One crime. A hundred suspects. 30 minutes to solve it.
Trouble
CHAPTER
1
The Beginning
9.30 am
Location: Principal’s Office
Renner gulped hard and took the seat that was situated behind the teacher’s table.
Mr Monroe was seated in the armchair opposite him with his hands clasped tightly and his eyebrows furrowed down in a manner that indicated that he was thinking about something rather serious.
Licking his lips nervously, Renner cleared his throat lightly to catch Mr Monroe’s attention.
“I heard you called for me sir?” He asked.
Mr Monroe lifted his head to face Renner and nodded his head as a form of acknowledgement.
“I’m sure you do know why you’re here Mr Collins.” He started and looked at Renner, expecting a reply from him.
“Is...is this about the pranks?” Renner asked and fiddled with his fingernails nervously as his cheeks reddened in embarrassment.
It was a well-known fact that Renner was the school’s prankster and he has been reprimanded for it repeatedly by his class teachers and peers. But it had never come to an extent to which he was called to the principal’s office for it.
“I’m afraid so.” Mr Monroe replied in his monotonous tone before adding, “I’ve heard news that your pranks have been becoming rather unbearable and extreme and I can’t allow this act to continue.”
Renner bit his lower lip hastily in fear. “I’m sorry sir. I didn’t mean for them to be that bad.”
“You should have thought of that before playing those pranks Mr Collins. At the beginning, your pranks were rather harmless. But the recent pranks you have played with the football team and in the staff’s room are very unacceptable.”
Renner stared back at Mr Monroe as a slight confusion took over him. He didn’t remember playing a prank with the football team or in the staff’s room.
“But sir -“ He started, before Mr Monroe raised his hand to cut him off.
“No buts with me Mr Collins.” He said giving Renner a sharp look.
“I’m sorry sir.” Renner whispered and lowered his eyes to the ground in visible embarrasment and fear.
“You do know the consequences of your acts right Mr Collins?” Mr Monroe asked, his voice deepening down to a harsher tone.
Renner’s eyes widened in surprise and fear. Consequences? He had never thought his playful pranks would bring him to an extent of facing harsh punsihments.
“I’m extremely sorry sir. I won’t repeat this again!” Renner quickly spoke up and apologised to his Principal repeatedly, in fear of what he might have to face.
Mr. Monroe however looked unfaced with Renner’s reaction. “Just an apology wouldn’t do Renner.” He clipped. “From now on, I expect you to be on your best behaviour. No more pranks are allowed.”
“Of course, sir! I promise I will not do such acts again!” Renner quickly added as his face flushed red in embarrasment and visible fear.
“I hope you stay true to your words Mr Collins. If I hear another word about another prank of yours, the consequences will be very severe.”
“Yes sir! I promise to stay good.” Renner spoke, his voice clearly indicating how scared he was feeling
“That’s good Mr Collins. You may leave now.”
Renner greeted his principal and immediately left the room, hurriedly walking back towards his class.
His face appeared rather distraught. Never had he once thought that playing harmless pranks could bring him to an extent of receiving a warning from his Principal.
He let out a sigh and wiped the perspiration of his forehead. He had to be really careful from now on. The way Mr Monroe had spoken clearly showed that he was very serious about the harsh consequences he might have to face if he repeated his pranks.
10.15 am
Location: Chemistry class
“You’re not serious, are you?” Jason hissed under his breath while probing Renner with his pen.
Renner turned away from the equation he was working on to face Jason.
“I’m very very serious.” He whispered in a low tone. “Mr Monroe said that I would have to face serious consequences if I ever repeated the act.”
James’ eyes widened. “No kidding! But how did he find-” he started, before a loud voice cut him off.
“Mr Parker and Mr Collins! If you have something very important to discuss about, please do it after my lesson time!” Ms Loki bellowed from in front of their desks, her face scrunched up in displeasement.
“Sorry Ms Loki!” Both of them muttered before quickly returning to finish up the question they were working on.
10.30 am
Location: Cafeteria
“So no more pranks huh?” James asked Renner, while passing him his snacks tray over the table.
“What pranks? What are you guys talking about?” Felina piped up while joining them at the table.
“Hey Felina!” James greeted her cheerfully before adding, “Renner here has been given a warning by Mr Monroe to never play a prank again.”
Felina’s jaws dropped as she turned her eyes away from the apple she was about to take a bite from, towards Renner.
“Are you serious?” She asked, her eyes widened in shock.
Renner sighed and nodded. “It’s true.”
“But how did he find out?”
“The whole school knows I’m the school’s prankster! How could he have not known?” Renner said while picking up his apple from his tray. “But what bothers me is how he said my pranks were becoming rather unbearable and extreme.”
“Wait, what?” James asked. “You did not mention that when you told me the whole story!”
Felina licked her lips and looked at Renner in confusion. “As far as I remember, all your pranks have been rather harmless? When did they ever become ‘extreme’?”
“That’s what I’m unsure about too! Apart from the farting sound prank, toothpaste oreo prank, switching textbooks prank, I have never done anything more severe than that!”
