A genetics professor has to break up with a student who is still in love with him.
BY: DEREK BERRY THORPE
Professor Hamish Epstein should not have been having such a hard time concentrating in his genetics class. This certainly was not the first time an adoring student wore a short skirt to class and deliberately parted her legs. But this was Kelly O'Dunn.
Kelly O'Dunn was different.
She wasn't even supposed to be in this introductory 101 class. She'd long fulfilled her college credits for genetics; yet still, she sat in the second row taking notes. When her writing instrument wasn't scribbling on her notepad, she slid it, with some measure of seduction, between her pouty lips.
Hamish Epstein ended his class and his diminutive graduate assistant handed out take-home test papers to the thirty or so students in the amphitheater.
"Kelly, nice to see you again. Do you need one of these take-homers too?" He heard his assistant say, carrying a cheeky grin along with his stack of papers.
Still seated, Kelly accepted her handout, as the other students filed out of the class. "Sure, SD. Can't hurt to have a refresher course, mmmm?"
With his obligations complete, SD left the auditorium. "See you on Monday, Prof. Have a good weekend."
Professor Epstein pretended to search for papers in his satchel, but he paused his rummaging. "No, Malcolm. There is no class on Monday, I have an appointment, remember? See you Tuesday."
SD whacked his skull in a gesture of forgetfulness. The heavy door swung shut and he was gone.
"Good old reliable 'Short Dude' is still your assistant, Mish?"
His breath halted at the sound of the nickname only she used with him. "Not for long, Miss O'Dunn. I've mentioned I might be leaving soon. Why are you in my class? I thought we had our little chat a few weeks ago."
She pointed her upturned index finger at him and crooked it a few times in her beckon for him. He straightened his tie and his expression. Arms folded across his chest, he took two tentative steps towards the first row of student seats. Even from that distance, he could taste the familiar fragrance leaving her body.
Her beauty still managed to arrest him, and a memory of himself being at his first boy scout camp inexplicably popped into his head. He recalled seeing his first bonfire there and thought Kelly's hair and those flames were both the same shade of copper orange. He reasoned the hot embers from her fiery locks must have fallen to her cheeks and chest, leaving the most exquisite of freckles.
She raised her leg and propped it against the seat-back in front of her. " 'Miss O'Dunn'?... Mish, it's me. You've refused to take my calls or answer my texts, so this was the only way I thought I'd get your attention."
He stepped all the way to the front row, resting his hands on the chair backs so he couldn't see the mound beneath her flimsy underwear. He didn't think he'd have the willpower to resist her if he allowed his eyes to wander there. Her flawless, pale Irish thighs lead to a destination he resolutely turned his back on two months prior.
"Kelly, look, it's over. We can't be lovers anymore. I'm sorry if this is hard for you to grasp but you need to move on. Ruth and I are trying to reconcile and hopefully, I'll be leaving soon for a new post at a different university. We talked about all this before."
"That's a load of crap, Mish. You said you'd leave her. You told me you loved me, over and over. I'm still in love with you. What about all of our plans?"
"Plans...what plans? I said some things in the heat of passion a couple times, so I can't be held..."
His tie dangled between the seats and she reached out, seemingly absent of thought, and held the colored cloth just below the knot. She pulled him in close to kiss his lips, while her free hand caressed his full beard. The move caught him off guard.
For six delicious seconds, he allowed her lips to be reacquainted with his. She had a way of painting the roof of his palate with her tongue in a fashion Michelangelo would have awed, but then he broke away. Any longer and his resolve would have certainly vanished. He needed to bring the hammer down.
"That's enough, young lady! Enough! You need to go right this instant. We're done. Don't bother calling. Don't bother texting. Don't bother coming back to my class. Are we clear?" He reclaimed his tie and stepped back. Three beads of sweat settled into the hair above his eye.
She yelped in exasperation, and her breathing turned erratic. Hamish inferred that her seduction was not going as planned. She gathered her things and stepped into the aisle. "You promised we'd get married, and start a family. Are you seriously going to leave all this to stay with your burlap bag wife? I'll get no less than five marriage proposals from the moment I step outside this classroom until I reach the parking lot." She stepped towards him near his desk.
