intoned. Seron furrowed his brow.
“That certainly is an original suggestion. So what do you propose?” Asked Nick.
“Maybe he just used an uncommon word like it was a common one. There’s a lot of musical terms you’d never get unless you studied. Anyone know what sul ponticello is?”
“No.” “What’s that?” “Not a clue, I’m afraid.”
The boys shook their heads.
“I do not know either.” Said Meg. “Is this a Roxchean word?”
“The pronunciation doesn’t sound Roxchean.” Jenny replied. “What does it mean?”
“It’s a violin technique. When you play sul ponticello, it means you’re playing with the bow close to the bridge. —The bridge is the piece that supports the strings, FYI. If you play it like this, it sounds rough and metallic. Now sul ponticello is a really old term, but normally people just shorten it to sul-pon. ‘He says I have to play sul-pon’. ‘She goes completely sul-pon when she’s mad’. In which case it means she sounds like nails on chalkboard.”
The others were impressed. Natalia adjusted her glasses.
“So I thought SC Arthur might have used some sort of obscure jargon in a normal setting. I’m even more sure now that I know SC Arthur has a lot of hobbies. He wasn’t trying to hide anything in the conversation. Maybe ‘50th bee’ is some technical term, or something that sounded similar to SC Sophia, who doesn’t know what it is. I’d say the second option’s more likely.”
“I see. Makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of military jargon we use all the time, but not a lot of people understand them.” Larry said.
“That is incredible. I did not think that way at all.” Meg greed.
“C’mon. It’s just a possibility.” Natalia said, embarrassed.
Jenny stopped taking notes and pointed at Seron. “Well? Any comments?”
“None.” seron said cooly. Jenny grinned.
“I heard you knew a lot about everything. Must be frustrating to hear there’s a word even you haven’t heard of.”
Seron remained silent for a time. He was as good as acknowledging Jenny’s jab. Soon, he looked up at the wall clock.
“Lunchtime’s almost over. There’s no guarantee we can come back here in the evening, which means we won’t be able to meet until tomorrow at lunchtime.”
Everyone but Jenny was shocked to see so much time had passed.
“I want the girls to keep researching at home. Jenny, I want you to look into newly-coined words.”
Everyone nodded. Seron continued.
“Nick, report to SC Sophia. Be honest with her and say we haven’t found out yet.”
“Of course. When would be the best time, do you think? Before or after afternoon practice? It might put her at ease to tell her earlier, but I suppose that also may make her worry even more.”
“I don’t know. Just be tactful and try to read the atmosphere. Also, make sure to tell her we’re still on the case.”
“Of course.” Nick nodded.
“What about us?” Asked Larry.
“I’m going to look more into technical terms.”
“And how’re you gonna do that?”
“I’ll sign out books from the library. I’ll ask Mr. Jobs to open up the library after practice. I’ll bring the encyclopedia set and books related to the history and rules of the sports SC Arthur enjoys back to our room.”
“Wait, you mean those huge encyclopedias? And all the sports-related books? That’s crazy.”
“Which is why I need your help. We’ll probably need a hand cart if we want to carry everything from the library to the dorms.”
“All right! That’ll be my workout for the day. But what are you gonna look for?”
“I’ll read all the books and look for anything pronounced like ‘50th bee’, or something similar. Or anything that might be shortened to it. I’ll have to look hard.”
“Man… that’s gonna be rough.”
“Yeah. But one all-nighter’s not gonna kill me.” Seron said, smiling for once.
“It will be hard work, but do your best! We will gift SC Sophia her boyfriend!”
Seron heard Meg’s voice from across the table. His nodded, returning to his usual stoic look.
“Then let me help! I’m real good at pulling all-nighters!” Larry cried. But Seron shook his head.
“No, Larry. We need at least one of us to be able to help out at the drama club tomorrow. And even I’ll have a tough time reading through all these books, so this will be more efficient.”
“I see. I guess I might end up getting in your way. All right, I leave this to you.”
“And if you and Nick could try and talk to SC Arthur—”
“Yeah! We’ll keep an eye out—” “And we will try to ask him in person.”
Larry and Nick replied. Seron nodded.
“Dismissed. Everyone, we’ll meet back here tomorrow at lunchtime.”