Shine 2 - My Fair 'Shine (Part 1)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Shine 2 - My Fair 'Shine
Thursday, August 30, 2007 - Early Morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"You may go in," the receptionist - the nameplate on her desk read Ms. E. Claire - said to the ungainly boy sprawled lazily in a large chair in the waiting area of the office. He was totally at ease, unruffled by being summoned to the administration offices. Either he was unflappable or he had no clue that these meetings could mean he was in a lot of trouble.
"Thanks," the boy said, rising from the chair, and in a casual, unhurried manner, he strolled to the door of a conference room, where he paused to knock.
The large wooden door opened. "Come in," a stern-faced woman ordered, her demeanor matching her tone. "Have a seat."
As he sat down, while the woman closed the door behind him, Bobby Earl Fields noted that his seat was situated at the foot of the table, and couldn't help but grasp the implied meaning - he was the lowest of the people in the room.
"Good morning, Mr. Fields," the blonde at the head of the table said warmly, yet the look in her eyes was guardedly neutral. In her mid-thirties, she nonetheless had a sense of wisdom and experience shining in her eyes that Bobby Earl had seen in his grandfather. "I'm Elizabeth Carson, the Headmistress of Whateley Academy." She nodded toward the woman sitting down at her right side. "This is Ms. Hartford, the Assistant Headmistress. Next is Langley Paulson, the head of the Advanced Technologies labs, where you'll be working on your ... ahem ... special inventions."
"You mean mah still," Bobby Earl interrupted to clarify.
"Yes, well, since you're jumping ahead," Mrs. Carson said, shooting the boy a warning glance, "that is the subject of today's meeting. Now, if I may continue?" She gave the boy a warning look that conveyed her message loud and clear - she was in charge of the meeting.
He gulped in acknowledgement of the sheer willpower conveyed in that one stare. "Yes, ma'am."
That small display of manners earned a tiny smile of approval from the headmistress. "Beside Mr. Paulson is Mrs. Donner, the tribal representative to the school." She turned toward the two people across the table from Hartford, Paulson, and Mrs. Donner. "Since Whateley Academy is on the grounds of the Medawihla Reservation," she explained with a much firmer, icier tone, "we are ultimately governed by tribal rules. By treaty with the US Government, the final word will come from Mrs. Donner. Is that clear?"
The two people in dark suits, who had yet to be introduced, frowned. "Federal law regarding alcohol production and consumption ...."
"... applies on reservation territories only if the tribe agrees to follow those laws," Mrs. Donner completed the sentence in a way that seemed to annoy the two. "Correct?"
The Headmistress was not about to let the meeting get out of hand. "Let's finish introductions before we proceed."
"Good Morning," the unknown woman said, stealing the initiative from Mrs. Carson to introduce herself first in an attempt to display her own authority. "I'm Agent Janet Coleson, from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. I work in the district office in Berlin, and I will be supervising compliance with your research and development agreement, of which your company was gracious enough to provide me a copy," the woman said. Though her words and tone were pleasant, there was nonetheless iron in her words; she expected full and complete cooperation from the boy. She was a bit of a puzzle, he realized. Maybe twenty-five or twenty-six, she was pleasant to look at, though nowhere near the class of exemplar girls he'd already seen on campus. She obviously kept herself fit, and with her shoulder-length auburn hair and soft, big, brown eyes, she no doubt knew she was attractive and knew how to use those advantages in life. And yet, the look in her eyes was fiery anger, as if she resented anyone around her who she considered her inferior.
The male agent, on the other hand, was older, slightly balding, and a bit portly. "I'm Ricardo Montoya, from the regional BATFE office in Boston," he said simply. He looked like a jovial uncle, with an air of not really being worried about anything.
"To begin, Whateley Academy has policies relating to the consumption of alcohol by minors that are fully compliant with federal law," Mrs. Carson stated, throwing the two a bone. "Violation of those policies is punishable up to and including expulsion and handing over the perpetrator to the local law authorities."
The two agents brightened a bit, but Mrs. Donner immediately rained on their little parade. "Which in this case is the tribal police. And normally, we work with the county, state, and federal governments to prosecute offenders," she added, somewhat mollifying them, or at least attempting to.
"Normally?" Montoya had picked up on the 'escape clause'.
"In rare circumstance, tribal law prevails," Mrs. Donner explained, making it clear that she wasn't going to give any more detail than those few words.
"Well," Ms. Coleson decided to get to the heart of the matter, "the agreement with Clarence Johnson Distillery should be a sufficient framework for this case, subject, of course, to the same level of monitoring and control."
"And what is that level of monitoring and control?" Mr. Paulson asked. From his expression, he already knew, but wanted the BATFE agents to state them so that they could be addressed point-by-point if necessary.
"Operation of the laboratory equipment during regular hours, subject to strict control of all lab input and output products."
"She means weighin' everythin' that goes in and comes out of mah lab," Bobby Earl spat distastefully. "And sendin' all the development samples to a master distiller for evaluation."
"And the problem with that is ...?" Mrs. Carson asked simply.
Bobby Earl turned to answer her, but his sharp rebuttal stuck in his throat when he read the expression on her face. He suspected that she already knew what the problem was, and was merely directing the conversation. She, too, seemed to be playing a game with the federal agents, drawing them into a discussion that they likely wanted to gloss over. Mrs. Carson went up considerably in the boy's estimation. "It was a pain in the ... rear," the boy caught himself before he swore, "just havin' t' run around t' find Mr. Sam any time Ah needed someone to sample what mah stills was makin'," he said, struggling to contain his distaste. "If'n Ah have to ship every sample t' him every time Ah fiddle with mah still or agin' tubes, Ah might as well pack up and go home!"
"He is a minor," Agent Montoya reminded the assembled adults.
"And he will be running a lab doing research in accordance with the policies of this school and the reservation on which it is located," the headmistress stated curtly, cutting off his protest. "As I understand it, his products are of … some importance to tax revenues. I would think that expediting product development would be in the general fiscal interest of BATFE and the federal government."
Agent Montoya scowled at the headmistress and shared a concerned glance with his fellow agent. "That may be true," he said cautiously, "but we cannot condone breaking the law."
"And as I just explained," Mrs. Donner said with a smug smile, "the law here is determined by tribal regulations."
The female agent glared at her and the headmistress; obviously, the meeting was not going the way she expected or wanted. "I did a little checking," she said, "and it's a pretty open secret that the school stands to gain financially if you ... overlook ... certain violations of BATFE regulations and rules."
Ms. Hartford managed to give a tiny smile in the direction of the agent. "Congratulations on doing your homework," she said sarcastically. "We don't make any secret of financial arrangements made between our school and our more gifted students, so yes, we do have a vested interest in the boy's success."
"But you would be mistaken," Mrs. Carson said solemnly, staring at the agents with a 'glare of supreme authority' to remind them that she was in charge, "if you think that we would condone acts in which students deliberately and flagrantly break the law in a manner not consistent with normal development and testing. If Mrs. Donner says that we are not in violation of tribal law by allowing Mr. Fields to taste-test his products, then that is our position."
"We will, of course, ensure that Mr. Fields' 'sampling' is done only to the extent necessary for development of his projects. Any reasonable monitoring, such as surveillance video, which helps us ensure our students are following school policy, and also helps your agency ensure compliance with tax law is, of course, perfectly acceptable," Ms. Hartford added, making a small concession to the agents so they didn't feel totally humiliated by the outcome of the meeting.
Bobby Earl sat in his chair listening to the adults arguing. Previous experience with BATFE had left him convinced that there was no reasoning with government bureaucrats, and so far the agents had demonstrated that such thinking was valid. And given the size of his contribution to the school's scholarship fund, he wasn't totally surprised to find the administration backing his position. At the same time, he understood why Ms. Hartford had agreed to monitoring his lab. He did make some very potent moonshine, and no doubt it would be in high demand among the student body once its existence was discovered.
"Just so Ah understand," Bobby Earl spoke up, "you're saying that it's fine for me to sample the output of my stills and aging gizmos? You're saying that Ah don't have to ship every sample back to Mr. Sam for approval, right?"
Mr. Paulson nodded his concurrence with Bobby Earl's assumptions. "We will be watching you," he stated bluntly, "to make sure you aren't over-sampling. Understood?"
"Would this be a good time t' talk about mah havin' t' make trips from time to time?" The boy changed the subject. "Since y'all are here talkin' about mah labs and such."
Mrs. Carson nodded. "As I understand it, you have to periodically maintain your devises at all of the distilleries where they've been installed, correct?"
"Yes, ma'am," Bobby Earl answered politely. "Ah have to visit each distillery 'bout twice a year. I have to maintain mah devises, and recharge the agin' beds."
"And since they're devises," Mr. Paulson observed with a knowing expression, "no-one else can maintain them, correct?"
"Yes, sir. If'n anyone else tinkers with 'em, they quit workin', and then Ah have t' go fix 'em." He smiled. "And Ah get t' charge them a whole lot t' fix what they broke! The contract Mr. Easterbrook set up says they cain't touch mah gear, but every distiller thinks he knows better, and so they tinker, and then they have to pay."
Agent Coleson leaned forward incrementally, sensing an opening. "All work performed at domestic distilleries will, of course, come under our rules for installation and testing. That will include having a master distiller of legal age perform any and all taste testing. And as the developer is under legal age, the agency insists that a BATFE agent be present to supervise."
"Your agent Mr. Easterbrook let me know that the distilleries are being asked to schedule maintenance over the weekends so the trips won't interrupt your classwork."
The older government agent scowled. "That will be a problem," he stated flatly. "Agents don't normally work on weekends."
Mrs. Carson shot an unpleasant look to the two BATFE agents to silence them. "We'll come back to that point in a moment," she admonished them gently. "Weekends?"
"Yes, ma'am. And it don't take long t' maintain and recharge them. 'Bout half an hour per still. So in a average distillery, it's a day, day-and-a-half work. New ones, though, are 'bout three to four hours a still."
"What do you need from the school, apart from the occasional need of being excused from classes?" Mrs. Carson asked, stating the obvious.
"Nothin'," Bobby Earl replied. "Ma'am," he added as an afterthought. "Mr. Easterbrook sets up everythin', including a ride t' Berlin and the plane t' wherever Ah'm goin'."
"You will also need to coordinate with BATFE and the distillery to have the proper people present," Agent Coleson interjected firmly.
"Ms. Coleson, Mr. Montoya," Ms. Hartford said with a peculiarly wicked smile, "there is a peculiar little clause in the treaty of the Medawihlas which, if exercised, would treat any company incorporated on tribal lands as if it were a foreign corporation."
"Yes, but ...." Coleson interjected, a puzzled frown on her face.
"The net effect of exercising that clause would be, from a BATFE perspective, rather catastrophic." Mrs. Donner smiled pleasantly, as if delighted with tormenting federal agents. "You would lose all insight into Mr. Fields' product development and testing, and further, if the Clarence Johnson Distillery were to register its headquarters on tribal lands, with a separate corporate entity handing US operations, well, let's just say that your boss's boss's boss would be displeased at the reduction in tax revenue because, by treaty, the US government is prohibited on charging import duties on goods produced on the tribal lands."
"I don't like blackmail," Ms. Coleson snarled through an angry frown.
"Neither do I, Ms. Coleson," Mrs. Donner replied evenly. "But I would be remiss if I didn't lay out the boundary conditions for a little ... horse-trading."
"What do you have in mind?" Coleson asked hesitantly, frowning that she was in the weaker negotiating position and knew it.
"The answer is very simple," Ms. Hartford picked up on where Mrs. Donner was going. "On domestic trips, deputize Mr. Fields."
"What?!?" both agents' eyes bulged as they cried in disbelief at the absurd proposal.
"Think about it," Mrs. Carson chimed in. "You won't have to have an agent work weekends because he is an agent. By the time he travels, you'll have documented Mr. Fields' veracity in his development and testing. Further, I'd wager that your best expert doesn't know a tenth as much about distilling and aging as Mr. Fields, and that expertise would make him very effective at finding ... errors in distilleries."
