Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - Before Breakfast
Outside Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
There was nothing suspicious about the way the lanky boy walked around behind Kane Hall, to the area where staff parked; it seemed like he was an ordinary curious student wandering around campus. But a look at Bobby Earl's eyes would have given away that he was not just a freshman on a casual evening stroll instead, his eyes took in the areas around him slowly, scanning everything with deliberate precision. He was accustomed to being aware of his surroundings; years of moonshining and outwitting federal 'revenuers' had drilled some habits into his every behavior.
Satisfied that no-one was following him and that he wasn't attracting untoward attention, Bobby Earl strolled lazily to a particular vehicle, an older, two-tone blue Ford pickup, a four-wheel-drive diesel with some custom grill-work and wheels. To all outside appearances, he was merely admiring the truck.
Presently, Officer Jerry Mendez ambled up casually.
"Nice truck," Bobby Earl said easily. "Yours?"
"Yup." Mendez smiled. "The two cameras covering this area are looping for the next few minutes, and the mics are cold."
"Ah see they take security a mite serious 'round here," the boy said with a wry smile.
"You could say that. With all these kids and their prejudices and powers ...." Mendez needed say no more; Bobby Earl already knew about teenagers' moodiness and powers, and how that combination could be problematic. "You got something for me?" Mendez continued easily.
The boy nodded. "Here's the shipping information," he said, extending a folded paper to the security officer. "Should be in Berlin day after tomorrow."
"Kind of short notice, isn't it?" The paper disappeared into Mendez' pocket. "Where do I deliver it?"
"Just got the key for mah new lab last night. You wanna go have a look-see?" With Jerry Mendez following him, Bobby Earl ambled into the side of Kane Hall, to an elevator and stairs which both descended to the tunnels below.
Following what seemed to be a random, meandering path that to the officer's eyes seemed a deliberate effort to obfuscate the location of the lab, the unlikely pair arrived in a less-travelled side tunnel, ending up at a steel door that looked like it had seen better days. With a shrugged glance at the security officer, Bobby Earl took a key from his pocket and inserted it into a lock on the door.
To their surprise, the key didn't open the door, but instead opened a panel in the door, behind which was a relatively sophisticated set of biometric sensors. "Interestin'," the boy drawled.
"Paranoid much?" Mendez chuckled.
"You ain't never had revenuers tryin' t' find your still, Ah bet."
"I've had my own adventures where ... extreme caution is not only advisable, but required."
"If'n Ah got what Ah paid for, this should already be coded for me." The boy looked into an optical scanner, and when it beeped, he pressed his thumb against a small inset scanner. It, too, beeped, and accompanied by the whir of a motor and the sound of metal bolts withdrawing, the door opened.
Stepping inside, the boy located a light switch and flipped it on. Immediately, the inky blackness of the room was bathed in a warm light, revealing its secrets. With rough-hewn walls and ceiling, carved directly into the granite bedrock, it was like a cave, and only the floor looked artificial, smooth and tiled. A shop sink squatted against one wall, and overhead, two sets of duct-work sprouted from high on a wall, spreading metal tentacles around the room. No doubt one was a fresh air supply and the other was an exhaust fan. The boy's expression immediately showed a huge grin. "'Cept'n for the tile floor and the 'lectric lights, this makes me think of Grandpappy's cave where he made all his 'shine."
"If you keep grain here," Mendez observed, noting that dankness hung in the air like an invisible fog, chilling and damp and unpleasant, "you'll have to get storage bins, or it'll rot in no time."
"Yup. Ah had to deal with that in the cave. Ah'll get some storage bins, and line 'em with garbage bags to keep the grain dry, and Ah'll get a dehumidifier."
After looking around a few minutes to satisfy himself with the lab, Bobby Earl led the security officer back out of the tunnels. To his surprise, Mendez paused every so often to make notes in his cell phone. As they climbed the last flight of stairs, Bobby Earl's curiosity got the better of him. "What's with the notes?"
"Just marking down which cameras I need to get ... modified," Mendez said with a grin. "Or disabled." He looked at the list. "I'll probably need to wait until around Saturday to make the pickup in Berlin," he noted. "I have quite a few mods to arrange before I can get your stuff to the lab."
Bobby Earl winced visibly. "It ain't that Ah ain't grateful," he drawled, "but it's been a long time since Ah was workin' on a still, and mah spirit is getting a mite restless."
"I understand," Mendez commented wryly, "but given a choice between taking a little extra time or being caught ...?"
"Got it. Well, Ah need t' get t' breakfast, 'fore anyone starts lookin' for me.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - Breakfast
Tunnel beneath Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
A huge frown formed on Belphegor's face as he skidded his anti-grav chair into a mostly-unused side tunnel near the elevators from Crystal Hall. Leaning against the wall was one of his lessers and a continual source of accusations - usually true - of Belphegor stealing from his lab.
"What are you doing here, Erlenmeyer?" Belpho demanded, his English accent making him sound far more authoritative and responsible than he really was. It wouldn't have sounded so comical if he wasn't overweight. Despite having lost weight in the spring term thanks to one of Jobe's serums, a summer packed with inactivity and Twinkies - among other things - had made him backslide to the point that his body was snug in the oversized chair in his anti-grav scooter, and if he wasn't covered with crumbs and orange dust from cheese puffs.
"I could ask the same," Erlenmeyer responded evenly. "I'm here to meet someone for a private discussion. Which means you're not wanted."
"According to the carefully anonymous text I got, I most certainly am wanted here," Belphegor retorted as pompously as he could, intending perhaps to make Erlenmeyer feel unwelcome or inferior - which Belpho knew he was.
"I think you're mistaken," Erlenmeyer started to counter.
"Ahem," the throat-clearing noise came from behind the large boy's large chair and immense bulk, and a moment later, Glitch stepped around the lumbering hulk of the anti-grav scooter. "You were both requested to be here."
"For what?" Erlenmeyer demanded. It was well-known that when his experiments and devises were doing well, he was a happy person, and when things were not going well, he could be a real asshole. His tone suggested the latter condition.
"Rumor has it that you were both aggrieved this fall in the assignment of laboratory space," Glitch said, his words clear enough to indicate that he was sober, which was a significant change from his usual state. "The way I heard it, the administration and lab management gave priority and quite … lavish … space to a freshman, ignoring your remarkable achievements and projects." He was really larding the flattery on thick, but he knew his targets.
Erlenmeyer's skeptical frown deepened into an angry scowl. "They promised me I'd get a lab! After my protein tester from last spring, and my work on genetic activation that …."
Glitch held up his hands to signal a stop. "I understand it's quite impressive. Which makes it all the more disappointing."
"Disappointing?" Erlenmeyer practically shrieked. "Disappointing? They gave my lab space to that freshman Shine! My space! They promised me!" Even though he didn't have Diedrick's, his ranting was growing in intensity and emotion to the point that one might think he was having a full attack of the syndrome.
Belphegor was nodding his agreement. "I should have been given a prime spot, since I am among the best devisors on campus." Erlenmeyer's diatribe had gotten under Belphegor's skin, stirring the exact same resentment in him. Unlike Erlenmeyer, he was about to have a full episode.
"Now, now, gentlemen," Glitch attempted to calm the two irate devisors, "there are ways of taking care of such problems." He waited a moment, allowing their curiosity to rise. "I could help someone if they were to … procure ... the works of a troublesome lab-denizen."
"Why?" Erlenmeyer's near-paranoid suspicion kicked into high gear. "What's in it for you?"
Glitch's eyes narrowed, and he looked around as if he was about to pass a state secret. "Let's just say that his … products … are of interest to me. Extreme interest."
"Ah," Erlenmeyer realized what was up. "So the rumors that security found …."
"My … friend … in security left. The new guys are much less … amenable ….:
"Bribable," Erlenmeyer interjected sarcastically.
Glitch merely shrugged. "However you want to say it. Anyway, they uncovered my private supply of fine wines and brandies."
"Let me guess," Erlenmeyer continued, "you've found that your usual channels to smuggle certain unapproved supplies onto campus were no longer functional?" He saw the expression that Glitch was trying to mask. "Why don't you just talk to him and make a deal? Why involve me?"
Glitch frowned. "I tried. Evidently, someone in the administration thought it best to talk to the kid before any other students could, and gave him a list of students that he should never do business with, at risk of being expelled and prosecuted."
"Including you," Belpho surmised, accurately if the sour expression on Glitch's face were any indication.
"If he's a moonshiner, he wouldn't care about that," Erlenmeyer said sarcastically. "So you must have pissed him off somehow."
