Chapter 6 – Maneuvering for Advantage (Part I)

«      »

Elaine watched stoically as Frog’s class let out and a flood of students torrented past, breaking like a stream in front of her and reforming behind. They looked tired, as if worn down by the proceedings within; some of them carried sheets of green-lined scrap paper, folded neatly or crumpled in their fists, others had inky stains on their fingertips. Most of them gave her a casual glance before they moved to the left or the right, and without cease did they move. It was an experiment she played. From every door there was a place—almost a Lagrange point—that would cause people to instinctually divide around her.

All but one; that one would be Frog. Elaine held a manila folder lightly against her stomach, arms crossed, as she waited—a clue for her friend to why she stood so still waiting for the class to empty. With a case in full swing, Frog would not want to be left out of any part of the sleuthing.

A boy about her height with layered hair eyed her as he walked past, he staggered under the weight of his huge backpack, a 17-inch laptop slung under one arm with a tablet PC pressed against that. A bit much equipment for someone who’d just come out of a test, she thought to herself.

“Nice shirt,” he said.

Elaine looked down and said, “Thanks.” She’d worn her black Space Invaders shirt with the different-colored pixilated aliens ringing a table playing poker with PC Solitaire cards.

She reflected his smile back at him as the crowd pushed him out onto the sidewalk.

“Tell me you have a lead,” Frog said as she passed through the door and walked directly up to Elaine. Other people in the crowd gave the green-haired girl surprised looks as they moved to dodge around her as well as Elaine. Frog had stopped outside of the special Lagrange zone and her presence disturbed the flow of students; Elaine noted the behavior and her mind calculated where she’d need to stand to allow for Frog’s taller, space-filling frame. Mutters sparked up between several of the cliques as they walked out into the dazzling sunlight or around shadowed corners.

“How did the test go?” Elaine asked.

“You know there was a test?” Frog said, rubbing her hand across the back of her neck. Her hand came away glistening with sweat. “It was a surprise exam, I thought nobody knew.”

Elaine gestured to a piece of green-lined scrap paper poking out of one of Frog’s jeans’ pockets. “That paper is only passed out during closed-book exams,” she said. “You and other students have it in your hands. Surprise? Tough teacher.”

“You could say that,” Frog said. “Complex conformational stereoisomers, using felt pens, no erasing.” She shrugged. “Well, unless you want to lick your fingers, but that’s disgusting. Now. Lead. Yes?”

Frog eagerly reached for the folder in Elaine’s hands and took it. The crowd from the class abated as the last of the students passed them by without notice and Frog popped the folder open, scanning the contents, her brow wrinkled. The pages within listed a different set of names from the dean’s list—but they came along with two pages of blog posts about a previous cheating ring uncovered at ASU. The raised eyebrow came when she read the section of those implicated but cleared.

“You’re kidding,” Frog said. “How did you come across this?”

“Yesterday, when we met the other Darknet team, I thought that I recognized some of the people,” she said. “And from a few searches, out this tumbled. Larry Pilgrim, Casey Vargas, and Brad Wright got caught up in this cheating investigation—all of them cleared—but it still looks very suspicious. Additionally they’re all on the same Darknet team? Coincidence? I think not.”

“Not to mention,” Frog said. “Susan is Larry’s sister, and she’s on Zane’s team.”

“I considered that,” Elaine said, “but I don’t think this is going to weaken my brother’s position.”

“I don’t think they’ll want to talk to you,” Frog said with a discernable chuckle in her voice. “You did zap them yesterday. Plus, you’re working for Zane. In order to keep them from clamming up, you’re going to have to offer them something they want.”

“I know.”

“I see one more problem with your hypothesis, dear,” Frog said underlining a phrase with her thumb.

“What’s that?”

“These cheating accusations cover the College of Technology and Innovation not the College of Engineering,” she said as she tapped the paper. “Totally different departments. They’re connected by the University, sure, but what’s the chances that a cheating scam would cross both?”

Elaine shook her head and took the folder back from her friend. She took one of the pages and, turning it over, she pointed out a highlighted section on the opposite side. “It’s not the cheating itself that caught my eye,” she said, “but how the cheating happened. The people who implicated the ring didn’t find any physical evidence to support their claims. No signs of grade tampering, cheat sheets, aids, or anything similar. In fact, the reason why the students implicated were cleared seems to be that the investigation went on to suspect tampering from higher up in the scholastic hierarchy. Starting to see a similarity?”

«      »

About this entry