"But he's a moonshiner!" Montoya shot back. "He's ... he's made a living breaking the law!"
"You have proof of that?" Mrs. Carson asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Well," Montoya admitted sheepishly, "we never actually caught him, but it was common knowledge that ...."
"Guilty based on rumors? Not a legally defensible position," Ms. Hartford shot back with a wickedly smug smile.
"And since reasonable agreements with the Clarence Johnson Distillery were put in place, he's been diligently following the law," Mrs. Carson rebutted.
"You can't expect a ... a boy to monitor a distillery! Why, he's got financial incentives ...."
"Ms. Coleson," Bobby Earl interrupted softly, "Ah admit that Ah've got a interest in makin' stills work better, but mah revenue is based on taxable sales, not total output. If'n a distillery is under-reportin', they's cheatin' me, too, because they ain't markin' it down as taxable!"
Ms. Coleson worried her lip for a bit as she thought, pondering the arguments.
"If Ah find problems and persuade the distillery t' fix 'em, then it's no big deal t' me, and y'all should be happy," Bobby Earl continued. "But if'n you have t' shut 'em down because someone else catches their ... mistake, mah cash flow from the license stops. Now which do you think Ah'd rather have happen?"
"Consider this," Ms. Hartford added, sweetening the pot. "If he's deputized, then every time he does periodic maintenance, you get an unannounced spot-check of the distillery he visits." She grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Which I bet you don't do now, correct?"
"No." The female agent thought a few seconds. "I suppose I can forward the proposal up the chain," Ms. Coleson conceded. "This will probably need approval from high up in the Treasury Department."
"That's reasonable." Mrs. Shugendo turned back to Bobby Earl. "Now, about your periodic absences ...."
Mrs. Carson nodded. "Mr. Easterbrook agreed to let us help schedule your trips. Mrs. Shugendo's office will help you with your travel and class arrangements. Depending on schedules, he and your mother agreed that chartering a jet is an option if it minimizes disruption to your classes. Depending on the length of the trip, we may assign an upperclassman to travel with you, to help you stay caught up in your coursework," Mrs. Carson said with a wry smile. She watched the boy's reaction, which was as if he'd swallowed something particularly bitter. "Your mother asked if we could help in that regard, and even offered to pay tutoring fees."
"Ah have a new customer in Scotland, so Ah have t' go to their distillery t' set up mah gear," the boy replied, "in a week and a half."
"That might be another point for your discussions with the Treasury Department," Mrs. Carson noted. "If young Mr. Fields is a recognized distiller and deputized agent by BATFE, it could simplify his trips abroad. It certainly wouldn't hurt if BATFE could provide credentials to assist in 'greasing the skids' for those trips, would it?"
"I suppose not," Montoya agreed reluctantly.
"I'll have my admin write up minutes and a draft agreement, then," Mrs. Carson concluded that discussion. "Mr. Paulson glanced around. "Is there anything else relating to your lab? The monitoring is agreeable, I take it? And the school's assistance with your travel arrangements, and the tutoring?"
The boy didn't have to think for very long before he nodded. "Them's just fine terms. Ah can live with that."
Mrs. Carson scowled at the boy. "Those are," she corrected him. "Hopefully, with a few years of instruction, and if you apply yourself as diligently to the study of English as you do to the distillation of alcohol, we can correct those bad grammar habits of yours."
Friday, August 31 – Evening
Melville Cottage Ballroom, Whateley Academy
The crowd of students parted like the Red Sea as a hush slowly descended over a small radius of onlookers. Heads turned and jaws dropped in amazement, eyes tracking the lanky boy who ambled into the ballroom, oblivious to the many stares he was getting from those who considered themselves to be of 'better' quality than other students on the campus - the social climbers, the well-heeled, the sons and daughters of 'old money.'
"What is that doing here?" One girl in a fancy designer dress – probably purchased specifically for the back-to-school cottage mixer – commented acerbically, not really caring if the boy overheard.
"The servant's entrance is to the rear." "I thought this was a semi-formal affair!" "Don't tell me he lives here!" "Don't they have a hillbilly cottage?"
Bobby Earl ignored all the snobbish comments and looked around for familiar faces, which weren't many in number since he'd only been on campus for a few days and social circles hadn't yet consolidated. Spotting a small cluster of freshmen who he recognized from the orientation tour, he veered toward the group. "Evenin'," he greeted them. "Pretty fancy shindig, huh?"
Of the seven kids in the group, the three girls looked at the newcomer with reactions ranging from surprise to near panic. "Good evening, Jethro," one of the boys sneered at him disparagingly.
"Name's Bobby Earl," he replied easily. "Not Jethro."
"Aren't all you hillbillies alike?" another boy retorted, earning a few chuckles from the girls.
Bobby Earl just shrugged. "That's just TV. Ain't like that back home at all."
"What? Do you have three rooms in your cabin?" a girl mocked him.
"You're Tara, ain't ya?" Bobby Earl ignored her comment. "Ah remember from the tour."
The girl's eyes narrowed. "That's right. Tara McGuire."
"And since Ma and Mr. Easterbrook got engaged, we's livin' in his place. It's practically a mansion compared to the old cabin."
The kids exchanged glances, including rolling their eyes at how oblivious Bobby Earl was to their teasing.
"But yeah, Ah lived in a cabin with Ma and Grandpa Joe for a bunch o' years." His eyes were drawn to the ballroom windows, looking out over part of the Presidential Mountains of upper New Hampshire. "The scenery 'round here makes me miss home some, though."
"And with what they serve in the cafeteria," another boy said with a sneer, "I suppose you miss squirrel and 'possum for dinner, too"
"Yeah. Turnip greens and rutabagas aren't on the menu here, are they?" a brunette girl who had to be an exemplar snorted derisively.
"Well, Ah cain't speak for 'possum," the hillbilly boy replied casually, ignoring the jibes directed his way. "Ah'm partial to a good steak, mahself."
"I'm surprised you're not wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt! I thought that was dress clothes to you southern hicks."
Bobby Earl's eyes flashed a bit of anger. "Well, that was a bit afore mah time. Back home, we don't ...."
"But you're not back home, are you Jethro?"
"Maybe you should just go back there!" the brunette snarked.
"Well, Ah'm here, and Ah'm goin' t' school here," Bobby Earl reined in his anger, and sounded nonchalant again, "so Ah ain't leavin'."
One of the boys, a lot larger than Bobby Earl, put his arm around the hillbilly's shoulder, steering him away from the others. "If I were you, Jethro," he said, his words dripping with an unspoken threat, "I'd talk to the administration about changing cottages. You don't fit in here."
Bobby Earl simply shrugged. "That ain't for me t' say," he countered. "They assigned me here, so Ah'm goin' t' stay until they change their minds."
"You're not welcome!" the other boy snarled. "You don't fit in Melville."
"If'n y'all's manners are any hint," he said slowly and deliberately, clearly working to control his temper, "Ah'd have to say it's too bad the South lost, because our good Southern politeness and manners is bein' corrupted by your Yankee, nose-in-the-air snobbery."
"Why, you ...." The other withdrew his hand from Bobby Earl's shoulder, his fists curled in fury.
If he intended to hit Bobby Earl, he never got a chance. To his complete surprise, his right fist vanished, encircled by a massive hand. The boy turned to see what had happened, then he gulped nervously at the sight of a huge bear of a boy, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, scowling down at him. "No fighting," the newcomer said sternly, his voice rumbling like a locomotive.
"I was just ...." the would-be bully stammered nervously.
"You were just saying good night," the huge newcomer directed at him. "Then you're going to return to your little circle of snobs."
"Who do you think you are that you ...?"
"I don't think. I know I'm Wyatt Cody. Senior, leader of the Alphas, and a guy who really despises bullies and social snobs. That's who I know I am." He glared at the boy. "Now run along." After the snob skedaddled, Wyatt extended his hand toward the hillbilly. "Wyatt. I'm from Alaska, so I don't exactly fit in the social-climber groups either. Nice to meet you."
"Bobby Earl Fields, from backwoods Tennessee," the boy replied. "Is everyone in this cottage a stuck-up asshole?"
"They've been privileged, rich snobs all their lives. But give them a few weeks." His eyes gleamed. "Most of them will get over it," the senior chuckled. "Especially the girls who think they're hot shit, but aren't even close in looks to the likes of Tansy or Nikki Reilly. Or the elites who think being a mutant with powers is cool, until they find kids from lowly Hawthorne who can wipe the floor with them."
"Ah appreciate the help," Bobby Earl said, "but Ah've got t' deal with bullies mahself."
Wyatt rolled his eyes. "I've heard that song and dance before."
"Well, all mah life Ah've settled differences over a little moonshine."
"The school has pretty strict rules against underage drinking," Wyatt warned.
Bobby Earl had the temerity to laugh at that comment. "Yeah, so does the government, but Ah helped Grandpappy with his still since Ah was knee high, includin' tastin' his 'shine. Been moonshinin' all mah life. If'n Ah can outwit a herd of revenuers, Ah think Ah can keep a little sippin' whiskey hidden from the administration."
"I didn't hear that!" Wyatt warned sternly, and then he grinned. "Officially, at least. Unofficially - is the stuff you make any good?"
"Ah think so," Bobby Earl replied with a shrug.
"Well," the senior chuckled, "if you manage to make a batch, look me up." He looked around, and perked up when he spotted a particular person. "Reach!" he called out to a very good-looking girl. He turned, nudging Bobby Earl along a new course.
"Hi, Wyatt," the girl replied to the big senior, then looked over the boy. "Who's this?"
"Ah'm Bobby Earl Fields," the boy introduced himself formally, extending his hand toward Reach.
Reach smiled and shook the boy's hand. "Harley Sawyer. Someone else from the South, I take it from your accent?"
"Someone else?" Bobby Earl asked, glancing back and forth between Wyatt and the new girl, since they both seemed to be sporting amused little grins. "Y'all don't sound like you're from Dixie! If'n Ah had t' guess, Ah'd say you're from France, maybe!"
Reach laughed, a delightfully feminine sound. "I'm from Kentucky, but you can blame Spark for me not sounding like a Southerner. She's French, and she's been ... influencing me. So, where in Dixie are you from?"
"Ah'm from Tennessee. From the hills. Mah Grandpappy, Ma, and Ah lived in a cabin in the mountains runnin' a moonshinin' still, up til Ah turned into a mutant. Then we moved to the city. Ma got herself engaged to Mr. Easterbrook, and they sent me here for more schoolin'."
"So what do you do?" Reach asked.
"Ah'm a devisor," Bobby Earl replied.
"Like my girlfriend Spark, then!"
Bobby Earl's eyes narrowed, and he glanced up at Wyatt, a bit confused and concerned by what he thought he'd heard.
"Until a few months ago, Reach was quite male. Due to a serious misunderstanding by Spark, she thought Reach was using her to get at her devises, so she set a trap. Problem was that someone messed with the trap, and now Reach looks like this most of the time."
Bobby Earl's eyebrows rose, and he looked warily at the girl.
"I'm a stretcher," Reach said as if that would explain everything, "so it works out. And periodically, I revert to my old boy form."
Wyatt chuckled. "In the world of mutants, Reach is among the less strange." He glanced around again. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to mingle some more. Head of Alphas, you know."
"Okay," the Tennessee boy said slowly. "Ah don't make no never-mind 'bout how folks live their lives. If'n ya'll don't try t' tell me how t' live, Ah ain't gonna do it t' y'all."
"That's a pretty reasonable attitude," Wyatt said before ambling off, his entire demeanor radiating his casual attitude with an approving smile. "Especially given the stereotype of the South being the Bible Belt."
"Well, if it's like where Ah grew up," Reach chuckled, "most folks are too busy tryin' t' live their lives free of government interference and gossips t' really care about others."
"Yup. So, Kentucky," Bobby Earl said cautiously. "Moonshiner?"
