Authors: Will Lavender
Praise for Will Lavender and
“Lavender is Houdini-level dexterous at the sleight-of-verb necessary to keep the reader guessing, doubting, perplexed and attentive throughout the book. Characters lie, memories lie, senses lie, and underpinning it all is the game-that's-not-a-game, this enigmatic Procedure, that pulls like an uncontrollable undertow from beyond the grave. Who is Paul Fallows? Maybe the students inDominancewould have been better off never knowing the answer, but Lavender's readers will be abundantly rewarded.”
“The Silence of the LambsmeetsAnd Then There Were NoneÂ .Â .Â . a terrific premise.”
“Mr. Lavender should be able to write his third, fourth and fifth puzzle-crazy potboilers on the visceral strength of the first twoÂ .Â .Â .Dominanceis quick and complicatedÂ .Â .Â . Part of Lavender's sleight of hand involves flattering the reader's keen intelligenceÂ .Â .Â . And he writes with real enthusiasm.”
âJanet Maslin,The New York Times
“Lavender's novel is a literary labyrinth, the kind made popular by Jorge Luis Borges, without ever losing the pace or the pleasure of a taut thriller.”
âMilwaukee Journal Sentinel
“If you like puzzles you will enjoy this book. If you are a fan of twists you will like this book. If you like both puzzles AND twists then you will probably flip over this book. It will have you guessing until the final page.”
“A twisting, tilting, hall-of-mirrors funhouse of a bookÂ .Â .Â . [The plot] unfolds like origami with razor-sharp edgesÂ .Â .Â .Dominancereveals its secret stealthily, maintaining the mystery and suspense of the present while divulging the secrets of the past. That is a tricky tightrope, and it is marvelously executed.”
âThe Louisville Courier-Journal
“The self-reflective process of literary criticism known as âdeconstructing the text' becomes a diabolical game of murder inDominance,an academic mystery by Will Lavender that gleefully illustrates the dangers of losing yourself in a bookÂ .Â .Â . Lavender has the devious skills to write a twisted puzzle mystery.”
âThe New York Times Book Review
“Silence of the Lambs,Agatha Christie, and maybe Pynchon are prerequisites for this thriller set in small-town academia.”
âSan Antonio Express-News
“If anyone out there is looking for a good summer book, maybe a beach read, instead of reading something frivolous and light, why not try something that will actually make you think? Will Lavender writes puzzle books: half mystery, half thriller, with a literary twist thrown in for good measure. His newest book,Dominance,will make you think. A lot.”
âFort Worth Fiction
“If you enjoy puzzling twists and turns, and suspense that doesn't let up even on the last page, you should delve intoDominance.”
âBowling Green (KY) Daily News
“[A] taut second standaloneÂ .Â .Â . Full-bodied characters, an effective gothic atmosphere, and a deliciously creepy, unpredictable finale.”
“Lavender's exciting second literary thriller (afterObedience) pulls readers right into the hunt. Aldiss reminds us of a sexy Hannibal Lecter, and the mystery of the reclusive author Paul Fallows and his connection to the class is riveting. Well-drawn characters, excellent plot, good use of flashbacks, and many red herrings will keep the pages turning to the very end.”
“Lavender takes on another puzzle-within-a-thrillerÂ .Â .Â . Twisty and turny, with all kinds of side roadsÂ .Â .Â . [He] manages to maintain the novel's taut, sinister atmosphere from the first page to the lastÂ .Â .Â . Readers who loved Lavender's first book will doubtless delight in this one.”
“With nods to Christie, Poe and Lovecraft, Lavender crafts a deadly game of obsession, full of riddles, subterfuge, grim revelation and red herrings galore.”
âWinnipeg (MB) Free Press
“A brilliant concept, brilliantly executed.Dominancesoars to the top of the thriller genre by infusing its rapid-fire plot with the mysteries of literature and authorship and offering cutting-edge (so to speak) psychological insights into minds both noble and horrifically demented. You'll never look at professors, authors or, well, books the same again. Oh, and that last pageÂ .Â .Â .”
âJeffery Deaver, #1 international bestselling author ofCarte BlancheandThe Burning Wire
“Will Lavender constructs plots with the expertise of a Parisian baker, masterfully layering mystery on top of mystery until, just when you think the whole thing might topple over, he sets it all together into a dangerously delectable mille-feuille of storytelling. Do save room for seconds.”
âGraham Moore,New York Timesbestselling author ofThe Sherlockian
“Dominanceis a twisting, intriguing and compelling psychological thriller of the first order. Will Lavender has created a clever maze of aplot, fraught with dark corridors and deadly ends. With this novel in your hands, you'll be voraciously turning the pages late into the night, maybe thinking you're a step ahead, until you realize you've always been a step behindâright up until the stunning final scene.”
âLisa Unger,New York Timesbestselling author ofFragile
“Will Lavender has laid out a rich feast for fans of psychological thrillersâat the heart of it all is a weird, addictive game that's far more dangerous than anyone realizes. This intricately layered story of murders past and present generates plenty of chilling twists and turns, right up to the final sentence.”
âJohn Verdon, bestselling author ofThink of a NumberandShut Your Eyes Tight
Praise for Will Lavender's debut puzzle thriller,Obedience
“It's a genuine, if slightly perverse, kick to follow every Byzantine clue in this bizarre gameÂ .Â .Â . If you solve this one without peeking at the last chapter, it's an automatic A.”
âThe New York Times Book Review
“Evidence that crime fiction is hardly a played-out genreÂ .Â .Â . A mystery as ambitious as one could imagine.”
âThe Wall Street Journal
“Taut, twisty, and highly original: the pages turned themselves.”
“A thriller that will strike some as a mix of John Fowles'The Magusand Stephen King'sThe ShiningÂ .Â .Â . The conspiracy becomes so all-encompassing, so elaborate.”
“Obediencedraws you in and never lets goâand what a ride!”
“Quite a twisty taleÂ .Â .Â . HauntingÂ .Â .Â . Irresistible.”
âNew York Daily News
“Obedienceis a full course-load of sinister fun.”
“A taut and timely thriller that explores the dark side of academia, where classrooms are dangerous and paranoia abounds.”
“A devilishly inventive debut that reads like a house of mirrors. Nothing is what it seems, right up to the devastating finale.”
“With superb confidence, Lavender constructs a brilliant fictional web of lies, inventively warping the psychological thriller to fit the confines of a scholarly investigation. An inspired thriller.”
“Terrific debutÂ .Â .Â . A wonderful book with an emotional punch at the end.”
âSt. Petersburg Times
“Tautly strung debutÂ .Â .Â . Lavender tears a page of out Milgram's notebooks and sets into motion a chain of events that escalates far beyond its intended intellectual exercise.Â .Â .Â . Mystery fans will be satisfied to hang on around the story's hairpin turns as the list of suspects swells and narrows with the unearthing of each clue, but LavenderÂ .Â .Â . is aiming at a broader target and posing deeper questions.”
“Chilling, unpredictableÂ .Â .Â . a delicious mystery.”
âSacramento News & Review
“Lavender's first novel suggests he has a bright future.Obediencebuilds to a swirling conclusion.”
âThe Tampa Tribune
“Will Lavender stuns with this compelling thrillerÂ .Â .Â . A new master of the genre.”
âThe Louisville Courier-Journal
“Infuriating, brilliant puzzleÂ .Â .Â . [An] intriguing and addicting psychological thriller from a talented new writer worthy of our undivided attention.”
“As a fan, readingâand reviewingâmany, many crime novels, it is a pleasure to discover a book that goes out of its way to try something different and really make the reader think. Will Lavender has done this.”
“The most gripping book of this or any other year.”
âEdmonton (AB) Journal
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or visit us online to sign up ateBookNews.SimonandSchuster.comCONTENTS
First Class - 1994
Alex - Present Day
The Class - 1994
Alex - Present Day
The Class - 1994
Alex - Present Day
The Class - 1994
Alex - Present Day
The Class - 1994
Alex - Present Day
The Class - 1994
Alex - Present Day
The Class - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Iowa - 1994
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Iowa - 1994
Alex - Present Day
Author Will Lavender
âThe Descartes Circle'Excerpt
“The heart of the matter is that in this gentleman's article all people are divisible into âordinary' and âextraordinary.' The ordinary must live obediently and have no right to transgress the lawâbecause, you see, they're ordinary. The extraordinary, on the other hand, have the right to commit all kinds of crimes and to transgress the law in all kinds of ways, for the simple reason that they are extraordinary. That would seem to have been your argument, if I am not mistaken.”
Raskolnikov smiled again.
âDostoyevsky,Crime and Punishment
Oh, what we once thought we had, we didn't
And what we have now will never be that way again
So we call upon the author to explain
âNick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “We Call Upon the Author”
Unusual Literature Course Rocks Small Vermont Campusby Ethan Moore, JasperMirrorStaff WriterJanuary 9, 1994
The Jasper College Faculty Board has approved a controversial night class on a vote of 5 to 4.
LIT 424: Unraveling a Literary Mystery will be taught by famed professor and literary scholar Dr. Richard Aldiss. Aldiss contacted the Jasper administration late last year and was adamant that this campus was where he would teach if he did return to the classroom. He will teach via satellite from the Rock Mountain Correctional Facility, where he is serving consecutive life sentences for the brutal 1982 murders of two female Dumant University graduate students. He will be prohibited from speaking about his crimes and from using his victims' names. The class will be open to nine undergraduate students, each of whom will be specially chosen from the literature honors program.
There are those who adamantly oppose the course and its professor. Dr. Daniel Goodhurn, a Virgil scholar at Dumant, claims that Jasper College is making a horrible mistake by bringing Aldiss back into the classroom.
“Is Richard Aldiss a genius?” Goodhurn asked. “Of course. But what that man did to two innocent women at this institution goes beyond evil. I ask you: What will the students at Jasper learn from this monster? Richard is a twisted, deceitful individual. I assure you that teaching literature will not be his intention in this class. His true mission will be revealed very late in the semesterâand by then it may too late.”
Those in favor of the night class, however, are just as unwavering.
Dr. Stanley M. Fisk, professor emeritus at Jasper College,says that Richard Aldiss will “inject life into a program of study that has become very stale. The man and his work, especially his research on the reclusive novelist Paul Fallows, is truly ground-breaking. Our students here at Jasper will be reenergized by the great professor. In my mind it is as simple as that. Aldiss will revolutionize how they think about books.”
The class will begin on the first evening of the winter term. The nine students have been chosen and will be allowed to turn down the invitation if they so desire.First Class19941
Just after dark they rolled in the television where the murderer would appear. It was placed at the front of the lecture hall, slightly off center so the students in back could see. Two men wearing maintenance uniforms checked the satellite feed and the microphones, then disappeared as silently as they had come. It was now five minutes before the class was to begin, and everything was ready.
This was the first class of its kind, and its noveltyâor perhaps its mysteryâmade it the most talked-about ever offered at tiny Jasper College. As mandated by the school president, there were nine students in the classroom. They were the best of the best in the undergrad literature program at Jasper. Now, on the first night of the semester, they waited anxiously for their professor to emerge on the screen.
The class was LIT 424: Unraveling a Literary Mystery. It had been offered at night because this was the only viable time, the only hour when the warden would allow the murderer free to teach. He would teach, if you believed the rumors, from a padded cell. Others said he would be in front of a greenscreen, with special effects to replicate a lectern before himâan illusion of a classroom. The rest claimed he would simply be shackled to his chair in an orange jumpsuit because state law prohibited anything else. They had toremember what this man had done, these people said. They had to remember who he was.
The room was warm with the closeness of bodies. The chalkboard seemed to glisten, even though the Vermont night outside was bitterly cold. The quads were mostly silent, save for the protesters who stood the stipulated two hundred yards from Culver Hall, where the night class would be held. The class met in the basement of Culver for this reason: the powers-that-be at Jasper did not want the protesters to be able to see what was happening on that TV screen.
The few students who were out at that cold hour witnessed the nervous candlelight of the protest vigil from a distance, through the copse of beech and oak that dotted the woodsy campus. A light snow fell, flakes rushing upward in the January wind like motes of dust. Not far away, Lake Champlain purred in the wind. It was as if, one freshman said as he looked down at the scene from a high dormitory window, someone were about to be executed.
Just beyond the protesters, in a building that was dark save for a few bottom-floor lights, a pair of state policemen sat in a room the size of a broom closet, drinking coffee and watching their own blank feed on a tiny screen.
Unraveling a Literary Mysteryâthis too had been contested. The president of the college chose the title because it sounded to him fitting for what the professor had in mind. But in fact the president did not know exactly what the class would entail. Hecould notknow; the murderer had only hinted at a “literary game” his students would play in the class. About his syllabus he had spoken to no one.
It was this inability to even guess at what was about to happen that silenced the classroom now. In the weeks before the semester had begun, when they went home to their families on Christmas break, the students who had registered for LIT 424 had time to think. To weigh their decision to take this strange course. They wondered if something could go wrong in that lecture hall, if their professor could somehowÂ .Â .Â . it sounded crazy, yes. Most of them did not say it aloud, or if they did, they spoke only to their roommates or their closest friends. Slight whispers, torn away by the wind, carried off into nothingness.
If he could somehow get out.
This was what they were thinking in those final seconds. Some of them talked about their other classes that semester, flipped through textbooks and highlighted paragraphs in trembling arcs of yellow. But mostly they sat, saying nothing. They stared at the dead television screen. They wondered, and they waited.
Finally the television went to a deeper black, and everyone sat up straight. Then the box began to hum, an electrical, nodish oohing, a kind of flatline that moved left to right across the room. Their professorâthe MacArthur-winning genius, once a shining star at nearby Dumant University and the closest thing to celebrity a professor of literature could possibly be, the same man who had viciously murdered two graduate students twelve years beforeâwas ready to appear.
Then the blackness dissolved and the noise died away and the professor's face came to them on the screen. They had seen pictures of him, many of them preserved in yellowed newsprint. There were images of the man in a dark suit (at his trial), or with his wrists shackled and smiling wolfishly (moments after the verdict), or with his hair swept back, wearing a tweed jacket and a bow tie (his faculty photograph at Dumant in 1980).
Those photographs did not prepare the students for the man on the screen. This man's face was harder, its lines deeper. He was in fact wearing a simple orange jumpsuit, the number that identified him barely hidden beneath the bottom edge of the screen. The V of his collar dipped low to reveal the curved edge of a faded tattoo just over his heart. Although the students did not yet know this, the tattoo was of the thumb-shaped edge of a jigsaw puzzle piece.
The professor's eyes seemed to pulse. Sharp, flinty eyes that betrayed a kind of dangerous intelligence. The second the students saw him there was a feeling not of surprise, not of cold shock, but rather ofThis, then. This is who he is.One girl sitting toward the back whispered, “God, I didn't know he was soÂ .Â .Â .” And then another girl, a friend sitting close by, finished, “Sexy.” The two students laughed, but quietly. Quietly.
Now the professor sat forward. In the background the students could see his two prison guards, could make out everything but their facesâthe legs of their dark slacks, the flash of their belt buckles, and the leathery batons they carried in holsters. One of them stood withlegs spread wide and the other was more rigid, but otherwise they mirrored each other. The professor himself was not behind a pane of glass; the camera that was trained on him was not shielded in any way. He simply sat at a small table, his uncuffed hands before him, his breathing slow and natural. His face bore the slightest hint of a smile.
“Hello,” he said softly. “My name is Richard Aldiss, and I will be your professor for Unraveling a Literary Mystery. Speak so I can hear you.”
“Hello, Professor,” someone said.
“We're here,” said another.
Aldiss leaned toward a microphone that must have been just out of the camera's view. He nodded and said, “Very good. I can hear you and you can hear me. I can see you and you can see me. Now, let us begin.”AlexPresent Day2
Dr. Alex Shipley got out of her rental car and walked to the front door of the silent house. She'd worn heels, goddamn it, maybe on the notion that the people at Jasper College would be more impressed with someone who showed up to a crime scene dressed unlike the academic she was. Now she was ashamed of the choice. Ashamed because the professor would surely notice, and this would give him an advantage in the mind game they were about to play.
Above her a flock of winter wrens exploded from a tree, and she flinched. It was then that Alex realized how terrified she was to be back here, to be near him again. She urged herself to focus. The professor was one of the most brilliant men in the world, but he was also deceitful. He would have fun with thisâif she let him.
She must not let him.
“They lie. All birds are death birds.”
Alex looked up. He leaned against the open screen door, staring at her with dead eyes. His mouth was frozen in a cruel smile. The stroke had taken his features, polished his face into a mask. One side was completely lifeless, the pasty skin stippled with reaching blue vessels, the lip curled upward into a tortured grin. The other side, the living side, had learned how to do the sameâhe had trained himself in a bathroommirror. Now he always smiled,always,even when there was nothing to smile about. Even when he felt pain or sadness or rage.
“Alexandra,” he said. NotProfessor,notDr. Shipley.(She, too, noticed these things.) He did not invite her in. In true fashion, he would make her stand there on the cold front porch, suffering a bit. Always a challenge, always a test. Alex would not give him the pleasure of seeing her put her arms around herself for warmth.
“Good morning, Professor,” she said.
“I was told about what happened to our mutual friend. HowÂ .Â .Â . tragic.” The smile touched his eyes. “I knew they would send you to me in due time.”
“No one sent me,” she said.
He was amused by the lie. “No?”
“I came here on my own accord.”
“To see me, then. Like old friends. Or perhaps old lovers.”
Something caught in her throat. She stared at the destroyed face, the wind slicing against her exposed neck.Damn him.
“Would you like to come inside, Alexandra?”
Inside the small house there were books everywhere. Piles of them, mountains of them leaning in the dark. No artificial light in the tiny, not-quite-square rooms, just the natural dishwater seep of the morning sun. Through a window she could see the dark fingerprint of a half-frozen lake behind the house.
He led her to a back room and sat in a frayed armchair, facing that window. More books here, studies on dead writers, an Underwood on a small desk buried beneath a landslide of ink-crowded paper. Above that a poster depicting a man's face, one solitary word scrawled across his eyes, nose, mouth. The word wasWho?, a pencil dusting barely visible in the weak light. The face was that of the mysterious novelist Paul Fallows. Below, in a fierce red font, the poster's caption read:
WHO IS FALLOWS?
He did not offer her a chair. She stood in the center of the room, watching the great professor breathe. Even there, with his back turned to her,he emitted a kind of ferocity. It was worse now. Worse, she figured, because he knew they needed him. She needed him.
“Tell me,” he said.
“The reason I've come to you this morning is becauseÂ .Â .Â .” But she could not say it. She felt him watching her even as he faced away, seeing her not as a tenured professor of comparative literature but as the dithering student she had once been. A child.
“You haven't accepted it yet,” he said. “The fact that it has happened again.”
“You're wrong.” But it was weak, hollow.
The professor caught her eyes in the reflection in the window, held them. “Michael is dead. He's dead and there's nothing you can do about that now.”
The words, the finality of them, stunned her. She looked away.
“Do you remember him?” she asked.
A beat, then, “Not especially.”
But of course he did. Dr. Michael Tanner, Jasper College resident modernist, was teaching at his alma mater. Michael had been with her in the night class fifteen years ago. She even remembered his seat: right in front, not very far from that television screen.
“The murder,” he said. “Like the others, I presume.”
He looked up, his interest piqued. “How so?”
“This murder was more cautious than the first two. More controlled.”
“Are there suspects?”
“None,” she said, then added, “But there has been some talk on campus. Gossip.”
“There are some who believe it could have been his wife,” she said, meaning Sally Tanner, nÃ©e Mitchellâanother student from the night class. Alex had never imagined her with Michael, never thought they would end up married and both teaching at Jasper fifteen years later. But of course there had been so many things she had missed. “Sally discovered the body. Also the timeline she's given to the policeâthere are inconsistencies.”
A moment passed, then he mused, “And so the authorities contacted you.”
“I think you know why.”
The professor's eyes dragged slowly toward her. “It is not because you are brilliant with the subtleties of literature. I can think of so many other professors who might be better equipped to interpret the symbolism of this crimeâand of course there will be literary symbolism, or else you would not have called on me this morning. We both know that.”
“Professor,” she sighed. “Let's not do this. If you can't help me, fine. But if you can, then Iâ”
“If you can't helpus,Alexandra. You have masters at Jasper now that they have called on you to play the sleuth again, do you not? And I'm sure at the university where you are currently teaching as well. I've forgotten, where is it again?”
Alex was silent. He knew she taught at Harvard.
“You have men who are above you there.”
“But mostly men. I've seen them. Cocksure oafs who walk into a room and each believes he is the most brilliant one there, every time. I went up to Cambridge once, before my smile was perfected. It was an awards gala in my honor, but no one seemed to want to look at me. They were intimidated. Perhaps they were afraid.”
She said nothing.
“Are they intimidated by you, Alexandra?”
“You and your fuck-me shoes?”
She turned around, picked up her purse, and went out the door. The house was too dark now, the sun having swung behind a cloud outside. She couldn't remember her bearings. All she could see were books and shadow-books, stacks of them leaning and toppling and forcing themselvesout from the walls. The rooms like a chambered Nautilus, spiraling outward and on top of one another. She began to move through the labyrinth, cursing herself for coming here, for believing the professor could give her any answers.Damn it, Alex, why do you want to believe he's changed? Whyâ
That stopped her. She stood there, listening to the seams of the old house scream in the wind, waiting.
“Dr. Tanner,” the professor said from behind her. “I know that he was murdered by an axe. And the two others, the ones from beforeâthey were killed in the same way. âHe pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, brought the blunt side down on her head. He seemed not to use his own strength in this.'Â ”
“Crime and Punishment.”
“Yes. Not one of my favorites in the canon, but there is the answer for you, Alexandra. The connection. This is nothing but a pale copycat, a mimic on the loose. Your killerâhe is a stupid man with no original ideas of his own.”
