Sample Chapters from ‘The Seventh Sorcerer’

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Chapter 2: The Spy Network

There was more talk to come in Period Four, English. Before any discussion could happen, though, Hall treated us to the usual start-of-year lecture.

“You will be expected to work very hard this year,” he began, staring around at us all and looking—if you’ll excuse the obvious—like a teacher.

“Every teacher has said that,” Katie called out.

“You must have a staff script writer,” said Peter.

“You will be expected to read this book, ‘Deadly, Unna’ by Phillip Gwynne in the next two weeks … at home! We don’t read in the classroom at your level. You will also be expected to write your first essay in the first two weeks. It will be a letter asking a friend or a professional for advice on a topic of your choice.”

“Are we allowed to write to the education board to get them to fire teachers of our choice?” asked Simon.

“You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew, Maivis,” said Hall calmly. “And, don’t think that’s all—”

“Blimey, sir,” said Harry, “it’s our first day.”

“Exactly,” said Hall nastily. “You are also required to write twenty journal entries by the end of the semester. That should be one a week, and each entry should be at least three pages long.”

“What?” several students said, indignant.

“And fourthly, you are expected to perform an oral presentation this semester. I’m leaving it up to you as to when you want to do that, but be warned—you will fail English this semester if you don’t perform it.”

“What does it have to be about?” asked Stephanie.

“Whatever you wish,” said Hall. “In the meantime, think now about what you will write your letter about. It is due February twelfth; that’s a Friday.”

“Well,” said Peter, quickly checking in his diary, “what do you know, it is a Friday.”

“Are we allowed to work in pairs for the oral?” asked Serena, who was sitting right behind Peter.

“I don’t see why not,” said Hall, “though I expect double the duration if so.”

“What is the duration?” asked James.

“Three minutes.”

“How about threes?” I asked.

“Three times the duration,” said Mr. Hall. “No more than that.”

“Good,” said James, “we three can talk for ten minutes on something.”

“We can talk about rings,” said Harry. “Whataya say, old chap?”

“Rings?” I asked, a bit confused.

“I like it, old chap,” said Simon. He glanced my way. “Think dirty, Playman.”

“You’re sick,” said Peter, grinning in spite of himself. “I thought you were talking about phone rings.”

“We might throw that in, too.”

Hall then set us to work on our essays, but Peter, James, Harry, Simon and I got very little work done.

“You don’t reckon, that Marc guy,” Peter muttered to me and James, “that he’s the same guy Nicole’s always talking about at home? Did you see how she kept looking at him during Recess?”

“Dunno,” I replied. “It probably is, you know.”

“He’s certainly very quiet,” said James. “Doesn’t fit in with the rest of us.”

“Tell me about it,” said Peter. “He’s not the sort of guy that would draw people to him by his confidence, but he’s obviously got something going for him, judging by Nicole’s behaviour anyway.”

“Ah … could we work quietly over here, boys?” Hall asked loudly, glaring at me and Peter.

“I think I’m the only male here, sir,” said Peter.

“Shut up,” said Harry and Simon in bored unison.

“I wonder what bits I’ve got then,” I said, instinctively glancing downward; James and Peter elbowed me on either side.

“But if he doesn’t draw girls to him by his confidence,” I said, resuming where we’d left off as soon as Hall looked away, “doesn’t that mean he does fit in with us?”

“Speak for yourself,” said Simon, looking around at our group.

“Yeah,” said Harry. “The girls are all over us when you three aren’t around to scare them away, aren’t they, old chap?”

“Certainly are, old chap,” Simon boomed for the class to hear, and Hall glared at him too. “My brother here had the experience of a girl who shall remain nameless—”

“Not to mention imaginary,” added Peter, sniggering.

“Ah … noise level, boys,” Hall called out to us, still glaring. “Half of you already have detention.”

“Sir,” said Peter, “do you teach Maths? ‘Cause you’ve just made History. I never knew four was half of five. Did Einstein—”

“No cheek, son.”

“I’m not your son!” spat Peter, looking aghast. “Crikey!”

The idea of learning about Marc was almost as intriguing as learning about Tommy had been, so we made sure to invite the two boys to join us behind the toilet block again at lunch time once we got back to our locker bay.

“Hey Marc,” Peter said when Harry had joined us again after an extended period of closing his locker. “How long have you been at the school for?”

