In which friends become enemies, enemies remain enemies (but maybe not as bad ones), and the–err–stuff hits the fan.
CHAPTER 15: ARRESTED DEVELOPMENTS
Jumping up from the cot where he had been dressing himself, Oliver turned around runway-style to show off his fine checkered dress shirt and loud, striped tie under his yellow blazer.
“So, what do you guys think? It’s from the J. Crew collection. Feel like it says I’m a smart, classy guy and stuff? I mean, that’s what I’m going for.”
From his seat on the opposite side of the tent, Leo shrugged half-heartedly.
“Whatever. It’s fine,” he said, gesturing at his own worn jeans and scuffed t-shirt. “I figured I’d just go with this. It’s from the ‘I don’t give a crap’ collection. You know, because I really, really don’t give a crap.”
“Are you guys taking this seriously?” Danny whined from his place on the ground between them, wiping off his glasses on his sleeve. “You’re not even a little worried? We’re getting court-martialed. If we don’t pull off a miracle or something, we’re all toast and we get expelled. No more magic. No more freedom. No more nothing.”
“Actually, Danny, I think that’s what we’ll have plenty of,” Jack chuckled, leaning against the tent pole. “Nothing. But for real, calm down, man. Sure, we’re going on trial in front of Hasselberry, Crowley, Chad, and the entire camp of mostly people who hate us. But at least we’re doing it in style, right?”
“You bet, buddy,” said Oliver, giving him a high-five. “Cut the dramatics, Danny. Hasselberry’s got nothing on us. He might think we tried to kill him or whatever, but he can’t prove anything. And have you met the guy? He might talk a big game, but he never follows through. He’s, like, the world champion of the choke.”
“You said it,” Leo agreed, flopping down on his back and kicking his feet up on the cot. “Hasselberry’s not taking this seriously, so why should we? Besides, even if he does decide to pull something, we’ve talked our way out of situations like this before. We can do it again. We’ll get people on our side. Unlike him, we have the advantage of actually having personalities. And if we’re going down, I’m at least going to have a good time doing it.”
“I don’t know,” Danny muttered, unconvinced. “Why would anybody listen to us? I mean, he’s in charge and stuff.”
“Dude, you’re bumming me out,” said Jack, giving the shorter scout a slap on the back that made him cough out the water he was sipping. “Haven’t you been paying attention? We’re the good guys. We’ve totally got friends out there: Lucas, Tessa—umm—and other people. They’ve got our backs. I’m just looking forward to getting on the stand. Man, I’m going to tear it up. I’ve never been an expert witness before, under oath and all. It’s so cool.”
“Speaking of which,” said Leo, his eyes narrowing at Jack as he sat up and folded his arms, “why don’t we practice right now? Did you or did you not take the love potion out of my pack last night? It was back this morning, but I know one of you took it because it was in the wrong pocket.”
Jack sighed theatrically, raising his right hand.
“I cannot tell a lie. I have been taking your potion.”
“I knew it, you jerkwand. The next time you put your hands in my stuff, I’m going to cut them off. You know how much I have to do for those nerds over in Sphinx Troop to get them to make it for me? Like, four sets of girls’ shower pictures.”
“Shower pictures?” Danny asked, appalled. “You took pictures of girls in the shower? You know—with no clothes on?”
“Ugh,” said Leo, making a face. “Come on, Danny. How much of a perv do you think I am? They just wanted to know what the girls’ shower looked like inside. Why? I don’t ask questions. The point is, you animals don’t touch it. You hear me, Jack?”
“Oh, you didn’t let me finish,” Jack grinned. “I have been taking it. But not last night. It was Oliver’s night.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“We set up a schedule and everything. You want me to pull out the calendar? It’s all written down.”
“Figures,” Leo muttered, smacking his palm to his forehead and groaning loudly as Oliver and Jack laughed.
“Honestly, Jack, I don’t know why you need it,” Oliver said. “Everybody just automatically loves you. Well, almost everybody, I guess. This is about Tessa, isn’t it?”
“Sort of,” Jack sighed. “I don’t get it. At first I thought she was allergic to me or something. I was totally on my A-game, but she’d never want to hang out or anything. But ever since the field test, we’ve been talking a lot and having lunch and stuff. Like, actually talking about real things. Think that potion works on a time delay?”
“No chance,” Leo snorted. “Women are just crazy, bro. Trust me on that one.”
“I wouldn’t know,” said Danny resentfully. “I never had a girl go crazy on me.”
At that moment, the tent flap rustled and Quentin Townsend ducked inside, still fidgeting with the starched collar of his dress uniform.
