Previously: Julie got Carrie and Chartreuse to identify threats against Corry. Luci discovered that Linquist’s book wasn’t coded, it was in another language.
PART 3.13a: UNDER ATTACK 1
Frank shifted his attention from his computer monitor over towards his girlfriend, trying to parse Luci’s rushed dialogue. The bell had only just rung, signifying the end of the seventy five minute period, along with morning classes. “Uhhhh, sure,” he agreed. Luci flashed him a smile, then grabbed her things and hurried out of the room.
Actually, he had noticed Luci becoming increasingly jittery as the period had dragged on. He would have followed up on it, were it not for the text messages Julie had been sporadically sending him. Completing the log off of his computer, Frank looked over in Julie’s direction. She met his gaze with a little shrug, as if to say ‘You know what’s needed now, it’s up to you whether you act.’
In other words, putting the ball in his court. He turned away from her, so she couldn’t read his expression. He didn’t want this ball. He’d rather not have become involved in the game. However, he had apparently been drafted, and if what Julie had said was true, backing out now would not only be hurtful to her, it could have repercussions throughout the school.
Fine. So he’d at least try. For the sake of the school. Stifling a sigh, Frank made his way over to Joe’s computer, even as all the other students filed out of the room. “So, you told Mr. Burke you’d be, um, doing some extra coding over lunch?” Frank asked his business club associate. He tried to keep his tone nonchalant.
“Yeah,” Joe replied. “Still have one whole module to code.”
“Right.” Frank glanced towards Mr. Burke, but the teacher wasn’t paying any attention to them. Even so, he lowered his voice. “So this, uh, doesn’t have anything to do with striking out at Corry then?”
Joe’s head snapped over to meet Frank’s gaze. “Why?” he demanded. “What have you heard?”
“Oh! Nothing… nothing really. That is, I heard that Tommy was planning a strike against Corry, so given what you were saying back at the dance, I was wondering if you were as well.” Inwardly, Frank cursed himself. Get a grip, Dijora, or he’s going to catch on. Channel your inner improv geek.
Fortunately, Joe didn’t seem to notice any lack of finesse, more concerned with the message itself. “Tommy is, eh?” he said, frowning. “Interesting. But I doubt his plan has any intelligence, not like–”
“Not like yours?” Frank pressed as Joe stopped short. “Come on, Joe, we’ve known each other for how long now? Coat check, business club, occasional chess games? If you really are going to do something, don’t I rate a little advanced preview of your infinite wisdom?”
Joe paused for an indeterminate amount of time before turning away and clicking through directories with his mouse. Frank thought he had been given the brush off, until Joe pulled up an image on the screen and looked back at him. “What do you think?” his friend inquired, watching closely for Frank’s reaction.
Frank had to do a double take. The picture showed Julie and Corry, in a hallway of their school… not only locked in an embrace, but kissing passionately. “Holy geez,” Frank choked out. “When did they ever…???”
“Make out? Beats me,” Joe retorted with a satisfied smirk. “Maybe never. I got into the school yearbook archives and stole some candid photo shots. Damn fine photo editing work, if I do say so myself. And once I broadcast Corry’s love for Julie across our whole school network, he’ll lose all respect among his peers! Her remaining support will likely blow up at them as well. Leaving me in a position to step in.”
Frank shook his head. “But if you faked that photo…“
“Fake, real, people don’t care about that,” Joe said dismissively. “They care about the sensation. All I need to do is send this out precisely at noon, claiming I got it from an anonymous source.”
“Huh. That’s brilliant,” Frank yielded, only belatedly remembering Julie’s instructions. “You’re forgetting Tommy though,” he continued. “With both of you making moves to take out Corry today, you’ll end up in Tommy’s crosshairs. He won’t see you as an ally either, not with how you’ve included Julie in your vendetta. Going after the two most well known seniors at once? Tommy will see you as a potential threat to his own supremacy.”
There was an extended silence. “Cripes, you may be right,” Joe granted. “That said, I figured he might try something some day. I already have a doctored image that can be used to take Tommy down a peg as well!”
Frank shook his head. “Fool me twice, shame on you. You can’t use an image trick for Tommy if you once used it on Corry. People will become suspicious. All you’re doing here by going after Corry first is handing the school over to his main henchman.”
Joe looked from Frank to his computer and back. “You’re right. Damn it, you’re right!” He slammed his hand down on the computer table. Mr. Burke looked up from his desk in surprise.
“Frustrating bug,” Frank said, smiling apologetically at the teacher. Mr. Burke raised an eyebrow before returning to his grading.
“Okay, wait a minute,” Joe muttered. “If Tommy’s already in the process of taking out Corry – then all I need to do is to take out Tommy! Right? I’ll have one-upped the guy who one-upped Corry! That should give me enough support to do whatever I want! Except… damn, the image I have for him won’t let me get at Julie…”
“Well, you can deal with her any way you like once you’re on top of the social ladder,” Frank offered. Inwardly, he was relieved beyond belief that the very plan he’d been asked to feed to Joe had basically been proposed by Joe himself.
“Good point,” Joe responded grudgingly. “Yeah, I’m sure I can come up with something else there. All right, thanks buddy. I owe you one.”
“Uh, well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Frank said, smiling weakly. However Joe barely noticed, having already resumed typing on his keyboard. So, murmuring a good luck and a goodbye, Frank beat a hasty retreat out of the computer lab – and down to the drama room. Where he hoped Julie would be able to explain herself a little better.
