Raji, Book Two - Charley Brindley - E-Book

Raji, Book Two E-Book

Charley Brindley

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Beschreibung

Raji is accepted to the prestigious Octavia Pompeii Academy. She and Elizabeth Keesler are the only girls in the student body of one hundred cadets. They must endure the derision and taunts from ninety-eight boys who would like nothing better than to see the girlsout of school. In addition to the contempt of the male students and the high academic standards set by the instructors, they must also conform to the strict disciplinary code enforced by the indomitable Elvira Gulch, Director of Development.

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Raji

Book Two: The Academy

by

Charley Brindley

[email protected]

www.charleybrindley.com

Edited by

Karen Boston

Website https://bit.ly/2rJDq3f

Cover art by

Charley Brindley

© 2019

All rights reserved

© 2019 Charley Brindley, all rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

First Edition February 2019

This book is dedicated to

Avery, Dylan, Jylynn and John Pipkins

Some of Charley Brindley’s books

have been translated into:

Italian

Spanish

Portuguese

French

Dutch

Turkish

Chinese

Ukrainian

Hungarian

and

Russian

The following books are available in audio format:

Raji, Book One (in English)

Do Not Resuscitate (in English)

The Last Mission of the Seventh Cavalry (in English)

Hannibal’s Elephant Girl, Book One (in Russian)

Henry IX (in Italian)

Other books by Charley Brindley

1. Oxana’s Pit

2. Raji Book One: Octavia Pompeii

3. Raji Book Three: Dire Kawa

4. Raji Book Four: The House of the West Wind

5. The Last Mission of the Seventh Cavalry

6. Hannibal’s Elephant Girl Book One: Tin Tin Ban Sunia

7. Hannibal’s Elephant Girl: Book Two: Voyage to Iberia

8. Cian

9. Ariion XXIII

10. The Last Seat on the Hindenburg

11. Dragonfly vs Monarch: Book One

12. Dragonfly vs Monarch: Book Two

13. The Sea of Tranquility 2.0 Book One: Exploration

14. The Sea of Tranquility 2.0 Book Two: Invasion

15. The Sea of Tranquility 2.0 Book Three:

16. The Sea of Tranquility 2.0 Book Four: The Republic

17. The Rod of God, Book One

18. Sea of Sorrows, Book Two of The Rod of God

19. Do Not Resuscitate

20. Henry IX

21. Qubit’s Incubator

Coming Soon

22. Dragonfly vs Monarch: Book Three

23. The Journey to Valdacia

24. Still Waters Run Deep

25. Ms Machiavelli

26. Ariion XXIX

27. The Last Mission of the Seventh Cavalry Book 2

28. Hannibal’s Elephant Girl, Book Three

See the end of the book for details about the other books

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter One

I stood on the stage with the other forty-nine cadets and wiped my cheeks with shaking fingers as I watched Fuse. He stood beside his mother in the third row of the audience. Everyone in the auditorium applauded the new junior class.

I should not be up here. I took his place at the academy, and I had no right to do that.

I glanced around at my fellow students and saw there were forty-eight boys and one other girl; Elizabeth Keesler. She stood next to me, gripping my hand tight.

Eight girls were among the 250 students present on the first day of competition, but by the end of the week, only Liz and I had made it through to the top fifty. Vincent Fusilier–or ‘Fuse,’ as his friends called him–had been in the competition, too, but didn’t score high enough to join the new class.

Fuse has been in school for the past nine years, and I have never spent even one hour in a classroom. How unfair is this? I shall ask Dr. Pompeii to remove me and give my place to—

My thoughts were interrupted by Dr. Octavia Pompeii returning to center stage. The audience quieted down and took their seats, then Dr. Pompeii leaned forward, placing her hands on the podium.

“Standing before you is the junior class of Octavia Pompeii Academy for the year 1926.” Her voice was surprisingly strong for a petite woman of forty-three. She waited for the wave of applause to subside, then continued. “Parents, guardians, and friends, say goodbye to your children for the next four months, because they will be hard at work until Christmas vacation.”

Through the murmurs and whispers of the audience, I heard a low whistle and knew it was Fuse. I waved to him and smiled, hoping he couldn’t see the tears streaming down my face.

“The city of Richmond donated land for this academy in 1917,” Dr. Pompeii said. “In the nine years since then, no female students have entered the junior class, so it gives me great pleasure to welcome Elizabeth Keesler and Rajiani Devaki.” She paused to look at me and Liz, then turned back to the audience. “The first women to attend our academy.”

“Did you hear that, Raji?” Liz whispered. “She called us ‘women.’”

I nodded.

“More like two wimpy girls,” someone said in a low voice from behind us.

We looked around, to our right, but saw only a dozen grinning faces, their eyes straight ahead.

“They won’t make it through the first week,” another boy whispered, from the left.

Liz and I jerked our heads that way but didn’t catch the culprit.

“I bet they run crying to Mommy before Wednesday night,” another boy said. “One of them is bawling already.”

I heard stifled giggling and looked to see who it was, but Liz stopped me. “We’ll see about that,” she whispered, “won’t we?”

