Chapter 8: The Newspaper Club Takes Action
“We have to stake out the temp lockers!”
It was rare for Seron to raise his voice, even at the newspaper club office.
The club had gotten together for afternoon tea once more, this time with a side of the Capital District crisps so infamous for their strong, addictive flavor. Everyone turned mid-bite.
“Oh, er, sorry for raising my voice like that. There’s been something on my mind recently. Something I want to investigate with the club.”
“What is it?” asked Larry.
It had begun raining without warning that day, and the downpour was getting worse. Seron spoke up so his voice wouldn’t be drowned out.
He explained the conclusion he and Treize had reached the previous day.
However, Seron neglected to mention Treize in the conversation, as that might make the others more curious about him.
As the members sipped their tea or munched on crisps, Larry spoke.
“If you’re right, this could be a really big problem! Let’s look into it!”
“It is a little scary!” Meg chimed in.
“Excellent deduction, I must say,” said Nick, “a mystery worth pursuing as a club. Ah, please don’t take my words as sarcasm—I do not hold any grudges for my investigation proposal being ignored.”
“It sounds reasonable,” said Jenny.
“Not to me, it doesn’t,” Natalia shook her head. “Anyway, are we out of crisps already? What’s that little pile over there? A sacrifice for the gods?”
“That’s Seron’s share,” Larry uttered.
“Too bad,” Natalia sighed, pouting.
Seron looked up. “You can have mine if you want, Nat.”
“Egad! I could swear Seron just spoke in the voice of a god!”
“Don’t spoil her, Seron.”
“If you keep that up, Larry, I’mma spend my whole life trying to ruin yours.”
“Not surprised you wouldn’t have anything better to do with it, Lia.”
“Then you can just have half of my share, Nat.”
“Sweet!” Natalia grabbed exactly half of Seron’s pile of crisps and began to munch away. “But seriously, how’re we gonna do this? How’s the stakeout gonna work?”
“I wanted Jenny’s opinion on that,” said Seron.
Jenny folded her arms and fell into thought. “Hm. We could take turns keeping an eye on the locker area between classes, but considering it’s exam season, that’s not really realistic.”
The others nodded. As students used the time between classes to get to their next class, it would be too conspicuous to stand around in the locker area instead of moving.
“We must remember that according to Seron’s theory, an anonymous student is frequenting the lockers,” said Nick, “so will it be possible at all for us to pinpoint the student we are looking for? And even if we do find a suspect, it will be difficult for all six of us to remember this student’s face.”
Larry agreed. Seron nodded. “What if we took photographs, Jenny? We can take photos of the locker area from afar during breaks. We’ll get a few days’ worth of photos and see if we can find any suspicious students who are using multiple lockers by themselves.”
Jenny grinned. “We don’t have the time or manpower to take snapshots with a telephoto lens like that. But I have a better idea. One that’ll let us take photos intermittently and from up close.”
“Really?” Natalia’s glasses shone. “I’ll give you Seron’s crisps if you tell us how, chief.”
* * *
Three days later. The 22nd.
It was just before noon. The weather was clear.
Seron, Larry, and Jenny were in the locker area, which was deserted because it was the weekend. The trio had excused themselves into the building claiming that they wanted to take photos of the campus as part of club activities.
As usual, they were in uniform. Jenny was carrying a rangefinder and a leather camera bag. Larry and Seron hefted a large duffel bag and a hard case.
Though most of the faculty were gone for the weekend, the campus was still being patrolled by security personnel and school staff.
“Tell me if you see anyone coming,” Jenny said, standing before one of the temp lockers.
The locker was at nearly the center of the temp locker alcove. Seron had found it empty by chance two days earlier and quickly claimed it with his own three-year-old lock, leaving his own locker empty.
Jenny received the key from Seron.
“Here I go. Is the coast clear?”
When her guards gave the signal, Jenny set boldly to work.
She took out a large pair of cutting pliers and clamped them around one of the four slits on the locker.
She twisted. There was a cutting noise as one of the slits fell to the floor.
The lockers at the school were so old that many were missing a slit or two. Breaking a slit on purpose, however, was sure to get the students in trouble with teachers.
Jenny quickly slipped the broken piece into the locker and moved on to the next stage of her plan.
She opened the duffel beg and took out a small tripod, setting it up inside the locker with the legs still closed. She adjusted its height and secured it to the back of the locker with tape.
Then she took out the camera from the hard case and set it on the tripod.
The camera was a large model, which looked like a rangefinder with a second machine strapped to the back. A thick power cable ran from the body.
Jenny took out a large box from the duffel bag. Slowly, she placed it on the bottom of the locker. The locker creaked under the weight. Jenny plugged the end of the power cable into the socket in the box.