“Correction. There was the one time, you let it rain confetti in maths class!” James interuptted with a light laugh.
Renner rolled his eyes. “That was for Mr Harrison’s birthday! Is it wrong to celebrate our math teacher’s birthday with confetti?”
“Okay stop. Back to the story.” Felina quickly added.
“My point is, I have never done anything very extreme and looking at the way Mr. Monroe was addressing me, it seemed like something very serious might have happened. And I have a feeling I may not have been in wrong at all?”
James frowned and bit his lip. “So what you’re saying is -“
“Someone else might have done a major prank and Mr Monroe and the teachers are mistakingly thinking it might be you?” Felina finished it off for him.
Renner pursed his lips and nodded gingerly. “Mr Monroe mentioned something about pranks on the football team and the staff’s room and I have never done any pranks on them before.”
“So someone else is doing all these new pranks and Mr Monroe thinks it’s you!” James exclaimed loudly.
“Hush James!” Felina hissed before turning to look at Renner.
“Do you have any idea who might this new pranster be?”
Renner frowned and shook his head. “That’s the thing. I have absolutely no idea who it might be and Mr Monroe would just not believe it if I told him that.”
Before his friends could react to his statement, a huge bottle of black ink fell from above onto his perfectly white shirt, staining it all over.
“OH, MY GOODNESS!” A loud girlish voice screamed and Renner immediately looked up to see his friend and crush, Helen, standing next to him looking all flustered.
“I’m so sorry Renner! I didn’t mean to drop the bottle on you!” She apologised before turning to face Renner with her guilt-stricken eyes.
Renner softly smiled. His insides always seemed to turn jelly-like, whenever Helen was around. How could he ever get angry with her?
“It’s-it’s okay He-Helen.” He stuttered while catching James let out a mock cough from the corner of his eye.
“Oh no! I really shouldn’t have done that! I’m so sorry!! Do you have an extra shirt with you?” Helen asked, her face still pinched with worry and guilt.
“Ah ye-yes, I do. I’ll change before the next period starts, don’t worry!”
“Oh great! Please do change and I’m so sorry for ruining your shirt.”
“It’s okay Helen! Renner doesn’t mind at all!” James said with a snicker while Renner quickly shot him a dirty look.
“I’m sorry again Renner!” Helen added, blatanty ignoring James’ comment and went off, biding the three of them goodbye.
Renner looked down at his shirt and back at his two friends again.
“Uh guys,” He started apologetically, “I’ll have to go back to class first and get my other shirt from my bag, we’ll continue discussing later okay?”
Felina smiled up him and nodded. “Yeah sure. We’ll meet you in the next lesson. You go and change first.”
10.40 am
Location: Renner’s Homeroom Class
Renner pushed the door open and quickly rushed into the classroom.
The lights were still switched off and the classroom was empty. Renner made his way towards the switchboard that was located next to white board and turned on the switch for the lights.
The very second the lights came back on, Renner turned to look at the whiteboard only to have his eyes widen and his jaw drop in utter shock.
The whole whiteboard was entirely filled with permanent black markings that lined together to form a mocking and terrible drawing of their principal, Mr Monroe!
Mr Monroe’s head had been drawn attached to a body of a donkey with nasty words written around the ugly picture.
Renner looked on in horror as he saw that the name signed at the bottom of the drawing spelled out ‘R-E-N-N-E-R’ in crystal clear letters.
He stood rooted to the ground, unable to move a muscle in shock. How could have this happened?
10.42 am
Location: Renner’s Homeroom Class
The classroom door opened and Felina walked in, only to see Renner standing in front of the white board with his stained shirt, staring at the hideous drawing that was drawn on the whiteboard.
“Renner?” She called out to him slowly and tapped him on his shoulder.
Renner immediately jolted up and quickly turned to look at her with widened eyes that were filled with fear.
“Fe-fe-felina!” He stuttered fearfully, pointing to the drawing on the board. “Some-someone is trying to frame me! I-I didn’t do this!”
“Ssh-ssh. Calm down, Renner.” Felina spoke gently, placing her hand on Renner’s shoulder. “I know you didn’t do this. Calm down.”
“But-but,” Renner began again, his voice clealy depicting the exasperation he was feeling.
“Okay relax.” Felina told him once more. “Stay here, I’ll be back.”
She quickly ran over the classroom entrance and locked the door and shut all the curtains on the windows.
“Listen,” She said making her way back towards Renner. “You have to stay calm. In 30 minutes, the whole class will be coming back to the classroom and you looking flustered will only make them think you did this.”
“But-but I didn’t!” Renner cried his eyes widening in fear again.
“Only I would know that Renner. But all the evidences would only point at you. Look at your stained shirt, and the black ink used in that drawing! And obviously the name signed under it. It will only make people think you’re the one who did this! Plus, Mr Monroe had just spoken to you this morning! He would clearly think this is an act you committed as retaliation!”
“Oh my!” Renner cried, placing his face into his palms. “What am I going to do Felina?”