“Yes,” I said, but I was resolved to tell Dr. Pompeii I wanted to give my place to Fuse. That would leave Elizabeth as the only girl to put up with the boys’ teasing and taunting. I looked at Liz.

She is strong enough. She will be able to stand up to them on her own.

Dr. Pompeii continued. “Please stand for the passing of the colors.”

She backed out of the way as three seniors decked out in their parade uniforms marched onto the stage, carrying the academy’s flags. The cadets marched in single file, with the American flag in front, followed by the Virginia flag, then the flag of Octavia Pompeii Academy. When they reached center stage, in front of the new junior class, they performed a left flank movement, resulting in the three of them standing at attention, side-by-side, facing the audience. All three preformed each move in perfect military precision. After a few seconds, as if by some silent command, they dropped the butts of their flagstaffs to the floor. So coordinated were their movements, the three thumps of the staffs upon the stage floor sounded as one. They then tilted the staffs forward and went into a parade rest position. The two cadets with the American and Virginia flags each carried wooden cases with glass tops, cradled in the crooks of their left arms.

Some whispers of approbation came from a few of the juniors behind me, but a sharp look from Miss Pompeii quieted them.

Another senior cadet marched onto the stage, passed in front of the color guard, then stood at the podium.

“Be seated, please.” The cadet said, then waited for the audience to take their seats. “I am Cadet Sergeant Benjamin Smith. The Guardians of our flags serve in exulted and highly esteemed positions within the senior class. Their duties are not only to preserve and protect our flags, but to honor them every day in raising and lowering them over our campus.” He paused for a moment before going on. “The American flag…”

Cadet Wilson, who held the American flag, turned to his right, took six steps, then lowered the staff to a forty-five degree angle so the flag hung down from the staff. Some quiet comments came from the audience when they saw the flag was tattered and stained. It was also torn and had several small, round holes.

“The flag you see is a replica of the one Cadet Wilson carries in its protective case.”

Cadet Wilson held the wooden case so the glass top faced the audience. Everyone could see the folded American flag inside.

“The reason we display a replica is because the original flag you see in the case is too precious and fragile to be handled on a daily basis.” Cadet Smith looked toward the left side of the stage. “We are honored today to have with us a soldier who has direct knowledge of this flag’s history.”

A soldier wearing the Marine dress blue uniform and a white visor cap stepped from the wings of the stage. He walked slowly, using a cane for support, but his posture was still straight and upright. It took a moment for him to reach the podium.

“Master Sergeant William Jensen,” Cadet Smith said, “United States Marine Corps.”

Sergeant Jensen received a strong round of applause, then Cadet Smith popped a snappy salute. The Marine stopped, shifted his cane to his left hand, then returned the salute. When he brought down his hand, he reached to shake hands.

Cadet Smith left the podium to Sergeant Jensen and went to stand beside Miss Pompeii. Sergeant Jensen removed his cap and placed it under his arm.

“Teufel Hunden,” he spoke into the microphone. After a pause, he repeated the phrase, “Teufel Hunden is what the Germans called us at the Battle of Bellau Wood. A rough translation is ‘Devil Dogs’. It was May 1918, just eight years ago that General John J. Pershing ordered the U.S. Marines to drive the German Army from a heavily wooded area forty-five miles west of Paris. My unit was the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines, commanded by Captain Lloyd Williams.

“On our first day in the battle, we were under heavy machine gun fire as German artillery shells landed closer and closer to our lines. We were told to hold our positions until reinforcements arrived. Then we were to take out the machine gun nests and push forward into the woods to silence the artillery. As we were digging our trenches, someone shouted, ‘Here they come!’

“We grabbed our rifles and took aim at the horde of soldiers in horizon-blue uniforms scrambling over a low ridge and running toward us through a wheat field. But before we fired a shot, Captain Williams yelled, ‘Hold your fire! They’re unarmed.’ After watching the men for a moment, he said, ‘They’re Frenchmen!’ We lowered our rifles and got out of the way of the French soldiers running through our lines and toward the rear.

“A French officer stumbled as he ran to catch up with his men. He regained his balance and shouted at Captain Williams, ‘You must retreat with us, we have been overwhelmed!’

“Captain Williams yelled at the running Frenchman’s back, ‘Retreat? Hell, we just got here!’”

Sergeant Jensen waited for the polite laughter to die down.

It was hard for me to understand all the words he spoke. Even after a year in Virginia, my English was not very good. If I could see his lips, perhaps my comprehension would be better, but I did realize he spoke of a battle during the Great War in Europe that had ended only a few years before.

“After waiting two hours for the promised reinforcements, and taking many causality from the incessant German artillery, Captain Williams climbed to the front edge of our trench and, using his binoculars, surveyed the edge of the woods on the far side of the wheat field.

“He dropped his binoculars to his chest and shouted, ‘Come on, let’s go!’

“There was a moment of silence as the Marines looked at one another. No one knows what went on in the minds of those men; I only know that I thought of the Marine motto, Esprit de corps. This has little to do with the enemy, or of Captain Williams, or even of the war. But it has everything to do with the brotherhood of the unit. The bonding of a group of men into a single force that functions as one. It was that force that made our platoon stronger than all its individuals would be acting alone. Together we could win.