Glitch glared at the boy, as if even suggesting that he could have been the source of pissing off Bobby Earl was an outrage. The look, though, was confirmation that Erlenmeyer's guess was on the mark.
"What is it that you would have us do?" Belphegor asked the sixty-four-thousand dollar question.
"Very simple," Glitch replied, calming slightly. "Both of you have been slighted by the way the administration has favored him. If you were to ... acquire his product, it would help even the score, as it is a valuable commodity."
"And possibly sabotage his work," Belphegor said gleefully, with enough enthusiasm that one might have wrongly believed he was about to have a Diedrick's episode.
Glitch shook his head sternly. "No. If you do that, he'll quit making the product. I just want to get enough of it to satisfy me and my many friends."
"What's in it for us?" Erlenmeyer asked cautiously.
"Quite simple. Anything in his lab, you can copy, setting yourselves up with a lucrative income from supplying spirits, especially to the Melville crowd. And you can take a healthy cut of the acquired spirits."
"That doesn't sound like it's worth it."
"Surely he has a 'secret' lab," Belphegor suggested. "Where he can make alcohol without close scrutiny by the faculty and staff."
"Precisely," Glitch agreed, as if he'd already thought of that. He hadn't, of course, but he didn't want the two thieving devisors to think he wasn't clever or smart. "Even if you don't want to help acquire his product, I can pay you handsomely for the location of his 'private' lab."
Erlenmeyer was almost visibly mulling the offer over in his mind. "That sounds like a good offer," he finally said.
Beside him, Belphegor nodded agreement as well. "As long as we don't have to work together."
Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - Lunch
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
An audible groan circulated the lab-coat dining area as Bobby Earl and JB began to set their trays at empty spots on a long table.
Bobby Earl shook his head, chuckling. "Well, Ah'm happy t' see all of you, too!"
"It's not that," one of the girls, Breakdown, said with a shake of her head. "It's them."
"Who?" Bobby Earl was a bit confused.
"Your ... fan club," Spark said acerbically.
"Are you ever goin' t' have lunch with us regular folk?" Reach asked wryly.
"If you aren't careful," Monkeywrench chuckled, "they'll turn you into a society snob, too!"
"Yeah," another of the girls agreed. "You should listen to yourself sometime! They're getting you to sound like an uppercrust snob already!"
All eyes pivoted to watch Alexis and Heather walking up on either side of the hillbilly the two attractive girls strutting in a way that emphasized their sexuality while also conveying an attitude of social superiority. "Hi, Bobby Earl!" they said sweetly, almost in harmony. "Are you going to join me for lunch?" The two glanced at each other, shooting daggers as each wished harm upon her rival for the boy's affections.
Around them, the other devisors and gadgeteers watched the girls with a mixture of envy and suspicion. It wasn't common for two such girls to even notice their type.
"I haven't had lunch with mah classmates for a while," Bobby Earl countered.
"But you see them in classes and labs all the time!" Heather countered. "Come on. Have lunch with me!"
"No," Alexis said, lightly grasping Bobby Earl's arm. "With me!"
"I'd really like it if you had lunch with me!" Heather practically begged, softly batting her eyes at the boy.
"I take it that you two intend to remain and continue to plead with and cajole my roommate to join one of you, thus interrupting the relatively peaceful noontime repast of the rest of us," JB observed dryly, "until such time as he relents and agrees to dine with you, thus sparing us the agonizing and unceasing ordeal of listening to your whining?"
Heather wrinkled her brow as she attempted to follow JB's long-winded fancy-sounding complaint, but Alexis caught on quickly. "Yes," she retorted sharply, scowling at the boy, her mood darkened by the chuckling of all the underdog devisors and gadgeteers. "I'm sure that I'm a far more enjoyable dining companion," she said, practically looking down her nose at the devisors and gadgeteers.
"Come on," Alexis tried to force things by grasping his upper arm. "I know a nice quiet table ....
"I know you'd rather have lunch with me," Heather countered, matching Alexis' move by taking Bobby Earl's other arm.
"Ladies," Bobby Earl said with a grin as the two tried to maneuver him away from the Underdogs table, "'tain't but one o' me, and two o' you, so rather'n you fightin' over me, you'll have to share ... at least for lunch today.
The two girls exchanged nasty glares, but then both looked at him and put on phony sweet smiles. "If that's you want," Heather purred seductively, "we can all dine together."
"I can share you with her today," Alexis countered with a sickenly sweet voice, "as long as you don't insist I share your attention tonight at Le Bistro!" She shot a smug, self-satisfied grin at Heather.
Heather recoiled at that news, then recovered and put on a seductive pout. "When were you planning to spend some time with me?"
"Huh?" Bobby Earl's jaw dropped. "What?"
"If you're going to Le Bistro with her, were you planning to let me have some nice ... private ... time with me?" Heather batted her eyes again.
"Well," Bobby Earl mused, "Ah s'pose Ah can spend some time ...."
"You do want to spend time with me, don't you?"
"I'm sure he'd rather spend time with me," Alexis interrupted.
"Butt out," Heather hissed at her, turning so Bobby Earl wouldn't see the 'gaze of death' look she was giving to Alexis. "You got a date with him to eat snails and runny cheese." She turned back toward the boy, her expression once again full of adoring charm directed at him.
"A pretty girl like you?" the boy stammered, "Ah'd be stupider'n a fence post if'n Ah didn't!"
Heather smiled, pausing to shoot an 'I told you so' look at her rival.
Alexis interrupted. "There's a movie Saturday night in Crystal Hall," she said to him, giving him puppy-dog eyes.
"There's a dance in Melville ...." Heather started to say.
Alexis spun toward Heather again. "Back off! The movie is my gig!"
Bobby Earl nodded. "Ah'm not really into that kind of movie. Ah mean, ain't romantic comedies s'posed t' be chick flicks?"
"And a dance would be more fun, wouldn't it?" Heather batted her eyes at Bobby Earl, taking a momentary break to stick her tongue out at her competitor for his affections.
"But ... if we go to a movie, we might not watch a lot of the movie," Alexis countered Heather's argument. "If you know what I mean." She slightly pursed her lips to heavily insinuate what she meant.
"If'n Ah take you t' a movie, wouldn't we ...." the boy's eyes widened at the way Alexis was batting her eyes and seductively touching the tip of her tongue to her lip. "Oh. Oh, yeah."
"Well?" Alexis turned her charm up a notch.
"But you're going to dinner with her tonight! It's only fair that you spend time with me, too, like taking me to the dance," Heather objected.
"That's true," he mused, glancing at Alexis with an apologetic look on his face. He turned back to Heather. "If'n you'd like, Ah'd like to take you t' the dance Saturday," he asked nervously. Bobby Earl may have been confident around a still, but around girls, he was uncertain and uneasy.
"I'd have to think about it" Heather replied with a coy smile. "As soon as I can decipher your accent," she added teasingly.
"In that case," Bobby Earl squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. "I would be honored," he said, very careful of his elocution, "if you would accompany me to the movie this Saturday evening." Exhaling, he relaxed visibly. "How was that?" he asked with a grin.
"That was very nice," Heather smiled. "And yes, I'd like to go to the movie with you." She batted her eyes at the boy again, then turned to stick her tongue out gloatingly at Alexis.
* * *
Up on a higher tier, Nacht noticed that Jadis was looking over the railing, down on the lower levels. "What'cha watching, Jades?" she asked.
Jadis didn't turn to her fellow Bad Seed, keeping her gaze on the spectacle of the two girls and their verbal and nonverbal jousting centered around Bobby Earl's affections. "The moonshiner, gold-digger follies."
"Come again," J-Arm said, looking up from the steak on his plate that he was cutting.
"The freshman 'Shine," Jadis answered. "Seems he's attracted a couple of the Melville rich-girls who seem to be trying to land their hooks in him."
"So?" Nephandus asked, glancing down and finding it uninteresting. "That's nothing unusual."
"The kid is a hillbilly moonshining devisor. He suddenly came into money because of his devises, and he's selling more and more of them. In short, he's rich and very rapidly getting a lot richer," Jadis replied casually.
"So why would ...." J-Arm started to say, then his jaw dropped a bit. "Oh, I see. Let me guess - the families aren't quite as rich as the girls would have us believe?"
"That pretty much summarizes the situation," Jadis replied. "Of course, there are certain social expectations that go with being in the blue-blood crowd."
"And being a hillbilly doesn't match up with those expectations," J-Arm realized the dilemma the girls were facing.
