and The Pirates of the Mystic Caravan.
Chapter 10 - Bully-rags, burnings and bun-fights
'How do you know that?' Priscilla asked, inclined to be sceptical. Although, considering that it was her older brother Louis, she remained patiently awaiting his answer.
'Because, little sister, I was in the outer office and Miss Reynard was behind closed doors speaking with Miss Poe, and I happened to glance down at Miss Reynard's desk and there was a hand-written note from the Head to be typed up and a number of documents with the Hildebrant Real Estate letter-head, and some other Council papers and a map of the land opposite Hopewell.'
'And Miss Poe is interested in "...exploring the possibilities of acquiring the land to expand our car-park?" '
'That's what her note said.'
'But that has houses on it. Old Mister Moar and his wife live in one of them, and that retired bloke who sells plants, and the lady who takes care of her mother.'
Louis sighed and shrugged his shoulders, 'I saw the signature of Morris Sole on the Real Estate docs.'
'Of course. That tells me why he smarmied his way in the other day. He's trying to push a deal.'
'I would call it selling land,' said Louis.
'But he doesn't own the land or the houses so why? What could he get out of it?'
'How do you know what he owns or what other people he might be working for, own? Maybe he has inside information nobody knows about and maybe he's suggesting to the school that he can get the land without too much trouble.'
'Yeah right, after tipping out the people who just happen to live there!' snapped Priscilla. 'Exploring the possibilities of acquiring the land is weasel-speak for pressuring old folks: scaring them into selling and getting rid of them so their houses can be bull-dozed just like Belinda's Gran...' She was going to say more, but realised that her brother wouldn't understand.
'It's only a proposal,' said Louis, fully capable of withstanding his feisty sister's sudden outbursts. 'Sole is probably trying to drum up prime land business and doing a sell to the school. He knows Hopewell has some money. He's just testing to see if there is any interest.'
'Why were you there for anyway? You're not in any trouble are you?' said Priscilla, momentarily concerned.
'Not every student that attends the Head's office is about to get a flogging, unless it's Henry, and he's a master at dodging the bullets. I was, in fact, there as Form Captain to deliver the sealed results of my class voting for probationary Prefects and to drop off a couple of articles for the school mag. And now that you have squeezed every last drop of information out of me I do have some study to do. O.K. if I get on with it?'
'What? Oh sure, fine. Thanks big brother,' Priscilla answered off-handedly, waving and swinging toward the Little Cafe lounge on the second floor of the east wing.
'I'm really not right about Ray. I mean he's a nice boy and that, but he's a bit, yeah, you know, a bit too close and kind of wanting to have a hold on me. Not like making me do what he wants, but just sort of being there to... I dunno... look out for me, protect me... Does that make any sense?'
Monique's big Whoopie Goldberg grin zeroed in on Priscilla's confused face.
'To me, it does. The guy likes you and wants to be your boyfriend and make sure you don't get yourself into trouble. What could be simpler than that?'
'Simpler than that? How about, I don't think I'm ready to be a girlfriend yet, you know?' Priscilla answered in her best dawky accent, with the forefingers of both hands wiggling. 'Anyway, changing the subject,' she went on as a crowd of classmates descended and plumped down onto various couches, 'Louis spotted some info on Miss Reynard's desk about what Morris Sole's up to. He's trying to get the school interested in buying up the block across from the school and turning it into a carpark.'
'Well of course the home owners will have to agree to sell first and I doubt that,' Monique answered as Belinda plonked her swag of books on the floor and perched lightly on a padded arm.
'Home owners being asked to sell out and move are you saying?' she queried, her face darkening with memories of her Gran in England flooding back.
'What's this jolly-well all about?'
During the early hours of the morning, most of the school was awakened by the sound of fire engines arriving in the street not far from the main gates.
The smell of smoke and an angry orange glow told of a blaze somewhere close to Hopewell.
In-house staff members in dressing gowns or with tracksuits hastily pulled over pyjamas were stumbling down the corridors calming any alarmed students and sending them back to bed.
'Nothing to worry about girls,' said the Science Master Peter Brooks, looking even more eccentric than usual, his hair seemingly standing up on end as if he had just stepped out of a wind tunnel. 'It's only a hedge fire down the street and the fire brigade already has it under control. Bit smoky but perfectly safe. Go back to bed and settle down. Every thing's fine.'
