"Hey Phoebus?" Pierre called, catching up to him, "Do you know the story of how intercollegiate football games got started?"
Phoebus scowled in annoyance, "No, I can honestly say that I've never heard that one."
"It's interesting," Pierre continued, ignoring the irritation in his friend's voice, "It might take your mind off your troubles."
"Oh, come on, Phoebus—your tone, your body language; they reek of having a bad day."
"Come on," he continued, "It's a story about George Washington memorabilia."
"Oh, really?" Phoebus was skeptical, "Don't tell me that somebody sold it for perks."
Ironically, you're close, bit no."
"What's old is new again."
"Almost—say, where's Esma?" Pierre suddenly changed the subject.
Phoebus rolled his eyes sullenly; whatever interest he'd had in Pierre's story vanished in an instant, "She had other plans."
Ahh…oh, I see. So that's what it is. You do need a good story then."
"Alright, fine, ole buddy, ole pal," Phoebus rolled his eyes again, as they came to the door of the campus restaurant, Recker's, "You win. Lay it on me. Let's eat."
"Well, see, back in the 1860's, just after the Civil War," Pierre began, as they settled into lunch, "Princeton, somehow or another, had a cannonball that Washington purportedly once fired and they liked to talk about it an awful lot."
"I guess so but their neighbors down the road at Rutgers didn't take kindly to all the bragging so they'd periodically come over and steal it—just for kicks, you know."
"Well, the guys at Princeton would always go down and steal it right back and no harm no foul was the rule. But in 1869, Rutgers not only stole the cannonball, they decided to bury it under six feet of concert!"
"Oops," Phoebus' mouth curled into a sadistic smile "And when Princeton came to reclaim their property—"
"Yep, it was six feet under," Pierre grinned, "All Princeton could do was challenge the thieves to a football game…but it was more like a brawl because there were twenty-five guys on each team and basically no rules."
"Sounds fun," Phoebus grinned, "Who won?"
"Yeah, I know, they got the cannonball and the win."
"So, why did you tell me a story with a bad ending? How's that supposed to cheer me up?"
"Oh, look at the time…" Pierre started to get up.
"Sit down and finish your lunch!" Phoebus snapped, "Let's talk about tomorrow's game."
"What about it?" Pierre was cautious.
"Who's going to win?"
"Us, of course."
"Now, that's a better ending."
"I agree—our poor team needs it."
"Yeah, it's been a crazy week."
"Thanks for coming, Mattie," Esma whispered, as the girls took lunch across town with Quasi, "He is my friend and all, but I just don't have those kind of feeling for him."
"No problem," Mattie sighed, carefully hiding her growing interest in their friend, "Why'd you agree to come anyway? If you know that he likes you like that, isn't it sending mixed messages to come?"
"I just don't know how to break it to him," Esma admitted, shrugging helplessly, "Especially since I want to stay friends."
"It is weird," Mattie agreed.
"Maybe we could steer him towards someone else," Esma suggested, looking a little guilty, "Like a blind date…do you know anyone who we could set him up with?"
"I don't much like that idea." Mattie shook her head fervently, feeling queasy, "I-I think that together we can just keep the conversation light and feel our way from there."
Esma winced, "Yeah, I'm sure you're right. It might be terrible to set him up with someone who doesn't know him from rock on the lawn."
"We could really hurt his feelings,"
"Here you go," Quasi interrupted, setting two trays on the table.
"Ouch, this stuff is hot!" Mattie gasped, taking a sip of her apple cider.
"But good," Esma added, savoring her cocoa even though it burned her tongue, "I love chilly days because I can bundle up and drink my cocoa!"
"Bundling up with good food and a great ballgame," Mattie sighed, "Perfect."
"Speaking of ballgames," Quasi said, delighted by their happiness, "With so many suspensions, what do you think of our chances against Sanford tomorrow?"
"I think we have a shot," Mattie said, forcing optimism, "but only if we don't get big heads."
"You don't think that we'd get big heads, do you?" he asked, amazed, "with so many of our best guys out?"