“Guys,” he said, breathless and serious. “How’s it going?”
He was greeted by a chorus of “Ayyyy” as Jack, Leo, and Oliver dropped their banter and ran over to the troop leader.
“Not too bad, Quentin,” said Leo, flicking the gleaming buttons on Quentin’s jacket. “Nice threads, bro. You clean up pretty good. You know, for somebody who looks like an overstocked G.I. Joe doll.”
The boys snickered as Quentin took a deep breath.
“Very funny,” he said, adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses as his dark face flushed. “Now look, I need to talk to you about something, seriously. You think you can hold it together for—”
“Objection,” Oliver interjected, and then smiled as Quentin blinked at him. “Sorry, man. Just practicing for court. I’m going to be all over Hasselberry out there.”
“Same here,” said Jack. “We just cross-examined the crap out of Leo. I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole last ten minutes. So where do you want us when we get in there? Like, up at the stand with you? Oh, better yet, we could just be on the stand. You feed us the questions and we can knock it out of the park. You can count on us.”
Quentin sighed, pinching his nose between his fingers.
“Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of,” he said. “Guys, I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but I kind of need you all to sit this one out. I just heard: Hasselberry put the fix in. The whole camp is lined up against Jackalope Troop. The Centaurs and Quetzals were easy sells: he promised them they could divide up our troop area after we’re all kicked out of camp. He really had to lean on Sam, but eventually the Sphinxes caved, too. It’s three against one.”
“Bet he didn’t have to lean on him too much,” Danny muttered sulkily.
“That’s exactly why you need us, dude,” Oliver insisted. “We can do this. I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, but if I murdered somebody and I needed a lawyer, I think I’d tear your number out of the phone book just to make sure I didn’t call you by accident while I was checking every other person in the world.”
“You’re not great with the crowd, Quentin,” said Leo. “The whole dull but secretly incredibly boring and predictable thing just doesn’t play well with people. I know that’s surprising, but it’s true. You need someone those guys can connect with. Secret weapons. Men of the people.”
“I think they’re right, pal,” said Jack, giving the troop leader a shrug. “I mean, you’ve got the authority and responsibility and stuff, but we’ve got the, like, je ne sais quoi. You know?”
Quentin pursed his lips and folded his arms in irritation.
“The only thing I know, Ferguson, is that you definitely don’t know what je ne sais quoi means.”
“Yeah,” Jack sighed. “You got me there. No idea. Sounds cool, though.”
“And by the way, thanks for the votes of confidence, you two,” Quentin snapped, glaring at Leo and Oliver. “You know, every time I feel like maybe we’re friends and you actually understand me, you go and throw something like this at me.” He cleared his throat and stood up straighter. “Now listen up. I’m saying this as your commanding officer, and I’m asking you nicely, just this one time: can you please not come to this court martial and let me handle it? For the good of the troop.”
“We hear you Quentin,” Danny said, bobbing his head up and down in acknowledgement. “Totally, a hundred percent. And that’s exactly why we—”
“Won’t do it,” Leo finished for him. “Yeah, Danny’s right for once, man. You don’t get it. Hasselberry doesn’t care what you have to say. He’s going to railroad you and the whole troop, and we’re the only ones that can stop it. Maybe we don’t have a plan right now, but we’ll improvise. I mean, probably. The bottom line is, we’re going to that court-martial, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.”
Jack and Oliver folded their arms and stuck out their chins in defiant solidarity. Danny just hung his head.
“Right,” he muttered. “Sure. That’s exactly what I meant.”
Quentin set his jaw and nodded, stony-faced.
“Yep. That’s pretty much what I thought you’d say. All right, then. If you won’t listen to me, listen to this. You’re all under arrest.”
Leo, Oliver, and Jack all stared at him, then at each other, and finally burst out laughing.
“Arrest? Us?” Jack chuckled. “Dude, I didn’t realize you could be that funny. Sure. You’re arresting us. You and what army?”
Raising his right hand above his head, Quentin regretfully snapped his fingers. No sooner had he done so than a group of a dozen or so burly Centaur scouts pushed by him and marched into the tent, surrounding the Jackalopes.
“You losers aren’t going anywhere,” Hector jeered from the head of the column. “Commander Fordman and Scoutmaster Hasselberry say you stay right here until the court-martial’s over. Got it?”
“What are you doing?” Oliver exclaimed. “You brought the knuckle-draggers in to do your dirty work for you? This is a new low, Quentin. Don’t be a moron. You need us. We’re trying to save our troop.”