“As amazing as ever,” Larry remarked as he stole glimpses at Jenny’s work.
Jenny had brought in a state-of-the-art surveillance camera. It was a model used for observing animals, photographing celestial bodies, and spying on people.
The large box at the floor of the locker was a battery. The camera was equipped with a small motor for winding the film and pressing the shutter, and a mechanical timer.
The camera would activate automatically according to the settings Jenny determined. The shutter would activate on its own and the film would wind slowly and quietly.
“You said you borrowed this from your uncle, right? How much does all this gear cost?”
“You’re better off not knowing. If it gets stolen, you’d have to work at our company for three years straight to pay for it.”
“Scary. Maybe I should put my lock here too, just in case.”
Finally, Jenny loaded a 36-photo roll of black-and-white film into the camera.
Because the camera was a half-size model, which could split each frame into two, they would be able to get 72 photos on one roll of film.
Jenny adjusted the exposure and shutter speed with intuition borne of experience, and took great pains to get the lens settings exactly right. The wide lens had a full view of the entire temp locker area.
“Perfect. Now let’s try a test run.”
Jenny pressed the switch. She set the timer to go off once every 60 seconds, then shut the locker and locked it.
Then, the newspaper club members wandered the locker area pretending to go about doing club activities.
The camera went off once a minute, the sound of the shutter filling the locker area. But it was quiet enough that the typical ambience in the locker area during the week would drown it out completely.
“What if someone finds out?” Larry wondered.
“Then we can argue that the newspaper club is doing observational shoots of the locker area. If our suspect finds out, we just have to turn the tables on him and get answers out of him.”
Satisfied with their results, Jenny, Seron, and Larry went through the motions of photography in the locker area for another half hour before officially ending the test shoot.
They retrieved the film from the camera and headed to the office. Jenny immediately got to work on developing the roll. In the meantime, Seron and Larry picked up lunch at the dormitory cafeteria.
Lunch that day was rye bread sandwich filled with potato salad and crunchy bacon bits, each served with a single apple. Larry had also packed chicken and cream stew with a generous serving of diced carrots.
They had lunch in the newspaper club office.
“I wonder how long this will take. More than a day, I bet,” Seron speculated. Larry responded between bites of his sandwich.
“Maybe we should schedule three days for this? Breaktimes are always at the same time every day, so if we set the timer for just those windows, 72 photos are gonna go a long way.”
“That won’t work,” Jenny said, sipping stew from a teacup, “the timer’s set to go off once every five minutes. I’m starting the camera every morning and having it take all 72 photos every day over the six hours we spend at school. We’ll have to retrieve the film and go into development every day.”
Seron nodded. “Yeah. That way we’ll get two shots of each break period, raising our chances of finding the suspect. And we can’t discount the possibility that the suspect might use the lockers during class hours, either.”
“I see,” Larry admitted.
After lunch, they examined the photos Jenny developed.
If they zoomed in and printed selected portions of the photos, they could get a decent snapshot of people using the lockers. The lockers to the left and right of the camera were naturally out of the frame, but there was nothing the club could to about that problem.
“Excellent. We’ll put our plan into motion tomorrow.”
“That’s our Jenny for you,” Seron said, satisfied.
“…Aww, no need to hold back on the compliments.”
“I’m impressed too! The newspaper club rules!” Larry cheered, slapping Jenny’s skinny shoulders.
“Heh. Next time, you can applaud me when everyone else is around,” Jenny said with a rare smile.
“Now for the most important part,” said Seron, “what happens once we pinpoint our suspect?”
“Hm…that’s a tough question.”
Jenny fell into thought. Larry was taken aback.
“Hm? We just have to contact Mr. Hartnett, right?”
Hartnett was an investigator from the Confederation Police who had met the newspaper club the previous summer. He had also helped the club during the incident at Ercho Village as well.
“Can’t do that. We have no proof that we’re dealing with drugs, let alone anything even close to being illegal. Or should we get Nick to threaten our suspect into opening those lockers for us? What if it turns out the guy was just exchanging a lovey-dovey couple diary with his girlfriend?”
“Then we’ll have to keep tabs on him or her for the time being,” said Seron.
“Yeah. We’ll figure out what to do after we find our suspect. So for now, let’s trust our gear and wait. I’ll develop the film after each roll.”
“Then I guess we won’t have much to do for now, huh,” Larry remarked.
“What about studying?” “Study, Larry.”
* * *
The 4th day of the fifth month.
The first exam season of the year entered its second half.
Club activities were officially halted during the exam season. Faculty members explicitly gave out warnings to students who failed to comply. Even the newspaper club, with its merely nominal advisor, did not dare enter or exit the club office when others could see.
