Sheriff Mac pulled his notepad from his shirt pocket and started making notes. He could not put his finger on it, but something did not feel right about Ms. Roundhouse. He felt sure most of what she said had been lies. Having spent his entire adult life in law enforcement, it came natural for him to question and evaluate what he saw and heard. Recalling the conversation, he wrote in his notebook Re: Rebecca (Becky) Roundhouse #1 $500 outfit, #2 Cane Lane is a dirt road — not her kind of place, #3 Trash pickup on Cane Lane is this week (odd week); not last week (2nd week).
Sheriff Mac rose to his feet as Ms. Roundhouse and Principal Lewis exited Lewis’s office. He presented a weak smile and nod of his head, saying, “Good day, Ma’am.”
Principal Lewis motioned for the sheriff saying, “Come on in, Mac.”
“Morning, Tully,” replied the sheriff as he closed the principal’s office door behind him. “How’s your day so far?”
Lewis replied, “Fine. Everything is good.” Then he took a key from his pants pocket and unlocked his desk drawer. After turning off the recorder in the side drawer he gave a quick nod to Sheriff Mac.
Sheriff Mac pulled his chair closer to Tully’s desk and reached for one of the scraps of paper cut from recycled school handouts. He wrote and passed a note with a question on it: “clean?“
“Oh, yes. The cleaning crew comes in to sweep and clean twice a day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Sheriff Mac laughed knowing that Tully’s answer was not only an answer to his question about there being listening devices, bugs, in the office but was also intended to let him know that Tully was not concerned that he often accused him of being a neat freak. The Sheriff also consistently told him he was drawing too much attention to himself because he always wore expensive suits and ties he ordered from Hermes in Paris.
“Nice tie,” said Sheriff Mac.
Tully rolled his cufflinks in their button holes and replied, “Thanks. My overalls are at the cleaners. What are you doing here this morning?”
“I’m here to pick up Raven. We’ve got a new piece of equipment I want him to take a look at. What’s the story about Ms. Roundhouse and her son Mitch? What’s going on?”
“I wanted to talk with you about that. Her son, Mitch, seems to have all the characteristics we’re looking for?”
“Even though he’s got a heavy class schedule, his teachers say he is seems to be bored and never cracks a book. They also say he scores at least in the high 90s but most often has a perfect score.”
“That’s interesting. You think he’s recruitable?”
“That’s what I was thinking so I had Phillips, you know Phillips, the chemistry teacher, add a bonus question to his last test. I had him ask the students to identify the compound with the formula C6H2(NO2)3CH3.”
Sheriff Mac stared at Tully in anticipation and questioned, “Trinitrotoluene, TNT?”
“Yes, but I think on second thought it may have been a mistake. I was following our usual routine—just trying to find the brightest students but I’m not so sure using the formula for TNT was the right choice. Now I think it was a foolish mistake because it’s highly unusual that any of our chemistry students would know that formula unless they somehow had some experience with it. He got it right, and of course, none of the other students did. He made 110 on the exam.”
“So much the better that he did know the formula. Maybe the kid has an interest in chemistry. That would be good for us. Why do you think it was a mistake?”
“Well, if he’s smart enough, and I believe he is, he may find that test question unusual too. It might have clued him in to what we’re doing.”
Sheriff Mac sat quietly for a minute, taking it all in and then said, “Sounds to me like you’re being a bit paranoid. Why in the world would you think he would find it unusual? He’s just a kid.”
The class bell rang and students walking by the glass doors just down the hall from Lewis’s office interrupted the steady flow of the bright morning sun streaming into the principle’s office. Bouncing sun beams revealed thinly dispersed dust on Lewis’s desk and with an exasperated look on his face, he opened a desk drawer and pulled out an aerosol can and dust rag.
While dusting his desk, Lewis said, “What did you find out from your talk with Ms. Roundhouse?”
“A bunch of lies. And she was dressed to the nines except for her shoes. They didn’t match— one was blue and the other was black. I thought she might have been rushed to find her clothes; maybe still packed up or something—but when I asked her if she was unpacked she said she was. I think everything she said was a lie.”
Lewis put away his cleaning supplies and said, “Me too. Calling her in was just a ruse. I called her in to tell her that Mitch had a high IQ and probably needed a more challenging curriculum than we could offer at this school. I just wanted to see what she would say to that.”
“What did she say?”
“She said the curriculum was fine, besides, she had to locate in Slokey County for a writing assignment. I asked if she could tell me anything about her assignment and she said she could not tell me who her client was but she could say that she would be researching and writing on the history of moonshining in Slokey County.”
Sheriff Mac smiled and said, “I’d like to see Miss Socialite interviewing some of the characters in these woods. That would be pretty interesting. So why do you think Mitch would find the test question strange? Like I said, he’s just a kid.”
“Mac, if I’m right we’re playing a whole new ballgame now. Don’t you see it? They’re a team, Ms. Roundhouse and Mitch. Hell, he might not even be her kid. I think they’re here doing the same thing we’re doing.”
“You mean recruiting. Recruiting for who? They wouldn’t be here recruiting for H, we’d know that. H wouldn’t send another team in without letting us know. Why send a team to the same school?”
“They’re not on our team, Mac. I think They sent them.”
“That’s insane, Lewis. How did they find out about us? We’ve been at this for years without a glitch.”
Principal Lewis noticed a shadow of dust on the clock face and again retrieved his dust rag. Wiping and blowing on the glass front, he said, “I’m pretty sure they don’t know about us—at least not yet anyway. I think they’ve come up with pretty much the same plan as H did.”
“You mean recruiting bright kids from schools?”
“Yes, but their approach is pretty ingenious—they put a kid in the school to seek out the cream of the crop. They have to have a parent or guardian in the picture. Ms. Roundhouse must be working for them.”
Sheriff Mac, bounced on his tiptoes for second and said, “Damn. That’s pretty good alright. I can see how that would work pretty good. Better than our method but you gotta admit that it’s worked pretty good all these years—you find the geniuses and I field test ‘em.”
“It was and still is a good plan but if my suspicions are correct, we’re going to have to pick up the pace. Might be time for us to have a few more races around the state—maybe Montgomery and Huntsville. What’s this new equipment you want Raven to look at?”
“It’s a new radio direction finder. Supposed to be UHF. I’m going to have Raven set up a field trial with it.”
“Sounds good,” said Principal Lewis. “See you at the game tonight?”
“Yea, I’ll be there—gonna try to bring Raven with me.”
“I’ll fill you in later if you don’t figure it out for yourself.”
“Okay,” said Lewis. He pushed a button on his intercom and said, “Ms. Hearst, find out where Raven Cane is and have him come to my office. Then tell that cleaning crew to get in here too.”