“So am I,” said Quentin heavily, his shoulders sagging. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry it has to go down like this. Let’s hope we’re still around for you to keep hating my guts later.”
He quickly turned and, with one last guilty look back, ducked out of the tent flap. The other Jackalopes all flopped down on the ground or dejectedly punched their palms and kicked the grass in frustration.
“Great. Just great,” Leo spat, picking at some weeds. “Of all the possible times, it’s today when he decides to grow a spine. What are we supposed to do now?”
“No clue, man,” said Jack, giving their Centaur captors an apologetic grin. “So I know this might be an awkward time to ask, but what happens if someone needs to use the latrine in here?”
Fussing with the front of his uniform and taking his seat at the tribunal bench hastily erected at the front of the mess tent, Hasselberry put on his best stern and dignified face and valiantly suppressed his inner desire to sing, jump for joy, and shout from the mountaintops that they day he had waited so long for had finally arrived.
“Order, order,” he called, banging on the table top with the soup ladle he was using for a gavel as the crowd of scouts from all four troops jammed into the tent fell silent. “I am Scoutmaster Rudolph von Hasselberry, commanding officer of Camp Prospero, and I hereby call this disciplinary tribunal to order. As I’m sure you are all aware, we’re here today to discuss the potential expulsion of the members of Jackalope Troop from this camp due to their reprehensible behavior, abominable work ethic, and general disregard for the rules of decorum and civility that have created unrest at this institution.” He cleared his throat. “However, in the interest of fairness, and as I have on very, very rare occasions, been wrong before, I am willing to hear both parties in this case out. The prosecution will speak first, and the guilty—I mean, the defense—will have an equal amount of time for rebuttal.”
On the left side of the table, Chad Fordman smirked and nodded, looking more confident and smug than ever. To his right, Quentin swallowed loudly and tried to stammer out a response.
“Umm—thank you, sir,” he said, mopping sweat off his brow with his uniform sleeve. “You know, I’ve always told my scouts what a fair-minded kind of leader you are, and also how—”
“Don’t press your luck, Mr. Townsend,” the scoutmaster snapped, silencing him. “Mr. Fordman, the floor is yours.”
Chad smiled and stepped forward amid the cheering of most of the Centaur scouts and the boos and hisses of the Jackalopes in the audience.
“Thank you, sir,” he drawled, shooting Quentin a mocking look. “I could spend all day explaining what a bunch of useless, talentless punks the members of Jackalope Troop are, but I plan on making my arguments short and sweet. After all, none of us really wants to be here and I’m sure we could all be doing better things with our time. No offense, sir.”
“None taken, Mr. Fordman,” Hasselberry replied good-humoredly. “Carry on.”
“Of course, sir,” Chad replied, immediately pulling out a ream of notecards and taking a deep breath in preparation for a long-winded lecture. “If I may begin at the beginning: Hundreds of years ago—back in the 1930s—a visionary man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was elected to the presidency. Being a longtime advocate for wizards’ rights, and having married one of the most prominent witches of his time as proof of his commitment to the cause, Roosevelt recognized how terribly the magical community had suffered over the years thanks to the thoughtless, hateful, and dominating stranglehold of mundanes in the government. Therefore, as a little-known addition to his various New Deal agencies, he signed into law in secret in 1935 the WPA, or Wizards Protection Act. This act founded a new branch of government, the Bureau of Magical Affairs, to oversee, police, and protect the magical from outside interference. It is this very foundation of our freedoms today that the members of Jackalope Troop seek to debase.”
As the Centaur Troop leader droned on, Tessa Stone sulked in the back of the tent as she watched the scene unfold. Next to her, Lucas King gave her awkward and concerned sidelong glances.
“Well, when Chad says he’ll begin at the beginning, he certainly says what he means,” he said, trying to lighten the perceived mood. It didn’t help any as Tessa’s scowl only deepened.
“Yeah, right,” she muttered, bitterly sarcastic. “I love a fair trial. If I have to sit here and listen to Chad spout that propaganda history lesson Hasselberry shoved down our throats, I think I might have to throw up.”
“Propaganda?” Lucas asked, considering it. “What makes you say that? All I’ve heard on that score from the scoutmaster is how the magical community rightfully deserves the roles of world leadership the mundanes have denied them, and as the superior race it is our duty to rise up and overthrow the oppressive ruling class.” He blinked for a moment. “Oh. I see. It doesn’t sound very good when you say it back like that.”
“No kidding. I think I’m finally starting to realize just how not very good a lot of things are around here.” Tessa furrowed her eyebrows as she craned her neck to glance around the tent. “Speaking of, where are Jack and Danny and the rest of them? Figures. Those guys would be late to their own funerals. Kind of like right now.”
