"Be careful with them," the elder Vitesse said to his daughter, the warning in his voice only slightly masked by his love for her. "They are not ..."
Adalie nodded in a gesture that to a non-speedster would have looked impatient, but as the family was used to her sometimes-quirky gestures and expressions, it wasn't interpreted that way. "I know, Papa," she said for perhaps the thirtieth time that week. "I promise to take special care of them. And I know my friends Alicia and Kayda will not let me forget."
Papa Vitesse looked at his daughter for a moment, the nodded. "I know you will, but ... they belonged to my grandpapa, and because of that, they are very special to me."
"They are very special to me, too, Papa," Addy reassured her father. "Aunt Tessa helped me take care of all the paperwork and rules, and the rules at Whateley. Everything has been covered so they won't be damaged or lost on the trip or at the school."
"But ... what if someone ... steals them from the freight and baggage area?"
"You worry too much, Papa," Adalie said with a smile. "My friend Geneviève made several trackers and sensors. Since the shipping case will be in the baggage compartment, I'll be close enough to monitor on my phone. And Geneviève wired in some sensors to detect if the case is opened. The case is marked as diplomatic material, and Aunt Tessa is picking it up directly from the plane's cargo ramp, so it won't be in the hands of Americans for more than a couple of minutes."
"It sounds like you and Tessa have thought this through," the older man said with grudging respect.
"After the debacle of last spring," Adalie confessed, flinching and blushing furiously, "I decided to never be caught in that mess again. We have thought of everything, and Aunt Tessa has made sure that the proper agencies will be on hand at the Consulate to deal with all of the paperwork."
"Okay, I hope you are right. They are quite valuable - sentimentally." The older man took a sip of cognac that had been on the small table beside his chair. "Now let us discuss your little sister Amelie."
Adalie rolled her eyes as she sighed. "I know, Papa. She is a delicate little flower, and you don't want any barbaric ... American ...boys to try to pick that flower, right?"
"She is only thirteen," Papa Vitesse said, his voice soft and full of concern. "She is too young for affairs of the heart."
"So was I, Papa," Adalie reminded her father. "But I managed, right?"
"With much drama, no?" he asked, raising an eyebrow sardonically. "You worried me half to death, ma petite."
"It wasn't that bad," Adalie pouted. "And we got the cognac distributor out of it, so it was worth a bit of trouble, no?"
"And I am so proud of you for that work," Papa Vitesse smiled at his daughter. "Now since you leave in three days, I think Nichole has something very special planned for our evening dinner."
"That sounds nice." Both were happy that Adalie had managed to come to an understanding of her feelings toward Nicole Beaulieau - and the very next day, she would be Nicole Vitesse. "I better go help her in the kitchen then," she added with a smile. "After all, she is carrying my baby brother."
Papa Vitesse beamed about the pregnancy. "And don't forget about tomorrow. Nicole and I need to be at the church at nine. You and your sisters need to be there by nine-thirty. You might be quicker than most women when it comes to dressing and makeup," he chuckled, eliciting a similar laugh from Adalie, because he spoke the truth - being a speedster did help immensely with getting ready - "but your sisters are not, so we must allow them time to get dressed and ready."
Addy nodded. "It ... it may be difficult for me to call her ... mama," she said, her voice choking at the memories of her real mother and the knotted stomach feeling that calling Nicole 'mama' would somehow be insulting to those memories.
"Neither she nor I expect you to," he said soothingly. "Now, my stomach is telling me it's hungry, so scoot," Papa Vitesse urged. "Get to the kitchen and help Nichole finish the meal."
Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - late-Afternoon
Train Depot, Dunwich
"Addy?" The voice calling from behind her was very familiar, and a welcome sound in the chaotic hustle and bustle of a couple hundred students milling about on the train platform, having only just disembarked from the train and waiting for both their luggage and transportation.
Adalie spun, or at least to most it looked like she spun, but being a speedster, all of her motions looked hasty or quick. "Alicia!" she squealed with delight as she started to step toward her friend and roommate, but then she remembered her sister Amelie, and she stopped herself short.
It didn't matter; Alicia bounded up to her and the two friends embraced, exchanging cheek kisses. Alicia then gave a hug to the younger Vitesse girl, smiling warmly. "It's so good to see you again," she said enthusiastically. "Y'all are goin' to love it here! This is going to be a great year! Ah just know it!"