“I don't think so,” she said. “As I said before, there was something different about this crime.”
Alex measured her words now. She needed to be clear at least on this, needed to say to the professor what the two men from the college had told her to say.It has to be perfect,they'd warned her.
“On the surface Michael's murder looks just like the ones youâjust like the Dumant murders from the eighties,” she said. “But if you look closely, there is something else. Something new.”
He waited for her to go on.
And so she gave him the phrase the men had supplied to her,the bait:“This murderÂ .Â .Â . it's like a puzzle.”
This made him stiffen. Just those few words, the challenge Alex Shipley had put before himâshe felt the tension rise in the tiny room. She had him.
“I live just a few miles from that dreadful place,” he said then, almost to himself. “I hear the things they say. I know how they can be.”
“Is that your agreement to help, Professor?”
He gazed at her. “Do they think I had anything to do with what happened?”
She said nothing. She wanted the silence to answer for her.
“Very well. Perhaps it is good to be believed in again. To be feared.”
“Will you help, Professor?”
“Because I owe you?”
“Because whoever did this is still out there. Because we both have a history with Michael Tanner. And yes, because you owe me.”You owe me fucking big-time.
“It's more than that, Alexandra.”
“You worry that this unfortunate twist in the plot will shine a light on everyone who took the night class. Especially you.”
“This has nothing to do with the class.”
“Is that what you told yourself on the flight back to Vermont? The thought that screamed through your mind as the businessman from Amherst was oh-so-subtly hitting on you?It's not about the night class. It's not about the night class. IT'S NOT ABOUT THE NIGHT CLASS.” The professor's voice rose, then was swallowed by the house. Then he laughedâa cruel, nasty bark.
“Michael,” she said softly. “He was part of it. He loved books, just as we do. He lived for literature. Whoever did this to him had a plan, had been perfecting that plan for a long time. What you said beforeâthere is some truth there. The police believe this killer is a copycat, that he is re-creating what happened twenty-seven years ago at Dumant University. The victim is a literary scholar, there is blood on the wall in the Rorschach pattern, the books have been arranged around Michael's libraryâthe killer studied those old crime scene photographs, Professor. He learned them.”
She fell silent, watching him. She could feel his mind moving, somehow, the electric churn of his thoughts. He was the most brilliant and the most aggressive man she had ever known. In the strangest hours she would find herself thinking about him, remembering the class, the search for the identity of a mysterious writer and all the secrets she would uncover about the professor's own crimes.
“Please,” Alex said. “I need an answer.”
“Just one question.”
Alex waited. She recalled the faces of the men that morning. Two faces, a college dean's and a police detective's, broken by what they had seen in Michael Tanner's cluttered home library across campus. She knew; she carried those same scars.
“Anything,” she said.
Dr. Richard Aldiss leaned closer. “Tell me again how you discovered that I was innocent.”3
Twenty-four hours earlier Alex Shipley strode into her lecture hall and the room fell silent. There were stares, as always. The electronic chatter on campus about Shipley was immense. She was tall, lean, beautifulâbut she was also brilliant and extremely demanding of her students. Her classes were some of the most popular at the university, and it was not uncommon to walk into a Shipley lecture and see students lining the walls, like a queue at a rock concert. This course in particular was a hit: it was called The Forger's Pen: Literary Hoaxes of the 20th Century, and teaching it was what had made her name as a young professor at Harvard.
She wore a pencil skirt because the weather was getting warmer, a thin knit jacket her mother had sent from Vermont. She never carried a bag, because at her age a bag made her look even more like a student. The comparative lit department chair, Dr. Thomas Headley, needed no more reason to treat her like someone who should be sitting at the children's table.
She carried only a few sheaves of transparency paper and a single text. One leather-bound volume, the threads on the spine catching the stark light of the classroom and glinting. The book was Paul Fallows's masterpiece,The Coil.
“What are you doing tonight, Dr. Shipley?”
Alex looked up, found the student who had posed the question. AnthonyNeil III. He sat in a middle row, a frat-boy smirk on his face. His friends flanked him, hiding behind their Norton Anthologies.
“I'm working on my Camus translation,” she said flatly. “Do you read French, Mr. Neil?”
“Tu as un corps parfait,”the boy said.
“Funny, I don't remember that line inThe Stranger.”
“Try the abridged edition.”
Alex kept her eyes straight on the boy and said, “That must have been the version of the text you read before our last exam.”
Then she turned away and began to make notes on the whiteboard as the class howled.
* Â * Â *
“What is literature?” she asked when everyone was quiet. It was the question she always asked, without hyperbole, to begin this particular lecture.
“Literature is emotion,” said a dark-haired girl from a back row.
“Literature is a writer's secret life recorded in symbols.”
Alex nodded. “Great books are both of those things,” she said. “The emotion inAnna Kareninais fierce. The symbolism in books such asUlyssesandBeneath the WheelandThrough the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There,is still being fought over in lit programs across the world.” She paused for effect, drawing them in. Forty faces, all of them belonging to upperclass English majors on their way to bigger and better things, were held by her words. “But what if literature were more than that. What if it werea game?”
“A game?” a gaunt boy toward the front asked. “How do you mean?”
“I mean,” she said, “what if you could read a book and treat it as a competition between you and its author? Like a contest.”
“In any contest there has to be a winner,” another student said. “How do you win against a book?”
“Point duly noted,” Alex said. “But a brilliant professor once told me that you winwhen you know you have won.”
“Richard Aldiss said that?”
Alex froze. Even the professor's name did that to her. Her blood raced. It was the student from beforeâNeil. One of her tricksters. They always sought her out, gravitated to her because of her past.
“Paul Fallows,” Alex went on, picking up the loose thread of her lecture. “Of course you've heard of him.”
At first there was nothing, only the tight, nervous silence of the hall. They knew of her history with the writer.
Finally a boy just behind Neil said, “The reclusive writer. The madman.”
“Some say he was both. Others say he was neither.”
“What do you mean, Dr. Shipley?”
Alex steeled herself. It was still difficult to talk about Fallows, more difficult now because there had been no closure. Things had ended so suddenly that she could never truly understand how the nightmare of Aldiss's night class had gone as far as it went. Fallows, the famous recluse, was the very reason Alex was in this lecture hall right now.
She answered the student's question with movement. She approached the document camera and switched it on. The lights in the lecture hall were synched to the machine, and they automatically dimmed.
She laid the first sheet of transparency on the platform.
“What I am about to show you,” she said, “has been seen only by a select few.”
Alex stepped to the side, letting her students see what was projected on the screen behind her.
It was a page from a manuscript. The columns were rigid, the font blocky and thick. There were scratch-outs in the margins, done in a manic and careless hand. On the bottom of the page were strange glyphsâthe images looked, when you studied them closely, like the legend of a bizarre map.
“What is it?” someone asked.
“It's a page from an unpublished novel by Paul Fallows,” Alex said, and the class buzzed.
“But where did you get it?” another student asked. “Fallows is dead. You found him and then youâ”
“Killed the Fallows myth,” finished Neil, and when Alex looked back at the boy he smiled impishly.Your play, Prof.
Alex shivered. There were ways to evade this topic. It had taken her years to even think of Fallows again, and when her therapist suggested teaching this classâwell, at first she told him to go to hell. But as theyears passed she realized she would have to confront what she had done during the night class. Tackle it head-on. Thus this class, this lecture, these questions.
“Four years ago I received a package in the campus mail,” Alex explained now. “The warden of an asylum for pathologically violent offenders in upstate Vermont sent it to me. There was a short note attached to the manuscript. It read in part,Could this be it?The warden took the night class with me at Jasper College. His name is Lewis Prine. Lewis had heard of the existence of another, unpublished Fallows novel and he wanted me to read the page and see if this could be part of that lost manuscript.”
“And is it?”
Alex sighed and stepped to the document camera, ran her palm across the veined paper. “I have rigorously studied the document. Five hundred words inside one unbroken paragraph, with bizarre notes in the margins. Sort of reminds me of the essays I receive from some of you.”
Laughter, and then one of them asked, “Is there more?”
“No. This single page was all Warden Prine had been given. We believe that the rest of the manuscript is in the possession of Dr. Stanley Fisk, my old friend and one of the last great Fallows scholarsÂ .Â .Â .” She trailed off, thinking of what else Lewis had said in his note to her: that Fisk had slipped in his old age and allowed someone to steal a single page from his treasure. This could mean only one thing: the manuscript was real.Can you imagine, Alex,he'd written,what it would be like to finally discover the third Fallows? Daniel would have loved this.
“Is it legit?” someone asked, bringing her back to the North Yard classroom. “Is there any doubt that Fallows wrote that page?”
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind.”
The class chattered in astonishment. They knew how major the find was, how important the image burning on the projector screen would be to scholars worldwide if Professor Shipley could ever really prove its authenticity. They wondered what was stopping herâthe monetary worth of one page alone would be staggering.
But Alex did not share in her students' excitement. For years she had felt, each time she touched the page, a sense of absolute fear.
* Â * Â *
That night Alex went out with her boyfriend, Dr. Peter Mueller. He was a few years older, but so what? He was a psych professor who was good-looking in an older-prof way. Interesting in bed. A shock of dark hair fell over his left eye. He took her dancing. Alex could have done worse at Harvard. Much worse.
They ate at a new place in Boston called the Well. A throng of students gathered there, the room churning and looseâjust as she liked it. Peter didn't. He was a whisperer, enjoyed leaning close to her ear and telling her what he might do to her later. But Alex liked the noise, the sounds of college life. It reminded her of Jasper.
She took a bite of her bacon cheeseburger and followed it with a swig of cheap beer. Vampire Weekend trilled out of the old-school jukebox.
“Faculty reviews coming up soon,” Peter said. It was not a conversation she wanted to get into, not tonight. She looked away, swept her eyes over the room. One of her old students was in the corner with a rugged townie, the girl too sweet for her own good. Alex was always falling for them, the students with pensive smiles and fiery minds, who knew the answer to every question but rarely spoke it aloud for fear of being wrong.Girls like you, Alex. Girls just like you before you took the night class. Before Aldiss.
“Alexandra, are you listening to me?” She looked at Peter, at that dangling hair, those liquid blue eyes. She hated it when he used her full name.
“I'm listening,” she said. “Loud and clear.”
“Are you going to apply to Oxford again?”
This was, what, the fourth or fifth time he'd brought it up? The summer in London. The grant money, the semester to finish her book. It wasn't a book yet, really, just a seed. A true-crime thing. A book on the night class, about what happened to them in that classroom. What happened to her.
“I don't think so,” she said.
“Why not? Alex, we could both apply. Get away, spend a semester in Europe together working, teaching, learning. Learning each otherÂ .Â .Â .” He squeezed her hand under the table. Despite herself, she pulled away.
Peter made a face, poked absently at his steak.
“You should've gotten the position last time,” he said.
“I know it. Everyone knows it. To hell with Tom Headley. You're one of the best this university has to offer, Alex. If only you could play by the rules a bit more, humor Headley and the rest of them.”
It was then that her cell phone chirped, saving her.
“Excuse me,” she said, and slipped out of the restaurant.
A cool night, April just coming on, traffic crawling down Tremont Street. Sometimes she imagined them, the passengers in those cars. Imagined where they were going, who they really were. To be anywhere but hereâthe thought enticed her, but then she swept it back with indignation. Hadn't there been a time when she would have done almost anything to get a chance to teach at Harvard University?
She checked the face of her cell, saw a Vermont number. She dialed it.
“Hello?” a man answered.
“With whom am I speaking?”
“This is Dr. Anthony Rice, interim dean of Jasper College.”
Alex recognized the name from a research conference somewhere in the Midwest. Rice hadn't been at Jasper when she was a student there.
“What is this about, Dr. Rice? I was in the middle of dinner.”
“I won't keep you long. We've hadÂ .Â .Â . something happen at Jasper. A tragedy.”
Oh God. Oh no. Not again, please.
“Yes,” Alex said, composing herself. She saw Peter staring out at her from their table and turned her back to the front window of the restaurant. “Go on.”
“Michael Tanner was murdered last night.”
Everything fluttered. She focused on the dean's words, watched their heat bloom outward in her mind as if they were a spreading stain. The streetlights along Tremont seemed to blink once, hard, off and on. Alex was leaning now against the stone building, her forehead scraping the uneven cut of the jagged brick, the pain reminding her that she was there. (A memory: Michael at a frat party one night doing a perfect impersonation of Aldiss. His eyes became sharper and his voice dropped to an eerie, pitchless calm and everything about himchanged.Laughteraround her, but all Alex felt was a cold dread.Please stop, Michael,she wanted to say.He'll find out about you.)
“Are you okay?” the dean was saying.
“Sally,” Alex managed. “Is sheÂ .Â .Â .”
The dean did not respond, and in his evasion Alex knew the answer to her question.
“Let me explain to you what we know,” Rice went on.
He gave her the known details: Michael Tanner's ransacked house, the book-strewn library, the staged signs of struggle, the young professor's blood type on the wall painted in a kind of Rorschach pattern, his books carefully arranged on the floor, Sally Tanner coming home to find her husband's body. It was all, of course, achingly familiar.Dumant University,Alex thought.Whoever did this was copying the murders at Dumant. Christ.
“Jasper police have just begun their investigation,” Rice said. “Right now there are few leads. And the crime sceneâthey think it was staged. There was no sign of forced entry, so their theory is that Dr. Tanner must have known his attacker.” Alex could almost hear the man wince.
“What does it all mean?”
“It could mean nothing. The professor might have upset a disturbed student, or maybe someone knew of his history as an undergrad at this college. But given what happened to the victims at Dumant twenty-seven years agoÂ .Â .Â . we are taking everything into consideration, of course.”
Everything.The word jarred her. What he meant waseveryone.
“We are a small school, Dr. Shipley. You know this as well as anyone. We are not Harvard. Our size has always defined us. We call ourselvesquaintin the brochures, and we use that word without irony. We believe in our insularity. Nothing like this has ever happened at Jasper. Everyone is in a state of shock.”
“Have you spoken to Richard Aldiss?” she asked.
Another pause. She knew exactly what it meant.
“This is the reason I called you tonight,” Rice said. “We thought that maybe you could do that for us.”
* Â * Â *
Later she and Peter lay in bed.
“You don't have to go back,” Peter said.
“We don't have to do anything we don't want to do, Alex.”
She didn't answer him. She knew how untrue it was.
He burrowed into her hair, breathed hotly in her ear. Normally it turned her on, but tonight it only annoyed her. The Chemical Brothers played on the stereo. Theirs was a students' existence, and Peter wouldn't have it any other way. But lately Alex had begun to want something different. Something deeper. She knew it would not be with him. Perhaps she had always known.
“How come,” Peter said now, “you never talk about your past?”
“What is there to talk about?”
“I don't have any.”
“I can see them all over you, Alex.” He ran a hand up her abdomen, traced a circle around her navel. Sometimes he would write words there, ancient verse for her to identify. “I can feel them.”
“We all have scars.”
“Some of us more than others.”
“I'm all Vermont. Grew up in Vermont, went to undergrad there. You know all this, Peter.”
“I know about the class, Alex. I know you were a hero. But it always seems soÂ .Â .Â .” She looked at him. “I don't know. It's like you've never told me the whole story.”
She rolled away. “Not tonight.”
“Is it Aldiss?” Peter asked. “Is he in trouble again?”
She tensed, hoped he didn't notice it. She rarely spoke of Aldiss and the night class to him, and usually Peter had to press her for information.
“Did he do it?”
“No,” she said hotly, defensively. “Of course not.”
“But they thinkâ”
“To hell with what they think. They don't know Dr. Aldiss like I do.”
A moment of silence passed. The CD ended, shuffled back to the first track.
“So is that why you're going back there? To save him again?”
“Because they need me.”
That was all. The room fell still. She felt him draw even closer. His leg went up and over her, pulling her tight, trapping her. She thought she heard him whisper, thought she heard two muffled words on his lipsâDon't goâbut Alex could not be sure.
Then Peter's breathing became even, and she carefully maneuvered herself out from under him and went into the library down the hall. There was a window on the far side of the room blocked by a dust-heavy fold of venetian blinds. Alex picked the blinds up and removed what was on the sill. The pack was cold from touching the glass. She checked the doorway for Peter and then lifted the window a sliver with her fingertips. For a moment she listened to the breathing of far-off traffic, and then she took one of the cigarettes from the pack and lit it. Sucked in with her eyes closed, listening. Thinking.
She did not turn on a light. She simply smoked in the clinging darkness, waiting. Waiting for what? Waiting for a sign, a truth, some notion that she was doing the right thing by going back to Jasper.
She remembered Michael Tanner. Dead now, dead and quiet. She remembered Michael's face when they were in the class. In her memory the classroom was always semidark, hazyâeverything stretched and elastic. The students were framed in static darkness, as if the night had forced its way inside.
Do you like this class?he'd asked one night.
No,she said.Not at all.
Neither do I. None of us do.
Right then, standing in the little library that could have been a closet, surrounded by books, nothing happened and everything happened. The world outside roared along. All those strangers continued on to wherever they were going and Alex was stuck here with all her unanswered questions about a dead professor.
But no. That wasn't quite right. A big question had been answered tonight.
It had very much been answered. Alex was sure of that.
The game had begun again.4
Richard Aldiss's eyes remained open, that permanent smile etched on his face. He appeared to be waiting for something. An answer, perhaps. A solution to the puzzles of the dead. Alex's hands, meanwhile, fluttered to her jacket pocket. The nicotine gum was there, and she had to fight the urge to slip it out, press a square from the package and chew like mad.
Instead she merely watched the professor. Watched and said nothing and thought,Please tell me you had nothing to do with this.
“There is a type of very rare puzzle,” Aldiss said finally. “It is called acyndrot.Its pieces are found in the world. A sharp stick, perhaps, the page of a book. The rules are moving and unfixed, as in any good game. Chaotic. You will receive a clue, a sheet with the number two written on it, and then you will begin your search. Two sticks, two pages, two socks. The best players, however, go outside the game. They do not collect objects in exact pairs, they collect objects thatreciprocateeach other. A stick and a seed. A seed grew the tree that formed the branch that created the stick. A book and a pen. The pen wrote the page that made up the book. Everything is genesis, evolution.”
“What does this have to do with Michael Tanner?”
Aldiss waited. His breathing was soft, plaintive.
“Perhaps nothing, Alexandra. Or perhaps it is heavy with meaning.” He stood up, whirled out of the dark toward her. His hands were out. Instinctively Alex leaned back, away from him. “Please,” he said. “Let me show you what I mean.”
He took her wrist. It was a simple gesture, a lover's gesture. She felt a brief shock when he touched her. The professor's thin, feminine hands circling the delicate bones of her wrist and pulling her toward him. She had always been amazed at his strength. The first time she had touched himâshe had brushed against him on a visit here four years ago, when she had stolen off from Dean Fisk's house on the day of Daniel Hayden's funeral; his body, so tight and muscular before the stroke, dripped gray water from the lake and as her arm touched his, Alex felt something coiled in him, something rock-hardâshe found herself amazed at the strength of even this accidental touch. It was a brutish power, consistent with the way his mind moved.
“Stand here,” he said now, pulling her to the center of the room. “And I will stand behind you. I am the killer.”
He was in the doorway. It was just after nine o'clock, the morning light gashing the balled carpet into light-dark slats. The professor with his jagged smile stood half in and half out of darkness, looking at her.
“I come inside as a friend,” Aldiss said. “Because as you and your slave masters believe, Alexandra, Michael knew the one who did this. So, slowly, I approach.” He moved into the room, shadows throbbing around him. “Perhaps I sit. Or maybe I do not. Maybe I want to be ready, prepared for what I have to do.” He was close now, close enough to smell. The smell of books, of old paper, clung to him. “Here we have two friends, two acquaintances, together in a room.”
“Do you think the murderer is a student of Michael's?”
Aldiss scowled. “You are jumping to conclusions again, Alexandra. We have spoken about this. Here.” He pulled her to the armchair. She sat. “The man is sitting. It is his own library, after all. His comfort zone. His killer moves about him. Their conversation becomes more intense. They speak of great literature, because this is what two friends do when they meet at night.”
Now Alex saw him only in shadow. Aldiss was moving behind her, flitting this way and that, playacting the crime. She wanted to see exactlywhat he was doing, but she was taken in by the lake outside the window. Enraptured by it. There was something about the way the ice drifted, the weak April ice, the way it dissolved and fell to loose, gauzy shredsÂ .Â .Â .
The professor touched her again. Ran his fingers through her hair.
“This crime,” he whispered. “You said before that it is different from the ones I was accused of. What did you mean?”
Alex closed her eyes and said, “There were mistakes. The crime sceneâit isn't as clean as the two at Dumant. He was more nervous, perhapsÂ .Â .Â . weaker than that man. But there was something else.”
“The struggle seemed to be staged. Manipulated to mirror the Dumant scenes.”
“The police told you this?”
Aldiss scoffed. “Do not listen to them. They are men of a false science. They do not know what we know.”
“And what do we know, Professor?”
“We knowÂ .Â .Â .”
She let him touch her. Let him move his fingers in and out of her hair, play against her neck. She tried not to imagine his face. She closed her eyes.
“Is it the game?” she breathed. “Has the Procedure begun again?”
No answer. Aldiss's shadow twisted on the wall.
“What kind of person do I tell them to look for?” she pressed.
Again: nothing. He only kept moving his hands about her hair, his fingers so sure and powerful as they began to massage her scalp.
“Who killed Michael Tanner?”
