Pearl and Coral Parkesson have graduated from their infamous
English Public School in the sultry Summer of 1937.
They are joyously preparing for their journey to their new school,
The Songmark Aeronautical Boarding School for Young Ladies.
Unfortunately, their traveling swag seems to be missing....
Share and Share Alike
by Simon Barber
Pearl and Coral Parkesson
prepare to travel to their new school on Spontoon Island.
But, first, they have to recover their funds.
Share and Share Alike
by Simon Barber
fell on Saint T’s School for Gifted Young Ladies, as its
shell-scarred signpost on the main road optimistically described it.
In most outwardly similar establishments, that would be a time for
dutifully finishing off one’s ‘prep’ * for the coming day,
having jolly chats about the prospects for the coming lacrosse
matches and then retiring to bed at nine sharp to sleep the sleep of
“Roll ‘em! Snake-eyes!” Charlene so-called Jackson rattled a pair of dice as she stood in as croupier in the games room for the nightly craps session. Around her, two dozen girls threw various piles of currency onto the table. “Come on bones! Let’s see those lucky sevens! Mama wants a new dress!” The canine’s long tail thrashed in excitement.
Watching her from outside the room were Coral and Pearl Parkesson, stood on each side of Maude like destroyers supporting a ponderous battleship. They looked up, taking in Maude’s expression.
I know how the Barx Brothers must feel, with that glum dowager whats-her-name, Coral thought, hiding a grin. It’s endless amusement to have a straight-arrow type to play up against. Dipso, Wino and Blotto Barx have fun with her and she doesn’t even know it. The image of the comic trio’s jokes soaring high over their counterpoint’s head like a shell from a Paris Cannon sprang gleefully to mind.
“Charlene’s showing our friends how respectable country society in Tennessee spend the long winter evenings,” Pearl explained cheerfully. “We used to play Ludo or Halma, but we’re always open to new ideas.”
“We used to play Snap, but our Headmistress declared it was ‘too exciting’ for us. Shame.” Coral’s whiskers drooped realistically. Then they perked up; Three-card Stud and Texas ‘hold-em’ Poker were better games anyway, though the third-year ‘Drop-em-on-the-floor’ Poker variant had yet to catch on widely.
“I see.” Maude scratched between her horns thoughtfully. “Are they’re betting real money on that?”
“Oh, well. Not all of its real money, exactly. And some of it is for charities, like our sister Beryl runs.” Coral reassured her. The medical charity supporting long-term rabies sufferers (it faithfully promised to pay out generous sums to anyone officially diagnosed suffering the disease for more than a year) was fully accredited and registered, although that was in Macao where anyone could get anything officially registered for the right price. As for not being genuine money - anyone accepting banknotes from a Saint T’s girl without giving it a microscopic scrutiny, deserved what they got. The art club was very popular, and had surprisingly sophisticated printing presses that did not only turn out the school magazine.
“I see. But not everyone is infected by – I mean involved with gambling, surely?” Maude asked.
“Of course not.” By good chance Coral spotted an impeccably dressed and groomed Arctic fox girl walking down the corridor, a scornful sneer on her narrow muzzle at the sounds of the lively dice game in the room. “Maude – meet Trudi von Sternberg, from Hannover. Our school really does attract from a jolly wide area. We’re well-known for being famous.”
“Trudi here must be about the only one with a blameless reputation – I’m sure you’ll get along famously,” Pearl explained. “Her Leader’s much impressed with our English Public Schools – he personally sent her over to get the low-down. We have such an international reputation.”
“And this place is as low-down, as you English say, as it gets.” The snow-fox tossed her head back in disdain, her blue eyes flashing.
“Pleased to meet you.” Maude offered a hefty paw. “Maude Sedgeley – I have a Missionary Vocation.” She reminded herself that just as cannibal head-hunters were officially all God’s children, since 1929 in theory it also now applied to Dastardly Huns ™.
“Ach, so?” Trudi eyed the newcomer warily. “You have come to the right place.” She shook the bovine’s paw. “I am in the League of German Maidens, a not-religious organisation.”
“She’s a bit of a Missionary herself despite that, our Trudi,” Coral offered. “Full of inspiring stories about the miracles of the New Germany.”
“If it was all true, it’d have to be a miracle,” Pearl murmured to nobody in particular.
Her sister beamed, looking up at Maude.” You’re in a choir back home, you said? Well, they’re into lots of folk singing too. They all play the lurs, it’s a kind of extra-Germanic alpenhorn. And yodel. And folk-dance.”
“Simultaneously…” her sister murmured. “For hours and hours every day… by law...” A grey mouse tail swished dreamily.