“From somewhere down the line came a battle cry, then, with a resounding yell, five hundred Marines climbed out of the trenches to follow our captain into the wheat field separating us from the woods.

“Our standard-bearer carrying the Stars and Stripes was the first to go down. He was hit twice by machine gun fire. The flag fell to the ground but was immediately grabbed up by another soldier, who ran forward, leading the charge across the wheat field. Bullets ripped through the flag and chipped away at the wooden staff.

“The flag-bearer faltered and went down. The flag fell on the bloody body of another Marine. The flag was taken up by a third soldier, who shoved the staff into the ground, then went down on one knee beside the flag. He raised his Springfield rifle and opened fire on a German machine gun emplacement. The rest of us followed his lead and soon silenced the machine gun. The soldier pulled the flag staff from the ground and with a battle cry ran forward across the wheat field. The rest of us followed close behind and soon overran the machine gun nests and captured the German artillery.

“The Devil Dog Marines,” Sergeant Jensen continued, “lost more men in the Battle of Bellau Wood than in all of its previous history.

“This flag…” He paused as Cadet Wilson raised his flag staff to an upright position and stepped over beside Sergeant Jensen. Cadet Wilson then handed the wooden box over to the sergeant. “…is not just cloth and stitched thread.” He looked at the glass top of the box for a moment, then turned it for the audience to see. “It is a sacred shroud covering the spirits of the 1,811 soldiers who died at the Battle of Bellau Wood while defending the honor, duty, and freedom this flag stands for. Whosoever shall now take possession of this icon of bravery and courage will be charged with no less a solemn and serious duty than those who died so that you, all of you, may continue to live in freedom. The new guardian of this flag shall be treated with the utmost dignity and respect this corps of cadets must hold for the flag itself.”

The sergeant stepped back to allow Cadet Smith to return to the microphone.

“I will now announce the name of the cadet in the new senior class who will become the Guardian of our American flag for the class year 1926.” He unfolded a small slip of paper, then glanced around the audience. “The new Senior Cadet Guardian is Master Sergeant James Grayson.”

With a shout, Cadet Grayson stood from his place near the back of the audience and hurried down the center aisle toward the stage. He was followed by a round of applause. On stage, he stood at attention in front of Sergeant Jensen, while Cadet Smith held the microphone before the sergeant, who stared at Cadet Grayson while waiting for the audience to quiet down.

“Do you,” the sergeant said to Cadet Grayson, “swear upon your honor to uphold the tradition of respect and allegiance to this American Flag, as it has been for all your predecessors at Octavia Pompeii Academy?”

“I do, sir.”

“Do you swear to protect this relic of honor from fire and storm, placing its safety above the safety of your own life and limb?”

“I do, sir.”

“Then it is with great honor that I transfer the guardianship of the American flag to you.”

The sergeant held out the wooden case to the cadet, who took the case and, holding it against his chest, faced the audience. As the audience and junior class behind him applauded, Cadet Grayson marched over to Cadet Wilson. With a measured and precise movement, Cadet Wilson presented the flagstaff to Cadet Grayson. After the transfer, the two of them marched to the left side of the stage and faced the audience.

Cadet Benjamin Smith returned to the podium. “I would now like to introduce Calvin Hoskinson.”

A slim young man came onto the stage. He was dressed in a gray Confederate Civil War uniform. When he reached the podium, Cadet Smith shook his hand, then moved back. The flag bearer with the flag of Virginia stepped forward and lowered the flagstaff so the flag hung down from the pole.

The flag was stained and tattered and had several bullet holes. It featured the Virginia state seal, showing a female warrior with a sword in her right hand and her right foot on a prone figure representing a tyrant whose crown lay on the ground. Below the two figures was the Latin inscription Sic Semper Tyrannis; Thus Always to Tyrants. The background of the flag was deep blue.

The young man removed his cap and stepped to the podium. “My grandfather was Private Levin Hoskinson. He carried the flag of Virginia into the battle of First Manassas on July 21st, 1861. His unit was called Virginia’s First Brigade, but after the battle it was renamed the Stonewall Brigade, in honor of its commander, General Stonewall Jackson.

“General Jackson received his famous nickname during the height of the battle, when the Confederates were losing ground. Brigadier General Barnard Elliott Bee, whose unit, the Third Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, was on General Jackson’s left flank, shouted, ‘There’s Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!’

“General Bee died the day after Manassas of wounds he received during the battle, but Stonewall Jackson and his brigade led the assault that turned the tide at Manassas and eventually gave the Confederate Army their first victory of the war. General Jackson’s brigade lived on to fight thirty-eight engagements in the Civil War. During the course of the conflict, over six thousand soldiers served in the Stonewall Brigade, but by the time of the surrender at Appomattox, only two hundred ragged and defeated men were left.”

Calvin Hoskinson paused to allow the audience time to think about the battle and war. After a moment, he continued.

“Private Lavin Hoskinson died on that bloody afternoon of July 21st, 1861. He was nineteen, a year older than I am today.

“My grandfather died at Manassas, but his flag…” he looked at the Virginia Flag Bearer as the cadet held the glass-topped case for the audience to see the old flag inside, “…his flag is here today, and I am honored to have been chosen to transfer the guardianship of this precious relic of our heroic past to a new cadet Guardian.”

