Chapter 2: The Supervisor
My favorite part about being in the newspaper club?
The fact that things aren’t as dull as they used to be.
To be perfectly honest, I found life at the 4th Capital Secondary School tremendously dull.
Primary school was much more fun. It was a time when, between the ages of six and 12, I was free to fool around without a second thought.
I wasn’t particularly disinclined to moving on to secondary school, or growing up.
But secondary school was painfully peaceful.
Students attended secondary school for the sole purpose of moving on to university, ensuring that its population was composed mostly of the same types of people. Students of a certain academic standing, from well-off backgrounds and with good behavior. Although I must admit I also fall into these categories.
Primary school was different.
It was a storm, a chaotic and eclectic mix of students both studious and lazy, well-mannered and delinquent, wealthy and impoverished.
It was messy, it was lively, and it was interesting.
And for two years afterwards I lived a dull life attending classes in secondary school.
There was one exceptional moment, however.
One particular day, a male student whose score I beat in equestrian class—hmm, I don’t seem to remember his name—a ‘faceless classmate’ decided to get angry with me.
The faceless classmate had been riding since childhood and stood head and shoulders above the rest of us. His technique with the reins was unmatched, and I recall trying to emulate him during classes.
But his horse unfortunately happened to hesitate during the test, which resulted in a rather subpar grade.
It seemed he was in denial. He could not forgive himself, and he could not forgive me—for I had the serendipitous fortune of receiving the highest grade that day.
After the class, he dragged me into the storage shed under the pretext of receiving assistance for cleaning, and raised his voice at me.
“I’m better than you, dammit!”
“Admit to the whole class that you’re inferior!”
“Tell them you messed with my horse!”
“Drop out of class and don’t come back again!”
He raved like a drunkard. All things in moderation is key, especially when it comes to alcohol and pride.
Convincing him verbally would have been entirely too much effort, so I resorted to the stick that happened to be lying around. —I’d noticed its presence from the beginning, but let’s say I hadn’t.
“I’ll sue you!” He howled afterwards. Indeed, that was a valid option for him.
All I did was send him flying into horse dung four or so times. But the fact that he rose to his feet to attack again each of those times proved that he wasn’t heavily injured.
I first began learning the staff ten years before that point (I still have no idea why my sisters first took up the art). I knew very well where to strike in order to break bone.
“I am going to sue you out of everything you’ve got! Dammit, I am not a loser!”
It was almost impressive to see the heights of his pride, but I was at a loss.
“No one’s a better rider than me!”
I sighed. What was I to do with a frustrated faceless classmate who was half in tears? That was when another classmate, named Seron Maxwell, happened to walk in to put away some equipment. And he solved the situation.
That was when I learned that cleverness and conversational skills were more powerful weapons than violence. Thanks to Seron, I neither dropped out nor ended up in court.
“You were really good,” Seron remarked at the end.
How long had he been watching? That he had chosen to hang back without trying to intervene until the end also spoke for his personality. He made a very good impression on me.
And that was the sole exception to my dull secondary school life, until I joined the newspaper club.
The newspaper club punctuated my peaceful days with excitement.
First was the incident in the basement with the mysterious man and the mastermind. It turned out that the most fascinating surprises lie in wait right beneath our noses.
Then came the case of the drama club president and vice-president’s mutual crushes. Their love came to fruition before our very eyes.
Then came the beautiful yet senseless serial killings that took place during our trip to the north. I could not empathize with the woman, but—though I would never admit it to the others—I understood where she was coming from.
Then came what appeared to be the case of a girl’s crush on Larry, which turned out to be the tale of a secret love forbidden by the chains of the past. Larry and Seron elegantly brought the case to a close.
Looking forward to the next point of excitement in life, I headed to the newspaper club office on the first school day after the fall performance. It was after school on the 8th.
Indeed, there was a surprise waiting for me.
A rather big surprise.
Everyone but Jenny was at the office by the time I arrived.
Jenny’s absence was not surprising, as she was often the last to arrive.
Seron, Larry, Nat, Megmica, and I chatted about the fall performance that had taken place two days prior.
I had been on stage, Nat in the orchestra pit, Megmica in the chorus, and Seron and Larry among the audience taking tickets and ushering the audience to their seats.
My performance was a hit, it seemed. Though it made me happy, that was not surprising either.
The surprise came later.
Jenny opened the door.
“Guys, let me introduce our new supervisor!”
I was stunned into silence.
So were the others.
Larry’s hand stopped in the midst of pouring tea, and Nat’s fingers stopped strumming.
Seron’s eyes were wide. I had never seen him so shocked before. He must have thought the same looking at me.
Megmica blinked rapidly, unable to believe her eyes.
“What’s wrong? You guys look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Jenny said with a smile. But considering the situation, there was nothing strange about the faces we made.
He had lost quite a bit of weight—he was still quite portly, however—but he was without a doubt Mr. Murdoch. There was no mistaking him.
Jenny broke the silence in the office, leaving Mr. Murdoch standing in the hall.
