Chapter 6 – Maneuvering for Advantage (Part II)

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Frog started to protest and folded her arms across her chest.

“Just because the dean doesn’t know how they’re doing it, doesn’t mean that they’re not cheating through conventional means,” she stabbed a finger at the page. “I’ll concede, though, that this sure seems similar…”

Elaine lifted and squared her shoulders and sketched a practiced furtive look at Frog. It seemed strangely serendipitous that the investigation into the dean’s problems would coincide so neatly with Zane’s ARG game. She could use what she learned from the other team, based on their involvement in the cheating scandal, to bolster her intel on the enemy team. Her research so far showed that Brad Wright’s team appeared to be the biggest threat to Zane’s team (through the sheer sum academic prowess of its members) and that meant any edge she could gain on them would help.

Of course, to make this lead work out she might need to compromise some of that edge in order to obtain the information she needed. That didn’t even cover the eventuality that the other ARG team had direct connections to the College of Engineering cheating case. Then again, if they did, their unmasking would devastate their capabilities in the ARG effectively neutralizing the threat. Either way, the advantage would be hers.

“Are you in?”

“I’m in,” Frog said. “But you’ll need a plan. These guys know who we are and they’re not going to crack easy.”

“Can you help me with that?”

“Let’s go get some ice cream and I’ll think it over.”

 * * *

True to her promise the previous day, Frog had stowed a tan trench coat and a pair of wrap-around, dark sunglasses in her gym locker—she even brought a tan Trilby hat. Her green hair spilled out of the hat and across her shoulders with an animé flair. Looking at her friend when she twirled after dressing, Elaine found herself a genuine smile at how fetching the outfit made her look.

“You’re going to get hot in that,” Elaine said.

“What do you think the ice cream is for?” Frog replied, referring to the low-fat ice cream shake she’d bought inside the MU. Elaine grabbed herself a Mountain Dew float with a scoop of vanilla, which she had yet to touch; two sticks of strawberry pocky rose out of it like Martian antennae. “About your plan of attack,” she said slurping at her shake. “What you need is to determine who in the group could be considered the weakest link. I mean that both in the group of potential cheaters and the Darknet team. For all intents and purposes right now one is a subset of the other.”

Elaine pulled down her goggles and brought up a visualization of the group data—Frog’s hand on her shoulder gave her pause.

“What would you do without me?” her friend said. “You don’t need to run computations or any transformation on the information you’ve got to know who the weakest link here is. It’s Larry. Susan Pilgrim’s brother.”

“Susan was quite angry with me when we discovered he was a victim of the shock at Zane’s house,” Elaine said. “Won’t that factor in?”

“Doubtless. Still, he’s got the most to lose by talking to us. He’s already got a connection to your brother’s team and that might weaken his own team’s trust in him, his loyalties are split. Just showing up and talking to him will probably cause him enough concern for us to find some leverage. After that, it’s just a case of applying pressure.”

“You’re right, this is right out of a spy novel.”

Frog adjusted her hat so that the brim dipped slightly and she peeked over her sunglasses. Winking, she said, “Don’t you know it, babe.”

Elaine gobbled down globs of vanilla ice cream between gulps of cold Mt. Dew as she and Frog made their way across campus to the Palm Walk, a stretch of sidewalk that passed in the open air bisecting the northern part of campus—and, of course, lined on both sides with palm trees. Official records mentioned that Larry worked near there as a cashier in the small concessions area called the Oasis Café near Wexler Hall (the A Wing of the Physical Sciences Center, named after Haskell Wexler—no relation to Haskell Curry, the inventor of his eponymous programming language.)

On their way, Frog laid out the attack plan to Elaine in exacting detail. Keeping her tone hushed and her eyes roving—especially when they happened to connect with the well toned abs or backside of a particularly handsome co-ed. Elaine nodded along with the details and listened as they moved, using her memory to guide them through the most shadows and the least sunlight. Even with the diminishing temperatures with the school season, she could still feel the heat in the air.

Palm trees stood in stands along with stunted desert trees against the tan brick side of the buildings as they passed. Exactly where indicated, in the shadow of Wexler Hall, the Oasis Café waited for them with a green awning protecting a small trailer with two bored students chatting at one another in the shade. The girl’s arrival stirred both of them to their posts as Larry moved to the register and his companion—a curly haired boy with a green cap—moved to look like he’d been busy stacking cups.

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