“Until the living envy the dead...” Coral finished up. “Anyway, Trudi’s full of good National Socialist virtues. At least, she says they’re virtues. She’s certainly full of something. Full to bursting.”
“Bursting… very messy business... took the cleaners ages to clean the dorm floor last time that happened, last month,” Pearl put in.
Trudi sniffed. “When you two leave for your Pacific Island, at least England will be spared a national disgrace. You will then be an International Disgrace.”
“Oh well. At least we don’t spell culture with a K. Even if dear Archbishop Crowley spells Magick with one,” Coral’s eyes twinkled with amusement.
Maude wrinkled her muzzle slightly at that name. “Not everyone approves of the… new Archbishop,” she offered. “My Uncle has a lot to say about him.”
“Ah, and there’s such a lot to say,” Pearl mused. “Champion mountain climber, first ascent of K2 in the Himalayas, solo – in fact he was so good nobody else could get high enough to even see him do it – and he definitely climbed the chalk cliffs at Dover, which nobody else has done and lived. You evidently need Divine Intervention to do it.”
“Divine… from some part of the pantheon, one side or another…” Coral flicked her paw back and forth ambivalently.
Uncle can’t understand how he ever got the job,” Maude rumbled, a
spark of fire in her deep-set eyes.
"Fallen Angel" - (larger file here - 452 KBytes) - Art by Kjartan. New statue
set up in Trafalgar Square since Archbishop Crowley came to power.
twins looked on sympathetically, recalling reading with glee what had
been printed in the foreign press four years ago when the new head of
the Church of England was elected. The stories varied widely, but at
various times the Archbishop had agreed with all of them. *
“Anyway – Pearl and I have some packing to do. We don’t have any more Prep, this end of term.” Coral announced. “I’ll leave you to get better acquainted – I’m sure you’ve got SO much to talk about.”
With a cheerful wave, the twins left their new friend with Trudi and the nightly gambling session, with the happy air of a pyromaniac setting a sparking bonfire upwind of a badly run fireworks factory. Things were about to get interesting; it was just a matter of time.
“Right.” Ten minutes later the mouse twins had taken devious routes from the crowded, anarchic public areas of their beloved school to the crumbling wing where the classrooms and offices were carefully locked up for the night. “I think that’s got our loose cannon rolling, well enough.” Coral mused. “Maude should kick up enough of a disturbance. If she wants to practice smiting the ungodly – around here, she could hardly miss blindfold. Like blazing away with a shotgun in a packed hen-house. Jolly fun, though.”
“Why, Sister dearest,” Pearl affected a shocked tone. “And to think, you’re the nice one of us!”
“I am?” Coral rummaged in the under-armour pockets of her Saint T’s blazer, bringing out two notebooks and a slide-rule. For a minute they busily calculated, referring to the phase of the moon, the current stock market index and marking off the final result of their cross-checked sum on a three-sided graph. Coral shrugged, her chisel teeth bared in an embarrassed grin. “You’re right. At least until midnight, then you’ll have to be the nice one.”
snickered. “It’s a pity our big sister’s pal Hetty left school
last year. I suppose Trudi’s good enough to set Maude off on a
crusade... but Hetty? A missionary spotting someone trained up by
her family as an actual freelance Heresiarch, oh my.” *
“It’s a family tradition. Perfectly respectable,” her sister agreed. “Religion is always respectable.” She smiled, recalling the visiting high priestess of a sacrifice-hungry volcano god who had given the Scriptures class such an inspiring illustrated talk the term before.
“True. And quite essential to civilisation. You can hardly run a proper auto-da-fe or a pogrom without it,” Pearl mused. The fact that Ioseph Starling was doing just that and currently running a far more severe auto-da-fe than the Inquisition had ever managed was too inconvenient to be considered. Pearl never let ugly facts ruin a beautiful theory, unless of course money was involved.
The two bent to work on the lock separating the old East Wing. In a minute the nine-tumbler Bramah yielded, and they stepped through. There was a corridor ahead that was generally safe in daytime – but some of their fellow jolly classmates might already be in the East Wing for reasons of their own, and have set something to cover their tails against pursuers. They carefully left a little practical joke of their own primed to guard their retreat.
“So. That’s all clear.” Pearl finished sweeping the corridor with a long and mostly stripped ostrich plume, the fine tip of its remaining strands sensitive enough to bend and indicate the finest fishing-line tripwire without triggering whatever it was attached to. “Now – our beloved Head’s office – third on the left.”
