In which lines are drawn, tables are turned, no stones are left unturned, there’s no rest for the weary, and no cliche is left unused.
CHAPTER 7: A FEW BAD MEN
Pacing back and forth behind his desk, across the floorboards that creaked ominously with every step, Scoutmaster Rudolph von Hasselberry glowered as he drummed his fingers on the side of his leg.
“Gentlemen,” he growled, the frown lines on his face deepening by the minute. “And Crowley. I’ve called you all here today because I’m ready to name the murderer.”
“Of good fashion sense?” Drake Masterson cracked from his seat in the corner of the office, lounging in Hasselberry’s favorite threadbare armchair and his feet up and crossed on Hasselberry’s favorite traveling trunk, already wrinkling his brand-new Quetzal Troop blazer. “I think you’re too late on that one, pops. I mean, this office is a total tear-down. Kind of like you.”
Perched awkwardly on a pair of uncomfortable nearby stools, Chad Fordman gave him a dirty look while Sam Falco just rolled his eyes.
“Not exactly,” Hasselberry said, through gritted teeth. “No, I’ve called you here to name the murderer of all my hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Would you like to know who it is?”
Now it was Chad’s turn to enthusiastically open his mouth, hoping to get the first word in, but before he could, he nearly fell off the stool trying to duck the rather expensive paperweight Hasselberry snatched from off his desk and chucked at the scout’s head.
“Every—single—one of you!” the scoutmaster snarled, punctuating each of the three exclamations with another thrown object. “You’re all a disgrace to this camp, and to the magical world in general. It’s unacceptable. I’ve been working other people’s fingers to the bone trying to prevent this cesspool from descending into chaos, and none of you have done anything to help me. You’re about as useful as Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse working on a Kodak assembly line.”
“But sir,” Chad spoke up, frowning. “Aren’t Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse, like, dead?”
Hasselberry glared at him, taking his wand out of his jacket and brandishing it threateningly.
“Don’t give me ideas, Mr. Fordman.”
“Okay, show of hands,” Drake yawned, looking bored. “Who actually understood any part of that reference? You know, who’s not a hundred years old and brain-dead.”
“I for one think you’re absolutely right, sir,” Crowley piped up, stepping out of the shadows and nodding profusely. “You’re been quite explicit in your demands, and these young bunglers have done nothing to—”
“Oh, shut up, Crowley,” Hasselberry snapped. “If I were you, I wouldn’t be making comments about who’s a bungler and who’s not. You yourself have a fairly lengthy track record in that regard. Now zip it. As much as I enjoy a good round of abuse, that’s not why you’re all here. That’s Wednesday’s meeting.”
Cool and collected, Sam raised his hand politely.
“With all due respect, sir,” he spoke up, not even waiting for the scoutmaster’s acknowledgement, “if this is supposed to be a senior staff meeting, then where’s Quentin Townsend? I feel like the leaders of all the troops should be here, including Jackalope.”
Chad shot him an irritable glance, and Hasselberry raised an eyebrow condescendingly.
“Normally, your suggestion would have merit, Mr. Falco,” he said, standing tall and straightening his uniform. “That is, if it weren’t for the fact that Mr. Townsend and his wild band of hoodlums are the very reason I called this meeting in the first place. As you all know, Jackalope Troop has always been stuffed full of degenerate, disrespectful, disobedient slackers who are actively working to undermine everything I’ve built here at Camp Prospero.”
“You mean the new latrine, sir?” Sam asked, unable to keep the hint of sarcasm out of his voice.
“Among other things,” Hasselberry grumbled. “I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, and I’ve come to a decision: Jackalope Troop must go. They are unsalvageable as an organization and as individuals, and it’s either them or us. Under Article 5, Paragraph 1, Subsection B, Clause 65-A, Paraclause 14.9 of the camp charter, I hereby declare this a crisis situation.”
“With all due respect, sir, isn’t that a little premature?” Sam asked, concerned now rather than contemptuous. Hasselberry smiled. It was nice to see Mr. Perfect sweat every now and then.
“Need I remind you, Mr. Falco, of all the regulations that govern this establishment that the Jackalopes have rampantly and deliberately flaunted over the years?” he demanded. “Perhaps you recall the time the KP scouts sent me the oatmeal with the laxative topping? Or the time they rigged all the training wands to explode on the Fourth of July? And of course there’s the time they sent me smaller pants from the laundry to make me think I was getting fat?” He swore under his breath. “I was doing sprints three times a day for a month before I finally looked at the laundry tags. Nobody forces me to do physical activity and gets away with it.”