Amelie tried to smile, but her nervousness was on display in her half-hearted expression. "I 'ope so. After all Addy's stories from last year, I'm ...."
"A bit nervous?" Alicia completed the thought, grinning. "All of us were nervous when we first got here."
"Except Kayda," Addy chuckled. "She was terrified, I think!"
"If you are intending to reassure me that it will be a good year," Amelie said with a frown, "you are not being 'elpful!"
Alicia and Adalie chuckled. "Why should it be any easier for you than it was for us?" Alicia laughed.
A frown creased the younger girl's brow. "Because Papa told you to 'elp me!" she snapped in reply.
"Is she going to be a difficult brat?" Alicia asked Addy rhetorically, rolling her eyes and sighing. "Fine. Let's get on the bus and we'll help you get moved in. What cottage are ...?"
"She's in Melville, but on the freshman floor," Addy said, scowling at her little sister. "I 'ope she won't be a continual pest!" She glanced around, looking specifically for where cargo and luggage were being unloaded from the train. "You two go a'ead. I 'ave to make sure that my package is properly delivered and not accidentally ... lost."
"Bah!" Amelie snorted derisively. "You and that stupid container! I don't know what Papa gave you that 'as you so ... paranoid!"
"Where are your bags?" Addy asked Alicia, who seemed to be ready to get on the bus with only a small pull-along suitcase.
"Pa sent all mah stuff ahead so Ah wouldn't have to worry 'bout luggin' it around." She suddenly smiled. "Kayda got here yesterday with her little brother! Ah'm glad mah little brother ain't here with me! Now, let's get your stuff and get on the bus!"
Addy shook her head. "You two go a'ead. I'll catch up to you in a bit." At her usual quick pace, she ducked and dodged through the milling throng of students - mostly freshmen - and made her way to the baggage and freight area. A quick scan revealed the Whateley staff who were transferring cargo and luggage. She went to the one who looked to be in charge. "Excuse me, monsieur," she said politely but firmly, interrupting the man's actions.
The man turned, then smiled. "Ah, you are ... that Vitesse girl, right?" he asked. With a laugh, he read her confusion. "With some of your ... antics ... last year, just about everyone knows you!"
The girl frowned. "I'm glad I was able to provide some ... amusement!" she replied sarcastically.
"A lot of students do. You didn't even make the top ten list, though!" the slightly portly older man, slightly graying and balding, explained, hoping to calm the girl. He shifted to being helpful. "I'm Fred O'Connell, from shipping and warehouse. How can I help you?"
"I 'ave a shipping case that must be delivered to Whateley," Addy explained.
The man lifted a clipboard and scanned, then nodded. "Aye. Here it is." He smiled. "No problem. We'll get it delivered."
Addy winced. "I don't want to be a pest, but ... it's a very precious package to my family. I want to make sure it isn't ...," she hesitated slightly, "damaged."
Mr. O'Connell chuckled. "Or misplaced, perhaps?"
"Would it be too much trouble ...?"
"For you to accompany the package?" He chuckled. "Wouldn't be the first, won't be the last. Sure."
Thirty-five minutes later, Addy sat in the cab of the delivery truck as it wound its way through campus. She had to wait while luggage was delivered to each cottage, and then the truck headed for Kane Hall, stopping at the back entrance, and after shutting off the truck, Mr. O'Connell opened the back of the truck. His assistants, following in a small SUV, pulled up and parked. With Addy watching, two of the men clambered up onto the truck and wrestled a large shipping container onto the truck's lift-gate. It looked like a heavy-duty molded plastic Pelican-style case that was not quite one and a half meter long, thirty-five centimeters wide, and about twenty-five centimeters deep, with latches and locks and handles molded into the case itself.
No sooner had the lift-gate touched the ground than Addy stepped to the container and began inspecting the container's locks, security straps, and paper seals. Satisfied, she nodded to Mr. O'Connell, who nodded to the assistants. Preceded by Mr. O'Connell and followed closely by Addy, the two men carried the large container into Kane Hall.
The security desk officer, who Addy thought was named Emily, looked up at the entrance of the four people. "May I help you?"
Addy nodded, extracting an envelope from her purse. "Oui," she said with a thin smile. "You should 'ave been notified that I was bringing this case. All the shipping and import paperwork should be in order, and I was told to store it in 'ere a secure locker while I finish paperwork and arrangements with the 'eadmistress' office."
