“Hi, is this Captain James Edwards of Coulson Higher Academy of Vocational Studies?”
Mr Edwards closed his eyes to sigh inwardly. One of the girls had hacked the school website to put in a bug that changed his title to Captain, and no one had figured out how to fix it yet.
“Just call me James, the full titles a bit long,” Mr Edwards said.
There was no reaction from the other end of the phone, except to continue in the professional, humourless manor she had started with.
“Hi, my name’s Dorothy Kelly, I’m a reporter for the local guardian. I understand that there’s been an explosion in one of your labs that required the fire service to be called out, I wondered if there was any more to that story?” Dorothy asked calmly.
Mr Edwards frowned. “Um, yes we did. How did you find out about that?”
Dorothy scrolled downward on the instagram page, looking through the photos of firemen outside the school gates.
“It’s featured on the instagram page of one Tiana McKenzie, and is circulating between girls who also attend the school. If you’d allow me I’d love to contact her,” she explained.
Mr Edwards tried not to groan audibly but it hurt to pin it back. How could she be a thorn in his side when she wasn’t even there?!
“I can’t give you her contact details, you’d need parental permission. And besides she’s not in school at the moment,” he explained sharply.
Dorothy clicked an open tab that linked to Tahati’s instagram page. Or, the one she made up for an anime character at least. It had been linked on Tiana’s post and very easy to find.
“It’s also heavily featured on Tahati Ghanem’s page, is she available?” she asked.
Another pain. He couldn’t help wondering if he could forbid them from being friends, or if that would come off racist.
“No, she’s not either,” he said.
“When will they be back?” she asked immediately.
Mr Edwards hadn’t thought about how to explain where they were, so it took him a moment to think. “um… They’re representing our school in a professional setting and won’t be back for a long time.”
“Oh,” she responded with venom in her voice. “Is there anyone else I can talk to?”
Of course, there was. Any member of staff, any girl that was there on the day, specifically Sapphire. But she would phone the others and ask them for their opinions and it would get out of hand.
“You know what, I’m rather busy right now, can I call you back at a better time?” he asked.
“Of course, the number is-”
He hung up before she could finish, and immediately dialled the number that the film crew had given him. He had to make sure that no one let the girls talk to a reporter. Ravi had once, back in year seven, and they’d had to threaten to sue the company to get them to take the clip down.
he couldn’t handle going through that again!
Tristan’s phone call had caused a bit of a havoc in the office. The meeting rooms blinds had been pulled all the way down so no one could see in, or hear what was happening there.
It also meant that they couldn’t hear the phone. It had to ring twenty more times than usual to be answered.
“Hello, Collins Tour and Photography Guide Offices, Alysha Patterson speaking, how may I direct your call?”
“Hi this is James Edwards I need to contact the school girls in your care, its urgent.”
In the burst of alarm now rushing through her, Alysha had pressed the button twice by accident. Mr Edwards could hear everything.
It’s their teacher. He wants to talk to the girls,” she said urgently.
“Well he can’t!” Nigel huffed, “Not unless you want to go traipsing across the countryside to pin them down and hand them the phone!”
“What do I say?” Alysha asked.
“how should I know?! How does someone lose five teenage girls and a van?! It’s unexplainable!” Nigel fumed.
“I can’t tell him it’s not explainable, that will worry him!” she hissed.
“She’s right sir. If we worry the teacher, we worry the parents, and then the reporters swoop in and our reputation ends up in tatters!” a third voice explained.
There was a low grumble as Nigel hummed thoughtfully. “Tell him they’re in a Welsh cave photographing rocks. For all we know it’s true.”
“Shouldn’t we let him know that-”
“No. Under no circumstances is anyone outside of this room to know that we lost five teenage girls and have no means of contacting them. Do not even hit at that fact. In fact, send him straight through to me,” Nigel ordered.
“You sir?! But-” the third voice began.
“Send him through!” Nigel boomed.
There was a pause as Alysha pressed the phone to her ear and cleared her throat.
“We can’t get through to the girls just yet. My boss would like to talk to you though, so please hold for a moment,” she said sweetly.
Despite her sweet voice having almost no hint of the nerves she was feeling, ice ran down Mr Edwards back. The students were missing.
He had suggested they go, and now they were missing. If anyone found out about this it would be his head on the chopping block. Mr Conduit would get the promotion for sure.
That couldn’t be allowed.
Nigel cleared his throat as he picked up the throat. It sounded like a businessman thinking over the lie he was about to tell one more time. Before he could begin, however, Mr Edwards did.
“I know everything. Your assistant didn’t put me on hold and I heard everything. You’ve lost my students and you’re risking my future as a teacher!”