“I guess you haven’t heard, then,” Lucas sighed, disappointed. “I’m sorry to say it, but Jack, Leo, Oliver, and Danny have been detained. They’re all under house arrest back at Jackalope Troop. Quentin didn’t want them to interfere with the court-martial, so Scoutmaster Hasselberry gave him some Centaur scouts to secure them until it was over. At least, that’s what Sam said.”
“What?” Tessa exploded, angrily kicking at the chair in front of her and drawing the annoyed looks of other scouts around them. “Are you serious? Of all the lousy ideas Quentin’s ever had, this one has to be the lousiest of them all. What’s he thinking?”
“What do you mean?” Lucas asked, confused. “The scoutmaster said he would hear both sides of the argument. Also, Quentin is at least a—err—moderately intelligent person. He could still make a difference.”
“It’s a kangaroo court, Lucas,” the girl hissed, pushing a hand through her pixie cut. “Nothing’s going to make a difference. This is classic Hasselberry: he’s cruel. You give them the wind-up and promise everything’s going to be fair and above-board, and then you yank the rug out from under them. There’s nothing he loves more than making other people look like idiots. The Centaurs and Quetzals will go along with him on principle, and the Sphinx scouts are too scared to step out of line. And Quentin just torpedoed the one and only chance he had.”
Her remark was met with an arrogant snort, and both Tessa and Lucas looked up in surprise as Drake Masterson plopped down on the chair next to them, looking more miserable and furious than either of them combined, but no less unpleasant.
“Way to figure it all out, Stone,” he said. “You’re a regular Sherlock Hopeless. Maybe now that you’re done, you and Rain Man can shut up already.”
“Nice to see you too, Drake,” Tessa challenged him, finding a target for her anger. “What are you doing here, anyway? I figured you’d be in a shed somewhere: you know, because you’re such a tool. By the way, thanks for almost getting me and Jack killed in the field test, you lunatic.”
“If you’re looking for an apology, you can forget it,” Drake sniffed. “You people were morons, I was pissed off, and you got in my way. It happens. Oh, and in case you still have brain damage or whatever, I totally beat you, too. So leave me alone.”
“What’s your malfunction?” the girl asked, looking at him with a mix of confusion and hatred. “I figured you’d be happy right now. You got your wish. Jack and the rest of the Jackalopes are probably going to get expelled after this. That’s what you wanted this whole time, right?”
“No!” Drake hissed, beating his fists against the sides of his green blazer. “Yes! I mean, screw off! Quit trying to confuse me.” He glared up at the smug-looking Chad and Hasselberry with disgust. “Sure, whatever. I’m happy. Just freaking peachy.”
Tessa laughed to herself in disbelief.
“Oh, wow. I get it now. You wanted it to be you taking them down, didn’t you? After what happened in the field test, you weren’t part of Hasselberry’s club anymore.” She shook her head, her frown becoming a knowing smirk. “You know, Drake, it’s okay to admit you’re not fine with this. You’re only inhuman.”
“I don’t care,” the Quetzal shot back, far too quickly to be in any way convincing. “Just as long as somebody sticks it to those slackers. Since when did you start giving a damn about how I feel?”
“Call it half a damn,” Tessa replied, taking satisfaction in the mockery. “I’m just getting started. Besides, what can I say? Every hero needs a villain.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Drake muttered, pulling his collar tighter around his face. “Don’t try to butter me up, Stone.”
“Oh, okay. If you say so. I might not like you, Drake, but I at least thought you had some guts in there somewhere. I didn’t figure you for the kind of guy who just lets someone like Hasselberry use them as a doormat. Guess I was wrong.”
A low growl came from the infuriated scout’s throat as his anger boiled and sparks flared around his fists, but he said nothing.
“Do you really think it’s wise to antagonize him?” Lucas whispered to Tessa behind his hand.
“Probably not. But it feels really good.” Tessa sighed. “I hate to say it, but he is right about one thing: those guys are screwed.”
“But Quentin still has a chance to set the record straight,” Lucas protested. “He’ll get things back on track.”
“You think? Watch this.”
Meanwhile, Chad finally stepped back from giving his spiel and gave Quentin a taunting smile as the Jackalope leader stepped up to the front.
“Mr. Townsend,” said Crowley from his position next to Hasselberry, “you will now have equal time to respond to the accusations against you and your troop.”