Jenny alone continued to work, coming early to school every day to discreetly open the locker and retrieve the film, insert a new roll, and reset the mechanism again.
She would develop the roll over lunch and print any photos that depicted people. Jenny also made sure to charge the backup battery during that time.
Seron or Nick would help Jenny switch the heavy batteries after class. Larry volunteered, but he was ordered to spend his time studying instead.
And because the club did not hold meetings, Seron found himself spending more time with Meg at lunchtime than before.
Whenever they sat together on the cafeteria terrace under the warm sunlight—
“Look, there they are.” “Oh, the ones who got engaged?”
—they would hear students whispering about their new relationship.
“It does not bother me! Because it is true!” Meg said with a smile, finally getting used to the attention.
For lunch, Seron had a sweet-and-sour hamburger with avocado and a side of warm vegetable salad with anchovy dressing.
Meg had a thick mixed cheese risotto with a side of chicken breast salad.
Meg watched the students at the next table rise before she whispered to Seron.
“It is about the ‘camera’…how is the work going?”
It had been 12 days since they began surveillance.
“Jenny hasn’t gotten anything significant yet. I don’t think she has enough information right now,” Seron responded. “But she does say we have a lot of photos to go through. I’m going to drop by the office today and have a look.”
“May I go together?”
Seron was silent.
“My grades have risen recently as well.”
“All right. Then I’ll see you after class, Meg.”
Seron arrived at the office earlier than usual.
When he unlocked the door, he found Jenny already using laundry clips to hang up the printed photos to dry.
“Hey Jenny. How’s it going?”
“Ah, good timing. Come have a look, you two.”
Seron turned in confusion.
“Oh no! I am caught!”
Meg had been a second away from giving him a light push on the back.
“Ah!” Seron flinched. “I-I didn’t notice you there, Meg.”
“Hee hee. I took off my shoes and put down my footstep sounds. I will wash my socks at home,” Meg replied with a smile, passing Seron and entering the office. She took a seat on one of the sofas and put her shoes back on.
Seron put a relieved hand on his chest and shut the door behind him. He put down his bag and went to the desk Jenny gestured him towards.
Jenny was laying out photographs over the entire desk. Each print was 25 by 30 centimeters in size.
Because the photos had been taken from a fixed angle, the backgrounds were naturally all identical—the temp lockers lined up to the left and right.
The photos also depicted students at, coming to, or leaving the lockers.
The subjects varied wildly in profile.
“I obviously didn’t print the ones without any people. I placed the photos in chronological order, starting from the top left. No one visited during class hours, although maybe the camera just never happened to catch anyone then,” said Jenny.
“Have you found anyone suspicious yet?” Seron asked.
“Not until today. In fact, not until just now,” Jenny replied with a grin. She began to point at some of the photos, starting from the left. “Look here. This one, this one, this one, and this one.”
She indicated six photos in total. Seron leaned forward to have a closer look.
But when he noticed Meg come up next to him, he stepped back.
“Hold on. Let me grab ‘em for you,” Jenny offered, carefully picking up the six photos. She moved to the sofas and lined them up on the coffee table.
Seron and Meg sat side-by-side on one of the sofas. They took some time to look at each photo before passing it on to the next person.
“It’s definitely the same person.”
“I see now! It is this boy!”
The same student appeared multiple times against the static background.
He was short with a skinny build, but not young. He was probably a fourth-year like Seron or older. The boy had fair, slightly long and disheveled hair. One of the photos had a clear view of his faint, softspoken countenance.
“He’s not the only one who showed up multiple times,” Jenny explained, “but I’m pretty sure this is our man.”
“What makes you so certain, Jenny? Do you know who he is?” “But, with this photo alone I cannot know that he used different lockers in one day.”
Seron and Meg asked at the same time. Seron continued. “Or did he show up at exactly the same time of the day each time?”
“No, it’s always random. The timestamp’s on the bottom right corner.”
The bottom right corner of each photo bore a timestamp calculated based on the timer settings and the number of photos taken. The six photos had been taken during morning breaktimes, lunch periods, and after school. There was no set pattern.
“Wait a second…” Seron muttered, slowly checking the dates on the timestamps again.
“The first photo’s from the 24th of last month. So morning, 10 days ago. Next was lunchtime on the 26th. The next two are from the 28th, in the morning and after school. And the last two are from the afternoon of the 2nd. …I get it!”
Seron looked up. Meg was waiting curiously, and Jenny was grinning.
“Jenny, these photos were all taken on rainy days.”
“Bingo. Excellent memory, Seron.”
“Oh! Now that I hear it, these days were certainly rainy days!” Meg exclaimed. Jenny continued.
