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BlackEagle Girls
and The Ice-Angel of Death

Chapter 16 - Monkey's nuts

'Well what am I supposed to do. Be dead?' said Priscilla, waving her half-empty mug of hot chocolate in tired frustration.

All the Black Eagle company were now back in Melbourne, in Fon Jien's comfortable home in Camberwell, gathered around a large dining-room table and looking the worst for wear after many sleepless hours.

'Sounds about right ta me Kiddo,' squeaked Cagney the rat, wiping milk off his whiskers with his black paws as he sat on the table, a shallow bowl in front of him. 'Ya can't just strut back inta school tomorrow as if nothin's happened. And from what Harry's told me the Bad Guys think you're a definite goner. So, ya wanna catch 'em off guard don't ya? An' if ya do it's gotta happen, like now.'

'Yes, of course we do,' said Narenda. 'It is up to us to end their part in hiding drugs in our school. But we must find our way along here and that will be difficult. We cannot just go to the Principle or the police and tell them what we have seen and what we know without explaining how we know it.'

'Right-on Girly. That's why ya gotta be a little more rat-sneaky in how ya go about it,' Cagney replied. 'What ya thinkin' Harry pal?'

'I'm thinking about what they're thinking right now. So O.K. it's Sunday evening. Tony The Ice Man gets Neil Beresford back into Hopewell early this morning and hustles him up to the Infirmary and checks him in. Beresford is an unknown. On the surface he's one of them, but he did make that call reporting Priscilla falling into the river. Is he a weak link?  They don't know about the call, but he gives off lots of problem signals: too soft, nervous, worried, sick. They might think he could crack and spill the beans. As for the other three, we know Whitey works in the Infirmary. What if they decide Beresford is trouble? And what if they decide Miss Monique might know more than she should? Are both of them now targets? And what will they do with the new packages of Angel Ice and what's left of the stuff they already have hidden?'

'Lotta "what-ifs" Pally,' said Cagney. 'And not my problemo. Back home I'm dealing with the homeless, drunks or druggies who just can't get it right, and poor single mothers who can't get the dudes back out of court or jail or institutions. Their kids suffer through it all, an us guys have ta try our best ta have some influence. Plenty of Cops and Robbers there too. But that's what us State-Side Aliens are all about.'

'I don't understand you Mister Cagney. How can you do what you claim for people?' asked Belinda.

'Plenty ways Miss... er Belinda... We put pressure on areas, make things happen. Humans don't like invasions of rats. They start tryin' to kill 'em off. Clean up their homes, make things better, take some extra pride. I'm not about ta bring on the next wave of Bubonic plague, hell there are plenty birds and vermin carrying lice and parasite's around that can do that. We just put a scare inta a community, get them up and going. Heck, even the drugsters and lay-arounds start taking notice when rats are sniffing at their stolen T.V.s while they're coolin' it on their couches.  Anyways there I go on my band-waggon. Ya gotta forgive me, I'm gettin' out-ta rat character. Thing is, more important right now, you guys gotta work out what yer plan is.'

'What plan?' said Priscilla glumly, biting her finger-nail. 'I can't go back to school, so what do I do? Send a note saying, "Please excuse Priscilla Black for being absent because she's dead today?" '

'Hey that is funny,' said Terri. 'She's late for school because she's the "late" Priscilla Black.'

'Yeah, yeah, you're a regular riot Terri, and don't think for a minute that Moni and me are forgetting that you knew lots more about Fon Jien and Tsu than we were told in the beginning... '

'That will all come in good time, Miss Priscilla,' said Fon Jien, tuning the dial of a decorative mantle-radio on a nearby sideboard to some soft piano music. 'I will only say this much to you now. If I had not intervened when that young fool Yellow-Cap pulled the trigger, you would have sustained cerebral damage beyond our ability to repair. Even though you were invisible to him, you were not in a mode that could have shielded you from the impact of a projectile fired at close... '

'I think everybody here gets your drift Fon Jien,' said Harry, both his forepaws on the table's edge. 'But right now, Cagney's got the chair, er, table.'

'Ya gotta think Rat,' said Cagney, taking over. 'What would a rat do when it gets cornered? My chum Atouille, who is still cooling his claws in the Black Eagle, would tell ya this much; you got a stash that somebody else wants, eat it, or move it away to where it's safe. Don't take too much thinkin' ta work that out. These guys are bound ta have a brain-wave sooner or later and shift tha stuff A.S.A.P. Especially if they finally get around ta thinkin' that one "dead-girl's" alive-pal might have some ideas about it.
First up, remove tha stuff to another stash. Second up, remove anybody that might know anything. Get it Kiddies?'

'So they could be doing that now, or already have done it?' asked Belinda.

'You ain't gonna know that for sure until ya hit school again an' check it out. My guess... an' it's just a guess, is that these guys will clean out their rat's nest and find a new hide-out.'

'And of course news travels swiftly via the Internet.' said Tsu, who had remained silent for some time. 'Possibly it will already be known here in Australia, of the fire and loss of supply from overseas.'