"So I'm guessing that they're playing 'My Fair Lady' with him," Jadis concluded. She turned at their silence, wondering why they hadn't commented or questioned her. J-Arm and Nephandus seemed a bit puzzled. Jobe was bored. Nacht was, as customary, quite unreadable, and only Belphoebe seemed to know what Jadis had referred to. "They're trying to 'civilize' him."
"Ah," Jobe finally paid attention, though she still looked bored. "I take it their task is not going well, and hence the phrase 'Melville follies'."
"What's your interest?" J-Arm asked the white-haired Bad Seed. "You're not interested in the boy, are you?"
Jadis turned toward J-Arm, her jaw hanging open at the utterly ridiculous suggestion. "Of course not!" she said once the initial shock had worn off. "I'm the cottage fixer," she added, "so if this gets out of hand, I'll be involved trying to keep things under control."
"And it's probably quite amusing," Belphoebe speculated with a knowing smile.
Jadis nodded. "There is that."
"If you ask me," Jobe cut in again, "which you didn't, I'd say that boy is heading for a world of trouble."
* * *
Across the hall, several of the devisors and gadgeteers sitting at the Underdog table stared longingly at Bobby Earl and his two lovely dining companions. While they were too far away to hear any of the conversation, they could easily see the adoring looks the two girls were directing his way.
"Lucky shit!" one of the freshmen boys called Spanner grumbled.
"Yeah," Monkeywrench agreed. "What's he got that we don't have?"
"Besides millions in the bank?" Breakdown laughed. "That does tend to make some guys more attractive."
"Yeah, to the wrong kinds of girls," Shipwright agreed.
"If it'd get me a little nookie," Spanner mused, gazing longingly at the pretty girls sitting with Shine, "I'd take that chance."
"That's the only way you'd get that chance," Gunther 'Fixx' Ledbow laughed aloud, drawing chuckles from the girls and an evil glare from Spanner.
"Do you suppose," Monkeywrench speculated after a moment's thought, "that they're using powers to influence him?"
"If they were, we owe it to Shine to tell him," Spanner agreed solemnly. The Order of the Worn Wrench required that devisors and gadgeteers stick together as a whole group against any manipulation and bullying.
Kitbash, a junior gadgeteer from Poe who was a specialist in remote-control gadgets, snorted. "Not likely." She looked back to her salad and started to take another bite, but she quickly became aware that others were staring at her. "What?"
"How would you know?"
"I've got my sources," Kitbash said with a tiny smile. "Heather O'Neil, from Chevy Chase, Maryland. Wealthy family. She's a low-level exemplar and a low-level telekinetic. The other one is Alexis Scott, of the Charleston Scotts. Also rich family." She snorted a half chuckle. "Probably join the Golden Kids. Anyway, Alexis is a low-level psychokinetic." She shook her head as she continued. "Neither of them have any kind of power that'd affect Shine. Except the usual feminine charms," she added with a laugh.
Spark paused, her fork midway to her mouth, and she stared, though whether she was studying the food or it merely happened to be in the path of her gaze. "I 'ope 'e doesn't get 'urt by those … those …." Her jaw trembled as she struggled to control her anger and also find the appropriate words. "Pétasse suceuse de fric!" she practically spat.
"You're getting pretty worked up over a freshman devisor," Fixx observed, careful to keep his voice neutral. "Perhaps you find him ... attractive?"
"What? C'est impossible!" Spark sputtered in protest. "I 'ave my special one!" she countered, leaning to one side and practically wrapping herself around Reach's arm. "It is because 'e is one of us! All of us gadgeteers stand together, oui? It is like les Trois Mousquetaires, oui? Tous pour un et un pour tous! Just like Gizmatic said when 'e started the Order, non?"
"If he wants to be with those two ... gold-diggers," Reach observed with a drawl, "there's not much we can do to stop it."
"But if 'e doesn't know that they are using 'im to get to 'is money?" Spark protested again. "We need to let 'im know what they are doing!"
"And if they aren't money-grubbing whores?" Monkeywrench asked the obvious question. "If we 'help' him in that case, we might ruin things for him."
"What can we do?" Breakdown asked in frustration. "Either way, it could turn out bad."
"Maybe," Reach said, a curious expression on her face, "maybe we should talk to our cottage fixer. If Jadis doesn't know what's up, she'll know how to find out."
Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - Late Afternoon
Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
The Don paced his room uneasily, which didn't take long, as the room was far from the penthouse he'd enjoyed the preceding year. And though he was uncomfortable, at least "IT" was gone; the horrific, drooling thing that Hekate's master had cursed to watch after him and that Hekate had rid him of. And Hekate had some plans underfoot; she would talk to him, but nothing he'd tried had been able to track her. To put it bluntly, he had no means to bribe any of the devisors or gadgeteers to help him, not that they would have anyway after the stories of the preceding year had gotten out.
His hands smacked angrily on his desk. This was NOT how things were supposed to work. HE was supposed to be in charge, not that thick simpleton from Alaska. HE was supposed to have girls around him, like Tansy and Fey and Kayda - that last thought stirred something in his loins; the mental image of getting a known lesbian to confess her desires for him as he took her by force was a powerful aphrodisiac. Having access to girls like that was his right, dammit!
Until Tansy took it all away. For some reason, the blonde had fallen under the spell of Cody. At least he could admit that Cody had something he didn't - power, and with it, the fawnings of a vast number of very attractive would-be-concubines. And with that came access to money - or vice-versa. Money attracted the powerful; power attracted those with money.
It hadn't been fair that his wealthy father had completely disavowed any responsibility regarding his mother when his dalliance with a poor street-walker accidentally got her pregnant. She was a 20-something lovely senorita that caught his eye, and he simply and callously left mother and child to fend for themselves. Sebastiano quickly learned how to scam people well enough that with what his mother made on her back, the two of them survived. And then by some miracle, he got powers. He suddenly found it very easy to manipulate the minds of the weak. Since his mother was already a whore, he was nearby as she walked the streets, and whenever a potential 'John' cast his eye upon her, Valensuera would use his powers to influence the man to lust over his street-walking mom, and as soon as they finished, he used his power to persuade the client that it had been the best sex he'd ever had and he should leave something extra - which Valensuera took and pocketed, again using his powers to influence his mom to not notice how much he took. If there had ever been any thoughts that such behavior was immoral, they'd long since abandoned him.
And now he was back to where he'd started. Worse, in fact, because everyone was watching him like a hawk for anything that could even be called a breach of the psychic code of ethics. Without Tansy to bankroll his extravagant lifestyle, he was another peon, a nobody that drew no respect and caused no fear.
That was going to have to change. Even though he cut a dashing figure of a Latino bad-boy and lothario, his reputation and the debacle with Hekate and Sky and Cav the preceding term ensured that all girls studiously avoided him. But where to start? He couldn't use money to attract the girls to enhance his image, which would attract more girls with more money. Nor did he have girls on each arm to evoke that primordial residue of lust that women seemingly instinctively had toward when who were already proven to be attractive.
A wicked thought suddenly occurred to him. If he couldn't seduce a wealthy girl with resources to lavish upon him, maybe he could find a financial sponsor, and then his restored financial extravagances would attract the newer, more naive - and hopefully rich - girls. He needed cash and he needed sex, but those didn't have to come from the same source! If he befriended someone with money, he could kick-start the whole process.
But who? Everyone who was a sophomore or higher already knew his reputation, and he wasn't going to find a backer among them. The freshmen? He practically leaped off his bed and scrambled to his desk. A few deft keystrokes brought up data on the incoming students that he wasn't supposed to have access to.
He scanned the list thoroughly, crossing off those who wouldn't fit the bill. The younger Vitesse girl came from a moneyed family, but no doubt her older sister had warned her, especially since Adalie spent a lot of time around that meddlesome Goodkind girl. Even though she put on appearances of being quite wealthy, the Scott girl came from a family whose financial resources were far less than most people would believe. Her roommate had limited access to resources as well. He continued down the list, name by name, cross-referencing the names to his 'outside source'.
One name kept percolating to the top. Bobby Earl Fields - a backwoods country hick who'd suddenly made it big. His resources were already extensive, and increasing rapidly as he sold his devises to distilleries world-wide. He came with a second advantage; despite his age, Sebastiano Valensuera enjoyed finer beverages, and that was what this hillbilly made. But how to sway him to the Don's side? If he used his psychic powers, the administration would be all over his case. Girls? That might work. No boy could resist a girl's charms.