Emily nodded, her fingers dancing on the computer keyboard on her desk. "Ah, here it is," she said, leaning a bit closer to the screen to read the small font. After a moment, she reached for the phone and pressed a button without taking her eyes from the screen. "Lieutenant Forsyth, please come to the front desk."
Only a few seconds passed before the Lieutenant, probably the duty officer for the shift, appeared. "Yes?" His eyes locked on Adalie. "Good afternoon, Miss Vitesse. Is there a problem?"
"No," Emily responded before Addy could. "Miss Vitesse has an import shipment, and we are requested to keep it in a secure locker until she finishes paperwork with the administration."
Wordlessly, Forsythe took the paperwork Addy was proffering, and after quickly scanning it, he looked at the case, handing the papers back to Addy. "We'll need to inspect and inventory the contents before we put it in secure storage," he said simply. With that, Mr. O'Connell and his assistants turned and filed out of the building, as they knew they were no longer needed.
In response, Addy fished in her purse and pulled out a pair of keys, then extracted two more from pockets, while Emily pulled a heavy pair of scissors from a drawer. It took Forsythe a few minutes to cut the nylon sealing straps and open the locks and then tear through the plasticized paper stickers that were affixed to give evidence if someone had opened the case.
When he opened it, his eyes bulged slightly, and he looked at Addy. "You're kidding, right?"
"No, sir," Addy replied evenly.
Forsythe stared at her for a few seconds, perhaps waiting for her to admit she was trying to prank him or something. When that didn't happen, he shrugged. "Okay," he said simply as he turned his attention back to the container and began to sort through the contents very carefully and very thoroughly. "This is pretty rare," he noted as he lifted one piece and examined it, then set it back down. "A few moments later, he completed his inventory, and with a longing look at the contents, he closed and latched the case. "You could have purchased some of this here," he observed while clicking the locks shut.
"I was told it was very difficult to find some of the proper supplies 'ere," Addy replied. "So Papa wanted to make sure I was prepared - just in case."
Forsythe nodded. "Emily, get me some ..." He stopped when Emily handed him some tamper-evident, numbered security seals, having anticipated his request. After the seals were affixed and their numbers recorded, Addy helped Forsythe carry the crate, which was cumbersome but not heavy, into the back area, into a room outfitted like a bank safety-deposit vault with a variety of sizes of lockers. Picking a large, tall locker that was unlocked and thus unassigned, he wrestled the shipping case inside, then locked the door and handed Addy the key.
Back at the front desk, Forsythe took a paper that Emily had printed, and handed it to Addy. "Please sign here," he pointed to a spot on the sheet, "acknowledging that we inventoried the contents and that they are now in a secure locker." After Addy signed, he handed her another paper. "And here." Another signature, and another form presented to her. "Initial here, here, and here, and sign and date at the bottom." Three more forms. "Sign here, here, and here."
Once Addy was done signing nearly a dozen various forms, Emily fed the stack into a copy machine, producing three neatly-collated sets of copies, one of which she handed to Addy. "We'll get these others filed with the government as required, including with the French Consulate."
Now that her valuables were finally secure, Addy finally smiled. "Merci beaucoup," she acknowledged. "I appreciate all your 'elp." With a lighter step, Addy departed the security office, heading to Crystal Hall to meet Alicia and Amelie as she'd promised. If they were still there. It had taken far longer to get the case to security and checked in than she'd anticipated, and it was possible the two had already eaten and had gone to Melville.
She needn't have worried. At least partially not worried. Alicia was at a table, and as a happy surprise, so was Kayda. But Amelie was nowhere to be seen.
"One of the girls from Melville came to find her," Alicia explained between bites of lasagna. "Since y'all arrived so late this afternoon, she went back to the cottage to meet her group for their campus tour."
"Oh." Addy considered that for a moment, wondering if she should go along to protect her sister - just in case some boy decided to try to get friendly with Amelie.
"The tour group is split by floors, I'm given to understand," Kayda said as if reading Addy's thoughts - which really wasn't difficult given her expression. "She'll be fine."
Addy sighed. "I promised Papa ...."
"And you can't watch her twenty-four hours every day," Alicia chided her friend and roommate. "She's going to grow up sometime."
Kayda nodded her agreement. "Now, let's talk about something else. Did you ...?"
Addy's concerned expression turned into a grin. "Oui," she said eagerly. "I am very anxious to get the paperwork all taken care of."
"So am Ah," Alicia agreed enthusiastically.
