"Guess what I've got?" Laverne waved an envelope around as the sleuths gathered around a table at Olive Garden for Friday night dinner, "Guess what I've got?"
"They'll never guess, sis," Hugo interjected, trying to snatch it out of her hand, "Just tell em."
"Well, now, wait a minute," Phoebus argued, raising an eyebrow, "Who says we won't guess?"
"I do," Hugo shot back with a grin, taking another swipe.
"Hugo," Victor lectured, "Give em a sporting chance!"
"Yeah," Quasi grinned, "I love guessing games!"
"Well," Hugo sighed, "Alright."
"VIP seats for the game tomorrow?"
"Coupons for a manicure and pedicure?"
"Gift certificates to the gas station?"
"Nope, no, no, and no," Laverne laughed, holding up her hands, "Enough now! I can't take it. Ya'll are so silly!" She opened the envelope with a flourish and withdrew her prize, "These are tickets to a Halloween-themed masquerade ball. It's next Saturday; after the game."
Frollo scowled at the two masquerade tickets in his hand, eying them as if they were poisonous snakes, "We must go and watch this ridiculous spectacle next weekend."
Sarousch's mouth twisted into a thin greedy smile, "Have you ever been to one?"
"Certainly not!" the president stiffened in horror, "But it is my duty to go to this one, so I must."
"Naturally, naturally," the intern answered, his voice silky, "I was just thinking that since we'll have to dress up, you might have a chance to get close to that cheerleader without anyone knowing that it's you."
"Yes, yes," Frollo's eyes momentarily glowed with lust, then darkened with foreboding, "But, no, I could not risk it. I am too important."
Esma dejectedly prepared for bed, tossing her comforter over the sheets without smoothing it and setting her amulet on her desk with a hard thud.
"What up?" Mattie asked, raising an eyebrow, "You thinking about your mom again?"
"Partly," the dark-haired girl responded with a sigh, "Sometimes I wonder if she's forgotten all about me—especially when I've had a crumby day."
"Of course, she's looking for you!" Mattie reassured, "You haven't looked this long and this hard to get a door slammed in your face. I'm sure of that!" Cocking her head, she added, "You didn't look like you were having a crumby day at the restaurant."
"I faked it," Esma retorted, then corrected herself, "Actually, it's just the masquerade thing that bummed me out. I was fine before that."
"What? Why? I should think that you'd love it."
"Oh, I do, but that's why I'm bummed. I can't go."
"Well, of course, you're going!"
Esma handed her a football schedule, "Where's the next game, Matt?"
"Yep," Esma sighed, "We won't be back in time. Clopin and I already gave our tickets back to Laverne. I just hope she can get a refund."
"Knowing her, she'll find someone to give them too."
"I hate it when our little team is split up during away games." Mattie muttered glumly, "It's a bit far for me to go down there next week."
"And you have to go to the masquerade for me."
"So you can play a joke on Sarousch." Esma wrinkled her nose, "He deserves it!"
Mattie giggled, "Done!"
"Guess what I'm going to do tomorrow?" Quasi bubbled with excitement when the Goyles telephoned that evening.
"Is it something daring and completely unlike you?" Hugo guessed.
Well, yeah," Quasi laughed, "I'm going to ask Esma to be my date for the masquerade!"
Ooo, uh," Victor stumbled for words, "I don't think—that is to say, maybe—"
"Geez, just tell him, Victor," Laverne broken in.
"Tell me what?"
"Next week is an away game," Hugo answered without pretense; "She and Clopin won't make it back in time to go."
"They already returned their tickets," Victor added flatly.
"We're sorry, Quasi." Laverne said.
"Why don't you ask Mattie?" Victor suggested, "She is a sweet girl."
"No," Quasi laughed, "no."
"Why not?" Hugo asked.
"She is my friend."
"So is Esma, dear," Laverne reminded him, "and a lot of times these things begin with friendship."