Sebastiano was quickly formulating a plan. Befriend the kid, promise him access to girls which he'd entice with a little psychic nudge and promises of access to the boy's money. Then he'd get access to his money as well, and Sebastiano could resume his lavish lifestyle - all the while keeping the boy - and himself - hip-deep in pussy.
Sebastiano Valensuera y Ramirez knew that game only too well. He smiled to himself as he began to more thoroughly study up on the boy. A wicked gleam came to his eyes; thank God that he still had pictures of the security guards screwing Skybolt the previous year. They made for easy blackmail to ensure his access to accurate information from the school's database was unimpeded.
Thursday, September 13, 2007 - Late Afternoon
Devisor Tunnels, Whateley Academy
"Stand aside, please!" The commanding voice caught Alexis' attention. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the quartet of men, all moving with determined expressions and strides, which prompted her to nearly jump to the side of the tunnel. Besides Mr. Paulson, head of the advanced technologies program, there were two armed Whateley security officers and a fourth man who looked like he was wearing some type of overnight courier uniform. They passed by Alexis quickly, not slowing at all. The delivery man carried a bulky box that had numerous bright labels and seals all over it, while one of the guards and Mr. Paulson carried either end of a long, thin wooden crate. The fourth guard had his rifle held across his body, ready for action. Alexis puzzled at the curious procession.
Realizing they were going the same general direction she'd been heading, she shrugged and followed them at a distance so as not to alarm the guards or Mr. Paulson, and when they turned into the same lab that was her destination, she paused, then stood in the door.
The courier stopped by a large workbench, while Mr. Paulson and one guard set the crate on the floor. "Mr. Fields?" Paulson called to the boy who was focused on a long glass cylinder.
"Yeah?" Bobby Earl replied, carefully setting the very large tube back on a rack before turning fully to the intruders.
"Sign please," the courier said, holding forth a tablet computer.
One of Bobby Earl's eyebrows cocked upward. "Not so fast," he said with a sloppy grin on his face. "Mah mamma didn't raise no fool. Ah'm goin' t' check t' make sure you're deliverin' what the distillery said they was sendin'."
The courier shrugged, unfazed by the boys cautious nature. "Sure."
Bobby Earl began to carefully break the seals and straps on the bulky box, then opened the top. A large layer of foam padding came out, with recesses for cushioning the tops of small cylinders or bottles, then Bobby Earl carefully lifted out another foam layer, this one containing dozens of small glass bottles arranged in neat rows and columns. A quick inspection followed, after which he unpacked another two layers, each of which had a similar number of similar bottles, and then a small canvas bag.
"That's a hunnert eight samples," the boy quickly tallied. He looked at the tablet the courier was holding. "And a bag o' truffles. Okay. And the wood?" He opened the crate, which was far less delicately packed, and rifled through a small pile of oak boards. In his head, he did some mental calculations, muttering to himself. "Yeah, that looks about right."
"You got the wine yesterday?" Paulson asked.
Bobby Earl nodded, cocking his head toward a large safe hulking in one corner of his lab. "Yup. Five carboys. It's locked away until Ah start distillin' trials." He opened the safe with some combination of biometric and numeric locks, then stowed the newly-arrived samples and relocked the safe. Satisfied, Mr. Paulson, the courier, and the two guards left.
"What's that all about?" Alexis asked, slipping into the lab before the vault-like door closed.
Bobby Earl smiled, then stepped to the girl who gave him a kiss on the cheek, far less, obviously, than he wanted, but he wasn't going to complain. "In two weeks, Ah'm flyin' t' France t' outfit a Armagnac distillery," he explained. "So Ah'm apt t' be a mite busy for the next few days."
"Oh? That sounds interesting!" Alexis cooed. In reality, the only things that were truly interesting to her were the words 'flying to France'; beyond that, she couldn't have cared less. "What are you doing here?" She glanced at a workbench cluttered with things she didn't understand. "And what's all the stuff they delivered?"
"The distillery sent me samples of their Armanac," Bobby Earl explained.
"So many? Don't you just need one?"
Bobby Earl beamed; it wasn't often he got to show off his knowledge of distilling and aging, especially to a pretty girl. A pretty girl who seemed interested. "Their master distiller marked what he thinks are the best samples. Ah'm goin' t blind taste them all, figger out what it'd take to replicate 'em, and then Ah'll use his master list t' find out the common elements that make the best Armanac. Then Ah'll just make an aging tube loaded with that stuff, and it should come out tastin' like the best of the best samples they sent me."
"You know," Alexis suggested, looking at the benchtop mini-still, "if you practice your elocution, you'll probably have an easier time in France." She turned and smiled sweetly at him. "Unless you speak French, of course."
"Nah, Ah don't speak French," he replied. "Besides, all the folks Ah'll deal with speak English. Or they'll have translators."
"Who I'm sure have never heard a Southern accent," Alexis replied logically. She strode to the boy and gently held the lapels of his lab-coat, her luscious lips inches from his. "Face it, a Southern accent, while charming and ... hot," she purred, touching her tongue to her upper lip and letting her eyes drift partially closed, putting on all the airs of a sex kitten, "isn't the easiest thing for a non-native speaker."
"Um, yeah," Bobby Earl stammered, his brain distracted from rational thought by the girl's proximity and behavior, her sweet perfume making it hard for him to concentrate.
"And Europeans can be such snobs," the girl continued, her voice dripping honey. "You don't want them to think of your business as being a bunch of hick Yankee rednecks, do you?"
"Uh, no," he replied, feeling a bit warm for some reason.
"And if you had a traveling companion who was fluent in French, it'd make all that much better of an impression, don't you think?" she whispered in his ear in a breathy voice, pausing to kiss his neck just below his ear and then let her lips brush his ear lobe.
"Ah s'pose," he stammered out an answer as his brain struggled to control his thinking instead of ceding control to his … other parts. "But ... Ah don't know anyone who speaks French. Cept'n for Jadis and Spark. But she's French anyway!"
"Yes, you do," Alexis whispered in his ear. "Je parlais Francais!" She smiled. "My parents had me tutored in three different foreign languages starting when I was four. I'm told I speak French, Russian, and German like a native." She leaned back slightly, then kissed him full on his lips, her arms slipping up behind his neck to make sure he was held close. After an extended kiss, she pulled back a bit. "I'm so looking forward to our date tonight," she purred. "You will wear your new suit, won't you?"
Bobby Earl gulped, trying to keep his brain engaged against the feminine distraction. "Um, yeah. New suit." He let the cobwebs clear. "Ah'll meet you in the lobby at seven fifty?" he suggested.
"I'm looking forward to it," Alexis replied. She paused at the door to his lab and leaned seductively against the door frame, giving him a come-hither look. "Think about it. If I were to accompany you, it could prove very, very helpful with your business discussions. And when business is done and it's time to relax …." She pursed her lips provocatively. "Until later." She blew him a kiss, then strutted out of his lab with her hips swaying in as sexy a manner as she could manage. Behind her, Bobby Earl watched her go, a silly grin stuck on his face. It took him a while to remember what he had been doing at to refocus his attention on his apparatus.
Thursday, September 13, 2007 - Before Dinner
Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
The Don was still pondering how he could 'accidentally' run into the devisor boy without having it look staged. He'd spotted the boy leaving Schuster, which was a surprise, since he was a denizen of the tunnels and should have taken the elevator directly to the lab tunnels, but instead, he ambled in a carefree style to Melville. The Don had followed discretely, since there was another boy with the booze devisor. Probably his roommate.
The Don had considerable charisma - a charmer to the ladies, and an enviable lady-killer who was personable enough to share his secrets, or at least appear to, with other guys. He was a well-known bad boy, with notable dark-triad leanings, which perplexingly to other guys seemed to make him more desirable to the girls. Cocky, he carried himself with as much of an air of superiority as his reduced status could give him. None could dispute that his Latin good looks helped his attractiveness. As a fighter, Sebastiano was somewhat a coward, preferring to use his personality and assets to hire thugs as necessary for 'dirty work', but he hid that aspect of his character well.
Should he approach the boy while he was with his roommate? On the one hand, it'd look more natural and would be much easier to arrange. On the other hand, it increased the risk of disclosure of some of the nastier rumors about him. Also, there was the question of whether he should talk to Bobby Earl in the elevator, or wait for another, better chance.
By coincidence, there was a wait for the up-elevators, and since the boys had noticed him when he followed them into Melville, to avoid looking like a stalker, the Don stepped unhesitatingly to wait with the two younger boys at the elevator.