"Me, too," Kayda chimed in.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007 - Mid-Morning
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
An office door on one of the upper floors of the building opened, and a teacher poked her head out, looking directly at the waiting French girl. "Miss Vitesse, come in please," Madame Prudhomme said with a warm smile. She stood to one side in the doorway, gesturing toward a chair in front of her desk. As soon as Adalie came into the office, Madame Prudhomme let the door close and took her seat behind the desk, scooting her keyboard from in front of her to be more welcoming to the student. "I understand, from stories going around the school, that you had a ... pleasant ... summer?"
Adalie blushed furiously. "Oui, Madame," she said meekly. "I 'ad great fun with Kayda and Alicia at their 'omes, and we 'ad fun in France."
"And you all particularly enjoyed visiting museums?" Madame Prudhomme asked with a wry smile and a chuckle.
If anything, Addy's blush deepened into the burgundy range of colors. "I wasn't at the museum," she admitted. "It was Kayda and my little sister who ...."
"I was joking, dear," Madame Prudhomme interrupted. "To be honest, I'd have loved to have been there and seen it! Sometimes, the MCO can be such a pain in the rear! Most of us have had difficulties with them at one time or another." She picked up a paper. "Now since you pre-registered at the end of the spring term, this should be quick and easy." She extended the paper to the girl. "Here's your course schedule. I'll let you look it over and ...."
Addy didn't take the proffered paper, but instead took one from her purse. "I would like to change one course and add another," she said as she handed the paper to Madame Prudhomme. "I checked before we came, and I believe the classes are still open."
Madame Prudhomme took the paper, shooting a cautious look at the girl. It was highly unusual for a student, especially a sophomore, to change a class schedule. Pulling on her glasses, she looked at the paper - and froze. For several long seconds, she stared at the paper, then peered over it at the girl, then looked at the paper again. Once more she lifted her eyes to the girl. "Are you serious?" she asked, eyes wide with astonishment.
"Oui, Madame," Addy said calmly.
"With all the fuss last year?" Madame Prudhomme asked, still gawking at the paper.
"Oui, Madame. I talked with Papa, and 'e agrees with my choices."
"Oui," Addy repeated somberly. If she was pranking her advisor, she gave absolutely no hint of it.
For several long seconds, Madame Prudhomme alternated her gaze between the girl and the paper, but at last she nodded. "If you're sure ...." Turning slightly, she let her fingers come to rest on the keyboard. Quickly because of much practice over the years, she flitted through the menus and schedules, inputting the changes Adalie had requested. With a flourish, she hit enter and turned back toward the girl. "Okay, your requested changes were accepted." She sat back from the desk a tiny bit, shaking her head. "Now, is there anything else we need to discuss? Any ideas for a theme for our European Promotion League 'welcome back' social? Any ....?"
The phone interrupted her train of thought. With a sigh and a roll of her eyes, Madame Prudhomme held up a finger in a silent plea for silence. "Pardon," she said simply before picking up the phone. "Prudhomme."
Her eyes widened a moment later when she recognized the caller's voice. "No, ma'am," she replied to the other end in a very formal tone. "No, it's not a prank." Another pause. "Yes, she asked for the changes." A moment of silence. "Yes, she had the change laid out very precisely on a schedule." Yet another pause for Addy to wonder what the call was about. "Okay, I'll send her right over." She slowly hung up the phone, shaking her head. "That was a lot faster than I'd expected!" she muttered to herself before looking at Addy. "The administration wants to speak with you as soon as possible."
"Madame?" Addy asked, a bit confused.
"I wouldn't worry," Madame Prudhomme tried to reassure the girl. "I'm not surprised it caught their attention. Even you have to admit that the request is quite ... unusual." She smiled, hoping Addy would take the expression as a lack of concern. "Now scoot - they're waiting." As the girl rose from her chair, Madame Prudhomme added as an afterthought, "If you have anything else we need to discuss, or if you have ideas for the club, come back and we'll talk some more."
Administration Suite, Schuster Hall
Fidgeting nervously, Adalie sat in a chair in the administrative suite, feeling very self-conscious about the looks that Ms. Claire and Ms. Hartford kept shooting her direction. Ms. Hartford in particular seemed unhappy, but then again, very few students claimed to have ever seen her not unhappy. For the girl, being a speedster, even a couple of minutes of waiting seemed a tortuous eternity, the ticking of the clock a ponderous reminder that she was for all intents and purposes trapped in the chair until someone decided to parole her from her invisible prison.