"I wouldn't put it past us." Esma grumbled, "An undefeated record has a way of going to guys' heads, even if they're second or third stringers…" She rolled her eyes, "Boys."
"Yeah," Mattie agreed, "and it can be even worse with younger guys."
"Agreed!" Esma nodded, warming up to the rant, "Sometimes they try to be heroes in a tight spot and end up blowing it."
"I just hope that, if we do go down; we can shake it off," Mattie added, shaking her head, "I don't want to end up like the poor Vols."
"The who?" Quasi asked.
"The Tennessee Volunteers," Mattie explained, "Sorry, guys, Being from Florida, I've heard every Vol joke in the book. They used to be pretty darn good—it's Payton Manning's alma mater, after all—but, they've tanked in recent years." Sighing, she continued "They do fine while they're winning, but if they lose even one game, you can pretty much count on them losing the next week and the next, and the next."
"It's sad, actually." she finished, "It's a nice school and a nice program."
""That is sad," Quasi sympathized.
"A lot of people in Florida and Georgia would call it pathetic," Mattie said, suddenly snickering.
"That's mean," Quasi frowned.
"That's rivalry." Mattie corrected, "The SEC."
"Isn't Alabama in the SEC?" Esma asked, worry flickering in her eyes.
"Yeah, the big bad red tide," Mattie confirmed, rolling her eyes.
"They're called the Red Tide?" Quasi asked, amazed, "What do they use for a mascot!"
"Well, technically, they're the Crimson Tide," Mattie replied, putting on faux airs, "but, heck, they kill just about every team they touch, so Red Tide is appropriate." She made a weird face, "Their mascot, "Big Al, is an elephant, but I don't remember the story behind it."
"Aren't they currently undefeated?" Esma asked.
"Hmm, I believe so…but I'd have to check—probably."
"So, if we make it to the championship, we might have to play them?"
"If we make it," Mattie emphasized, "but let's not get ahead of ourselves. We have too many troubles to even begin to think that!"
"We sure do!"
"Say, why don't you sit with me tomorrow?" Mattie asked Quasi, changing of subject with a quick smile at Esma, "Mr. Ringling paid for me to have excellent seats right up front. We can scout for trouble together."
"Oh," he answered, blushing, "I always sit with the Goyles. They'd probably miss me."
"Well, I'd really like a pair of fresh eyes," Mattie pressed, "Something big might happen because we're shorthanded. This could be the perfect opportunity for whoever is behind all this."
"Do it, Quasi!" Esma encouraged, delighted by Mattie's proposal.
"Oh, well, okay," he agreed, wanting to please his crush, "But let me call the Goyles first."
"I feel really horrible about this," Hugo whispered, glancing at his glow-in-the-dark watch, "Imagine us breaking in to Notre Dame?"
"Nice try, brother," Laverne crackled softly, smacking his shoulder, "We all know that you're getting the biggest kick out of it."
"Well, alright, fine, you caught me."
"Have either of you considered what happens if we actually do get caught?" she continued.
"I try not to think about that," Victor shuddered, already feeling guilty about dragging his siblings into this scheme, "I almost wish that Archie hadn't called—but man, if he is right, then the football scandal…" He sighed, "I'm just glad the ole boy knows how to turn off the alarm."
"I'm glad he told us," Laverne countered, "We're the guardians of Notre Dame, after all."
"I'll plead the fifth if we get caught," Hugo volunteered.
"You'll just beg to not be sent to jail!" Laverne crackled, "Maybe the guards will protest and they'll let you off."
"You'd beg too—on your hands and knees."
"I wouldn't be able to get up if I did that."
"Is your arthritis acting up again?"
"I'm stiff as a stone in the morning."
"Can you run if someone comes?"
"Of course not, but maybe if I open my mouth and give them a scary look they'll run."
"More like pass out from your bad breath."
"Alright, you two, pipe down," Victor growled, "Man, if I'd known that you'd talk this much—"
"Now, who's talking?" Hugo interrupted, earning himself a glare.