Just as he was about to say something, Bobby Earl spoke up. "Tell the others Ah'll meet y'all at our table fer dinner. Ah'm gonna' just change and get mah lab coat 'cuz Ah've got some work t' do 'fore mah next trip."
The other boy laughed. "Are you going to work through again?" The Don noted a distinct and more upper-class British accent from the other boy. He'd have to do a little snooping about the roommate; there might be something in his file that could prove advantageous to him.
Bobby Earl chuckled and shrugged. "Ah gotta get stuff ready fer the trip."
"It's a long time between now and curfew," the other boy said with a smile. "Once you get going, you won't interrupt your work until curfew sounds. Even for a little … um … distraction!" His hands traced out an hourglass shape in the air before him in a way that no-one could misunderstand.
The hillbilly simply shrugged. "Ah've just gotta get a few things straight, then Ah'll get somethin' t' eat."
"What should I tell the girls if they show up asking about you?" the other asked in a transparent bid to convince his roommate to forego lab time.
"Ah won't forget," Bobby Earl countered. "'Sides, She'd probably come down t' mah lab."
"Which one will you be in?"
Bobby Earl frowned, shooting a glance toward the Don and signaling his roommate to keep his mouth shut. "Mah assigned lab."
One eyebrow lifted on the Don's forehead. So the boy had multiple labs? That meant some type of clandestine activity, which if he could uncover, would give him some leverage over the boy. This was looking better and better.
The elevator car stopped on the freshmen's floor, and the two exited, leaving the Don pondering his next move. He couldn't just wait in the elevator; that would be too obvious. So he had a choice - try to time intercepting the boy above ground, or try to intercept him in the tunnels. And it was a guess which way the boy would go.
Normally, he'd use Tansy to pick up the boy's thoughts, but since she was no longer a resource, the Don was on his own, having to use his own psychic power. Best at projective and receptive empathy and not a full telepath, he now had to solve this problem by himself. The Don wasn't used to that - he'd always surrounded himself with problem solvers so he didn't need to.
He was dealing with a devisor, a denizen of the tunnels, a member of the lab-coat crew. They were socially awkward, nerds, the undesirable pimple-faced, pale, class brains with the social graces of a sack of cement. A wet sack of cement. Helping the boy with his social life would be the key to the boy's wallet. Sebastiano had dealt with a few of those; as he sifted his memories, a smile came to his face as he thought of a pair of attractive, shapely twin girls who he'd convinced to offer themselves to him. They were wildcats, and proved to be more than a short-term distraction, but eventually, he lost interest, even though they still hung around his 'gang'.
What was it they always jokingly said - that the gadgeteers and devisors avoided sun like vampires, that the daylight was as deadly to the lab-coats as it was to Dracula? Then, without any twinges of his non-existent conscience, Sebastiano recalled one more fact. The lab-coats, especially the boys - stuck to the tunnels to always stay close to other devisors and gadgeteers, in an effort to minimize the amount of bullying to which they were subjected. The question was whether the demonstrably laid-back hillbilly would already be practicing such pragmatism.
The Don gambled that the boy would play true to the stereotype, and he went into the donut shop, not that he was hungry, but it gave him a convenient excuse. A quick phone call got ahold of the girls. While purchasing a couple of pastries, he let his mind reach out, until he sensed a few kids coming down the elevator. Among them he sensed an urgent need to go down. Without knowing exactly who this feeling was coming from, the Don had to gamble that it was the hillbilly kid. He stepped to the elevator and pressed the 'down' button, looking perfectly normal.
The elevator doors opened, and almost a dozen students disgorged in a disorganized herd. Sebastiano had to wait for all of the exiting students to disembark, then he stepped inside after sweeping his hand through the gap to cause the already-closing doors to open for him. "Good afternoon," he said politely and casually to the boy. Fortune had smiled on the Don - it was indeed his target in the elevator, and he was alone. "Are you on your way to the cafeteria?" he asked innocently.
Bobby Earl raised an eyebrow. Perhaps the older boy thought him to be a simpleton, but he clearly recognized Sebastiano from the elevator ride up only minutes ago. "Nope," he replied simply. "Mah lab."
"Yes, of course," Sebastiano said smoothly. "I should have known from your lab coat." He smiled and chuckled lightly. "I guess I was a little distracted thinking about the fairer sex. You know how that can be, don't you?"
The boy grinned, making the wariness in his expression. "Yeah. Back home, Becky knew how to distract me - more'n a mite bit, too!"
Just at that moment, two identical girls sauntered down the tunnel to intercept the Don and Bobby Earl. Since Bobby Earl didn't know them - at least not formally - he had to assume they were here to meet the Don. "Hi, Donny," the two said in a lyrical sing-song voice.
The two girls were dressed identically, and their wavy blonde hair was styled exactly the same; without knowing which was which, the average person wouldn't be able to tell them apart. Bobby Earl stifled a smirk; they reminded him of nothing so much as Charlene and Marlene from 'Spaceballs', a movie that he hadn't seen until he and his ma had moved to the city. It was one of his favorites. And the characterization seemed to fit the twins well.
"Hi, Staci," the Don said, seeming to address both of the girls to avoid the 'I'm Charlene, I'm Marlene' moment from the movie. "Evening, Traci. It's soooo nice to bump into you here. What brings you into the tunnels?"
The girls' mouths dropped open. "But you said …," the one who seemed to be Staci started to say, but the Don grimaced and shook his head to signal her. She missed that signal, but her twin didn't, and an elbow in Staci's ribs got her attention, and her mouth opened in a silent 'ooohhhh'.
"You are interested in girls, right?" the Don prompted as the two girls flanked him, clutching his arms possessively. "I know a lot of the … ahem … brainiacs … really don't seem to be. Although it's hard to explain precisely why so many aren't."
Staci and Traci were almost mirror images in the way they wrinkled their noses. "Some of them," Staci said with a scowl, "are just so … so …"
"So nerdy!" Traci finished her sentence. "I swear, if we danced through the labs in bikinis," she thrust out her chest to emphasize that she'd seriously overstress an average bikini.
Her action was in almost perfect synchronicity with that of her twin. "… half the boys wouldn't notice," Staci finished with a petulant frown, as if even the thought of a boy not noticing her was highly insulting. "They're too interested …."
"… in whatever they're experimenting or building!" Traci added with a pout.
"Quite true, girls," the Don said, taking time to smile at each of them in turn. "That is quite true." He leaned closer to the boy. "They've got the exemplar package in looks and bodies, but they missed out on the mental parts. Staci can manifest light sparkles bright enough to temporariliy blind you; she thinks it's cute that she can make it into a multi-colored rainbow!"
"And Traci?" Bobby Earl asked. "Since they're twins, Ah reckon they got the same powers?"
"No. Traci is a siren. She can imitate any singer, male or female." The Don smiled. "If only she could remember the lyrics."
"I can so remember lyrics!" Traci said with a pout, having overheard the Don's comment.
"I was only joking," the Don said smoothly. "So, the question remains - are you interested in girls?"
"Well," Bobby Earl drawled, "while Ah like t' spend time with a still," he glanced at the two girls, and his eyes traced their curvy figures, "Ah ain't like mah grandpappy who done left a gal at the altar t' make a batch o' moonshine! 'Sides, Ah got a date t'morrow night."
The two girls smirked at the thick Tennessee drawl coming from the boy, torn between giggling at how backwoods he sounded, or giving him respect for not sequestering himself like a typical lab-hermit. Besides, the Don had told them in the text message he'd sent them that this boy was important … for some reason.
The quartet continued their journey to wherever Bobby Earl had his lab; the Don had no idea - yet- where the boy's lab was, and the girls were just hanging on to the boys like arm candy, a vision that caused several of the gadgeteer girls to frown in disapproval, and raised serious looks of envy on most of the lab-coat-clad boys they met.
"I'm curious," Sebastiano continued smoothly, "whether you've met the … um … friendly type of girl."
"Ah don't quite follow."
"Have you managed to," the older Latin boy glanced with a leer at the girl on his arm, "to close the deal, so to speak?"
Both girls tittered at the barely-disguised innuendo, and when Bobby Earl glanced at Staci - he thought it was Staci, but it was truly hard to tell - she blushed and shrugged with a bit of embarrassment.
"You know," Traci, on the Don's arm giggled, "have you …"
"… had sex?" Staci bluntly finished the question.