Calvin waited for the applause to subside, then stepped away so Cadet Smith could take the podium.

“The new Guardian for the Virginia flag is…” he unfolded a white sheet of paper, “Cadet Corporal Fletcher Slaymaker.”

With a shout, Cadet Slaymaker jumped from his seat between his parents and hurried down the center aisle toward the stage.

The audience applauded as he ran down the aisle.

After the Virginia flag was transferred to the care of Cadet Slaymaker, he joined the American Flag Guardian, while Calvin Hoskinson stepped over beside Marine Sergeant Jensen. The two of them shook hands, then Miss Octavia Pompeii took the podium.

“The flag of Octavia Pompeii Academy is not a relic, but it is treated with the same degree of honor and respect as the American and Virginia battle flags. Let us hope that our flag is never carried into battle, except on the fields of competition in tennis and chess.” She waited for the audience to quiet down. “And we DID conquer on those fields of battle, didn’t we, seniors?”

This raised a cheer from the cadet seniors in the audience.

“And we will again this year…” she looked toward us, “won’t we, juniors?”

We cheered, not knowing exactly what we were cheering for. Were we to compete with other schools in tennis and chess? I wasn’t very keen on competition, but apparently the boys were.

“The new Guardian,” Miss Pompeii said, “for the flag of Octavia Pompeii Academy is…” She unfolded the sheet of paper, and a look of surprise came over her face, as if it were someone totally unexpected. She then smiled with pleasure as she read the name, “Cadet Corporal Colt Handford.”

Cadet Handford ran down the aisle and leapt to the stage. He accepted Miss Pompeii’s vigorous handshake, then stood at attention to take possession of the academy flag. After that, he took his place with the other two Flag Guardians and smiled broadly as the audience voiced their approval.

Chapter Two

“Can you keep still, Keesler?” Pepper said to Liz as she pinned up the hem of the uniform skirt.

Pepper was secretary to Dr. Pompeii. She was twenty-two, Liz was sixteen, and I, fourteen.

“I’m afraid of heights,” Liz said. She winked at me.

I sat on my bed, watching Liz where she stood on a wooden chair, while Pepper Darling adjusted the length of her skirt. “Miss Pepper,” I said, “I must need talk with Dr. Pompeii.”

“Why?” Pepper took another straight pin from between her red-painted lips.

My thoughts were always in Hindi, but I spoke in English, most of the time. “I want give my place for Fuse.”

Liz and Pepper stared at me.

It was the morning after the introduction on the stage and the flag transfers to the new Guardians. I had spent a sleepless night in the girls’ dormitory room, where Liz and I shared the four-person quarters.

“You can’t.” Pepper slipped a pin into the bottom edge of the ankle-length khaki skirt.

“You’re kidding,” Liz said, “aren’t you, Raji?”

“No, I am not belonging here.”

“You’re right about that,” Pepper said. “Turn around, Keesler.”

Liz looked over her shoulder and down at Pepper. “She has as much right as anyone else.” Liz was tall and slim, with curly auburn hair falling halfway down her back.

“Maybe,” Pepper said, “but being a chess whiz won’t get her through the first six-weeks exams.”

“Says who?”

Pepper glared up at her. “Have you seen Devaki’s school transcript?”

“No.”

“Neither have I. You know why?”

Liz shook her head.

“Because she doesn’t have one. I don’t think the girl has ever been to school. Get down so we can see how your jacket fits.”

“She went to school in India.” Liz stepped down from the chair and slipped into the jacket Pepper held for her. “Probably they don’t even have transcripts there.”

Pepper glanced at me, raising an eyebrow.

“She is true, Liz. I have not never been in school.”

“In that case,” Liz said, “how did you get invited to the competition?”

“This is the strange thing I am not understanding anyway. Until that moment when Dr. Pompeii say my name and give number for the competition, I am not even knowing this happen to me.”

“How about it, Pepper?” Liz said. “I thought it was good grades in school that got us invited to compete for the academy.”

“Yeah, that or…” Pepper lifted the padded shoulders of the jacket and looked at Liz’s hands. “You want the cuffs below your wrists, like that?”

Liz shook out her sleeves and looked down, then reached to pull up her left cuff a half-inch. “Right there.”

Pepper rolled the cuff under to pin it. “Or exceptional intellectual ability,” she finished her thought.

Liz’s jacket was a royal blue blazer with a coat-of-arms embroidered on the left breast pocket. The crest consisted of crossed tennis racquets behind a knight chess piece. White blouses and yellow ties, along with high-top black shoes and our khaki skirts would complete our uniforms. The colors and style were identical to the boys’ uniforms, consisting of jackets and trousers.

“What is meaning of this thing you said, Miss Pepper?” I asked.

“Smarts, I guess,” Pepper said.

Liz grinned at me.

“Put your skirt on, Devaki,” Pepper said, “so I can pin it up.”

“But why to bother? I will not need uniform.”

“I’m just following orders. ‘Pin up their uniforms for the seamstress,’ Dr. Pompeii told me, so I’m pinning up the uniforms. If yours is to hang unused in the closet for another year, so what? Besides, you can’t give your place to anyone.”