"What are we looking for exactly?" he continued, as they filed into the Frollo's office.
"You'll know when you see it," Victor replied, "Archie said that Frollo has been obsessing about the NCAA's lack of action all week, complaining like a crazy man that they aren't moving fast enough or harshly enough to punish the team." He smiled ironically, "I know the ole boy doesn't want to let wrongdoers off the hook, but he said Frollo was going overboard."
"And earlier this week," he added, "he said that he went to the president's office for a meeting and caught him on the phone, talking about the team. He said he wasn't talking to the NCAA and he thought that the whole conversation sounded inappropriate." Victor shrugged, "He said he'd tell us more after the game."
"So, why didn't you tell us about this phone call before?" Laverne asked, hands on her hips, "Is there some big secret?"
"No, he just didn't offer many details—I thought—well, I thought, I'd—well, I don't know. I just didn't, I guess."
"Makes sense to me," Hugo said, his eyes already sweeping the room, "Let's get to work."
"Everything makes sense to you," Laverne muttered.
Searching by flashlight, they quietly went through drawers, files cabinets, and loose papers, sliding things of interest into a black briefcase. Then suddenly the lights came on.
Gudule stood frozen in the doorway, her cleaning supplies in hand. She'd had a bad day and had been looking forward to the quiet solitude of her nightly rounds but, as usual, things hadn't gone her way.
"What are you doing here?" she snapped harshly, wondering if she could get them in trouble.
"Relax, sister," Hugo answered in that slightly sarcastic tone that only he could get away with, "President Frollo asked us to help him with a project."
"We're almost done," Laverne added sweetly, as she studied the janitor, "Why don't we just step outside while my brothers finish up. You look like you've had a tough day."
"What's that to you?" Gudule snapped.
"Come on," Laverne took her arm, "You don't have to tell me about it if you don't want too, but I've been around a little while and I know that burdens get lighter when they're shared."
I've been around too, Gudule thought, begrudgingly following the older woman back into the foyer, and I know that no one cares about me.
With only the dull emergency lights to see by, Laverne appraised the woman and was shocked to realize that she looked just like Esma. Why hadn't she noticed before?
Gudule scowled, "What are you gawking at? I know I ain't much to look at."
"Oh, but you're beautiful!" Laverne insisted.
"Bull! Don't lie to me," Gudule shot back, "Maybe I was, but that was a long time ago." She scowled menacingly, as if to scare away her painful past before it could resurface.
"Now just hold on a minute," Laverne retorted sternly, "I wasn't born yesterday and I don't lie." Before she knew what she was doing, she added, "And the funny thing is, I know a student here who looks exactly like you—right down to that gold gator that you've got around your neck, although hers is a miniature."
Gudule's eyes widen, thunderstruck. It couldn't be true! Then Frollo's door opened.
"Alright, we're done, sis." Victor said, looking relieved to not see the police.
She nodded, then took Gudule's hand and squeezed it, "See you later, sister; I sure hope that tonight goes better than today."
Gudule paced near to the stadium, hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl who Laverne had mentioned as the fans streamed into the stadium. She hadn't slept well, intermittingly thinking about all that she'd done to that girl and desperately telling herself that she wasn't the one.
The amulet, the thought hit her brain like a jackhammer, the amulet. It couldn't be! Then again, one look would tell all.
"Curiosity killed the cat," she muttered, suddenly spying Esma amidst a group of cheerleaders.
"Excuse me?" she asked timidly.
"Hey!" Clopin barked angrily, recognizing her, "You're that witch who—!"
"Clopin, that's not necessary." Esma cut him off sharply, giving Gudule a guarded look; unconsciously gripping for her amulet, even though cheerleading rules forbade her to wear it during games.
Seeing no amulet around the girl's neck, Gudule jerked back, "Never mind, I thought that you were someone else." She whirled around and hurried away.
"That was weird," Esma muttered, not believing that the old lady would mistake her for someone else.