"You're gonna regret this. You don't even know how much I can help you. You better not be sleeping with any of your present students and making this the excuse as to why you're breaking up with me?"
"And what if I am...?" He regretted teasing her almost instantly.
She lunged at him and tried to slap his face. He parried the swipe and held her wrists. Her notebook and pens skittered to the floor.
"Get out now, before I call campus security!" It was an empty threat, but the situation was deteriorating fast.
Kelly left. Swollen tears started to bathe the freckles on her cheeks. Her open notebook sprawled obscenely on the floor at the page she'd been sketching.
It took him a second, but he realized the drawing was a replica of a photo he hid behind the bookcase at home. It was of the two of them on a Florida beach. He'd taken her along on one of his conferences. Her rendition recaptured the darkened hue of his sun-drenched skin compared to her unchanged pale complexion. The detail was stunning and disturbing at the same time.
He put the notebook into his satchel and headed up the stairs to his office.
The ugly encounter with Kelly was just starting to peel away when he saw her through his window. Keys in hand, she headed for her Audi in the parking lot. Except, she passed her own vehicle and walked directly to his. She used those same keys to scrape two uneven lines along the entire driver's side of his SUV.
Hamish Epstein slapped, flat-handed on his window pane, muffling a half-hearted shout. Kelly could never have heard him, but one of his colleagues walking down the hallway did.
"All's well, Hamish?" Associate Professor, Ann Laufer paused at his door.
"Yes, just a pesky bug on the window. I haven't gone around the bend as yet." He gaffed with his peer.
By the time he refocused to the parking lot, Kelly had already started her Audi and was backing out of her spot. He watched her pull away with a forlorn sense of loss of genuine affection from her, as this whole breakup was a contrived charade.
The truth of the matter was, he almost certainly was the odds-on favorite to become the next president of his alma mater. He was one interview away by the board of regents, in making their decision for him to assume that post at the Jewish university he graduated from. It would be a tremendous honor to accept. His lawyer sister and surgeon brother would have to concede such an esteemed appointment. All but erasing his ne'er-do-well status among his siblings.
All this would be possible under one condition: No baggage.
He was pulled aside, early on in his vetting process, and cautioned to get rid of any and all 'student associations' that might embarrass his potential new position.
He resisted the notion of having to jettison Kelly from his life for as long as he could. He even went through a three-day period when he seriously considered leaving his wife for his stunning mistress. After all, Ruth Epstein had lost interest in her figure and her sex drive after the birth of their third son. He looked at her fold the laundry one day, in her furry slippers, mid-calf length housedress, and curlers, and shuddered at how much she'd let herself go.
He decided against that move when he realized his first son would have been the same age as his new stepmother. Plus the board of regents would have declined to select him to be president of a Jewish university with a Catholic wife.
Young, sexy, Kelly O'Dunn had to go.
He repeated the resolve many times over on his drive home to the suburbs. It was a cool afternoon, partly cloudy with a thirty percent chance of rain. The weather matched his mood; partly sad at the prospect of leaving Kelly behind but elated at his near-term forecast to elevate his station.
His phone buzzed a familiar chime eight times during his drive home. Kelly was texting him. No doubt trying to apologize for her tantrum at the university. He ignored them without opening the messages. She rang his number also and he silenced the call. She'd get the message soon enough to leave him alone.
He parked his SUV in his garage and pressed the console to close the door behind his vehicle. He stooped to remove his shoes in the laundry area and Crick, his Persian kitty, rubbed her body against his thigh. He stroked her fur as a female voice addressed him.
"Hamish, is that you?" Ruth greeted him from the kitchen.
Of course it's me. Who else would it be this time of afternoon? "Yes, dear, it's me."
'You just missed a call from one of your students. A Miss O'Dunn. Is that the girl with the unusual red hair?"
He stopped petting Crick and lurched into the kitchen. "Yes, what about her?" He struggled to remain stoic.
Ruth, dressed in baggy track pants and a floppy garden hat, squeezed the dish sponge dry. "She's been trying to reach you, she says you might have inadvertently taken one of her notebooks and wants to know if she should come by and get it or if you can drop it off somewhere this weekend."
"She called the house for a stupid notebook?"
Ruth dried her hands. "Well, she was very apologetic about it. Said it had vital information she needed."
