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Marcus L. Rowland
"...And we still need to be careful about our friends from the Ministry... I do beg their pardon, the Department," Miss Fritton said at the weekly staff meeting. "A little bird tells me that last month's visitor is in line for promotion if she can... ah... find evidence of serious irregularity in one of the schools in her area. Unfortunately we're by far the most obvious target, so we should be alert for another visit."
"Bloody hell," grumbled Dora MacLeod, "the bastards have really had it in for us since Labour got in." There was a murmur of agreement.
"Oh, pooh, politics don't come into it," said Miss Fritton, "we had excellent relations with the Ministry under the Labour government in the sixties."
"Only because you were sleeping with the Minister," said Evadne White, none too quietly. Miss Fritton pretended not to hear, and went on "Now on to other matters. I need to remind everyone that public examinations begin next Wednesday. As usual it's essential to be vigilant - there will undoubtedly be attempts to gain access to the papers, there always are. Those of you who will be running practical and oral examinations need to be especially
careful, of course, since you need to work with the papers while making your preparations."
"I've already caught two girls looking through my desk in the lab," said Willow. "I think they thought I might have the chemistry paper hidden there."
"Isn't it?" asked Roberta Sloane.
"Of course not," said Willow, "I've got it somewhere much safer."
"We all need to be careful," said Miss Fritton. "Now the lower school girls will be taking internal examinations..."
* * * * *
"Think she took the bait?" Buffy asked after the meeting ended. Neither of them had classes, and they strolled out onto the lawn to get some fresh air before the next lesson.
"I'm pretty sure of it," murmured Willow. "In fact... yes, someone just opened the door to my room."
"Will she see anything she shouldn't?"
"Not a chance," said Willow, "anything like that is spelled to stop people noticing, same for your weapons, and... she's found the instructions for the practical exam. Honking big envelope on the table's kinda hard to miss."
"She'll need about fifteen minutes to get copies," said Buffy. "What do you think she'll do with them?"
"Leave them somewhere the kids can find them, I guess. She'll want to minimise her involvement, so she probably won't try to sell them. She'll leave that to the girls."
"How will you know if they've taken the bait?"
"Easy," said Willow. "They'll want to check out the reactions, see how things are supposed to work. Easiest way to do that is Google and the other search engines."
"And you're monitoring the network?"
"Anything I can do to help?"
"No, it's pretty well covered for now. The chemistry exam's Friday morning, and I expect that's when the crunch will come."
"Friday? But I've got my tennis class then..."
"Not this week you haven't..."
* * * * *
"Okay, everyone," said Willow. "Everyone got pens and pencils? Calculators? Rulers? Just a reminder of the rules of the exam. You're allowed to look at your text books and notes. You are not allowed to talk or help each other, or communicate in any way. If anyone has a phone you have to switch it off and hand it in now - if I find one later you'll lose all marks from the exam... okay, thank you, Chloe. I'm sure it was an oversight. Rita, could I have yours too please?"
"It's switched off," said Rita, one of the less attractive sixth-form girls.
"Hand it over, or miss the test."
Rita reluctantly handed over the phone. "And all the hands-free stuff, please." said Willow.
"It doesn't work without the phone."
"That's a Bluetooth headset. It'd work pretty well if someone happened to be on the floor below with another phone. Hand it over." Rita sulkily complied. Willow switched everything off and dropped them into her desk drawer.
"Good. Now then, all of you have all of the chemicals and equipment you'll need on the benches in front of you. The balances are on the benches there and there - there are eight of you sharing two balances, but you should only need to use them a couple of times so that shouldn't be a problem. The exam center number and your candidate numbers are on the board, I want all of you to turn over your papers now and write them in the boxes at the top right. Okay, it's now a minute to nine, we'll start at nine and finish at eleven.
Behind Willow the door swung open, and a familiar voice said "Just a moment, please."
Willow turned to see 'Call me Sammy' Kelly and Miss Fritton standing in the doorway.
"We're supposed to start at nine," said Willow.
"I need to check your students' notes," said Kelly. "We've been informed that they've obtained copies of the paper."
"Okay," said Willow. "Everyone bring your notebooks to the front. Now please."
Reluctantly the girls brought their books forward. Kelly leafed through the pages and said "Here... and here... and here. They all have the same experimental notes."
"Okay... but what's that got to do with this exam?"
"This paper," said Kelly, pulling out a photocopied sheet, "has been circulating amongst your girls."
"Okay," said Willow, glancing at it, "but that's not the exam paper."
"Take a look for yourself." Willow handed Kelly one of the spare copies. She looked at it, leafed through the first few pages, and turned pale.
"The paper the girls have seen? No, I kinda faked that one up to stop cheating. It's amazing what you can do with the right DTP software. There's nothing in there that's in the real paper, and I made mine kinda hard so they'd have to do some real studying to figure out how everything worked. They might think that they've been cheating, but they haven't." There were angry murmurs from several of the girls. "Ought to come in handy when they do the theory exam."