“It is my place. Why cannot I give it?”

“If you drop out, Dr. Pompeii will replace you with one of the four alternates.”

“Is Fuse one of these alternates?”

“That’s classified information.”

“What is this you are saying?”

“It’s a secret,” Liz said. She removed her jacket, being careful of the straight pins.

“But you know about this secret, Miss Pepper?”

Pepper nodded.

“Why not you tell me?”

“Well, then it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? Hurry up with your skirt, I’ve got about fifty reports to typewrite.”

I removed my red and green sari, laid it on the bed, straightened my slip, then stepped into the long skirt. I held it at the waistband to keep it from falling from my hips.

“You skinny little thing,” Pepper said, folding a large tuck at my waist.

* * * * *

I sat at my desk in the girls’ dormitory room, staring out the window into the early morning fog. I had a deep feeling of uneasiness, as if I should be somewhere else.

That morning when Fuse and I climbed to the top of the silo and watched the sunrise over Caroline Bell Crest...

A breath of wind swirled the fog into wispy shapes outside my window, but then it settled down like a thick, wet blanket.

Only a memory now…so far away, but still the sweetest one...

“Hey, dreamer-girl,” Liz said from her bed, where she sat, pulling on her stockings. “You’ve got that look again.”

I glanced at my roommate. “I know.”

“You better hurry up if we’re going to get some pancakes before the boys gobble them all up.”

“I not very hungry.”

“But I am, and you know how I would hate dining alone with ninety-eight juvenile boys.”

One hundred teens made up the student body at the academy—fifty juniors and fifty seniors.

“Juvenile?”

“Dopey, sappy, idiotic, inane…”

“You think Fuse juvenile?”

Liz sighed and stood to slip her dress over her head. She soothed out the pale blue linen, then straightened the bodice “No, Raji. I think Fuse is a prince.” She turned her back to me, holding the ends of the fabric belt out behind her. Our school uniforms had not yet come back from the seamstress.

I took the belt and pulled it tight, tying it in a large bow.

“He’s sweet, adorable, intelligent,” Liz said, “and…let me see…what else did you tell me?”

“Bright, handsome…”

“Yes, all that.” Liz took another dress from her closet and tossed it to me. “Let me ask you this; if he’s so brilliant, why was he not in the top fifty after the competition?”

“Rodger Kavanagh beat Fuse in tennis.” I held up the tailor-made dress by the shoulders, thinking how beautiful it was. “And chess also.”

“Kavanagh didn’t take Fuse’s place. Kavanagh beat the pooh-pooh out of everyone–except you–in chess.”

“You let me wear your nice dress this day?” I stood to hold it to my body while kicking out my right foot to admire the colorful material.

“Sure, if you’ll wear it to the mess hall and watch me eat a stack of pancakes.”

I smiled and lifted the hem of my pink nightgown to pull it over my head. I then tossed the nightgown on my bed and stepped into the dress. “I sorry, Liz, but I miss him so much.” I pulled my waist-length hair from the collar and reached behind my neck to button the dress.

“I miss my puppy dog, too, but there comes a time when you have to let go.” Liz took her hairbrush from the dresser.

“Why?”

She began to brush my hair. “Because I would rather learn the finer points of anatomy than lie by the fire all day with a smelly dog licking my face.” She glanced at my hair.“Your hair is really long. Have you ever cut it?”

“Sometimes I wonder.”

“About a haircut or a smelly dog?”

I laughed.

“That’s better.” She dropped the brush on her unmade bed. “Now, let’s go hit the mess hall and see how many stupid wisecracks we can stand before we scream bloody murder.”

* * * * *

I watched Liz step over a bench in the mess hall in a very unladylike manner as I glanced around for an empty place at the long table.

“Appleby,” she said as she set her tray on the table, “do you have to play chess while we’re eating?”

Clayton Appleby, a junior, looked at Liz as she sat next to him. “Hey, Keesler.” He licked maple syrup from his fingers and picked up his black knight. “Do you have to eat while we’re playing chess?”

I took the seat across the table from Liz, keeping my knees together as I scooted onto the bench. I smiled a greeting to Clayton, then looked at the chessboard. I shook my head ever so slightly as I reached for my knife and fork.

Clayton put his knight back where it was. Andrew Hobbs looked from Clayton to me, then back again. “Come on, Devaki. I would have checkmated him in three moves.”

Liz stifled a giggle and reached for the butter dish. “Hobbs,” she said as she spread butter on her pancakes, “you couldn’t checkmate a moo cow.” She handed the butter to me.

Andrew looked at Liz, then at the pawn Clayton had shoved forward. “I’m sorry, Keesler,” Andrew said as he took the pawn with his bishop. “I guess you heard the senior boys calling you a cow.”

Someone down the table mooed, and Liz leaned forward to glare at him. “Well, at least they don’t call me a Chess Nut.” She took a bite of dripping pancake.

“Hey, waiter,” Clayton said, “more syrup here.” He held up the empty carafe.

“Yes, sir,” said the senior student on serving duty. He wore a long white apron over his school uniform. “Anything you say, sir.”