Just after midnight, Sarousch crept down the sidewalk towards the stadium, using the new moon darkness to his advantage as he slunk just outside the glow of the streetlamps. When he reached his destination, he took one last look around before slipping inside, chuckling softly as he closed the door.
"So you think that you're the best thing since sliced bread, Mr. President?" he murmured to himself, as he unlocked the big walking-in closet that held all the cheerleading equipment, "but you're about to find out what I can do."
Then he pulled the mascot suit off its hanger and hastily retreated, leaving the closet door wide open.
Now all he had to do was set someone up to take the fall for this dastardly little crime and he knew exactly the right person!
"So, what will you dress up as for the masquerade?" Pierre puffed, having sprinted to catch up with Phoebus as the ROTC Captain jogged down the street.
"And here I thought you were going to ask me why I was out jogging at midnight," Phoebus joked, cutting his friend a bemused look.
"That was going to be my next question."
"I'm training," Phoebus volunteered, "What about you? Why are you out running"
"I was working on a script and decided to get out and stretch my legs a little," Pierre said, "Sometimes I do my best thinking when I'm out walking."
"Ha—I've always thought the term was sleep on it."
"I thought about that," Pierre nodded, smirking, "But my legs have veto power and I didn't have enough votes to override them."
"You're body needs a new system of government," Phoebus laughed, slowing to make the exertion easier on the playwright.
"Spoken like a true dictator of the soul." Pierre retorted, "So, answer my question, what are you going as?"
"I'm not going."
"Aw, come on, man! The Goyles got our tickets!"
"I know," Phoebus reassured, "Don't worry; I gave mine back."
"What's your excuse?"
"I'm gonna go down and watch Esma cheer—the game is away."
"Well, I hope you can watch the football game too," Pierre joked.
"Ha! I hope to take her out for dinner before we head back."
"Well, I thought they all had to ride back together but, hey, if her coach lets ya do that then more power to ya."
"True," Phoebus grimaced, then suddenly skidded to a stop, pointing at the stadium, "Hey, look! What's that?"
Pierre squinted then shrugged, "Looks like we ain't the only idiots who are out this late."
"What's he's carrying?" Phoebus persisted.
Pierre squinted again, then shook his head, "Whatever college idiots carry after midnight." He started jogging again, "Come on, it's none of our business."
"True," Phoebus shrugged, then hurried to catch up.
"Esma, Mattie! Esma, Mattie!"
The girls were startled awake by frantic pounding on their door.
"What the—" Mattie sat bolt upright, blinking rapidly to clear the cobwebs from her brain.
Recognizing the voice, Esma tossed her quilt aside and bounded out of bed, sliding through the door before her blonde friend could move.
"Do you want to wake up the whole hall?" she hissed, furiously clamping her hand over Clopin's mouth, "It's 5:30, you idiot!"
He drew back, cringing at the look on her face.
"Sorry," he mumbled, "but this couldn't wait—my—my suit is missing."
"Your suit?" her voice rose an octave, "You got us up because—"
"Leprechaun," he clarified hoarsely, interrupting her, "The mascot is missing."
Her face drained of color, "What?"
"Coach found the closet hanging wide open this morning," he pleaded helplessly, "I need help, Esma; we've gotta find it before kickoff."
"At noon," she muttered, her brain whirling, "But how?"
"I don't know," he answered, "But we've got too. Imagine the scandal if—"
"No, thank you." she interrupted curtly, "Ugh!"
"Hey, what gives?" Mattie poked her head through the door, fully dressed.
Esma sighed, looking at the ceiling, wondering if they really could do anything.
"Okay," she sighed, "Clopin call the others and have them meet us over by the stadium. I need to get dressed; you two hang out here for a minute and we'll walk over together."
But as they left the dormitory a few minutes later, they didn't notice Sarousch sitting at stool, sipping coffee with a large duffel bag by his feet.
Frollo's was in a frightful mood when he stepped into his office on Saturday morning and his it didn't help matters when his telephone started ringing before he could get his coat off.
"Sarousch!" he barked, irritated that no one was there to pick it up, "Sarousch!"