"In that case..." Kelly began.
"In that case," interrupted Willow, "The real question is how they got hold of it. How you got hold of it, for that matter."
"It was sent to me anonymously," said Kelly.
"Not as anonymous as all that," said Willow, holding it up to the light. "Hey look, there's a fingerprint here. Kinda pale right now, but it's getting darker by the second."
"You see," said Willow, "I knew someone was snooping around my stuff, I thought I'd set a little trap. Of course I was expecting it to be one of the girls, but they all look pretty clean to me. No dye on their hands. They haven't been handling the original paper. But whoever sent this to you must have handled it and absorbed it into their skin in the first fifteen minutes or so after the envelope was opened, after that it stopped working. Unless it was already in their skin, of course."
"So we're looking for someone with purple hands?" asked Miss Fritton.
"As of a few minutes ago. Purple hands and fingerprints like that, shouldn't be hard to find. I've got Buffy looking around the place, she ought to find the right person pretty quickly."
"If there's nothing else," said Miss Fritton, "Perhaps we'd better leave Miss Rosenberg to get on with the examination and find Miss Summers."
"Err..." said Kelly. Miss Fritton took her firmly by the arm and led her out of the laboratory.
"Okay," said Willow. "Fun's over. The time's now nine oh-seven, come and get your notebooks back and remember that cheats don't prosper. We'll start at nine ten, finish at eleven ten."
* * * * *
"I must say I'm shocked and surprised, Roberta," said Miss Fritton. "To think that you of all people would try to help the children cheat. Whatever can have possessed you?"
"I... err..." said Roberta, twisting purple hands together.
"I'm afraid that the police will have to be involved," said Miss Fritton. "If it hadn't been for Miss Rosenberg's foresight the girls might have seen the real examination, and then where would we be? Why, anyone might think that you wanted to cause problems for the school. But how on earth could that benefit you?"
"Obviously the Department takes a serious view of cheating..." began Kelly. Behind her Buffy unobtrusively reached into her pocket and pressed a button. A fraction of a second later Kelly's bag began to play the 1812 overture. "I'm sorry," said Kelly, "I'd better get that." She reached in and got out her mobile phone, and said "Hello? Hello?"
Buffy pulled out Roberta's phone and said "Now that's interesting. Here's Roberta's phone, and the number she dials most is yours. I guess the police will be kinda interested in that."
"That does seem rather difficult to explain," said Miss Fritton.
"Unless maybe 'Sammy' here had Roberta spying on the school or something," said Buffy, "offered her a job if she dug up enough dirt. But sabotaging the exam's kinda naughty."
"All right," said Kelly. "What do you want?"
"Oh, nothing that you can't do, I should think," said Miss Fritton. "A written statement from you both admitting what you've done... which will be kept quite confidential so long as there is no more interference in the normal running of this school... and a small pay cut for you, Roberta."
"That's blackmail!" said Kelly.
"You're quite at liberty to help Roberta find a job in another school, or at the Department, of course. Though there does seem to be an unfair prejudice against former St. Trinian's staff... As for you, Miss Kelly, I'm sure that you can find another route to promotion. With all the time your department seems to waste trying to shut St. Trinian's, the other schools in this area can't be getting much attention. It wouldn't surpriise me if some of them were getting away with murder. Someone really ought to look into it." She opened a folder on her desk and gave Roberta and Kelly neatly typed statements. "Do please feel free to make any corrections before you sign."
Kelly angrily read her paper and signed it. Roberta hesitantly followed her lead. Miss Fritton took them and sealed them into a manilla envelope, and put it into her safe. "Now then," she said. "that was relatively painless, wasn't it. Roberta, I think you need to wash your hands."
"It won't come off," said Roberta.
"Miss Summers, did Miss Rosenberg happen to mention how to remove it?"
"Nope. We'll have to ask her after the exam's over."
"Very well," said Miss Fritton, "can I offer you anything before you go, Miss Kelly?"
"That's all right," said Kelly. "I think I'd better get on to my next appointment."
"Ah well... I'd imagine that we won't meet again in the near future. Do have a safe trip. And if by any chance this school should qualify for any extra funding from your department, I do hope that we will be properly considered. It wouldn't do to have the parents or the press think that the school isn't being treated fairly." The threat was veiled but clear.
"I quite understand," said Kelly.
"Would you mind showing Miss Kelly out, Miss Summers."
Buffy led Kelly to the entrance. Kelly said nothing until they reached her car, then asked "Are you planning to carry on teaching in Britain?"
"Nope. Willow and I are out of here at the start of the summer break."
"Good... Because one devious bitch like Fritton's enough for me to handle, I'd hate to have to deal with Rosenberg too."
"Don't worry," said Buffy, "she's got other plans."
As Kelly drove off Buffy noticed that the trunk of her car was open, and wondered what the girls had stolen. Judging by the trail of oil the car was leaving, it was probably the tool kit...
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