Baker's Dozen – Chapter 05
Written by argonaut :: [Thursday, 05 September 2013 13:27] Last updated by :: [Friday, 14 August 2015 22:07]
“Please,” Bobby gasped. “Cindy – Megan – you’re hurting me. Ms. Bartlett – please – let go …”
It was no use. The three supergirls were all shouting at once, tugging Bobby this way and that in the heat of their argument. Desperately, Bobby cast his eyes around the room, looking for something – anything – that might save him from his predicament.
He saw that a few students were standing outside the far door. They were watching the altercation with interest – some of them were taking pictures with their camera phones – but nobody was venturing into the room. Then someone shouldered her way through the crowd of gawkers and hurried across the matted floor – a forty-ish brunette wearing a black sweatshirt and a pair of black sweatpants.
It was the school’s assistant principal, Ms. Briggs.
Still fit and attractive in her forties, Ms. Briggs was a dedicated runner, a regular participant in the town’s yearly marathon. Every afternoon around 3:30, weather permitting, she put on her sneakers and some old clothes and ran a few laps around the school’s track. She must have been on her way to the athletic field when she spotted the quarrel in the weight room.
Bobby felt a wave of relief as she hurried toward him. A firm disciplinarian, Ms. Briggs had defused more than one confrontation in the hallways or cafeteria with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a word of admonition. Strict yet fair, she was respected by the students in her charge – but as she drew closer, Bobby could see anxiety on her face, uncertainty in her eyes. Breaking up a three-way super-catfight would be a challenge, even for her.
Megan was still holding Bobby’s right arm tight – uncomfortably tight – but he managed to slip his hand into his pocket just far enough to touch the card with the tip of his fingers. Ms. Briggs had stopped just a few feet away, appraising the situation, wondering how to proceed. The girls took no notice of her, continuing to squabble in loud, angry voices, as Bobby fixed his eyes on Ms. Briggs and murmured: “I wish she was super!”
Bobby winced, squeezing his eyes shut, as Cindy pulled at his right arm – and then …
The angry voices were silent. The pressure on his arms and shoulders was gone. Bobby stumbled slightly, off-balance, as he opened his eyes.
Ms. Briggs was holding Cindy’s wrist in her right hand, Megan’s in her left. Her baggy sweatsuit had turned into a snug one-piece outfit of black leather, zipped all the way up her neck, that clung to her lithe, supple figure. Her face still had its mature contours, but her skin was smooth, youthful, and her mousy brown hair was now a rich auburn wave that swept across her forehead and turned up along her shoulders. She glanced from Cindy to Megan and back again, then let go of their wrists. Bobby glanced over his shoulder. Ms. Bartlett had stepped back and stood adjusting her blouse and looking as guilty as a toddler caught raiding the cookie jar.
Ms. Briggs folded her arms across her chest and tilted her head inquiringly to one side. “Now then,” she said. “Would somebody kindly explain what’s going on?”
Bobby blinked. Since when did Ms. Briggs have an English accent?
Cindy and Megan spoke up simultaneously, each accusing the other, each hotly denying the accusations. Mrs. Briggs held up a hand for silence. “Ms. Bartlett?” she asked. “Perhaps you can shed some light?”
Ms. Bartlett fidgeted nervously. “I – I heard the commotion and I found these two girls fighting over Bobby,” she said. “I was trying to stop them when you came in.” She was having difficulty meeting Ms. Briggs’ steady gaze. Lying obviously wasn’t one of her super-powers.
“Ha!” said Megan. “You only tried to break it up because you had a date with Bobby yourself – you perv.”
Bobby spoke up. “It wasn’t a date,” he said. “Not a date date. She just wanted me to help her out with some stuff in the library.”
“Su-u-u-u-re she did,” scoffed Cindy.
“Quiet, please, all of you.” Ms. Briggs closed her eyes and squeezed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “I haven’t got the time to sort this out now.” She thought for a moment, then turned to Cindy.
“Cindy, I’m sure those firefighters in Utah would appreciate your assistance,” she said. “And Megan, let’s not keep the other cheerleaders waiting. I’ll expect to see both of you in my office at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. Until then, off with you. Chop-chop.”
She watched the two girls hurry toward the exit, then turned to Ms. Bartlett. “As for you –”
Ms. Bartlett kept her eyes averted. “Yes, Ms. Briggs?”