“In thecyndrot,” he said finally, hands clasping her skull, “you look for what mirrors the original object. Its twin opposite, the illusion of sameness it creates. In this case we are looking for someone who knows the Dumant murders so intimately that he or she can replicate those crimes perfectly. To do this one must have secret knowledge of the events. This person must have studied that brutal history so carefully that nothingâno detail, no gestureâcould be left unused. The killer has created acyndrot.For this reason I believe the person we are now searching for isÂ .Â .Â .”
“Who?” she pleaded. “Tell me.”
“Someone who was part of the night class.”
Alex inhaled deeply, kept her hands perfectly still on her lap.
“The killer was there with you in that lecture hall. It is someone you know, Alexandra. There are things about Dumant University that I have shared, both during the class and afterward, with only the nine of you. If I am correct, as I fear I am, then a few of these details will have been used in the murder of Michael Tanner. This oversight might be the killer's first mistake.”
“But how do I know who it is?” she asked.
“There are two ways to find your killer,” Aldiss said. “First, you must get into Michael's home. See how the killer arranged the books, which ones he chose to highlight. You have to make them let you see what the killer saw that night.”
“I don't know if they willâ”
She looked down at her hands, at the pyramid of books at her feet. “And the second way?”
“You must bring the students from the class back together,” the professor said softly. His voice, the way he said the words, suggested a kind of pity; it spoke to Alex of a keen apprehension that she had never heard out of Aldiss. “You are the only one who truly understands these people and their motivation, the only one who knows what they desire. And when you have done this, when they are back on the Jasper campus, then you will observe them. That is how you will find the one who committed this murder.”
“But how do you know?” she asked, desperation in her voice. “How can you be sure one of us did this?”
Aldiss pulled away. He removed his hands but left something behind, an indentation, a phantom pressure on her scalp.
“It is someone who was there,” he said again, and then: “I know it in my blood.” Alex thought about what this meant, the path it would take her down. She thought about the othersâThere are seven of us now,she reminded herselfâand imagined them all there, back again on campus for the first time since Daniel Hayden's funeral. But this time it would be different. This time one of them could possibly be watching her, watching andâ
A voice at the door. The trance was broken, and both Alex and the professor turned. Alex thought she saw a blush, a flash of purple deep beneath the mask of the professor's face.
“Richard, who is she?”
The girl was young. A college student. She was model pretty, with full lips and green, intelligent eyes. She wore a Jasper College sweatshirt and torn blue jeans. She had clearly just awakened.
“Daphne,” the professor said, “this is Alexandra Shipley, one of my former students.”
The girl said nothing, only stared at Alex. There was the flare of a challenge in her eyes. Alex got up, dusted down the wrinkles in her trench, and forced a smile.The girl is fifteen years younger than you, Alex, and you're intimidated by her? Christ.
“I was just going,” she said weakly. “Professor. Daphne.” Alex nodded awkwardly and went to the doorway. The girl hesitated there in the threshold, then she moved to the side and Alex inched past her to navigate the corridor of books.
She found the front door and pushed into it, hard, reaching for the air.
But Aldiss was behind her again, pulling her back by the shoulder. Alex stopped on the porch, almost out. Almost free of him.
“She's just a child,” she spat into the wind.
“A toy,” the professor said. “Nothing but a plaything.”
Alex jerked away.
“We could continue our session, you know,” he said, his lips close to her ear now. Alex looked out at the small rental car, at the steep drive that would take her back to Route 2 and toward the college. “Fair Daphne wouldn't have to know.”
Alex yanked free of him. She heard him laugh behind her as she went for the car, opened the door, and began to get in.
She paused, hunched inside the car, one foot still planted on Aldiss's drive.
“If I am right,” Aldiss said, “and it is one of them, then you will be putting yourself in grave danger. When the students from the nightclass have returned and you have begun your observation, be careful, Alexandra, because one of them will also be observing youÂ .Â .Â .” He trailed off, ran his eyes beyond her as if he were searching the woods behind his small house. “I would die if anything happened to you. First I would kill the person who did it, and then I would take the axe to myself. I promise you that.”
Before she pulled away she looked back at the house. She saw him there in a front window. He watched her descent.
* Â * Â *
Later, when she returned to Jasper, Alex paid a visit to a trusted old friend.
And then she began to call them, one by one, until all those who remained had agreed to return and honor the life of Michael Tanner.The Class19945
“Now, let us begin.”
The image of Dr. Richard Aldiss on the television screen seemed to wobble a bit and then right itself. Nine faces stared at him, waiting for the professor to begin his lecture. They wondered if he would tell them about what he had done twelve years ago. The two murders (an axe, it was believed, but the murder weapon was never found), the grisly scenes on the Dumant University campusÂ .Â .Â . no one knew if it would be a point of discussion. He wasn't supposed to speak of the crimes, but Aldiss didn't seem like a man who would play by the rules.
“What is literature?” the professor asked now.
No one in the class spoke. The silence hummed.
Aldiss smiled a bit, leaned forward. His eyes, furtive and black and bearing a hint of dark humor, flitted from side to side, searching them.
“Mr. Tanner,” he said, reading softly from a class roster that must have been off camera. “Please tell us what you believe literature to be.”
The boy named Michael Tanner spoke up. His voice cracked as he addressed the screen.
“Literature is an assortment of books,” he said. “The canon.”
“And what is the canon, in your opinion?”
“Faulkner, Joyce, Woolf. Mostly the modernists.”
A shadow passed across Aldiss's face. “The modernists killed so many good things.”
The boy shrank back.
“Mr. Kane,” Aldiss said. “What is literature?”
“Literature is the feeling you get when you read a book,” said Christian Kane, a slight boy in the second row. He wore a denim jacket with grunge patches dotting the sleeves. He tried to make himself larger than he was, bring himself to the height of those who always towered over him. It worked, but only barely. It worked because Kane was brilliant.
“Ah, a man of feelings. I like that, Mr. Kane. And tell meâwhatfeelingscome over you when you read Isaac Babel? Or Boris Pilnyak, who couldn't be rehabilitated and was killed by a firing squad and left for the birds to pick apart? Or Dostoyevsky? What do youfeelwhen you read the scenes of Raskolnikov's axe inCrime and Punishment?”
Axe.The word rang out in the lecture hall, vibrated around them. Everyone sat still, waiting for the other shoe to fall.
It did not. Richard Aldiss didn't flinch, did not appear as if he had even made an error. Perhaps that one word, that casualaxe,was meant to be dropped there. Perhaps he had planted it in his lecture beforehand, written the word into his notes. Was he this sort of man? they wondered. Was he the sort who would play mind games with his students?
“I feel repulsed,” Kane said. “As does everyone else.”
“Everyone who feels any empathy for the sane.”
Aldiss laughed. A quick, bitingpshaw.
“Do you know what I felt when I read Dostoyevsky for the first time?” Aldiss said. “I felt a solution. For Raskolnikov doesn't go unpunished for his crimes against his metaphorical sister and mother. He is indeed not a superman. This thing I felt when I first read that book, thisemotion,was one of sadness. I too was destined not to be superman. I too was not meant to go unpunished.”
The professor appeared to frown, that pale shadow crossing over his face again. The two guards behind him shifted.
“Ms. Shipley,” he said. “Can you tell us what literature is?”
A girl in the second row hesitated. The rest of them watched her, this pretty, mysterious Vermont girl. Alex Shipley had long, straight hairthat glinted in the classroom light. She was opinionated, razor sharp, and if you did not know her she could disarm you with her honestyâas was her intent. She had told no one yet (she liked to keep secrets until it was impossible not to), but she was bound for grad school at Harvard in the spring.
“Literature is love,” the girl said.
“Do you believe in love, Ms. Shipley?”
“And so you must believe in literature.”
“Very much so.”
“What about the possibility of literature, like love, to hurt?”
The girl shrugged, undeterred. The camera that was trained on the students caught this, and Aldiss's eyes flicked upward to where he must have had his own monitor to view the basement classroom. He smiled: he liked this indistinct, almost rebellious, gesture. “If literature can make us feel anything,” she said, “then why couldn't it make us feel pain?”
“The book as knife.”
Aldiss leaned back, even more impressed. “Flaming arrow.”
Another shrug from Alex. “Or axe.”
Then something happened.
Aldiss's face went crimson. He straightened in his chair as if a jolt of electricity were pouring through him and clasped his hands around his throat. Then he began to writhe, still sitting upright, chair legs knocking frantically beneath him. It appeared that he was being strangled, invisibly, from behind.
The guards moved quickly. They surrounded him, both of them reaching out, only their arms and hands in the shot, trying to still him. But the professor could not be stilled. He flailed and bucked and flung himself around, the chair shrieking against the floor, Aldiss's figure shifting almost totally off camera. A tiny parentheses of foam crept from his mouth and down his chin. He was misframed now, the faceless guards at the right edge of the screen fighting with him, trying to save him. “His tongue!” one of them said. “My God, he's swallowing his tongue!”
The screen went black.
For a few moments the students in the lecture hall sat silently, waiting. No one seemed to know what to do. They looked at one another, shock and confusion on their faces. The screen popped with static.
“What do we do now?” a girl named Sally Mitchell asked.
Then the sound, the electronic tone from before, returned. Everyone looked toward the TV screen.
Aldiss returned, his hair wild, his eyes racked by pain.
“I'm sorry,” he slurred. “I have theseÂ .Â .Â . these episodes sometimes. I've always had them, ever since I was a small boy. Not to worry. My minders here are trained medicsâthey won't let me expire on you.” He said nothing more.
The nine stared at the box. Somehow his admission did not calm their nerves. A few of them would dream of him that night. Dreams of only sound and blurred movement: the rake of chair legs, the gargle of pain in the professor's throat.
“You have said,” Aldiss went on when he was fully composed, “that literature is defined by its place in the canon. It is defined by emotion, by love. What if”âhis cracked gaze swung around the room, falling on them all; and even this, this simple movement, showed the students in the night class why he was such a powerful teacherâ“literature is a game?”
None of them knew how to take this. They stared at the screen, waiting for the man to continue.
“What if what just happened to me was nothing but a trick?”
The students were confused. Someone laughed nervously.
“I do indeed have a neurological condition,” he told his class. “But if I did not, if the spell I just suffered was indeed a hoax, an actâwould you have believed I was in pain?”
No one answered.
“Come on. Was I convincing, class?”
“Yes,” a boy named Frank Marsden said from the back row. Thin, handsome in a classical way, Marsden was a drama student with a lit minor. Of all of the students in the classroom, he could tell truth from playacting.
“Absolutely,” said Alex Shipley.
“What if literature were like this?” Aldiss continued. “What if a book, a novel, tricked us into believing it was real, but when we actually got into itâwhen wereallyread it, when wetrulypaid attentionâwe began to see that there was a whole world behind the pages? A universe of deeper truths. And all it took was our ability to find the rabbit hole.”
He paused, let the cryptic information he had just given them settle in. “How many of you have heard of Paul Fallows?”6
A few had indeed. They told Aldiss what they knew of the writer. They knew that no one was sure who Fallows wasânot really. His first novel had been a huge success, but the more critics and scholars called Fallows into the spotlight, the more the writer refused to appear. He began to slip away like a ghost. There had been speculation, some of it published and some of it simply a part of the rumor mill at every lit department in AmericaâFallows was Pynchon, he was Barth, he was Eco. Or he was Charles Rutherford, the encyclopedia salesman whose photograph graced the back of Fallows's books. But to this day no oneknew;there were no interviews with Fallows, no oral history, in fact nothing that proved beyond a doubt that the man was anything more than a pseudonym.
But even pseudonyms can be traced. Fallows had never been.
“Paul Fallows was playing a game,” Aldiss said. “And in this class I want to take you into that game. The mystery we will unravel, then, will be the author himself. We will read both of Fallows's existing novels and perhaps, if we are lucky,discover the great writer's true identity.”
There was a moment of confused silence.
“What do you mean discover his identity?” a boy named Jacob Keller finally asked. He was an offensive lineman on the Jasper football team.An enigma: a hulking mass, but kind-eyed and quick with a smile, his fingertips always white with yard-line chalk. He was the only member of the football team who could recite Keats.
“I mean, Mr. Keller,” Aldiss said, “that your one assignment in this class will be to discover who Paul Fallows really is.”
“But that makes no sense,” said a voice from the back row. Lewis Prine was a psychology minor, perhaps the one student in the class who did not appear to be infatuated with books to the point of obsession. “People have been searching for Fallows for thirty years. Experts, academics, conspiracy theorists. How can we find him in our little night class at Jasper College?”
“You must believe in your abilities more, Mr. Prine.”
The students looked at one another. They felt empowered, energizedâand a little bit scared. Time was running out in their first class. They'd been told that the screen would go black at the hour. The feed was set to run no longer.
“Your reading assignment for the next class is the first fifty pages of Fallows's masterpiece,The Coil.You will receive the full syllabus tomorrow morning in the campus mail,” Aldiss said. “But I want to leave you tonight with a question. Call it your homework assignment for our next class. It is a riddle right out of the great Paul Fallows.”
The students waited, pens poised above notepads.
“What is the name of the man in the dark coat?”
With that Aldiss fell silent, and in a few seconds his image was gone, vanished from the screen once again.
* Â * Â *
That night Alex Shipley could not sleep.
She lay in her room in Philbrick Hall, her roommate snoring gently in the bunk above her. She stared into the darkness. She couldn't stop thinking of Richard Aldiss, of the way he had addressed them on that first night, of that fit he had fallen into. Horrible. It was all strange and horrible, and Alex didn't know why she had signed up for the class in the first place.
And yetÂ .Â .Â .
The night class was also enthralling. It was unlike anything she hadever done at Jasper College. To have a chance to uncover the identity of Paul Fallows, no matter how impossible it soundedâthat was the sort of adventure Alex longed for. It was because of the bizarre assignment that she knew she would stay with Aldiss and his class until the end, no matter what happened.
She had read the first seventy-five pages ofThe Coil.Her vein-spined paperback edition sat on the little built-in desk across the room, an orange USED sticker slapped on the side. She had sunk a bit since the beginning of her senior year. There was a time when Alex would buy only new books, when she would not think of writing in margins. But now she had to save money for Harvard, and so used books were the only option she could afford. Other students' notes sprawled away from the lines of text, chewed up every bit of white space. To her it felt like a desecration.
Her mother, who lived in the town of Darling just thirty miles away from the college, had warned her about taking Aldiss's class.Evil,her mother had said. The man, his classâall of it was evil. But Alex knew Professor Richard Aldiss was also brilliant. She'd read his prison writings on great American writers and had felt a lucidity there, a kinship. He spoke of books the way she felt about themâas if they were the truest forms of communication, both primitive and sacred. He once said the book was a lock, and its reader was the key.Damn right,Alex thought.
Tonight, though, something had changed.
Lying there, listening to the whoops and rustles of the late-night students down on the quad, Alex couldn't put her finger on what it was. Couldn't articulate it. The notion that Aldiss would change her life had dissolved when she first saw him. It wasn't that she no longer believed he would enlighten her; perhaps he and his strange ideas about literature could do that much. It was just that he was not as invincible as she had once thought. Not as stark or elegant as his writing would suggest. There was somethingÂ .Â .Â . something almost fragile about the man who appeared on that screen. Something vulnerable.
Listen to yourself, Alex. Getting all mushy about a man who murdered two people in cold blood.
She thought about the riddle. Aldiss's “homework.”
What is the name of the man in the dark coat?
Alex didn't have a clue what it meant. The first few chapters ofThe Coilfocused on New York society at the turn of the century. It was a novel in the most traditional sense of the word. Alex knew that there were hidden meanings, not only about the narrative but also supposedly about Fallows himself, but she could not discern them. The first time she had read the classic, as a high school student, she was unmoved by the tale.This thing?she remembered thinking.All that buzz for this book?
But now here was Richard Aldiss, telling them that Fallows's novels were not novels at all but reallygames. Games the novelist himself hid behind. And Aldiss had gone further, had given them a clue that night to perhaps take them into theÂ .Â .Â . what had he called it? Yes: into the rabbit hole.
What is the name of the man in the dark coat?
NameÂ .Â .Â . dark coatÂ .Â .Â . gamesÂ .Â .Â .
Alex bounced out of bed. Her roommate, a girl from New Hampshire named Meredith who majored in chemistry, stirred in the top bunk. Alex, her mind roaring and her hands reaching into the dark before her, picked up the copy ofThe Coilfrom the desk. Then she went into the small bathroom the two girls sharedâa perk for being seniorsâclosed the door behind her, and turned on the light above the mirror.
She flipped through the novel, skimming the pages until the words blurred together, searching for any connection to a dark coat. It only made sense: the book was their sole material in the class. No syllabus until tomorrow, no handouts. Aldiss had to be leading them toThe Coil;he had to be.
When her eyes finally became tired, she looked up from the page and into the mirror above the sink.Time to give up and forget this craziness,she thought.Somebody else has surely solved it by now, and when that person has the answer, all nine of us willâ
There. In the mirror. An image on the back of the book itself.
Alex, moving slowly now, turned the volume around.
On the back cover was the traditional author's photograph. It was aman she knew was not really Paul Fallows. Or at least no one could be sure if it was him or not. The image had been slapped on subsequent editions of the novel precisely because of this: no one really knew the identity of the writer, and so the likeness of the encyclopedia salesman remained.
She looked down at the man's face. At his swept-back hair, the almost calculated smile. At the way his hands were crossed in his lap. And she looked at the dark coat he was wearing.
What is the name of the manÂ .Â .Â .Â ?
Before she knew it Alex was out of the bathroom and moving. She pulled on her jeans and her Jasper College sweatshirt, crammed on Meredith's wool hat, and went out of the room as silently as she could, the novel still in her grip. Down the elevator and out of Philbrick, onto the frozen quad.
* Â * Â *
The Stanley M. Fisk Library was open only at the west entrance. Alex punched in the combination code and moved into the warmth of the building. The night librarian was on, a mousy woman named Daws who dressed like a character out of Austen. “Alexandra Shipley, what are youâ”
But Alex was already past her and to the back section of the library. Empty now save for a few zombies who sat reading by lamplight.
Literary Criticism was here, in the back. She knew the place by heart; as a freshman at Jasper she had worked in the stacks, learned the nooks and crannies.
She found the famous study on Paul Fallows on a shelf toward the end of the stacks, in a pool of red emergency light that barely lit up the page for her to read. The book was calledMind Puzzles: The World and Work of Paul Fallows.Copyright 1979, published by Overland Press. Its author was Richard Aldiss, PhD. He had written the book three years before the murders at Dumant.
Alex turned to the index. Found the words she was looking for: AUTHOR PHOTOGRAPH (LIKELY APOCRYPHAL). The name of the real encyclopedia salesman, the actual man in the photo, was on the tip of her tongue. She knew Aldiss had said it in his lecture that night.Damn it, Alex, you've got to pay attention.
Now she turned to the appropriate page and scanned for the name in the near darkâ
But something stopped her. Something froze her there, under that bloody light, the library still and quiet around her. Her pulse, which had been frantic before, strangely slowed. Alex became calm. The sweat working under her arms and on her scalp began to cool. Her entire body went rigid.
There was handwriting in the margins of the book.
Manic pencil writing, numbers and letters mixed together, symbols swirling down the page like a mad and tortured language.
What the hell is this?
Alex scanned the handwritten text. At the bottom of the page she saw a legible stack of lines. They were written differently than the rest. Darker, dug into the skin of the page, almost carved there. A cold hand. The hand of someone determined to have his message be discovered.
I OFFER CONGRATULATIONS FOR FINDING THIS MESSAGE. YOU HAVE COME VERY FAR ALREADY. NOW YOU MUST CHECK THIS BOOK OUT.
Alex's eyes scanned to the next page, where the crude writing continued. She found another set of lines written in that same pressed hand.
What she read next would change Alex Shipley's life.
RICHARD ALDISS IS INNOCENT. TO DISCOVER THE MAN WHO ACTUALLY MURDERED THE TWO STUDENTS AT DUMANT YOU MUST FIRST DISCOVER THE TRUE IDENTITY OF PAUL FALLOWS. THE TWO MYSTERIES ARE ONE AND THE SAME. DO NOT TELL A SOUL YOU HAVE SEEN THIS.
Alex, her mind on fire, walked as naturally as she could to the front of the library and checked the biography out. The mousy librarian didn't suspect a thing.
“You English majors,” she said. “You always study so hard.”AlexPresent Day7
The old man, her trusted friend, had gone blind. He lived now among his books and the memories of the college he once reigned. There was a photograph, curled with age and hanging above the walnut desk, of him with a former president. Another with a Nobel laureate, now long dead, the two men with their socks falling and drunken grins on their faces. But his prized possession was a childlike jigsaw puzzle, strip-glued and mounted to thin board, adorned with the fragmented and Cubist images of a man's distorted face. An inscription below:To my friend Dean Fisk, we will find Fallows. Richard Aldiss.The puzzle was dated December 25, 1985. Aldiss had made it while in prison.
Alex ran her eyes over the cluttered desk, grazed through the yellowed documents with wandering fingertips. Her heart sounded in her chest but otherwise she was quiet.
“Awful,” the old man said. He sat in his wheelchair back in the corner shadows, his rheumy eyes quick and wet. “Awful what has happened to our Michael. What has happened to our college. What are you doing over there, Alex?”
Her hands stopped. Heat rushed to her face.
“Nothing, Dean Fisk,” she said. “Just looking at the history in this room.”
The dean breathed. Something was coming in the darkness; the air pressure dropped in the room, the feeling of electricity before a kiss, a secret.
“It doesn't exist,” he said.
The words dazed her. Her eyes rose from the desk.
“I don't know what you mean,” she said weakly.
“Whatever you've heard, Alex, whatever they have told youâyou will not find the manuscript in this house.”