He came along the aisle behind the benches and pushed his way between me and Andrew. As I leaned away from him, the senior poured warm maple syrup from his large pitcher into the smaller one in Clayton’s hand.

I had just taken my first bite when another senior at the table behind me clinked his fork on an empty glass. “Hey, waiter,” the student said. “I need more milk.”

The senior at my side looked at the other student, while still pouring syrup and leaving a trail across the white tablecloth and onto my plate. I saw the syrup overflowing my plate and reached to pull it away. Meanwhile, the senior pretended not to notice anything wrong.

“I’ll be right there, sir.”

He continued to spill the warm, sticky liquid across my plate, then into my lap. I cried out and pushed away the syrup pitcher.

“Hey,” the senior said as he dumped the rest of the syrup on my chest. “You hit my arm.” He raised his voice. “Now look what you’ve done.”

“I did not!” I shouted, jumping up. I grabbed a linen napkin and tried to wipe the syrup away, but I felt it soaking through to my skin. “Why you do this thing to me?”

“Blockhead,” Liz said to the senior. “You did that on purpose.”

Haskell Layzard, a junior, laughed. “What’s the matter, Devaki? Have a little accident?”

The senior with the empty milk glass laughed, then several others followed suit—laughing and pointing at me as I dabbed at the sticky liquid.

The senior on serving duty grinned like a fat Cheshire cat as he watched the syrup run down my dress, all the way to the floor.

“Look at Devaki, the Shavetail Dizzy,” another senior said, “she’s about to cry.”

“Wah, wah, wah. I want my mamma,” another cadet said, then laughed.

At that moment, I heard the shrill sound of a police whistle and thought someone was coming to reprimand the senior for making such a mess. Everyone looked toward the side door of the mess hall, where a large woman stood with her arms folded and feet spread apart. She wore the school uniform of blue and tan. The shiny whistle dropped from her lips, then dangled on a chain around her neck.

“Five minutes!” she shouted.

The senior with the now-empty syrup pitcher hurried toward the kitchen, while all the other seniors grabbed their trays and left the tables. They lined up to dump their scraps into a large garbage can. After cleaning off their plates, they placed the trays and dishes on the counter of a long window opening into the kitchen area. Workers removed the dirty trays as fast as they piled up, while more student-workers began clearing away the remaining food from the serving line.

“Why the hurry?” Clayton asked as he watched the seniors file out the side door.

“Probably heading for class,” Andrew said.

“Liz,” I said. “This nice dress you loan me, now ruined.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll wash out,” Liz said. “I think we better go.”

The two of us took our trays and left the table to stand in line with the other juniors, where we slowly worked our way up to the window to leave the food trays on the counter. It seemed as soon as all the seniors left the mess hall, the clearing of the counter came to a standstill, forcing all the juniors to wait for a place to pile their trays.

“Why those students in kitchen?” I continued to wipe my dress with the napkin, with little effect.

“Maybe they earn extra money that way,” Liz said.

“They look not so happy.”

“Come on, we have to go find our first class.”

Liz and I joined the queue of students going out the side door where the large woman stood. She kept her eyes on a wallclock to her left. When we reached the door, the woman handed me a slip of pink paper.

“Thank you.” I looked at the piece of paper.

“Name?” The woman poised a yellow pencil over her clipboard.

“Rajiani Devaki.”

“What’s this?” Liz asked when the woman handed her a pink slip.

“You’re late.”

The woman was of normal height, but her legs were too long, giving her an odd appearance with her short torso and thick neck. If her jacket had been black, she would resemble a long-legged penguin.

“What’s your name?”

“A demerit?!” Liz exclaimed. “Why?”

“I said, you’re late. Now give me your name and move along before you get another one for insubordination.”

“Elizabeth Keesler,” Liz mumbled.

“Why we get demerits?” I asked Liz as we left the mess hall.

“Ten seconds after eight.” Liz glared at her pink slip. “That old battleaxe gave us demerits for being ten seconds late leaving the mess hall. How ridiculous.”

“We must find our first class,” I said.

“Yeah, English, but we need our tablets and pencils.”

Liz led the way back to the Admin Building, where our dorm room was located.

“And I need change dress.”

When we stepped into our room, I saw three slips of pink paper on my bed.

Chapter Three

The Hotel Belvedere stood like a tattered brick tombstone in a graveyard of tumbledown buildings alongside the murky river in Richmond, Virginia.

In a vacant lot next to the four-story hotel lay a collection of reclaimed bedsteads, iron tractor wheels, pot-bellied stoves, and a wide assortment of rusting and rotting fragments of civilization. To the other side of the hotel was a boarded-up factory that once produced pulley blocks and ship rigging for the American Navy. The faint white-painted lettering, “Richmond Block Mill,” was still visible on the clapboard wall of the deteriorating building.

A man wearing a shiny blue suit and black felt hat stood on the cracked cement steps of the hotel, surveying the neighborhood with a satisfied expression. He took two more steps up and turned to gaze across the James River toward the mansions mounted on the wooded bluff, like so many sparkling diamonds on a fat dowager’s necklace. He shaded his eyes to get a better look at one particular home standing out like the center stone in a string of glittering jewels.