"Don't worry about it," Clopin said, wrapping a protective arm around her.
"I'm not," she answered, pushing him away.
Frollo may have been furious to discover that his office had been broken into, but it was nothing compared to how he'd felt ever since Jehan had called earlier in the week to make a wager on the game. And, worst of all, that meddling guidance councilor had heard part of the conversation! He was just glad that Archie was a weak man who knew his place and wouldn't interfere.
"Ho, ho," the he chuckled optimistically, feeling that God's hand was on Sanford, "Notre Dame isn't so great after all, are they? Overtime!"
"You know the media won't go away after just one loss, don't you?" Sarousch said, assuming that his boss was just obsessing about the national hype that the team was increasingly receiving.
"Yes, but they won't sing their praises so loudly," Frollo reminded him, reverting back to his intern line of thought since they boy knew nothing about the wager, "and with a few more losses, which I'm sure that I can arrange, the press will be gone in less than a month."
"Vol syndrome, eh? Sarousch asked, remembering that Mattie sometimes talked about it.
"Vol syn—oh, never mind."
"Don't mumble, boy—this world has no room for mumbling."
"I only meant that you shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch."
"Whose side are you on?"
"Yours, of course."
"You don't act like it," Frollo answered sharply, then suddenly switched tactics, sighing loudly, "I'm sorry, my boy, how can I expect you to understand? But, listen, once the team starts losing games, I'll be ready with falsified grades and claim that football is hurting them academically. Notre Dame is a proud school; they won't stand for that."
"That seems like a stretch…"
Sarousch shrugged, unfazed by Frollo's death stare, "It just seems like a stretch but, hey, I only call it like I see it."
"Then you need glasses!"
"Oh, I can't watch!" Mattie squeaked, covering her eyes then peering through the cracks in her fingers, "But I can't miss it either! Can you believe this? The first overtime of the season!"
"It's exciting, isn't it?" Quasi enthused, clapping as Esma waved her pompoms at the crowd; he imagined that she was waving at him, "These seats are amazing!"
"They are, aren't they?" Pierre grinned despite his annoyance that Mattie had invited their friend.
"Luck of the draw," Mattie answered, elbowing Pierre when she recognized his tone, "Hey, Quasi, have you seen anything suspicious?"
"No," he answered, reluctantly taking his eyes off his crush, "I hope we didn't miss anything. The game has been so exciting!"
"It sure has! Maybe whoever is sabotaging us is waiting to see how they'll do shorthanded." Pierre offered.
"I just don't understand why anyone would sabotage us," Mattie grumbled.
"Maybe they were absent on school spirit day in kindergarten," Quasi joked.
He was surprised that it made him feel good to hear her laugh.
"Holy cow!" Clopin whooped, "Overtime! Our perfect record on the line!" He nudged Esma, as the cheerleaders huddled together to watch. There would be no more cheering now; things were too intense!
"Yeah," she muttered, her thoughts still mostly on the odd pregame encounter, "Crazy."
"Snap out of it, Esma!" he nudged harder, frowning, "You don't want to miss this—hey, I thought you weren't going to let that old hag get to you?"
"She isn't an old hag."
"She hurt you!"
"I know—I just want to forget about it."
"Well, I don't."
"Please, just watch the game!"
"Speak for yourself!"
Esma whirled around, angrily throwing her pompoms into his chest, then stalked away. She knew he didn't understand. She didn't either.
"Alright, alright!" Hugo celebrated, his eyes sparkling, "Pour the wine and cut the cheese! It's overtime."
"Don"t be crass, Hugo," Victor admonished, "It's a football game."
"You're supposed to be a crass at football games," Hugo retorted.
"Not at Notre Dame games!" Victor glared at him, then nudged Laverne, "What's up, sis?"
"Now, I believe that like I believe Hugo has two left feet."
"Good, then you'll understand and leave me alone."
Victor rolled his eyes, "Is it the old janitor from last night?"
"So, it is her?"
"Yeah, but never mind."
