Grad Student Detective
by Jason A. Feingold
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I waited for my suitcase for half an hour with my back to the wall. I was a little afraid that the drunk would come at me again with something worse, like a sociology textbook, but he didn’t. My luggage finally arrived. I collected it, found my car, drove home, and threw myself on my bed before the sun came up.
If I had to do without books or beds, I’d choose books every time. Fortunately, my dissertation committee didn’t know that. If word got out, I would have ended up shoveling split infinitives in some Caribbean last-chance academy for the rest of my days.
The reason I had been on that red-eye in the first place was that classes were starting on the very next day. I dragged myself out of bed, promising it that I’d call very soon, threw on some rags and headed for the Student Union for more coffee and a doughnut. The line was very long and surly, but I finally got my caffeine and sugar fix and headed for a table.
That’s when the Turkeycat came for me.
It wasn’t really a turkeycat. It was a guy in a turkeycat costume. The turkeycat is the university’s mascot, and seeing him is supposed to suffuse the undergrads with spirit and loyalty for the old alma mater. It doesn’t do anything for me except make me feel sorry for the poor son-of-a-bitch in the suit. The thing looks hot.
At first the Turkeycat pretended to paw and peck at my doughnut. He also made a peculiar clucking noise that resembled neither a turkey nor a cat. All of this had the effect of moving him to the tippy-top of my already crowded hit list. He pantomimed cutting my doughnut in half and rubbed his tummy.
“I don’t want to play today,” I told him. The Turkeycat tilted his head quizzically. Using gestures, I illustrated a plan to remove his three-chambered heart from his chest and take a bite from it while he screeched or roared his dying breath. Instead of taking the hint, he tried to stick a claw or talon into my coffee, thoroughly pissing me off.
I looked for a surface upon which to rest my breakfast so I could feather the cat in his den. Before I could put my stuff down, some undergrad in a university sweatshirt and harlequin hat, which he no doubt thought was funny, called, “Hey, Turkeycat!” This distracted Turkeycat long enough for me to make my getaway without having to throttle him.
* * *
The coffee was fresher than the night before, but it wasn’t doing me much good. I was running on two hours’ sleep. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of head work on the first day.
You go to class. The professor reads the syllabus out loud, because no one majoring in literature can read a syllabus on his own. The prof occasionally digresses to throw in a threat or two. If there’s any time left, you may get a discussion that starts with “What does [insert nonsense here] mean [to you]?”
Only the suck-ups take notes. After that, you go to the bookstore, pay them the equivalent of a kidney and your first-born. Then you wait for the reading assignments to pile up.
After the professors have had their way with you, you naturally do the same thing to the first-year undergrads you teach. Instructing first-years is the academic equivalent of shoveling muck.
Crap rolls downhill in all places but, in a university town, the leading bowlers are perched on the summit of a high and mighty mountain, spewing horse hockey like an uncapped Gulf of Mexico oil well. It piles up fast, usually faster than you can read the hundreds of pages they assign. All in all, it’s a living. Don’t scoff. If you did it for a couple of years, you wouldn’t be fit to do anything else either.
I was sitting in my cubicle, feet up on the desk and eyes down on the linoleum. I was staring at a patch that looked a little like Edgar Allen Poe... That is, until a pair of red high heels stepped right into the center of my daydream.
I looked up slowly from her feet to her head like a camera panning to introduce an ingenue in a film noir. She wore her body like a homecoming parade: a queen perched up on a rolling pedestal showing off the goods. Her shoes seemed a little big and her makeup just a little heavy, but those were minor flaws that showcased her many perfections.
“Are you Sam Dupinski?” she asked in a voice so husky it could win Best In Show at the American Kennel Club.
I sat up. “That’s the name on the door,” I said, “along with the other eleven names.” I slid a chair out for her and angled it to maximize my view of her. If only all office hours were like this. University policy said I couldn’t pitch woo at her, but it didn’t say anything about sneaking surreptitious glances.
“My name is Brett Kimeara, and I think my professor... I think my professor is trying to flunk me.”