The dark young man removed his hat and studied it with disdain, perhaps thinking of the comfortable turban he had left behind. He then climbed the final steps with his hat in his hand and entered the musky hotel lobby.

At the desk, he hesitated a moment before signing the register, then wrote a name with careful, deliberate penmanship.

William Fortescue, the desk clerk who was also the janitor, bellhop, and owner of the Hotel Belvedere, read the name on the register, then glanced at the young man.

The man smiled.

“Where’s your luggage, Mr. Albert Manchester?”

Mr. Manchester stared at the clerk for a long time, as if trying to understand something.

“Bags,” Fortescue said. “Where are your bags?”

“Ah, I am seeing your words in clarity now. Bags to be deposited in near hours by native porter.”

Fortescue looked the man over, trying to figure out his ancestry. “Native porter?”

Mr. Manchester nodded.

“Fine, then. Two-fifty for the night, or ten dollars for a week.”

“Two nights must be the extend of my deliverance.” He took a large fold of banknotes from his front trousers pocket, peeled off a one-dollar bill, and handed it over.

Mr. Fortescue took the dollar bill and smoothed it out on the countertop. “Am I to assume you plan to pay for your room ten hours at a time?”

“I wish for purchase two nights, including one day also.”

“You want me to take five dollars from this single?”

Mr. Manchester reached to straighten his thick black hair, then scratched his cheek. “This money denominations are not at all clear to me.” He took a ten-dollar bill from the wad and handed it to the clerk.

Mr. Fortescue smiled, returned the one dollar bill, then made change from the ten.

The new guest placed a dime on the counter and put away his folding money.

The clerk glared at the dime for a moment before picking it up. “Supper promptly at seven o’clock.”

“Yes, sir. I am in complete understand. And now, if it is convenient for one to direct us to telegrapher’s orifice.”

Fortescue grinned at the man’s butchering of the English language. “Two blocks down,” he jerked his head to the left, “then across the railroad tracks.”

“Thanks to you, sir.”

He left the hotel, walked briskly to the telegraph office, and sent the following message to a Mr. Parjeet Kartoom in Queens, New York:

Inquired object sighted. Await instruction for disposition of same.

AM

Chapter Four

Fuse stood on top of the silo, watching the sunrise over Caroline Bell Crest. The forested ridge was three miles east of the Fusilier farm in Appomattox County, Virginia.

Not as pretty as it used to be. He gazed to the north. She’s only a hundred miles away, but it might as well be ten thousand.

He climbed down the ladder and began his morning chores; the work he and Raji used to do together. Ransom, the miniature horse, tagged along, but he didn’t prance around and whinny as he did before. He only went through the motions, just as Fuse did. When Fuse scattered feed for the chickens, Ransom sniffed at the pile of hay, just inside the barn door, then lay down, ignoring the two barn cats circling around behind him.

“You miss her, too, don’t you, Handsome Ransom?” Fuse dumped the last of the chicken feed from his bucket, then hung it on a wooden peg. “Let’s go see how Cleopatra and Alexander are doing.”

The little horse sighed deeply and dropped his chin to the hay.

Fuse swung the barn’s side door open and began raking out the huge stall where the Percherons Cleopatra and Alexander spent the night.

“Move over, Alex,” Fuse said as he pushed against the horse’s hindquarters.

Alexander stared at Fuse for a moment, then went outside. Cleopatra followed him.

Everything would have been done by now if Raji were here.

Fuse finished raking out the stall, then spread a fresh layer of straw on the ground. As he carried a bucketful of cracked corn to the pigs, his mother called to him from the back porch.

“Vincent, breakfast is ready.”

“Okay, Mom.”

He dumped the corn in the pigs’ trough, then hung the bucker over a post.

I’ll milk the cows after breakfast.

There was no rush to finish the work around the farm now that he was out of school. After the intensity of last week’s competition at the academy, the menial tasks of farm work seemed boring and useless.

Is this what remains of my life? Feeding hogs and mucking out horse stalls?

Fuse had graduated from high school the previous spring and thought of nothing other than going to Octavia Pompeii Academy. Now that dream was gone and he had no plans at all for the future. He could probably go to college somewhere, but it wouldn’t be the school he wanted.

Fuse walked through the barn, toward the back. He paused beside the Model T Ford to kick a flat tire.

There’s another problem I’ll have to take care of.

In the back part of the barn, in the blacksmith shop, he found their farm hand.

“Mr. Cramer,” Fuse said. “How about some breakfast?”

“Ah, the magic word, my friend,” Mr. Cramer said, “breakfast.” He sat aside the leather harness he worked on and stood to brush the dirt from his faded gray overalls. “How are you this morning, Vincent?”

“Fine.”

Mr. Cramer looked at him and narrowed his eyes. “What do you suppose Mrs. Fusilier is giving us for breakfast?” He poured water into the washbasin from an oaken bucket.

“Who knows?”

Mr. Cramer washed his face, then reached for a towel hanging from a hook. He dried his face and hands, then hung the towel back in its place.

“This old farm’s not the same without her, is it?”

Fuse shook his head and left the room.