“Well, we need a supervisor if we want to be an official club. School rules. It was hard making sure registration got through. So now we have Mr. Murdoch here as our new supervisor,” she explained briskly, “I’m sure I don’t need to introduce you to him.”
Oh, Jenny. What a superfluous question. We all knew full well who Mr. Murdoch was and the fact that he was responsible for the incident early this summer.
Mr. Murdoch, who had found that his brother—who had gone missing in action during the Lestki Island Conflict—was in fact alive in Sou Be-Il, had hidden the man in the school basement to avoid paying back decades’ worth of his military pension. And he had even attempted to kill us when we discovered the truth, although how serious he had been is still a matter of debate.
Suffice to say, it was a shock to see him back at school.
“Why so surprised?” Jenny asked, as though she had read my mind, “the guy in the basement wasn’t Burt Murdoch.”
Which is what the official records should say, at any rate.
Then what of Mr. Murdoch’s crime of imprisoning a total stranger from cross-river in the school basement?
Jenny seemed to have read my mind again.
“And apparently the Westerner wasn’t brought against his will. He lived in the basement cause he felt like it.”
I must say that is an impressive lie.
Then ultimately, Mr. Murdoch’s only crime would be using school property for personal purposes. And if Mr. Hartnett from the Confederation Police didn’t inform the school, the crime would never come to light.
More importantly, it would look bad for the Confederation Police if they took such a trivial case to court, after going so far as to sneak into a secondary school undercover.
“Any questions for me or our new supervisor?” Jenny asked.
The first to reply—the first to regain his ability to speak—was Seron.
Seron looked Mr. Murdoch in the eye.
I looked at Seron.
At times Seron would put on a blank face, as though he were turning into a sculpture. This was one such moment.
Naturally, I don’t believe for a second that Seron is without emotion. He puts on that look when he is deep in thought.
“Mr. Murdoch, why did you continue to insist the man was your brother?”
Mr. Murdoch tilted his head stoically. And he shot back, “what do you mean?”
“When the Confederation Police was questioning you, you would have been informed by the Sou Be-Il embassy that the man officially wasn’t your brother.”
“H-how did you know that?”
Mr. Murdoch’s shock was unsurprising. Our information came from an investigator on the case, though we were not to mention our source.
“We were told by an investigator by the name of Hartnett,” Seron replied nonchalantly. He probably saw no point in hiding the truth at this point.
“I see…” Mr. Murdoch sighed. It seemed to my eyes that he finally understood that we were working with Hartnett.
“If you’d told the police that you’d made an honest mistake, Mr. Murdoch, then you would have been spared the brunt of the legal trouble,” Seron continued, “from your presence here I can see that things turned out fine for you in the end, but I don’t understand why you continued to claim the man was your brother.”
Seron had a point.
The claim that the man was not really Burt Murdoch was a lie fabricated by the Sou Be-Il embassy for his protection, but it was theoretically a convenient one for Mr. Murdoch as well.
“Maxwell…” Mr. Murdoch said, “do you have any siblings?”
“Yes. A younger sister.”
Leena. Seron’s sister, four years his junior.
“Then answer me this,” Mr. Murdoch continued, “when does your sister stop being your sister?”
Seron could not respond.
I knew what the answer was. If one had to say, she would stop being his sister only in death.
The others must have understood as well.
“He is my brother,” said Mr. Murdoch, “he will always be my brother. My family.”
Seron, myself, and the rest of the club listened quietly.
“Even if I were arrested, I would never have claimed he was a stranger.”
We quietly waited, leaving Seron to continue.
Larry seemed to have something to say, but he remained silent as well. It was very sweet how much he trusted Seron, and I had to say that attitude of his made me envious, among many other things.
“Wasn’t there any other way? A way where you wouldn’t have had to hide your brother?”
“No,” Mr. Murdoch uttered.
“What about paying back the pension?” Seron asked. Larry winced. That was probably the question he had wanted to ask, which Seron picked up on and asked instead.
“Twenty years’ worth? I couldn’t afford that. —I admit if I’d sold my house, land, and assets, I could have afforded it,” Mr. Murdoch confessed with surprising courage, “but that would leave me and my wife without a home in our old age.”
I had to give him credit for his forthcoming answer. It was certainly wise to plan ahead for old age. Insurance didn’t cover all of one’s medical bills.
Generally speaking, a Roxchean’s largest household expense tended to be housing, which should not go beyond 30 percent of one’s income. In other words, if one didn’t have to worry about rent or mortgages, one could live comfortably off their pension.
I could see why Mr. Murdoch was reluctant to let go of such a valuable asset as his own home. It was difficult to imagine the three Murdochs living happily together without the things afforded by the pension.
I could not completely agree with Mr. Murdoch’s decision, but I understood where he was coming from. I couldn’t speak for the others, of course.
Seron asked another question.
“About how you ordered your brother to kill us in the basement—”
That was indeed a cruel order, commanding the brother he had imprisoned to kill his students. To be fair, the brother also had reason to take our lives.
Next to Seron, Megmica stiffened visibly. She was the most outraged of us all that day, being a Westerner herself.