"No," Reach replied. "You?"
"Yup. So your girlfriend is a devisor? Think she can tell me anythin' about the labs, and how Ah might be able t' find someplace to set up mah still?" He looked around furtively. "And if she knows anythin' about where a feller might go t' get a little 'unofficial' lab space?"
"Did anyone tell you yet that I'm a member of the Intelligence Corps of Cadets?" Reach queried as a frown formed on her brow.
"Is that kind of like security or somethin'?" Bobby Earl asked, lifting one eyebrow.
"No. Just ... kind of a 'private detectives in training' club."
"Ah, okay. So if'n y'all are like any other private eyes," the Tennessee boy speculated, "y'all know - or will learn - that sometimes it's important t' keep y'all's mouths shut, am Ah right?" He saw the look on Reach's face and knew he'd nailed it. "And besides, if'n that hadn't worked, Ah figgered if y'all are a true Kentuckian, Ah could count on your loyalties t' the hills, or t' the South. Or t' moonshinin'," he ended with a grin. "Cuz if y'all help me set up a still, Ah can make a batch or two of good Kentucky bourbon."
Reach's eyebrows arched upward, and then lowered as a grin broke across her pretty features. "I think we should go find Genevieve to talk about how to find some ... private ... lab space!"
Tuesday, September 4, 2007 – Before Dinner
Devisor Tunnels, Whateley Academy
"This will be your lab." Mr. Paulson stood in the doorway of a decent-sized private lab deep in the bedrock beneath Whateley. "Based on your notes of your lab back home, this has available over twice the requested power, although we can increase these if needed. Utilities - water, heat, ventilation, sewer - are provided. The restrooms for this level are just a few yards around the corner of the tunnel."
"Mah stills cook over open flame," the boy interjected. "Ah presume there's a vent hood that can keep me from gettin' carbon monoxide poisonin', and some kind of fire sprinklers?"
Mr. Paulson nodded. "We'll fine tune the fire sensors once you get the lab up and running and get with a dedicated duct installed to supply fresh air for the fire. We can then directly vent the exhaust and fumes without having to go through the scrubbers and burners, since the byproducts aren't hazardous."
"If'n y'all knew Ah was goin' to have a lab, why isn't mah stuff down here?" Bobby Earl asked, looking around at a lab that, apart from work benches, was empty.
"First," Mr. Paulson explained patiently, "we had to wait until we had an agreement with BATFE and the administration. Now, knowing the parameters of that agreement, we have to get all our sensors and monitors installed."
"So, when can Ah get back to work?" Bobby Earl nearly demanded, giving vent to some of his exasperation. "Mr. Easterbrook has a contract coming up with two Irish distilleries," he explained without any hint of an apologetic tone, "and Ah need t' work on the aging tubes and still modifications!"
Mr. Paulson tried to sound sympathetic. "We have to run more cables for the sensors and cameras, so it'll take a while."
Bobby Earl sighed heavily. "Then Ah think Mr. Easterbrook and Ma will want t' have a conversation with Mrs. Carson," he finally said. "This is goin' t' slow me down, and since Ah get paid by the new distilleries when the job's done, Ah cain't start getting' mah royalties and that kind of changes mah financial situation ...." The implied threat was unmistakable - if he didn't get in the labs so he could make paying devises, they'd possibly cut back on the contributions to the scholarship fund.
The boy's words were not lost on Mr. Paulson. "Bobby Earl," he said in a patient, soothing tone, "we have to set up lab space every term for at least a dozen new gadgeteers and devisors, a few of whom have very important projects already underway, like you do. Add to that the fact that some of our older lab students have new projects that require modifications to their work space. Now, we're moving as fast as we can, but you have to admit that some things just take time, right?"
The boy considered what the teacher had said. "Well," he drawled, "mebbe Ah'm a bit impatient, but it might be mah spirit that's feelin' a might uncomfortable not bein' around a workin' still. Cain't ya let me get started a bit early? Ah promise Ah won't 'over-sample' mah work."
Mr. Paulson chuckled. "Frankly, Bobby Earl, it's not you I'm worried about. As long as you've been moonshining, I figure that you know your limits and know better than to over-indulge. I'm inclined to let you use your own judgment. I'm more worried about all the other students who would like unauthorized access to your products."
"Ah suppose you're right. But it's still frustratin'!"
The teacher started to close the lab door, signaling Bobby Earl that they were done with the impromptu tour. "Tell you what - I'll have someone put in a triple set of biometric locks and configure the standard lab camera tomorrow morning, and then you can start moving in your stuff after classes. But I'm afraid I can't let you start distilling anything until the rest of the security apparatus is set up."
"But mashing? Ain't no alcohol in the mash," the boy pushed a little.
"I guess that'd be all right." The teacher's head tracked a student. "Elaine!" he shouted to flag down a passing tall redhead. "I've got someone I want you to meet. Bobby Earl? This is Elaine Nalley, one of our older tech track students."
The boy extended his hand toward the girl. "Ah'm Bobby Earl Fields," he boldly introduced himself. "Ah just started here as a freshman. Ah'm a devisor."
"What's your field of interest?" the redhead asked, shaking the boy's hand.
"Ah'm a moonshiner," he said proudly. "And mah talent is in makin' devises and such for moonshinin'. You know, mashin', fermentin', distillin', agin' - all the parts of makin' fine drinkin' beverages."
One eyebrow on the girl arched upward. "Really? Mah great granddad was a moonshiner. When Prohibition ended, he gave it up and started workin' on cars."
"Really?" The boy's expression reflected his sudden, intense curiosity. "Nalley? Chance, you wouldn't be related to Liam Nalley, would you?" he asked. "He's a moonshiner from Georgia mah grandpappy knew."
It was Nalley's turn to be surprised. "That's mah great granddad's name. Why?"
"Your great grandpappy was kind of a Grinch about moonshinin'," Bobby Earl said casually.
"What do you mean? A Grinch? How?"
"If''n it's the same Liam Nalley," the boy began to explain, "mah grandpappy knew him. Accordin' to his notes, Grandpappy was goin' t' go into business with Liam. Shared his best recipe for Tennessee sippin' whiskey with him. But your great grandpappy didn't give him anythin' in return, so Grandpappy called off the deal."
"That doesn't sound like mah great granddad," Elaine said carefully, eyeing the boy suspiciously. "He was an honest man - never welched on a deal."
"Ah don't know if he was or wasn't. Ah'm just tellin' you what Grandpappy's notes say," Bobby Earl tried to mollify the girl. "And it don't make no never-mind to me, unless you'd be wantin' t' start some kinda feud. Which Ah ain't too keen on."
"No, me either. Ah suspect that Mrs. Carson might have a thing or two to say if we did," Elaine replied, still a bit uneasy from the boy's comment. "Ah guess Ah'll be seeing you around the labs," she said, clearly excusing herself from further conversation. "And Ah'm going to ask mah folks what they know about great granddad and possible partners."
"If'n it helps, mah grandpappy was known just as Old Joe," Bobby Earl volunteered. With a nod, the girl left, leaving Bobby Earl with Mr. Paulson. "Interestin' girl," the boy observed.
"She's one of the school's best gadgeteers," the teacher observed. "She's a good one to get help from if you have any questions." He frowned slightly. "Although, your comment about her great granddad's moonshining days and possibly welching on a deal might not have left you in good stead with her."
"Well, dang!" Bobby Earl muttered unhappily. "Nice lookin' girl like that, and Ah go and make an ass of mahself." He sighed, then pasted on a smile. "At least Ah'll know better next time Ah meet a girl."
Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - Early-Morning
Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
When the doors opened on the freshman boys' floor, two girls who were already in the elevator grimaced. They both went so far as to actually turn their noses up and sigh heavily and obviously at the gangly, towheaded boy wearing old jeans and a faded T-shirt who had been waiting for the lift with his roommate. The third girl, a tall, thin, white-haired upperclassman with a somewhat long, homely face and lacking in curves, was amused at the antics of the other two towards the boy, judging from the twinkle in her golden eyes.
"Mornin'" the boy said politely as he stepped into the elevator, nodding his head respectfully towards the girls as he ignored their blatant attitudes of superiority. "Headin' t' breakfast?"
One of the two snobbish girls - a curvy blonde exemplar - made in a visible effort of turning towards the boy as if she was turning to face an open sewer." Why yes, we are. And I suppose you're heading over to Crystal Hall for a bucket of grits and bacon?" she added sarcastically.
The boy chuckled, evidently not realizing that the girls were making fun of him in their own unique social-snob way. "I ain't never cared much for grits," the boy replied with a shrug, "but you can never have too much bacon!" He held up his hand out towards one of the two seemingly-snobbish girls. "Ah'm Bobby Earl," he introduced himself. "Bobby Earl Fields. Ah'm new to the school. Are y'all freshman too?"
The two girls, dressed in designer jeans and tops with flashy jewelry that was fancier than department store costume jewelry, thereby displaying their higher social status, exchanged a glance, one going so far as to roll her eyes. "Yes," the blonde answered as if speaking to Bobby Earl was a painful and objectionable chore. "I am also a freshman." After staring at the outstretched hand for a moment, she hesitantly shook it, knowing that it was required by etiquette, but her wide eyes and the downturned corners of her lips betrayed her true feelings.
"Ah suppose it's going to be pretty awkward if'n Ah have to keep sayin' 'hey you from the elevator this mornin'," Bobby Earl said with a sloppy grin, as if challenging the girl to divulge her name.
The girl rolled her eyes at the hillbilly boy's request and gave an exaggerated sigh, as if answering his simple request was beneath her. Simultaneously she retracted her hand, holding it away from her body, wondering if it needed decontamination. "I'm Alexis Katarina Scott," she answered with a regal air. "Of the Charleston Scotts," she added as if that alone should be enough to identify her.
"Please to meet you," Bobby Earl replied. "Do you have any relatives in eastern Tennessee, maybe? Me and Ma used to go see Doc Scott in Johnson City all the time."
The older girl and the boy in the elevator with Bobby Earl were visibly struggling to control their laughter, while the two freshmen girls look absolutely appalled that a commoner of this stature dared to talk to them.
The other freshman girl gaped at Bobby Earl's hand when he extended it toward her. She gave a questioning glance to Alexis, then hesitantly shook hands with the backwoods boy. "Heather O'Neil," she mumbled. Unlike her blonde friend, Heather was a brunette, and she wore her hair in a short, sassy style that almost screamed 'why yes, I get my hair done by a French stylist.'
"And where might you be from, Heather?" the boy asked with unbridled enthusiasm that wasn't reciprocated in the slightest.
The brunette rolled her eyes and shook her head faintly as she glanced at Alexis, motions and expressions lost to Bobby Earl. "My family lives in the DC area, in Chevy Chase."
Bobby Earl arched one eyebrow. "Ain't he some comedian? In that National Lampoon Vacation movie or somethin' like that? Mah grandpappy liked watchin' that!"
Another exasperated sigh came from Heather, while Alexis snickered along with the white-haired girl. "It's only the most exclusive neighborhood in the DC area!" she corrected the boy, aghast at his naiveté.
The boy who'd boarded the elevator with Bobby Earl decided to intervene to spare the latter boy more embarrassment. "Julius B. Corwin, but I go by JB," he introduced himself. "I'm Bobby Earl's roommate. And before you start guessing, yes, I am from Great Britain."
Bobby Earl smiled. "When Ah met him, Ah guessed he was from Australia!"
A look of utter horror appeared on JB's features. "Australia?" he asked in mock indignation. "The very thought that I might look and sound as primitive as a ... a ... a shackle-dragger!"
Bobby Earl chuckled at JB's comment. "To make it easier, folks just call me 'Shine. That's mah code name," he said to the girls. He turned to the taller, so-far-silent white-haired girl. "Ah suppose y'all have a name too?"
"Jadis," the girl replied simply. Seeing the boy winding up to continue questioning, she added, "Jadis Diabolik. If you had listened at the freshman cottage briefing, you would have heard my name. I'm the cottage fixer."