Nigel shot a glare through the window of his office, to his assistant. She (who was listening in) winced in horrible realisation.
“It’s not just your job, it’s my career. My business. You’re just a teacher. They’re a dime a dozen and constantly being churned out of universities into dead end jobs. You’re replaceable. I,” he left a pause for gravitas, “am not.”
Mr Edward’s ground his teeth as he clenched his jaw. He often felt like a mindless clog in a machine (this could have been something to do with the headteacher constantly telling him (and the students) that they were valuable clogs in a machine called school (and society) and that was something to be proud of) and it was beginning to piss him off. He wasn’t going to take it anymore.
“Listen, mate, I might just be a teacher, but I am the most important person in this conversation. I am in charge of those girls. If I tell the parents that their daughters have gone missing, but I am doing everything in my ability to get them back, I will be forgiven. Once they come home – and they will come home – I will be rewarded.
Reporters already want to talk to the girls, and they’re calling me because I’m their head of year. One phone call from me – a worried teacher – about you – a faceless corporation – can bring you to your knees. So don’t say I’m replaceable, because I am vital to keeping everything you love, or losing it all. Understand?”
Nigel clenched his jaw and stayed silent for a while. In his head he weighed the pros and cons of involving this maniac. Clearly, he was serious. You could tell by the tone of his voice. Through clenched teeth he came to his conclusion.
“fine. What do you suggest we do?” Nigel snarled.
Mr Edwards smirked. He had gained more power in one phone call than he had in four years of working in a high school.
“Give me this Tristan’s number, and I will find out where he last saw the girls, and send someone to look for them. They can’t have gone far,” Mr Edwards explained.
“In a van with a full petrol tank they could,” Nigel said.
“none of them are legally old enough to drive,” Mr Edwards frowned.
“ask Tristan about that,” Nigel sneered.
He gave him Tristan’s number, and hung up on him. Mr Edwards felt a sickening fear creeping over his chest. He was walking a thin line between promotion and fired. One step out of line, and he’d have no job worth risking.
Neha and Sapphire were watching Mr Edwards pacing back and forth anxiously in his office, from him window. They were huddled behind the caretaker’s shack. Neha was standing like a penguin, cold from the shade. Sapphire had a cigarette hanging from her lip and was perched on the top of a short wall as she tucked the packet back into the inside pocket of her blazer. She looked like a dude-bro in a teen movie.
“I think he found out about the others,” Neha said.
“mmm,” Sapphire agreed, taking a drag on her cigarette.
“should we tell him about Simi’s snapchat story?” neha asked.
Sapphire let loose a mouthful of smoke, pretending to be thoughtful. “nah,” she said, “snitches get stitches. Besides, I ain’t no grass.”
Neha sniggered. Sapphire frowned.
“What?” she asked, dropping the façade.
“you look like the douche guy in every teen film that the girl Is supposed to like, but chooses the cute dork instead of,” Neha said.
Sapphire scowled. “no I look like Brendon Urie!”
Neha rolled her eyes. Sapphire looked less like Brendon Urie than anyone else in the world. even when smoking.
“Why are you smoking anyway? You never smoke in school,” Neha said.
“I do when we’re spying! For aesthetic!” she insisted.
“Who are we spying on?”
Goat man appeared from nowhere, making the girls yell in surprise.
“Kid if I was you, I’d put out that cigarette and get to lesson before I put you in the EU,” Goat man ordered.
“What for?!” Sapphire demanded.
“Bunking lessons, smoking in an inappropriate place, invading privacy. Of your head of year, no less,” Goat man said, pointedly.
Sapphire smirked. “but can you prove it?”
He frowned at her in annoyance and said, “just get to class. And put that cigarette down!”
Begrudgingly, Sapphire flicked the cigarette to the floor, linked her arm through Neha’s and strode away. Once they were around the corner from him, they ran like the wind to get away. If anyone would grass them up to Mr Edwards, he would.
Goat man leaned down, and picked up the cigarette that she had just dropped. He took a long drag from it, and held the smoke in his mouth until it burnt the back of his throat. As it wisped out of his mouth, he gave a deep sigh of satisfaction.
He glanced up at the window to his boss’s office. Whatever had him so nervous made goat man smile. He hated Mr Edwards with a passion. He hated everyone here with a passion. Whatever this was, he hoped it ended badly.
He flicked the cigarette away without a care. It landed in the vines wrapped around the sky room. One caught aflame. by the time the fire alarm had finished screaming, the doors were black and charred. The firemen were less than impressed. Dorothy Kelly, however, was fascinated.