Chapter 6: The Trap
“Stella isn’t in love with me,” Larry said.
Seron and Jenny listened on, calm and displeased respectively.
“I realized it the first time I met her under the tree. I could tell she wasn’t in love with me. But she asked me out anyway. So I started wondering, ‘why?’ And I realized that this was a trap.”
“And how did you know she wasn’t in love with you?” Asked Jenny.
“I can’t answer that yet,” Larry replied.
“Seriously? Fine. Keep going.”
“Right. So I willingly walked into the trap. Stella’s using me to fool people into thinking she’s going out with me. I confirmed my suspicions when I saw her flaunting our relationship everywhere yesterday and today. This is a diversionary tactic. The louder the diversion, the more effective it is. I just learned that recently.”
Seron remembered Larry saying the same thing in uniform before the start of the term.
“So?” Jenny demanded.
“So I wanted to know why Stella was doing all this.”
“I…I gave up on going out with her from the moment I met her under the tree. But I want to know why she set this trap. And once I find out, I’m going to try and help her out. If I can’t figure it out, I’ll have to ask her myself. Not that she’s likely to tell me, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Jenny agreed. Seron nodded.
“If I asked, she might break up with me first,” Larry speculated, “then that’s just another life experience under my belt.”
Jenny realized that Larry was quoting what she had said two days ago. “Heh! You’re getting better, Hepburn,” she said with a self-deprecating smile. Larry smiled back.
“Then Stella would probably find another target. A boy from a prestigious family her parents would accept. She’d cling to him and share homemade lunches with him for the whole school to see. I know she has her reasons and it’s nosy of me to butt in, but I don’t want to watch Stella go through with this anymore.”
“All right. I understand,” Jenny said, nodding.
“Yeah,” said Seron, “thanks for telling us, Larry.”
“Nah, nothing to be thankful about. In fact, I should be apologizing for lying to you. Sorry, guys. I mean it,” Larry replied with a shake of the head. Then he stood and resumed his usual upbeat tone, “all right! Who wants some tea?”
He strode over to the kitchenette and began to prepare the tea.
As Jenny watched, she asked him, “what’s your take on Linus Francis?”
“He looks like a gorilla,” Larry replied, still busy at work.
Larry’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“I don’t have any concrete evidence, but I get the feeling Stella and SC Linus still like each other. But they’re hiding it for some reason.”
“Yeah. I think so too,” said Jenny.
“Same. But that doesn’t make sense,” Seron said. Larry was leaning against the wall by the kitchen, and Jenny sat near Seron on the sofa. Both gave him their full attention. “SC Linus’s family runs the Capital Department Stores chain. Sure, they’re not quite as prestigious as the Hepburns, but—and I really don’t want to put it this way—in terms of standing, they’re definitely a good match for the Whitfields.”
“His grades could use work, though,” Jenny pointed out.
“So could mine,” Larry rebutted her.
“Then get to it,” Jenny scolded him.
“And,” Seron continued, looking down at his watch, “consider the rule that Stella has to marry a watchmaker. SC Linus is a perfect fit. He’s even doing something as crazy as going to technical school on top of secondary school.”
Larry nodded, pointing at the photos. “SC Linus was putting together clockwork. Which means he has to put together all these tiny gears and springs and parts into a tiny system with special tweezers. While looking through a loupe. It’s really intricate work, and not everyone can do it.”
“I checked with Balfour Technical School this afternoon,” said Jenny, “apparently their watchmaking course is really advanced. Students even make original wristwatches out of scratch. So you basically need foundational knowledge before you enroll.”
“In other words, there’s no reason SC Linus can’t make his relationship with Stella public,” Seron concluded, “I don’t understand why she would go so far to hide the relationship. And so suddenly, too.”
Jenny and Larry nodded in unison.
“If only we knew, we could figure out why Stella’s doing all this,” Jenny sighed.
Many seconds passed in silence. It was broken by the whistling of the kettle.
Larry put a teabag in the teapot and brought it to the table with their cups.
Handing Seron and Jenny their cups of tea, Larry poured some into his own flower-print cup and took a seat.
For some time they sipped tea in silence. Then—
“Looks like we’ll need to do some more investigating.” “Looks like we need to investigate some more.” “Looks like we have more investigating to do.”
Jenny, Larry, and Seron spoke nearly at once.
Jenny continued first. “We’ve done about all we can on campus. We’re down to investigating the technical school, but if we make too much of a fuss—”
“Stella and SC Linus will notice,” Seron finished.