"If'n a fixer is anythin' like Mr. Don from back home, then Ah guess you can help get things done that ... the administration might not exactly approve of?"
Jadis smiled. "The rules exist for a reason," she said," but like any rules, there are always … exceptions and loopholes, if you take my meaning." Mercifully for the other two girls, the elevator car stopped at the first floor, and no sooner had the doors opened then the two hastened off.
As he politely stood aside so Jadis could exit first, one of Bobby Earl's eyebrows cocked higher than the other as he studied the girl with interest. "Maybe Ah'll have to look you up later," he said, "because Ah already got a small problem that Ah don't think security or Mrs. Carson would be itchin' to help me solve."
"Ask at the desk; they know how to get hold of me anytime," Jadis replied. Not having anything else to do at the moment, she walked with the two toward the doors. "Since I am going that way, too, why don't I walk with you and you can tell me a bit about yourselves. For example, your accent sounds like that of Elaine Nalley from Georgia, and Alicia Thacker from Louisiana," Jadis observed. "I presume that you're from the south?"
The boy winced visibly. "Ah met Elaine the other day. Didn't exactly go too well," he admitted.
"I can't imagine why!" JB chimed in with a silly grin.
"Ah'm from Tennessee. From the east part of the state, what folks call backwoods country," Bobby Earl explained, ignoring his roommate.
JB grinned. "That makes him a genuine hillbilly."
Bobby Earl shrugged as he chuckled. "Ah reckon it does." His smile broadened into a huge grin. "And just like folks think, mah family tree is full of moonshiners."
"Moonshine?" Jadis asked with sudden interest. "Illicit alcohol?"
"Yup," Bobby Earl replied. "Mah grandpappy was the best moonshiner the hills has ever seen. The mutant power folks in Nashville seem to think that somehow Ah got my grandpappy's spirit and all his moonshinin' know-how stuck in me when Ah became a mutant mahself. That's why mah code name is 'Shine."
"So, what is it you do?" Jadis asked, growing more curious.
"Ah'm a devisor and somethin' called an avatar." Bobby Earl was no fool; he could see that behind Jadis' smile and sparkling eyes was a keen intellect at work, and she was no doubt making mental notes about the students and their capabilities. Then again, he thought, if a fixer was anything like Mr. Don, she had information sources all over the school, and probably already knew what was on 'Shines MID.
"Focused on alcohol, might I assume?" Jadis asked, but the tone of her voice indicated that she probably already knew the answer. "That should make you pretty popular."
"Maybe if'n they weren't so hung up on me havin' a still" Bobby Earl snorted in disgust. "Ah got my own lab, but they's watchin' me like a hawk lookin' at a field mouse at lunchtime."
"And you have other ideas?" Jadis chuckled.
"Ah didn't run a still under the noses of the revenuers because Ah'm stupid."
"Whateley security is a lot different from ATF agents," Jadis said, giving the boy a cryptic smile. "I'll be on the 'fixers patio' after lunch and after dinner. Drop by. I might be able to help you out - for certain ... consideration."
"You don't know what Ah need!" Bobby Earl protested suspiciously.
Jadis' smile broadened and there was a knowing twinkle in her eye. "I think I have an idea what it is you're after," she said before turning to join some of her friends who were also on their way to the cafeteria.
Bobby Earl watched her go, his head cocked slightly to one side and a thoughtful expression on his face. "Ah wonder ...."
Thursday, September 6, 2007 – After Dinner
Fixers' Patio, Whateley Academy
The slowly setting sun cast long shadows over the patio, and though the sun was for all intents and purposes down, the Indian summer heat had not released its grip on the day. Around the patio, strewn about the small tables, were the various cottage fixers and a few of the bookies, holding their evening court for any and all who might have need of their services. Jadis Diabolik was no different from the others, having staked out her usual table. Though she seemed to be reading a book, from the slight motions of her head, Bobby Earl had the feeling that she knew everything that was going on around her. It was like back home in the hills; he and his grandpappy hadn't been successful at moonshining without being extremely aware of every chirp of a bird, every rustle of a tree branch, or every snap of a twig. It was simply the way a person had to be to avoid being caught.
As the country boy sauntered in his gangly, lanky way toward the table, he knew that others were watching him, but he didn't really care. When he was about ten feet from Jadis' table, she very slowly and deliberately put a bookmark in her paperback and set it on the table, holding her hands in front of her, waiting for the approaching boy. At her gesture, Bobby Earl gracefully slid into a chair opposite her.
"I figured that you would find me yesterday," Jadis said.
"Ah would have," the boy drawled, "but Ah was on the phone with mah Ma and Mr. Easterbrook about a deal he's making for mah devises."
Jadis smiled thinly, totally unsurprised by his explanation. "Related to the deal with the brandy distillery, perhaps?"
Only the slight narrowing of the boy's eyes betrayed his surprise at her comment. "Ah was right about you," he said slowly.
"What about me?" It was Jadis' turn to be mildly surprised.
"What a fixer does, and that a fixer, if'n he or she is worth a hoot, has a lot of sources of information and pays close attention to what's goin' on," the boy explained with a twinkle in his eye. "Ah took the liberty of asking around about you, just to make sure that if'n Ah ask you for something, it's not goin' get to people who Ah'm trying to keep from finding out."
One of the girl's eyebrows lifted slightly as her head tilted incrementally to one side. "And what did you find out?"
"That you're supposedly very strict about operatin' within the laws and rules, but know how to stretch them to their breakin' point. That when you give your word, you don't break it. And that your father is a supervillain," the boy added nonchalantly.
"If the last bit were true, would it make a difference?"
Bobby Earl gave an amused snort. "Ah helped Grandpappy break the law makin' illegal moonshine from the time Ah was knee high. Ah took over the still after Grandpappy passed. Ah don't give two shits about how a man makes a livin' as long as he don't go around killin' people."
Jadis sat back and slowly a smiled dawned to on her face. "That's a very ... interesting attitude. So, how can I help you?"
"Well, Ah figgered you'd already found out enough to know what it is Ah need," the boy challenged her.
"Hypothetically speaking," Jadis speculated, "if someone was involved in moonshining, he or she might need a lab to experiment and develop various devises, as well as produce … refreshments ... without interference by security or the administration, although, also speaking hypothetically, if I were to rent a lab to somebody with such interests, I would need some consideration if that person told me explicitly what they intended to use the lab for."
Bobby Earl smiled. "And if, by chance, someone wanted to get some equipment onto campus secretly, Ah assume you'd know how they go about doin' it."
"Hypothetically," the white-haired girl continued, "I would wonder why our moonshiner wouldn't just work in the regular labs, using regular lab equipment, to develop a new and improved distillation apparatus using his devisor skills, and not take a chance attempting to smuggle said equipment past security and the administration."
Bobby Earl gazed at her evenly for a couple of moments. "Ah suppose you know everything about me, which means you probably know why Ah might like to have mah favorite still to work with."
"When Ah was developin' new stills and aging devises," the boy drawled, "back in the company lab, Ah had to follow every stupid rule and regulation. Because Ah'm under age, the company and the revenuers watched me like a hawk. Hell, they wouldn't let me taste my own whiskey!"
"Oh, the horror!" she said in mock indignation.
"Tell me 'bout it. From the time Ah start mash, through fermenting it, and all the way out the still, it's all bonded and secured, so's Ah don't dare take me a little taste or slip a little bit to my friends." He shook his head with a disgusted frown. "How the hell is anyone supposed to have fun moonshinin' under them conditions? And the administration agreed to most of the same stupid rules. Well, Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Shugendo want to have almost the same rules for me here. Ah can make and sample mah stuff for developin' mah devises, but Ah cain't make any for ... social purposes."
"I can see how you would find that rather unenlightened." Jadis nodded knowingly. "So you would prefer to do some of your experimenting without being ... monitored, would that be a correct assumption?"
"Yep. So Ah can make a little sipping whiskey that I can enjoy myself."
"To say nothing of sharing with friends?" the white-haired girl asked with a smile.
The boy shrugged. "Ah always found that folks are a might friendlier over a drink."
"True," Jadis chuckled. "So tell me, how did you come by your ... special devisor talents?
"Well," the boy began, looking a little reflective, "Ah s'pose it started long time ago when Lady Larimore – folks say she's a witch – cursed Grandpappy cous'n he left her at the altar to make a batch of 'shine. Folks say because of her spell, his soul got bound to his still that day so when he passed, he became part of it. Anyhow, Ah was makin' a batch of 'shine with that still when Ah turned into a mutant, and the powers folks in Nashville think somehow grandpappy's spirit got sucked from the still into me, because now Ah know everything he knew 'bout moonshinin'. They say Ah'm something they call an avatar. Anyways, that's mah lucky still, and Ah kind of feel like part of Grandpappy is still there with it. However you explain it, mah best batches come out of that still."
"I see," Jadis observed thoughtfully. "You realize that you told me exactly why you're going to use it, and I can't pretend to not know, so if I did have lab space for you, I'd need some extra compensation given that what you want to do with that lab is against both rules and laws."
"Ah figured you'd kinda need to protect yourself," the boy said. "So how's about we talk 'bout what kind of lab Ah need and what kind of security Ah might like to get." He smiled again. "Ah suspect there's somebody in security that might be able to help me with mah other ... chore since Ah don't think you'd be directly involved."
Satisfied, the two settled into a lengthy discussion of what kind of facilities would suit Bobby Earl. To Jadis' surprise, the boy had perceptively thought through most of the small details, including plumbing, ventilation, security, and power needs. She was a little surprised by his need for a scrubber to remove a telltale fungus that harmlessly blackened things nearby as a byproduct of fermentation and distillation. Patiently Bobby Earl explained that any good moonshiner knew that the fungus was a dead giveaway to revenuers; all the taxmen had to do was look for curiously-blackened plants and buildings to know that an illegal still was operating nearby.
"Ah think that'll do me fine," Bobby Earl said when there were no more conclusive details to discuss. "How much will that cost me?"
Jadis extracted a small notebook and studied it while she thumbed through several pages, scribbling on a blank piece of paper as she thought. After a bit, she wrote a price on a clean page, tore it off, and pushed it across the table to 'Shine. To her surprise the boy simply shrugged at the cost. "You're not going to argue? To try to bargain me down?" she asked with one eyebrow arched.
"For what Ah need, it seems like a fair price, although you know more about the market for labs here than Ah do. But goin' by your reputation, you ain't tryin' to chisel me. What's to argue about?" He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "That's every month?" Jadis simply nodded, pleasantly surprised at the boy's logic and due diligence showing on her features. "How much if Ah just buy it from you outright?" He gauged what she was thinking from her expression, and he interrupted before she could respond. "Or would you rather just rent it to me so you can keep a piece of the action?"
"While selling the lab to you outright would give me plausible deniability of what you end up using it for and would free me from any ethical and legal repercussions, I have friends at the school," Jadis said slowly in a guardedly neutral tone, "who might be adversely affected if you were to start freely releasing your ... product ... among the student body. I would prefer to protect their interests, and mine, by maintaining at least a small modicum of control."
Bobby Earl nodded his understanding; it was not an unreasonable request on her part. "Now is there somebody Ah should talk to get a little help getting some equipment on campus?"
Once more, the white-haired girl wrote on the page, and handed it to the boy. "Trews?" he asked simply.
"You didn't hear it from me."
Bobby Earl nodded as he smiled. "Ah understand. Thank you."
"I'll get a lab ready for you. Meet me here Monday and we'll take care of the contract." As the boy walked off, Jadis picked up her book, still watching the boy walk away. She started at the sight of a small, silver-colored flask that somehow, without her realizing it, appeared. The boy had managed to slip it unobtrusively beneath the novel. A tip, perhaps? Without showing any blatant reaction, she calmly slid the metal bottle into her purse, wondering about its contents.