“I went through our mountain of photos, trying to find as much of a pattern as possible. First I looked for people who always accessed the lockers at set times, but no dice. And I didn’t find anyone who always used a different locker, either. I mean, that’s not possible with timed photographs to begin with. You’d need a movie camera for that.”
“This guy is the only one who fits our profile and has a set pattern. He only visits the temp lockers on rainy days. In other words, he’s making exchanges of some sort outside campus on rainy days. It’s the perfect weather for illicit dealings, since the rain hinders visibility and hides most smells.”
Seron gave a satisfied nod. “You’re amazing, Jenny. Now we can focus on tailing this student for the next few days. We have the evidence we need.”
“Jenny, you are awesome!”
Seron put down all but the one photograph that clearly depicted the boy’s face. “Our next course of action is to find out who this student is. That can’t be too hard for you, right Jenny?”
“Is that even a question? We’re having a meeting two days from now, on the last day of exams. Let the others know.”
* * *
Two days later. The 6th.
Exams were over, and the weekend was coming up. The weather was clear.
As though making up for the doom and gloom of exams, the campus was bustling with activity. Clubs were back in business, and the shouts from sports clubs and the music from the orchestra echoed in the distance.
“You don’t need to be at the orchestra, Lia?” Larry asked as he aired out the office.
“Nope~! Cause we got the chief’s orders~ to assemble~!” Natalia sang, strumming her guitar from atop a stool. “Anyway~ what about your exams~? Didn’t forget to write your name~?”
“Then~ that’s two points for each of your electives~”
“I studied hard this time. I’ll manage to pass, at least.”
“That’s a real~ humble goal~”
By the time Natalia finished playing several songs and Larry aired out the room and prepared tea, everyone was present.
Pound cake from the Capital Department Store and six cups of tea were placed on the coffee table.
“You can start eating, guys. Just pay attention,” Jenny said, and explained the thought process behind pinpointing their suspect. “That’s about it. I guess we don’t exactly have a surplus of evidence, if I had to say. Any questions so far?”
“Ooh, me! Do we have more cake?”
“Larry, open up the second box.”
“Any other questions?”
Noting that everyone was waiting for her to continue, Jenny took out several photographs.
The photos were of the suspect. Jenny did not have to explain who had taken them.
Several of the photos were full-body shots of the boy on campus, taken from a distance with a telephoto lens. One photo was a snapshot from relatively up close. Though the photos were black-and-white, the subject’s face was clear.
“Excellent as always, Jenny. I would hate to make an enemy of you,” said Nick.
Larry served Natalia more cake and took a seat. Jenny explained the results of her two-day investigation.
“His name’s Julio Edelmann. Seventeen years old. He’s a fifth-year—never been held back and has decently high grades. He lives at 3-4 South Avenue in the Capital District, so he has a long commute on the subway. He’s not in any clubs, and people don’t know much about him because he has no friends. I mean, not that I could dig around that much without arousing suspicion, anyway. Does anyone know anything at all about our suspect here? Anyone ever take any classes with him?”
Everyone shook their heads. Jenny continued.
“I tailed him for a bit yesterday and today. Unfortunately, he never once went to the temp lockers. Obviously, since it didn’t rain. The locks he seemed to have used came from the campus store, nothing out of the usual. That’s all for now.”
“Thanks, Jenny,” said Seron, “so his name’s Julio Edelmann, huh. It feels bad to just call a senior-classman by name, but while we’re in the office, let’s just call him ‘Edelmann’. Remember we can’t refer to him directly when we’re outside.”
“So, what are we to do with this Edelmann character? We have no proof that he is engaging in illicit business, so I suppose hiding out near the lockers and threatening him there is out of the question for the time being?”
“You’re pretty fired up about this, Nick. I think we should keep our eyes on him on rainy days, and tail him once he starts moving?” Larry suggested.
“I guess so,” Jenny admitted.
Natalia finished her slice of pound cake and asked the question on everyone’s minds. “How?”
“I’ll ask Kurtz and Litner for help.”
Edward Kurtz and Elsa Litner were Jenny’s bodyguards. Kurtz was a well-built man in his forties, and Litner was a woman in her late twenties. The newspaper club members had met them at the summer camp.
“We’ll have them follow him on foot or by car if necessary. We could tail him personally, of course, but I’m gonna leave most of that work to Kurtz and Litner. On the one-in-a-million chance that Eldelmann really is a drug runner, we’ll be facing actual criminals. There’s no such thing as being too careful. We’ll do what we can on campus and gather intel, then call the police. I won’t hear any objections on this matter.”
Everyone responded with grave nods.
“But hey,” Larry said, brightening up, “it’s not like we know what he’s hiding yet! Maybe he’s just hiding a present to surprise his mother.”
“Why would you hide that in a school locker?” Natalia asked.
“How should I know?” Larry shot back.