After what seemed an eternity to Addy, but in fact was only a little under two minutes, the intercom-phone on Ms. Claire's desk buzzed. The exchange on the phone was brief, and then Ms. Claire nodded to Addy. "You may go in now," she said, nodding her head in the direction of Mrs. Carson's office.
Despite the fact that Addy was unnaturally quick, Ms. Hartford was out of her chair and on her feet nearly as quickly as the girl. She strode with a deliberate and determined pace and with an impassive expression toward Mrs. Carson's office. The Assistant Headmistress' movement and a glance at Addy with one eyebrow cocked and the corners of her lips downturned caused the girl to gulp nervously; she wondered why Ms. Hartford was joining the meeting.
Ms. Hartford pushed open the door to the Headmistress' office, then stood to one side so Adalie could enter, directing the girl to a seat before the mammoth and imposing edifice that was the Headmistress' desk. Mrs. Carson sat behind the desk, her own expression guardedly neutral and impossible to read. As Adalie eased nervously into the seat, she was thinking of her visits to this very office during the previous year, none of which had gone particularly well.
Without a word, Ms. Hartford closed the door, then took a chair beside Mrs. Carson's desk, from where she, too, could gaze upon the girl like a judge in a star chamber.
Mrs. Carson picked a paper off the desk and studied it for a few seconds, then looked over the page to Adalie. "In case you might not have realized it," she began in a very serious tone, "we don't have a lot of time for student pranks."
"Especially with the schedule," Ms. Hartford added.
"Now, I would like you to ...."
The door opened unexpectedly, interrupting Mrs. Carson, and Mrs. Shugendo poked her head in. "Am I too late?" she asked, sounding almost eager to join what Addy was starting to feel was an inquisition.
Mrs. Carson simply waved her hand, gesturing the Dean of Students into the office, then as soon as Mrs. Shugendo had taken a chair, she continued. "Would you be so kind as to tell us what this is about?"
"My class schedule?" Addy asked uncertainly, even though she had a feeling from the call in Madame Prudhomme's office that it was precisely what this sudden meeting was about.
"Of course your class schedule," Ms. Hartford said tersely.
Mrs. Shugendo unfolded her own copy of the document, which she'd apparently brought with her. "You expect us to believe this is your class schedule?"
"It is the list of courses I want to take, Madame," Addy said, confused as to why these three women were having such a hard time believing her. "Papa and I talked it over after Alicia, Kayda, and I ...."
"Aha!" Ms. Hartford exclaimed, interrupting once more. "I should have known that those two would be your co-conspirators in this ... bad joke."
"It is no joke, Madame," Addy protested.
Mrs. Shugendo rolled her eyes. "You expect us to believe that you really want to take these courses? What next? Joining the FSHA? Getting a job as a short-order cook in the cafeteria? Petitioning for American citizenship?"
Addy was fighting tears, not totally successfully. "Madame, I am very serious! After spending time with my friends this summer, and talking with Papa, and learning about his grandpapa, I really want to take these classes, if nothing else than to 'onor what 'e believed and stood for!"
The three administrators, as if of one mind, stared at the girl with a mixture of disbelief, doubt, total surprise, and perhaps a smidgeon of acceptance. It was Mrs. Carson who spoke first. "Let's get straight to the bottom of this." She picked up her phone and punched a button. "Elaine, I'm going to go off-schedule, so I need you and Ms. Hartford to ...."
"I want to see this," Ms. Hartford interrupted. "I had to deal with her a lot last year, so I think I earned it."
After a momentary pause, Mrs. Carson nodded. "Can you hold down the fort for a bit? Ms. Hartford and I will be dealing with a student matter."
"My schedule is free for a bit," Mrs. Shugendo added. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."
Giving a small nod of agreement, Mrs. Carson touched the phone again, dialing a number from memory. "Mrs. Carson here. Who's on duty today?" There was a delay while she listened to the phone. "Really? This should prove interesting, then. Tell him we'll meet him in security in ten minutes." She hung up, then gazed with a guardedly neutral expression at Addy. She owed it to every student to give him or her the benefit of the doubt at least a few times, no matter that student's history - at least until they proved irredeemable.