Friday, September 7 - Mid Afternoon
Basic Martial Arts Class, Whateley Academy
The lanky boy picked himself up from where he'd landed outside the sparring ring, wincing at some pain in his shoulder, where he'd hit. "Well, dayum," Bobby Earl drawled, "that weren't too good." His comment brought a few titters of laughter from other students.
Near the ring, Sensei Ito had been observing the boy. "No, Mr. Fields, it was not," he said as he strolled to the center of the sparring ring where Bobby Earl had been testing his skills against Sensei Tolman. "Please take your place at the edge of the mat."
The boy nodded. "Ah told you I weren't a fighter," he commented laconically.
"Is that how hillbillies fight?" Alexis Scott from Melville asked in a snarky tone, drawing more guffaws and chuckles from those around her.
"It's all that interbreeding in the hills. A normal girl could kick your asses!" one of the boys, Ted Hudson, said in a snide tone, loudly enough that the two instructors heard.
"I remind you," Sensei Ito said with a deep scowl, "that this type of taunt and insult will not be tolerated in my class. I will remind you that anything that happens in class stays in this class. We will not tolerate any type of grudge or vendetta coming into or leaving class. Is that understood?" He consciously glared at Ted, while Tolman fixed her evil stare at Alexis. "Class dismissed."
"Excuse me," Bobby Earl said, springing to his feet. "Ah was told t' make sure y'all know Ah won't be in class Monday."
"Yes, I was so informed," Sensei Tolman, the tall, lithe, black teacher replied. "But you will be back on Tuesday?"
"Yes'm," the boy replied politely. "But Ah might be a touch sleepy from jet lag."
"Fatigue is no excuse for fighting poorly," Tolman replied with a wicked grin. "I expect you to be in a makeup session next week, then. Understood?"
"Yes'm." Bobby Earl bowed as he'd been instructed earlier in the week, then trotted toward the locker room.
No sooner had he entered with the door closing than one of the boys strode up to him. "Traveling somewhere?" the boy code-named Rapier asked, his curiosity piqued just like that of every other student who'd overheard.
"Ah gotta go maintain mah devises," Bobby Earl replied casually.
"So back home to your hillbilly cabin?" Ted Hudson asked, grinning at getting in what he thought was a witty verbal jab.
"Nah," the hillbilly boy replied with a shrug. "Ah'm goin' t' Islay for a couple of days. That's in Scotland."
"Overseas?" A few jaws nearly hit the floor in surprise.
"Yup. Tain't nothin'," Bobby Earl replied. "Got mah distillin' devises all over the world."
A fellow Melville student, Rapier, gaped at the boy's statement, and then he shook his head. "Good one!" he chuckled. "You almost had us."
"If'n y'all don't wanna believe me, tain't mah problem." He shrugged off the comment as he turned his attention to getting his shower.
* * *
JB trotted to catch up to his roommate waiting by the elevator in Melville; Bobby Earl seemed to be in quite a hurry to get back to their room. "I don't think people believed you," he said as he stopped beside the Tennessee boy.
"Don't matter none. Ah cain't help it if'n they don't believe me."
"Who's going with you?"
While he waited for a reply, five more freshmen arrived from classes, including a couple who'd followed Bobby Earl and JB from basic martial arts. Together they joined the group at the elevators.
"Dunno. Ain't met him yet. Senior from upstairs. Goes by Hardsell. Mrs. Carson said he'd meet me in the lobby." Bobby Earl looked at his roommate. "Ya sure you don't want t' come along? It's close to home, ain't it?"
"It's bloody Scotland, mate," JB shot back. "Why would I waste a trip traveling to Scotland? It's uncivilized!"
"Cain't be too uncivilized. They make whiskey," he answered as the car arrived allowing the group of freshmen to pile in.
"There's more to civilization than whiskey," JB commented wryly.
"True," Bobby Earl said with a sloppy grin. "There's beer, and rye, and bourbon, and vodka, and ...."
"Do you ever think about anything besides spirits?"
"Nope. Not if Ah can help it." The car gave a slight jolt as it stopped on the freshmen floor, allowing the kids to exit. Several of the freshmen watched over their shoulders as Bobby Earl and JB walked to their room.
"Didja hear that?" one of the girls asked. "Is our resident hillbilly traveling to Scotland?"
Friday, September 7 - Late Afternoon
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Bobby Earl Fields?" The young man who called out to Bobby Earl was pulling a small rolling suitcase, with a computer bag slung over his shoulder.
"Yeah?" The Tennessee boy was leaning against one of the columns at the front of the administration building, a duffel bag at his feet, waiting for someone.
"I'm Tom Hershel. Hardsell. I'm your senior escort."
"Look, have you been told the rules?" Hardsell asked, looking warily at the boy.
"Mrs. Carson gave me the rundown," Bobby Earl replied. "Said Ah ain't supposed t' do anythin' t' get in trouble."
"Good. If you get in trouble, I get in trouble. And I don't need that, understand?"
"Works fer me," the younger boy replied.
"So ... where are we going?"
"Some island in Scotland that's got a bunch of distilleries. One of them just signed up as a customer for mah devises."
"Okay. Is there any action there?"
"Action? What kind of action?" the boy asked.
"You know - girls. Clubs. You know." Hardsell waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "Any Scottish girls to get to know?"
"Dunno," Bobby Earl replied. "Ah ain't thought much 'bout that."
As the boy was speaking, a large, burly red-headed man strode up, his sidearm on his hip showing him to be some type of security person. He was not wearing the normal security uniform though, but was dressed a little more casually, including an oddly-shaped plaid hat that was probably made of a Scottish tartan of green and blue, separated by darker bands into an iconic plaid. "Are ye lads Bobby Earl Fields and Tom Hershel?"
"Yup." "Yes, sir."
"I'm your assigned security escort. Ian McTavish." The barrel-chested man spoke with a very thick Scots burr, which was fitting, considering he had a stereotypically thick, bushy beard and moustache, and his red hair poked out from beneath what the boys didn't recognize as a Balmoral hat in the colors of the fabled Black Watch.
"You're kidding!" Hardsell muttered, rolling his eyes. "We're going to Scotland, so they get the most stereotypically Scottish security officer they can find."
"Aye, laddie," Ian replied with a huge grin. "At least I'm nae wearing my Black Watch kilt!" The grin broadened, which seemed an impossible feat. "But I did bring it along; nae good Scotsman would be without his kilt, just in case there's an occasion t' wear it! I managed to convince all the other officers that we were going to the remote highlands so nobody wanted to volunteer. If they knew that Islay is known for its Scottish whiskey, everyone would have wanted to go." He chuckled. "Too bad I can't bring back a little supply for myself and some friends."
"Why not?" Bobby Earl asked.
"Customs," the officer said with a shrug. "Boston customs and immigration is pretty thorough."
"We ain't flyin' commercial," Bobby Earl said. Seeing the looks of bewilderment, he explained. "We're flyin' in a charter. Direct from Berlin. So we ain't changin' flights a lot."
"So, it's a small charter jet?"
Bobby Earl chuckled. "Nope. With all mah gear and all mah tools, the company charters a seven-sixty-seven for me. Lot of stuff Ah have to haul around."
"Charter? Seven sixty-seven? A Boeing seven six seven?" Hardsell's eyes were bulging from their sockets in disbelief.
"Yeah. Comes outta the fees the distillery pays. They's pretty comfortable t' fly in." He glanced to one side as a stretch limo pulled up by the administration building. "That's our ride."
"A ... limo?" Hardsell was beginning to think that this wasn't such a bad assignment after all.
"Yeah. Ah know it's a bit much. Ma says Ah ain't s'pose to get all spoiled, but mah agent Mr. Easterbrook insists that Ah travel comfortably, and he makes the distilleries pay fer it."
The driver, having exited the car, opened the rear door for the officer and his two charges, and after closing it behind them, loaded their bags into the trunk. Quickly he climbed behind the wheel once more and the limo eased away from Schuster Hall, accelerating toward Berlin and a new adventure for the hillbilly boy from Tennessee, his astonished senior escort, and the Scotsman who was providing them security.
* * *
A small crowd of students, gathering from all cottages as they filed toward Crystal Hall for dinner, stood near the parking lot and gaped at the unfolding scene of one hillbilly freshman, a senior, and an adult decked out in Scottish garb climbing into a limo.
"Did he say Scotland?" Alexis Scott asked her friend Heather O'Neil. It wasn't so much that the two were actually friends, but rather that they ran in the same social circles and thus considered most of the Whateley students far beneath them, so they naturally gravitated together.
"A limo? The hillbilly is riding in a limo?" Heather asked, slack-jawed as she watched the long black car drive away.
"To Scotland?" Alexis gaped again.
"Yes, you heard correctly." The two girls spun to see their cottage fixer smiling at them with a knowing grin. "They're flying to Scotland on a chartered seven-six-seven."
"So ... is that some senior project?" Alexis ventured to guess. "Taking along our hick boy as an experiment or something?"
"Actually, no," a curvy girl with spikey black hair and well-tailored jacket and pants said. "Good evening, Jadis."
The white-haired girl smiled at the newcomer. "Good evening, Ayla. Not dining with Adalie tonight?"
Ayla Goodkind shook her head. "Yes, but she's training with Kayda and Chou and Alicia. Mr. Two Knives must be getting overly-enthusiastic with their training today."
"Wait, back up!" Alexis interrupted the two upperclassmen. "What are you talking about?"
The spikey-haired girl looked at the two freshmen's confused countenances. "Hardsell, the senior, is the off-campus upperclassman escort for Mr. Fields. It's Mr. Fields' trip to install his devises."
"The hillbilly?" Heather gawked.
"Our hillbilly? From Melville?" Alexis added.
"Yes. I thought I made that clear," Ayla replied.
"How does he rate a chartered jet?" Heather was still confused. "He's just some poor Appalachian trailer trash!"
"Perhaps he looks and sounds like a backwoods boy," Jadis said with a smug smile, "but he's far from poor." Seeing the two girls utter bafflement, she decided to enlighten them. "The last I checked, he's personally worth almost twenty million."
"Twenty ... million?"
"As of the start of this school year, his net worth is twenty-three point six million," Ayla corrected Jadis.
"That's not counting the direct payment for this trip. The going rate for his services would suggest that this trip will be worth at least another million to his net worth. And that's not counting royalties that are currently three point two million per month," Jadis added.
Heather and Alexis gawked at the information Ayla and Jadis had provided to them. Their cottage bumpkin - he was a multi-millionaire, and earning over three million more each month? Privately, each girl considered that she owed Bobby Earl an apology. With that kind of money, they owed him a big apology.
Monday, September 10 - Early Evening
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
From the evening shadows of one of Kane's doorways, Officer Jerry Mendez watched with interest as Officer McTavish balanced a box on his shoulder while carrying his duffel bag in his other hand, walking toward his car. Everyone in security knew he'd been assigned as an escort for a student traveling to Scotland, and it looked like McTavish had come home with some booty.
"Evening, Ian," Mendez said casually as he strolled toward the returning officer. "Good trip?"
McTavish smiled, but there was a wariness to his expression. "It wasn't bad," he answered. He dropped his duffel bag beside the trunk of his car and then hoisted the heavy box onto the trunk lid.
"Came home with some souvenirs?" Mendez chuckled.
"I tell ye what, lad," McTavish chuckled in a thick Scots burr, "I'll volunteer t' gae with that boy any time he travels!"
McTavish nodded and opened the top of the box, extracting a bottle. "Ma favorite brand o' Scots whiskey, from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay. Duty free."
Mendez' eyes broadened at that news. "How?"
"Charter flight. Not much for immigration in Berlin. I could have brought ten cases through with nae hassle! Got it at cost, without any crown taxes, too!"
"That saves a bit. Were you going to share your good fortune?"
McTavish tossed his compatriot a bottle. "Sure. As long as ye remember that that boy is my escort job!"
"I can help make sure no-one else horns in - for a favor or two."