This was getting way out of hand. Kelly had never called the house phone before. The two women met previously at an annual faculty event, but he was sure Ruth was oblivious to their indiscretions.
"Okay, I'll take care of it sometime this weekend." What in the world is she up to? He muttered on the way to his study. He normally would have kissed his wife on her forehead over her right eye. Sitting in his chair, he wondered if she noticed a change in his routine... or even cared.
He removed the notebook from his satchel and thumbed through the contents. Only the first twenty pages were used and as far as he could see, just the drawing on the twentieth page was of any real significance to their relationship. The rest comprised of grocery lists, a party planning to-do list, and a few drafts for essays that likely had long been completed. Nothing of dire importance indeed. She just wanted to keep a line of communication open, he surmised. He contemplated ripping out the sketch and tossing it in the trash but he decided against that move in the end.
Just after five-thirty, Hamish Epstein's wife called him for supper. They sat mostly in silence across from each other, eating her average meatloaf and salad. She asked him how things were progressing with the interviews and the vetting process for the university president post.
"Things are going fine. It's probably my job to lose at this point. Remember on Monday morning they are sending a courtesy car over to take me to a conference room for my final interview with the board of regents. Have you taken care of my suit and shirt selections?"
Before she could answer, the garage door clanged open on its rollers. Smiling, she put her fork down and looked over her shoulder into the laundry room expecting their youngest son to enter from the garage.
"Josh, you're just in time. Wash your hands and sit for supper, Dear. I made your favorite dish again."
"Hey, guys, meatloaf again huh, Mom. Thanks, but I'm just grabbing a change of clothes and heading back out. Sorry, I told you about Mike's barbecue tonight, remember?" On his way up the stairs to his room, the strapping seventeen-year-old paused to talk to his father.
"Hey, dad. What's with the double helix on the garage door? Did you paint that on there?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Go check it out. Someone painted on our door."
Hamish shared a quizzical look with his wife then rose from the table.
"Oh, finish your meatloaf first, Dear. It'll get cold," she pleaded.
"This is why God invented microwaves. Be right back." He swiped Josh's keys with the door remote from the counter and headed out past the washing machine through to the garage. He stood in front of Josh's Honda in the driveway and pressed the button to bring the door down. The panels rattled one by one to the floor. All but the top most displayed an orange, spray-painted pattern, that was plainly evident when the door came to rest.
A perfectly drawn double-helix crisscrossed about five times in the classical representation of the DNA molecule. The unique feature of this graffiti was the way the two strands came together in a narrow plait at the bottom, with a girl's bow sprayed in orange, 'tying it off'. The paint was still tacky to the touch. He retracted the door and went around the perimeter of the house to see if Kelly had done any more of her mad artwork.
There was nothing else out of order paint-wise on the house. The pool and patio area was fine also. But when he came back around to the front of the garage, he found his old bike lying half on, half off the front of Josh's Honda. He froze in his tracks and swallowed back down Ruth's meatloaf threatening to burst through his mouth.
That bitch was still here in the bushes when I came out to check, Holy crap.
He bolted to his curb and surveyed the immediate neighborhood. His forearm hair stood up like a bristle brush and his breathing became short and staccato.
No Kelly or any Audis in sight.
He managed to get his bike off Josh's car just as his son emerged from inside. He motioned for his father to throw him his car keys.
Josh ribbed his father on getting into his car. "You give someone a failing grade, Dad?"
"Listen, Josh... where are you going again?"
"I told you. Mike's having a beach barbecue."
"I want you to be careful tonight, okay? Just be aware of your surroundings and don't pick up any strange women."
He double tapped the roof of his son's car and watched him leave with a nervous thumbs up. He walked his bike back into the garage, and within fifteen minutes he had painted over the orange double-helix with a can of beige he kept handy in case anyone left swastikas on the same door.
Crick, left the house through his cat door, via the pool area, and joined the professor as he finished up. Hamish was so preoccupied with the developing drama that he barely noticed the feline company.
Ruth came out onto the driveway via the front door and watched for a few seconds before asking if he wanted her to reheat the meatloaf. He paused mid-stroke and glared at her over his glasses. She retreated after picking up the cat.
Beginning at 8:40 that night, Hamish composed two short texts while he reclined in his bedroom chaise lounger. To Josh, he wrote;
Checking on you, sport. What time will you be home?