'So this is all about nothing much?' muttered Priscilla dejectedly. 'An overseas lab gets burned down; the people that make the stuff escape, and the people that get the stuff walk free? But then why did Gabriel Ichema allow this first shipment of Angel-Ice to still come back to Hopewell? He seemed kind of unsure. Of course none of them know that we've actually found their underground... '

'Good evening, John Kricstom, ABC News,' said a radio announcer quietly in the background. 'There has been a new development at the Fitzroy murder scene of the alleged drug baron Mario Pusdo after an anonymous tip-off... '

'Hear that?' said Terri. 'It always sounds like the Reader is saying good evening to someone else when they start... '

'Quiet! listen!' said Priscilla, pricking up her ears.

'... fatal shooting occurred in a lane-way off Hanover street in the early hours of this morning. The weapon was located in a nearby storm-water drain by Forensic Officers late this afternoon. A Spokesperson for the Department stated that, at this time, there are no immediate suspects, however Police are interviewing persons of interest in the ongoing investigation.
Other news to date. There has been a double fatality on the Monash Freeway when a car travelling at high speed... '

Fon Jien turned the volume down as Priscilla said, 'Coincidence or what?' her head drooping for a second until she jerked herself awake again.

'You think this Mario is the same that was at the restaurant? The one that won at cards?' said Monique.

'The one that won on the Dead Man's Hand,' nodded Priscilla wearily, 'who else?'

'Perhaps that explains why Gabriel Ichema was somewhat pre-occupied,' offered Narenda.

'Yes, that is possible,' agreed Belinda, yawning. 'Maybe his thoughts were concerned elsewhere with the upcoming demise of his Italian associate. Do you think it was that big oaf Vito who pulled the trigger?'

'Couldn't have been, he was driving The Ice Man and Beresford back to Hopewell, and if I don't get some sleep soon I'll turn into a zombie,' Priscilla managed, slumping forward.

'Right, yep, sure,' said Harry, jumping to the floor. 'You girls must all be pretty tuckered out, what with everything that's happened here and in Rio. Time to get some shut eye. Back to school tomorrow.'

'But we've used up all of Sunday when we could have done something,' protested Priscilla.

'Like what?' said Cagney. 'You guys can't stop gangsters shooting each other. Stuff happens. I coulda said "shit" but I'm too nice a rat. Hit the sack Kiddos. Do as Harry says. Tomorrow, get inta school, maybe ya can sus out what's goin' down then. Yer all dead-beat. Sleepy times an' sweet dreams. Atouille an' me are headin' back to the U.S. pronto. Can't leave him cooped up much longer and besides, he needs ta get back ta his old patch. As fer me? I just gotta say "adios amigos" to Down-Under and Rio. State-side Mac-burgers and Wendy's, here I come. Beunos nochas Senoritas!'

'I really don't believe I'm doing this,' said Priscilla, sliding out of Fon Jien's car behind the other girls as they emerged at the entrance to Hopewell Hall.

'What is your problem Priscilla?' whispered Narenda. 'This was all agreed to this morning. It is the best way to progressing.'

'Yeah, I know that, but sheech! I feel sort of naked... '

'You have been invisible before Cilla,' whispered Terri. 'Just get over it and follow us in, it's nearly Assembly.'

Priscilla pouted, not that anybody could see, and shuffled along behind, taking care not to get too close to any of the other students wandering by.

About the very last person the girls, visible or otherwise, wanted to encounter was Roseanne Sole, but sure enough she came shouldering her way along, pushing and shoving through a group of Hopewell first year students until she spotted them. 'Well hellooo, Dumbo's! Hey Blackie! Where's your little mate Cilly? Aw sorry, Annie means Miss Bateleur. Just a slip of the lip, Annie always get yous two confused. Cilly's got the name an' you got tha look.'

'Ahhh, smart-arsed bitch! I wanna kick her butt til her nose bleeds!' spluttered Priscilla, invisibly sliding along between the other BlackEagle Girls.

'Watch your mouth Roseanne,' said Terri, 'We aren't looking for trouble, it's Monday morning and Assembly time.'

'Aw yeah sure, Annie don't want any trouble too, swim finals comin' up soon. An' now Annie's shoulder's gettin' better after wiping out yer silly Priscilly on the basketball court, she's gonna wipe out everyone in tha pool! See yas, ya stoops!'

'Emmerrghh! I'm going to get that big lump of lard and... '

'Priscilla! You are going to remain quiet and let us do what has to be done!' hissed Monique, before adding, 'That would explain why Roseanne caused the blood thing in the pool. She knew she couldn't win because she hurt her shoulder when she knocked you out. Now she thinks she is back at her best... '

'This is not the time to be side-tracked,' said Tsu. 'We have a much more important agenda to consider and only Assembly time to do it. As soon as we get into the Quad, Priscilla it is up to you... '

The second last person the girls wanted to encounter was Louis, Priscilla's older brother, but he too materialised out of the flood of students in company with his Koorie mate Charlie Fairman.
'Hi Monique, how was your weekend? You and Priscilla stayed over with Tsu didn't you?'