“I haven't heard anything.” This wasn't like lying to Aldiss; the dean was gone now, his mind turned to mush. He was ninety-four years old and wasted away. She looked at him, saw spittle glisten on his paper-gray cheeks. The full-time nurseâa middle-aged man she had met when she arrivedâwould be in soon to feed him.
“Those old false pieces of Fallowsâit's over, Alex,” Fisk went on. “You put an end to it during the night class. You.”
“Of course,” she said, thinking,You're wrong, dean. It will never end.
A silence fell, and her eyes drifted instinctively to the desk. She said, “I went to see Dr. Aldiss this morning. He says whoever did this is re-creating the Dumant murders.”
“Richard,” Fisk laughed. “Richard probably murdered Michael himself.”
She was stunned. “You don't believe that, do you? You can't. It just isn'tâ”
The door opened behind her and the nurse stepped inside. A pale, deliberate man, so precise in his movements that she barely saw his hands dropping the medicines into the old man's birdlike mouth. He turned to the silver tray he'd set on the desk. A meal for a child: a piece of toast, applesauce. Fisk looked through his nurse in the way of the blind, nodding purposefully. “Thank you, Matthew,” he said, and the nurse left the room, his eyes falling momentarily on Alex as he went.
When he was gone Alex said, “Dean Fisk, tell me you don't believe that Professor Aldiss murdered Michael. I know you had a falling-out years ago, but he was your friend. Your confidant. YouÂ .Â .Â .”Helped save him,she wanted to say.
The old man looked into the void, considering. Then he said without context, “They still play the Procedure.”
She blinked. “Who?”
“The students,” he said. “I can hear them on campus when Matthew pushes me over the sidewalks on our strolls. I canhear them.” He fell silent, and the sound of his raspy breathing filled the room.
“Dean Fisk, about Michael TannerÂ .Â .Â .”
His roaming eyes stopped on her. “If they are coming back for the funeral, they will need a place to stay.”
He meant the night class students who were on their way to Jasper now. Most of them still lived in Vermont, and of course Sally Tanner was here on this campus already. It had occurred to Alex, as she made those phone calls, how easy it might be, what Aldiss had suggested. How simple to bring them together.
“I want them to stay here.”
Alex's breath caught. “Here?”
“I want them to be close,” Fisk explained. “This is a grieving time, Alex, and when we are grieving we all need to be together. There is more than enough space in my house. Yes, it is old. There is history here. But it is familiar to them. You can all reconnect, much like you did when Daniel Haydenâ”
“Yes,” she interrupted. “I'll forward your invitation.”
And then the dean nodded, meaning it was time for her to leave. She went out, down a dark hallway that led to the east wing of the mansion, and moved into the heart of the old house.
The air here was musty, unstirred. As she walked the floorboards groaned, and above her the silver spindles of webs clung to the walls. Those walls had cracked, revealing skeins of plaster that seemed to point her deeper into the dark. She knew exactly where she was going; she had spent many days in this house when she was an undergrad at Jasper.
Stanley Fisk, then a spry eighty, had been her ally during the night class. He had shown her how to read the text that was Richard Aldiss, and she would always be indebted to him. If Alex was the most famous Jasper alumna, much was due to him. If he wanted the students to stay in this crumbling place, then who was she to argue?
It would make her job easier.
She took another step, thinkingâ
Alex spun around. Behind her was the nurse.
“Who's here, Matthew?” she asked, managing to conjure up his name as if he were a student who'd raised his hand during lecture.
“A woman. She wants to see you. She looks freaked.”
She looked at him. Older than she had thought at first, his skin so pale it appeared translucent. Why was he here? she wondered. To keep the dean alive, to postpone the inevitable? And what might he know, she thought almost guiltily, of the dean's possessions?
“Tell her I'm on the second floor.”
“Of course, Dr. Shipley.” So he knew her name too.
The nurse left, the whisper of his tennis shoes disappearing down the hall, and Alex entered a room to her left. It was a relic from another timeâtwo upholstered chairs covered with sheets perched in the middle of the floor, a bookshelf along a back wall, a minor Rothko hanging at a tilt. The room had been fresh once, back when Stanley Fisk ruled the campus and all the college's decisions went through him. He was known as a man of letters, which was something of a novelty among college royalty. He hosted parties that were attended by Philip Roth and Joan Didion, reinvented the literature program long before Aldiss was brought in for his strange and experimental night class. FiskwasJasper College, and like this room and its pitiful furniture, the man had been all but forgotten.
I want them to stay here. There were seventeen rooms in this Victorian-style mansion that had been specifically built for Fisk in the sixties, most of them empty now. Undoubtedly spacious enough to host the students who would return. And to allow Alex free rein to follow Aldiss's instructions.
To observe without them knowing.
She walked deeper into the room, stepping into the funneled light that slanted through a window. She studied the bookshelves. More Fallows here, a spray of Aldiss prison texts. She took out a volume and shook it, maybe hoping for something to fall out. A page, a key? Nothing. The manuscript, the third Fallowsâit had to be somewhere. She had been assured by Lewis Prine that it was in this house:The person who sent me this page says Fisk has the rest.He'd sent the page to her fouryears ago, not long after the death of Daniel Hayden. Scanning the book spines, Alex thought,Did you know, Lewis? Did you know it was here when we all came to this house to grieve Daniel, damn you?
She turned and saw the woman standing in the doorway, leaning as if she was fatigued, as if she had traveled a great distance. Her hair was tangled and stuck to her cheek. She had been crying.
“Sally, I'm so sorry.” The women came together and embraced between the two empty chairs. Alex thinking:How cold she is, how unhealthy, could she have killedâ
“I saw him,” the woman moaned, her breath low and hot in Alex's ear. “I saw Michael lying there on the floor. At first I thought he was sleeping, but then I sawâI saw all those books, Alex, all those awful booksÂ .Â .Â .”
“Shhh,” Alex said, and they swayed together silently.
Finally Sally Tanner pulled away and took a deep breath. Her knees buckled. Alex reached out, caught the woman by the elbow. Held her upright.
“The cops have been asking me questions since that night,” Sally said. “This detective named Black. He thinksâ He doesn't say this, Alex, but I can see it in his eyes. He thinks I had something to do with Michael's murder. Can you fucking believe that?”
Alex shook her head. She didn't know what to say.
“Black asked me something else.” She steadied her gaze. “He asked about Aldiss.”
Alex tensed. “And what did you say?”
“I told the truth, of course. I haven't spoken to the professor in years. Not since Daniel.”
“What about Michael?”
Something glinted in the widow's eye, something hard and firm. It said,Too soon.Then it was gone.
“Michael wouldn't go out there. I know Aldiss lives nearby, but the classâit was over for him. He never spoke about what happened to us back then.”
Then something in her broke, and she fell forward again into Alex's arms.
When the spell was over, Sally stood up and looked past Alex, over her shoulder at the books. Even those silent objects stirred her, made her tremble and turn away, her hands cupped to her mouth as if clapping quiet a scream. Again Alex thought,Is she the one?Then:Don't do this, treat them this way just because Aldiss has given you another task. He could be wrong. He could be playing with you.
“I saw him,” Sally repeated. “And I will never get over it. Never.”
“Sally, if you know who might have done thisâ”
Quickly, the widow turned to look at Alex. The light in her eyes had changed, gone to the flint of anger. Alex saw the girl from the night class in that instant, the youth springing out like a hidden figure, anger and spite stitched across her brow.
“Don't you dare,” she said.
“I was justâ”
“Don't do this to me. Not here, not after what I've been through. We were all different people when we took that class. All of us. And if you've come back here to be a hero again, that is between you and your dear Aldiss. I will grieve for my husband and live with what I saw in that library, and you stay the hell out of my and Michael's life.”The Class19948
Richard Aldiss began his second lecture with a question.
“Which one of you found the man in the dark coat?”
Tonight the television sat atop a sea-green rolling cart labeledPROPERTY OF JASPER ENGLISH DEPT.The chalkboard was marred with palmerased equations from an earlier class. The temperature had dropped to a record low outside, and the cold pressed in. On the screen the murderer slowly blinked, waiting for a response to his question. When no answer came, he raised his hands palms up, as if to say,I'm waiting.
“I was too busy with my research,” a student toward the back of the hall finally answered. Daniel Hayden was a pale, unhealthily thin boy who wore his sandy hair down over his eyes. He never seemed to look at you when he spoke. He was not brilliant the way many of the others were. Instead of the cliquish way some of the nine moved about campus, Hayden kept to himself. He did not see himself as special; he did not try to dominate the others with his knowledge of books. In fact, few of them even knew Haydenwasan English major until he appeared in the night class, wearing a Pavement T-shirt and torn blue jeans. In his front jacket pocket he always kept a rolled-up paperback novel.
“And what kind of research would that be, Mr. Hayden?” Aldiss asked.
“Research about you. About the things you did.”
The professor didn't flinch. “You shouldn't be doing that.”
Hayden grinned. “Don't you want to know what I learned?”
Aldiss extended his hands, palms out:Humor me.
“There's a true crime book about your case. It's calledThe Mad Professor. Have you read it, Dr. Aldiss?”
“I read it last night. All of it. I couldn't stop. I had to know exactly what you did before I came to class again. The authorâhe believes you are evil. That you might be a genius but your mind did something to you. Changed you somehow. A lot of them say the same thing.”
“Your enemies. Those who believe you shouldn't be teaching this class.”
“And what do you believe, Mr. Hayden?”
“I believeÂ .Â .Â .” The boy faltered. His gaze fell away, down to the notebook that was still unopened on his desk. “I believe you were a bad man,” he went on, his voice barely a whisper. “You did some very bad things. You hurt people, destroyed lives. All the information is out there. The professor-killer. The genius-murderer. They call you the Bookman.”
Aldiss nodded firmly. Then he said, “Well. I didn't want to speak to you about this, but ifresearchis being done without my knowledge, then it appears that we must. Let me only say this: I am guilty of sending two girls to their graves. I spend every night in this institution thinking about the troubled man I was as a young professor at Dumant University. And all I can say to you is that the mind is a locked room, conscience is the key, and some of us threw away the key a long time ago.”
“Are you sorry?”
Hayden again. And in that instant the students saw, for the first time, what their professor was capable of. His annoyance at the boy turned to something else, something like rage, hot and vile just at the corners of his eyes. In the very next second it was gone.
“Â âSorry' is just one word among many, Mr. Hayden.”
“But you murdered two people! You killed two innocent women and you arranged those books around theirâ”
“No one knows the entire story of what happened at Dumant,” Aldiss said. “No one will ever know. For me to say that I amsorry”âthe word spat into the microphone before himâ“would be to go back and relive my crimes, and I am not about to do that. Not here, not now.”
For a moment, it appeared Hayden had said all that he was going to say. But then he raised his gaze to the television one more time and said, “There were just the two, weren't there?”
Aldiss blinked, calmly, as if he had anticipated this very question.
“The victims they know about,” Hayden continued. “The two grad studentsâyou've never killed anyone else, have you?”
The professor swiped a hand over his mouth and said, in a voice that was as sharp as glass, “I will not be interrogated by a student.”
With this the boy relented. He nodded, more to himself than anyone else, and placed his copy ofThe Coilon top of his notebook. Then he stood up and began to make his way to the television screen. There he paused and said something to Aldiss, something no one else in the class caught because his back was to them, and he walked out the door.
For a moment no one spoke.
When Hayden was gone the professor said, his voice even and calm, “And then there were eight.”
There were uneasy laughs. Someone coughed nervously. A few of them chattered just to hear the noise of their own talk. After a few seconds Aldiss hushed his students by putting one long, pale finger to his lips: “Shhh, class.” Silence descended.
He shuffled the notes that were in front of him on the rickety prison-issue table and said, “Now, who discovered the name of the man in the dark coat? Who solved the riddle?”
For a moment no one spoke. Then, from the middle of the lecture hall, a girl slowly raised her hand.
* Â * Â *
Alex had debated whether to say anything. Hadn't Aldiss just told them that he was guilty? Hadn't he confessed to the two murders right there before his class, with nine live witnesses and whoever else was watching the damn TV to hear his words? She thought about the book, so carefully hidden in her desk drawer back at Philbrick Hall. Of the strangeand tantalizing message there.Richard Aldiss is innocent. Do not tell a soul you have seen this.Perhaps she should remain silent, act as if she had never even found the thing at all.
To say nothing would be to possibly let an innocent man die in prison. Perhaps this admission of his guilt was part of the trick. Part of Aldiss's master plan. She knew if the book and its hidden message were real, then Aldiss was counting on her. Relying on her to follow the cluesÂ .Â .Â .
Down the rabbit hole.
She raised her hand.
“Ah, Ms. Shipley,” Aldiss said, no hesitation at all in his eyes or his voice. “Tell the rest of the class what you found.”
Does he know?she wondered.Can he possibly know that I checked out the book? If so, then how is he so calm?
“The man in the dark coat,” Alex said now, trying to find her voice. Her tongue felt thick, misshapen. “His name wasÂ .Â .Â .”
“Please go on.”
“The man's name was Charles Rutherford.”
The professor smiled. Despite herself, Alex felt a rush of pride.
“The encyclopedia salesman?” someone behind her asked. Melissa Lee had a reputation at Jasper, both for being blazingly intelligent and for inciting a sex scandal that had been weaving its way through the lit faculty for the past two semesters. She wore all black, heavy layers of it, and her hair was streaked with alternating patterns of light and dark that made her look vaguely animalistic. Her face was death-white, a style the students at Jasper had begun calling Goth. Her eyes were painted black and her ears flashed with silver studs, and a sardonic smile always played upon her dark purple lips. Her T-shirt tonight readKILL A POET. “But Rutherford's a nobody. A pawn. He was dead a year beforeThe Golden Silenceeven appeared, but they still slap his photo on the books because no one can be sure about the role he played. How did sheÂ .Â .Â .” Lee glared at Alex, and Alex merely smiled.
“That's the whole point, Ms. Lee,” Aldiss said. “Rutherford became a flashpoint for the Fallows scholars exactly because he was so improbable a suspect. First, he died of a brain embolism in 1974. One year later,the second Fallows novel was published. There was also the problem of his clean-cut, square, midwestern image. At first, when the search for Fallows began, many believed that the Rutherford photograph was nothing but another trick. More misdirection. But as the scholars began to search for Rutherford, they found something very interesting.”
“He was a writer.”
Aldiss looked out at the class and found the one who had spoken. “That's right,” he said. “Very good.”
The boy was the football player, Jacob Keller. He was sitting just to Alex's right, and she glanced over and found his eyes. He nodded at her.Cute,Alex thought,in a smart-jock sort of way. She had seen him around campus with a few of his teammates, had spotted him down at a bar called Rebecca's a few times, sitting at a back table and tracing blocking patterns with his fingertips on index cards. Now Keller leaned over and whispered, “Me and you, Shipley, we're his pets now. The only question is where they'll find our bodies.” Alex stifled a laugh, and when she looked up she saw that Aldiss had heard. He was looking right at them, and her heart caught in her throatâbut the professor only smiled.
“Charles Rutherford was indeed writing a book,” Aldiss finally continued. “They found pieces of the manuscript in his briefcase after his death. But it was a strange book, nothing like the stuff Paul Fallows would become famous for.”
The professor looked down at his table, shuffled through more of his notes, and then came up with one sheet of paper.
“Or was it?”
A quick movement, and then the professor's form was eclipsed on the screen, replaced by a yellowed document he had held up for the camera. One rumpled page, years old from the look of it, arteries of age running through the sheet like the whorls on a palm. Alex read what was written there, saw that the font was that of a typewriter. The page was heavy with bubbled mark-outs and grayed correction tape. It appeared to beâHow strange,she thought. It was an encyclopedia entry.
“Rutherford was writing his own encyclopedia?” said a boy in back. This was Christian Kane, the slight boy with the denim jacket. Kane was the class auteur; he wrote Stephen Kingâesque short stories andpublished them in the Jasper College literary magazine,The Guild.Kane fashioned himself after the famous French artisans, with upswept silvering hair and oxford shirts and colored scarves. His stories were so bizarre and violent that many wondered if he didn't live a secret life, if he hadn't somehow gleaned firsthand knowledge of his macabre subject matter back in his Delaware prep school.
“That's right, Mr. Kane,” Aldiss said. “He had just begun the volume when he met his demise. Just a few entries. As you see, he was still in the A's. But this encyclopediaâit was so much different from the Funk & Wagnalls he was selling door to door. This book was unusual. It seemed to be about Charles Rutherford himself, about his own experiences, the things he did and the people he spoke to every day as he sold his wares. At first, the line between this amateurish, navel-gazing writing and the labyrinthine, puzzles-within-puzzles writing of Fallows is clear. But as the scholars began to dig deeper, they saw that Rutherford's encyclopedia was itself a kind of puzzle.”
“How do you mean?” Michael Tanner asked.
“I mean Rutherford seemed to be playing a game. A game with himself, maybeâbut then again maybe not. Look at this.”
Aldiss held another sheet up, this one much like the first. The paper looked so old and used that Alex felt as if she might be able to smell the must wafting off of it.
“This is one of the last entries.A, Albridge.A tiny description of a town follows that heading. Albridge, Iowaâpopulation two thousand. A nowhere town not far from where Rutherford lived and worked. But what's unusual is when you look at a map of Iowaâ”
“It doesn't exist.”
Keller again. Alex saw how quick he was, how he beat everyone in class to the answer. Whereas her mind, so tediously slow, moved much more carefully. Deliberately. She found herself looking at Keller again, glancing over and willing him to catch her eye.
“Albridge, Iowa, is indeed fictitious,” said Aldiss. “It was not on any maps at the time and still isn't. In his âencyclopedia entry,' Rutherford claims he was there. That he sold encyclopedias to a few residents. That he ate in a small diner near the town square. But none of that was real. And so, armed with this information, we must ask a greater question.”
For a moment the class remained silent, hyperaware. They hung on Aldiss's voice. He was moving them toward something now, drawing closer to a connection between Charles Rutherford, the dead man whose image had appeared on the books, and Fallows himself. The only sound in the lecture hall was the electronic hum and crackle of the television.
“Why?” Alex asked.
Aldiss looked at her with knowing eyes. Eyes that seemed to pick up everything in their path, to notice everything. Eyes that had once belonged to a young, clearly handsome man. But now they looked as if theycontainedtoo much, like when she refilled her mother's sugar bowl at home and some of the granules poured out on the table. That was it, Alex thought: there was some of the professor pouring out, overflowing through the screen itself.
“That's right, Ms. Shipley,” he said now. “The question is âWhy?' Why would Charles Rutherford make up the small town of Albridge, Iowa? Why would he claim he'd spent his days there? The only solution is that Rutherford was playing a trick on someone. That his encyclopedia wasn't an encyclopedia at all but rather aâ”
“A novel,” said Sally Mitchell in her too soft, too sweet voice.
Aldiss didn't respond; he only grinned, pleased that these nine (No,Alex reminded herself,we are eight now) special students were moving so fast.
“But there are always problems with the RutherfordâisâPaul Fallows theory,” Aldiss said. “The obvious one being that the man was dead when the second book appeared, which blew the whole thing out of the water. The photograph on the book jacketsâit meant nothing, the scholars claimed. It had been a joke. Another play by Fallows in the game.”
“Did anyone at least go to Iowa and check it out?” Lewis Prine asked.
Aldiss nodded. “The scholars got to the Rutherford widow, of course. When the second and final novel,The Golden Silence,appeared, weâthey had to know. And so yes, they flocked to Iowa. Sometimes they would just sit outside the house where Rutherford had once lived.”
“Jesus,” Melissa Lee muttered.
“Some of them gathered the courage to speak to his widow. At first she was polite, but then she saw how obsessed they were. To know. To put the mystery to rest. And she became angry. She and Charles Rutherford had a son, a young boy who was so ill that he had to be institutionalized for a time, and she had to think of his safety. This Fallows character, this crazy writerâhe was not her husband. He could not be. She scolded them, drove them off any way she knew how, called the local police on them. Soon they drifted away and left the poor woman and her boy alone.”
The class thought about this. Frank Marsden, his lashes still thick with mascara from rehearsals forRichard III,asked, “So Rutherford, your âman in the dark coat'âthere is no chance that he is really Paul Fallows?”
Aldiss said nothing at first. The students sat silently, waiting, the red-eyed camera mounted in the corner of the room recording everything. “I am not ready to answer that question,” Aldiss said at last. “There are indeed connections between the two men. Connections that it has taken me twelve years to uncover. It is so very difficult to work with the resources this prison can offer, but I believe I am finally close to the answer. Very close. I have discovered things about Fallows that I never knew when I was outside these walls.”
With that Aldiss paused, and everyone in the class sat forward.
“With the help of a few of my trusted colleagues,” the professor went on, “including my old friend Dr. Stanley Fisk, professor emeritus at Jasper, I have uncovered new information. Information that no Fallows scholar has seen.”
“What kind of information?” Alex asked breathlessly.
“Documents, mostly. But also clues hidden inside the two novels. Clues that you, students, will be following as this class goes forward. But these clues will not be given to you. You must earn them. This is a classroom of higher learning, after all, and in any good class the strong rise to the top. I will give you what I have discovered, but only if you earn your keep.”
“Where do we start?” asked Michael Tanner.
“You have already begun. By solving the first riddle you are on your way to uncovering the writer's true identity. But know this: I am notPaul Fallows, as some of the more sensationalist literary critics have come to believe.” Again the professor laughed and the class followed suit, but theirs was stilted laughterâthey had done the math, of course. It was definitely possible. “Also know that you will go nowhere without the knowledge of who Charles Rutherford was, and of the shining city he came from. The trail begins with him, and that is where we will continue on our journey.”