“Which one is that?”
“Gynic Symbolism in Elizabethan Literature.”
I didn’t recall that one. I didn’t want to admit it in front of her, though. “And why do you think your professor is trying to flunk you?”
“Because I can’t find the class. No one can.”
“Want my advice? Drop the class. I can set up a nice independent study that...”
“I can’t drop it. I need it to graduate.”
“Okay,” I drawled. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“Can you find the classroom?”
“Look, person,” I said, using my A-game political correctness, “I’m a teaching assistant, not a bloodhound. If you want tutoring, I’m your gender-neutral resource. I suggest you try the Philosophy Department for missing classrooms.”
“They sent me to you.”
That figured. They throw around a lot of Greek words, but when it comes to practical action they can’t fight their way through a wet pulp copy of The Critique of Pure Reason.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Maybe the Geography Department can help.”
“Please,” she pleaded, her voice sweeter than honey on a lollipop rolled in corn syrup and dipped in sugar and spice and everything nice. “I can pay you.” Then she worked me over with those big brown eyes, roughing me up and slapping me around with so much sexy that I began to pray for a case of erectile dysfunction.
“Let me see your schedule,” I relented.
She handed it over. She brushed my hand, not by accident. The contact was so intense I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. A handshake would probably have broken both my legs.
According to her schedule, English 390 was taught by Professor H. Dashall from 2:00 to 2:50 in the Columbus Building on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
“Who the hell is Professor Dashall?” I asked. “And where is the Columbus Building?”
She shook her head and shrugged. “Will you help me?” She asked so nicely I couldn’t refuse.
“My fee is 175 meal plan points per day, plus campus bus fare.” She agreed quickly. I should have asked for more. I copied her schedule, kept the original, found out where I could reach her, and enjoyed the view as those gunboat high heels clickity-clacked their way back out of my life.
It was time to shake the tree, and there’s no better place to start that shaking than the main branch.
* * *
Jill Rockford, the department secretary, was talking on the telephone when I wandered into the English Department’s main office. I knew better than to interrupt her when she was on the blower.
A university department may have a duly appointed department head, and some people — including the department head — may even believe that the department head is the one who’s running the show. However, those of us who don’t have our heads completely up our asses know better.
Nothing in that office moves unless the secretary commands it to, and nothing useful is accomplished unless she approves it. In the spirit of deference, I sat on the edge of her desk and began hooking her paper clips together until she was off the horn.
“I’m looking for someone,” I told her.
“You’ve found her,” she replied. “Look no further.” She smiled that fifty-karat smile of hers.
“’Had we but world enough and time,’” I said. “You know how it is.”
“A girl can dream.” She sighed. “Who are you looking for?”
“Professor H. Dashall.”
She shook her head “No such animal.”
“Are you sure?”
She just stared at me. Questioning her answer was tantamount to heresy.
“If there’s no Professor Dashall, why is he on some undergrad’s schedule?” I asked in self-defense, taking the paper out of my pocket and handing it to her.
“It’s a fake,” she said about twenty seconds later. “You can tell from the font. This font is Sans-Serif, but it’s not university-approved Sans-Serif. And this was done on a laser printer. Schedules are done on a dot-matrix printer because they’re on press-through carbons. And real schedules have perforated edges. This doesn’t.” She looked at me sideways. “Who gave it to you?”
“Her name’s Brett Kimeara. She should be in English 390.”
Jill tensed up, but she didn’t say anything. However, she was extra firm with her keystrokes as she put the name into the computer system. “No such student,” Jill said. “Or class.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. She’s not in the system.”
“That’s peculiar,” I observed.
“To say the least.”
“Thanks, Jill. I owe you one.”
“You owe me a bunch,” she argued. “But you could take me out to dinner sometime?”
I took her by the chin and guided her pretty face up toward my own. I was violating about seventy-five separate policies the university had about physical contact between co-workers, but she didn’t seem to care. “When this case is over,” I promised.
“Really.” I kissed her to seal the deal, and I tip-toed out of the office while her eyes were still closed.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Jason A. Feingold