'Oh, well, yes Louis, hello Charlie, yes it was very nice. We all had lots of fun, watched videos, stayed up late, did girl things, you know... '

'Looks like you still need some catching up in the sleep department,' said Charlie, as the others moved off leaving Monique to carry the ball. Even Priscilla, who hovered, invisibly, for a moment or two, realised that there was nothing she could do and set out on her mission.

'Oh yes, sleep. Have to do that through classes,' Monique laughed awkwardly, moving along as the two boys fell into step beside her.

'So where's Cilla?' Louis asked.

There was a silence between them for some seconds before Monique answered. 'Oh she isn't here yet. She umm... she had to go back to her Dorm for some homework... and things,' she ended lamely.

'Yeah,' said Louis, frowning slightly. 'She is alright? Nothing wrong?'

'No, of course not,' Monique replied a little too swiftly. 'She's just running late, she will catch up during Assembly. Unless she has nodded off,' she added trying to lighten the conversation.

'Right, yes. Cilla sometimes does things at the last minute. One of her annoying points I suppose,' Louis answered, gazing across the Quad and spotting others in his class. 'Hey, there's Thommo, come on Charlie, let's move it, see you later Moni.'

Monique heaved a huge sigh. 'Later, certainly,' she murmured, trudging after them.

By the time Hopewell school mustered in the Quad, Priscilla had arrived at the Chapel steps. The door stood ajar, having been opened for any who might have wished to spend time there before Assembly, and so she entered and found herself alone inside the building. A chill seemed to engulf her and it took a conscious effort to throw off the feeling. Hurrying down between the pews she swiftly came to the door behind the pulpit. Unclasping her satchel she withdrew her Night-Sight goggles and slipped them on, then stepped forward until she stood before the old timber wall. For some moments she strove to draw the panelling down, but try as she could it wouldn't budge. Then she remembered the effort both she and Monique had taken together to budge it previously because of their invisibility and lack of traction with solid objects. Again reaching into her school satchel she withdrew her Hand Activator and switched off the Invisibility-mode button. It still took some effort but eventually she managed to draw down the barrier and with the aid of her vision enhancement she made her way down the ladder and into the narrow confines beyond. Treading carefully she emerged into the low ceilinged underground room and took only seconds to see that it was completely bare. Not even a shred of packaging remained.
'Just as Cagney thought,' she whispered, shivering, 'the Rats have cleaned out their nest.'

'Cagney is no stoopid Honcho,' said Harry's voice through the Hand Activator. 'That's cool anyway, you know what to do now Priscilla. Stay in communication. You don't have too much time to spare.'

'Yes, sure Harry,' said Priscilla, although her natural, stubborn curiosity prompted her to probe just a little more into the furthest recesses of the gloom, there to discover what at first seemed like a shelf or ledge of old timber beneath which there seemed to be a low door, only shoulder high, yet recently used to judge by the scraping of the dirt at its base. 'I wonder where this goes?' muttered Priscilla, dragging it open. The cool air within caused her teeth to chatter as she peered inside. Beyond lay the beginning of another low tunnel and darkness. 'Might be a second escape hole to the outside or maybe even another secret room?'

'If it's where these guys have hidden evidence of their activities that will be great, but you don't need to explore right now. Time to get out and leave your calling card,' said Harry. 'Come on Cilla, Assembly's halfway over. Get on with it! You still have work to do.'

Backtracking, Priscilla carefully climbed the ladder and emerged from the concealed entrance, but did not draw up the counter-balanced timber panelling.
'Whoever finds this open will get the message. If it's any staff member or student they'll report it, and if Tony Ice-Man or one of his pals get here first they'll know they've been exposed.'

'You're dithering,' said Harry's voice. 'Move it girl!'

'Right, sure,' Priscilla replied, darting through the door leading to the main body of the chapel and hurrying up the aisle. Almost on the verge of stepping out into warm daylight she remembered her situation and turned on the Invisibility Mode of her Activator. 'Phew! Sometimes I think I'm turning Blonde,' she exclaimed, leaping down the chapel steps and making for the main building.

Slipping past the Front Reception staff, Priscilla found the Administration corridor deserted. The door to the outer office at the end was open, and edging through it, she discovered Lyn Reynard, Sonia Poe's secretary, busily employed at the office computer, printing off a mass of forms.
Outside, the national anthem of Finland blared from Hopewell's speakers as the students began to make their way to their various classes.
Creeping forward, Priscilla tentatively placed an envelope, boldly marked 'Head Mistress' in broad drawing-pen letters, on the edge of Miss Reynard's desk and was about to take her leave when the Assistant Head-Master Stanley Mitikovsky bustled in.
'Ah Miss Reynard, do you have those directives from Miss Poe ready yet? I'm telling you, I want to have them distributed throughout the school before final term.'

'Just finishing now,' answered Miss Reynard, shuffling and stacking the last of the pages. 'Swimming schedules, Football, Basketball, Netball, Soccer, Tennis etcetera, including Kite-Flying and Banjo Playing.'