* Â * Â *
They spoke then aboutThe Coil.The opening scenes in Manhattan, circa 1900. The voyage of the woman named Ann Marie as she moves from Iowa and learns her purpose in the world. The novel was one of manners: Ann Marie comes to discover that the culture even of the greatest city in the world is not accommodating of an educated, self-assured woman. Everyone in the classroom had seen this kind of novel a hundred times beforeâbut Paul Fallows put his own stamp on it. This book was different. There was something intense about Ann Marie's rise, something almostdestined.A covert, sustained violence thrummed just beneath the surface of the book. At one point in their assigned fifty pages Ann Marie brings the novel's antagonistâa ghost-pale, misogynistic lawyer named Conningâinto the Chelsea brownstone where she lives with an elderly uncle. After trapping the man on the second floor of the cluttered, multiroomed house, she retires to the parlor to sip Twinings with her uncle.
Aldiss kept them riveted the entire time. He led them deep into the novel, weaving in and out of the obvious symbolism and the more indirect passages, talking about the book as if it were a breathing thing. He read pages aloud, bringing his voice up an octave to impersonate Ann Marie in such an exacting way that each of them would hear his voice when they read the book in their dorms that night.
At the end of his lecture he was out of breath, sweat glistening on his brow. Alex watched the man, amazed at how much meaning he had been able to wring from the text.
“So,” the professor said, glancing at the egg timer he kept on his table. There were only a few minutes left. “For next week, the following fifty pages ofThe Coiland any more on Charles Rutherford you can find. I would suggest you begin by taking a look at his hometown: Hamlet,Iowa. Such an interesting place. And of course there are so many references to Iowa in Fallows as well. Now, are there any questions for me?”
Alex watched Aldiss. She knew her time was running out, and he had given her precious little to go on. He'd told her nothing about what to do next, where to turn. If she was going to follow the message inside the book, then she needed help from him. But how? What questions to ask, and how to phrase those questions without the rest of the classâDo not tell a soul you have seen thisâcatching on?
Ninety seconds left. Ninety seconds until the feed was cut.
“No questions, then?”
Sixty seconds. She imagined Aldiss, his long walk back to his cell, those two faceless guards leading him, the bars closing him in. The professor's life, shadows and words and the agonizing screams of other caged and damaged men. His excitement about finding something,uncovering new information,and all it had led to was this. A silent lecture hall, a scared girl. Alex imagined his disappointment in her, his anger.
Richard Aldiss is innocent.
Go on, Alex. Say something.
Twenty seconds, andâ
“What's in Hamlet?”
Aldiss looked at her. The professor's gaze changed, turned more serious. More intense. It was as if information was being passed only to her. As if she and the professor had entered into a conversation apart from the other students. She had the sensation that the lecture hall had fallen away and she was staring at the television screen in an empty, electric-blue room.
“I suggest asking my friend Dean Stanley Fisk,” Aldiss said. “He can tell you a lot about Hamlet.”
And with that the feed was cut and the professor faded out once again.
* Â * Â *
After class she walked home through the driving snow. In the distance, over the bowl of the west campus, the ice-heavy trees seethed in the dark. The campus was dead at this hour. No traffic crawled up Rose Avenue, no other students walked across the frozen quads.
Alex walked ahead of her classmates, rushing across Harper's Knoll, the geographic center of campus, then down the hill at the administrative building called the Tower where the dorms sprayed out in a web of low-slung architecture. You could hear the freshmen boys whooping from here, could see smoke pouring out of the chimneys at the Greek houses.This is where I want to be,she found herself thinking when she made this walk across campus every evening.This is what I want to do with my life, to be a part of this. To teach literature at a place just like this.
“Do you trust him?”
She turned. It was her neighbor, Keller. He wore a down coat with a rabbit-fur hood, a patch on the chest that readJASPER COLLEGE FOOTBALL. He walked deliberately, his weight breaking through the snow, the crunch of his steps echoing off the Tower, which was now to their right.
“Aldiss?” Alex asked.
He said nothing.
“He doesn't look like a murderer,” she said.
“Murderers have a look?”
Alex smiled. “Manson did. Dahmer. Crazy eyes. Aldiss isn't crazy.”
“Crazy like a fox, maybe,” he said. “Look.”
Keller showed her something. Caught in a security light, flattened by his palm so the wind wouldn't yank it away, it was a piece of notebook paper. Tick marks, thirty or forty of them, tumbled out toward the right margin.
“What's this?” she asked.
“The number of times he's lied.”
She looked up from the page. “And you know this how?”
“It comes from football. You block a guy, he shows you with his eyes what he's going to do. This is what being an offensive lineman is about: going in the direction that the other guy goes. It's a series of reading lies. Over and over and over again I do these little polygraph tests.”
“So what, you have blood pressure cuffs on Aldiss? The security in Rock Mountain must be lax, Keller.”
His turn to smile. “I'm serious. There are lots of things this guy does.In football you get good at knowing where to move before the play even happens: your man will look down, look off. He'll say something to you across the line of scrimmage and his voice will break. These littleÂ .Â .Â . tells, you know.”
“And Professor Aldiss. He has tells.”
“Alotof them, just tonight.”
“What does it mean?”
“It means he knows who Fallows is,” Keller said. “He just can't get to him. We're like his legs. His legs and eyes. But to just give us the guy's identityâthat would be cheating. So Aldiss is leading us on, and we're falling into it. That's what these âriddles' are about. Little pieces of the puzzle, one by one, until we know who really wrote those books. But there's something else.”
Alex looked at him. “What?”
“I don't know.” The jock shook his head, snowflakes wetting his cheeks. “I haven't figured that out yet, but I'm working on it.”
Alex glanced off. Philbrick Hall was just ahead, the largest girl's dorm at the college. She saw the silhouette of a girl on the top floor, stretched in a window, reading. She heard the squeal of someone's telephone, and she thought of her sick father. Wondered when that call would come.
“Maybe you're right,” she told Keller. “Maybe Aldiss is lying. Maybe he does know exactly who Fallows is and he's playing this game with us. But I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“And why is that?”
“Because,” she said, “I like playing games.”And I like to win.AlexPresent Day9
One by one, the students from the night class began to arrive.
Alex was forcing herself to eat a bowl of soup that the dean's nurse, Matthew Owen, had prepared for her when she heard a familiar voice calling from the outer room. She got up and pushed through the swinging kitchen door. More stilted progress and decay here in the great room. And standing in the middle of it all, dust twisting down around her, was Melissa Lee.
The woman had transformed from the sharp-tongued Goth girl she'd been during the night class. Now she was sensibly dressed with straight, black hair pulled away from her angular face; the only indication of the person she had been at Jasper was one diamond stud in her nose. She wore chunky, square-framed glasses and carried a high-end duffel beneath her arm.My God,Alex thought,she's a soccer mom now.
“I hoped it wouldn't be true,” Melissa said, and even her voice was different. Flat, almost affectless. A Stepford wife. “But then I saw the reporters over on the east campus on the drive in. My heart broke.”
She paused, something flitting in her dark eyes. Something mean and hateful. Here was the Melissa Lee from the night class. Then the look was gone and the suburban mother of three returned.
They did not embrace. They had not been close during their time in the class.
“A student,” Melissa said. “Someone Michael had failed in one of his lit classes. That has to be what this is.”
Alex said, “Maybe.”
“Aldiss isn't convinced.”
Alex blinked. Could this woman know of her assignment, of her visit with the professor that morning? If she did know, the others would as well.
“Dr. Aldiss knows very little,” Alex said. Might as well take the upper hand while she could get it.
“And the police? What do they believe?”
“I have a meeting with the lead detective of the investigation in an hour, and I'm afraid that I won't have anything to report to him.”
“Perhaps you could tell him about Aldiss and Daniel Hayden.”
Alex took a sharp breath. “What about them?”
Melissa shook her head, a pitiable gesture:There's so much you don't know about the rest of us, Alex Shipley.“They had been corresponding with each other. This was not long before Daniel died.”
“Letters, puzzlesâAldiss kept in touch with Daniel. He wanted something from him. It was fucking weird, and I told Daniel that the last time we spoke.”
“Daniel was a former student,” Alex said, realizing how weak it sounded. How desperate. “It would have been normal for the professor to contact him.”
Melissa smiled. “How many times have you spoken with Aldiss since DanielÂ .Â .Â . since he killed himself?”
“Not since the memorial.”
“Exactly.” The woman put her arms around herself, drew in a great breath that made her body tremble. “God, Alex, how I would like to ask that man what he knows. How I would like to talk to him about Daniel's death to see if he mightâ”
“Should I show you up to your room, ma'am?”
Alex turned and saw Matthew Owen standing just outside the foyer. She registered Melissa's look when she saw the nurse, the spark in her eyes. Then Melissa composed herself and looked again at Alex.
“Strange, isn't it?” she said.
“What's that?” Alex asked.
“For the dean to invite us all to stay here. It's likeÂ .Â .Â . I don't know. I wasn't going to accept the invitation at first. But it is Dean Fisk, and no one wants to stay alone when something like this has happened. I don't care how brave you are.”
“He's a lonely man,” said Alex. “His health is failing him. I think he knows he doesn't have much time left, and he wanted to put the class that had made him proudest back together one more time so that we could all grieve. That's all.”
“Can I see him?”
Alex glared at her old nemesis, a thought tumbling through her mind:You will not find the manuscript. Not before I do.
“Stanley is resting now,” the nurse said from the stairs. “He will announce himself when everyone arrives.”
Melissa nodded, disappointment in her eyes. “Alex, we'll chat more when I put my things away?”
She turned and followed Matthew briskly up the stairs, shouldering her giant duffel as if it were filled with air. She was stronger than she looked. As Alex watched her go, she wondered,Could a woman have murdered Michael Tanner?
* Â * Â *
The second student arrived just minutes later. He'd brought a guest with him.
Frank Marsden was a character actor. Alex had seen him on episodes ofCSIandNCISand in bit parts in movies, recognized him from time to time as a villain's henchman or, once, as the misunderstood cop who roughed up suspects in the interrogation room. He was thick and blond and ice-eyed, and he swept Alex into a one-armed embrace when she let him in the mansion. The woman at his side eyed her suspiciously, and Alex pulled away.
“My God, what's happening to us all, Alex?” he asked, his breath hot.He's drunk,Alex realized.
“I wish I knew, Frank.”
“This is Lucy Wiggins,” he said, motioning toward his guest. The woman stepped forward and offered her hand, and Alex shook. A cold grip, stiff and awkward. Lucy WigginsâAlex recognized the name from some magazine or other, remembered one of her students going on about how gorgeous the actress was. Here, in this dark and musty mansion, the woman looked downright nondescript. She wore a black coat and a navy scarf and sunglasses pushed up into her professionally managed hair. It was probably the most Plain Jane she'd been in years. Alex watched as Lucy looked around the old house and trembled with the thought that she was going to have to stay the night in this godawful place.
Frank stepped into the great room and scanned the bookshelf in the corner. “I just talked to Michael not long ago,” he said, his back to Alex.
Alex's pulse quickened. “And what did he say?”
“He seemed fine. He just wanted to catch up. Said it was too bad we hadn't got together since Hayden. All that unholy mess. Said he thought about us sometimes. About how everybody said we hated each other when we took the night class.” Marsden stopped, focused on Alex as if he wanted this next piece of information to sink in. “I never had any animosity toward Michael, Alex. You have to believe that. The others invented this thing between us. That we were jealous of each other. I loveâloved Michael. I never wished anything bad on him, no matter what any of the others tell you.” Then his gaze drifted off again, swept across the floor. “I was shooting a film in Canada when he called, you know, and didn't have much time. But nowânow I wishÂ .Â .Â .”
She watched his bloodshot eyes drop, a hand come up to his brow. Lucy went to him and put her arm around him.They haven't been together long,Alex thought.They just met. “Baby,” Frank said to her. “Baby, baby, baby. You don't understand the history here. You don't understand what I went through with these people.”
Alex waited. Then Frank turned around and smiled weakly.
“Our room,” he said.
“Upstairs. Melissa's already gone up.”
Frank made a face and Alex said nothing. The gray afternoon clouds shifted outside, and sunlight poured in on him for the first time. She saw how drunk he really was now. Lucy practically held him upright.
“We'll go on up,” he said. “Get some rest before we start planning the memorial service.”
They walked then, arm in arm, out of the foyer. When he got to the foot of the stairs, Frank hesitated and turned back toward Alex. He'd changed suddenly, morphed into the actor he was. A fake face, a put-on grinânone of it was the truth.
“Alex?” he said.
“Why are we all here together? Is it so you can watch us?”
Alex froze. She looked at Lucy again, and the woman too seemed to be waiting on an answer, some kind of explanation for being brought here.
Alex opened her mouth to speak but Frank interrupted her. He began to laughâriotous, bellowing laughter. And then he ascended the steps, one by one, until his laughter was nothing but an echo.
* Â * Â *
After Frank and Lucy were gone, Matthew Owen came downstairs and entered the kitchen. Alex was there drinking her tepid soup, waiting for the rest to arrive. She turned and watched the nurse move to a bank of cabinets and remove a prescription pill bottle. He hadn't seen her there, and because she didn't want to frighten him she gently coughed. Owen quickly palmed the pills and turned around, his free hand to his heart.
“You scared the shit out of me,” he said.
His eyes held on her for a moment, then he swiped his hand over his mouth and swallowed the pills. She watched his jaw work.
“This must be an intrusion,” she said. “For us all to be back here.”
“Not at all,” the nurse said. “Stanley's wanted to have guests over for a long time. It's just that we never thought it would be under these circumstances.”
“How long have you been employed by the dean?”
The man shook his head. “Employed by him? Hardly. Stanley doesn't want me here. He just wants it to be over with. I go upstairs every day and expect to find himÂ .Â .Â . Anyway, he's talked about it manytimes, even asked me to do it for him.” Owen's eyes drifted away, and Alex glanced at the cabinet behind his back. “I've been employed by the college for seven years nowâI was here when you allÂ .Â .Â . when Daniel Hayden died.” Alex vaguely remembered Owen, a floating presence through the rooms. She hardly remembered anything about that weekend. “I just wasn't as necessary back then. I took this job after leaving a hospital in Burlington. Too much political bullshit. Here it's just me and this old house.”
“And Dean Fisk.”
“Yes, and him,” Owen said flatly. “Sometimes I hear him at night in the hallways, his wheelchair sliding down the floors. That's the only time he'll come out of his study. He doesn't want anyone to look at him, so he hides himself. He says it's his age, his faceâthey tell me he was always a vain man. But I don't believe it.”
“What is it, then?”
“I think he gets off on hiding. My bedroom is on the fourth floor. Sometimes he'll call for me and I'll go room to room, looking. Searching. It's like a game to Stanley. I get tired of it, but at least I've learned every inch of this godforsaken house. And what could I say to him? He's a legend around here and I'm nobody.” Owen's eyes fell away, down to the chipped and scratched tile. “That's why the place is so dark. Even when I bathe him he scolds me for looking at him.”
“Do you enjoy the work?” she asked.
“Enjoy,” the man scoffed bitterly, as if the word itself had a texture, a flavor. “Mostly I spend my days walking up and down the halls. It's good exercise if you keep moving. And of course I read.”
“What do you read?”
“Mostly the things Stanley recommends for me. The Russians. Early British literature. Fallows, of course.”
“Fallows,” she repeated. “What do you think of him?”
“I hate him,” Owen said, his voice dropping a notch, as if he feared Dean Fisk might hear him. “I can't understand all the fuss you people make for him.”
“Fallows is an acquired taste.”
The nurse laughed sharply. “That must be it,” he said. “Because otherwise Stanley has wasted most of his life on the ravings of a lunatic.”
With that there was a sharp clack on the door outside. Someone else had arrived.
* Â * Â *
“Ah, our own celebrityâAlex Shipley.”
Christian Kane stepped through the door and took her by the elbow. He kissed her on both cheeks and then leaned back to regard her, nodding as if she had passed a test. He carried nothing but a yellow umbrella and a paperback book. He smelled of the kind of cologne Peter used and wore a corduroy jacket with a fray on the elbow. He had a three-day beard that she didn't recognize from the last photograph she had seen of him inPoets & Writers.The paperback was one of his own.
The writer moved into the great room now and looked around, curling his mouth at the state of the place. Then he looked at Alex and held out the book. “Page 107,” he said.
Tentatively, she took the book and opened it to the page. It had been dog-eared, and one paragraph in the middle had been underlined by an uneasy hand.
.Â .Â . when Barker came into the library he saw what had happeneda there. The professor's body was on the floor, broken and discarded like a lump of rags, and for a moment Barker could not tell what he was looking at. Then it dawned on him, the horrible truth: the man had been murdered and covered with books. A pile of volumes, their heaviness sighing now against the man's dead flesh, the pages rustling as if a legion of mites had crawled inside the texts to feast. Even over the professor's eyes there was a book, the image of the cover across his face as if it were a mask. Barker stepped forward.
“Why are you showing this to me, Christian?”
The man regarded her. Of the students she had seen so far, Christian had changed the least. He was still the suave, thin kid he had been as a student at Jasper. Now, fifteen years later, he looked less like a bestselling novelist and more like a man playing the part in one of his own stories. “Isn't it obvious, Alex?” he said.
“I'm afraid it isn't.”
He sighed, slapping the paperback closed.Barker at Nightâthe fourth book of the series, written five years ago, was her least favorite.
“Aldiss never liked me,” Kane said now, leaning over her. He was thin and his graying hair was tousled, his appearance almost boyish. He'd caught fire after his first novel,Barker at Work,appeared just two years after their graduation from Jasper. Now, after twelve novels and two Hollywood adaptationsâone of them starring, in a bit role, their old friend Frank Marsdenâhis career had begun to wind down. His most recent novels had been published to little fanfare in crude paperback editions, and Alex thought she detected something of a fall even in the way the man dressed. Even in his slick green eyes, which had dimmed a bit since she had seen him last.
“What do you mean, Christian?”
“The professor was always bitter toward me.”
“That's just the way he is.”
“No,” the man said sharply. “No, Alex. He was worse toward me. You and Keller and the rest of themâyou were his pets. His projects. I was just a nuisance. Even Daniel got more respect in that classroom.”
“I saw him this morning,” she said. “He doesn't believe you had anything to do with this.”That's not quite true, is it?she thought, flushing with shame over the lie.
Christian laughed. His teeth were yellowed, nicotine-stained, and she made a mental note to bum a cigarette later; she had run out on her short drive from Aldiss's house. “I live twenty minutes from campus,” he said. “I see Aldiss sometimes. Out. He doesn't speak. He treats me as if I'm thisÂ .Â .Â . ghost. And of course with my history with Michaelâ”
“What do you mean? What history?”
He looked at her strangely.Didn't you know?the look said.
“We'd been playing the game again,” Christian told her.
“Don't look at me like that, Alex. It was nothing. It was just a way to pass the time. Michaelâhe called me about it a couple of years ago. We got to talking about things. Books, my work and his, the way the college is changing. And of course Daniel. Then he asked me if I would come in and speak to one of his composition classes. Sure, I said. Afterward we went out for drinks, and he told me.”
“Told you what?”
The man hesitated, realizing that he had gone too far now. He said, “That he went down to Burlington every weekend. To the State U, and sometimes even to Dumant. They were still playing down there.”
“And you went with him.”
“Of course I went.” Christian pulled the back of his hand across his mouth. “The Procedure is still so intoxicating, Alex. So addictive. We both fell into it like old pros, even though it had been years since the night class. I started reading Fallows again, practicing. It wasn't like I was some kind of criminal. But if you put it all together, if you add up the evidence against me, then it's easy to see how Aldiss would make the leap that I had something to do with Michael being murdered.” He paused then, stepped forward into her space. For the first time, Alex's heart began to thump.One of them is responsible. One of themÂ .Â .Â .“Don't listen to him, Alex,” Christian said softly, carefully. “I beg of you. Whatever Aldiss told you this morningâ”
“He told me nothing, Christian. We spoke as old friends, that's all.”
“âwhatever the professor insinuated about us, you must not believe him. You can't.”
He remained in her space for another few seconds. It felt like a lifetime. Finally he pulled away and smiled wanly. He looked up at the fissured ceiling, at the streaked windows and the crimson curtains that hung heavy with dust. “My God,” he said. “It's like I've walked right into a trap.”
* Â * Â *
When Christian had gone upstairs to his room, Alex answered another knock on the door. Standing there was the first man she had ever loved.
He wore a bright orange rain slicker and his eyes were rimmed with grief. He was as large as she remembered him, a brute of a man who towered over her. Yet it was his eyes that had always drawn her to him: kind, somber eyes that were the gray of stone, or the page of an old book.
“Keller,” she said, and the man stepped forward and took her in his arms.
Once inside, they stood together in the foyer and said nothing, which was fine with Alex.
“How's Sally?” Jacob Keller asked.
“In terrible shape. As you would expect.”
They stood apart now, Alex leaning against the bookshelves and Keller with his hands in his pockets, gazing at her. She had seen him across the room at Daniel's funeral, but had only smiled at him. They'd kept their distance for many reasons, hers and his.Married,Melissa Lee had told her.Coaches football and teaches English at a high school about forty miles south of Jasper. You sound like you're still interested, AlexÂ .Â .Â .
Thinking of the poet-in-residence she'd been seeing at the time, she had looked away.
“Brutal,” Keller said now.
“That's what the news said this morning. The Michael Tanner murder wasbrutal.They're talking about Dumant University again, Alex. They're talking about our night class. They're rehashing all that old stuff.”
That old stuffâit was like a wound being scraped raw. Aldiss had warned her that this would happen.
“A copycat,” she said quickly. “That's all this is. Someone who's read about the Dumant murders, someone who thinks he can get away with anythingâ”
Alex's mouth dropped open. “Aldiss? You can't believe he had anything to do with this, Keller.”
“Of course I do,” he said. “And so should you.”
“I spoke to him this morning. I saw how he talked about Michael. I don't think heâ”
“Still protecting him, I see.”