“Go to my office and wait for me there. I’ll be with you as soon as I have a word with young Mr. Baker here.”
“Yes, Ms. Briggs.”
Bobby watched Ms. Bartlett leave by the nearer door. He hoped she wasn’t in too much trouble. After all, this whole mess was his fault. If he hadn’t used the card, if he hadn’t agreed to meet both Cindy and Ms. Bartlett at 3:20, if he hadn’t stood them both up …
Bobby and Ms. Briggs were alone in the weight room. She stood regarding him quizzically for a few moments before speaking. “Well, Mr. Baker,” she said. “What was that all about?”
Bobby cleared his throat nervously. “Well, I was supposed to meet Cindy after school, but then I got to talking with Megan and I, uh, forgot that I kind of promised Ms. Bartlett that I’d to help her out in the library …”
His voice trailed off as he realized how preposterous his story sounded, even though it was true. Would Ms. Briggs – would anyone – believe that three hot super-babes were fighting over him?
But if Ms. Briggs was skeptical, she didn’t show it. She continued to look down at Bobby with one eyebrow raised and a corner of her mouth turned up. “Well!” she said. “Where I’m from, we call that a sticky wicket. But now that your social calendar is cleared for the afternoon, I suggest you toddle on home – unless you’ve made any other assignations?”
“Trysts.” Then, seeing that Bobby was none the wiser, she said, “Dates. You really ought to enlarge your vocabulary.”
“Yes. I mean, no – no more, uh, trysts.” He picked up his bookbag and slipped his arm through a strap, wincing as it pressed against the bruises on his shoulder. “Thanks, Ms. Briggs. If you hadn’t come along –”
Ms. Briggs smiled. “Well, it’s a good job I did. Oh, and Bobby –”
Bobby turned, surprised to hear her address him by his first name. “Yes?”
“Just be careful. That’s all.”
* * * * * * * *
Thirty minutes later …
Ms. Briggs was sitting alone in her office. Ms. Bartlett, chastened and tearful, had left ten minutes ago, to collect her personal belongings from the library. The building was quiet; Ms. Briggs heard only the usual late-afternoon noises – the hum of the ventilating system. The janitor’s footsteps, the closing of a door in the classroom wing as a teacher left for the day.
She was looking intently at the screen of her laptop, scrolling down Bobby’s file – class schedule, transcript, disciplinary record (blank), medical history, date of birth, home address, phone number, email, parents’ names … Swiftly, efficiently, she moved her eyes down the screen, memorizing the file as quickly as she read it.
She came to the last page. Even though all the information was securely lodged in her memory, she took a flash drive from her desk and inserted it into the laptop. Seconds later, the download was complete. She unzipped the top of her leather suit and attached the flash drive to a jeweler’s chain around her neck, then zipped the suit back up to her chin.
Glancing at the clock, she opened the bottom drawer of her desk and took out another laptop – newer and sleeker than the one she used for school-related business. She typed a password, then another.
“State your name,” a recorded voice instructed her.
“Emily Briggs,” she said, enunciating the syllables carefully.
Seconds later, the program opened a secure channel to a room where a digitally scrambled figure was sitting behind a desk. Beyond the cloud of pixels a bowler hat and an umbrella were hanging on a mahogany stand.
“Ah, Ms. Briggs. Good afternoon.” The voice, like the image, was electronically disguised.
Ms. Briggs got right to the point. “I’ve had to sack the Bartlett woman. I’ll explain in my report, but I thought you should know right away.”
“That’s too bad. I suppose I’ll have to assign someone else to keep an eye on her. I assume you had no alternative?”
“Not really. Technically, she’s been suspended. There’ll be a hearing, meetings with her union representative, that sort of thing. She may be back at her job in a fortnight. Or not.”
“Keep me posted. And the girls?”
Ms. Briggs rolled her eyes. “They were going at it hammer and tongs a little while ago. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but honestly – what I wouldn’t give, some days, for a nice restful posting in Egypt or Afghanistan.”
“I don’t need to tell you how important this assignment is. Or how much we appreciate the job you’re doing. Anything else we should know about?”
“I may have a lead. I’ll let you know if anything turns up. There may be nothing to it.”
“Very well. Eyes and ears. Thank you, Ms. Briggs.” The screen went blank.
She put the laptop back in its compartment and locked the drawer. Her super-woman’s intuition was telling her that there was more to Bobby Baker than met the eye.