'Oh Miss Reynard,' chuckled Mitikovsky, 'you can be very amusing at times, I'm telling you, but perhaps this time not so ahh... What is this letter addressed to Head Mistress Poe?'

'What letter? Oh! That wasn't there before. Did you... '

'Of course not,'

'Then I wonder how it got here? No one has been in during Assembly, I'm telling you, Mister Mitikovsky,' said Miss Reynard, her eyes sweeping across the room, passing invisible Priscilla, pausing and then sweeping back.

Priscilla grinned to herself. Lyn Reynard had a mischievous streak in her mimicking of Stanley Mitikovsky's favourite phrase.

'Dear Miss Reynard, there are times I too do wonder,' said Mitikovsky. 'Whatever and however, it should be passed on to The Head Mistress, although... ' he toyed with the envelope as if considering opening it himself. Then shaking his head, he said instead, 'Has there been any further developments about the year ten boy brought into the Infirmary yesterday morning by his class friends? Have you heard anything from the Hospital since he was taken away? Anything from Sister Menzies this morning?'

Instantly Priscilla was on the alert.

'No, nothing yet. All we know is that he, um, his name is Beresford, Neil Beresford, was delirious when he came in, couldn't communicate, and almost unconscious when the Paramedics took him to hospital not long after. Some kind of huge allergic reaction to something he ate or drank or came into contact with. The acting doctor's department will contact us, and of course his parents were notified. And yes, he was on the School Register as an asthmatic with other complications. Nothing so far has breached the School Duty of Care Code.'

Mitikovsky looked worried, and it seemed to Priscilla that he was genuinely concerned when he said, 'Please keep Miss Poe and myself appraised of the situation Miss Reynard. We must know at once of any development. This School treasures and respects every student. Their well-being is our primary concern, I'm telling you. Give me his parent's phone number and I will ring them during first period.'

'What do I do now?' muttered Priscilla, leaning invisibly, against one of the poles in the Quad and listening to the insistent flapping flags of many countries and the clanging of their retaining brackets in the rising breeze. 'School's in, I'm out.'

'Any breakin' news about a missin' school girl yet?' said a squeaky voice through her Hand Activator.

'Cagney? Is that you?' Priscilla exclaimed.

'Yeah Girl, it's me. Couldn't take the flight out just yet, what with all the excitement an' all. Anyways, Atouille's cool. He's staked out in Fon Jien's compost bin. It's 'O.K. Atouille could burrow out but hey, he's as happy as! For the moment at least, and yeah, we sanitised him. I'm just worried about him picking up some bad bugs ta take home. Guess we'll run him through sanitation again before we go.'

'So you're still at Fon Jien's?'

'Sure am. And so is the Black Eagle. It's parked up against the compost bin too and I'm inside right now keepin' contact with Harry and one eye on Atouille. After Fon Jien took Harry back ta drop him off at your house and all you guys on ta school, I just had ta hang around long enough ta see how all this would pan out.'

'Well I'm kind of glad you did Cagney. Right now I don't know exactly what to do next. Like you thought, the Rats have cleaned up their Hide-out and where they've taken the Angel Ice and anything else I haven't got a clue. Maybe they moved it to somewhere else here at Hopewell or out again late yesterday. Anyway I've done what we planned, left our anonymous letter for Miss Poe telling about the tunnel and cellar below the Chapel. What's left to do? Moni can only cover for me for so long in class.'

'Hang in there Kiddo. What's the prob? Your Dad an' Gran saw ya this mornin' when ya took Harry back home, so that's cool. They think you're at school an' ya are. Meanwhile Monique is tellin' your Form Mistress that you weren't feelin' so good and had ta go back ta yer dorm and lie down fer a while. Headache, nausea, flu comin' on maybe? That's O.K. Form Mistress unnerstands stuff like that. By now yer Roomy is also in class an' don't know chicken-dropping's anyway. If she calls in at recess and finds ya ain't there she'll just think ya went up ta the Infirmary or some such. Meantime, these  drug goons still think yer dead an' are just waitin' for someone ta discover yer body in tha river. They most likely won't hear Monique's call about ya being there in Hopewell. Probably figure they're in tha clear after movin' their stuff. Far as they know Beresford is still one of them, although it actually seems he might be workin' for someone else who's tryin' to muscle in on their racket. Even the letter ta Miss Head Mistress lady don't mean all that much. Good that ya didn't spill who these guys are yet. Waste a' time, no proof. Yer word against them. Better ta just wait an' see what they do. Who knows? Beresford might give when, an' if, he comes to. Otherwise all ya got is flushing them an' their drugs outta their hole and maybe, just maybe, outta Hopewell Hall for good. This is a gain for you guys. You're makin' progress, little bit by little bit. Only one thing, while most a' these school folk think yer here but sick or somewhere else and the bad boys think yer dead, seems ta me like ya should stick with yer pal Monique as long as. If anybody's gonna take a hit she's the likely candidate, 'specially after their Chapel action's been blown. Yeah. Tail yer friend as long as ya can. If nuthin' happens an' people really start lookin' fer ya, you gotta show. Meantime, stay cool, as Harry would say.'