Before his son responded, he wrote to Kelly; Enough already! This shit has to stop! And he ended with an orange faced angry emoji.
At 8:48, both recipients replied almost simultaneously. He read Kelly's first; Sorry about the car... really.
Then Josh's; I'm fine. Heading home soon. Rear window smashed and there's puke all over the back seat.
In their bedroom robes, both Hamish and Ruth Epstein piloted their son's car into the garage when he arrived at 9:50. Josh appeared sheepish and embarrassed over the incident.
"Did you see who did this?" Hamish asked his son.
"No, Dad. The car was in the lot, and we were all on the beach."
"Did you call the police?" Ruth fussed when she saw the beads of glass mixed with the vomitus in the back seat.
"No...Guys. Listen, some of my friends were smoking pot, so I'm not calling the cops there. Besides, there was nothing missing."
"I'm calling Michael's parents right now to let them know what goes on at their son's barbecue. Hard drugs, violence...why I bet there was even some kissing going on." Ruth adjusted the scarf covering her curlers and pursed her lips.
Hamish cinched his robe belt tighter and quieted the chatter. "Everyone calm down. No one was hurt, and we have insurance. Tomorrow we file a police report, then, Josh, you'll help to drive it to the insurance company, and they will take it from there. Matter over. Ruth, you're not calling anyone."
Hamish slept fitfully into Saturday morning. His dreams alternated between vignettes of Kelly and himself in conflict and in pleasure; Both producing the same degree of perspiration.
When Hamish woke around 7:30, he lay in the shadow of his wife. She loomed over him on his side of the bed with her arms folded across her chest, staring intently down at him. The loose skin around her neck buckled into flabby undulations as he tried to decipher what her dour expression meant.
She did not reply to his question. She twitched her lips as if she were nursing a lemon drop before she turned to leave the bedroom. Hamish could only surmise that he may have said something in his dream state that offended her. He tried to put it out of his mind. He had work to do.
By 8:30, he and Josh were on the road in their respective cars sorting out the broken Honda window. Neither the police report nor the insurance filing presented any blockades to a quick resolution of the damage to both of their cars. It was easily couched in both offices as a random act of vandalism. Hamish made no mention of the DNA double helix graffiti on his garage door from the previous day.
By 10:15, Hamish, seated next to his son, were less than a mile away from their house when Ruth called his mobile phone.
"Shit, Hamish. There's a fire! It's burning... Where are you?"
Then the line went dead. Multiple callbacks did not get a response from his wife. He blew through two stop signs in their vehicular sprint back home. Two streets away from their address, Josh pointed through the front widescreen at the smoke coming from their lot. They screeched to a stop diagonally on the driveway and followed the screams coming from outside the rear of the house.
The house was not on fire, but orange flames belched from the oversized yard trash bin. Each tongue, from the burning grass and branches, licked dangerously close to the overhanging patio roof. Ruth was scooping water with a dixie cup from a kitchen saucepan and flinging it in the general direction of the trash bin.
"Do something!" she pleaded.
In the second before he put himself between the flames and his wife, and handed her off to Josh, he felt like he was eight years old again watching his first scout bonfire. He picked up a rake, flipped it to the flat underside, and pushed the base of the bin towards the edge of the pool. The irony of the flame color, and who had set it in the first place, was not lost on him. In a dramatic gesture, he kicked the entire burning mass into the blue water.
Through the hiss of the dying fire, he heard his neighbor shout across the fence. "Hey, Hamish, everything okay? Shall I call the fire department?"
"No, I think we're good, thanks. Say, did you see anyone skulking about the yard at all?"
"No, nothing out of the ordinary."
Professor Epstein directed Josh to take his mother inside and make her some chamomile tea. He needed some time alone to process his rage at Kelly's blatant act of arson at the very least, and possibly attempted murder. This was so out of character for her, and yet here she was, displaying the unmistakable fury of a woman spurned. His pool was a mess with all the charred debris, but it paled in comparison to the violation he felt for the potential physical harm she put his wife up against.
This shit has to stop today. He thought.
