Ron began, "How did you know about my–"
"Never mind that. Do you think we're playing, Ron? Do you think U-town is some fairyland that you get to by going through a wardrobe, or by getting caught in a tornado, or by going down a rabbit hole? But never mind that–"
"You're gonna get me out of this, aren't you?" Ron asked. "You're not going to let them send me back to my parents–"
Jan shook her head. "Ron, you need to understand one thing. I would sell you out in a minute to protect U-town. If that's what this comes to, you're on the next bus back to your parents, and I'll send somebody with you to make sure you get there. You'd just better hope I'm smart enough to do both."
Ron, for the first time in my experience, looked uncertain. "I don't want to go home," she said miserably. "To my parents. I want to go home."
Jan smiled. "Then it's past time that you got smarter. Stop relying on me to be smart and be smarter yourself. Also, did you think I wouldn't investigate you? You're underage, according to their laws, and also you handle our mail. Do you think we'd trust our mail to– Anyway, we can talk about that later. But did you think–"
"She investigates her friends when she's bored," I said to Ron, "Just to keep in practice."
My employer looked furious that I had interrupted her, but then, seeing how Ron glanced up at me and smiled, a very small and tentative smile, she got it.
We needed Ron to answer a lot of questions, so right now we needed her to be less upset, rather than more. If I hadn't derailed my employer's tirade, she would have moved on to her next point, which was that Ron's most immediate danger wasn't being sent home to her parents, it was being arrested for murder. This would not have improved her usefulness as a witness. I hugged her again and then I let her go.
"Ron," Jan said, "please sit down. We need your help."
Ron took one of the straight-backed chairs, and I pulled another one over so I could sit next to her.
"Ron, do you know Latin?"
Ron looked around uncertainly. "Uh," she replied. "No?"
"There's a useful Latin phrase: in loco parentis. I'll translate it for you. 'Loco' means crazy, as you probably know, so what it means is that you're driving me crazy right now, but I'm still responsible for you, as if I was your parent." She smiled at that point, which was good. Otherwise, I don't think Ron would have understood that this was intended to be a joke. "So, if you want to do something like this again, be smart, and talk to one of us. Okay?"
Ron nodded. "Yes, I will."
"Now, we have work to do. You've been outside this room, where the rest of us have been cooped up. So, I need to know what you know. Everything you've seen and heard and felt and smelled and tasted. I want to climb inside your head. But first, what are they doing now? I need to know how much time we have."
"You'll have a bit," said one of the officers, the one who had flirted with Christy. "They're interviewing all the students, every single one of them. And the old man's gonna hold you forever, if he can."
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