Priscilla caught up with Monique during recess and sat invisibly at an empty desk through an entire period of Politics with Justice Croad, who moved about the classroom with the speed of sloth, mumbling on and on about Sir Robert Menzies and his impact on Australia in the Nineteen forties, fifties and sixties.
Barely managing to stay awake, she waited patiently until lunchtime and managed to insert herself between Narenda and Monique as they left the class-room.
'Hi guys, checked out the Chapel, empty as expected. Dropped the letter. Beresford was carted off to hospital yesterday, real sick, coma or out to it at least. Spoke with Cagney. He says I should hang around with Moni until I have to finally make a real appearance. No word from Harry. Nothing from Tsu or Terri.'

Both Monique and Narenda nodded without speaking, trying to keep as close together as they could to shield Priscilla between them. They could hear her through Activators in their school bags but avoided replying. Harry had already strongly cautioned them on this special privilege of carrying Activators away from the Black Eagle and especially at school. But as he had warned, if ever the devices were about to be discovered there was an avoidance mechanism built in.

'Guess I'll just tag along this afternoon and see what happens. Miss Van Weenan's role-call list won't be checked till later today. Meanwhile we're back to square one. Where's the Angel Ice? A couple of boxes? Not very big I suppose. Easily hidden, but where? Probably it's gone. They'd be crazy to hide it somewhere else at Hopewell. The Ice Man's dad would have made them get it all out of here by now, just to be on the safe side, although he's probably feeling the heat from the law too since that shooting yesterday. Geez, the stuff could be half-way to China by now.'

After an English period with Don Gannon, raving on about the importance of punctuation and spelling, One B. was released from this torture by the sound of the lunch bell and the trio of girls headed for The Student's Little Cafe.

'Thank goodness for that!' said Priscilla. 'I'm starving. I think I'll have... oh oh! Being invisible I guess I get an invisible lunch. Any chance of a corner of your sandwich Narenda? Come on Moni, how about some of your salad roll? Just under the table guys, you can sneak it down without anybody seeing... Bugger! who are those legs?' said Priscilla from her crouching position beside Monique.

'Um Hi!' said a bright voice that Priscilla had heard before, at the top end of the pair of legs. 'Are you Monique Bate... Bat...Battle... '

'Bateleur,' said Monique. 'Yes I am?'

'Look, could I... would you mind if ... See, I want to talk to you. It's kinda private.'

'Yes, well, over there. Sorry Narenda, back in a minute,' said Monique, getting up and moving to another empty table a little way off, where they both sat down. 'You are Joe, um, somebody, a School Prefect. Is that right? What have I done that is wrong?'

'Joe Simiani, you got the Joe part right and no, you haven't done anything wrong, and no I'm not a Prefect yet, that comes next year.  I'm a Probationary this year. Anyway, look I've got this message to tell you. It doesn't make any sense to me but maybe it will to you. It's from Neil Beresford...

'Neil Beresford... I do not think that I know him,' Monique replied cautiously.

'Said he knew you, or at least about you and a class friend of yours, Priscilla. Is that right? I think I bumped into the both of you when our girl's team was going out of Hopewell on a bus one rainy night a while ago, Remember?'

Priscilla, who had nabbed the short end of Monique's salad roll and was now stuffing it into her mouth as she crouched at the table beside them, almost coughed up a lump.  'Mbe careful Moni. Dom't say more than you meed to.'

'Oh well, er, yes. Priscilla is absent. I hope to see her again later. Anyway, tell me of this message. What is it about?'

'Alright, I was up in the Infirmary yesterday doing S.V.E. You know, Student Vocation Experience, helping out with filing and records and the Drudge of course; washing out, sweeping, dusting down, being bored, you know, and then I was in the ward and there was this guy in a bed. Another attendant, year nine or ten maybe, was hovering around. When I appeared, the guy took off really quick and the kid in the bed looked pretty whacked out. So, nobody around, I go up to him to check him out and he tells me he's Neil Beresford, I think I knew him anyway, and he says to find you and to say that you'll get what you're looking for down in Archives. "That's where it is," he told me.'
Just then Sister Menzies arrives and a screen goes up around him. Not too long after, he gets taken away in an ambulance.'

'I do not understand Joe, what does any of this have to do with me or Priscilla? She is not here and so I can't answer for her, but I know nothing about this. What ever this Neil Beresford is talking about seems to be very strange.'

'Look Monique, don't shoot me, I'm just delivering the message. If it doesn't click for you I guess I'll just pass it on to the Head Mistress, whatever.'

'Oh no Joe, wait a moment. After all it is somewhat mysterious. Where is Archives? And what do you think it is that he was talking about?' Monique asked as innocently as possible.

Joe looked at her with a puzzled expression and heaved a sigh, 'Second question, who knows? First question, I can show you where but you're going to be the one that works out what Beresford was talking about. Whatever it is.'

'When could you do that?'

'Well heck, not now. I have yard duty to check over: rubbish bins and re-cycling. How about after last Period? But of course you could get a Teacher or one of the other staff to direct you, although they might wonder what it's all about?'