McTavish's eye narrowed and his expression clouded. "Tryin' t' get in on my gig, laddie? I do nae take kindly to people pushing into my business. Black Watch, retired," he added ominously.
"USMC," Jerry Mendez said with a smile. He pulled up his sleeve to show the St. George and the Dragon tattoo on the inside of his forearm. "Dragonslayer."
At the sight of the tattoo and the single word, McTavish goggled. "Well, I know better than t' fight ye, then, lad," he grinned. "As long as ye dinna break any rules, I think we can set up something mutually beneficial."
"I'll make sure no-one gets in on your ... volunteer work," Mendez grinned. "What can you tell me about the kid?"
"Mutant devisor with a knack for all things fermented and distilled. He makes a devisor rig that distills whiskey faster and purer than any plain still, and he makes devises that can age whiskey very fast, so in a couple of hours, it tastes like it's been aged for years." He pulled out a silver flask and handed it to the Dragonslayer. "This was brewed yesterday, and it spent only half a day in his aging rig."
Mendez took the flask, opened it, and took a cautious sniff. With one cocked eyebrow, he took a sip. "Smooth."
The Scotsman nodded. "I've had fifteen-year-old single malt that does nae taste this good."
"The price and demand ...." Mendez frowned. "That'll kill the market."
"Nae, lad," McTavish chuckled. "The distilleries can age some of their product the old-fashioned way a lot longer, while selling more 'low-end' spirits aged with the devises. If ye hadn't noticed, laddie, the price of fine, traditional whiskeys has been going up lately."
"Ah, yes, that ... that makes perfect sense! The aficionados pay a premium for the traditional beverage because the supply is reduced. The distilleries get a huge markup for 'authentically aged' products!" Mendez smiled knowingly; he could appreciate a good scheme.
"Enjoy your Scotch," McTavish opened his trunk and put the case of whiskey - minus one bottle - and his duffel inside. "I'm on duty early tomorrow, so I'm going home t' enjoy a wee bit of whiskey before I spend time staring at the insides of my eyelids, sleeping off jet-lag." The redhead shook hands with Mendez to seal their deal, then climbed into his car and drove off.
Jerry Mendez stashed the bottle in his own vehicle, then went back in the security office. Fortunately, he thought, he had desk duty for a few days. He was going to have to investigate more about this distilling genius. He was already thinking of ways he could capitalize on the boy's reported talents.
Monday, September 10 - Early Evening
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
A few eyes tracked the lanky Tennessee boy and his roommate as they crossed the cafeteria toward the serving line. Many of those eyes bore a new curiosity after having dismissed the boy as a backwoods hick, while others betrayed a conniving, plotting, scheming mind behind the almost predatory gazes of the owners. Of course, the boy wasn't aware of any of the newfound attention he was getting.
"Hey," Bobby Earl noted one student in particular, a tall, striking redhead, "Ah gotta go talk to someone. Back in a sec." he detoured and headed toward the girl and her two companions - Wyatt Cody, the huge senior boy he'd already met, and a drop-dead gorgeous blonde - as they carried their trays from the checkout lines.
"Evening, ma'am," the Southern boy said to the blonde. "Ma'am," he acknowledged the redhead.
The blonde was quite obviously curious, but the redhead's attitude grew noticeably icy. "Yes?" she asked simply.
"Miss Nalley," Bobby Earl said formally, noticing that Wyatt was looking down at him with a carefully neutral expression. Possibly he was Miss Nalley's beau? In that case, Bobby Earl gulped as he realized that he should tread carefully. "Um, ma'am, it seems that Ah owe you an apology."
Elaine Nalley goggled at the boy, surprised by his words. "An apology?"
"Yes'm," the Tennessee boy acknowledged with a nod. "The other day, when Ah said your great grandpappy welched on a deal with mah grandpappy?"
"I remember," Elaine replied, a bit of ice returning to her voice and stare.
"Well, the other day, while Ah was settin' up mah lab, Ah was re-reading mah grandpappy's notes," Bobby Earl explained, "and when Ah got to the part about Liam Nalley, Ah had t' think a bit."
"Yes'm. Grandpappy wrote down everythin', includin' the recipe he was goin' t' trade." The boy looked down at the floor, his cheeks flushing a bit as he shuffled his feet nervously. "When Ah thought about it, Ah realized that he'd mixed up a couple of measures, and, well, Ah'm pretty sure that whiskey wouldn't have tasted worth a damn."
Elaine's eyes widened in surprise. "So ... your grand-dad ... gave my great gramps a bum recipe?"
"Yes'm. But not on purpose! So Ah can understand why your great grandpappy wouldn't have wanted t' do business with mah grandpappy," Bobby Earl continued the explanation, shrugging with embarrassment. "He probably thought mah grandpappy was a chiseler!"
"So you had to come to apologize?" Wyatt asked, again being very neutral.
"Yes, sir," Bobby Earl nodded vigorously as he stole a glance upward at the senior. "When Ah done wrong, Ah own up to it. Ah was wrong t' suggest that Miss Nalley's great-grandpappy welched on a deal."
A broad grin spread across Wyatt's features as he clapped his hand on the boy's shoulder. "You're honest," he beamed. "Don't see that too often these days. I like that."
"Ah appreciate you takin' time to apologize," Elaine Nalley said with a smile. "If there's anything Ah can do to help you with your lab, feel free to ask."
"And when you get your, ahem, private lab set up," Wyatt added in a softer voice so bystanders wouldn't hear, "look me up. If you can look at a recipe and tell how good or bad the result will be, I bet you can make a damned fine product!"
"Ah sure will!" Bobby Earl answered with a silly grin. "Ma'am," he nodded respectfully toward Elaine. "Ma'am," he repeated the nod to Tansy. "Ah apologize for interruptin' y'all, so Ah'll just get back to mah roommate and dinner." With another nod to the trio, he turned and, with his usual carefree, lanky gait, strolled back to the serving line to rejoin his roommate.
"What was that about?" JB asked when Bobby Earl got back in line to pick up a serving tray.
"Misunderstanding. Red's great-grandpappy was a moonshiner, too, and he and mah grandpappy was goin' t' go into business, but mah grandpappy gave him a bum recipe."
"Small world," JB chuckled. "I thought you were going to try to chat up the blonde. Nice looking bird, but a bit out of our league."
"Do you mind if I join you?" a dulcet voice sounded behind Bobby Earl in a way that seemed certain to be directed at the two boys.
The hillbilly noticed JB's eyes narrow as he turned to see who was interrupting. His jaw dropped incrementally at the sight of Alexis smiling sweetly at him. Bobby Earl glanced at his roommate, then shrugged. "Ah don't mind." He turned and picked up a tray, then moved to the first of the serving tables, right behind his roommate, followed closely by the girl.
"How was your trip?" Alexis asked, cringing slightly as the Tennessee boy heaped scrambled eggs on his plate to go with the slabs of bacon he'd taken. "You should try the eggs benedict," she added. "I think they're fabulous."
"That thing on your plate that looks like half a egg McMuffin?" the boy laughed.
Alexis cringed again. "Yes. It's a poached egg with Canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce on an English muffin. The sauce is sinfully rich!"
"Maybe Ah'll give one a try," the boy said before he horrified the girl by reaching in front of her to dish up one of the tasty treats.
Alexis managed to keep a smile on her face despite the affronts to her normal culinary taste that was the boy's plate of scrambled eggs and bacon, biscuits slathered in a grayish gravy-looking substance that more reminded her of wallpaper paste, a large pile of fried potato chunks topped with an overly-generous dollop of ketchup, and amid all that, looking like a forlorn, lonely island of etiquette in a barbarian jungle, was the English muffin with its egg and hollandaise sauce. "So," she said as the trio sat at a table, having steered Bobby Earl away from the rest of the lab-coat crew at the underdog's table, "how was your trip?"
"It was another trip," the boy replied. "After a while, they get kinda boring."
"I heard you went to Scotland."
Bobby Earl nodded, gulping down the forkful of potatoes he'd just stuffed in his mouth. "Yup."
"Scotland is supposed to be quite scenic. I've never been," she continued, "but I've traveled with my family to England and Ireland several times."
"Oh? Mah agent is workin' with a couple of distilleries in Ireland. Maybe Ah'll be goin' there soon."
"Ireland is a gorgeous country. It's no wonder it's called the Emerald Isle," Alexis said wistfully. "My ancestors immigrated from Ireland in the early 1800s," she sighed with a dreamy look in her eyes. "I wish I could go back to visit again."
"Well, someday Ah'm sure you'll get a chance," Bobby Earl said without thinking. "Although mah trips ain't much t' sightsee. In Scotland, Ah spent most of mah time in the distillery. Cept'n for a bit of entertainment Saturday night, and Sunday night in Glasgow afore we flew home."
"Oh?" Alexis seemed intrigued.
"The distillery was in a small town, at least the way you'd look at it. Not a helluva lot to do, 'cept for testing the whiskey," he added with a twinkle in his eye. "Weren't much for partyin' or dancin' or stuff. And in Glasgow, they wouldn't let me drink, even though Ah made the stuff!"
"Philistines! I told you the Scots were barbarians!" JB laughed aloud.
The rest of the dinner conversation was a bit awkward, at least by JB's measure. Alexis talked about her family and Charleston, while Bobby Earl talked about his home and some adventures in the Appalachian Mountains. Obviously, at least to JB, the two were from totally different worlds. Still, the girl seemed interested. Or at least she was a good actress because she could feign interest as well as she had.
When they were finished, Bobby Earl started to politely pick up Alexis' plate and silverware, piling them on his own tray before sliding her tray under his. "Thank you," the girl said sweetly.
"Tain't nothin'," Bobby Earl replied. "Man's gotta have manners, y'know."
"Oh, before I forget," Alexis said as she walked with the Tennessee boy, clutching the boy's arm as he carried the trays, "I won a floor drawing for a pair of reservations to Le Bistro."
"What's that?" Bobby Earl screwed up his face in confusion. "Sounds French or something."
"It's a special dining room," Alexis managed to not sound exasperated as she replied. "Anyway, it's supposed to have really exquisite food, and reservations are supposed to be really hard to get, and since I don't like eating alone ...."
Bobby Earl missed a step and turned to the girl. "Are y'all asking me on a date or somethin'?" he stammered.
Alexis' sweet smile was disarming and enchanting. "You could consider it a date if you want," she answered, "or you can consider it a nice evening with a friend."
"Ah'd have thought that you'd go with your friend, Heather, Ah think her name is?"
The girl's smile never wavered. "Le Bistro is kind of a 'couples' restaurant ..."
"So it would be a date?" Bobby Earl interrupted with a sly grin.
"Well," Alexis said coyly, "I suppose it would be, if you want ...."
"Where Ah come from," the boy drawled, " a date is a date." He grinned, nearly splitting his face with the beaming expression of joy. "And in mah parts a boy usually does the asking out."
"So," Alexis' expression finally broke, and he worry-wrinkle on her brow eased. "Are you interested?"
"Since y'all asked, it'd be rude t' say no, and Ah ain't rude. Leastwise, Ma says Ah ain't." His nonchalant shrug was betrayed by the silly grin on his face. "Okay, Ah'll go on a date with you."
Alexis beamed at the boy. "Wonderful!"
"Only next time, would you let me do the askin'?"
"Sure," she said, feigning a smile. How utterly simplistic of this boy, in the early twenty-first century, to think that the ancient gender roles in dating would apply! But she decided that she could put up with his eccentricities - until she set the hook and was then able to 'reform' his old patriarchal attitudes. That would be after she had access to his fortune. Her fake smile broadened into a genuine grin of anticipation as she thought about 'educating' the boy after she'd gotten his money.
She gave his arm a squeeze, and then after bidding him goodbyes, she practically skipped toward her friend Heather, who seemed to be frowning about something.
"What the hell was that all about?" JB asked, dumbfounded. "I thought it was a lad's job to chat up the bird! Are all your Yank girls so forward?"