"Well," Bobby Earl glanced at both girls, "Ah was schooled by Ma that a gentleman don't talk 'bout his romantic affairs." He smiled, shooting a glance at the girls again. "Besides, if'n Ah were to talk 'bout such things, lots of folk would think Ah was just braggin'. And if'n mah date t'morrow turns out well, Ah ain't gonna tell."
Sebastiano suppressed a chuckle. He was more convinced than ever that the boy had never experienced one of the finer things in life. That gave him a hook. It was time to turn up the charm, the appearance of a 'friendly face', and to start the subtle psychic manipulation.
Unexpectedly, the boy turned down a side tunnel which had one of the most serious security doors that Sebastiano had ever seen. At least two cameras were tracking the group, while against the wall hulked a massive door that would do credit to Fort Knox. Bobby Earl stopped short and turned his back toward the door, facing the Don and the twins. "Sorry," he drawled, "but y'all cain't go no further." He cocked his head toward a sign by the door that read 'Authorized Personnel Only'.
"Ah, I see," the Don said, nodding as if he understood perfectly well. "I suppose," he continued, amping up his psychic projection toward the boy, "it's some top secret thing. I know devisors and gadgeteers have to be careful because there are those who will 'borrow' things from other labs."
"It ain't top secret or nothing like that," Bobby Earl countered. "But just before Ah left mah lab, Mr. Paulson told me that no-one else could come into mah lab unless there was proper supervision. At least until they get a bucketload more cameras and monitors inside the lab."
His curiosity piqued, the Don nodded again, psychically pressing a sense of trustworthiness to the boy. "I suppose that supervision means one of the lab instructors."
Bobby Earl shook his head. "Nope. Security." With amusement, he watched the Don's eyebrows lift. "The school agreed with ATF that they wouldn't let no-one in 'cept for certain conditions. And with the new year, they told me that it'll be a week or two before they get all the monitoring in place."
"Revenuers." He read the confusion on the others' faces. "Feds. Bureau of Alcohol, T'baccy, and Firearms." He flashed another smile at the trio. "Ah'm pretty handy with a still."
Sebastiano had to concentrate to keep a smile on his face; he sensed the boy's caution at why he, an upperclassman, would be so cordial and friendly toward a mere freshman, and on top of that, one who wasn't one of the 'beautiful people', Bobby Earl's private nickname for exemplars.
"Well, then," the Don said, still flashing his smile, "we'll just be on our way to dinner. If you're certain that you won't dine with us, that is."
"Nah. Ah've got a big contract job I'm workin' on, and with the slow lab setup and all, Ah'm a mite behind where Ah should be."
"Well, just remember, if you have any questions, or need anything, you can ask. I know some of the upperclassmen can be standoffish or even rude, but I'm trying to pay forward all the help I received when I was a freshman." He gave Bobby Earl one more smile, coupled with a big psychic push, and then extended his elbows for the girls. "Come," he said charmingly. "Let us to enjoy a nice evening repast." He turned and strode away, a piece of eye-candy on each arm.
Bobby Earl stood for a moment, watching the Don leave, and then shrugged and turned to the vault. "Them're some nice lookin' gals," he said to himself with a smile, "but Ah got a still t' tend to." He stepped to the triple biometric lock and began the somewhat lengthy and troublesome process of going into his lab. Halfway through opening the locks, he paused. "Hmmm," he mumbled to himself. "Two cute girls, and I'm here workin' with mah still. Maybe Ah am a bit like Grandpappy!"
Friday, September 14, 2007 - Evening
Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Eyes turned, conversations stopped, and then hushed questioning murmurs between teenagers arose after the boy stepped out of the elevator.
"Is that our hillbilly?" "What's the occasion?" "There's actually a human in there! Who knew?" "What's with the fancy threads?" "He actually looks pretty good!" "Wow!" "If only he talked and acted as good as he looks!" The last comment was a wistful, almost dreamy comment from a freshman girl who was staring moon-eyed at the now-attractive boy.
Uneasily, Bobby Earl stepped into the lobby of the fancy cottage, looking around a bit nervously. His posture, his gait, his overall demeanor reflected his unease, practically blaring that he wasn't used to being dressed as he was. Gone were the well-broken-in scuffed loafers; his feet were shod with shiny, new, stylish black Italian shoes. His normal 'casual fit' uniform pants and sloppy-fitting Whateley uniform jacket and the white lab coat had been cast aside, at least for the moment, replaced by a perfectly-fitting medium-gray suit with a very subtle, almost unnoticeable Glen-check plaid. The jacket covered a crisply-pressed light blue dress shirt and blue and teal and black patterned silk tie, and a neatly-contrasting red and blue silk pocket square, which he'd called a hankie when the girls had helped him shop for clothes Alexis had talked him in to getting a haircut tamed in the Melville salon earlier that afternoon after classes; his hair was now much shorter than the shaggy mop he'd had only hours earlier, and with a bit of gel, it had a movie star or teen idol look - mostly tame and stylish, but with a hint of rebelliousness. .If he'd have had a more confident posture and a little cockier expression, he'd have easily been taken for a smooth-talking lady-killer in any club in the country. A pair of imported Italian leather shoes replaced his usual scuffed loafers or tennis-shoes.
And yet, there was a bit of boyish innocence about him, some subtle signs that he felt a bit out-of-place, that these threads weren't his normal attire.
As the boy looked for his date, Alexis, one of the other elevators opened, disgorging a host of upperclassmen. Again, girls' heads turned at the sharp-dressed boy, and guys shook their heads in disbelief. Jadis did a double-take, then, with a smile, changed course and walked to the boy. "Good evening, Bobby Earl," she greeted him pleasantly.
"Oh, hi, Jadis," Bobby Earl almost jumped out of his clothes, he was so nervous. "How'r you doin' today?"
"Not bad," Jadis replied easily. "I wanted to see if everything meets your expectations."
Bobby Earl had to change trains of thought from his impending date, and it took a second. "Oh, yeah," he replied with a huge grin. "It's perfect. In fact, it reminds me of mah grandpappy's cave where he did his moonshinin'!"
"Good." Jadis stepped back a half step and gave the boy a visual once-over. "I take it you're waiting for one of the ... girls ... for a date at Le Bistro?" Seeing his startled look at her deduction, she chuckled. "Oh, it's not a secret. Pretty much anyone who's curious knows who is dining with whom there! School gossip and all that, you know. Alexis, right?"
The boy shrugged. "Yeah. She said she won a drawing for dinner at that fancy dining room."
Jadis snorted a laugh in disbelief. "Is that what she told you?"
Jadis shook her head. "She owes a lot of people favors. She paid a lot to get that reservation."
"Well, if'n she likes me, Ah guess Ah won't protest too much." His eyes locked onto the elevator doors, and Jadis noticed, her gaze following his.
If any girl in Melville knew how to make an entrance, Alexis was certainly in running for the top spot. She wore a clingy, stylish little black dress with her hair up in a bouffant bun, making her look both stylish and a bit playful. The jewelry she wore was stunning, her necklace hanging low and pointing like a giant flashing neon arrow with the letters "down here!" to a veritable crevasse of cleavage that seemed a little larger and more obvious than normal, probably enhanced with a push-up bra. The girl's low-cut, scoop neckline was no-doubt chosen to enhance the view of her décolletage. It wasn't clear if the stones were genuine diamonds or merely fakes, but they sparkled and glistened regally. Her dangling earrings matched perfectly, starlight twinkles of reflected light from them like tiny beacons framing her perfectly-made-up face. Her eyes, enhanced by subtle makeup, locked onto Bobby Earl, and she lightly pursed her lips in what appeared to be the start of a kiss as she strutted sexily on her four-inch stiletto heels across the polished marble floor, which suddenly seemed inadequate to be trod upon by such a stunning beauty.
Alexis wasn't an exemplar like Tansy or Kayda, but she knew how to make the most of what beauty she had, and all her talent and skill and poise was on display. She walked with the confidence of someone who knew that every pair of male eyes was tracking her as she strode toward Bobby Earl. She smiled to herself as she saw the effect she was having on the boy; he was practically gawking at her in astonishment at her good looks. She also knew that the more other boys gawked and gaped at her, the more desirable she appeared, and the psychological effect on Bobby Earl would make him a little more compliant to be with such a stunning beauty that others wanted.
"Hi, Bobby Earl," she said in a sexy, breathy voice.
"Wow!" the boy said, eyes wide in appreciation of her looks. "You look great!"
Alexis smiled, not demurely like she'd been complimented, but with a look that seemed to say 'I know.' "Shall we go?" She held her elbow out for Bobby Earl to take, and when he did, she subtly guided him so it appeared that he was the one in charge. She'd learned well at her mother's knee how to manipulate men while appearing sweet and deferential.