Anger flashed behind her eyes. “I'm not protecting anyone,” she said. “I just know that he was innocent of the Dumant murders. Cleared. You were in Iowa with me, Keller. We finished the night class together. You know everything I know.”
“I know how devious Aldiss is, how deceptive he can be.”
Her eyes fell to the balls of dust that traced the floor. “He didn't have anything to do with Michael's murder,” she said again, softer this time.
Keller started to say something, then stopped himself. “Let's not do this, Alex. It's been four years since I've seen you. I want to talk to you again. Get to know you again. It's horrible what happened to Michael, but we've finally got our chance to start over.”
The apprehension was still there, the clawing thought that Keller was one of the very people Aldiss had instructed her to watch. He knew as much as any of the rest of them about the Dumant murders, and for this reason she would have to observe him just as impartially as she would the others.
“Let me ask you something,” he said.
“Do you read anymore?”
She opened her mouth, faltered. What kind of question was that for a lit professor?
“Of course you do,” he said. “I read about you in the alumni newsletter. I know what you do for a living. I mean I'm not a stalker or anything”âKeller laughedâ“but I know, okay?” He stopped, glanced off toward the window. “I couldn't do what you do. I coach varsity football at a nowhere high school, and I don't read anything. Even the books my students read I just scan, or I go off memory from classes I took at Jasper.”
Puzzled, Alex waited for him to go on.
“I'm afraid if I read something I'll go back to Fallows, and I'll fall into it again. Poofâright there, right back into the labyrinth. I'll end up just like Daniel ended up.”
He trailed off, and the room burned with silence. Then he looked at her again, tried to erase what he had just said with a shake of his head.
“Right now,” he said, “I would like to rest a bit. I couldn't sleep at all last night. I just kept thinking about Michael and Sally and the helplessness of it all.”
Keller smiled, but cautiously.
“Your room's upstairs,” she said. “Melissa, Christian, Frankâoh, and his friend.” Alex raised her eyebrows toward the second floor. “They're all up there now. I've got somewhere to be in a few minutes, but I can show you.”
She led him to the stairs, and as he went up in front of her she noticed something odd. Something that spiked through her with a girlish shame.
Keller was not wearing a ring.
* Â * Â *
The last student was Lewis Prine. He was the warden of an asylum for the criminally insane in upstate Vermont and the man who had told her about the manuscript Stanley Fisk was said to be hiding in this very house.It's there, Alex,he'd told her again just months ago.The third Fallows. It's somewhere in that mansion.
Prine never showed.10
The lead detective was named Bradley Black, and he seemed to know that she was hiding something. They met that afternoon in a fourth-floor office of the Tower with the dean who had called her to Vermont the night before. Alex could meet neither man's gaze.
“Tell us,” said the detective now, his voice as slow and mellifluous as his eyes, “what Dr. Richard Aldiss knows.”
“It's going to take time,” she said. All the way across campus from the Fisk mansion, through the glassy, postmorning sun, she had thought,He didn't do this. He couldn't have.Now, sitting in Jasper College's ivy-choked administrative building with these two strange, officious men, Alex recounted the conversation. “The professor treats everything as if it's a puzzle. If he knows who murdered Michael Tanner, he will not be quick with his knowledge. You have to earn what you get from him.”
“Goddamn it,” spat Dean Anthony Rice. He looked at the detective. “You people are going to have to get a search warrant, go in there andâ”
“No,” Alex said. “That's not the way to deal with him. You're going to have to let me do this. If Aldiss knows anything, I will get it. He trusts me.”
“Let's get real here, Dr. Shipley. Aldiss is toying with you. This iswhat he does. He got off too easy the last time. He might not have killed those two students at Dumantâ”
“âbut he still got off way too damn easy. A lot of people at this collegeâpeople who know Aldiss very wellâbelieve there is blood on his hands.” The dean paused, and Alex knew what was coming. “And, by extension, yours.”
She ignored it. “If he knows anything, then I will have it soon.”
“We may not have that much time.”
She bit her tongue.No shit, Sherlock.
“How sure are you that he is copycatting the Dumant murders?” she asked.
Black's eyes slid to Rice, and the dean nodded. Then photographs appeared on the walnut desk, the topmost crevassed and browning and the others slick and warm and fresh. Alex spread them with her fingertips. She sucked in her breath.
They were crime scene photos. She had seen the older ones before, during the night class. Stark, hectic images of two empty apartments. Someone had written the date in chalk and placed a block in the bottom left-hand corner:January 1982. Blood slashed up the walls in a pattern that resembled the burning butterfly of the famous Rorschach inkblot test. There were two sets of photos for the two victims, both grad students in literature. Both had been murdered, like Michael Tanner, in their home libraries. She did notâcould notâdwell on these pictures.
Her eyes moved to the newer shots, taken just the morning before. They were interiors of Michael Tanner's house across campus. These were digital photos, brilliant and clean, the Rorschach pattern on the wall almost identical to the others, except here it was a dark, electric crimson. Again there were books on the floor, spread in what appeared to be the same pattern as the others. A swimming pool of books piled in the room, carefully placed and evenly spread.They could be the same fucking room,Alex thought.The same victim.
But no, she remembered. The other two were students, while Michael wasâ
A student as well, once upon a time. A student in the night class.
“Identical MO,” Black was saying, his voice slicing into her reverie. “Murder them in their homes and cover the bodies with books. Same type of victim aside from their gender. Same pattern of education, even the same program of study: literature, specifically modern lit. Superimpose the Tanner library on photographs of the apartments from Dumant and the similarities are striking. Beyond striking.”
Black paused, appraising her again in his careful way. “How well did you know Professor Tanner?” he asked. He made a show of flipping through his notes, the dry flick of the Gregg notebook the only sound in the room.
“Pretty well. Michael and I got together often at academic conferences. I always thought he was one of the most brilliant men in the comparative literature field, and that's including any of my colleagues at Harvard.”
“Did he ever speak to you about Richard Aldiss? Did he show any signs that he may have been holding on to the class? In an unhealthy way, I mean.”
“What about e-mails? Correspondence about the class, about Aldiss or the Dumant murders.”
Alex shook her head. “We all wanted to forget, Detective. The night classÂ .Â .Â . it changed us. Some of us in profound ways. It wasn't something we wanted to dwell on.” Her mind flashed to her old friend Daniel Hayden and what happened to him, and then she shook it free. “It happened, and there's no taking it backâbut nobody wants to relive it.”
She watched something pass over Black, something like the answer to a question that had not been asked. Alex knew it was that one phrase, the damning word right in the middle of it, ticking like a bomb:changed.She thought again of her meeting with Aldiss that morning.
“I want to see the library,” she said.
“Impossible,” said Rice.
“You're going to bring me back to Jasper to be your messenger, Dean Rice, and you're not going to tell me all you know? That's called tilting the playing field.”
“It's called due process. Tell us more about Aldiss.”
“The professor believes Sally Tanner is innocent.” A lie, but it wasworth a chance. Fuck them if they wouldn't share. A look passed between the two men.
“Has he spoken with either Tanner recently?”
“Your turn,” she said.
Black sighed and said, “You're a tough one, Dr. Shipley.”
“This killer,” Black continued, “he studied the murders at Dumant. I mean studied them intensely. Learned them. He was not just tipping his hat to those crimes, he wasre-creating them. Everything, down to the flares on the Rorschach bloodstain and the books and the time of Michael Tanner's deathâeverything was the same.”
Re-creating them, Alex thought. The phrase was like a flash, a pinpoint of hot light. She blinked twice, hard, trying to sweep it away.
“Aldiss knows more than he's saying,” Rice finally broke in. The dean sat forward, steepling his chin in his fat fingers. He was constant movement, the perfect antithesis to the still, methodical Black. “And he knows we know. We won't go on with this dance too much longer, Dr. Shipley. Tell him that. Tell him that if he has been in correspondence with someone who is interested in the Dumant murders, if he has been amentorin any way with someone, then he will be dealt with. Deliver that message to him, will you?”
“Richard Aldiss doesn't take kindly tomessagesfrom interim deans,” she said.
Rice reddened, looked off toward the office's only window. Wind rattled the pane. For a moment the three of them sat silently.
Then Black said, “Thirty-seven hours have passed now. That's a world in terms of a murder investigation. If you can't get Aldiss to open up, then we will.”
“I'll go back to him later this evening.”
“We will be looking forward to your report,” Black said, standing. “And in the meantime, Dr. Shipley, it's nice of you to keep Dean Fisk company. You and the others.”
His gaze held on her.
The detective stood and walked her to the door, and in the corridor he stopped. “You will let us know if you find out anything of interest during your stay in the mansion.”
“Of course,” she said, and she began to walk away.
He caught her by the arm.
“They're saying things about Aldiss.”
She turned to face him. “Who, Detective?”
“The people at Jasper. Teachers, students. They say he's changed. He isn't the person he was when they brought him in to teach that class.”
“Is that right?”
Black shook his head. “All I'm saying is be careful. You might think you know Aldiss, you might think all you did back in '94 was the right thing to do. But this guyÂ .Â .Â . I don't trust him, Dr. Shipley. You never know what kinds of tricks he has up his sleeve.”
“I just want to find out who killed my friend,” she said hotly. “If Aldiss can help me with thatâand I think he canâthen we have to use him. He is our best resource right now, and tonight I intend to go back and get some answers.”
“And if he's not who you think he is?” Black asked.
“Then I don't deserve anything I got for solving the night class riddle,” she said, turning away from him and beginning her walk down the cold hallway. “My whole life is a sham.”The Class199411
Dean Stanley Fisk lived in a peeling old Victorian that sat on a hill high above campus. Fisk lived there alone now, his wife of forty years having passed away the previous semester. Rarely did you see the old emeritus out. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies, black-tie charity eventsâthese were the things he was good for now. Mostly he stayed to himself, surveying the grounds of the Dean's House and keeping watch over the college he once ruled.
Now Alex knocked on the front door and heard the professor inside. The muted shuffling of footsteps was followed by a soft, lilting voice: “Coming.”
The door was flung open and a man stood in the threshold, blinking out the sunlight. At eighty years old, Stanley Fisk was a slumped man with energetic blue eyes. He wore a Jasper sweatshirt and a bathrobe that hung limply across his boyish shoulders. He had always been known around campus as an eccentric; Alex noticed a smudge of what seemed to be mascara slashing away from his right eye and thought,This is the man whom Richard Aldiss's fate is resting on? Holy crap.
Fisk pushed his reading glasses up into his cotton-white hair and said, “Can I help you?”
“Dean Fisk, my name is Alex Shipley. I'm so sorry to bother you this early, butâ”
“Early? Dear Lord, I've been up since dawn. What can I do for you?”
“I wantedâI needed to talk with you about something important.”
The old man cocked his head to the side. “Go on.”
“It's about Richard Aldiss. About the class he's teaching this semester. He said something last week, and I believe heÂ .Â .Â . I think he might have been leading me to you.”
At first there was no movement from the old man, no tic of recognition. Fisk merely stood in the doorway and looked past her, where the Jasper architecture rose up from the crescent of campus and blended with the tree line fifty yards away.
Then, his voice slow and even, he said, “You found our book.”
Alex exhaled. “That's right.”
A smile broke across his face. The age lines seemed to disintegrate and, suddenly, Alex found herself looking at a much younger man.
“Well, come inside in that case,” he said, moving to the side so that she could step past him. “We have much to discuss.”
* Â * Â *
The living room was an homage to the old man's existence. A quilt had been thrown over the sofa, dog-eared books were stacked on the parquet floor, a withered apple tipped on its side on an end table. Clearly he spent his days here. The rest of the house was probably preserved in dust.
“We didn't know if anyone would ever find it,” Fisk said as she sat down across from him. “We worried that the clue was going to be too obscure, or somebody else would check out the book. Someone not even enrolled in your class. I went back, you see. Checked the records and everything. No one had taken that book out for more than five years. Five years it had remained in the stacks. And so we decided to go for it, plant the message there and see what happened. If there was a stir, we could just deny our involvement and try again some other way.”
“The two mysteries,” Alex said. “Fallows and Aldiss. The book says they're one and the same.”
“That's right. But that is for another time. I'm not sure what Richard has planned for his class. I wouldn't want to spoil anything.” He laughed, a cold rasp that emanated from deep in his chest.
Then he looked at her, his eyes pinched. She felt as if she was being evaluated.
“Do you understand the consequences of the message?” he asked. “Do you comprehend the weight of this situation, Ms. Shipley?”
“I thinkÂ .Â .Â . I believe I do, yes.”
“You should. Truly, you should. You are going to help clear Richard's name from those two awful crimes at Dumant University and get him out of that place. AndthatÂ .Â .Â .” Fisk held her eyes. “That will be a glorious day.”
“But what if he actually did it? What if Professor Aldiss really did kill those two students?”
“You're still skeptical.”
“He confessed,” she said. “Right there in that classroom last week. He confessed to everything.”
“Another ruse,” Fisk said. “Richard is a unique man. At first he was angry, furious that they would pin these horrible crimes on him. Everyone was convinced that he was guilty. The Fallows over the eyes, the relationship he had with the victimsâit was too perfect. Richard became despondent. For years he sat in Rock Mountain, and his silence, his writing on so many matters not related to Dumant, convinced them that he was guilty and the verdict was correct. Now, now that he's found this new information, he is being careful to give them exactly what they want. Ironic, isn't it? He must embrace guilt in order to curry favor, to beallowedto teach his class.” Fisk's voice fell away, and he looked past her into the dense shadows of his home, his own sort of prison. “He wants everyone who is watchingâand the nine of you are not the only ones watching, you have to know thatâto believe he is merely teaching a literature course. But it is so much more than that. So much more.”
Alex thought about what the old man had just said, about the possibility of it.
Dean Fisk picked up on her silence. “Let me ask you this, Ms. Shipley. Do you believe our justice system is flawless, and that every man and woman who is imprisoned is guilty?”
“Of course not.”
“How many men on death row alone were exonerated just beforetheir executions? How many accused innocents have given false confessions? What happened to Richard is real life.”
She looked away. “I'm sorry.”
Fisk smiled. “Good heavens, there's no need to apologize. I know how difficult it is for you, to be thrown into this.”
You couldn't begin to imagine.
“But it is also necessary. Your responsibility now is great, and I trust that you will do everything you canâno matter how bizarre it seems, no matter how difficult it might beâto follow Richard's clues and prove his innocence.”
With that, Fisk caught his breath, the excitement slowly ebbing from his ancient frame. Then his eyes widened, as if something had just occurred to him.
“There's something I want to show you,” he said. “I think it will put all your worries to rest.”
* Â * Â *
He led her to a room at the end of an unadorned hallway that seemed to stretch on forever, like one of the corridors of a campus dormitory. The room itself was no bigger than a storage closet. A desk in the corner, an old beetle-shaded lamp that poured pale yellow light across the walls. And on the floor were stacks of cardboard boxes, each labeledALDISS.
“I became interested in Richard's situation in the mideighties, not long after his imprisonment,” Fisk said. “I wrote him a letter one afternoon telling him I enjoyed an essay he'd written on DanteâI have a weakness for thePurgatorio,just as Richard doesâand he kindly responded. That began a correspondence we have continued for many years.”
“So you know him well?”
Alex watched as the old man measured his words. “The more I came to know Richard, the more I realized that he could not have committed those crimes. It was simply not feasible. I felt a kinship with him, a connection I could not begin to explain. Richard's mind is fierce. Much fiercer than either of us can understand. His years in Rock Mountain have muted him, dimmed him somewhat. But years ago, when I first went to visit him thereâhis intelligence was simply immeasurable. Here.”
Fisk removed from one of the boxes a series of newspaper clippings. He spread them out in front of Alex on the small desk.
“These are the âfacts' of his crimes,” the old man said. “But as you read, I want you to pay attention to two things. Call them inconsistencies. First, look at how his colleagues at Dumant spoke of him.”
“And the second thing?”
Fisk smiled. “You will know it when you see it,” he said. “You're a sharp one. You found our book, didn't you?”
Alex began with the earliest clipping, which was written in January of 1982. The story was about the shocking murder of a female graduate student. Shawna Wheatley had been attacked with what appeared to be an axe. Wheatley was severely mutilated in a fashion the writer called “sickening,” and over her face had been placed a single book: Fallows'sThe Coil.There were quotes in the article from the girl's boyfriend (“I don't know what kind of monster would do this to a person”) and the Dumant University president (“We intend to invest all of our resources in stopping this sick human being”). No suspects had been questioned at press time.
The second article was dated the next day. A second body had been found. Abigail Murray, another grad student in literature, was murdered in her campus apartment. Again the murder weapon was assumed to be an axe; again the murder was vicious and again a solitary book (this time it was Fallows'sThe Golden Silence) had been placed over the dead girl's face.
The next piece was a general story about the manhunt for the killer. It contained all the language that one would expect from an unsolved case narrative. There were no persons of interest, there were very few leads, and the Dumant campus was frightened. Alex read the phraseserial killerfor the first time.
By the middle of March, there was a break.
On March 17, 1982, Dr. Richard Aldiss was questioned by police. There was a brief article, accompanied by Aldiss's faculty photo, about the event. At that time the police were simply “interested” in Aldiss, who had taught Shawna Wheatley in Modern Lit and had been seen speaking to Abigail Murray on many different occasions at the Dumant Commons. The tone of the article was almost flippant, as if the writerdisbelieved the very notion that the wildly popular Aldiss could have been involved.
Then things took a turn. Aldiss was arrested in early April, and the next article was a reaction piece. There was a series of quotes, most of them from Dumant professors. The comments were not flattering. “Richard is very bizarre,” said one professor, who refused to be named. “He was always difficult to get a read on,” said another. “When you were speaking to Richard, it was almost as if he was calibrating his personality to what you wanted it to be. A real chameleon.” There were other mentions of Aldiss's connection with the victims, and the crime scenes themselvesâparticularly the damning coincidence of the Fallows novels the killer had draped over the girls' faces. Alex began to realize that the professors who spoke did so in the past tense. They had already convicted Aldiss.
The last piece was published a year later. It was a blow-by-blow account of the investigation and Aldiss's arrest. Alex read closely; there might be something here she needed to remember.
Authorities became interested in Prof. Aldiss when an anonymous tip came in through the Dumant crime hotline, and the professor was brought in for questioning. After several hours, Aldiss admitted he knew something about the murders, but would say no more without a lawyer present.
While awaiting counsel, Aldiss grew defiant and many times he referenced a character from classic literature, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov. (The very book, it has been noted, was found among the strewn texts in Shawna Wheatley's apartment the night she was killed.) He became enraged that anyone would punish him for what he had done, and at this point of the interrogation investigators “saw the professor's capabilities firsthand.” At one point he dared to declare, “You should look into Shawna Wheatley,” as if to suggest that the young woman deserved exactly what she got.
Alex's eyes wandered over the article for a few more seconds. Then she turned to Fisk. He was standing behind her, leaning against a shelf and smiling wryly, the dean's streaked mascara like a shadow on his face.
“Well?” the old man asked. “Did you see anything that seemed out of place?”
“The other professors were definitely suspicious of him.”
“Of course they were. But being eccentric doesn't make one a murderer. If that were the qualification for being a criminal, then everybody in academia would have a body in his closet.”
“But Aldiss has never appealed his conviction. Not once. If he is innocent, wouldn't he have tried to find a way out?”
Fisk shook his head, that pitying look on his face again. “If only it were that easy, Ms. Shipley. What Richard has been doing is biding time. Waiting for the right moment, until he has all the information in front of him.”
“And now he has it.”
Fisk smiled. “He does.”
“What did he find?”
“Alas, I do not know. Richard and IÂ .Â .Â . I want to get closer to him, but he is a difficult man. All I know is that he is telling the truth about his innocence. I know that as I know my own name. Who actually committed those crimes? I have no idea.” The man's rheumy eyes focused on her again. “Now, the second thing. I told you there were certainpoints of interestin the articles. The conspiracy at Dumant is one. And the other?”
Alex looked again at the yellowed strips of newsprint. Scanned them, trying to pick up something she'd missed before. But she could find nothing in the column of old words that seemed to stand out. Nothing whatsoever.
“I'm just not seeing it.”
“Look, Ms. Shipley. Look as closely as you can. If you are the one student Richard is going to depend on this semester, if you are going to go through with this, then you need to be able to see things that are at first not there.”
Alex didn't want to fail this test. Not here, not in front of the legendary dean. She worried that if she failed, they might lose interest in her. Fisk and Aldiss might pick someone else, and everything she had learned, everything she had done to this point, would be for naught.
Where the hell is it? What does he want me to see?
She stared at the text, at the grainy crime scene photos that accompanied the early articles. The Rorschach bloodstain on the wall, the books strewn across the floor. The avalanche of books in Abigail Murray's apartment, the starkness of the shot, the nakedness of the room. The smiling face of Richard Aldiss, being led away in cuffs after his arrest.
Where is it? Where?
Her eyes went to the final article, the story of how Aldiss had been discovered. The tip that led to his arrest. The professor's admission.
Alex looked up.
The confession,she thought.Aldiss admitted he knew something.
“Â âShe deserved exactly what she got.'Â ”
“Go on,” Fisk urged.
“The way he said it. Aldiss told them that they should âlook into' Shawna Wheatley. The reporter mistakes him, I believe. I think Aldiss meant it literally. He meant that they should investigate somethingaboutWheatley. Check her out, because she might lead them to the real killer.”
Fisk beamed, and Alex felt a rush of pride. “Very good. And in time Richardwasable to find information about Shawna. Of course no one at Rock Mountain knew he was looking. No one could know. But he uncovered the information he needed. And it turned out to mean everything.”
“And you really don't know what he found,” Alex said, emboldened now, “or you just won't tell me?”