“So did they ever stop doing it, sir?” Chad asked, ever the ready yes-man.
“Yes, they did,” said Hasselberry, frowning. “But I have bigger problems on my hands. For some reason, I now appear to be getting shorter. I must remember to make an appointment with my warlock.”
“Uh-huh,” said Sam doubtfully. “Sir, with respect, I know the Jackalopes can be a pain sometimes, and they do break the rules. I agree they should be kept on a tighter leash, especially with the Jamboree coming up this summer. But expelling them? You can’t be serious.”
“I can, and I am, Mr. Falco,” Hasselberry replied, resuming his pacing. “I’ve had it up to here with those infernal idiots and their pranks. I want them gone. Not just gone: I want them to be humiliated, defeated, and destroyed. I’m going to put a black mark on their records they’ll never be able to escape. They’ll be expelled from this camp, red-listed by the BMA, mandatory confinement, the works. And you’re all going to help me.” He folded his arms imperiously. “From now on, I want you and every camper under your commands to keep their eyes peeled for anything I can use against those slackers, no matter how small it is, and I want all of it reported to me immediately.”
Chad saluted, full of enthusiasm, while Sam’s face grew even more ashen.
“Surely there has to be another way of handling this, sir,” he said.
Hasselberry turned on him.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Falco,” he hissed, getting up close in the senior scout’s face as he berated him venomously. “Am I to understand that you don’t have the stomach to do what needs to be done here? Do you care about the survival of this camp that little? Or are you too emotionally compromised to follow orders because your brother is in Jackalope Troop?”
“That’s right,” Chad sneered. “I almost forgot about that. Hope you didn’t get any of the loser genes he’s got, Falco, but I think we all know you probably did. I’ve still got a bone to pick with that little runt.”
Sam’s face burned with embarrassment.
“But sir—” he started to say, but Hasselberry held up a hand, silencing him.
“That’s enough, Mr. Falco. I’ve made up my mind, and I won’t be second-guessed by every upstart who thinks he knows better than his superiors just because he was the teacher’s pet in school. Jackalope Troop and everyone in it are going to be an example to all the scouts here who think they can buck my authority. And if I find that anyone else hasn’t been working as hard as they possibly can to dig up the dirt that I need on that bunch of rejects, they and their troop might just need a harder look as well. Do you get me?”
Seeing he was hopelessly trapped, Sam bit his tongue and gave a grudging nod.
“Yes, sir,” he said quietly, still looking Hasselberry in the eye. “I get you.”
“Good,” the scoutmaster said, clapping his hands together with finality. “Any other thoughts from the peanut gallery? No?” He waited a theatrical moment before continuing. “But much as it pains me to admit it, I can’t do this alone. I’ll need one of you to act as a sort of deputy, if you will. This person would be second in command only to myself—”
“And to me, sir?” Crowley piped up. Hasselberry ignored him.
“As I was saying, second in command only to myself, and would report directly to me on all matters pertaining to Jackalope Troop. Of course, it goes without saying that if this person is subordinate only to me, the rest of you would naturally be subordinate to them. Call them the official Assistant to the Scoutmaster.”
“Great,” Drake said, his voice full of snark. “Nice name. Not. So what moron are you going to con into doing this job, anyway?”
“Sir, I must protest,” said Crowley. “That’s my job: assistant scoutmaster. Oh. Assistant to the scoutmaster, you say?” He sighed in relief. “Never mind. That was a close one.”
“You’re right, Crowley,” said Hasselberry, raising a finger. “I very nearly wasted a whole second by adding ‘to the’ to the job title. Assistant scoutmaster it is, then. That’s a very good idea. I’m glad I thought of it.”
Crowley’s shoulders sagged as Chad jumped to his feet and puffed out his chest.
“I’m your man, sir,” he said gruffly. “I’d respectfully like to submit my candidacy for this position. I’ve always put my loyalty to this camp first and foremost above anything else. I’m aware I’ll still have my duties as the leader of Centaur Troop, but I’m confident that I can adjust to the situation.”
Sam shook his head in distaste and Drake made a gagging noise from his chair.
“Oh, God,” the new Quetzal groaned. “I swear, if I have to listen to one more word from his stupid mouth, I’m going to open a window. Only someone with less brain cells than a brick would want that job.” He gave Chad an insincere smile. “Actually, I guess that makes you pretty overqualified for it, huh, Fordman?”
Chad turned toward him and raised his fists, furious, but Hasselberry snapped his fingers.