“Thank you, sir—uhh—sirs,” Quentin fumbled, gulping and wiping sweat out of his eyes. “Well, I think the first thing I’d like to say is that you can’t, you know, really look at any one group of people—or troop—or whatever—without also looking at the good stuff—err—positive qualities of everyone in it. So what I’d kind of like to do here now is—”
“I’d say that’s about five minutes, isn’t it, Crowley?” Hasselberry asked pointedly, not even bothering to lower his voice.
“Well, actually, sir, it’s been—” Crowley began, but he shut his mouth as the scoutmaster glowered menacingly at him.
“Crowley, believe me when I say that the lifetime of imprisonment, interrogation, and repeated torture that I could engineer for you should you disappoint me will be an absolute cakewalk compared to five minutes with me and this paperclip,” he growled, holding up the aforementioned metal implement as dangerously as one can brandish a paperclip. Suitably intimidated, Crowley swallowed hard and bobbed his head.
“Certainly, sir. Five minutes. How time flies.”
“Right.” Hasselberry raised a hand. “That will be all, Mr. Townsend. Let’s move things along, shall we? This tribunal will now render a decision.”
There were immediate cries of outrage from the Jackalopes, who jumped to their feet and made many an obscene gesture at the officials, as Quentin stepped forward in protest.
“What?” he exclaimed. “But I was told I would get equal time. With all due respect, sir, that’s just not fair.”
“I’ll tell you what’s fair and what’s not, you worm,” Hasselberry thundered. “You and your slacker associates have managed to pull the wool over the eyes of everyone in this camp for years. No longer. I won’t have you using your fancy words to weasel out of your long-deserved punishment. Now shut up. That’s an order.”
“Yeah,” Chad chimed in, getting to his feet and flexing his muscles. “You heard the scoutmaster, Townsend. Put a sock in it. That’s a threat.”
“No, I won’t do it,” Quentin insisted, drawing himself up to his full and rather unimpressive height and taking a stand. “I demand a recount. Or an attorney. Or something.”
In the middle of the confusion, Tessa turned to Lucas.
“Okay. It’s do or die time,” she said. “We need to do something fast, or this is all over. I’ve got nothing. What do you have, whiz kid?”
“I don’t know,” Lucas murmured, clearly frustrated as well as he played with his hair and goggles wistfully. “If only Jack were here. He’s brilliant in situations like this. And quite handsome, too, incidentally. I’m certain he could come up with a plan in a flash.”
In spite of his repressed rage, Drake couldn’t help but snicker.
“Hey, watch it,” Tessa warned him. “Just because Lucas doesn’t like the same kind of people you do doesn’t mean he’s weird. Cut it out.”
Drake was unapologetic, his smirk only growing wider.
“Drake, you’re such a pig,” Tessa hissed, her fury mounting. “Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever met somebody as horrible as you. You’re sick. And you know what else you are? You’re—”
She stopped mid-sentence, her eyes suddenly getting wide.
“Genius. Oh, my God, you’re a genius.”
“Whatever,” the Quetzal said, rolling his eyes. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Tessa, what are you thinking?” Lucas inquired, seeing the gears working behind the girl’s eyes.
“Sick,” Tessa repeated. “That’s it. That’s the answer. Come here.”
Before the taller scout could protest, she grabbed him around the neck and bent him close to her, whispering in his ear for several seconds. Afterward, Lucas pulled away, chewing at his lip with worry.
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this, Tessa,” he said. “It may not work. And I really shouldn’t disobey Sam. He’s ordered all of us Sphinx scouts not to get involved with this tribunal or Jackalope Troop in any way, and if he finds out I’ve betrayed those orders—”
“Screw orders,” Tessa burst out. “Come on, Lucas. Just once, try looking beyond logic and listen to your gut. Hasselberry’s the one whose orders we’re supposed to listen to around here, and look what he just did. Clearly the rules don’t mean squat anymore.” She sighed. “I think sometimes you just have to stand up to things that aren’t right, no matter what everyone else says. You told me a while ago that Jack and those other guys were your friends. Well, are they or aren’t they?”
Lucas mulled it over for a long moment, and then gave her a small smile.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he said. “Though I have to say, that plan of yours is quite ingenious. Simple, yet effective. And so underhanded. I think Jack would be proud.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Tessa admitted, an almost imperceptible amount of color rising to her cheeks. “I think he might be rubbing off on me. But please, please, please don’t tell him I said that.”
From the seat next to them, Drake dry-heaved and made a face.
“For the love of God,” he muttered sullenly. “And you people tell me I’m disgusting. Just get Ferguson and get a room already. Seriously.”
For the thrilling conclusion of the adventure, check out Kyle Robertson’s new novel, Camp Ferguson, available online now at Amazon.com and via Kindle devices!