Fisk hesitated. Finally he said, “You asked before if this has to do with Paul Fallows. Well, as I said, I do not know who committed this crime. But I can tell you this much: what Richard has found has everything to do with the writer. Everything. Paul Fallows is the key. Find his identity and you will find a killer.”12
The lecture hall at times seemed larger than it really was. Desks had been pulled into small, tight rows. They would arrive early and talk with one another about their studies, the social life at Jasper, the grad programs they had applied to. With only a couple of exceptions, they were not the best of friends. Over their three years at the college they had competed more often than not. A few of them, like Alex, were content to do their scholarship in silence; but others wanted nothing more than to work their way into the best grad programs and professorships in the country. When you came from a tiny place like Jasper, total dominance in your field was the only way to get noticed.
They were nine again. Daniel Hayden had returned.
“Couldn't stay away, huh?” said Michael Tanner. “You miss him?”
“Yeah,” Hayden scoffed. “That's it.”
As always, there was an uneasy silence just before the professor appeared. The screen wobbled and Aldiss was there again at his table, hands clasped and eyes straight ahead. He could have been anywhere, that concrete room was so nondescript. He could have been down the hall in an empty classroom for all they knew.
“Now,” he began, “are you starting to see the patterns inThe Coil?”
“I'm coming to understand that the novel is a kind of allegory,” said Christian Kane. “The cityâit's so strange.”
“The New York City of the novel is very strange indeed,” said Aldiss. “This book is about Ann Marie, our heroine, breaking away from Iowa, coming into her own. Instead, what does she find?”
“She finds a kind ofÂ .Â .Â . labyrinth,” said Sally Mitchell.
“Very good.” Aldiss nodded, pleased. “That is exactly what the setting ofThe Coilis like for its last two hundred pages. Our reading so far just brushes the surface. Everything in this book is a mirror, a reflection of something else. Ann Marie doesn't go off into a jungle so much as she walks into a house of mirrors. Everywhere she goes Fallows is throwing up obstacles for her.” Aldiss stopped, then cocked his head to the side as if he was thinking. “Obstacles, yes. But what is the writer really doing, class?”
No one answered. A few students looked down, as if they couldn't even face the professor without an answer to his question.
“Come on,” Aldiss said, the tone of his voice getting sharper. “What is Fallows doing here?”
“He's tricking her.”
It was Jacob Keller. He blinked slow-lidded at the screen, his look one of casual disinterest. But this was far from the truth; Keller was perfectly engaged. He always was.
“And why do you say this?”
“Isn't it clear?” Keller asked. “He is trying to do everything in his power to keep her from succeeding. He's the master and Ann MarieÂ .Â .Â . well, she's like a rat in a maze.”
“A rat in a maze,” Aldiss repeated, as if he had never heard the phrase used to describe this novel. But it was clear it worked: it fit the patterns and themes of the book perfectly. “I think you're exactly right. The literary critics have said over time that the novel is a feminist text. But as you see Ann Marie struggling through this city-labyrinth, you begin to wonder if Fallows isn'tâ”
“Trying to drive her mad.”
He swung his head to look at Alex. “Exactly, Ms. Shipley.”
“So what you're saying,” put in Melissa Lee, her smoky voice barely audible in the room, “is that Fallows isn't a feminist at all. In fact heis the opposite of that. He hates women and is trying to dominate his main character.”
“What I am saying,” Aldiss said, “is that Fallows is in no way agenerousnovelist.”
“Then what is he?”
“Haven't you seen, Ms. Lee? He's a trickster. This city of obstacles, all of these pitfalls Ann Marie must overcomeâthink of the crazy uncle who continues to hide himself from her in the rooms of his mansionâhave an edge to them. All good novelists give their characters hurdles to overcome, but here it's as if Fallows is teasing his heroine. As if he intends to drive her to the edge. And of course he does. But that is for another time.”
The class shifted; again, they had hung on his voice, his exegesis ofThe Coil,and now that he had moved on they were snapped out of their trance. The line that connected Aldiss and his students through the TV screen was severed again.
“What does all this say about Paul Fallows himself ?” he asked.
“It says the man was a liar.”
The class turned to face the student who had spoken: Daniel Hayden.
“Aren't all novelists liars, Mr. Hayden?” asked Aldiss.
“Some are more accomplished than others,” the boy shot back. He spoke now with confidence; the uneasy, defiant kid from the last lecture was gone and had been replaced with somebody more brazen. Somebody with something to prove.
“Of course. But to accomplish a lie you need two things: the skill of the teller and the naÃ¯vetÃ© of the listener.”
“Skill,” scoffed Hayden.
“So you disagree that Fallows is good at what he did?” Aldiss's eyes shined now. He was enjoying this back-and-forth. “At what he does?”
“I believe people should tell the truth.”
“Do you?” Aldiss goaded. “Always tell the truth?”
Hayden dodged. “Even in fiction there needs to be a context. Where is the context in these games Fallows is playing?”
“It's in the texts themselves.”
“What texts?” asked Hayden, his voice rising. He held his copy ofThe Coilup, shook it like a doll. “This thing isn't real enough to be atext. The author won't even come forward and claim the damn thing. It's like some kind of forgery.”
Aldiss began to speak, stopped. His tongue came out, swiped against his lips. The classroom had an intensity now, a pulse. It was as if Aldiss had drawn closer to them, as if he had stood in the front of the room and taken a literal step toward the boy.
“Well,” the man said, “in my mind a good lie is the same as a good story. Without embellishment there would be no artifice, and what is embellishment butâ”
“Do you lie, Professor?” Hayden asked.
Aldiss drew back. “Pardon me?”
“It's a simple question.”
“I do. I have. But it's a habit, like many other habits I once had, that I have tried to break since I have come to this prison.”
“What kinds of lies did you tell?”
“Oh, come on, Daniel,” said Melissa Lee. “Let's get on with it.”
On the screen Aldiss smiled. “No, no, let him talk. I find the boyinteresting.My liesÂ .Â .Â .” Aldiss's eyes closed to slits as he thought back. “I used to tell my students at Dumant stories that were not quite true. In that way, I was like the great Paul Fallows.”
“What kinds of stories?”
“I told them that I had lived in Europe,” Aldiss said. “This is not true. The strangest place I have lived was Iowa.” The class laughed.
Hayden didn't laugh. He looked at the screen and muttered something else. No one in the class caught it, or if someone did, they didn't dwell on it. It was just two words:the Procedure.
But Richard Aldiss caught it. And he smiled.AlexPresent Day13
On her way back to the mansion Alex called Lewis Prine's cell. That familiar voice, recorded in a flat monotone: “This is Dr. Lewis Prine, warden and chief psychiatrist at Oakwood Hospital. Please leave a message at the tone. If it's an emergency, you may contact Administrative Services. Thank you.” There was a short pulse, and then Alex said, “Lewis, I'm starting to worry about you. We're all here, staying in Dean Fisk's house for the night. Michael's memorial service is tomorrow morning. We're waiting for you. We wouldÂ .Â .Â . I would really like to see you. Please call.” She pushed End and walked on across the quad.
When she returned to the house, everyone was in the great room, telling stories about Michael Tanner. As she entered, the tales abruptly stopped, and each of the five former classmates looked at her as if she had caught them revealing their innermost secrets. In the middle of the group, a blanket around her shoulders and shivering wickedly, was Sally Tanner.
She knows,Alex thought.She knows what I'm up to.
“Hey, guys,” she managed to say.
“Anything?” Sally asked, her blue eyes now devoid of anything but hope.
Alex shook her head. “They're still looking. Detective Black is a good man, Sally. He will find out who did this.”
The widow made a face. “Black. The bastard.” Christian Kane pulled her to him, and for some reason this gesture made Alex jealousâthat she hadn't been around the others in so long, that she had gone back to Harvard after Daniel's death without keeping her promise to stay in touch. She looked at Keller and he glanced away.
“Let's talk about the good times,” Christian said. “Michael would have wanted that.”
“Yes,” slurred Frank Marsden. “Absolutely.” He was sitting off to the side, Lucy Wiggins clutching his arm.
“Do you remember when Michael asked Aldiss if he was sure about a quotation from Fallows?” asked Christian.
“I remember,” Melissa Lee said. “That was pure Michael.”
“It was, wasn't it?” It was Sally who had spoken, but there was nothing in her voice. Nothing at all. Alex wondered if she even really remembered the moment.
They went on like that for the next half hour, trading stories about their murdered friend. Most of them were minor instances from the night class where Michael had challenged Richard Aldiss's authority. He was brilliant even then, as they all were in their own way; when he'd accepted the position at his alma mater just a year out of graduate school, Alex had called to congratulate him. She remembered the tone of his voice, remembered thinking,He's not happy to be back there, not excited to return to that placeâand I don't blame him.
As they spoke, Alex watched them. Observed them.
“I remember something else Michael said once,” Christian was saying, and Alex focused on the writer, on his sharp academic's jaw and his eyes that never settled. Again she remembered what Aldiss had said that morning, the task he had given her. Could this man be responsible for the murder? Could Christian, with his ratty clothes and desperate ambition, possibly be the one whoâ
Alex turned and saw Matthew Owen pushing a wheelchair into the room. In the chairâit was outdated and canvas-backed and somehow fitting for the shambles of the mansion around themâwas Dean Stanley Fisk. The sight of the man shocked her. He was shrunken, slumped and childlike in a heavy robe. He wore sunglasses and a thick patina offoundation. His face was powdered and his lips had been daubed with a bright crimson. The dean's head was covered with a blond wig that swept over on top and was parted at the side, the look pitifully aping the style he'd worn as a lit professor at Jasper. Owen pushed Fisk inside and left him there, sitting just outside the circle of former students, and went to stoke the fire that had gotten low. Night was coming on.
“I am so sorry about what's happened,” the dean said in his lilting voice. “Michael and Sally are dear friends of mine, and I am as devastated about this as you all are.”
“Dean Fisk,” Melissa cut in. She wore a black sweater over her shoulders, and the porcelain whiteness of her face reminded Alex of the girl she had been in the night class. On her lap was a book, pinched open with a slender finger. It was one of Christian's. “Do you believe Richard Aldiss had anything to do with this?” Her eyes flicked toward Alex.
“We must keep our minds open to any possibility,” the dean said.
“They say Aldiss changed after he was released from prison,” Frank offered. He sat on the sheet-covered sofa, a sweating glass of something toxic in his hand. The hand trembled slightly, ice singing against the glass. “That he got darker, took a house not far from campus, and started a new book about Fallows. A book he still hasn't finished.”
At the sound of the writer's name there was a hush in the great room. Owen got the fire lit and a knot of sparks blew out from the hearth, making Alex jump.
“They should at least investigate him,” Melissa said. “There's too much history for them not to.”
“History,” spat Sally Tanner. She was still wrapped in the blanket, still shivering as if the fire weren't raging just a few feet from her. It threw a shadow on her face, a black scar running down the woman's sharp cheekbone. She was no longer a twenty-one-year-old with her life stretching ahead of her, and Michael's death had turned her bitter. She too had taken something, drunk somethingâher eyes fluttered in the half-light and her words were slurred. “There is no history now. It's over. Everything Richard Aldiss did, everything he accumulated, all his fameâgone. Now he's just a pathetic old man living out there with his memories.”
“No.” Alex realized too late that she had spoken aloud. “He's still a genius. He still has his mind.”
Sally laughed, rage burning in her eyes. “Of courseyouwould think that.”
Alex bit her tongue and looked away.
“Lewis,” said Dean Fisk from his wheelchair. “Will he not be joining us?”
“Prine probably went batshit crazy,” Frank said, “working with those nuts.”
“Frank.” Playfully, his date squeezed his arm.
“I'm serious, Lucy. Have I ever told you what Lewis does? He's the warden of this prison, this castle where they keep very bad men. I don't know how he does it and stays sane. Really I don't.”
Frank faded off, realizing that he might have gone too far. He finished his glass of poison.
“Tomorrow,” Dean Fisk said, “we will have a memorial service on the east quad in front of the Tower. Alex will give the eulogy, and anyone who wants to speak about Michael may do so.” On the sofa Sally sobbed, the sound dry as dead leaves. “I am so pleased that you have agreed to stay with me. You do not know how happy it makes me to hear the voices of the best and the brightest in my house again.”
His swiveled his head and blindly searched for Owen, and Alex saw a brief look of disgust come over the nurse. Then Fisk turned his wheelchair and began to roll out of the room. Owen caught up with him and pushed the old man into the shadows of the house.
When the dean was gone Sally stood up and said, “I better get going. It's almost Rachael's bedtime.” She was referring to the Tanners' daughter, and Alex shook her head at the thought of the little girl growing up fatherless. Alex knew how hard it was at any age.
The others hugged their widowed friend, and Sally stood among them, quivering as if she might slip off the edge of the world. She finally composed herself and walked out, nodding coldly as she went by Alex.
The rest spoke more freely when the specter of the woman was gone; their stories got rowdy in the makeshift wake. Alex tried to parse the conversations, find a piece of information that might help her with her task. But there was nothing here. It was implausible to her that one of these people would betray Michael, let alone murder him. They appeared to her as they had at Daniel's funeral: made awkward by grief,trying their best to fill up the silences that would lead them to imagine the body, the library, the blanket of books.They're just old friends, Alex. Aldiss has led you off, he's conned you. When you go back tonight you mustâ
Behind her there came the chirp of a cell phone. Sally, pulling on her heels by the door, flipped the phone open. “Hello?” she said. Then she listened, and Alex watched the woman out of the corner of her eye. “I can't talk right now,” she whispered. “It isn't a good time.” She slapped closed the phone and went out into the evening.
* Â * Â *
Alex excused herself and walked slowly upstairs to her own room.
The talk of Aldiss before had stirred her. She knew the professor was innocent of the Dumant murders. After all, it was her investigation that had proven beyond any doubt that Aldiss could not have committed those crimes.
But what if there had been a mistake? What if Aldiss had been manipulating the night class, and now he was manipulating the murder of Michael Tanner?
No. Aldiss was innocent this time as well. He was innocent and someone in this house held the answers that would lead her to Michael's killer.
Alex moved down the dark corridor. The house was quiet up here on the second floor, just the slight trill of the others' talk reaching her. She walked deeper into the house, her hand on the wall leading her into the dark. One step at a time, the planks announcing her every step.Is it up here?she thought.Did he hide it in theseâ
Her cell vibrated.
“Dr. Shipley, this is Detective Black.”
A heat rose to her face.They've found something.
“Can you meet me on the east campus in twenty minutes?” Black asked.
“Of course. What's this about?”
“Nothing much,” he said. “I just want to show you something that I think you'll find interesting.”
“I'll see you soon.” She ended the call.
Alex continued down the hallway. She was thinking,Answers.There were many reasons to return to Jasper, after all, reasons that were at least a little selfish. With her heart thumping and her blood roaring, she stepped into a room off the main corridor.
It was another book-filled room, shelves sagging under the weight of volumes that had not been touched in years. This room, like so many others in the mansion, had almost been overtaken by tomes. But Alex could see a pattern: instead of letting them run wild, Fisk had attempted to order them into schools or eras. In this he was nothing like Aldiss.
She stepped over the threshold and turned on the room's only lamp, approaching the shelves with reverence. She traced a hand over the spines, making sure to look closely between the books to see if a manuscript might be hidden there.
She began with William Wordsworth and the Romantics, Whitman and the American poets, Hazlitt and the critics, then on to the modernists. This shelf was more bare but still diverse: Eliot, Oppen, Pound. Alex traced her fingers across the books, allowing her senses to lead her, the others' laughter echoing up from below.
Where are you? Are you real?
Alex continued through the stacks. There was nothing here. Nothing at all. She had looked throughout the second floor, checked every room, and still she wasn't even close. The manuscript was a farce, another promise by the scholars that turned out to beâ
She stopped. She was still in the modernists, looking at the studies on Fallows. There was Benjamin Locke's famous text onThe Coil, and of course Stanley Fisk's own treatise on Fallows the feminist. And there were two Aldisses side by side, the volumes he had written in prison on Fallows. She stared at the shelves, at the way the books had been arranged. The order she had noticed beforeâit was disturbed here. The book calledGhosthad been eased out over the lip of the shelf, its wrinkled dust flap clinging staunchly onto one loose tendril of spiderweb.
She reached out and gingerly slid the book off the shelf, and as she did she heard a click. A small, rasping bite just beneath the text. Shelooked closely at the empty space on the shelf. An opening had been created behind Aldiss'sGhost, a carved notch in the wall roughly the shape of a mailbox. Curved inside the space was a manuscript.
Heart fluttering now, Alex put her fingers on the paper and pulled.
“Alex?” Startled, she spun around. “What are you doing up here?”
Keller stood in the doorway. He was leaning against the threshold, a beer in his hand. A flash, then, to when they were students. Her knees would have weakened under different circumstances.
“IâI'm not doing anything. Just looking at Fisk's collection.”
He stepped into the room. Said, “So. Lucy Wiggins, huh?”
Alex turned her back to the shelf, hoping beyond hope that Keller hadn't seen the secret space. “I know. Isn't it wild?”
“Different than I thought she would be.” He sipped his beer. “I saw her onCSI: Miamia few months ago. Googled her. Married with children, sitcom star in the nineties, rehab a few times. The usual. I wonder if she knows Frank's married.”
“How could she not?” Alex rolled her eyes. Then, “They look happy.”
“So they do.”
He came deeper into the room, swept past the pale lamplight. “You're going back to see Aldiss tonight, aren't you?” he asked.
“After I meet with the detective, yes.”
“What do you hope he'll say? That he knows who killed Michael? That he has all the answers? How could he, Alex?”
“Aldiss is smarter than us all.”
“Of course he is. He's also more dangerous.”
She looked away. “I have to go back.”
“I have to go back because if he had anything to do with this, then everything we did in Iowa doesn't matter. Don't you see that, Keller? Don't you understand?”
She watched him breathe. The alcohol was burning in his cheeks a little, and he took another drink. He said, “Melissa says Daniel didn't kill himself.”
Something dropped inside her. “What do you mean?”
“While you were meeting with the detective she knocked on my door. We talked. She says she spoke to Daniel sometimes. Says she wentwith her family once to Manhattan and he came to meet her. She spent the day with him, meeting all his cop friends.”
“And he was fine, Alex. Happy. Not a man who was apt to blow his brains out in the front seat of his squad car.”
Alex thought. The temperature in the room seemed to have dropped, the cool night pressing in. There was the feeling again of running wildly along, of being pulled in every direction at once. She steadied herself on the bookshelf. “What does it mean, Keller?”
He shrugged. “Daniel had a stressful job. A detective? With the NYPD? Maybe the atrocities he saw became too much to handleÂ .Â .Â .” He trailed off, couldn't find the words. “Or maybe Melissa is right and all thisâDaniel and Michael and all the rest of itâhas something to do with Aldiss.”
A flash of anger behind her eyes. “Impossible.”
“Listen, Alex,” Keller said, taking a step toward her. “Listen to me. You have to be careful out there. You have to watch him, pay attention to him. Close attention. If he is lying as everyone in this house except you believes, if he has anything remotely to do with Michael's and Daniel's deaths, then this is a pattern. And you could be putting yourself right inside that pattern.” He stopped speaking. He was looking at her as intently as he ever had, but she couldn't hold his gaze. She looked away, back to the secret space, which gaped open not six inches from Keller's hand. “You could be next.”14
Detective Bradley Black was waiting for her when she crossed over Harper's Knoll. He was reading a paperback novelâshe knew instinctively, by the way the pages bent, by the aged-brown tinge of the book, that it was Fallows'sThe Coilâand he folded the book into his pocket when he saw her.
“I wanted you to see,” the detective said, falling into stride beside her. “Wanted you to get at least one look at it without that asshole Rice around.”
She stared at him. “You mean Michael's library.”
He nodded. His boots echoed sharply over the quads as they walked.
“I appreciate it, Detective. I really do. But I don't need your charity.”
“Yes, you do. You think you're a hero around this place, and in some ways you are. I expect them to rename the library in your honor when Fisk kicks the bucket, slap a bronze statue right out there on the great lawn. But there are a lot of people here who think you saved the ass of a man who wasn't innocent.”
“And what makes you think I care what people think?” she bristled.
“You've got a tattoo on your shoulder.”
“There are two kinds of women,” he said, a smile touching his lipsfor the first time. She wanted to like him. “Those who have tattoos and those who don't. Those who do know they are the center of attention. They know people are staring at them, trying to read them. To puzzle them out. What does it say?”
She felt the six-year-old tattoo burn her shoulder blade now, remembered the drunken night she'd gotten it in Cambridge. It was a string of bluing words written in the most ornate fashion the pierced and goateed artist could pull off: “Un buon libro non ha fine.”
“I have no idea what that means, Professor.”
“A good book has no ending.”
They walked toward the fringe of campus. Black kept his eyes down at the concrete. She had the feeling that he wanted to say something but couldn't quite find the words.
“If this crime is just like the other two,” he finally said as they passed in front of Bacon Hall, where Michael Tanner would have taught his undergrads, “the killer will not be satisfied with one. There were two murders at Dumant, two victims.”
“I know that, Detective.” Then she gentled her voice. “I remember.”
Black stopped. Something caught his gaze, a blackbird tearing away from a beech on the quad. He tracked the animal's movement until it was a crumb in the sky, and then he said, “We studied you. Back in police school. The othersâthey laughed it off. An English major solving a murder? Some joke. But I was always fascinated by what you were able to do.”
She looked more closely, studied his face. “Is this an invitation, Detective?”
Black started on ahead of her. He had a way of not looking at you as he spoke, of connecting even as he remained elusive. She reminded herself to be careful around him. “Dean Rice says you're unpredictable,” he said. “That you have no regard for the rules. That some of the things you did during the night class could have gotten the Jasper brass in trouble. That you could have gotten you and that boyfriend of yours killed.”