“So he’s not going to broadcast that doctored image?”
“I don’t think so. Not yours, at least. He was focused on Tommy when I left,” Frank replied. So much for explanations, he thought ruefully. He’d been subjected to the third degree from Julie about Joe’s plans ever since his arrival.
“Okay then,” Julie said, rubbing her hands together. She finally turned away from him, to face Carrie again. “And you’re sure Tommy’s goons are going after Joe, not Corry?”
“Right,” the blonde said, frowning. “In fact, you seem to have done a damn good job of setting those two against each other. Since when was THAT the plan?”
“Irrelevant,” the brunette asserted. “The point is, with them off the board, we can finally focus on the real threat.”
“Okay, no, stop, back up,” Frank protested. “What goons? What threat? Julie, what have you been doing here?”
“I think she’s been, like, working to save Corry’s butt from people plotting against him,” volunteered Chartreuse.
Frank glanced over at the fourth occupant of the room. Chartreuse had been silent since his arrival. “Julie’s been what?” he asked. “Why?”
Chartreuse simply shrugged. It was Julie who spoke up. “Because I’m concerned about Corry,” she asserted, crossing her arms. “Moreover, I bet that he will appreciate that I’m becoming able to handle myself again, without him always needing to butt in on my behalf.”
“Enough Julie. That is an outright lie,” Carrie said, jabbing out her index finger.
Julie bristled. “I beg your pardon?!”
“Don’t give me that look!” Carrie countered. “Any fool can see you’re not concerned. You’re enjoying the hell out of this! I haven’t seen you this animated at school in months! If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were hoping that, by acting on Corry’s behalf, people will start to see you more as his equal again!”
The brunette flinched. “Carrie, stop, can’t you see? I’m trying to do the right thing here! Not for me, but for the school! How can you possibly have a problem with that??”
“Julie, I know you,” Carrie retorted. “Let’s review. Strike one was you making me tap into my abilities. Granted, when I saw Tommy down the hall from Corry, discussing a plan to sic some of his more disreputable friends on the guy at lunch, I was with you on stopping that. Acceding to your second request, going to Tommy before lunch to shift his attention away from Corry and onto Joe. Since he was not only going after Corry, but apparently you too.
“Now, in my mind, that closes the books on the entire situation. Instead, I discover that you’ve been talking to Frank! And have got this whole pit those people against each other plan! Being silent about that was strike two. And now, strike three – you’re not telling us everything about your real motivations!”
“No, Carrie, think! Chartreuse got an impression too,” Julie reminded them. “It’s Megan Falls who’s the REAL problem here!”
“But YOU never TOLD us that!” Carrie said, now almost shouting. “Besides, Chartreuse said that Megan was going after Corry. Corry, not you! You’re in the clear, Julie. Why does it matter if the cocky redhead gets knocked off his pedestal, by Megan or anyone else?”
“Uhm, yeah, hi again,” Frank interrupted, reaching out to wave his hand in between the two glaring females. “Still not totally following here… Megan who?”
“Megan Falls,” Chartreuse chirped. “Junior student, one grade back. Very musical, she, like, helped to do a lot of fundraising in the band last year. She’s the one I got a weird impression of, while trying to tap into Corry’s location via Carrie this morning.”
“Oh. That Megan,” Frank replied blankly.
Julie turned away from everybody and took in a deep breath. “Fine. Okay. Maybe I should have been more up front with you. But mark my words, we cannot underestimate Megan. While she began as simply one of my many followers, and a way to get the Catholics on my side within the school, her file in my archives kept growing. That girl is not only devious, she’s random and hard to predict! Win, lose, doesn’t seem to matter to her, she prefers to play the odds. Trust me, we cannot let her take Corry down!”
“But WHY, Julie?” Carrie asked, slamming her palm into the wall. “Why the hell not?!?”
“Because!” Julie said, turning back and slamming her own palm against the teacher’s desk. “Because in the battle between the devil we know and the devil we don’t, I choose the side of the devil we know! Because despite all his faults, Corry is at least orderly, and not really that bad of a guy in a pinch! And finally – you’re right! Okay? It DOES pain me to think that some young upstart might pull off the victory against Corry that everyone thinks I never managed to achieve! That’s why, Carrie! Are you happy now?!”
For a moment, no one spoke. “No,” Carrie said at last, in a more calm tone of voice. “I’m not happy. But I am a little more understanding, now that you’re acknowledging the truth.”
Julie stared at the blonde. And then her other hand joined her first, the brunette leaning on the desk. “Oh my God,” she realized. “I’ve been manipulating you. All of you. For my own ends. Doc Golden told me to be careful of reverting to old habits.” She bit down hard on her lower lip. “I’m sorry. Truly. I knew I was being impulsive… but it… it felt so RIGHT!”
“Julie, we’re not simply your followers here,” Carrie said, her tone becoming more sympathetic. “We’re your friends. But we won’t be for long, not unless you give us the whole story and let us decide for ourselves whether your ideas are worth pursuing.”
“But I… she…” Julie stopped and reached up to press a hand against her temples. “All right,” she decided. “All right. So let me explain the rest of my thinking. Please?”
Frank exchanged a quick glance with the others. He shrugged along with Chartreuse, and Carrie gestured at Julie. “Go ahead,” the blonde yielded.