“Yeah,” Larry agreed, and took a sip of tea. He continued, “what about this? We could talk to SC Linus and not Stella. They don’t meet after class, so we can catch SC Linus while he’s on his way to Balfour.”
“And?” Jenny asked.
“I’ll tell him that I want to help, and get the whole story.”
“A direct assault, huh. But what if he doesn’t tell you? He’d tell Stella about it, and our plan’ll be kaput.”
“True. Sorry, that was a stupid idea. Forget I said anything,” Larry said with a shrug.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jenny replied, “if anything, I’m glad you haven’t changed.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You were sounding so much smarter than usual I was starting to worry—”
“Okay. I get it. Never mind.”
“Jenny,” Seron said, “could I have another look at the photo of SC Linus on campus?”
Jenny took out the photo from her bag and handed it to Seron. Then she picked up the photo from the technical school and filed it away.
The photo depicted Linus Francis, the large boy with the gentle expression. And his watch.
Seron scrutinized the photo for some time.
“I…can’t think of anything,” he finally said, turning the photo over and placing it on the table. “I need to clear my thoughts.”
“Should I sing you a song?” Larry joked. There was no response.
The air was heavy.
“We’re here~!” The door opened and Natalia’s exaggerated voice broke the silence. She was singing, projecting like an opera singer or a musical actress.
“Pfft!” Larry spat out his tea.
“Ah~ so good to return~ to our good old office~”
She was by no means a bad singer, but Natalia’s song was an unconventional one. She was followed by—
“My heart is~ also happy~”
Meg, singing in a lovely soprano.
Seron’s heart skipped a beat at the beautiful voice filling the room. He was so distracted that he forgot to put the photo away.
“And~ la la la la~”
Nick arrived in school-issue sweats, closing the door behind him and skillfully singing one conjunction and several lyric-less notes.
The finale belonged to Natalia.
“So what I mean to say is~,” she sang, in a rather high pitch, “Larry~ put the kettle on~!”
It was an order.
The others stared, lost for words.
“What’s wrong, guys?” Natalia demanded, “It’s me! Natalia the bespectacled beauty! You didn’t forget me just because I was gone for a few days?”
“I wish we had,” Larry replied.
“Cruel, Larry. Chief. Seron. It’s been a while!”
“The practice finished earlier today so we came to this office to drink cups of delicious tea!” Said Meg.
“We are still part of the newspaper club, after all,” Nick added.
Larry wiped down the table and sofa and turned. “So what was that song supposed to be?”
“We made it up on the way here,” Natalia replied, “we were going to sing one part in unison but there wasn’t enough time to practice. Didn’t live up to your ridiculous expectations, eh?”
“We didn’t have expectations in the first place. What was the point of all that?”
“Isn’t it obvious? We were bringing some peace of mind to you poor lambs, lost and lonely without us!”
“More like you broke our minds to pieces,” Larry sighed, getting to his feet, “I’ll put the kettle on.”
He picked up the teapot and headed to the kitchenette again. Natalia, Meg, and Nick sat down in a row.
“Why the long face?” Natalia asked, looking at Jenny and Seron.
“Is the thing you are researching well?” Asked Meg.
“Not really,” Seron admitted.
“Is there anything we can do? We would be happy to help,” offered Nick.
“Nah…we’re all right for today,” Jenny said. That was when Meg noticed something.
The photo on the table.
“What is this a photo of, Seron?”
Her pale, slender arm reached for the upside-down photo on the table.
Seron reached out to stop her, ready to grab Meg’s hand if he had to.
But his hand froze in midair, unable to go through with the deed.
“What is this?”
Not noticing Seron, Meg picked up to photograph. It showed Linus, upside-down. Meg turned it around.
“Oh my goodness.”
“Hm? Who’s in it?” “The subject?” Natalia and Nick leaned over.
Seron slowly withdrew his hand and cast Jenny a glance.
She was visibly upset.
Larry turned his gaze from the boiling water to the table at the sound of the voices.
The others had discovered the photo, he realized.
“Seron,” Meg said, “this is—”
“That’s! Er…a misunderstanding…?”
Just as Jenny and Larry stepped up to help, Meg raised her voice.
“This is SC Linus! Yes?”
“Hm?” “Huh?” “What?”
Seron, Larry, and Jenny’s shock was eclipsed by the sound of the whistling kettle.