"Ah don't know," Bobby Earl replied, a little perplexed himself. "But Ah ain't complainin'!"
"Last time she had anything to say to us, she was more than a bit ... how shall I put it?"
"She and her friend were a mite rude," the hillbilly boy admitted. "She's entitled to change her mind, ain't she?"
"Just seems odd to me," JB muttered to himself.
Monday, September 10 - Late Evening
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
The voice interrupted the security desk officer who was busily working at a computer. After a few more quick keystrokes, he looked up, a little less than happy about being interrupted. "Yes?"
Bobby Earl noted the lack of polite 'may I help you' in the officer's words and tone. "Ah'm lookin' for Officer Trews."
Jerry Mendez' eyes narrowed slightly while one eyebrow arched upward. This was the same kid he was trying to figure out how to talk to about the kid's moonshining, and now the opportunity had fallen in his lap. "Trews went off-shift a couple hours ago," he lied, knowing that Trews had patrol duty and was somewhere on campus. But Mendez had made a career of recognizing and capitalizing when opportunities presented themselves, and this was a huge opportunity. "But I'm sure I can help you."
"Ah was told to talk to Trews," Bobby Earl replied cautiously.
Mendez smiled and stood. "I know I can do more for you than Trews. Let's talk somewhere that's a little less ... public." He gestured to one of the side doors, and when the boy hesitated, he continued smoothly. "I understand how to make things happen, better than Trews. And I guarantee you'll benefit more if I help you than if Trews does."
Bobby Earl paused to consider what Officer Mendez was hinting at. If Jadis had given him Trews' name as a contact, it was certain that Trews was corrupt enough to help out unofficially. But Mendez seemed to be certain that he'd do more for the boy. With a shrug, he followed Mendez out the door to Kane's parking lot.
"Now," Mendez began, casually leaning against a car, "what do you need?"
"Ah need some help setting up a lab," the boy said furtively, tap-dancing around the subject.
The former Dragonslayer smiled. "Since your background is moonshining, which is against school rules," he speculated, "my guess is that you want to set up a still that the administration isn't aware of."
At times like this, Bobby Earl had to rely on his instincts as to who could be trusted with secrets, an instinct finely honed by years of evading federal agents and revenuers. Those same instincts told him that Mendez was an operator, a man who worked as much off the books as on, and who'd help out with a shady deal for a sufficient cut. Still, if word got to the administration, Bobby Earl had no doubt that Mrs. Carson would come down on him harder than any revenuer.
"Look," Mendez continued calmly, "I'm already involved in your doings." Seeing the boy's eyebrows climb incrementally, Mendez smiled. "McTavish wants a little help making sure he's your full-time off-campus security escort. I make sure the scheduling always has him pulling that detail, and he provides me a little cash and a little bit of the booze." He could sense that the boy wasn't yet convinced but was wavering. "You want to keep the number of people who are involved to a minimum, right? The fewer who know, the fewer who can rat you out, right?"
Bobby Earl was considering what the officer was suggesting.
"If, or rather when, you set up a still," Mendez continued, "you could use a friend in security to help keep patrols away from that still. You'll need help getting around the security camera network. And if my guess is correct, they'll be watching your 'official' lab like hawks, so you'll need a way to get supplies, right?"
Eyes narrowed in suspicion, Bobby Earl nodded; if Mendez really was an operator, it would have been easy for him to look in the files to find out the boy's talents. From there, everything else was simple logic. "What's in it for you?" he asked cautiously.
"No doubt other students will want to purchase some of your product," Mendez was certain the boy was taking the bait. Now to set the hook. "And if your booze works on exemplars, you'll have a big market, including some of the faculty and staff, but to sell to the faculty, you'll need a middleman who'll protect you from the administration. I'll be that middleman."
"What will that cost me?"
"Ten percent, plus a bottle every couple of weeks," Mendez said bluntly. Seeing the boy's hesitation, he continued the sales pitch. "If you talk to any other officer, you'll be paying fifteen to twenty percent. Plus, you'll pay extra to get supplies delivered."
"Ah really don't need much more than what Ah drink," the boy countered.
"But you'll have to pay for security protection regardless of how much you distill, right?"
"With my help with distribution, you can make some nice money, besides what you personally drink." Mendez was smooth.
Bobby Earl smiled cryptically. "If'n y'all know anythin' 'bout me, y'all know that Ah'm rich. Ah don't really need spendin' money."
"But you're a minor, and no doubt your parents ..."
"Parent. Just Ma," the boy interrupted with a huge frown.
"Your mother watches over your spending, true?" Mendez could tell from the boy's reaction that he'd struck a nerve. "Doing business with me would give you a source of spending money that your mother doesn't control."
Bobby Earl quickly considered his options. If Mendez was as good as he was saying, it'd solve most of his problems. On the other hand, he was taking a risk; Mendez could be luring him into a trap. "Ah'll make a couple of calls to get some things delivered."
"Okay." Mendez held out his hand. "Give me your cell phone. I'll put in a delivery address and my contact info." Seeing the boy's puzzled expression, he decided to explain. "I have contacts in Berlin that help me arrange shipments on and off campus. Let me know what's being delivered and when, and I'll get it on campus past security.
"Ah'll arrange a first shipment," the boy replied with a goofy smile. "And just in case, mah new friend Reach set me up with a remote recorder for mah conversations. If'n y'all plan on double-crossing me, Ah can get you in a heap o' trouble, too."
"Smart." Mendez grinned. The boy was going to be okay to work with. He extended his hand toward the boy to shake and seal the deal.
After leaving Mendez, Bobby Earl strolled to the Fixer's Patio behind Schuster. No doubt Jadis would want to know about Officer Mendez, and since she'd helped him, he'd help her out with some information. When he arrived, however, she wasn't there. Shrugging, he sat down anyway and took out his cell phone, quickly dialing a number from memory. "Hello, Mr. Sam? It's me, Bobby Earl." From the time working with him at the distillery, Bobby Earl knew that Mr. Sam was trustworthy.
"No, everything is fine. Ah just want to arrange shipping a few things to me."
"Yeah, Ah don't want Ma findin' out, cuz she'd get a mite upset."
"Nah, Ah don't want to fetch Grandpappy's still. Ah'll need my small test setup - still, aging rigs, and a good mash tub. The small ones they didn't sent up here already. Plus some grain. Here's what Ah need." He recited his wish list, then gave shipping instructions to Mr. Sam.
"When Ah know if mah contact is good, Ah'll give you directions so's you and Marcus can hoof it up by the cabin to fetch Grandpappy's still. Ah ain't gonna take a chance on movin' that until Ah know Ah've got a safe place for it." When he'd hung up, he sent a text message to Officer Mendez about the incoming shipment.
The boy was whistling happily as he strode back to his cottage. All in all, this had turned out to be a good day. And soon enough, he'd have his private still up and running so he could properly relax with a little sippin' whiskey.
Tuesday, September 11 - Afternoon
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Bobby!" a feminine voice called out on the third floor of Schuster as the early afternoon classes dismissed and the students flooded the hallways. Many of the students turned automatically toward the noise, including a tow-headed country boy.
A smile broke across Bobby Earl's features when he recognized the source of the noise - a brunette threading her way through the students like a salmon swimming upstream against a powerful current of teenagers. "Hi, Heather," the boy replied when the girl was close enough that he didn't have to shout.
"How is your afternoon going?" the girl asked with a coquettish smile, batting her eyes a bit.
"Pretty good. Ah'm headin' t' Kane Hall," the boy replied. "Down in the tunnels. Got a fabricatin' class."
The girl flinched slightly, but only just. "Well, I can walk with you if you'd like." Before he could consider the offer, she grasped his arm, pulling herself close to him and answering for him. "What are your classes like?"
"Well, fabricatin' is teachin' us t' use machine tools and such, so we can make our gear faster and better." He snorted. "Ain't much use t' me, at least not yet. Ah know how t' make stills and such plenty fine."
"You mean, 'it's not much use to you yet'," Heather corrected him gently, shooting him a tiny smile when he glanced questioningly at her.
"Are you an English TA or somethin'?" he asked with an eyebrow cocked.
"Oops!" Heather blushed slightly, faking a contrite look. "Bad habit, I guess. My mother majored in English, so some of it rubbed off."
The boy chuckled. "That's okay. If'n mah Ma had gone t' college, Ah suppose she'd correct mah speakin' and writin' a lot more'n she does. She keeps tellin' me it'll help with business and such."
"Well, it might," Heather ventured timidly. "But let's not talk about that. How do you like classes so far?"
The two chatted, mostly with Heather asking questions and prompting the boy for answers, as they walked out of Schuster, through Kane, and down to the tunnels. The girl shuddered as they exited the elevator deep underground into the tunnels, and the boy noticed, giving her a questioning look.
"It's a bit chilly down here," Heather observed, gulping nervously as she glanced around the bare rock walls and ceiling of the main tunnel.
"It ain't too bad," the boy replied casually. "It's a mite cool, but in mah lab, when Ah get the mash cookin' or the still runnin', it gets plenty warm." He grinned. "Back home, Grandpappy's moonshinin' cave was mah favorite spot in the winter cuz it was so cozy warm all the time."
Heather smiled at him, but she couldn't suppress a shudder; whether that was because of his extremely hillbilly grammar and accent or the penetrating coolness of the tunnels wasn't clear. "I can't imagine being in a cave in the winter."
"Think of it like hibernatin', only without the sleepin' part," Bobby Earl grinned. "And a touch o' 'shine is good antifreeze."
As the pair walked into the classroom-lab, heads turned, and expressions changed to display a wide variety of emotions - mild hostility that the 'sacred' lab space of devisors and gadgeteers was being invaded by an outsider, mild envy from a couple of boys that Bobby Earl had a pretty girl clinging to him, suspicion about Heather, and even some protective anger from a couple of girls that an 'outsider' had latched onto one of their crew.
"Maybe I'll see you after class?" Heather asked in a sultry voice, batting her eyes at the boy again.
"Maybe," Bobby Earl replied. "Ah've got math next period in Schuster."
The girl winced. "I'm ... I'll be coming from Survival, so I might not be able to get here. But I'll try." She gave his arm a squeeze, then turned and gracefully strolled from the room, making sure her butt was swaying provocatively.
"Dayum," Fixx muttered as Bobby Earl slid into a chair beside between him and a girl. "How'd you get a girl like that to pay attention to you?"
"Ah don't know," the Tennessee boy said with a grin, "but Ah ain't gonna complain."
"I heard she's some kind of society snob," the girl beside him, Amy McGuire, said with her lips curled down in an expression of distaste.
"Yeah," one of the boys in the row ahead of Bobby Earl said, turning around to join the conversation. He had severe GSD, looking very much like a monkey, but unlike other kids with physical deformities caused by their mutations, Monkeywrench as he called himself seemed to be proud of his image. At that moment, he was wearing a bright green T-shirt with a huge yellow banana printed in the middle and red shorts. "She and a couple other girls in my English class have a 'better than you peasants' attitude."
"Ah don't know," Bobby Earl commented cautiously. "She seems kinda nice."
Another girl, Trixie, seated beside Monkeywrench, wrinkled her nose. "If you're smart, you'll be careful. Girls like that are always up to something."
"Ahem," Mr. Pressman cleared his throat to get the attention of the students, who turned as one toward the front of the classroom, a bit surprised. "If you're finished with today's gossip, perhaps we can turn our attention to workshop safety? Unless you'd prefer to not pass the safety test and not be able to get in the labs until next term?"
Tuesday, September 11 - Afternoon
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Y'know," Bugs observed, looking over Bobby Earl's shoulder as he worked to assemble an amplifying circuit in the electronics lab, "if you spread out the parts more in the board, it's a lot easier to debug." She was taking a break from her own egg-shaped robotic thing to help the new freshmen in the after-regular-class lab period as a sort-of informal Teaching Assistant, along with Spark and Ringo since they were using the electronics lab for their own projects.