A beep on his cell phone diverted Booker's attention just as he sat down to have an early lunch. He picked up the phone, and halfway through the text message, he was suddenly no longer hungry. He put his phone aside and opened his ever-present laptop and began to frantically type, searching for information to back up his tip and about the subjects of his tip. Like any good bookie, he had to learn everything he could to accurately assess odds. Otherwise, he'd miscalculate and end up broke. As the data came in from a variety of source sites, a sly grin broke over his face. Perhaps he had the edge this time, based on his source in Security who had somehow gotten records of Adalie Vitesse's French certifications. He stared blankly at the screen for a few moments, then did another search. If he'd gotten a tip, it was a sure bet that other bookies had, too, and he needed to see what they were offering for odds. His inside information gave him an edge, but if his odds were significantly different from the others, it'd be a tell that he was 'cheating'. It took a couple of minutes to get the other bookies' odds, and then he typed into the keyboard.
After hitting the 'enter' button, he sat back to wait. It turned out he didn't have to wait long; his 'pet' application was always running, so he was quickly typing into the keyboard as request after request came flooding in. Messages also began to pile into his e-mail in-box. He grinned as he answered each and every message.
A tap on his shoulder interrupted him; he looked up and over his shoulder to see Bomber, one of his regular customers who happened to be in Crystal Hall. "Is this for real?" he asked.
Booker nodded. "I got info from my gi ... from Linda." Perhaps in his mind Linda - Tweak - was his girlfriend, but he was trying to soft-pedal the issue until she gave him some indication that she thought so too.
"You're sure it's legit?" Bomber asked skeptically. Everyone knew the romantic dance Tweak and Booker were doing - both sides feigning non-interest publicly. In her lab, though, it was probably a very different story.
Booker shrugged noncommittally. "She said the info comes from a reliable source."
"You taking any action?"
"Okay. I'll get in on it. Too bad we can't watch."
Booker started; he hadn't thought of that. Ignoring Bomber, he hurriedly called someone on his phone. "Linda? It's me. Say, have you got a video feed?" His eyes lit up. "No? Damn! This would make a good pay-per-view!" There was a long pause. "How about if you go there in person with your laptop? Can you relay that video to my PC?" Judging from his expression, the recipient of the call had expressed some kind of doubts. "Yes, of course I'll filter it to on-campus only. I don't want Hardass coming down on me for being stupid!" There was another pause. "Okay, I'll see you for dinner? Sure." He looked up at Bomber. "Okay, how do you want to bet?"
At an adjacent table, another of the bookies, Memo, smiled to herself. She'd overheard what she needed to know - that the information behind the bet had come indirectly from Tweak, who seemed to have a very reliable and accurate source in the administration. Mentally, she was already adjusting her own odds on one of the options she was posting to potential customers - the chance that it was just a rumor. That seemed quite unlikely now, so she could raise the odds to entice more customers without the possibility of a huge loss. It was just part of the game of being a bookie.
Beneath Kane Hall
Escorted by a security officer, with two others carrying three large cases, Addy, Kayda, and Alicia led the three administrators through the main tunnel, with other students scurrying out of the way of the procession while watching with obvious curiosity. The stern look on Ms. Hartford's face was enough to keep any of the curious from asking questions, though, and no-one dared to follow the procession, at least not closely.
After passing through a heavy steel doorway and entering one of the myriad chambers beneath the campus, the officers set the long, narrow containers on a table, then excused themselves and left.
Gunnery Sergeant Oscar Bardue (USMC, Ret) scowled at the girls. "This better not be some kind of joke ..." he growled menacingly.
"I am most definitely not joking, Sergent," Addy replied formally. Seeing the surprised look on Gunny's face at being addressed so formally, Addy continued. "According to Papa, Sergent d'Artillerie is a literal translation, but is not a real rank in France and is probably inappropriate, and while Sergent-Chef is a formal rank, it ...."
"Knock off the damned French lesson!" Bardue barked. "You've got to prove that you know the safety rules inside and out."
"I 'ave the certifications from France," Addy volunteered, opening her purse to retrieve something.
"Is this France?" Bardue snapped, silencing and cowing the girls as he stepped toe-to-toe with Adalie, giving his best Gunnery Sergeant glare at the shorter girl. "Do you really think you're ready? Do you think you can pass my test?"
Adalie and Alicia tried to put on a brave face in the presence of this intimidating ex-marine. "Oui, Sergent," Addie replied for the both of them.
"Six point five to one on Headrush passing," Booker said loudly, announcing his latest odds to the group in the cafeteria who had crowded around him to watch the video on his laptop. "Eleven to one on Charge passing." Unlike his 'premium' customers, these hadn't elected for the pay-per-view, so they had to make do with a small screen some distance away. Still, it was something to bet on, and they began to place their bets. Fortunately, Booker's roommate and another friend were on hand to help tabulate bets.