“Uh-uh-uh, Mr. Fordman,” he said gently, and with no small amount of satisfaction. “Stand down. I hope you still feel that you can adjust, because I have someone else in mind. Sit up, Mr. Masterson.”
“Him?” Chad and Crowley asked, stunned, as Drake’s eyes widened and he sat bolt upright in his chair.
“Me?” he echoed. “No way, Hasselberry. Forget it. I’m a Masterson. I don’t work for anybody, and especially not for you. So you can take your job offer and shove it.”
But Hasselberry just shook his head, looking amused.
“You’ve got quite an ego, Mr. Masterson,” he said. “A pity it’s all based on such thin ice. I think you and I have more in common than you’d like to admit. For one thing, a mutual hatred for Jackalope Troop and the people in it. As I recall, one of them made quite a fool out of you at the welcome banquet, both with words and with magic. What was his name? Jack Ferguson?”
Chad snickered in the background as Drake turned paler than usual, his fists clenching with rage.
“Sure I want to get back at that scrub,” he said. “I wasn’t on my game, that’s all. But I don’t need your help, gramps. I call the shots. I don’t take the shots. So the answer’s still no. And there’s nothing you can say that’ll make me change my mind.”
“Me? I won’t be saying anything,” said Hasselberry, smiling thinly as he strolled back behind his desk. He pulled open a drawer and brought out a large manila file folder stamped all over with red CONFIDENTIAL labels and government logos. “I’ll be letting this do the talking for me. I have to admit, at first I was at a loss for how to deal with your lack of cooperation. But since I had nothing to lose, I decided to place a call to the Bureau of Magical Affairs, and I had a wonderful and highly enlightening chat with some people I believe you know. Actually, they have something they’d like to share with you in person.”
“Hold on a second,” Drake said, pointing at the folder. “Where’d you get that? That’s my personal file. Who gave it to you?”
Hasselberry simply pulled his wand from his belt and waved it in the Quetzal’s general direction. Drake’s legs were thrown off the lid of the trunk as it suddenly snapped open of its own accord, revealing a crystal ball sitting on a small pedestal. The cloudy depths of the stone slowly parted to become clear as glass, and the visages of three people—two male and one female, all in formal attire with heads of jet-black hair and identical sneers—appeared.
“Hey, Drake,” the tall and lanky boy in the middle said, folding his arms. “Long time, no see. Well, not long enough, anyway.”
“I don’t believe this,” Drake said, smashing his fists into the cushions and leaning forward. “Pierce? Isabella? Adrian? You guys gave Captain Numbnuts here my file? This is low, even for you creeps. Selling out your own brother? That’s a cheap trick.”
“Nah, we don’t do cheap, Drake,” the shorter, more athletic-looking boy replied, slicking back his hair again. “That’s your thing.”
“Yeah,” the girl agreed sarcastically, the rings on her fingers glinting in the light from wherever they were. “Nice jacket, by the way, loser. Green’s totally out this year. You look like a carny.”
“That’s enough, guys,” said Pierce, clearly in command but still enjoying himself. “We’re just telling you how it is, little brother. But we can’t totally take credit for this. It was all dad’s idea. Being head of the BMA does have some perks, it turns out. We thought you might be difficult, so we sent Scoutmaster Hasselberry that file with every last piece of information about you. My personal favorite’s the part about how you’ve gotten kicked out of every school and camp you’ve been to because of your attitude problem. Camp Prospero’s your last shot, and you know it. Nowhere else would touch you with a ten-foot cattle prod. And considering how much bribe money we have socked away, that’s saying something.”
“And I can’t express my gratitude enough,” said Hasselberry. “Once again, you have my thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” Adrian spoke up. “No, seriously, don’t mention it. We don’t want people to think we’re associated with a two-bit, dead-end hack like you.”
Hasselberry bristled, but forced himself to remain calm as Drake stared daggers at his siblings.
“You can’t do this to me,” he insisted. “You don’t screw over family.”
“Oh, please,” Pierce snapped. “Spare us the self-righteous shtick, Drake. Just because we have the misfortune of being related to you doesn’t mean you can get away with not pulling your weight. Face it: you’ve always been the slacker of this family. So you either wise up and start acting like you can actually do something of value for us, or you might not have a family to go mooch off anymore.”
“I’m not a slacker!” Drake shouted. “I’m not, you got that? You lousy traitors.”
“Save the lip for somebody who cares, Drake,” Isabella responded. “All that matters is that you’re going to shape up and start flying in formation, or else we’re going to let Hasselbery and everyone else do whatever they want to you. No more free ride. This is your last chance. Consider yourself warned.”