"Never mind what?"
She shook her head, "Just never mind, Victor."
Suddenly the entire stadium jumped to their feet, screaming in ecstasy, leaving two of the Goyles sitting dumbstruck in their seats.
"What just happened?"
"You just missed the best play of the game! It's a touchdown! We've got the lead!" Hugo gushed, "Oh my gosh, stop worrying about those files already! We gave them to Archie, what more can we do right now?"
"We weren't even discussing the files, Hugo," Victor growled, watching the replay on the screens, "I was concerned about our sister."
Hugo stared briefly, then shrugged, "She looks fine to me."
"That's because you're insensitive and selfish."
"Oh, and here I thought that I was watching a football game!"
Frollo watched with growing fury as time and again the Irish stopped the Cardinals' attempts to tie the game.
"Throw it," he muttered, swearing, as Sanford ran the ball again; for once he was genuinely afraid that he'd lose the wager, "Why don't you throw it?"
There was only one down left.
"Of course, our Lord does work in mysterious ways," he reminded himself softly.
"Oh, come on," Sarousch heard him, "You don't really believe that, do you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"God!" Sarousch answered, exasperated, "You don't really believe that He'll make Notre Dame win, do you?"
"I believe that He'll answer my prayers," Frollo snapped.
"Not to be rude and all, but whatever dude!"
"We'll see," Frollo turned back to watch the final play, his heart beating rapidly. If he own intern didn't believe in God, how many more children were being corrupted by the sport's influence?
As he watched, the Cardinals ran the ball again and came up short. Frollo dropped his head, his mind going blank in its frenzy to blame someone. Only Esma's face came to mind.
Seeing his reaction, Sarousch bounced to his feet and scurried toward the door, afraid of what the president might do, "See you around. I've got a date tonight."
Frollo didn't reply or even move until his phone started ringing and then he threw it against the wall.
He wasn't going to talk to his brother!
When the Goyle's filed listlessly into Archie Deacon's office after Mass the next morning they found him in a severe mood.
"There's a lot to go through; sit down, you guys did good work."
"Have you made heads or tails of it, then?"Victor asked hoarsely, strained by his fear for the school's reputation, "Is it bad?"
"It's weird," Archie consented cautiously, "but I'm not sure that makes it bad."
"So, what was in it?" Laverne asked, impatiently, "I was keeping a janitor at bay for some of it."
"Well, first of all, there was a profile on each player, their current class schedules, their academic records, and the projected draft spots for the juniors and seniors who are considering the NFL. I'm not saying that it's necessarily bad, but I thought it was strange for a man who hates football as vehemently as Frollo does."
"Then there was that phone call that I mentioned to you, Victor," he went on, "He was talking with his brother, Jehan."
"I didn't know he had a brother." Hugo interrupted.
"Neither did I—but, from the sound of it, they're not on good terms." Archie paused to take a sip of green tea, "They were talking about the memorabilia scandal and then this Jehan must have asked Frollo if he'd wager on yesterday's game." He licked his lips nervously, "Frollo railed like I've never heard him before but, ultimately, he did accept the bet. I was surprised; the man won't even play cards!"
"What was the wager exactly?" Victor asked.
"If Notre Dame won, Frollo would have to pay for Jehan's next pot party," Archie lips curled in disgust, "and if Sanford won, Jehan would enter a treatment program out in California. Apparently, he has quite the drug habit and our esteemed president is tired of dealing with him."
"Wait a minute," Laverne cut in, "Are you saying that if Sanford won, President Frollo would get something that he wanted? That is weird for the Notre Dame president!"
"Yeah," Hugo crossed his arms," Talk about no school spirit!"
Author's Notes: *Waves shyly* I'm sorry, readers! I just couldn't make myself work on this story for the last who knows how long. Then, when I did pick it back up, I was surprised that this chapter was actually almost done. Ugh. I think plot bunnies from other genres and general life busyness kidnapped me! I also apologize for Mattie's UT jokes! She told me to add them in *wink, wink*