"Where is that boy?" he muttered, grabbing it when he saw that it wasn't Jehan, "President Frollo at your service…"
The frantic voice of the cheerleading coach bombarded his ear and as he listened his mouth tweaked upward with a devious smile.
"My dear woman," he growled icily, when she stopped to take a breath, "I have far more important business to attend too. Please do not call me again."
"Sarousch!" he bellowed, slamming the telephone down.
"Yes sir?" the boy slid through the door, visibly out of breath after running all the way back from the dorm.
"God answers prayers, my boy," the president's tone was lofty, "I didn't have a thing ready for the football team this week, but I bet that you'll never guess—"
"That you're brother's name is really Rumpelstiltskin?" the boy taunted, a smug smile pasted to his face.
"Leave him out of this!" Frollo snarled, momentarily losing his cool.
"The Leprechaun suit is missing?" Sarousch guessed again.
"What did you say?" the older man raised an eyebrow.
"I stole it and set someone up to take the fall," Sarousch answered with a shrug, "God is not good. I am."
Frollo raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment.
"How will we ever find it before the game?" Quasi argued, folding his arms over his chest, "Kickoff is at noon!"
"Well, the scene of the crime is a good place to start!" Phoebus retorted, "Can you imagine what the papers will say if we don't?"
"We've got too look, Quasi!" Esma pleased, "We've simply got too!"
Pierre frowned, nudging Phoebus, "Hey, remember last night?"
"Oh yeah! But you don't think—?"
Well, it could have been…"
"You're right," Phoebus felt his heart sink and his blood pressure rise, "Dang, we might have stopped it!"
"What are you guys talking about?" Victor asked.
"We went for a late run last night," Pierre began, shamefully looking at the ground.
"And saw someone running away from the stadium," Phoebus continued, "He was carrying something bulky, but we didn't investigate."
"You should have," Hugo rolled his eyes, "What kind of sleuths are you anyways?"
"Enough, Hugo!" Laverne gave him a sharp look, "What did he look like?"
Pierre shrugged, twisting his mouth in thought, "Just that he was tall and skinny."
"That narrows it down." Hugo grumbled, jumping backwards before Laverne could stomp on his foot.
"And he was headed towards Dunne Hall," Phoebus added
"Maybe we ought to split up," Laverne suggested.
"Phoebus, Mattie, Pierre, and Clopin, you guys search around the stadium, in case he dropped something that might identify him. The rest of us will head over to Dunne and to see what we can find there."
"Sounds good," Phoebus forced a smile, disappointed that he wasn't in Esma's group, "Let's go, guys; we're on a tight deadline."
Sarousch slid an arm around Gudule's shoulders, guiding her up the stairs towards Esma and Mattie's room.
So, you're sure that you want to go through with this?" he asked, pretended to be concerned, "Football players and cheerleaders have a lot of pull around here. Things might go south and you could lose your job."
"There are worse things to lose." she snapped, wrinkling her nose when his breath hit her face.
"Okay," he smiled softly, "You're doing the right thing."
"Are you sure they'll get expelled?" she pressed.
"Oh course, of course," he answered, "Cheerleading equipment and uniforms stays in the stadium unless in use. Team rules, I swear." He flashed her an innocent smile.
"Now," he continued, as they came to the door, "It's under the bed. All you have to do is go in there and get it. Then be on hand whenever President Frollo calls for witnesses, understand?"
"Whatever," she muttered, eager to get on with it and get away.
Gliding over to Esma's desk, intending to stall for a few minutes, she took in the haphazard look of the unmade beds and rolled her eyes.
"What a disgrace. Today's youth don't care a thing for appearances."
Turing back to the cheerleader's desk she picked up a black magic marker and was about to spoil the girl's portrait when she saw the amulet lying forgotten in the frenzy of the early morning.
"It can't be!" she gasped, unconsciously seizing her own jewelry; she grabbed the smaller one off the desk to compare them.
"What have I done?" she moaned, her knees almost buckling, "What have I done?"