"Ah'm not too good with this," the boy replied with a shrug. "It ain't a still."
Ringo, nearby at an electron-beam lithography machine, overheard and chuckled. "I'm not too good at chemistry, but they want us to learn diverse skills so I have to suffer through that."
"Maybe you're good with this electronic stuff," Bobby Earl grinned, "but Ah can make a plenty good living with mah hooch-makin' skill."
"When are you going to let us ...." Ringo's question cut off as a ripple of surprised murmurs spread through the room, accompanied the entry of a beautiful blonde non-techie into the sacred spaces of the Whateley labs.
Alexis looked around the lab, and even that managed to have a somewhat haughty air, before her gaze settled on Bobby Earl and she affixed a smile to her features and she strolled with a sultry sway toward the boy. "Afternoon, Bobby," she said sweetly to the boy as she sidled up beside him. Sensing that she was receiving a lot of stares, she glanced around, and seeing the look on Bugs' face, she shot a special glare at the blonde devisor from Poe. "I was wondering if you wanted to go to dinner with me."
"Ah'm a bit busy," Bobby Earl drawled without looking up from the circuit he was working on. "Ah gotta finish up this lab 'fore they'll let me go t' mah regular lab."
"What are you making?" she asked with feigned interest, ignoring rolled eyes from several of the nearby students and sneers of disapproval from several of the girls.
"A amplifier circuit," Bobby Earl replied. "It's supposed t' be easy, but Ah'm none too good on the math, so it ain't workin' quite right."
Having been paying attention to the intruder in the lab space, Bugs poked her head over Bobby Earl's workbench, both because she was a TA as well as because she didn't trust non-lab girls around the male devisors and gadgeteers. They were as a rule somewhat naïve around girls and easy to be taken advantage of. "Can I see?" she asked, more really demanded. Bobby Earl shrugged and pushed his lab notebook to her. She bent forward over the table and scanned his calculations. "You got the math right," she said, turning her attention to the boy's circuit. "Ah, I see it." It only took a minute to talk Bobby Earl through his error - which was simply mis-reading the resistor value for the bias circuit. Once he changed the resistor, the circuit worked exactly as it was supposed to. From that point, it only took fifteen minutes for him to gather the data in his notebook. After putting up his equipment and components, Bobby Earl strode happily from the lab with Alexis by his side. He was too enchanted with Alexis' company to notice the frowns of disapproval on all the lab-girls' faces and all the envious stares on the boys' faces.
As the unlikely duo strode through the tunnels, Alexis held on Bobby Earl's upper arm. "How are your classes going?" she asked, making idle small-talk.
"Ain't bad," the boy said with a shrug. "Er, they aren't bad," he corrected himself a bit self-consciously, with precise elocution.
Alexis turned and stared at him for a moment, her mouth slightly ajar at how he'd corrected himself..
Bobby Earl chuckled lightly. "I'm learning quite a bit, which'll make Ma happier'n a crow in a corn field."
"Sorry," Bobby Earl said with a sheepish grin. "A lifetime of habit ain't an easy thing to break." Then he chuckled. "But Ah know Ma would be mighty pleased fer the help that your friend Heather is helpin' me learn to talk better."
"It would be helpful for business dealings and social events," Alexis said, a touch cautiously; Bobby Earl wasn't looking, so he didn't see the deep frown of jealous anger at the mention of her rival Heather.. She didn't want to scare off the boy - and his money, but she realized she needed to be a little more aggressive to beat out that conniving whore. "What are you going to wear to dinner?" she asked. "For our date?"
"Ah was thinkin' Ah'd wear mah school uniform, with the jacket," Bobby Earl replied. "Why?"
"Well," Alexis turned on the shy, innocent school-girl charm, "I'd hate to be under-dressed for a formal dining establishment, and it wouldn't be proper for me to be over-dressed compared to you."
"If'n you ...." Bobby Earl caught himself, not realizing that the more time he was spending with Alexis and Heather, the more often he was self-correcting his grammar and pronunciation, to say nothing of purging those little folksy sayings that seemed to annoy the girls so much, "If you just wear your uniform ...."
Alexis' frown deepened; the boy was evidently paying attention to Heather, since she was trying to help him sound more refined. She had to decide what she could do to polish his rough edges, something that would beat Heather. Momentarily forgetting about her rival, she pondered his comments about clothing, and she rolled her eyes and sighed. He just didn't understand about etiquette of clothing and appearance. Yet. It simply wouldn't do for a society girl to be seen at a chic restaurant in a lowly school uniform. "I have a nice cocktail dress that I've been dying to wear, and, well, I kind of hoped that maybe ...." She turned her feminine, pleading eyes toward him, practically begging him to concede the point to her.
Being a teenage boy whose body was awash in a sea of androgens, Bobby Earl was, of course, totally helpless to resist her charms. "Well, Ah suppose Ah could get out mah Sunday-go-to-meetin' suit if'n it'd make you happy."
If she'd have been drinking a beverage when the boy spoke, Alexis would have spit it out, including through her nose. With her mind's eye, she was visualizing all sorts of horrid combinations of suits, pants, sports-coats, in a variety of big plaids, corduroy, and obnoxious colors - like Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies. Being seen with something like that .... She barely managed to suppress a shudder of horror at the thought.
"That," she said, deciding instead on a charm offensive and turning toward the boy, letting her fingers climb up his uniform tie and fiddle with the knot while she batted her eyes and lightly touched the tip of her tongue to her upper lip, "or maybe, I hear there's a really good tailor in town that could make you a really classy, fashionable suit," she suggested in an almost-purring tone. She was suddenly inspired as to what she could do. He wasn't even average in looks, but that wasn't because he failed in his attempts, but that he simply didn't seem to care. She could work on his appearance - his grooming, his hair, his clothing, his demeanor - and make a diamond in the rough into a sparkling jewel.
Bobby Earl's resistance - if indeed there had been any resistance to the girl's wiles - melted. "Well, Ah s'pose when we can get t' town ...." He gulped nervously. "But Ah reckon Mah might be a might upset if'n Ah start spendin' mah money on things Ah don't need. Ah mean, Ah already got a suit."
Alexis winced at his atrocious speech. "But won't your Mom be delighted to see you in a well-fit, stylish suit? I'm sure she'd recognize the value of a good-quality suit to your business dealings, and she'd say it makes you even more ... handsome." She knew how to work this angle. "And I know - we'll get you a haircut - something stylish and manly, like ... like an actor! And then all the girls will be looking at you!"
"Besides, doesn't your manager always wear good-quality, fashionable suits, and doesn't he have a professional haircut? To help with business, I mean?" Alexis continued in a seductive tone, her hands lightly smoothing the lapels of his uniform jacket as she stared deeply into the boy's eyes. It was a risk to try to make him better-looking, because some other girls might decide to try to latch on him, but she was confident that she could win. Especially if she made the changes slowly so that none of the other girls really noticed until she'd firmly hooked him.
"Why don't you call her and see what she thinks?" Alexis threw her last card, her top trump, hoping that she'd called the boy's bluff. No self-respecting teenage boy she knew of would call his mom for advice on clothing.
She hadn't counted on backwoods Tennessee boys and their close familial ties. "That's a danged good idea," Bobby Earl declared eagerly. Even as Alexis' jaw dropped, he was clawing his cell phone from his pocket, already fumbling for one of the preset numbers.
"Hi, Ma?" he spoke into the phone. "It's me, Bobby Earl."
"No, the reason Ah called," he glanced at Alexis, and then swallowed. "The reason I called, Mom," he repeated, slowing his speech and focusing on his diction, to the annoyance of Alexis "is that I'm thinking of getting a proper suit made ... to help me with business. Like Mr. Easterbrook."
He paused, and then his nose wrinkled as he listened. "Welllll, yeah," he admitted sheepishly. "There is a girl that suggested that t' me."
"Oh, no, Ma, Ah think you'd like her a fair bit. She's ...," he blushed, glancing at Alexis, "she's more than a mite pretty, and she's ... ahem ... she's, um ... she's got some ideas she says will make me look like Ah mean business. Like Mr. Easterbrook!"
"Well, yeah. She said it'll help me with my business, looking more professional and all that."
"And there's another girl who is," he cleared his throat and slowed talking a bit, "she is helping me learn better grammar, and to speak better, so I sound like Ah'm a regular city-slicker!"
Bobby Earl suddenly blushed beet red as he listened to what his mother was telling him. "No, of course not, Ma. Ah ain't gonna do anythin' stupid like that!" he blurted into the phone.
"Okay, bye, Ma." Bobby Earl hung up and slid the device back into his pocket.
"Well? Did she agree?" Alexis was nervous about what kind of response the idea had gotten from the boy's mother.
"She said, and I quote, 'If'n them girls there can clean you up and get you talkin' better, then you best listen to 'em," the boy repeated. "And she said Ah can't spend too much, neither."
"That's great!" Alexis beamed, and inside, her grin was even broader. The phone call, far from being an obstacle, had turned into a boon. With his mother's blessing to 'clean him up', she was free to help mold him into a proper society boy. She just had to keep Heather from ingratiating herself to the boy with her diction lessons. She chuckled to herself - she knew a lot of things that would be far more interesting to Bobby Earl than instruction in proper elocution. Feminine charms vs. grammar? That'd be no contest. If that was all Heather could bring, then she would be no competition for the boy's attention - and his millions.
"So, when can we go? Ah s'pose .... I suppose there's a bus scheduled, and ... and I'd have to find out when the tailor shop is open, and ...."
Alexis turned toward Schuster Hall and grabbed Bobby Earl's hand. "There's a shuttle bus that leaves in about fifteen minutes. Ms. Rogers is the tailor, and she's expecting us. She'll keep her store open a little late. We'll have to get passes from the administration, but I put our names on the list, so it should only take a minute or two.
Bobby Earl gulped. She'd set the whole thing up, he realized. She'd planned everything, and he'd had zero control of the trip and the appointment.
On the other hand, his hormone-befuddled mind turned somersaults of joy. Alexis wanted him to be with her enough that she was going out of her way to help him improve his image; obviously, she was smitten with him if she'd do such favors for a boy she'd only recently met. He couldn't help but wonder how good of a kisser she was. No doubt he'd get a chance to find out when they went to the restaurant!
Sitting on a bench a few yards away, close enough that she could overhear the louder bits of the conversation, Heather watched in stunned silence as her so-called friend Alexis maneuvered the boy toward Schuster. So she was taking him to Le Bistro? How had she managed to wrangle a reservation to that place? From the stories she'd heard, the waiting list was weeks long! And she'd talked him into going into Dunwich to get some stylish clothing, something that didn't make him look like a hillbilly?
Heather would have scoffed at the notion of a little hick-town tailor in Dunwich being able to compete with the best tailors of Savile Row or New York City, but from what Heather had seen, in costuming class, Ms. Rogers could easily compete with them, and with better hanging, better fitting, better wearing clothing. Evidently, Alexis had heard the same thing, and wasn't going to waste time on spiffing-up the boy. She frowned to herself - if she did polish up his appearance, some of the other girls - obviously the non-exemplar girls - might notice, and then he'd feel indebted to Alexis. She couldn't have that; she had to be the first girl he thought of in the morning, and the last girl he thought of at night.
She'd have to keep working on his diction; if she ever dared show up at home with a boy who sounded like Jethro, her parents would disown her, no matter how much money he had. Being seen with a boy that looked, acted, and sounded like one of the Beverly Hillbillies would be the social faux pas of the century. But she had to step up her game to something more interesting and more obvious, something that would get other girls to notice him, so that he'd realize what she'd done for him. Then, with a little, ahem, proper techniques, she could ensure that anytime he thought of a girl, she'd be the one he thought of.
"Well, that's one less task I'll have to do," she said with a wicked gleam in her eye as the pair walked away and her mind raced with ways to endear herself to the rich hillbilly. "You may have won this round," she spoke softly to herself, as if talking to her friend, "but you aren't going to win the war!"
(to be continued)