“Ages,” said Marc, looking surprised at the question.

“Ages? What’s that?”

“Since year-seven,” he said, “and primary school.”

“What’s your surname?” asked Harry.

“Moran,” replied Marc, looking alarmed now.

“I’m sure I’ve heard the name before,” said Peter. “Rings a bell, don’t you reckon, John?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, something about it,” I said, catching on, “don’t know. Maybe we’ll remember tomorrow, or the day after.”

“Whatever it is, it ain’t me,” said Marc. The rest of us laughed, but for some reason Marc didn’t.

“What are you guys talking about?” asked Lisa.

“I’m sure I’ve heard of Marc Moran somewhere before too,” said James.

“Not us,” said the twins, unanimous as ever.

I glanced at Nicole; she glared back at me, and I needed no further persuading. I nodded at Peter and James, who understood at once that the subject needed no further pursuit.

“Where do you live, Marc?” asked Lisa.

“Sorry?”

“You heard the lady,” said Harry, grinning. “Wherefore art thou neighbourhood, my fine young friend? And never mind the fact that you’re no doubt older than me.”

Everyone laughed at that; even Marc cracked a smile, though he still looked wary. “How come?” he asked.

“’Cause she’s gonna stalk you,” said Simon. “Right, Lis?”

“No,” snapped Lisa. “I was just thinking … you look a lot like the guy who lives over my back fence.”

Everyone except Marc and Tommy laughed. It was common knowledge among the rest of us that Lisa had the hots for the boy over her back fence. She often mentioned him, yet none of us could work out who he was.

“What’s wrong with your locker anyway, old chap?” asked Simon.

“Don’t know,” said Harry. “I’m betting you girls checked each one before choosing for us.”

“We didn’t touch them,” said Natalie.

“We didn’t even spit in them,” said James, “against our will, of course.”

“Did we ask you, James, or have you just turned into a girl yourself?” asked Harry.

“Nah, that’s Peter you’re thinking of,” said James.

“Why don’t you share with Simon?” asked Natalie.

“No chance,” said Simon and Harry together.

“Why not?” asked Peter.

“Couldn’t fit both our books in one locker,” said Simon.

“Why don’t you share?” asked Lisa.

“What, share books? We wouldn’t be allowed,” said Harry.

“Don’t know why,” said Natalie. “Misty and Michelle tell us after going through some of—”

She broke off, suddenly looking shifty.

“What?” Harry asked, noticing her odd behaviour at the same moment I did.

“Did I say something?” asked Natalie quickly.

“What have they told you?” said both twins, advancing on her.

“All sorts of things,” she said sweetly. “Stuff you would kill someone for discovering.” Misty and Michelle were Harry and Simon’s older sisters, and they, like Harry and Simon, were identical twins.

“Bullshit,” said Peter. “Those two don’t have enough heart to write a journal or something.”

“Nothing like that,” said Natalie, grinning. “Just the quality of their work.”

“Just wait 'til I get my hands on those two,” said Harry through gritted teeth, rubbing his fists together.

“I was going to say, they say you have never put a single answer different for anything.”

“Except essays,” Simon informed us.

“They probably copy,” said Tommy.

“They don’t,” I said. “It’s like a sixth and seventh sense.”

I was just trying to impress them with my tongue twisting skills.

“Something you wouldn’t expect them to have, but there you go,” said Peter.

“I have enough sense,” said Harry, grinning at him, “to sense, Peter, that you are going to grow up to be Chopville’s biggest loser.”

“No,” said Natalie, “you can only sense the present, not the future, and that’s only with regard to each other.”

“Okay,” said Simon. “My sixth and seventh senses sense, Natalie, that you will buy me the most expensive gift you can afford one of these days.”

“To hell I will,” said Natalie; the rest of us burst out laughing.

“Well, you said present—”

“That’s ‘cause she’s gonna buy me one,” said Harry.

“In your dreams, Harry,” said Natalie, smirking. “Why on earth would I wanna do that?”

“Nah,” said Peter. “Don’t worry, Nat. The sort of present Harry’s after doesn’t cost money.”

There was a momentary hush around the group.

“What would you like your tomb stone to say, Pete?” asked Harry, pushing himself away from the wall and turning to face Peter, while Natalie blushed madly.

“The angrier you get, Harry, the more true it must be,” said Peter, grinning broadly at the expression on Natalie’s face.