He fished out his phone and dialed. It was not to the police, but to the pool maintenance service. Then he found Kelly's number and pressed her icon, but immediately stopped the call from going through. He decided against calling her then. A better plan emerged. He'd monitor the pool cleaning, then confront Kelly at her home later that afternoon.
This shit is going to stop today.
By early afternoon, the pool service company had sent two guys out to respond to Hamish Epstein's pool crisis. They did an excellent job cleaning the debris out of the water and even took away the partially melted plastic bin. While watching them, he hatched what he thought was a brilliant plan to visit Kelly while still being assured that his wife wouldn't be left home alone.
"It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon guys. We all need a change of pace. What do you say we go to the country club as a family? Josh, you can look after your mother at the pool, and play a round of golf with the guys."
Ruth did not appear excited at the idea.
Josh looked to his mother and chimed in. "Yeah, mom, it'd be good for you to get out of the house. Plus you can tell your garden fire story to your friends."
Hamish suspected that Josh's enthusiasm was more aligned for the prospect of chatting with the attractive lifeguards, but he welcomed the encouragement. Ruth consented, and while she readied herself, Hamish went to his study to get Kelly's notebook from his satchel. It was not in there, but already open to the sketch page on his desk. He would not have left it there.
He put the notebook in the trunk of his car.
Over the years, he encouraged his student lovers to take up residence in the area around his country club, so he could easily visit with them after making a token appearance in the clubhouse. Kelly conveniently lived three minutes drive from the Epping Country club he was a member of. In his plan, it would be easy to steal away from the practice green to Kelly's garden apartment, ostensibly to return her notebook. After expressing his unmitigated disgust he could return to play a few holes without skipping a beat.
By 3:00 pm, professor Hamish Epstein was parked on the street outside Kelly O'Dunn's compound. She lived in a free standing garden chalet she rented from a retired family. Her Audi was there in her spot so the odds were better than 9:1 that she was home.
He texted her; I'm in the neighborhood. I have your notebook.
She messaged back; OMG. I was hoping you'd come by.
Hamish walked up the driveway with her notebook under his armpit. The host family did not appear to be home as their porch lights were on. He'd come to know that meant they were coming back home after dark. He walked around the side path to a gate and swung it open to enter her private space.
Standing in front of her door he rehearsed his delivery before pressing the doorbell, but without warning, the front door swung open and Kelly O'Dunn stood coy, perfectly framed by her own portal. Hamish caught somewhat by surprise, could not deny how lovely his former consort was.
She hid partially behind the edge of the door and held it close in between her bosom as if she told secrets to the wood nymph. She bit her lower lip and looked directly into the professor's face with a slow flex of her eyelashes. She was barefooted and wore one of his white dress shirts buttoned just to the level of her breasts.
He knew what she was up to, and he steeled himself to resist her. He stepped into her house and handed her the notebook as he passed.
"I believe this is yours."
She shut the door. "Thanks, Mr. FedEx guy... I should have a tip for you somewhere under this shirt."
"Cut it out, Kelly. How dare you violate my home. Are you out of your mind?"
"So I called your house...big deal. I was hoping you'd answer, not your wife."
Kelly approached him, but he turned his back and headed for the least sexy room in her house. He went to the kitchen and stood next to the table.
"I'm warning you, Kelly, stay away from my house and my family." He waved a stern index finger in her direction but she followed and lingered by the sink.
"What are you talking about? Look, calm down. I told you I was sorry about your car."
"And Josh's too!" Hamish ranted on for another minute or so. His passion rose to a crescendo, but he paused mid-sentence when he suspected she was no longer paying attention. Her eyes were closed and her hands traced the curves of her body. He recalled her confession of how much his angry tirades turned her on.
She swiveled to the kitchen faucet and cupped generous portions of water onto the shirt she wore. The wet cotton stuck to her form, and the dark areolae of her breasts shone through.
"Oh, Mish, You always made me so hot when I'm bad, and you speak to me that way."
Hamish became enraged. He couldn't seem to get through to her. He was trying his best to be reasonable to end the relationship, but it was having the opposite effect. When he saw her approaching with the wet see-through shirt, and lust in her eyes, he felt a more drastic move was needed to get the message across.
"Bitch, I want to be a university president, and you are in my way, so leave me alone!"