Larry gave up on the tea. He turned off the stove and ran to the sofa.
“Megmica! You know this guy?”
“Pardon me? Yes,” Meg nodded. Jenny leapt.
“Huh? Er…I attended a Bezelese class along with this senior-classman last year.”
“Why were you in a Bezelese class, Megmica?” Asked Natalia.
Meg replied, “to be completely correct, I did not take the class. The teacher asked me to come to the class. The teacher needed a conversation partner helper so I could help.”
“Ah. They needed someone to help out for listening exercises.”
“Yes, that is right. But it was just once. This person was there at that time. I remember because he is very tall. He introduced himself, ‘my name is Linus’, in Bezelese of course. I did not remember his family name. I am sorry.”
“I see…” Seron breathed, finally recovering from the shock. But his state of calm did not last.
“It’s ‘Francis’,” said Natalia.
“What?” Jenny turned.
“H-how’d you know that, Lia?” Larry cried, going pale.
“Tea ready yet?” Natalia asked instead of replying.
“No—look, I’ll brew the tea after you explain. Yes, his family name is Francis. How did you know? You met him before?”
“Yeah. In the orchestra club.”
“What?” “What?” “No way…”
Meg blinked in confusion, though not as much as Jenny and Seron.
“How?” Jenny asked.
“This guy looks like a gorilla, but he’s really good with his hands. You know him, chief?”
“He repairs instruments.”
“So he goes to the orchestra club after classes?”
“Yeah. Sometimes our supervisor calls him in to the prep room to do some light repairs. He’s pretty nice too, so everyone calls him SC Sweet Gorilla. Heard he goes to a technical school after class, so he must really like this kinda stuff,” Natalia said nonchalantly.
“Oh, I understand,” Meg said, impressed.
Jenny, Larry, and Seron, on the other hand, went limp.
“I didn’t ask the orchestra club because they were so busy,” Jenny groaned.
“So what about this guy, chief? Is he the secret to womankind’s happiness? Or the heir to some really noble family?”
“That’s what I want to know…”
“I see this investigation of yours has been putting quite the strain on you all,” Nick remarked.
“Hey…Nick. Nicholas Browning,” Larry finally spoke.
“Yes? What is it?”
“You’re not gonna say you know this guy too, are you? Please tell me no.”
“No, I do not recognize him.”
Three of the club members sighed in relief. Nick scrutinized the photo in Meg’s hands.
“A student of his stature would be quite difficult to miss. Although I suppose I wouldn’t have taken any classes with him anyway, as you say he is a senior-classman.”
“Sixth-year,” Natalia said.
“Of course. His name is Linus Francis, you say? Interesting. I believe the family that owns the department stores by the train stations were called Francis.”
Seron nodded. “You know your stuff, Nick. Yeah, his parents run the chain.”
“Aha! So he really is the Francis family’s son. Then I suppose it’s only natural for you to investigate him as well,” Nick said with a smile.
“Huh?” “What?” “Hm?”
Jenny, Larry, and Seron reacted once more.
“What do you mean, Nick?” Asked Seron.
“Naturally—hm? Have I not mentioned this before?”
“The Francis family—”
Nick began to explain. It did not take long. In fact, it was over in two sentences.
Yelled in unison.
* * *
“And that’s how it is,” Seron said, explaining everything to Natalia, Meg, and Nick. It had taken him some time but he managed to cover all the important points.
“That’s one complicated story. Aww, don’t cry, Larry,” Natalia teased.
“I’m not crying,” Larry growled.
“That is…it is so sorry for Larry! It is okay because he says he is okay, but…” Meg trailed off.
“Thanks, Megmica. I appreciate it,” Larry replied with a smile.
“I suppose things would have been much easier for you if I had explained everything fully from the outset. My apologies,” said Nick.
“Don’t worry about it. Better late than never,” Larry said, pouring Nick another cup of tea.
“So what now?” Natalia asked the obvious question. Seron spoke again.
“Nick, when do they announce the results of the Whitfield Competition?”
“Before the upcoming weekend, which would mean…on the 28th, two days from now. It will make the papers on the 29th at the latest. Of course, as the competition is known only to wristwatch aficionados and industry players, the news will only make a corner of the pages.”
“Then it won’t be too late to take action on the 31st, the day we get back to school.”
“Yes, if your hunch is correct.”
“There’s a good chance SC Linus’s name will make the article. If that happens,” he said, looking at Jenny, “it’ll be the newspaper club’s turn.”