At the door of Melville, Bobby Earl stepped to hold the door open for Alexis. Almost at the same time, and not coincidentally, Heather walked straight to the door as if Alexis wasn't even there. Heather paused to smile at the boy. "Thank you," she purred, then she very obviously looked up and down the suit-clad boy. "You look nice tonight," she added with a warm smile.
"Ahem," Alexis cleared her throat from the doorway, blocked as she was by Heather and knowing that the maneuver was deliberate.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Heather said in a very transparently false apology. "I didn't see you there." She turned back to the boy. "I'm looking forward to the dance tomorrow night," she cooed to Bobby Earl. "Are you going to meet me at the dance, or is it just a myth about Southerners being real gentlemen?"
Bobby Earl grinned. "Ah'll be damned if any Yankee's gonna call me rude. Ah'll come by your room so you're escorted all proper like." He noticed the slight downward turn on Heather's lips at his bad southern accent. "I mean, I'll escort you from your room, like a … a proper gentleman," he corrected himself, speaking slower and with precise diction that his normal accent lacked.
Heather smiled, sneaking in a smirking glance at Alexis, who was quietly fuming. "If you wear that suit, which I think you should, I'll see if I can find a nice, attractive dress. Something suitable for a date." She looked at Alexis again with a malicious grin, her implication plain as day which caused her rival to glare daggers at her.
When Heather stepped to one side, Alexis shot one more nasty look at her rival, and then she turned her head upward slightly, subconsciously squaring her shoulders and thrusting her chest forward a bit. Heather gleefully watched Alexis' display, a female version of peacocking to get Bobby Earl's attention away from her, and she almost laughed as she strode confidently across the foyer of the 'rich kids' cottage to the elevators.
It took Alexis less than half a second to change from her angry rival expression to a sweet, adoring look that she then directed to Bobby Earl. She clung eagerly to his arm, her head lightly touching his shoulder, having learned a few tricks from her mother. Signal to the target that he's desirable and manly, clearly and visibly ceding the 'protective' role to him, and signaling to others that he is the girl's property. Being coy and wearing the right scent that would waft to his nose, the girl would signal that she was vulnerable and relying on him, and also that she was highly desirable. Alexis had seen her mother use her feminine wiles and charms and a lot of tricks when she went 'husband hunting' after the divorce from her first husband, Alexis' father. Alexis repeatedly told herself that she was never going to be in that situation - she was going to land someone rich from the get-go, and with a pre-nup that would leave her set for life if her eventual marriage ever fell apart.
There were a few chuckles and guffaws as the pair walked toward Schuster, where they'd take the elevator down beneath the cafeteria where they normally ate to Le Bistro, the reputedly fancy 'date night' restaurant. Getting those reservations had been very difficult; she owed big favors to her RA who everyone knew was Dr. Diabolik's daughter. The other two were a girl from Dickinson Cottage, and some important senior Japanese boy. Alexis had nearly fainted when she heard the names -. Villabianca and Yagimura. Both families were very well known in her parents' social circles. Both were apparently involved with one of the more exclusive campus clubs - some weird name like Golden Kings and Silver Crown Queens - and it was hinted that her family name - actually her step-father's family name - might put her in line for membership. It would be the place for her to climb the social ladder, so she'd set herself another goal - to ingratiate herself with these so-called 'rich kids'. Of course, having access to the hillbilly's fortune wouldn’t hurt; she could spend his money to curry favor - maybe sponsoring a dance or social gathering so the rich kids could see 'her' financial resources and charitable generosity? Sure, she could be generous with Bobby Earl's money.
Bobby Earl noticed that the girls had a variety of expressions when he walked by with Alexis on his arm. Some were easy to figure out; the scornful, disdaining looks of superiority from a few of the exemplars and others who considered themselves to be everyone's betters, some envious looks directed toward Alexis because she had a date, some indifferent, some curious as to why the pair was dressed to the nines and heading to the cafeteria. From the boys, there were knowing smiles of acknowledgement that Shine had landed a good-looking date, the same curious stares about their attire, a few looks of envy that he apparently had a date with a hot girl, and a lot of looks of total indifference. And from a few of both boys and girls, Bobby Earl got looks of contempt or dislike, but he knew that no matter what, there were always going to be people who just didn't like him. They weren't worth the trouble of getting upset about.
There were more than a few appreciative whistles and hoots when the pair walked into Crystal Hall; it wasn't common to see students so attired in the caf. Bobby Earl simply smiled and shrugged, while Alexis was torn between feeling superior for having landed a date with a rich kid, and perhaps a little embarrassed that she was with a self-admitted hillbilly. Then again, he was formally attired in his new, fashionable suit
"Welllll," JB observed from the serving line as the couple walked past, "I must say, you look like a proper British school lad!"
Bobby Earl grinned at his roommate and the guys around JB. "It's a mite uncomfortable," he admitted in his Southern drawl. "Ah'd rather be in mah jeans and lab coat workin' at mah still!"
"Hmmmph!" Alexis snorted to her date. "Are you saying you'd rather be in your lab than on a date with me? Because that's what it sounded like!"
"Um, no," the boy backtracked quickly, his brain scrambling to extricate himself from the verbal snare that he'd set for himself. "Ah'd rather spend time with you," he said apologetically, "but Ah' meant that …." He read the distasteful expression on the girl's face. "I mean, I'd much rather spend time with you. All I meant is that I'm used to wearing jeans and a lab coat."
While the boys around them snickered, Alexis eyed her date warily and critically, then a playful smile slowly dawned on her face. "I guess I'll give you that one," she said, feigning reluctance and trying to sound light-hearted so he'd know she was just joking around a bit.
"Nice save, mate," JB chuckled.
It was a short elevator ride down to the A-level of tunnels, and small signs marked the path through unusually clean sections of the rabbit-warren to a side passage marked off by a velvet rope. A well-attired man stood by the entrance looking thoroughly bored with life; Bobby Earl noted a very slight bulge on the left side of his suit jacket - quite probably some type of non-lethal gadget to control anyone who tried to force their way into the restaurant or anyone inside the restaurant who became unruly. Or the man was one of the security guards making a little extra money playing bouncer, in which case he might have a more dangerous weapon inside his jacket. That seemed the more likely scenario to the boy.
As they approached, the man glanced at a tablet computer. "Mr. Fields, Ms. Scott," he greeted them curtly. He lifted the rope, inviting them in. "Your table is ready." He made a sweeping, palm-open gesture down the hall toward a rather elegant restaurant entrance that looked quite out of place in the tunnels.
Bobby Earl paused a moment. "We're a mite early," he observed to the man, "and it isn't likely that you'd just happen to have a table ready. In all my experience, a person usually has to wait at a restaurant." His elocution was precise, if slow, because he was not used to speaking in such a refined manner.
The man smiled and pointed to the tablet in one hand. "You do know that there are sensors all over in the tunnels and elevators and campus buildings, right? I knew you were on your way the moment you stepped into Crystal Hall."
If the outside of Le Bistro looked impressive, the inside would have been called awe-inspiring. Bobby Earl stopped and gawked; it was almost like he'd was in a Parisian restaurant, He happened to glance up at a window, and gasped at the view down the Champs Elysee to the Arc deTriumphe. He'd seen good holographic projections, but this was no doubt most realistic he'd seen. Despite its humble name, Le Bistro was far from a little informal eatery. It had to be the impressive, most upscale restaurant he'd ever been in. Rich dark oak paneling covered the bottom four and a half feet of the wall, which happened to match the height of the dividers which separated the many small booths and tables-for-two, to help give privacy to the dining couples. Above the paneling was h a flocked, patterned wallpaper that had a deep red floral motif.
While there were some tables and chairs, it appeared that most of the seating was of the more intimate booth style, and naturally, the oak chairs and booth benches were upholstered in leather dyed to a deep red. Above each table hung a Tiffany style stained glass lamp, providing a warm, romantic circle of light to the table below.
As they sat down at their booth, Bobby Earl noted that a person could easily forget all the others in the room except for his or her date. It was by design, and it was masterfully executed in the décor.
"This is nice," Alexis said with a shrug, as if she was used to dining in such establishments.
"Nice?" Bobby Earl gawked at her. "If my mother and I dined in a place like this, we would have thought that we had died and gone to heaven!"