He held her shoulders, spun her around, and pushed her away with forceful intent. He watched her lurch forward, and flail for equilibrium. She skidded in the puddle she made on her kitchen floor, and lost whatever balance she had left, falling without grace, head first onto the corner of a metal step-stool.
Oh my God! He thought in horror, as she lay still, face down on the kitchen floor. A trickle of blood escaped from her right ear.
He scurried over, flipped her onto her back, and cradled her head in his lap. He put his palm around the base of her neck and felt for a pulse.
Nothing... Oh my God...no!
Then something...her eyelids fluttered, and she groaned. "All I ever wanted was to love you. You don't even know how much I can help you..." Barely audible, but he made out what she said from his lap below.
She's still alive... still alive. She'll get better, and I'll be president, and she'll still be alive.
Her image blurred out of focus, as his vision wandered off to play with his thoughts. He fantasized about walking down a hallowed hallway in slow motion. His thumb tucked into a waistcoat pocket, as his siblings, students, and colleagues alike cheered his stewardship as university president.
Kelly gagged and spluttered, breaking his reverie. She tugged at his wrist clamping around her throat.
"Mish, I can't breathe! What are you doing? Are you...are you killing me?"
He looked down at her flaming hair and her freckled face. He answered with his eyes.
What a bizarre inappropriate question, silly girl. Of course I'm not killing you.
She let go of his wrist, trusting the truth of the message in his eyes, but at the same time... seemingly, perfectly okay with the lie crouching under his lids.
Of course I'm not killing you, silly girl. I'm merely feeling for your pulse. He consoled his lover as he retreated to the darkness beneath his lids. And yet, when Hamish Epstein returned from his daze, the grip around her throat was so tight, the blood had long left his knuckles, and Kelly O'Dunn lay dead... and staring.
When the professor was released from his dark conspiracy, and he hitched his mind back to the reality in the kitchen, he had two immediate thoughts; How can I make this 'accident' look like an accident. And; I hope my blue suit will be ready for pickup before my interview on Monday.
He used the step-stool to unscrew the kitchen lightbulb from the socket in the ceiling, placed it near her open right hand, then he overturned the stool. He left her on the floor without even a wistful last glance and wiped his fingerprints from the doorknob.
He returned to his country club a short distance away to play nine holes of golf. He fully expected to have the worst game of his adult life, what with the weight of the murder of his ex-girlfriend on his shoulders. Instead, he hit the ball flush and with a deft touch. The steady hand on the golf course seemed to bother him more than the steady hand he had around Kelly's neck.
Sunday morning he woke feeling surprisingly rested, despite him seeing the bedside clock strike 4:00 am. He convinced himself that Kelly's death would be deemed an accident from the fall. No one had seen him come or leave, and he left no fingerprints.
On his way to collect his dry-cleaned suit for the next day's interview, he listened intently to local radio stations for any report of foul play deaths fitting Kelly's situation.
There were none.
On Monday morning, the blanket of guilt he had been denying, descended all around him. It threatened to suffocate him as he showered, and he feared he'd perform poorly at his interview. He paced about his room, muttering responses to fictitious questions he posed to himself while Crick got underfoot. He nudged her out of the room. Ruth, on her way out for a hair appointment, asked if he was alright, and he replied in the affirmative. He tried to kiss her goodbye above the right eye, but she shifted ever so slightly away. She wished him good luck.
He checked the time. He was way ahead of schedule, but he dressed with such absence of mind, that his socks and cufflinks were mismatched and he paced further.
Looking down onto his modest backyard from his bedroom window, he fumbled with the knot of his tie.
What is that?
He spotted some debris floating in the pool.
I thought the pool guys got all of the trash out on Saturday.
He had time, so he put his jacket on, and went out of the back door to retrieve the residual garbage.
Four steps from the pool edge, Hamish Epstein realized the semi-submerged flotsam was his cat, Crick. Her neck hung at a grotesque angle and was sinking closer to the bottom of the pool. He shouted her name and fished her out with a rod netting. His jaw muscles quivered under the pressure of its clench, as he held the mangled wet creature.
How is this possible! He raged internally. I just saw you in the house!
The chlorinated water drained from Crick's beige fur onto Professor Epstein's leather shoes. He did not know what to do with the dead cat in his hands. It seemed her neck had been snapped before being tossed into the pool, and he wondered if she suffered much pain.
