Jemima was in the Year 11 Common Room. She wasn't supposed to be there. She was only in Year 10, after all. The Year 11s were all on a field trip today - some History related thing, she thought, They wouldn't be coming back in here till the end of school, and it was break time now.
She was in here because she was on a mission. Crispin Drummond's locker was here and it contained something she wanted. Needed, even. Crispin was the top guy around here for....certain substances. Namely, tobacco. Smoking had been banned in public places for some time, but there was a total ban on smoking - anywhere - for under 18s. It was the next phase in the former government's ''Keep Children's Chests Clear'' campaign.
If anyone underage was caught smoking there was a double punishment. They were sent to a detention centre,and at least one parent sent to prison, as punishment for allowing it. Of course, this was a very good deterrent. Most minors still had enough regard and affection for their parents not to wish a custodial sentence on them, and enough concern for their own future prospects not to wish one on themselves. There were the occasional oddball kids though, who either didn't care, or went out of their way to get themselves and their parents ''banged up.'' But on the whole, it worked well.
If anyone thought the penalties for underage smoking were harsh though, the proposed third phase was to be a total smoking ban for pregnant women of any age, with forcible adoption of their newborn by State-appointed childless couples if caught having even a single drag. Some believed that this may have played a part in the downfall of the government at the recent election.
Jemima was trying to find Crispin's secret stash, not because she was a smoker - on the contrary, she hated the habit with a passion. Her mission was to find them and take them to Downing Street, where she would add them to a pile in a skip outside Number Ten, of seized packets which were being collected there for this month only. Schoolchildren were being rewarded amply for their conscientiousness - they were paid by the packet - not quite as much as young Drummond would get from his mates, but slightly more than the retail price.
Nobody knew quite why the new PM was doing this. Jemima's mother suspected that Prime Minister Paddy smoked them himself, and it was easier -if a little more pricey - than going to the shops for a packet. He could just open the front door and nod at the policeman to grab him a packet or two, Jemima thought that was a bit silly, though.
Some parents -the few who still clung to the weed - had seen it as a minor business opportunity, buying fags in bulk at the supermarket, then giving them to their children to ''trade up'' in Downing Street. More importantly, the kids themselves saw it as a major one. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles all over Britain,were hiding their ciggies from the children.
Jemima did not know any adult nicotine addicts, but she knew Crispin Drummond and she knew where he kept his dealer's stash. And the money she could make would come in very handy. Smuggling alcopops out of the clubs was becoming increasingly difficult. She had been caught twice last month, and being caught led to an immediate ban from the club concerned. She didn't want to be on any more blacklists, thank you very much. This ''Cash for Cancer Sticks'' initiative would be a much nicer little earner than alcopop smuggling. For one thing, a packet of cigarettes was worth five bottles of Reef. Easy money. If only she could get into the locker.
She eyed the door - Patricia was on guard duty outside. She knew she would alert her in plenty of time. She was bound to sound the alarm twice, actually. The first alarm would be the sound of nervous laughter from out there, before the official alarm of a double knock on the door.
She inspected the row of lockers. Crispin's was the third one along. A boy in her tutor group was one of his regular customers and she'd promised him a free packet from the stash if he told her. She wasn't going to give it to him, of course. If he asked, she'd just say she was unsuccessful.
She slipped her brother's old Year 11 locker key out of her sock. Jeremy had told her all the lockers had identical locks because the school was too stingy to pay for more expensive lockers with different ones. So far, in all the school's history, her brother Jeremy had been the only Year 11 student to have sussed this out. Thanks to him, she was in on the secret too. She was going to enjoy Year 11...
She tried the key in the metal door. With a small click, the door opened, Thanks Jem, she thought. At the bottom of the locker, under a pile of smelly socks and a cricket box, there was a supermarket carrier bag. She carefully lifted it out. It felt very full. She peeked inside. It was her lucky day. Two cartons of two hundred cigarettes. Twenty packets. She'd have to smuggle a hundred alcopops to make that much money. She stuffed her haul into her school bag, carefully closed and relocked the locker, and left the common room.
Patricia laughed nervously at the re-emergence of her friend,and the two girls left.
Later that day, outside Number Ten, the Prime Minister shook hands with both girls. He said something to Patricia which made her laugh, and he looked a little put out. Jemima wasn't sure, but she told her mother later that she thought that she saw Lord Ashdown slide one of her two cartons under his very large coat, where it disappeared. But she couldn't possibly have seen that, could she?
A boy was watching the news later still that night. He could have sworn that he spotted those two fat girls from Year 10 at his school handing over 400 fags - the exact number that had gone missing from his locker earlier today...