“We can arrange to put that on your tomb,” said Harry.

Everyone but Natalie was laughing now; Harry was just about trembling with the effort of keeping a straight face.

“You’re a god, Harry,” said James.

“A sex god,” Tommy added.

“Knock it off, new guy,” said Harry.

“Easy there, Godzilla,” said Simon.

Now everyone was laughing, even Harry and Natalie.

Half an hour later, as we were returning to the year-nine/ten locker bay to collect our things for the last two periods, we spotted Hignat and Wilwog, who had positioned themselves to the side of the doors into the building. Neither of them were watching us, but they had their heads together (as much as it was possible for two people of such different heights to have their heads together anyway) and looked to be in deep conversation. It became clear, however, that they knew we were coming, for as we walked past them, some of what they were saying reached our ears.

“I think it’s more deterrent than punishment,” Hignat was saying. “They know teachers like Mr. Hall get a raw deal from students, so they allow them to deal with the troublesome ones by more unorthodox means.”

“What sort of means?” Wilwog asked, as he and Hignat began following us down the corridor toward the locker bay, talking loudly enough for us to hear every word.

“No idea,” said Hignat, unconcerned, “but it’s nothing for us to worry about. Mr. Hall likes us, so we won’t have any problems with it. I’ll be interested to know what he’s got planned for that lot this afternoon though. I might even consider hanging back and watching.”

It was all we could do not to turn around and start abusing the crap out of them. Thankfully we lost them in the crowd around the locker bay, which gave us a chance to dwell on their words.

“He’s full of it,” said Marc dismissively. “Don’t listen to a word he says.”

“He’s right about one thing, though,” said James, looking troubled. “Hall does like them; he certainly likes those two more than any of us.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” muttered Peter, swaying sideways as Harry opened his locker, and it began expelling its contents onto the floor in what I was quickly coming to think of as its usual pattern.

The detention in question came quickly enough for us. Period Five was Commerce, which probably would have dragged on if it wasn’t for the unpleasantness that awaited us at the end of it, and Period Six was an elective block, in which us five did Information Technology. That period positively flew by us. All too soon, Peter, James, Harry, Simon and I were making our way back towards Room 12, while the rest of the students were heading the other way. Kylie was already waiting outside the room when we got there, looking extremely pissed off that she had to be doing this.

“If he doesn’t turn up in five minutes, I’m leaving,” she said when we were close enough to hear her.

“That sounds good to us,” said Simon enthusiastically.

“Then we’ll all have more detentions,” I said dully. “You know how it works with him.”

“Too bad,” said Peter. “He’s just up there; here he comes.”

“Damn,” said Kylie under her breath.

“And he’s early too, it’s only twenty-five past three,” said Harry. “Imagine what would have happened if we had got here on time instead of five minutes early?”

We all laughed.

“Good, you all turned up,” said Hall, striding towards us. “Now, you’ll be wishing you hadn’t. Inside.”

Hall opened the door. We entered but didn’t sit down. Hall seemed to be gesturing us towards the four front seats, two of which Harry and Simon had been sitting in earlier that day.

“Sit down,” the teacher said. “I am going to give you a line, which I want you to write 'til the message sinks in.”

He picked up a marker and began writing on the board: ‘I will not interrupt the teacher by making smart irrelevant comments in class’.

“You will each write that one hundred and fifty times, and I want each and every line numbered. I want to count them before you’re dismissed, and none of you will be permitted to leave until all five of you have finished. Understand?”

There was a general murmur of assent. Nobody was happy about the task, but inside I felt an undeniable relief. After what Hignat had been saying, this task was at least bearable.

“And remember, the more you talk, chances are the slower you’ll write. I’ll leave the responsibility with you. I don’t mind waiting around; I’m in no hurry myself.”

“Sir,” Harry started, “how often do you make people write a hundred and fifty lines?”

“All the time,” said Hall. “Why?”

“’Cause I was just thinking, if we write really, really, really big, would we get to stop after the same number of pages?”

“No,” said Mr. Hall, not amused. “Numbers, remember, and just think of the trees, Maivis.”

It took over an hour, and that was while all five of us were writing as fast as we possibly could. Hall slowed us down by making both me and Peter repeat a few pages because, according to him, our handwriting was illegible. Eventually, though, we all finished the task and were allowed to leave.