'Is it!' said Priscilla, shutting their dorm door. 'There's only one hedge in the street!'
'Oui!' nodded Monique, slipping back under the covers. 'And that is the one at the front of Mister Moar's house!'
This in fact proved to be true. In the morning, blackened, waterlogged coals were all that was left of what had been a well-manicured three-metre high hedge standing in front of a nice old Californian Bungalow.
Later, during lunch, Priscilla, Monique, Narenda and Belinda took a stroll through the school gates and sauntered over the road just in time to encounter old Fred Moar and his wife doing their best to sweep down the pavement and tidy up the mess.
'Hi Mister and Missus Moar,' said Priscilla as brightly as she could manage, 'it's awful about your hedge. Do you think it was vandals?'
'What! Oh hello girls,' said Fred, turning around after emptying a shovel-full of ashes into a plastic bag held by his wife Irene. 'Vandals? Hummph! Maybe. Maybe not. Unless they've taken to making abusive phone calls as well.'
'Do you mean to say that someone has been threatening you?' asked Belinda.
'Not only us, but Joyce Hovell and her mother, and Teddy Richards as well,' said Irene, struggling with the bag.
'Here Missus Moar, let me help you,' Narenda offered, taking the bag away from Irene's frail hands. 'This is for putting into green waste bin?'
'Black waste bin more likely,' said Fred ruefully. 'And to answer your question young lady, we have been the victim's of bullying for months now, reported it to the police, complained to the council, wrote letters to the newspapers... '
'And got nowhere!' concluded his wife.
'No one seems to care. Oh the police have passed by on occasion, but what can they do unless they catch somebody in the act?'
'Do you know who it is that is doing this bullying to you?' asked Narenda, brushing at the muddy smears on her hands.
'Phone calls are probably Gerry Sykes, sounds like his voice, but muffled a bit.' said Fred. 'He lives in the house directly behind ours and rumour has it that he owns the rented property two doors down in his street. He used to be a councillor and so did his son.'
'Yes, and there's pressure from the council too. They keep bringing in new rules and regulations about parking in front of the houses along here. Now we can't even park in front any more.' said Irene, before adding, 'Of course we're always being bombarded with flyers from Real Estate agents, and at times, nasty letters, unsigned, demanding that we sell up and leave.'
'Whoa!' said Priscilla. 'The Real Estate agents. Lots of them or just one or two?'
'Arkis-Motley, or Kane and Co. sometimes, although they're not so bad, but Hildebrants, they're always at us.'
'They? Who from Hildebrants?' Monique asked, thoughtfully.
'The man with the bow-tie. Morris Sole. He's been telling us for a year now that we could make a killing if we sold out to the council.'
'And he's offered to help us do that.' said Irene.
'Of course he would,' answered Belinda, her eyes narrowing. 'There are always helpful people like him around.'
'Why can't the police do more?' wondered Belinda, dropping her apple core into a litter bin as the girls headed for a double-class library period.
'Like what?' said Priscilla. 'Take fingerprints? Tap phones? They probably know what's going on. This isn't new I bet. People, kids; bullying to get what they want, it's all part of getting on top, being king, winning where everybody else is a loser, and they get what they want, no matter what.'
'I do not want to be a part of this trampling over others.' said Narenda. 'We have a society in Australia of this courtesy thingy and it begins in school. Bullies should be zero tolerance, yes please.'
'Tell that to Miss Poe about Roseanne Sole.' said Monique, before pondering; 'Her uncle is involved in this. I wonder whether somehow she too might be?'
'Might be what?' asked Narenda.
'Trying to make sure we're so focused on her that we don't take any notice of what is happening?' suggested Belinda.
'Nah! She isn't that smart... Or is she?' said Priscilla, wondering out loud. 'Umm, smart like a dunny-rat, no offence to Cagney, maybe she fits in here somewhere, but where and how?'
'What is this dunny rat?' asked Narenda.
'Now you're already busy thinking about Roseanne, so even if she isn't really trying to distract us, she is.' said Monique. 'We have to focus on the doughnut not the hole.'
'Have to focus on lots of things,' Priscilla muttered, her mind wandering: Ray, boyfriends, girlfriends, studies, bloody Roseanne, Henry getting himself into deep do-dos, hedges burning... Surban...
'So explain please, what is this thing dunny rat?' Narenda asked again, pushing open the library doors.
