by Rafael Henry

Chapter 17

Check mate

Robbie has turned a corner, fitness wise. It's now early May, and with the weather warming up beautifully, we are out in the fresh air much more, frolicking about the place like the pretty little nymphets we are. There are boys everywhere, all in white of an afternoon, like sheep in the fields, white blobs against a verdant green background running to and fro with balls, rackets, bats, or just running between straight lines or in vague circles; and if that fails to suit, there is always the open-air swimming pool, albeit unheated, but warm in the sunshine as we sit poolside on the grass admiring the shiny bodies ducking and diving; and boys playing with one another. All very wholesome and rather comforting. Two whole afternoons we do these things, and on Saturdays to keep us out of mischief. On Sundays we are allowed to rest, if we want to. Sundays are for rest and recuperation from the travails of the last week, and for giving thanks for all the benefits and advantages afforded to us in This Place; attendance twice in the chapel, and obligatory. But there is no rest for the wicked you might say. And in the most bleached white circles, such as ours, there is always wickedness lurking just below the surface.

'He's becoming quite the athlete Jon. In the athletics team I see.' Comments Roger, our Chaplain, during my latest meeting with him.

The situation with Otta has calmed down completely now thank goodness. Both he and Teniel have put that bad period behind them now, so a more positive aura pervades the bedtimes and mornings in Room Ten. And a mystery has been solved.

Both Robbie and Otta have been selected for the School's athletics team, and now on our morning gallops around the Perimeter Path they both wear the white tee shirt with the broad navy blue band sewn into it all around the chest. This badge of honour tells the lesser mortals exactly what they are; superior beings, leaving the likes of the rest of us in our plain white to merely follow far behind as we pound the grass between the white lines of the running track. I suppose achievements should be visually recognized. The badge of honour. A different blazer for prefects, a different tie for sporting Colours, and so on. This tells the rest of us worms that we need to aspire to ever greater achievement. Ok, so that's the system. Be good and you will in due course, some years later probably, reap your rewards.

And my chats with Roger continue apace. We cover many aspects of my school life here; from the day-to-day minutiae, comments about rule improvements, the standard of the catering, and unsurprisingly, religion. Having been confirmed as a member of the Christian Faith as part of the Established Church of England in the chapel right here, Roger is quite interested in how I'm growing up in Faith; or not. Largely I go along with it. It's easier that way. Most boys do I imagine, and it keeps people like Roger at bay. It keeps them thinking the job's going alright. All a game really. Like chess. And just to continue the chess analogy if I may, I'm about to make a move on Roger's king. The catalyst will be another mention of Otta's name. But Roger has been avoiding that kind particular discussion for a while now. Has he worked it out? Does he suspect I know?

Otta had told me what he did with his clothes; the items that caused his recent difficulties with Daniel Teniel and his acolytes.

'Under the bed in the Hut Jon. I put them in there. It was the only place I could think of. I couldn't chuck it all in the bin. Someone would have found the bag. You can open that space under the bed. Did you know?'

No I didn't, so that came as a surprise. So, predictably, I need a look myself into this aforementioned void at my earliest opportunity.

Sure enough, it's there. One of those supermarket shopping bags neatly folded over with the contents inside. I opened the bag to inspect. No wonder Daniel Teniel got excited. I hold up one item for closer inspection. I can't quite make out the writing on the label at the back; French I think. Predictably tasteful. But the bag of kit is not the only noticeable object in that void under the bed. Something small and black with a thin wire going to it, and another thin wire going right into the far corner to another small black box. The device right under the bed where our heads would be directly above; where are heads have been on a number of occasions. The object is held in place by two strips of black tape like the stuff I have seen used to keep wires or cables on floors from being kicked or moved. Later, when I met with 'I'm as gay as a large pink tent' Ewan Evans, my deepest suspicions are confirmed. Ewan reckoned it might be a listening device. Someone could have heard every word, every movement, every sound in fact, that a body or bodies on the bed might produce, depending on the activity. That is of course, if they had been listening. Time to drop the odd hint to Roger, and see what results. My chats with him are always interspersed with silences; time taken to consider what's been said and how and when to move the conversation forwards. I have to consider my first move carefully. My visits to Roger are not just conversational, but just as much about being with an adult; and some quiet time. I stretch out on the leather sofa while he works away at his desk. There are long silences between topics for discussion. Then, if I get an idea, I'll raise it.

'Otta thought he could deflect Teniel's unpleasant behaviour Sir.'

'Oh. How was that Jon?' Roger says. Looking up from the pile of papers.

'By hiding the source of ridicule. He found a place.'

'And where was that Jon?'

'In the hut Sir. Under the bed.'

'Oh goodness. That's a bit obvious isn't it?'

'Not really Sir. Apparently there's a board that comes away and there's a space inside. Quite a large space he said. A good place to hide something you don't want seen I suppose.'

'Really? I hadn't really thought.'

'Oh yes. Otta said there's loads of space under there. He had a good look Sir.'

'And what did he find? Anything?'

'Not much Sir. Just a few wires and stuff.'

'Have you looked in there Jon; yet?'

'Yes Sir.'

'Oh. And…..?'

'Nothing Sir. It's just a tiny black box thing. Why would we worry about that Sir?'

'No reason at all Jon. Best to ignore such things. I've no idea why it should be there. Intruder alarm I think it was.' He adds, looking back down at the papers.

I'm going to give Roger a chance now.

'What do you think it is Sir? Why would anyone put something like that under someone's bed Sir?'

Roger looks straight at me, his hands held together, finger touching just under his chin; as if he's praying. Then……

'Perhaps the Hut is not such a good place for you boys to use?'

'Oh I think it is Sir. It wouldn't matter Sir. You know, that there's something under the bed. An alarm won't go off will it?'

'No. I'm sure whatever it is, it is not activated. You would have heard something by now. Does this worry you Jon?'

'Of course not Sir. Not at all. Robbie doesn't know. I shan't tell him Sir. Otta doesn't know what it is either. It's just me Sir, and I think it's quite mysterious and interesting.'


Ah, time to be enigmatic.

'Yes Sir. I do think it's interesting. I think it's nice that someone else might be interested too. Is that a silly idea Sir?'

'No, not at all.'

'It wouldn't put me off Sir. Going there. Just the opposite in fact. Quite exciting actually.'

A long silence ensues. The conversation that has just taken place needs some time for absorption, does it not?

Is this Roger's little secret? Robbie's not to be aware. I don't want him to know. It has to be just between me and him . Ooh. We are going to have some fun here!

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