The twins took ten minutes getting through the next lock, a new cruciform Chubb that fortunately had been described in some detail in the April edition of Criminal World. Their headmistress, Miss Sims, knew exactly the sort of girl she had in her select academy, and tried to set them practical examinations more useful than the staid official School Certificate provided. As soon as the door opened they stepped in and stood statue-still for a minute, listening very intently.
“Ah. That’s it.” Coral reached into a large pot and unplugged the hidden Dictaphone that had been started up by the act of opening the door. She had picked out the slight tell-tale hum of its electric motor. “The fewer calling-cards we leave the better. It doesn’t always pay to advertise.”
“Mmm.” Pearl was looking critically at a big cast-iron safe in the corner of the room, her fine tail swishing. “Thinking of advertising – isn’t that just a little bit – obvious?”
“Could be,” Coral agreed. She paced around the old-fashioned, cluttered room, heavy with Edwardian bric-a-brac and confiscated souvenirs brought from many lands. Thick curtains blocked all the light of the gibbous moon outside, and their electric torches cast pale cones of vision across the furniture. “Let’s see. She sits – there. Officially.” Coral flashed her torch over to the high-backed chair behind the desk where their Headmistress would sit and exhort the occasional underachieving girl to do better or else. “Hmm. That chair’s old, but it’s not much worn. Miss Sims spends most of her time in this room – somewhere else.”
“Like here.” Pearl bent down to sniff a window-seat. “This seat’s freshly repainted, but it’s the same age as the rest of the room, which hasn’t been. Why do that? Maybe – to hide it’s worn more than the rest. Gets used more. More scent of her over here, too.”
The twins examined the window-seat with care. First checking for traps, Coral carefully sat on it. Her eyes widened. “Something moved. The weight on the seat does something.”
“Like this?” Pearl’s gloved finger tapped the protruding core of what looked like a natural knot in the wooden panelling behind her sister’s head. “It popped out when you sat down. Hang on, here goes!” She pressed the button.
“Neat!” Coral felt something click by her side. The ancient wooden plank forming the windowsill swung up like a trapdoor, revealing a deep recess below it. She shone her torch down, and was rewarded by the sight of shelves of close-packed notebooks, the school’s unofficial records clearly indexed. “I think we just hit the mother-lode!”
An hour later, Coral and Pearl carefully retraced their steps through the East Wing, disarming and taking with them the booby-traps that had covered their line of retreat. They had found the information they were looking for and committed it to memory before putting everything back exactly as it was, including the piece of white confetti lying apparently at random on top of the main index.
“I could have read through that archive all night. Knowledge is power, and all that,” Pearl sighed. “But we were stretching our luck, staying as long as we did.”
“Right.” Coral nodded. “But we got the bacon. Shame the more saleable valuables are all kept in the bank.”
They returned to the merry anarchy of the dorms, stepping through the noisy crowd just settling down as Midnight approached, unless they were in that part of the Scripture Club that preferred it for their particular kind of prayers.
“Another day, another new way to extract someone’s dollar,” Pearl yawned as they found their snug beds. Everyone in their dorm had signed a limited non-aggression pact, which at least let them sleep in relative quiet. “Tomorrow our real search begins.”
not on our side,” her sister nodded, slipping into a fine silk
pyjama-set bought in the finest costumier of the criminal quarter of
Marseilles. “Eleven days now and only what’s left of our ready
cash to use as operating expenses. After that’s gone – napoo.”
The two mice snuggled down to sleep the sleep of the just. Just what, was an interesting question.
Breakfast-time was always a lively time at Saint T’s, with those students not visibly hung-over happily and loudly taunting those who all too clearly were. This morning dawned clear and bright.
“I don’t know if you’d be interested,” Coral whispered over her ham and eggs to Charlotte so-called Jackson as that worthy sat next to her, “but we can provide the location of the school official archives. We found them last night. They’re full of all sorts of interesting material.”
“Waal, I’ll be dipped in shit!” Charlene exclaimed, her ears going right up.
“There’s not the slightest doubt about that,” Pearl nodded happily.
“Oh yes. And so very much sooner than you think,” Coral confirmed, her eyes gleaming.
The canine looked at the pair calculatingly. “I don’t suppose you’d kinda see your way free to telling me out of the goodness of your hearts?” She asked hopefully. After a few seconds of looking at a pair of stony grey-furred faces, she shrugged. “Nuthin’ ventured, an’ all that. So, what are you charging?”
Pearl gave her some-time accomplice a wide, beaming smile. “I know you’re out of ready cash – at least, the value of what this is worth,” she explained. “But we’re not asking simple cash. We’ve something we need much more, right now.”
“I don’t reckon I’m a-gonna like this,” Charlene groaned.
The twins turned to each other, and nodded. “She really MUST be Psychic.”
to be continued