A Lesson Well Learned: Part Two
“It’s official, he vanished into thin air!” exclaimed Ursula, storming into the twins’ room and dumping her Yooyuball sling on the floor with a thud. “I spoke to Casey’s friends and they all agreed that he looked fine at breakfast when they went to the smoothie bar together. The reserve team goalie, Orba, said he arranged to knock on Casey’s door on the way down to practice, but when he did, there was no response.”
Piao, from his position laid out on the floor on his back, rested the book he was reading down on his chest and regarded her with a look of mild perturbance.
“What did you guys find out from the common room, anything useful?” she asked, carefully stepping over Piao on her way to flop down on her bed.
“Well, from what I could gather,” stated Briar, tucking a curl behind her ear, “the story currently doing the rounds is that Casey was suspended for trashing his room. But as far as I can tell nobody has actually spoken to him or heard this from him in person, it’s all just hearsay.”
“I found out something interesting, though,” said Piao suddenly. He twisted his head towards Ursula. “You know Kayden Finch? Well, she was showing off this new tattoo she got which is meant to say ‘seize the day’ in traditional Shenkuuvian script. Anyway, I caught a glimpse of it and it actually roughly translates as ‘grab the cheeseburger’.” His lips curled into a grin. “It’s even funnier as well because she’s a Wocky...” His composure cracked and he began to chuckle to himself. Sensing that the others in the room didn’t get the joke, however, he pushed the book from his chest up over his face and continued to snigger into its pages.
Ursula, Briar and Skeet exchanged confused glances, until the latter finally broke the spell of wonderment by saying, “you know there’s only one way to get to the bottom of this.”
All eyes were suddenly drawn to the lumpy, little figure sat hugging Briar’s pillow; all except Piao’s that is, though he did stop chortling in order to listen.
“We’re going to have to get into his room and have a look for ourselves.” Even Skeet seemed shocked at the words that had just spilled from his lips, and underneath the layers of clothing a hot feeling of unease swelled in his cheeks.
The book suddenly flopped noisily onto the floor. “Skeet, I like the way you think,” pronounced Piao, pushing himself into a seated position and twisting round to physically join in this new and interesting discussion.
“Oh yeah?” said Briar. “And by ‘get into his room’ I suppose you mean that we should break into his room and then go rifling amongst all of his personal possessions like a gang of cat burglars or something?”
“Shhhhh, keep your voice down will you!” hissed Ursula from across the room. “We wouldn’t be very good cat burglars if we got caught while we were still just planning the crime now, would we?”
“I can’t believe we’re even discussing this!” squeaked Briar, still furious but now at a much lower volume. “It’s not just against institution rules, it’s also against the law; we’re not just talking expulsion here, we’re talking Judge Hog swooping in and carting us off in chains!”
“Yes, swooping is... bad,” mumbled Skeet, gripping the pillow tighter.
“Guys, guys. Relax. We’ll only be punished if we get caught,” said Piao mischievously. “Look, I had this old choker that fastened at the front with a padlock; I broke the key ages ago, but I learnt how to pick the lock open so that I could still wear it. I have these two safety pins that I can jimmy around inside and...”
“Okay, I don’t think we need to know how you do it,” pleaded Briar, as if knowing the method would somehow make her more guilty.
“Point is, I’m pretty sure I can get us in the room in a minute or two. Then we just shut the door and try to stay quiet,” said Piao. “I’m not sure what exactly you would be looking for, but you’d have plenty of time to find is it what I’m saying.”
“What I would be looking for?!” Briar’s sparkling sapphire eyes almost popped out of her face. “No way! This wasn’t my idea, I think it’s a terrible plan and under no circumstances am I going anywhere near that room!”
“Okay.” Piao shrugged. “What about you, Skeet? It was your idea after all.”
Skeet shook his head so violently that his cap sank completely over his eyes, making him look like a woollen Turtum retreating into its shell.
Piao turned his attention to Ursula with a sigh. “You’re up for it, right?”
She visibly weighed up the options in her mind for a few moments before her journalistic instinct took over and she agreed enthusiastically.
“Right, I just need to pop back to my room to get my safety pins. Then at 11, when everybody has to be back in their rooms, we’ll sneak down to Casey’s room and see what we can find.” Piao’s confidence probably would have alarmed Ursula somewhat, had she not been so busy searching through the heaps of clothing on the floor to find something suitably ninja-ish to wear on their mission later.
* * * * *
And so two hours later, both robed in black, one with a pair of crooked safety pins in his pocket and the other with a head full of conspiracies, Ursula and Piao broke their first rule of the evening by sneaking out into the corridor after curfew.
The campus building was set out in the iconic shape of the Brightvale star. The three northern points were where the students were accommodated, the horizontal points housed the vast library in the west and the dining hall and common room in the east, and the lower three points held the various lecture halls and classrooms.
Piao lived on the ground floor of A block, so there was a fair amount of ground to cover between them and the end of B block’s second floor. Every footstep in between seemed to pick out the squeaking sections of floorboards and doors creaked and groaned conspiratorially on their hinges. By the time they reached their destination, Ursula’s nerves were a frayed mass, whereas Piao seemed to have retained his cool, in spite of his woollen arm warmers.
While he got to work on the lock with his trusty pins, Ursula did her best to keep a look out; in the end this mostly meant staying out of the light source and anxiously gripping the sides of the bobble hat she had insisted on wearing.
A soft click signalled Piao’s success, but before he had chance to even crack a victory smile or turn to his companion for congratulations, she all but barrel rolled him into the room and pushed the door closed behind them.
Clambering to her feet and pulling off her hat to scratch her head, Ursula whispered, “I’ll take this side of the room; you look over there.” The cleaner hadn’t really ‘cleaned’ anything so much as he had just shunted it all back into the room and then closed the door on it, kind of how baby Neopets do when they put their toys away in the closet.
“What exactly are we looking for?” asked Piao, his fingers playing over the few items yet to cascade off the shelf clinging to the wall by the grace of one or two twisted nails.
“I don’t know, just--something incriminating, I guess.” Ursula busied herself with the flurry of loose papers strewn across the desk and below the window that yawned out onto the night sky.
“Incriminating? What, you mean like a M*YNCI poster?”
She smiled despite herself. “Nooo, I mean like, I don’t know, something that doesn’t quite fit. Something that stands out.”
“This whole room doesn’t quite fit! I mean, look, there’s a chair in the middle of the bed and a pair of underpants hanging from the ceiling light. I’d be careful walking under that in case they fall off if I were you.” He sighed heavily and dropped into a beanbag that had been thrown against the wall; a storm of polystyrene balls puffed out onto the carpet, leaving him seated at a curiously lopsided angle. “What exactly were you expecting to find in here? A neon sign saying ‘help me, I was abducted’? It looks to me like they said, the guy destroyed his room and they suspended him for it. He’s probably sat at home right now being lectured by his...”
He trailed off as he realised that Ursula was no longer paying him the slightest bit of attention. Instead, she was focused on the dark pane of glass in front of her. Or, to be more specific, what was flapping about outside the glass. There, snagged in a splinter and pinched under the weight of the frame was a large scrap of purple fabric, its threaded tendrils flaying in the wind.
“It’s caught on the underneath of the frame on the outside, so it must have been torn as somebody climbed in though the window, not by somebody leaving this way,” mused Ursula. She levered up the window and, with infinitesimal care, plucked the fabric and brought it into the room before closing the window again.
“Well, I guess I stand corrected,” said Piao quietly. “I think the others need to see this.”
To be continued...