'Yes, that is true, just as you and I are wondering also. It is a pity Priscilla is not here. Perhaps she could tell us more.'

Priscilla, having finished cramming her mouth, grinned as she pinched Monique's leg.

'Oh!' said Monique, involuntarily. 'That is, oh where do I have to go?'

'Admin wing. Front entrance. Turn left down the corridor until you get to some doors. I'll be there waiting. You better come alone, otherwise staff might get curious. Gotta go now, sure is spooky though. Mysterious.'

'I'll see you there then after last Period.'

'Cool bananas!' said Joe, rising and heading off through the mix of of students.

'Looks like I should stay "Undercover" until then at least,' said Priscilla, tagging Monique back to Narenda, who was eagerly awaiting the outcome of the conversation with Joe Simiani.

At a quarter past four that afternoon, after Monique had run the gauntlet on Priscilla's whereabouts, dodging questions from their Form Mistress Juliet Van Weenan and one or two other teachers, with non-committal answers, she made her way through the almost deserted Admin wing and found Joe Simiani waiting for her at the appointed place.

'Hi Monique. You got a camera or a mobile phone?' he asked.

'Oh no, why?'

'Well I just thought they might be useful, in case we find anything. Never mind, I've got my mobile and it takes pics if we need them. Now you'll have to watch yourself when we get to the rooms below. I got shown through some of them when I was in year eight as part of the 'Exploring Our School' program. That's still going on I think, so you'll be involved next year. Hey, want some cashews?' He held open a cello bag. 'Just a snack, I like them. Here, take some. They'll keep you going while we check this mystery out.'

'That is kind of you Joe,' Monique answered, holding out her hand.

'O.K. No one else around. Guess we better make a move. Probably Beresford was really out of it and this is all just a put-on. Anyway,' he sighed, 'you have to trust me. If we come up empty at least it's been a bit of an adventure and you'll know the place a lot better before they bring you down next year. C'mon, through here.'

Priscilla, arriving a minute behind them after stopping off urgently in need of the toilet, was left with several choices. But gazing about, she discovered a cashew on the floor by one of the doors. 'Umm. Two peanuts walking down the street, one was a salted,' she muttered, thinking of her young brother Henry's silly jokes. 'Guess I'd better try here first up.'

There were winding stairs lit by single globes in wired enclosures that led to the floor beneath. She could hear voices in the darkness beyond.

'... don't know where the switch is exactly. Been a couple of years since I was down here, but I kind of remember that there was a bank of them that turned on different sections. I'm just not sure whether they were on the right or left. Try feeling along that side Monique, and I'll give this wall a go.'

Priscilla halted, a shiver of cold or perhaps apprehension, rippled through her.  Reaching into her bag she drew out her Night-Sight goggles and dragged them on. At once the area beyond sprang into a bluish vision. There was the figure of Joe Simiani, moving slowly to the left and that of Monique, carefully groping her way along the other wall.

'Anything?' came Joe's voice.

'No. I wish I had thought to bring a torch,' said Monique. 'Oh, wait a moment, here is a wall- mounted box of some kind... '

'Cool bananas, I think that's it!' said Joe.

Monique began to feel her way around the outer area, tracing it with her fingers, and it was precisely at that moment that everything blew out and back into Priscilla's head. She remembered the conversation between Lyn Reynard and Stanley Mitikovsky!
'Monique! Stop! Get your hands away from there! Moni! Do as I tell you! Don't touch anything else! Don't move!'

'What is wrong?' said Monique, freezing,

'Bananas, cashews, peanuts, that's what!' said Priscilla, her voice audible only to Monique. 'How could I have been so stupid! Don't answer that. Priscilla-gorilla, stupid, stupid, stupid! Simiani! Simian. Latin. Apes, monkeys! There aren't any switches! All that box has is lots of loose wires hanging out, some could be alive! This guy is Monkey! He didn't talk to Beresford. According to Miss Reynard, Beresford was out of it from the time he came into the Infirmary until the medics took him away!'

'What do you mean "wrong" Monique?' asked Joe, now hidden behind some partitions beyond Priscilla's Night-Sight. 'You've found the switch-board, reach in and let's get illuminated, I'm getting kind of lost down here in the dark.'

'I think I should be, how do you say it? Ah yes, nuts, to do such a thing Joe, and I think also that you know why,' Monique answered, while Priscilla moved invisibly to her side.

'What are you talking about?' came Joe's muffled reply.

'You Joe. That other boy Lionel Monk-house, in the same year-ten class as Neil Beresford, Dennis Whitely and Tony Ichema is just a dupe. Perhaps you would say "a fall guy." Probably he has no idea of what you four are doing. You are really Monkey! One year ahead of the others, only because they were all kept down except you!'

'You're crazy Monique. Why would you think that? I know it's dark in here and a bit scary. Turn on some lights so we can see where we are, don't let your imagination take over.'

'Come on Moni, let's get out of here!' said Priscilla urgently, grasping at her friend's arm and finding it somewhat insubstantial.

