Joe smiled to himself as he walked off. He thought he'd come across pretty well as a nervous, eager witness. He'd gabbled like a ten-year-old but the cop had bought it, had dismissed both him and the information. Not that the information would lead anywhere. There was truth in it, the grain that gave the rest the weight of fact, but he'd been careful to keep it vague.
He found Mal in their room, pretending to study. Mal was nervous. He started up when Joe came in, dropping his pen.
"Did you find...?" he said.
"Yep, and I told him," Joe said.
"I still don't see..."
"Mal, we've got to lay it down. We need them to be thinking a certain way - we talked about this. They're going to need a trail, some solid evidence that will be replicated in the note. They need to believe in that note when it comes. This is all just ground-work. See, a note that comes out of the blue sky, it could come from anywhere. Some nut somewhere sees the story and decides to try to cash in."
"Shut up ok. I know what I'm doing. Trust me."
Mal looked up at him doubtfully. His shoulders were tight with strain and a tic jumped just under his eyelid. This worried Joe more than anything else. Mal, he could see, might be a problem. But there was no privacy to be had; he'd been forced to confide through circumstances. Better to be alone, much better. If he could be sure Mal would keep it together...
Joe lay down on his bed, his fingers laced behind, cradling his skull. He gazed up at the ceiling but didn't see it. Mr Bessant would be around soon, checking they were all in their rooms, doing his usual head-count after curfew. They'd be more thorough tonight, Joe thought. He was aware there might be new restrictions once it became clear Brittany wasn't playing a prank. He'd just have to work around them.
I'll have to watch Mal. I don't think he'll keep it together for long. But people have a habit of dying around me. Everything I wish for comes true. I'm safe. I'm gifted and chosen. I will be above them all. No one sees me; no one knows. I make things happen, but they don't know.
Joe had never had to try at anything. Perfect grades fell into his lap like rain. A bully from way back had been run over crossing the street the day after he'd stolen Joe's lunch-money. The scholarship letter had come through the door without him recalling sitting any exam. Test papers gave up their answers to him in dry whispers. His older brother had died in another accident the same morning Joe had coveted his room.
Perfect, he thought. It'll work out. It always does.