“Detentions are so interesting when there are a few people doing them,” said Harry, as the five of us walked together across the empty school grounds.

“Probably,” I replied. “That one was a bit boring, though.”

“And it’s fun to get Hall angry,” said Kylie, who was walking with us.

“Yeah,” said Peter, “it’s fun, as long as we only get detentions, not suspensions; that’s not fun.”

“Don’t know why they haven’t sent home any complaints about us,” said Simon.

“Because they haven’t,” said Harry shortly. “Don’t jinx it.”

Kylie didn’t stay long. Once we were away from the school grounds, she turned and sped off in the opposite direction. Harry and Simon followed Peter and me to the corner, then said goodbye and went off down Flint Street. Now that Peter and I were alone, the two of us continued back over the Main Street Bridge and down Main Street 'til we got to Lopher Lane, then went down to Number 16, and into the house, which belonged to the Playmans.

One of Chopville’s identifying traits was that people often did strange things to their houses. Our house featured only one thing that might be considered abnormal by most people, although very few people knew of its existence. It involved a tunnel, hidden in the cupboard under the stairs, which led to Number 15, the Thomas residence. The entrance to the tunnel in their house was also hidden at the other end, in the cupboard under their stairs. The Playman and Thomas families had been so firmly joined for so long that James, Felicity and Jessica felt like siblings to me, Nicole and Peter. Dad and Charlie had built the underground tunnel sometime in 1995 when we had only been tots, their intention being to keep the families from drifting apart over the years.

“Heard the news already,” said Mum when she saw me and Peter. “Nice start to the term.”

We were almost never punished at home for detentions by our parents; we got them too often. Our mothers always made us aware of their disappointment whenever it happened, but our fathers understood perfectly well what Hall was like; apparently they’d had serious conflicts with him in their youth.

“It’s fun to get Hall mad,” said Peter. “Well, he already is mad, anyway.”

“I’m sure,” said James’s mother, Marge. “Just take note of your limits. You don’t want to end up in more trouble than you’re looking for.”

“They should be all right,” said James, appearing in the doorway of the cupboard under the stairs.

“Where are the girls?” I asked.

“In Felicity and Jessica’s room,” said James with a shrug. “Natalie and Lisa are over too. Come on, you two, let’s go upstairs. I’ve been bored silly.”

“Maybe you should have pissed Hall off too, then,” sniggered Peter. “Then you could have joined us. You might have been lucky enough to sit next to your bestest best buddy in the whole wide world.”

“Oh knock it off, Playman,” muttered James, but he was grinning as he said it.

The three of us went upstairs to where Peter and I shared a room. It was after five now, and the smell of dinner coming from the Playman kitchen was making our stomachs rumble uncomfortably.

“I wonder what the girls are doing now,” mused Peter as he closed the door.

“So does John,” said James, plonking himself down in the spinning chair in front of the computer.

“I wonder,” I said thoughtfully. “You reckon we should go spy?”

The three of us looked at each other. Spying on the girls, really spying, was something we’d never tried before, and yet now that the suggestion was out in the open, it begged to be explored.

“I don’t think so,” said James, shaking his head. “I mean, we’ve got so much homework, and I doubt they’ll be talking about—”

“Blimey, James,” said Peter, staring at him in disgust. “Where’s your sense of adventure? I’m all for trying, I’m just not sure how.”

“There’s an idea,” I muttered, glancing downwards.

“What’s that?” asked Peter. “What’s an idea?”

“That,” I said, pointing to a computer device on the desk. It was an audio hub, containing eight stereo ports.

“What can we do with…” Peter began, but he answered his own question. “How on earth are we gonna pull that off?”

“Just put a tiny bit of it under their door,” I said, now doubting the plan a bit.

“Someone fill me in please,” said James, looking from one of us to the other.

“You plug that cord there into the audio input on a computer,” said Peter. “You see all those there? They’re like extension cords, but for sound instead of power. Make a chain of those down to the girls’ room, plug a microphone in the end, and voilà!”

“How many microphones can you plug into that?”

“Quite a few,” said Peter proudly. “We’re thinking of setting up a computer network where we just have to select via the computer which microphone we want to use to spy, and we’ll have one in every room. We’ve been plotting that one for a while now.”

“We have?” I said blankly; this was the first I’d heard of such a plot.