But Monique, regaining her composure, answered, 'I do not not wish to be electrocuted Joe. Beresford could not talk to you, he was not able to. This is a trap!'

For a few seconds there was silence, then...

'Ehi! Eh eh, eihji eihji, ehi, ehi, eihjii!' The soft, monkey-gibbering sounds sent chills of fear down the spines of both girls as Priscilla struggled to draw Monique toward the glow of the doorway.

But before the pair could take more than a couple of steps, the door was abruptly closed and lights flickered on, throwing the Archive area into stark relief, and a gravelly voice said, 'You're just too smart Little Black Girl. You were warned not to get involved. It's time to pay. Accidents happen. Now you're gonna be one of 'em!' 

Suddenly a figure behind Monique grabbed her roughly around her shoulders, pinning her arms to her sides.

'No! No!' screamed Priscilla, still invisible and unheard, realising that it was not so easy to aid her dear friend or ward off the attacker. 'Get off her! Let her go!'
The sound of Monkey's crazy screaming roared into her head, echoing in the enclosed area: 'Ehi! Ehi! Eh, eh, eihji, Eihjii!'

In desperation Priscilla was on the verge of hitting the buttons on her Activator when the door was again flung wide and a number of figures crowded on the threshold.

Belinda Moss and Narenda Upaday positioned themselves in the doorway as Louis, Priscilla's older brother, and his aboriginal friend Charlie Fairman advanced into the room.
Monique, struggling against her assailant, managed to claw herself loose long enough to get in a wild slap that struck home across the albino Dennis Whitley's livid face. He lifted his arm as if to strike her back but Tony The Ice Man, emerging from his position beside the light switches, halted him, saying, 'O.K. O.K! Settle down, all of youse! Seems like we got a party goin' here. Some little girls, couple of early-year dudes and us bigger guys. Now we all need to cool it. The black chick there seems ta have got her knickers in a twist. Maybe stressed out in the dark. Yeah, she comes in and gets lost trying to find the switches and she freaks out. Then me and Denny-boy arrive and flick on the lights and she turns troppo and goes for him.'

'That's right,' said Joe Simiani, stepping out from between some dividing partitions. He appeared calm, but Priscilla noted his clenched fists and red ears. 'I guess she just got frightened in the dark.'

'That is not true, and you know it!' said Monique, standing away from Whitey. 'These people were trying to kill me. They are involved with drugs in the school!'

'Garbage!' Tony Ichema retaliated in his gravelly voice. 'She's off her head. Tell it ta the Principle. Our word against some loony first year kid. We're outta here. And get her head examined!'

'Wait a minute,' said Charlie Fairman, standing in front of the approaching Ice Man and Whitey, who were both several inches taller than him, 'If you came down here what was it for? Seems like you forgot that bit.'

'Piss off darkey!' hissed Tony, shoving Charlie aside with a sweep of his arm as he barged past, and drawing up before Louis who still barred his path to the door. 'Move it!' snarled The Ice Man.

'You can't push my friend around like that,' said Louis defiantly.

'Oh yeah sure, that's right kid, sorry,' said Tony, casually looking back over his shoulder with a smirk on his face at Dennis Whitely. 'How about this instead!' And as he spoke he kneed Louis viciously in the groin.

With a terrible cry of intense pain Louis collapsed, writhing on the floor in agony.

All the girls, including Priscilla, remembering her dream, began screaming at once as The Ice Man stepped over him.

'Street-fighter,' laughed Whitey, also stepping over Louis and getting in a kick as he did.

'You bastards!' yelled Priscilla, though of course only the Black Eagle Girls could hear her.

'Hang on Mister Tough-Guy, I think you forgot something,' called Charlie, recovering his balance as Belinda, Narenda and Monique rushed to aid Louis.

'You talkin' to me, Sambo!' said Tony, halting but not turning around. 'Sort that shrimp out will ya Whitey.'

Dennis Whitely sneered and threw a round-house punch at Charlie who, rising on his toes, nimbly bounced aside and slipped in a swift left-jab, followed by a right-left combination that sent his assailant reeling to the floor beside Louis, who was on his side, gritting his teeth to overcome the pain.

'You little shit!' spat Tony, bearing around and squaring up at the bobbing, dancing figure before him. 'I'll bash yer brains in!' And as he spoke he aimed a fist at Charlie's head, pulled the punch, and instead lashed out with his right boot straight at the aboriginal boy's midriff. Quick as a snake, Charlie deflected the kick with his arm, swivelled on his heel and came back punching hard. As the blows landed around The Ice Man's eyes, splattering his nose and causing blood to flow, Charlie began laughing, taunting his bigger, stronger adversary. 'How do ya like that Tough-Guy! You bully's come in all sizes and colours! But yer all just bully's!'

Tony, experiencing the stinging pain of each carefully aimed punch, suddenly realised what he was up against and started to back off. 'No, no! I... You win kid,' he rasped. 'Gimme a break!'

Not satisfied, Charlie unleashed a solid body-blow that sent The Ice Man to his knees, where he sat gasping for breath and clutching at his stomach.
Still dancing on his toes, the aboriginal boy turned away toward Whitey who was cringing on the floor, his mouth agape and his strange, violet eyes staring in fury and disbelief.