A few freshmen had come over from their tables, curious about the spectacle at Booker's table. "What's going on?" one of the freshmen nudged an upperclassman at the edge of the cluster.
The upperclassman glanced at her, then looked back to the screen. "Betting on whether they pass the test or not," she replied without taking her eyes on the video.
Another upperclassman who was standing nearby, not participating in the frenzied mob of gamblers, chuckled to herself. "Around here, kids'll bet on anything!" she said with a snicker. "Oh, and if you decide to get in on it?" She'd read the newbie's expression. "Those who are regulars have established credit lines. Newbies like you? Pure cash basis until you show the bookies that you're trustworthy. And you don't ever want to stiff one of them. They have lots of friends who take care of welchers."
The freshman girl gawked at the upperclassman's words. "You make it sound like ... like the mafia!"
The girl thought a moment, then smiled and nodded. "Yes. Yes, I did."
The freshman couldn't stop a smile from creeping onto her features. "Maybe I should make a small wager, then!"
Beneath Kane Hall
"Well, I'll be damned!" Bardue snarled as he finished grading the tests.
"What?" Ms. Hartford inquired, sounding a little disappointed at Bardue's lack of smug tone. "Do you mean they passed?"
Bardue nodded with a grimace. "Okay, get your gear," he snapped to the girls. "You, too, Kayda. Get 'em out for inspection so I can approve them as safe for you to use." He stepped smartly to Adalie's side at a table, scrutinizing her closely as she opened the shipping case.
Bardue's eyes widened. "Is that a MAS-36?" he asked almost reverently.
Adalie smiled at the way Bardue was looking at her firearm. She checked the chamber, then handed the rifle to Gunny, being precise to make sure she followed the safety rules. "Oui, Sergent," she answered. "It was issued to my great grandpapa when he was in the reserves, before the boche invaded. He and others hid their rifles and ammunition, because they knew that someday, les Americains and the English would free them, and they wanted to be ready to assist in any way they could."
Mrs. Carson stepped to the table. "Didn't you tell me last spring that he was accidentally killed?"
Addy nodded with a suddenly-somber expression. "Oui. But after the war, the government let my family keep the rifle as a memento of his service to France."
"And I suppose it's the same story for the Hi-power?" Gunny asked as he inspected the near-pristine rifle. Then he handed the rifle back to the girl.
"Oui. That was 'is as well. Papa insisted that I bring it, too."
"We'll get to the pistol range later." He turned and stepped to Alicia. "And you?"
The Cajun girl shrugged. "It's just a Remington seven-hundred in three-oh-eight." She handed the rifle to Bardue for him to inspect. Perhaps because it was a newer rifle, or perhaps because it wasn't a military rifle, Bardue was a teeny bit less thorough in his inspection of Alicia's rifle. He crisply extended it toward the girl for her to take. "And the Glock?"
"Ah know how to use that, too."
"I'll inspect the handguns when we get to the pistol range," Gunny said firmly, then he moved on to Kayda. "That's a 1903A3," Gunny said with conviction and perhaps a touch of admiration as he looked at the rifle in Kayda's hands.
The Lakota girl nodded, and took back the rifle. "It was between this and the K-31," she said with a shrug. "Maybe I'll have Dad ship it out later." She smiled. "It's built like a Swiss watch, and it's the most accurate rifle we have."
Bardue inspected the rifle almost lovingly, since it was a well-known piece of gear from the Corps from the Second World War. Perhaps because of this, and all the Marine lore about Chesty Puller and the Marine's battles in that war, Mrs. Carson thought he was a bit misty-eyed, but she'd known the gruff old Marine longer than the others, and the sign of sentimentality in him was barely noticeable even to her. "And a 1911? What do you think this is, World War II re-enactment day?" He was back to his usual sarcastic mode.
"Firing line," Gunny barked after handing the rifle back to the Lakota girl, getting himself back into stern-Marine mode. "Let's see if you know how to use those things."
"Final bets!" Booker barked, which caused a minor scramble for the gamblers to place their bets. He smiled to himself - nearly everyone had bet against the girls passing the range safety class, especially Adalie, earning him a tidy little sum. This round, though, was probably not going to be so profitable; those stung by betting against Adalie and Alicia passing were going to be more careful in how they bet. Still, pay-per-view was getting a good audience, and that meant good profits.