Alexis suppressed the urge to snort derisively and roll her eyes at the hillbilly boy's naïveté. "Sometime when you come to visit me at home," she paused, noticing the boy's eyebrows climb practically to the top of his forehead. "You do want to come visit me, don't you?" she purred invitingly.
"Oh, sure!" Bobby Earl replied, his eyes focused on the valley of cleavage exposed by a low-cut neckline, just under the necklace that Alexis wore. "That would be nice!" His mind was mulling whether his date was as good at kissing as Becky from back home, and how far Alexis would go. He somehow doubted that she'd be as frisky as Becky, but to outward appearances, second base with Alexis would be more of a handful than Becky's average breasts.
The boy snapped out of his lustful daydream and looked up when a waiter cleared his throat - again. "Your menu," the waiter said plainly, but the corners of his mouth turned up a bit in recognition of what had distracted Bobby Earl. "Tonight, I recommend Lobster a la Marcel. It's a recipe by our Chef Marcel, featuring lobster poached in beer and butter, served over a delicately seasoned risotto.
"As long as it's not snails!" Bobby Earl joked, which drew a grimace from Alexis and a smile from the waiter.
"I can request the chef to cook some escargot if you'd like," he shot back to Bobby Earl. That earned a smirk from the girl and a slightly horrified look on the boy's face.
"Uh, no thank you," he replied quickly and a little nervously. Since Alexis had gotten the tickets, she might decide to do something as a joke and get him the snails. "Lobster sounds good."
After the waiter scampered back to the kitchen, Alexis turned on her moon-eyed look of interest. "I understand you travel quite a bit?" She was trying not to sound greedy. "Where all have you been."
"Pretty much everywhere," the boy replied, his tone sounding bored. "China. England. Australia. And Brazil." A smile dawned on him. "Australia was fun. They have a real 'I don't care' attitude about rules, especially when you get away from the big cities. They didn't make a big stink about me sampling the drinks. Mr. Easterbrook - that's my mother's fiancee - has deals in the work in Japan and Ireland, and a few other countries. I don't remember all of them off the top of my head, though." He smiled wistfully. "Honestly, when I travel for work, I really don't get much chance to see more than the inside of a distillery!"
"I've never been to Australia," Alexis admitted wistfully. "Or China or Japan."
Bobby Earl harumphed. "One clause in all my contracts is that my clients aren't allowed to tamper with my devises. In China, some mid-level flunky decided that after I left, he'd just make copies of my devises so his district wouldn't have to pay royalties and he could pocket the difference."
"He … stole your ideas and work?" Alexis gawked.
"He tried," Bobby Earl said with a grin. "Of course, it didn't work, because my devises only work when I make or maintain them. He got caught with half a warehouse full of stills and aging rigs. Some were complete, and some were just starting."
The boy chuckled. "The government sent him to prison for corruption. Him and the other guy." He noted that he'd piqued Alexis' interest. "In one district, the governor or whatever they call the high muckity-mucks decided to just not pay my royalties. He changed his tune when the rigs stopped working because I didn't maintain them. The government wasn't any too happy with him, either."
"I've heard that it's tough doing business with China." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "I've never been to China. What's it like?"
Most of the rest of the dinner conversation was related to travel and their different impressions of places they'd been to. Alexis' travel had included far more 'cultural' experiences, while Bobby Earl's had been focused on distilleries.
The waiter's impatient presence at the side of the table interrupted the conversation, that and unsubtly clearing his throat to get the attention of the teenage couple who seemed to only have eyes for each other. Both turned their heads toward him, Alexis with a look of having been caught doing something wrong. "Yes?" Bobby Earl asked.
"Would sir and mademoiselle care for some dessert?"
"That depends on what you have," Bobby Earl replied with a toothy grin.
"Tonight, we have a white chocolate cheesecake swirled with raspberry sauce and topped with fresh whipped cream. We have a quite good tiramisu, and tonight's special dessert is whiskey cake."
"I know what I'd like!" Bobby Earl beamed. "Alexis?" he asked.
"While the cheesecake and tiramisu sound good," she looked demurely at the boy, "what's the whiskey cake?"
"The cake base has a hint of cocoa and espresso, and after baking, it is infused with a rich creamy caramel and whiskey sauce. More of that sauce is under and atop the cake, followed by a bourbon custard, and then fresh whipped cream."
"That sounds quite rich!" Alexis said, her eyes wide in horror at the thought of how many calories were in such a treat. "If you could get me a very small portion, please." She smiled at Bobby Earl again. "A girl has to watch her figure, you know."
"Can we split a piece?" Bobby Earl suggested.
"Very good, sir," the waiter disappeared from the table side.
"I suspect they want us to eat and clear the table for the next couple," Bobby Earl observed.
"Yes, and I would bet that many of the couples want to move to a more … intimate … setting anyway," Alexis added with a look and in a tone that hinted that she might like a little more privacy as well.
Ten minutes later, after a scrumptious dessert, Bobby Earl was walking arm in arm with the girl in the cool night air across campus. The sky was clear, and off the main walkways with their lights, in the more remote little sitting nooks, the stars sparkled brightly in a way that was familiar to a backwoods boy from the Tennessee mountains but was unusual for the sophisticated city girl. She seemed almost awestruck by the heavenly vista. He sat beside her, wrapping his arm around her when she shivered a tiny bit.
"Doesn't that all make you feel kind of … tiny?" Alexis asked as she gazed up at the sky. "Insignificant?"
Bobby Earl simply shrugged. "Nah," he replied. "Ah'm as important as any man, leastways that's what Ma and Preacher Harkins always said." His elocution slipped back to his normal hillbilly mode, because he was mentally fatigued from trying to speak in the manner the girls preferred.
"Huh?" Alexis turned, gawking at the boy.
"Ah'm important enough to be noticed by God," the boy replied casually.
"Oh." She turned her attention back to the sky. "Have you ever been curious about what it'd be like to travel in space? To visit other stars and planets?"
Bobby Earl chuckled. "Ah reckon there's plenty Ah don't know down here on Earth. So why would I want to know more about space?" He turned toward her when she didn't respond. The girl was looking quizzically at him, as if he was a mystery that she didn't understand. Without any prompting, he leaned forward, his lips moving toward hers.
Whether she was surprised or anticipatory, she offered no resistance as he kissed her. For several minutes, the two kissed on the bench - the boy eager and the girl cunning and calculating, figuring out just how much to give the boy to keep him on her hook. After a bit, she pulled herself back, a little out of breath.
"Um, we … we shouldn't," she protested, trying to sound both interested and meek.
"It was just kissin'" the boy retorted, hopeful that he could persuade her to resume.
"But," she continued her objection, "I, well, I don't want you to think that I'm that kind of a girl!"
"Of course not," Bobby Earl answered, certain that it was false modesty on her part.
"And there are the rules."
"And it's just a first date," she added, as if punctuating her rationale.
"Under the circumstances," she played the interested but demure maiden, "perhaps it would be best if you walked me back to my room now."
The boy shrugged and rose, offering a hand to help Alexis to her feet. The two talked awkwardly about school and classmates and other trivial subjects for the rest of the way to Melville and in the elevator car to her floor. At her door, she paused and turned to him. "Thank you for a wonderful time," she said, her head turning up a bit in a blatant invitation.
Bobby Earl wasted no time accepting her invitation; the kiss was lengthy and as passionate as he could manage - long enough that a few of the girls on the floor became spectators as they halted whatever they'd been doing to stare, adding whistles and clapping, much to the embarrassment of the couple. She finally backed away. "I had a nice time," she said.
"Yeah," the boy agreed. "It was a great dinner. Thanks fer askin' me."
"It was my pleasure," she beamed in a calculating, gold-digging manner. She was already thinking of how to maneuver him into future dates, and what the cost to her personal modesty would be along the way. Landing a rich boy would be worth it, she figured.
"If'n you don't mind," he stammered a bit, his confidence vanishing as he dealt with a girl about the unfamiliar - at least to him - subjects of dating and romance, "Ah'd like t' do something like this again. With you, Ah mean. You know - another date, maybe?"
Alexis feigned a look of surprise and uncertainty, while inwardly she smiled. He was taking the bait. All she had to do now was set the hook and reel him in. Of course, with competition from the likes of Heather, she'd have to be a little more aggressive in setting that hook, but she could deal with that.
"Yes," she smiled at him after a short pause. "I think I'd like that." She smiled again, then lifted herself on her toes, gave him a quick peck, and then opened the door to her room. "Call me. And practice your elocution." She saw the surprised look on his face. "So it will help you with your business when you travel to France."
(to be continued)