By Teresa Francis, 11 March 2013
He crouched silently behind the photocopier machine, and said a silent prayer. Sweat trickled down his forehead as he listened to the menacing footsteps grow louder. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, but he was conscious of the swelling fear in his throat.
48 hours earlier
What the school paper needed was a piece of groundbreaking journalism. Something no one had ever seen before. Michael wanted to shock, entertain, and excite his readers. He would not be able to do that if he wrote (once again) about the canteen’s suspicious tasting Paninis, or the art club’s latest and greatest projects. He longed to uncover something new, something brave.
When he expressed these interests to Ms. Kinsella, the paper’s ‘official’ editor-in-chief( though by no means the actual one, for she hardy moved a finger and had the intellectual capacity of a five year old), she giggled and said “Where on earth are you going to get a story like that, Michael?”
He silently rolled his eyes. Of course she knew nothing about real journalism. But he was through with all the fluff pieces she’d been making him do. It was about time he made his mark.
Thusly, he cleared his throat. “I was thinking of pursuing the missing laptops- or rather, the person who’s been stealing them”
With wide eyes, she let out a chuckle. “Michael, you know the school is looking into that! You’re only 17! Now look, the art club is having a fascinating new installation that involves feathers and paper mache of some sort, and we need someone to cover it”.
“Michael, don’t you have a class right now?” asked Mr. Golding wearily.
“Literature, but I really need to ask you a few questions, Sir”.
The principal sighed- he was close with the boy’s father, and as much as it pained him to admit it, close to the boy, too. “You have five minutes, and then I want to hear Mrs. Wu telling me you attended her class. What’s all this about?”
“It’s about the missing laptops actually”
“What about them? And for heaven’s sake, please tuck your shirt in!”
The laptops had started going missing at the start of term one. When Ms. Cain’s (Sociology) laptop went missing, nobody paid much regard- she was famed for being clumsy. But then Mr. Hansen (Politics) and Mrs. Wu (Literature) both reported theirs missing as well. They both affirmed that they clearly remembered having left it on their tables. Ms. Kinsella herself had hers stolen right before mid-term break. Most recent was Mr. Knox (Psychology), whose device was stolen a week ago.
Five teachers within the space of two months. All stolen after school, during stay-back. All laptops (besides Ms. Kinsella and Mr. Knox) were stolen on days when there was no stay- back for students, which only meant it was more likely that the perpetrator was a teacher. But which teacher? And what was his or her motive? And why these particular people’s laptops?
These were questions that circled round and round in Michael’s mind, seemingly impossible to solve.
The next day, he met up with each of the teachers, to see if there was anything he could have missed. The decision proved to be unfruitful, to say the least.
“Yes, I understand what you’re asking, Michael, but I’m trying to understand- what exactly happened to your Literature essay? It was due two weeks ago”.
“I don’t remember much of that day, but they bought us a terrific lunch- I wonder why they don’t order from that joint anymore-I really must remember to ask”
“I’m so glad you asked Michael, so glad! You see, I have had this theory, and nobody else listens when I say- you see, I think the government-“
“My dearest boy, if I told you every enemy I’d made in this school, we’d be here a long time”
It was only Ms. Kinsella who (surprisingly), could give him any useful information.
“Well, it was an ordinary day, I’d stayed back to monitor an exam- and when I came back I was terribly tired, you know- so I walked into the staff room and found Mr. Knox there. I mean, I really thought nothing of it- he looked just as surprised as I was when I told him my laptop was gone, I never suspected- but now here you are, questioning everyone, and it just makes me wonder- one is prone to thoughts such as these. I’m sure I’m being paranoid-”
This was a revelation by all means. Michael felt his heart leap with joy- was this the clue he’d needed, this the piece of the puzzle that made everything else make sense?
“Because even his laptop was stolen the other week, wasn’t it?”
Michael thanked her, and left. Yes, it was true- his laptop was stolen last week. He’d seemed upset at the time. He couldn’t believe it was all an act- how clever of the man to steal his own laptop- it threw any suspicions one may have had right out the window.
“Michael, do you have any idea of the gravity of the accusation you are making?”
Michael paused- “Mr. Golding, its just- I think-“
“That’s exactly the point! You think! What evidence do you have to suggest this is true?”
“Mr. Knox is a reputed educator and I refuse to insult him by asking him if he’d do something so heinous. Can you tell me why he would want the laptops?”
Michael could not.
“This is what you will do- you will tuck your shirt in, and return to class. Unless you have astute evidence you will not talk of this again”.
Dejected, he went back to math class. All he wanted to reveal was the truth. Why were so many people reluctant or uninterested? Why was it that unless there was some sort of personal benefit involved, people chose to close their eyes to the obvious? Disillusion is a scary thing, he thought. Scary, but absolutely necessary.
He glanced at his phone- he hadn’t even realized it was a Thursday- very nearly the weekend.
“What on earth are you thinking about right now, Michael?”
He smiled dejectedly at Mrs. Brian- “I was just thinking about how close it is to the weekend, Miss”.
She smiled back- “Well, consider yourself lucky. I don’t get to leave until five, so you’re much closer to it than I am”.
His eyebrows shot up, his brain computing what she’d just said.
“Do you have stay back today, Miss?” he asked.
“Why, yes. Now finish up that histogram before the lesson is over.”
Suspension was the usual punishment for a student caught in the staff rooms. Luckily the photocopy machines were big, and Michael had always been slight in size. The teacher’s meetings ended at five, and everyone had to come back here to collect their things. Mr. Knox would arrive (presumably) earlier than the others.
So many things could go wrong. What if he wasn’t going to steal anything this week? What if he caught Michael?
Suddenly, he heard footsteps.
He crouched silently behind the photocopier machine, and said a silent prayer. Sweat trickled down his forehead as he listened to the menacing footsteps grow louder. His blood was spiked with adrenaline, but he was conscious of the swelling fear in his throat.
The sound of Velcro ripping from someone opening a laptop bag.
He got up. And gasped.
She’d worked in the school for five years, and wasn’t offered a laptop. The principal had told her he didn’t see why he needed to, as she was only a substitute. Upon deciding to run the school newspaper, she told him she thought it was incredibly important. After Ms. Kinsella’s insistence, the principal conceded.
An extraordinarily childish grudge cleverly plotted and well played.
Michael was shocked by his discovery. Mr. Golding was shocked. And nobody, nobody could have been more shocked than Ms. Kinsella.
That week, the school printed out more copies of its newspaper than ever before. It was an unprecedented record, one that would stand for a very long time.
“It’s very well written, Michael- very well written indeed”
“Thank you, Mr. Golding”
He adjusted his glasses- “I particularly enjoyed how you ended it- let me see- ah- Seeking the truth is an arduous and terrifying task. Expect an abundance of obstacles. But there is nothing more exhilarating, and there is nothing more fulfilling than a mystery resolved.”
“Thank you, Sir”
“Congratulations- I’m proud. Before you go, Michael- tuck that shirt in, will you?”