“But they’ll be seen,” said James.

“Not these ones,” said Peter. “We just have to wait 'til they leave the room, then we hide them.”

“You’ve never told me about this—”

“We have to find something to do while you do all your extra, unnecessary studying,” said Peter, grinning.

“You could profit from a bit of extra study,” said James darkly. “It sounds technically brilliant, but pretty creepy.”

“Oh, undoubtedly so,” grinned Peter. “So, are you in?”

“I think I’ve got a better idea,” he replied.

“As usual,” said Peter, grinning amusedly, “the brainiac comes up with the ideas … Lay it on us.”

“I happen to have a piece of wireless equipment back in my room,” he told us. “A wireless microphone. The school let me borrow it last year so that I could stream my radio recordings to their studio from my computer.”

Peter and I looked at James like he’d just won us a million bucks. Shortly thereafter, the three of us could be seen stringing a long line of cords along walls, down stairs, through the tunnel and up more stairs. The cord reached from our computer right through to James’s house next door. We left the wireless receiver outside Jessica’s bedroom, hidden so close to the wall that it couldn’t possibly have been stepped on, and we sat back in James’s room, within earshot of the girls so we would know if they left the room.

“Now we just have to wait 'til they come out,” said James cheerfully.

“By the time they come out,” I said, “Natalie and Lisa will be leaving anyway.”

“How good are the batteries in this thing?” asked Peter, holding up the wireless transmitter we wanted to put in Jessica’s bedroom.

“Brand new,” said James, “I replaced them at the end of last year but I haven’t used this thing since. You guys go back to the computer and tell me if it works, then.”

Peter and I hurried back to our house and switched on the computer. We plugged the microphone into one of the ports, connected it to the computer through another port, and used the specialised software to configure the setup. Yet even after we had restarted the computer and set it to playback line-in audio, we heard nothing at all.

“Go back and tell James it’s not working,” said Peter. “I’ll wait here.”

I ran back to James and told him the news. We didn’t have long to think of a solution though, as Peter joined us a moment later with the perfect solution.

“It’s working,” he said. “James just wasn’t loud enough, that’s all.”

“I smell food,” I said excitedly, “a good chance—”

The door opened and James’s father Charlie entered. It seemed he and Dad had just gotten home from work; both of them worked on some washed-up farm ten minutes out of Chopville and had done for about six months. Prior to that, they had been in some sort of trucking business with Brian Fletcher, Natalie's rich father, and had made a good load of money for about six or seven years. Now both families were fairly comfortable—not rich like the Fletchers, who had been the brains of the operation, but comfortable enough for the two families to have five computers between them. They chose to work on a farm now because they had grown up on farms and seemed to want to get back to their roots.

“You boys joining us next door for tea?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “just a sec.”

Charlie left the door open. We could hear the five girls moving through the cupboard, laughing shrilly.

“You two go to tea,” said Peter. “I’ll slip this into Jessica’s room.”

“What about Nicole’s room?” asked James quietly as he and I left the room.

“Maybe we can buy another one,” I said. “There’s an expensive idea for a network, use wireless equipment.”

The three of us would have found it difficult to keep straight faces that night at dinner, watching the girls and thinking about the sort of stuff we might overhear using our spy network. At least, that would have been the case if it weren’t for the fact that the subject happened to come up over dinner conversation. I wasn’t sure about James, but I couldn’t believe that Peter and I had been so foolish to think that nobody would ask questions about all those cables between our rooms. James, who must have been prepared for the question, told them, not quite untruthfully, that we were trying to set up an audio link between the computer in our room and the computer in the Thomases' study. Mum and Marge weren’t happy about it, stating that someone could trip on the stairs and break their neck … and what about the vacuuming … and Hilda and Violet’s wheelchairs … And on and on it went. Dad and Charlie finally settled the affair by telling us that we would have to remove the cables in a couple of days.

After tea, we returned to our room and logged on. Unfortunately, the room Jessica and Felicity shared was empty. So we sat around for a few boring hours reading ‘Deadly, Unna’ in a group. We got a fair way in too, almost half way. We also deviated from our reading of the book a few times to discuss what we ought to do for our oral presentation, and to think of more ways to turn Hall’s face redder than a fire truck. Whenever we got bored with all other topics of conversation, we always came back to talk of Natalie, Kylie and now Serena.

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