"You alright in there?" Sarousch hissed through the door, "Hurry up!"
Gudule staggered to her feet in a fright and took a frantic look around, trying to remember what she was supposed to do, "I-I-I'm alright."
"Have you found it?"
"N-no, no," she croaked, "Uh, you hid it rather well."
"I told you right where it is!" he snapped.
"Oh, right, ah, of course," she grabbed the suit and was out the door before he could say another word.
But as she descended the staircase her mind continued spinning. What was she going to do now?
It was hard enough to search for clues with the thousands of people streaming around them to get into the stadium, but when four burly campus security guards barged through the crowd and threw Mattie to the ground the boys lost their cool.
"Hey!" Pierre spun around with balled fists, pushing his way through a mini stampede that was running away from the chaos.
"Back off, boy!" a guard snarled, shoving Phoebus aside when he attempted a rescue, "This ain't any of your business!"
"The heck it ain't!" he retorted, looking for an opening to try again, "Look what you did to her!"
"D-don't Phoebus," Mattie stammered in shock, unconsciously touching her bloody lip and rapidly swelling cheek, "I'm alright." She blushed deeply under all the attention.
"Why are you—?" Pierre spluttered, fear making him angrier.
"Go watched the game and mind your own business, kids," another guard answered, glaring at them as he roughly handcuffed Mattie "This one is in big trouble. President Frollo ordered us to bring her in."
"For doing what?" Clopin snorted.
"She stole the Leprechaun suit."
"What? That's ridiculous!" he gasped, jumping to block their path, "I can vouch for her too!"
"We've got a witness."
"They're lying." Pierre shouted; he and Phoebus followed closely behind Clopin.
"Who's the witness?" Phoebus asked.
"Don't you kids need to get into the stadium? Kickoff will be here soon."
Clopin glanced at his watch, wincing when he saw the time, "Well, I would, but I bet coach will let me off if you guys have a lead on my Leprechaun suit." He grinned nastily, "You said you have a witness who saw her steal it? Well, I'm hoping I could have a word with them about where she hid it."
"Geez, calm down, kid," the officer glared at him, "We're just doing our job."
"You mean unjustly arresting someone?" Phoebus growled, "Great job you have there."
"Is that supposed to be funny?"
"I've never been more serious in my life."
"Phoebus!" Mattie pleaded, "Please don't!"
"She's right, Cap," Pierre suddenly grabbed his friends' arms, holding them back, "We've got to do something to help her, not get into an argument with these guys."
Phoebus shot him a glare, "I hope you have a suggestion?"
"I do." Pierre's grin turned almost sadistic, "We'll find the others. I bet ya that Victor, Hugo, and Laverne know someone who can help."
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, young lady," Frollo's spoke softly, approaching Mattie in the waiting room outside his office. He eyed the phone in her hands, "You haven't been communicating with any accomplices, have you?"
"What?" her eyes widened in disbelief as she clumsily stuffed her phone back into her pocket, "I-I-I was checking the score!"
"Are those guilty tears?" he asked, noticing her stained cheeks.
"I didn't steal anything!" she protested again, anger making her more indigent than scared, "What proof could you possibly have—"
"My dear, my dear," he cooed, sitting down beside her and looping an arm around her shoulders, "I'm here to help, but you must understand the consequences of your actions."
She tried to wriggle away from him, but his arm stiffened, "You're crazy!"
"No, I'm the president," He corrected her with a steely look, "Come now, I only want one thing."
Her heart rammed against her ribcage, "And what is that?"
"Tell your roommate that I want to meet her."
"We'll never find them in this crowd," Pierre said, eyeing the large crowd that was milling around Dunne Hall.
"You'd think that one of them would have their phone," Phoebus grumbled, trying another number, "Dang it!"
"Maybe it's better Clopin had to go cheer after all," Pierre answered, offhandedly changing the subject, "When Esma finds out about Mattie she'll have a cow; maybe he can keep her head straight."
