Following a threat made on the life of Daniel Craig based on my not updating and the realisation that if this was the only chapter with multiple perspectives in in the story it would be kind of odd, I've decided to split what was originally going to be a very long chapter into several parts. Here is the first. I hope it makes sense. To refresh you're memories if you're coming straight to chapter four having read the rest a while ago, you may wish to re-read chapter two.
The paintings on the school wall are almost violently bright. Each one shows a childish, blockish form inexpertly picked out in garish colours, smiling down at nostalgic adult visitors. The display hardly shows the school at its best; but then the conveniently placed table of GCSE results nearby does that quite well enough. What it does do is create a caring atmosphere, a sense that above all else, children flourish here. It's on these walls for all to see. Can't you see the happy pictures? Can't you just see the smiling faces of the children who painted them?
In actuality, Mr Brown can feel stress and pressure leaking from the minds of the students like a polluted river, oozing under classroom doors and collecting in a stagnant, viscous pool around his feet. The children will sense it of course, a few happy pictures won't fool them, but that doesn't matter. They don't pay the school fees. As a marketing strategy, it is highly astute. Mr Brown observes this all appreciatively. He has spent his own time as a propagandist.
"Can I help you sir?" The voice speaks in a clipped, Cambridge accent, but it sounds laboured, the speech forced. Without turning around, Mr Brown delves into the head of the pretty young receptionist who has addressed him. She came in from Birmingham recently, desperate for a job. They pay decently here, she got the job on looks and on efficiency, but the accent's a struggle. She went to the interview with it, hoping it would further her chances and now she's stuck with it.
Mr Brown observes this with practiced ease and speed, taking it all in in the time it takes him to spin round and fix his cold approximation of a charming smile on his face.
"Yes." He replies, in answer to her question. "I'm here with JCQ." As he knows full well, the new girl won't know what that is; but the more flustered she gets, the easier she will be to bypass.
"Ah?" She asks; and he feels her internally scouring her head for the acronym, before at last turning up blank and admitting defeat. "I'm sorry, I'm new." She blushes, embarrassed. "Could you tell me, ah..."
"The Joint Council for Qualifications." He explains, saving her the embarrassment of having to ask for herself. "We check that school exams are administered as they should be. I have an interview scheduled with a student named Michael Wilson?"
Appointment. Scheduled. She skims the diary for the day, but finds no mention of a Joint Council for Qualifications. They came a few weeks ago, to interview this student Michael and another girl, but as for today...
"I'm sorry sir." She responds apologetically. "I can't seem to find your appointment. Ah. How embarrassing. I can go and ask the principle of course, if you'd just wait here."
Mr Brown can't have that. He needs to move undetected. He looks pointedly at his watch. "It's a surprise inspection. I will of course talk to your principle after the interview." Inwardly, he feels the receptionist panicking. On the one hand, she has been told to let no one in without an appointment. On the other, this man from an official agency, with his smart suit, seems respectable. Equally, if this really is a surprise visit and the school is seen to be resistant... She gives a doubtful nod.
"It was Michael Wilson you wanted to see, wasn't it?" Mr Brown smiles.
"Yes, just a routine interview. It won't take more than a minute." Quite literally. This is not how Mr Brown has planned, but the new receptionist's decision hangs on a thread. No doubt as soon as the door of the interview room closes, she will go to tell the principal he is here and his facade will come crashing down. He must simply take the boy and leave. Trying not to let the concern show on his face, he follows the receptionist down a corridor.
School corridors, stereotypically, are covered with children's paintings, of the type seen in the foyer. Not here. Now the required atmosphere has been established, the school turns to its preferred marketing strategy. "96% of our GCSE results were A* or A." Proclaims one poster. "OFSTED say our students have an outstanding work ethic." Another. Reading them, Mr Brown can hear a hundred teenage voices muttering "no pressure then."
The clacking of the receptionist's heels stop outside a door marked 13D. She looks worriedly at a notepad, then up again at Mr Brown. "You're quite sure you don't want to see the principle? Because I should probably have made you sign in and you should really have a visitors badge and..." She's slipping. His facade his falling. If he does not move quickly his cover will be blow and then what? The school investigates, there has to be a government warrant, the boy's parents will have to be involved, the boss will be angry. He has to go now.
Brow furrowed in very real concern, he reminds the receptionist once again of obligations he must keep. Other schools to visit, other things to do. In the receptionist's mind, Mr Brown feels the uncertainty double and re-double. "Shouldn't he have ID?" She wonders. "What if he isn't from JCQ? Was it JCQ he said? What even is JCQ? I should really tell the principle, he could be a criminal, what if he's a criminal? Will I lose my job if I let in a criminal? I'll definitely loose my job if I let in a criminal."
Aloud, she only says "Sir, I wondered if I might ask..." But Mr Brown is already through the door of the classroom.
"Who here is Michael Wilson?" He asks. A hand is tentatively raised. A thickset boy, lank Brown hair flopping over grey blue eyes gets slowly to his feet, "Excellent." Mr Brown points to the door. "If you would follow me please?"
For a moment, Michael waits, confused. "About a GCSE French paper?"
In the back row, a red haired girl rises to her feet. "Will you be needing me?" So, Mr Brown thinks. This is the other girl. The other one who could have cheated.
"No." He replies. "Thank you Miss. That won't be necessary."
The class falls silent. So they've decided. Michael was the cheat.
As Michael leaves, whispers break out like waves. In the back row, the red haired girl seats herself very slowly. The sense of victory she expected to feel does not manifest itself. Instead, there is only gnawing guilt. As she bows her head to her work, she wonders "should I tell them? Should I tell them Michael did nothing wrong? Should I tell them it was me?"