Chapter Five

Our last class of the day was Geography. Mr. Lampright, the instructor, asked a question.

“Name a double landlocked country in Europe.”

Three hands went up, one of which belonged to Liz.

I had no idea what was meant by ‘landlocked,’ so I wrote it in my notes for research in the library that evening. I already had a long list of items to research.

Mr. Lampright looked around the classroom until his eyes fell on me.

Oh, no. Please don’t ask me.

While still staring at me, the instructor said, “Elmer Harkey.”

What a relief.

“Um…I-I,” Elmer stammered. “Uh…Germany?”

“Wrong, Mr. Harkey. Germany has the port of Hamburg on the North Sea, among others. Miss Keesler, do you think you know the answer?”

“Liechtenstein.”

“Correct. Liechtenstein is bordered by Switzerland and Austria, neither of which has a seaport.”

Elmer Harkey glared at Liz, then crossed eyes and wobbled his head.

“Now, Cadet Harkey,” Mr. Lampright said, “a chance to redeem yourself. Where is Lake Baikal?”

“Africa,” Elmer Harkey answered right away.

“No. Anyone?”

Several hands when up. After a moment, I raised mine. I was fairly certain I knew where it was, and I felt it was important that I participate as much as possible, if for no other reason than it would force me to work harder in my studies.

Mr. Lampright smiled. “Cadet Devaki.”

“I believe it to be in Siberia.”

“Good, Devaki. Now, let us move on to discuss the Himalayan Mountain Range. And remember, tomorrow everyone should be prepared to answer questions from chapters three and four.”

* * * * *

The next day, after the midday meal, Liz and I played chess. Before we knew it, the hour was over and we had to hurry to get our History books and run to class.

We arrived two minutes late. Mr. von Hoffbrau wrote out the pink slips, giving us one demerit each as he continued his lecture on the Second Punic War.

I tried hard to understand what the instructor talked about, but not only did he speak too rapidly for me to keep up, he also had a heavy accent. The only thing I understood clearly was that the reading assignment was chapters one through three, because he wrote that information on the blackboard.

* * * * *

In our Science class, Mr. Alfred Simpalus wrote his name on the blackboard, then faced us.

“The best way to learn science,” Mr. Simpalus said, “is to experience it firsthand. We will not dissect frogs, but we will watch them to see how they get their food, how they grow, and how they reproduce. You will notice there are no glass containers or cages in this classroom. That’s because we won’t be watching the frogs in captivity. We will observe them in their own habitat. That habitat is the pond below the barn and corral.”

Some whispering emerged as the instructor paced back and forth in front of us.

“Yes, we have a barn, corral, and a pond, as well as a small forest of loblolly pine and sycamore, along with a one-acre garden. Those places are just a short walk behind Hannibal House. Tomorrow, this class will meet in the barn, where you will be introduced to the two horses, four cows, five sheep, two dozen chickens, and one donkey. You will also meet Mr. Frazer, our caretaker. The junior class will be required to assist Mr. Frazer in his duties.”

A few groans came from the back of the room.

“You will muck out stalls, hoe the garden, prune the trees, and milk the cows, as well as gather eggs for the cooks. And you will pay attention to Mr. Frazer, because some of the things he tells you may be on the six-weeks exam. Tomorrow, you will receive a schedule of your assigned days and times to report to Mr. Frazer.”

* * * * *

That evening in the mess hall, all but five of the juniors had a collection of pink demerit slips.

“Why do they give us these stupid demerits anyway?” Liz asked as she spooned brown gravy onto her mashed potatoes.

One of the juniors at the table behind us spoke in a whiny sing-song tone. “Why do they give us these stupid demerits anyway?” His pals laughed. “Boo-hoo.” He rubbed his fists into his eyes. “I want my mommy.”

More laughter.

I glared at the junior. “Elmer Harkey, why you not hush it?”

Silence reigned for a few seconds, then a senior mocked me in a shrill, wimpy voice, “Raji Dovehecky, why you not hush it?”

The other boys laughed.

“Pay them no attention,” Liz said. “They’re just suffering from a collective inferiority complex.”

“Oh, Reynolds,” Harkey said, “I never knew you collected infidelity complexion.”

“Very funny,” Liz said and went back to her supper.

“Hey, Balboni,” a senior shouted. “What happens when a Shavetail Dizzy gets ten demerits?”

“Why, didn’t you know?” Balboni said. “They get a week of KP.”

“A week on KP,” Reynolds said. “What fun.”

He stood, picked up his tray, and started for the garbage can to dump his leftovers. Several other seniors followed.

Hobbs, sitting next to Liz, leaned close to her. “What’s KP?”

“I have no idea.”

“Kitchen Patrol,” Clayton said. He was seated beside me, on the opposite side from Liz.

Liz leaned forward to see Clayton. “What do you do on Kitchen Patrol?” she asked.

“Help the cooks, wash pots and pans, wait on the other students. You see those guys through the window in the kitchen?”

The other three of us looked that way, then back at Clayton.

“After the mess hall clears out, they have to clean the whole place and wash the dishes.”

“In the mornings,” I asked, “how they then get to class by start time?”

“They can be late to their first class, but they have to find out what they missed from the other students.”