“Don’t worry! If we manage to find the true culprit in time, we might be able to prove that you’re innocent!”
Renner shot her a puzzled look. “True culprit?”
“Obviously someone else has done this and is trying to frame you. If we manage to find that person, the whole problem will be solved.”
Renner frowned. “I don’t have the slightest clue as to who might have done this! And how in the world are we going to find the true culprit from the hundreds of people here in school and that too in 30 mins?”
Felina licked her lips and walked over to the nearest table to grab a pen and paper.
“Nothing is impossible! Come here,” She motioned Renner to look at the paper as she drew the numbers 10 and 30 on it.
“Look, the last time we left the classroom was at 10.30 when all of us had left for our break and at that time, the white board was completely clean. The time at which you left the cafeteria was at 10.38 and by the time you would have reached the classroom it would have been around 10.40. So from, 10.30 to 10.40, only within that 10 minutes would have someone came into the classroom, drew the picture and left.”
Renner arched his eyebrow and studied the numbers Felina scribbled on the paper. “And you came into the classroom at -“
“10.42 and caught you standing in front of the board, which is what would have looked like ‘catching you in the act’ in the eyes of another.” Felina finished it.
Renner pursed his lips and looked back at Felina doubtfully. “But what exactly would this 10 minutes mean?”
Felina smirked before adding, “10 minutes is a very short time required for a normal person to draw such a drawing. Yes, it is hideous but nonetheless artistic. And only a person skilled in art could have accomplished such a feat in 10 mins!”
“That means either an art student or an art teacher?” Renner asked rubbing his chin.
“Exactly! And there are only three batches of art students and 4 art teachers in our school which then narrows down our suspects list from a few hundreds to only 50 people. And taking into account the fact that you are one of them, that leaves us 49 suspects in total.”
“But how do you plan on finding the culprit out of these 49 people in just a few minutes?” Renner immediately asked.
“That’s where you would have to help me!” Felina said with a smile.
“Me?” Renner whispered.
“Take a look at the drawing again.” Felina told him.
“Why-“ Renner started.
“Just look at it.” Felina said cutting him off.
“It still looks hideous. And it had Mr Monroe’s head attached to a donkey’s body and it has my name signed under it.” Renner muttered as he scanned the drawing again.
“Good.” Felina added as Renner turned to look at her with a confused look.
“What good?”
“It’s a drawing of Mr Monroe. Doesn’t that tell you something?” Felina asked.
“That I am going to get into deep deep trouble. Yes, it does.” Renner muttered sarcastically while Felina rolled her eyes.
“It’s Mr. Monroe and not any other teacher and it has your name signed under it. This shows that the sole motive of the person who had committed this act was to get you into trouble.”
“But why?”
“That’s the question I would have to ask you! Do you know of any fellow arts student or an arts teacher who has something against you?”
Renner thought for a while before shaking his head. “Not any that I know of.”
Felina frowned at his response. “Okay! Let’s do this then. I’ll go down to the computer lab to get the names of all the art students. You stay here and start looking around for clues!”
“What do you need their names for?” Renner asked.
“For the list of suspects of course! Go start looking around for clues and do not leave the classroom.” She quickly added before exiting the classroom to make her way towards the Computer Lab.
10.50 am
Location: Renner’s Homeroom Class
“Renner! I got the names!” Felina cried as she ran into the classroom waving the papers that were in her hand.
Renner smiled and walked towards her as she began to lay out the papers on a table.
“Did you manage to find any clues?” She asked while putting down the last paper.
Renner shook his head and frowned. “No.”
“There must be some clue! It’s the thumbrule of a crime scene. Okay, you take a look at those names and highlight the names of the people you suspect, while I look around for clues!” Felina said before adding, “Oh and be fast! We are running out of time!”
10.53 am
Location: Renner’s Homeroom Class
“Felina! I’m done highlighting the names!”
“Just give me a second, I think I found something here!” Felina cried out from beside the white board.
She picked up the object she found lying on the floor and brought it over to the table where Renner was picking out the names for the suspects list.
“What did you find?” He asked, leaning forward to look at the object in her hand. “A marker?”
“Not just any marker. It is the permanent marker that was used to draw out the drawing! It’s the culprit’s weapon!” Felina added with a tinge of pride in her voice. “Do you recognise this marker? Do you know of anyone who uses the exact same marker in your arts class?”
Renner took the marker from Felina’s hand to take a another closer look at it. It seemed vaguely familiar and he quickly turned opened the cap of the marker to look for the carving of a letter inside it.
He secretly hoped that the carving would not be there and had a rude surprise when he found it.
He blinked twice as the letter ‘H’ stared back at him from the inside the cap of the marker.
“Felina...” He started slowly and fearfully.
“Do you know who it belongs to?” Felina probed him eagerly.
Renner lifted his head to look at Felina and the excitement in her dropped as soon as she saw the expression on his face.
“What’s wrong Renner?”
“The marker.”
“Yeah?”
“It’s Helen’s.”

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