I supposed that Seron would ask why Mr. Murdoch gave that order. But he surprised me.
“What did you think would happen when you gave that command?”
It would be no difficult task to hold Mr. Murdoch responsible for his command. But whatever his actions, we made it out unscathed thanks to Larry, Seron, and Megmica. Seron likely assumed that there was no point in asking the attempted murderer before us why he made the attempt.
That was his answer.
In other words, he had given the command without even considering what would happen—not even to himself.
Everyone deflated. Nat made a face, and Megmica went from displeased to vaguely sympathetic. Larry pouted with a shrug. That was a habit of his.
Jenny alone stood proud and unchanged.
“So you weren’t thinking,” Seron said mechanically, as though his only intention was confirmation.
Mr. Murdoch’s reply was just as plain. “That’s what happens when you panic. Especially in places like battlefields.”
Larry’s expression changed, as a fellow military man. His pout shifted into a serious look.
Seron seemed to be satisfied with the answer. “That’s all I wanted to ask. Anyone else have any questions?”
Seron’s previous question seemed to have rendered everyone mute; no one seemed to want to ask anything. In fact, everyone—myself included—shook their heads.
I did not fully understand Seron’s intentions, but it seemed that things were now completely cleared between Mr. Murdoch and us.
The incident had never happened. We had no energy and no reason to say anything to Mr. Murdoch anymore.
Jenny grinned. It seemed she didn’t care who the supervisor was so long as the club was allowed to exist.
“Thanks a lot, Mr. Murdoch. We’re counting on you. Would you like some tea to celebrate your new position?” She asked, looking up at Mr. Murdoch. I almost wanted to know how exactly she would celebrate his new position, but Mr. Murdoch’s reply dashed my hopes.
“I’ve had more than enough poison for one lifetime.”
Not a bad retort, I had to admit. Even if I was the only one who would admit such a thing.
Mr. Murdoch turned. “I have no intention of drinking poisoned tea in this office. If you need anything, you will come to me at the faculty office. I suppose I could take care of whatever paperwork you need done from me,” he hissed, and left.
The door slammed shut and left several seconds of silence in its wake.
“UGH! What the hell?! Where’s he get the nerve to look his nose down at us like that?!”
As expected, Nat was the first to speak. She whipped her fingers against the strings of her guitar, strumming angrily.
“It is so stunning that I cannot speak!”
Megmica was also outraged, although I couldn’t tell what it was that angered her most.
Indeed, at face value Mr. Murdoch’s parting remark was an arrogant one. But Jenny and Seron had seen the truth behind them, it seemed. Seron was as calm as ever and Jenny sauntered to the sofa to take a seat.
As for Larry, he noticed the distinct lack of anger in Seron’s eyes and held himself back. I was impressed.
So I took it upon myself to ask the big question. It wasn’t such a bad role to take.
“I notice that you are looking quite untroubled by this, Seron. Jenny,” I said, though I already knew why.
“Hm?” Seron seemed to be surprised, but he quickly understood the intent behind my question. “Yeah. Now we have free rein on club activities. I’m really glad,” he replied, spelling things out clearly.
“What’s that mean?” “What do you mean?” “What’re you talking about?” Nat, Megmica, and Larry asked one after another. It seemed they simply had to hear why Seron was keeping such a cool head.
“Mr. Murdoch said that we had to go see him at the faculty office if we needed anything,” he replied.
“Yeah. The stuck-up pig,” Natalia spat.
“He is a most terrible teacher!” Meg agreed. Larry, however, waited for Seron to continue.
“In other words, he’s saying he won’t come to the office.”
Indeed. Perhaps Mr. Murdoch was giving us space out of a sense of guilt towards us.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Explain it so a dunce like Larry can understand,” Nat urged, never missing an opportunity to make a jab at Larry, but Larry was not affected by many of them.
“From what I gather,” said Seron, “Mr. Murdoch is saying that he’ll be our supervisor, but only on paper. He’s not coming to our office because he wants to let us do whatever we want.”
“Huh.” “Oh my goodness!” “I get it.”
Nat, Megmica, and Larry finally understood. Everyone was on the same page.
Jenny finally spoke up, as though asserting her position of leadership.
“Now the newspaper club is an officially recognized club at the 4th Capital Secondary School. This is cause for celebration!”
No one disagreed.
“My favorite part about being in the newspaper club? The fact that things aren’t as dull as they used to be.”
When I said so at the newspaper club’s first official tea party, Natalia replied between sips of tea, “makes sense. It’s just one surprise after another around here.”
“This kind of thing and a normal student life is much different! It is difficult that I cannot report much things to Lillia!” Megmica chimed in, troubled.
To note, Lillia was Megmica’s best friend. It was understandable that Megmica could not report all our goings-on to her. An ordinary secondary school girl might urge Megmica to quit the club if she heard about our exploits.
“It’s definitely spicing things up a lot,” Larry nodded with a chuckle.
Seron simply sipped his tea in silence.
“Too bad I can’t write an article about this,” Jenny sighed in a demonstration of her dedication to the club.
Now, what more could be in store for us?
I am positively giddy with anticipation.