If Roseanne Sole had deliberately been trying to side-track the BlackEagle Girls she couldn't have planned it better. Friday afternoon saw her two tennis charges Jennifer Riley and Tony Cross defeat Susan Berri and James Crandle of 2A. in three sets.
'Howja like that?' she crowed, waving a towel to those watching as the players walked from the court. 'Wait until we get to the real comp you poor schmuks! We're gonna cream you all!'
'Just look at her, wiping Jenny's face and brushing her hair out,' said Monique, shaking her head as Jimmy and Susan came up to the bleached timber seats where the girls were sitting.
'We can still beat them Sue. They had a few lucky shots fall in, that's all,' said Jimmy, his arm draped limply around her shoulders.
'Those aces from Tony weren't lucky. He's just good. And Jenny has a strong return of serve. We're going to have to practise solidly for the comp.' Susan answered, reaching for a towel.
'We'll give you the best work-outs we can, right Cilla?' said Ray, handing out plastic tumblers of water.
'Well yes, us... and other competition.' Priscilla answered. 'Nadia and John are better than we are.'
'Thanks guys, we need all the practise we can get, but you're in the tennis comp too,' Susan replied. 'You might end up playing against them.'
'Or us,' said Jimmy.
'Not long before my kids take you dumbos apart for real!' shouted Roseanne from the other side. 'Bring on Little Miss smart-arse Black and her boy friend and anyone else you like. Jen and Tone can wipe you all off the court. Who's next?' She waved her arms. 'Nup! O.K. Annie's kids are gonna take it easy for now. The comp starts soon. Carn't wait for all youse losers!'
Priscilla had to be restrained.
The first 'official pie,' struck immediately after Wednesday morning assembly when many students were still in zombie mode.
It came in the form of a lightly counter-balanced cardboard contraption mounted upon doors leading to locker rooms, showers and toilets, that simply dropped down, slapping the victim's face with a cardboard plate piled with shaving cream.
Within half an hour it was clear that the attack was a well organised and timed episode. Student victims were complaining in the corridors amid much mopping with handkerchiefs and tissues.
Initially Hopewell's staff took this in a good natured way, laughing it off as no more than a short-lived prank, until Cranky Rankey, the Maths teacher, fell foul of the full force of a flying pie.
'I did not find it at all funny, and neither did any of my class when I gave them some time-out this afternoon,' he grumbled, stirring his coffee in the sanctity of the teachers rooms.
'Oh really Leon, it's all just good-natured juvenile prankster foolishness. And after all, what's a bit of shaving cream in the face?' said Jan Kelly the language Mistress.
'That's just it,' Rankin grumbled, 'it wasn't in the face. It was meant for a student... '
'So you copped it right in... on the...' Peter Brooks had to stifle a guffaw, 'below waist level,' he managed, barely controlling himself. 'Must have been tricky conducting a class directly afterwards.'
'I managed, seated behind my desk.' Rankin muttered sullenly, gazing down at his grey trousers and the faint damp patch around the crotch.
'If you weren't so tall the target area would have been less... shall we say, delicate.' said Roger Dance, and then, with more than a little arch devilry he added, 'Of course, the apparatus might not have been meant for a student.'
Lightening raids were conducted by Teachers and Prefects on the Usual Suspects quarters, but to no avail. The Pie-in-the-face Mastermind and crew were not to be apprehended so easily. No evidence of shaving pressure-cans, cardboard plates and assorted 'slinging apparatus' were to be discovered anywhere.
The following day and the day after, no further foam-pie attacks were reported and Hopewell's teaching staff began to relax.
'It would seem that our little Scarlet Pimpernel has had his fun,' said Monique, climbing into her bunk and reaching for a magazine.
'Since when did Henry ever know about time for quitting?' Priscilla answered yawning. 'He's still got more up his sleeve I bet. Remember? He will be Tony Curtis, the others will be waiting? False Sense of Security Department here. I know my kid brother. Just hope he's also bothering to do his studies or he might end up being the Pensioner Prankster of Hopewell.'
Priscilla clicked off her lamp and rolled onto her side. 'Night Mon.'
Sliding toward sleep, Priscilla's mind restlessly roamed.
Ray, boyfriends, girlfriends, studies, bloody Roseanne, Henry getting himself into deep do-dos, hedges burning... Surban...Surban?
Chapter 11 next