"I'm just sorry that we didn't look into that guy we saw last night," Phoebus kicked a streetlamp, "We probably could have stopped all this."
"I know. I feel terrible," Pierre hung his head, "but there's no sense looking in the rearview mirror, Cap."
"You sound like my General."
"That's kind of scary."
"Tell me about it."
"Did you guys find anything?" Victor called, striding up behind them.
"We didn't find anything," Phoebus whirled towards him, "but campus security found us." He grimaced, "They—they took Mattie."
"They what? Why?"
"They said it was for stealing the Leprechaun suit."
"But that's preposterous."
"That's what we told them," Pierre nodded, "But they said President Frollo ordered her arrest."
"He did?" Victor almost gagged.
"Where are Hugo, Laverne, and Quasi?" Phoebus asked impatiently.
"They're coming," Victor answered, his jaw working from side to side as he pulled out his phone, "Quasi needed some, ah, some advice about, ah, a girl."
"Who are you calling?"
"Archie." the old man winked, "Who else would dare stand up to Frollo and win?"
"Why don't you simply confess, my dear?" Frollo continued, working hard to keep his cool after Mattie had flatly refused to introduce him to her roommate.
"Because I didn't do it!" She was emphatic, gripping the armrests of her chair until her knuckles turned white, "I didn't steal anything and you're not going to scare me into asking Esma to come up here and meet you!"
"It was found under your bed," he reminded her.
He silently arched his eyebrows, waiting.
"Look, Mr. President," she sighed, "I know the guy that who is Leprechaun—his name is Clopin. Why in world would I steal my friend's suit and then leave it under my bed where his teammate could find it?"
"You tell me?"
Mattie pressed her lips together, wanting more than anything to rip the door open and run out. But, before she could convince herself to do it, the door burst open and Archie Deacon stormed in.
"Mr. President, what is the meaning of this?"
"I beg your pardon?" Frollo spluttered, almost coming to his feet in surprise.
"I just received a call that you had this young lady falsely arrested for stealing the Leprechaun." He gave Mattie a questioning look, asking with his eyes if she was alright.
"I don't answer to you," Frollo rebuffed him, "and what give you the right to falsely accuse me?"
"I have seven witnesses who say that I'm not." Archie retorted, "and the girl is right here."
"Seven?" Frollo arched an eyebrow.
"Precisely. What do you have against her?"
"As I said, I don't answer to you."
"Well, you're not above the law either." Archie reached out to Mattie and she ran to him with tears streaming down her face.
"Insolent fool," Frollo gritted his teeth, "You could lose your job for this."
"So be it."
"Mattie!" Esma let out a joyful shriek and threw her arms around her friend as the group reunited in Archie's office later that evening, "You're alright! I've been a wreck ever since I heard!"
"I shouldn't have told her," Clopin was sheepish, "Even winning didn't even help."
"Oh! We won?" Mattie grinned, "I've been clearing my name all afternoon, so I didn't hear. What was the score?
"17-14," Hugo grinned, "No overtime either."
"Thank goodness for that!"
"How could Frollo say you stole Leprechaun?" Esma asked, hands on her hips.
"Oh, ah, I don't know," Mattie shrugged dismissively, having resolved to never tell her roommate about their conversation, "Crazy, huh?"
"It is that," Pierre muttered, "From everything that I've seen, Frollo hates football."
"Do you know who really did it?" Clopin asked.
"No," Mattie shook her head, her brow furrowing.
"M-m-maybe I can answer that," Gudule timidly stepped into the room, holding out both amulets as her token of peace.
Phoebus and Clopin step forward to block her path, but Esma grabbed their arms and pulled them back.
"Wait guys!" She took a timid step forward, not quite ready to believe what her eyes saw.
"I know that I don't deserve it," Gudule said, almost choking as she reached out to touch the girl's cheek, "but I'd love to get to know you…my daughter."
Author's Note: Wahoo! I'm back! Courtesy of a friend, I have a new idea for taking this story forward. Join me next time for a Halloween Masquerade!