But who?... Kelly was as dead as the soaking wet animal cradled in his arms.
"Who did this to you, Crick?"
The leaves from the hedge rustled to his right, and Hamish caught a flash of movement darting around the far corner of his house. The assailant was still on property!
Hamish dropped his dead cat and sprinted across his backyard towards the opposite side of his house. He thought he'd have a decent chance of intercepting the streaking orange figure near the driveway entrance. His jacket billowed like a cape behind him, as he summoned the last vestiges of athletic performance from his youth.
He led with his right shoulder, and the collision made his jaw shift out of its socket when he tackled the orange-hooded intruder. They fell through the flower bed and tumbled onto the front lawn. Hamish landed favorably astride the intruder who lay face down under the hood of the university's orange sweat jacket.
Snatching at the hood, Hamish heaved, "Who are you?"
"How could you leave me? How could you end what we had after all this time?"
"Holy shit...Malcolm? Has this been you all the time? You crazy bastard! Lighting my trash, and killing my cat!"
He cocked his right fist, and brought it down hard across the cheek of his graduate assistant, 'short dude'. Malcolm let out a high-pitched mewl, much like what Crick might have uttered when her neck was snapped.
"You left me for her. I can't believe you left me for that redheaded bitch, Hamish."
At that moment, the sound of a vehicle turning into the driveway made them both pause. A black SUV came into view, and the driver tooted its horn. The transportation for the interview was early.
He stood, and brushed dirt and grass from his suit, and tried to stand in front of his long-time lover, in an attempt to conceal him. A well-dressed lady in a gray suit opened the door on the passenger side and smiled.
"Professor Epstein? Is...everything okay?"
"We're here to pick you up. Are you ready?"
Professor Epstein, in a hurried effort to conjure normalcy, and establish a good first impression, stammered through his reply, "Let's see...keys, wallet, cell phone...let me just lock up."
He turned to his graduate assistant. "And next time, don't cut the grass so low. See you next week."
Malcolm slinked away through the shrubs and down the driveway into the street.
The ride to the interview reeked of awkward. The lady in the gray suit sat in the back with Hamish and attempted small-talk. The burden of reconciling and processing recent events sapped his concentration, and he nodded politely to whatever she said. His jaw hurt, his leather shoes were still soggy, and the right sleeve of his soiled jacket had a tear on the shoulder from his scuffle with Malcolm. He feared the board of regents would notice the defects in his attire and score him unfit for the new post.
They arrived at the interview site downtown. The gray-suited lady led the way through the atrium and up a flight of marble stairs. His soggy leather shoes squeaked, without apology, on each step up the staircase. Hamish, still in his daze, noticed two uniformed guards who opened the conference room doors ahead of him. Security seemed unusually tight.
He was directed to one head of a large oval table, and he stood behind a bottle of mineral water, a yellow legal pad, and a video remote. A man with a generous mustache, whom he did not recognize, approached with a firm handshake.
"Welcome, Professor Epstein, have a seat. The rest of the interview team will be here momentarily. Meanwhile, I invite you to watch a short video. Just press 'play'."
Hamish Epstein did as he was directed. He pressed 'play', and the screen at the far end of the table came to life.
The phone in his pocket vibrated from two texts he received. He read the first one. It was from his wife Ruth who wished him luck on his interview.
The second was from his old Jewish university;
Professor Epstein, we are sorry but our courtesy car cannot pick you up this morning and our interview with you has to be canceled. There has been some bad news on our side, as one of our senior regent members, Mr. Eric O'Dunn, was informed of his daughter's tragic death yesterday. We will reschedule at a later time.
When Hamish Epstein's windpipe finally relaxed enough to allow air into his lungs, a man spoke in front of the large screen showing a security loop of the professor entering and leaving Kelly O'Dunn's compound.
"Professor Epstein, I'm Detective Harris. We would like to talk to you about what happened while you visited Kelly O'Dunn's studio on Saturday afternoon. We found a light bulb on the floor covered with your fingerprints."
His daze returned. He was walking down that hallowed hallway again, except this time, Kelly was the only one standing behind him at the beginning of the corridor. She just kept repeating;
Wait, you don't even know how much I can help you.