'Ehi! Ehi! EJI EJI, JI, JI! Eihji! Eearrghh!' Screaming filled the room as Joe Simiani began to transform into Monkey, throwing his arms about wildly, his face turning a brilliant crimson.

'Look out!' shouted Priscilla, Joe's losing it! He's going crazy!'

The other girls took up her unheard alarm. 'Get out of his way!' shouted Belinda, as the boy began to lumber forward, winding up into a raging, wild-bull gallop. Now he was no longer Joe Simiani, the Probationary Prefect everybody knew and liked, now he was somebody or something else!

'That's right Monkey, get him! Smash him!' The Ice Man urged, struggling to his feet as Joe hurtled straight at Charlie, reaching out to grasp him with flailing arms, the wild monkey-cries of the youth reverberating from the walls.

A single punch stopped Monkey in mid-air and sent him crashing sidelong into a partition where he collapsed, screeching and coughing and struggling like a confused beetle to right himself and not understanding what had just happened to him.
Charlie, enjoying himself, kept dancing on his nimble toes, as Dennis Whitley managed to struggle to his feet and lift his fists. Shaking his mop of pale hair, he stared furiously out of his violet-red eyes at Charlie, bobbing up and down in front of him and muttered, 'Think you're smart Abbo? Come on! I can take you!'

Meanwhile, Tony Ichema had also re-gained his footing and while Whitley had the aboriginal boy's attention, launched himself at Fairman's back.
The attempt at kidney-punching him from behind was thwarted by Charlie himself who, using some sentient sense of awareness, even before the girls shouted a warning, suddenly side-stepped, flicking a left jab into Whitley's face that snapped the youth's head back with a crack.
Dancing aside Charlie laughed again. 'You guys just don't get it, do ya? Street-fighters? You're just dirt-bags! Meet a Boxer! You... should be paying me... for what... I'm showing... you right now!' Charlie punctuated his words with a flurry of jabs and dabs that gradually rendered both his opponents bloodied and half-blinded from their own stinging tears.
Probationary Prefect Joe Simiani crawled to his feet and again began to monkey-gibber, though this time the gibbering was filled with fear as he watched The Ice Man and Whitey turn on their heels and stumble towards the door. Seconds later he was flying after them.

'Wow!' managed Louis, struggling to a sitting position, 'You beat the daylights out of the three of them Charlie!'

'I'm with The Boxer,' said Priscilla beaming, although Charlie and Louis couldn't hear her.

'Oh Charlie, that was so wonderful,' said Narenda.

'Simply brilliant!' Belinda chimed in, supporting Louis who was still nursing his groin, the pain slowly abating.

'Thank-you Charlie Fairman,' said Monique, reaching over to take the aboriginal boy's hand and discovering blood ebbing across his knuckles. 'Oh your hands... '

'Yeah, well. no gloves, you know... '

'No, we don't know,' said Louis, rising unsteadily to his feet with the aid of Narenda and Belinda. 'Mate, you've been a friend since first year here but I didn't know you could fight like that. How come?'

'No need to make any noise about it. Lionel Rose. Long time ago. He's my role-model. Best Aboriginal boxer. Won a World title against Fighting Harada of Japan. With an opponent like Harada, you had to be better than the best. I'm just a novice boxer, never will be in the same league as Mister Rose, but I've sparred with guys older than me since I was six. And any half-good boxer can smack a dirty street-brawler every time.'

'You're a legend Baroonah,' said Louis, using Charlie's Aboriginal name. 'Thanks for standing up for me and the girls. Now we better go and report what's happened,'

'Not so fast,' said Charlie, allowing Monique to dab at his fists with her hankie. 'What's really going on? Belinda? Narenda? You two get Louis and me down here and we walk into this. Monique? What's all the stuff about drugs?'

'Right Charlie,' grunted Louis, 'and while we're asking questions, where's my sister?'

'Priscilla!,' said the three girls, almost together.

'Oh well... ' started Narenda.

'She's just... ' added Monique.

'Somewhere... around,' ended Belinda, weakly.

'Sure, right.' muttered Louis, grimacing and limping awkwardly toward the door. 'Tells us nothing. You're going to start talking after we get out of here, and it better be good!'

'Yeah girls,' said Priscilla, still invisible and unheard by the two boys. 'Let's just hope those three goons haven't drawn too much attention when they scrammed. Last thing we need is school staff on our backs.'

'Come on Louis,' chuckled Charlie, patting his friend on the rump. 'You're gonna have to walk straight. Sorry I can't give you a massage, but well... kind of a delicate area. Just keep thinking "Step up! Dodge and weave. Jab, jab! Step up again, keep punching!"'

'Easy for you to say,' Louis replied, and then as his level-headed thinking focused, he added, 'Now we better go out separately. Laugh a bit girls, chatter and look cool.'

'Like Cool Bananas,' offered Pricilla sweetly, already standing invisibly outside.


Chapter 17 [next]


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