Range 1, Beneath Kane Hall
"Well?" Mrs. Carson asked Gunny as he finished marking the targets. The administrators were huddled with Gunny away from the observation area where the girls were waiting.
"Charge and Headrush aced the safety class. Their muzzle discipline was perfect. Their procedures on the range were nearly flawless. And their marksmanship ...," he held up one target with five small clusters of five shots each, one group per bulls-eye on the paper. Each group was very compact. "Judge for yourself."
Gunny shrugged. "They passed. Range safety, basic rifle, and basic pistol. Charge and Headrush still have to take the classes if they want to get Whateley permission for carry, but they have full range privileges. Kayda passed basic rifle."
"She got pistol carry last year, right?" Mrs. Shugendo asked, already certain of the answer.
"Yup," Gunny replied.
Mrs. Carson looked evenly at Bardue for a moment. "What have you got up your sleeve?" she asked, knowing that his expression meant that he was plotting something.
In response, the big gunnery sergeant walked toward the girls. "Okay," he said to get their attention. "You all passed." The girls started to high-five each other, practically squealing with delight, but when Gunny cleared his throat, the celebration stopped. "I'm putting the three of you in the ROTC marksmanship program." He took a perverse delight in watching the girls all goggle at him. "The group meets for an hour once a week on Sunday before dinner. A little instruction, and then marksmanship practice."
When the girls started to protest, Mrs. Carson stepped forward. "This is not optional. If Gunny says it's a condition of using the ranges, then that's the way it will be." She turned specifically to Adalie. "Miss Vitesse, your request for Advanced Martial Arts in place of Survival 2, and Combat Rifle is approved."
"You can take your firearms to the gun locker," Gunny added, "then go get lunch."
"Is it okay if we shoot some more?" Adalie asked meekly.
Ms. Hartford and Mrs. Shugendo goggled at the radical change in Charge's attitude - the previous year, she had been almost a sworn pacifist, eschewing and condemning the use of and training with weapons. Her new-found enthusiasm for shooting couldn't have been a more stark contrast.
"Sure." The adults watched the girls go back to the firing line after retrieving their rifles. "Damn!" Gunny muttered.
"What?" Ms. Hartford asked.
"Charge. Marksmanship." He shook his head. "After last year, she's the last student I figured would become a shooting enthusiast."
"Why the ROTC marksmanship program?" Mrs. Shugendo gave vent to her curiosity. "It looks like they're all pretty good shots already."
Gunny chuckled. "Alicia is a damned good shot. She seems to be a natural. For having started just this summer, Adalie is better than average. And Kayda is pretty good, too." A wicked grin crept onto his features. "It's less for them and more for the Grunts. Some of them are piss-poor shots, and I want them to be ... inspired ... to try harder!"
"Excuse me," Alicia drawled from behind Gunny, catching him by surprise. "Would it be possible to get some space so we can set up a reloading lab?" she asked sweetly. "Kayda and Ah think we can shoot better if we custom load rather than use factory ammo."
Gunny wanted to face-palm. The day was getting weirder by the minute - and it was only the third day of students on campus. He dreaded what the rest of the year held.
In the cafeteria, Booker smiled smugly as he closed up shop now that the testing was over, making his final payout to a freshman girl who was grinning from ear to ear. He couldn't help but wonder - she did a cash transaction, so her name wasn't known - yet, but she had been very accurate with her bets, as if she had the same inside information that he had. He had no idea that the freshman girl was Amelie Vitesse, younger sister of Adalie, but he knew he was going to have to investigate. Then again, if he did dig for info and it came out that he knew she'd used inside information because he had the same inside info, it would ruin him. He decided he should identify her and subtly encourage her to use other bookies.
Still, it was a good day. Apart from the girl, very few people bet on the girls shooting as well as they had, and Booker had added considerably to his daily profits. He was just closing his laptop when Tweak practically danced through the cafeteria to join him. "How'd we do?" she asked. They had an agreement - when her technology or skills helped him, they shared the profits.
"Armadillo bet pretty heavily against Charge. He paid with two spots in Le Bistro tomorrow night. Interested?"
"Always. Now, since you've got dinner tomorrow night, how about I buy you lunch?" she asked with a smile. It was becoming a running gag between them - lunch was included in their fees, so 'buying lunch' was another way of saying 'cheap date.'
(for this tale. There will be more Charge of the Light Vignettes)