“Later, loser,” Adrian said, giving him a mocking wave. “Oh, and just in case you were wondering, you’re an idiot every day of the week. Try taking a day off sometime. You know, if you think you can handle it.”
The siblings all laughed as they faded away and the crystal ball clouded back over again. Drake gave a strangled growl of frustration and slammed the lid of the trunk shut, sulking as Hasselberry loomed over him.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Masterson,” the scoutmaster said airily. “Your dirty little secrets are safe with me, as is your magical and academic career. That is, as long as you do everything I tell you and follow my every order without question. Otherwise, what’s in this folder now is going to be the least of your problems. If I tell you to run, you run. If I tell you to stay, you stay. If I tell you to jump, what do you say?”
Drake glared at him defiantly.
Hasselberry’s implacable stare never wavered, his finger tapping on the cover of the folder, and Drake finally gave in.
“Fine,” he spat. “Sir.”
“Thank you, Mr. Masterson,” Hasselberry said, appearing satisfied. “Now, I’m positively sick of looking at all of you. Get out.”
Drake leaped up and stalked away first as the portal in the back wall of the office snapped open on Hasselberry’s mental command. Chad followed, still smirking to himself over his rival’s humiliation. Sam, on the other hand, remained rooted to his stool, his brow furrowed and his eyes focused on nothing in particular. Hasselberry cleared his throat.
“Are you deaf as well as irritating, Mr. Falco?” he asked tersely. “I said you’re dismissed. Now scram. That’s an order.”
“Yes, sir,” Sam said grudgingly, getting up and exiting the office as well, with the portal closing behind him.
“Sir, I wouldn’t dream of questioning your judgment in front of the troops,” Crowley said, approaching the scoutmaster as he moved for his desk, “but I must admit, I have serious doubts about your plan to use Mr. Masterson. That boy is one of the most deplorable individuals I’ve ever come across. I’m not sure he has the temperament to have even the smallest amount of responsibility placed on him. In fact, if you’ll pardon the suggestion, why couldn’t you just expel him and teach him a lesson for his impudence?”
“Crowley,” Hasselberry replied, sitting down at his desk and folding his hands in front of him with a sigh, “your disturbingly fleeting grasp on the painfully obvious makes me wonder every day how we as a society made it out of the Dark Ages. I know that Mr. Masterson is an utterly detestable individual in every way, but I don’t have to like him to make him my meal ticket.”
“Oh, don’t be thick, Crowley,” the scoutmaster scowled. “It’s all about influence. You saw how those cretins on the crystal ball treated their own brother, and clearly their father doesn’t think much of him, either. But just imagine what would happen if I were to successfully shepherd Mr. Masterson through his three years at this camp and allow him to graduate as a fully qualified wizard. That could earn me a lot of influence at the Bureau. Perhaps even enough to get back to the cushy office job I had planning my next speaking engagements before Scout Marshal Rhodes sent me to this place. Or even a spot on the Scoutmasters’ Council. That’s where I belong, Crowley. I’m a born leader: not of boys, of men. My talents are wasting away here. And as awful as he may be, Drake Masterson is my ride back to the top.”
Crowley frowned as he thought it over. On one hand, he certainly didn’t like the way the scoutmaster was using the word “my” in place of the far more preferable “our”. But on the other hand, if Hasselberry were to leave Camp Prospero, the BMA would surely be looking for a replacement commander. Who better than a man who had also been there for years and knew the camp inside and out? And if his boss were to slip up somehow and need to be removed from his position—
“Yes, sir,” he said, bobbing his head and using his highly-trained skills as a sycophant to hide his devious thoughts. “I see it now. That’s an excellent idea.”
“Of course it is,” Hasselberry snapped. “It’s my idea, after all, Crowley, not yours. This is why I get paid the big bucks.” He got up again, thrusting Drake’s folder into his assistant’s hands and pushing past him. “Now make yourself useful for a change and put this away somewhere. Preferably somewhere difficult to get back from so there will be a longer period of time that I don’t have to look at you.”
Come to think of it, Crowley thought as he glared after his superior, the idea of Hasselberry being dishonorably dismissed and his getting the scoutmaster’s job was seeming more and more like a win-win.
“Please,” he muttered under his breath, walking over to the file cabinets against the wall and opening the top drawer. “You barely get paid any more than I do.”
“What was that, Crowley?”
“Nothing, sir. Nothing.”
Check out Kyle Robertson’s new novel, Camp Ferguson, available online now at Amazon.com and via Kindle devices!