This stung her, but she said nothing.
“But if you want to know whatIthink, I think this investigation could use a little unpredictability. You could be our go-between with Aldiss, you could do what you did back in '94.”
She reached into her pocket for the nicotine gum, slid a piece between her fingers, as if it might take effect through touch alone. “Tell me one thing, Detective.”
“Why are you harassing Sally Tanner?”
The man tumbled away again, followed the air with his eyes. “In a murder, the spouse is always the firstâ”
“Don't give me that bullshit,” Alex said. “This isn't some lovers' spat. This crime was calculated, scripted. Whoever did this is trying to create some twisted work of art. That's not how Sally wasâis.” Alex bolstered herself. “Please. She's suffered enough.”
The man's mouth went tight. “She was sleeping around on Michael,” he said. “Driving downstate, maybe seeing another professor. Or perhaps even a student.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “She was gone every weekend to Dumant University.”
Alex remembered what Christian had said earlier.The Procedure,she thought.Sally was playing it too.
The detective measured her. Finally he said, pointing off toward a grid of police tape in the distance, “Let's move on. It's getting late.”
* Â * Â *
Michael and Sally Tanner's house was a modified Cape Cod on Front Street. A dog barked shrilly in the neighborhood and a Jasper Police cruiser sat in the drive, its flashers languidly throwing blue light over the house.
Two cops sat on the hood of the car, sharing a bent cigarette. They eyed Alex as she approached.
“Davidson,” Black said. “Warren. Meet Dr. Alex Shipley.”
“Pleasure,” the shorter man said.
The other man's eyes held low.
“Go on,” Alex said. “Say it. No need to save it for later.”
The cop's jaw tensed. Beside her Black coughed into his fist. Then he tugged on her coat and they went for the front door.
“Are you ready?” Black said at the front door.
She looked at him and nodded. “As I'll ever be.”
They went in.
A lamp stood on the floor, shadeless, its bare bulb painting the walls white. The dust had been disturbed, and Alex covered her mouth with the collar of her trench. As Black had told her that morning, the house was not as clean as the apartments at Dumant: there was a gash on one wall, dark and ugly. An investigator had circled it with chalk. In one corner a chair had been toppled. In the kitchen the tablecloth had been pulled to the floor and dishes were scattered, some of them broken into a thousand glittering pieces.You fought him, didn't you, Michael? You fought that bastard and you nearly won.
“Sally Tanner arrived home that night around nine,” Black said. “Found the place wrecked like this. Then she made her way to the library.”
“My God,” said Alex.
“Of course no one heard anything. No struggle, no racket. The students who rent across the street were having a party to celebrate the end of midterm examsânothing. It was like the killer was never even here.” Black shifted in place. “Except for the disturbance in the kitchen. And this.”
He led her down a hallway. A couple of techs stood at the far end, speaking in low voices. Their eyes flicked to Alex, held for a second, then dropped away. Everything was a secret in the house of death.
Black entered a room at the far end of the hall, and Alex followed.He thinks I'm ready for this,she thought.He thinks what happened during the night class prepared me.She wanted to say something. To tell him she wasn't ready.
She wasn't at all ready. But she was there, inside that horrible room.
The bloodstain. It was the first thing she noticed. The police had chalk-circled this as well. The Rorschach butterfly wings, the burning fire spreading away from the shape's edgesâso meticulous, as if someone had used a paintbrush to put it there. But also so simple that it could be the work of a child.
“Notice again how precise he was,” Black was saying, his voice spinning up from a great depth. “It's identical to the Dumant apartments, down to the shape on the wall. And the booksÂ .Â .Â .”
Alex studied the books. At first there was a chaos to them, but whenshe looked closer she saw how careful the pattern was. They had not merely been dropped to the floor but had rather beenplacedthere painstakingly, like the instruments on a surgical tray. But she couldn't focus, didn't want to focusâthe books were worse, somehow, than if she had seen Michael Tanner's body.
“The one covering his eyes,” she said, her voice strangled. “What was it?”
“Fallows,” Black said. “The Coil.”
“He wants us to be thinking about Dumant,” Black went on. “This thing is a carbon copy, a kind of rehashing. A revision. Will you help us, Dr. Shipley?”
“Yes,” she said weakly. This apartment, this room particularlyâit had convinced her. Her throat was bone dry, her hands clenched and nails digging into her palms. Before, it had been a tragedy; now, standing here in the middle of these books, the tide of them around her, she saw it for what it was: a revulsion. Anger, quick and tight, rushed to the surface. She wanted to spit, to tear the covers off the books and demand answers from them, to hide away the terrible meaningless image of the inkblot on the wall that seemed to be an eye now, a camera staring at her. Into her. “Yes, I will.”
Black nodded and Alex stood up, sweeping over the damage in the library one last time.How could no one have heard him struggling?she wondered as she stepped past the detective.Why didn't anyone save him?
Black glanced up from where he crouched. “Where are you going?”
“I have to see someone.”
“And who would that be?”
“Richard Aldiss,” Alex said, and then she left that awful room and the ghosts it refused to give up.The Class199415
When everyone was ready, Aldiss sat forward and scanned the lecture hall, as he often did at the beginning of his classes. His faceless guards, as always, stood watch behind him. The black legs of their trousers were slick and pressed.
“We have fully begun our journey now,” he said at last. “We are on our way toward discovering who Paul Fallows really is.”
“Why don't you just tell us?” Melissa Lee wore a Pixies T-shirt and tattered pants slung with a man's necktie for a belt. The girl's black lips glistened, her dark, oily hair hung over piercing olive eyes. “If you know his identity, as you claim you do, why don't you just reveal it to us?”
“I agree with her, Professor,” said Michael Tanner, who sat beside Lee. He was a skinny, frail boy made frailer because of his baggy sweater and sharp features. There were rumors about Tanner and Leeâin fact, there were rumors about Lee and almost every guy on campus, and a few women as wellâand Alex noticed how close their elbows were, how near they sat to each other. “Just tell us who you believe he is. This charade, thisÂ .Â .Â .”
It was Keller who had offered up the word, and no one objected. Not a mystery, as the class title suggested, but something much more complex. Something dictated by the whims of Aldiss himself.
“That's right,” Daniel Hayden said. “This is agame.And it's becoming a bit tedious, don't you think?”
There were only three women in the class, Alex and Lee and Sally Mitchell. It was Mitchell who had just spoken. A quiet, mousy girlânot as opinionated as Alex nor as scandalous as Lee, Mitchell was the forgotten star of the English department. She was a Burlington girl, and like Alex she was branded because of this fact. But unlike Alex she was often invisible on the campus, absent from the frat parties and the spontaneous Front Street gatherings the English profs often put on. She, as much as anyone in the lecture hall, maybe even as much as Daniel Hayden, was an enigma to the rest of them.
“And why don't you tell us what you think of my methods, Ms. Mitchell,” Aldiss said. He remained frighteningly composed.
“I think giving the information would be tooÂ .Â .Â . easy,” the girl said.
“Who agrees with her?”
Aldiss waited. Three students raised their hands: Alex, Lewis Prine, and Frank Marsden, the actor, in the front row. Almost everyone agreed that to see Marsden act was to see a boy who fell completely into his role, whobecamethe character he was playing. Tonight he was fresh from rehearsals; he sat wearing full makeup, his eyes dark with shadow.
Aldiss looked at the boy. “Do you enjoy my class, Mr. Marsden?”
“Very much so.”
“And what exactly do you like about it?”
“I like the fact that it's so unexpected. That anything can happen.”
Aldiss was pleased by this. “Mr. Prine?”
“Call it intrigue,” the boy said.
Aldiss scanned the room, and his eyes fell on Alex. “And you, Ms. Shipley,” he said. “You also enjoy this chase I have you on?”
She didn't exactly know how to answer.Enjoyâit wasn't the word she wanted. “I understand why you're doing it this way,” she said.
Aldiss cocked his head. “Do you?”
“I think so, yes. To just give us Paul Fallows's identity, to hand over the information you've uncovered while you've been in Rock Mountainâthat would not only be too easy, it would be wrong.”
“I think you understand my methods quite well,” Aldiss said. “Ihave waited for twelve years to get to this point, I believe I can hold out for a few more weeks.”
He laughed, and a few in the class did as well.
“Plus, I do not know for a fact that the person I believe to be Paul Fallows is really him.”
The class buzzed. No one quite knew how to take this announcement.
“What do you mean?” Tanner asked. “I thought you had new information, Professor. Stuff that has never been seen before.”
“That's right,” Aldiss said. “But what we are working with here are possibilities. Equations. You may come to the end and find that my information was flawed. That the person I believe to be Fallows isn't him at all. It has happened to the Fallows scholars again and again over the years. I believe I am right this time, butÂ .Â .Â .”
For some reason, this admonition scared Alex. Terrified her. How could he not be sure?
“Does it even matter?” It was Lee again. The girl looked at Aldiss with a challenge in her eyes.
“Does what matter, Ms. Lee?”
“Finding Fallows. Will the world change if we do find him? Will it mean anything?”
“Of course it will. It will mean everything.”
Alex nodded, then stopped herself. She mustn't get too close to him. How dangerous it was to join his side, to form a relationship with this man. The image from Dean Fisk's newspaper articles flashed through her mind, the libraries of those dead girlsÂ .Â .Â .
The professor went on: “If you find Fallows, then you will have solved one of the world's greatestâ”
He stopped. “Professor?” Hayden asked.
There was a quick, choking sound, and Aldiss lurched forward onto the table where his camera must have been mounted. The speed of his movement startled Alex. Aldiss's face banged off the metal surface. His eyes opened impossibly wide and then he slumped down out of view, the camera jostling and twisting downward in the movement. Now the lens held on Aldiss's one open eye. It was as if he had seen something beyond words, something so terrible or beautiful that he could not understand its meaning.
“I'mÂ .Â .Â .” he gasped, and then nothing.
The guards bent forward, batons tipping downward. They were still mostly hidden, but one of them stooped now and the camera caught him. The line of a jaw, a downy tuft of pale stubble, one frantic eye caught in the frameâand then he was gone.
The TV went black.
“What the hell?” Christian Kane said.
“Not again,” said Keller.
Alex held her breath. She didn't want to be left like this. Not after the information she'd gathered from Dean Fisk. Not after those photographs of the crime scenes. She felt as if she was close now, as if the message in the book was finally real.
“Are we supposed to wait for him?” Lee asked, annoyance in her voice.
But before someone could answer, the box screeched and the image reappeared. A different man was sitting at Aldiss's table. He wore a gray suit and tiny glasses that shrunk his face. The man stared solemnly into the camera.
“My name is Jeffrey Oliphant,” the man said in a slow, looping voice. “I am the warden at Rock Mountain Correctional Facility. I regret to inform you that Dr. Aldiss will not be able to continue tonight. He has been taken back to his cell and is being checked by our medical staff. He suffers from a rare neurological condition, as he has told you. Certainly nothing to be alarmed about. If he is able, you will continue your course on the next scheduled night. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Again, the screen went black.
Now what am I supposed to do?Alex wondered.
* Â * Â *
She walked home with Keller.
The air was not as cold as it had been the previous week. Students were out now, walking the quads, some of them sitting out on the campus benches. It didn't get much better than this in January in Vermont.
“Still think he's lying?” she asked Keller. She was already feeling close to him. Silly, yesâshe admitted it. A girlish game she was playingwith herself. It had only been one walk through the snow. But she felt like she could trust him.
“Hard to say,” Keller said. The snow had begun to melt and the walkways had turned to slush, the drifts pooling out and soaking down the quads to a dark, viscous mud. “I actually feel sorry for the poor bastard.”
“You shouldn't,” Alex said. “He murderedÂ .Â .Â .” She stopped herself.
“I know, I know. Those dead girls. It's just that he's so pathetic, trapped there in that cell with his guards. And what happened tonight. Can you imagine?”
“Me either. I think I would just off myself. Just get it over with.” Then Keller stopped, seemed to consider something. “Let me ask you something.”
“Have at it.”
“Which one of us is Aldiss's favorite?”
She thought about the book back in her room. “I don't know,” she said.
“I think it's Daniel Hayden.”
“You can't be serious.”
“Look at the kid, Alex. He was never really going to leave the class. He's just like Aldissâhe enjoys playing these games and seeing how many people he can get to go along with him. It's all an act with this guy. He's the only one there whoÂ .Â .Â .”Isn't like the rest of us,she knew Keller wanted to say.
“You're still not convinced.”
Alex thought, imagined the faces of the students. Of the way they interacted with Aldiss and of the way he manipulated them. A strong word, but this was the feeling she got: that he was playing with them somehow, keeping them going with his promise of Fallows. His carrot on a stick. “I just get the feeling that Aldiss doesn't like any of us,” she said. “Not really. The whole class creeps me out.”
“You mean Unraveling a Literary Mystery isn't your very favorite class?” he said in a mock-serious way, his accent thick and proper. Alex had to laugh.
“It's not that,” she said. “It'sjust that I feel weird when I'm in that room. I don't know. It sounds stupid.”
“No,” he said. “Go on. What?”
“I feel like Aldiss is toying with us,” she said. “Like he's the puppet master and we're his puppets.”
“You can stop any time, Alex. You know that.”
She looked away. “I know. And I guess I'm just being paranoid. But there's still something underneath it all.Simmering.”
“Simmering? What's this, Julia Child 101?”
She shoved him, felt his muscle beneath his flannel shirt. Felt something else flicker deep in her belly.
A moment of silence spooled out. She saw Philbrick Hall ahead.
“We should study together sometime,” Keller said.
“Yeah,” she said.Yeah? Dumb-ass!
“What about tomorrow night? We can read Fallows together. The magnificent, mysteriousThe Coil.We can unravel the mystery together.”
“That sounds nice.”
“My stomping ground, then,” Keller said. “Rebecca's. Seven sharp.”
“I'll be there.”
Keller nodded and left her on the walk. When she got inside her dorm, she realized she hadn't been breathing.16
The next morning, Alex returned to Dean Fisk's mansion on the hill. The old man was waiting for her this time.
“Tell me about Iowa,” she said when they were seated in the great room. “Professor Aldiss said we should begin there, in Rutherford's birthplace. Did something happen there?”
“Iowa is where many of Fallows's characters are from,” Fisk said. “And there you have Charles Rutherford as well. It was always believed that Iowa was ground zero, the middle of the map. If you were going to find Fallows, that's where you would begin.”
She noticed the hesitancy in his voice. “ButÂ .Â .Â .”
“Richard disagreed. At least at first. He felt that Iowa was a smokescreen, just like the âauthor photograph' of the encyclopedia salesman. Fallows wrote about New York City, about Europe. He mailed his manuscripts from European postmarks. It was as if the entire thing was a farce, as if Fallows had deliberately chosen this nowhere place in the middle of America to start his characters' journeys. It was pure Fallows: the fact that it looked like it meant something suggested that it didn't.”
“And the town where Rutherford was from?”
“Hamlet. A void.”
“Did Aldiss go there? Before, I mean?”
“He did. He and Locke.”
Fisk was surprised. “Richard hasn't told you about Benjamin Locke? Ah, you haven't even begun your night class, then.”
“Who was he?”
Fisk sat back on the sofa, crossed one leg over the other. “Dr. Benjamin Locke was a cult figure at Dumant University,” he began. “Dumant was where Richard did his undergrad and then became a professor, of course. Locke was a kind of renegade professor. The women at Dumant loved him, the men wanted to be him. He was a fixture in the burgeoning student movements of the early 1970s, wore bell bottoms and love beads to his lectures. I met him once, I think it was in '71. He was more student than professor, but you could see the genius almost drifting off of him. He was much like Richard in that way.”
“And he was Professor Aldiss's teacher?”
“That's right. Locke taught critical theory. You have to understand: Locke was firmly in the Raymond Picard school. He treated literature as if it were simply a series of mathematical patterns, and it was the reader's job to unlock those patterns and crawl into the hole. Get right in the book's insides.”
Into the hole,she thought.The rabbit hole.
“It was as if Ben Locke were tinkering with a machine of some kind,” Fisk went on. “In front of his classes he would cut the covers off his books and X-Acto the pages away, physically destroy the volume so that he could examine it piece by piece.”
Alex thought of the pages Aldiss had held to the screen during the night class.
“I suppose Richard saw a kind of art in that,” Fisk said. “A sort of truth. Of course they were inseparable the moment Locke saw how powerful Richard's mind was.”
“Was it Locke who turned Dr. Aldiss onto Paul Fallows?”
“Yes. At that time Fallows was an unknown, but Locke soon changed all that. It was 1972.The Golden Silencehadn't yet appeared, and many believed there was nothing special about Fallows. A more modern version of Edith Wharton, perhaps. In fact, it was Benjamin Locke whowas the first scholar to posit the theory that Paul Fallows might have actually been a woman.”
Alex thought about that. It fit with the hundred or so pages she had read ofThe Coil.There was something almost feminine about the writing.
“You said that Benjamin Locke changed the perception of Paul Fallows,” she said. “How did he do that?”
“He did it very carefully,” Fisk replied. “He formed an elite group of students. A small, selective group of Dumant's finest lit majors. They called themselves the Iowans.”
“And Richard Aldissâ”
“Was one of them, yes. Of course he would be. It was there, in those secret meetings in the home of Benjamin Locke, that the mythology of Paul Fallows was born.”
“But what did Locke teach them? If not much was known about the novels at that time, then what could the professor possibly have been able to give to his group?”
“He gave them the beginnings of an obsession, Alex. Imagine them there.” With this, Fisk leaned forward, and Alex followed the man's always moving fingers, the way they stained the wall of the great room with their mad, intricate shadows. “These students learn that the one existing novel,The Coil, was not merely a book butÂ .Â .Â . something else. Something like a treasure map. A map that was so new and untapped that no one had really taken the time to puzzle over it. They would be the first. Think about how immensely powerful they must have felt.”
Alex thought of the night class, of that smothering, windowless basement room. Of the feeling that overcame her when Aldiss appeared on the television screen.
“Yes,” she finally said. “I think I know how they felt.”
“And so it was easy to see how they fell into it,” Fisk continued. “I mean totally fell into it, free will and all cast aside. If the so-called Iowans were obedient to Locke before, they were now in his thrall. He not only became a mentor to themâhe became a sort of spiritual guide.”
“Did they begin a search for Fallows?”
A slow, deliberate nod. “It was during Richard's final year of gradschool. Locke showed for a meeting one night looking ashen, pale. The students knew that something must be wrong. When they confronted him, Locke told his students what had happened.”
“What was it?” asked Alex, getting swept up now. Losing herself in the dean's story.
“Locke had been contacted by Fallows himself.”
Her mouth dropped open. “What do you mean, âcontacted'?”
Fisk leaned forward. Strands of thinning hair fell down and clung wetly to his forehead. He was exhausting himself by telling this story.
“The writer had called the professor on the telephone,” he said. “He told Locke that he'd heard about his group and he would like to meet the students in person. This, of course, was shocking even then. Fallows was already known as a recluse, a man who never showed his face or granted an interview. The photograph of Charles Rutherford on the back ofThe Coilwas already being called into question. When this man calling himself Fallows requested an audience with the professor and his studentsâwell, that was enough to terrify Ben Locke.”
“He thought something didn't add up.”
“Very much so. Wouldn't you? You had spent three years digging into one novel, tunneling into it and prying it open, and the reclusive author suddenly wants to see you? Locke was afraid. He admitted to Richard that the writer had sounded strange during their conversation. Off, somehow. Not like a man but aÂ .Â .Â .”
“What?” Alex asked. Heat gathered beneath her arms now; her heart roared.
“A recording,” Fisk said. “A machine of some kind.”
“Yes. It was all very disconcerting. Nearly all of the Iowans refused to go, even though to meet Paul Fallows and discussThe Coilwould have been beyond their wildest dreams.”
“What about Professor Aldiss?” she asked. Almost despite herself she thought of the professor as he would've been as a studentâpowerful, even sexy. He would have been above the obsession that drove the Fallows scholars. Something swelled in her, a kind of shameful energy. She swallowed it down harshly.
Fisk smiled. “Of course you know the answer to that already. Hewas the only one who stayed by Locke's side. Richard would not be dissuaded. He very much wanted to go, whatever the risks. He is not a murderer, Alex, as I have told you, but he is a very brave man. A confident man, so sure of himself and his own notions that dangerÂ .Â .Â . well, he never considered danger. He just wanted to get to the bottom of the Fallows search. He had been working on the novel with Locke for long enough, and he craved answers.”
“So what did they do?”
Fisk paused. The light had swung again, and the living room was almost completely dark. The only artificial light was cast by a small lamp in the corner.
“Richard will have to tell you that story.”
“Dean Fisk, please.”
“I promise,” the man said again. “You will learn the answers to these questions. Either Richard will tell you, or you will discover what lies in Hamlet on your own.”
Alex thought again about the small Iowa town.
“So, Hamlet is where Aldiss is leading us? Leading me, I mean. Is that the purpose of the night class, to have me retrace his and Locke's steps so that I might be able to find what they could not?”
At first Fisk did not speak. When he did, his eyes were away from her, distant and somber, his face drawn.
“Yes,” the old man said. “That's exactly what is happening.”AlexPresent Day17
This time Richard Aldiss was waiting for her.
He had wine ready, an immaculate dinner of stewed hare and exotic vegetables on china that spread across a stark white tablecloth. There were two chairs, one on each side of the small circular table, and through the nervous flame of a candle Alex watched the professor smile at her in the half darkness of his little kitchen. At her place setting was an envelope that read,To Alexandra.She had refused to open it.
“Poor Michael Tanner,” the man said when they were seated.
“They're still searching,” Alex said. “The police have been watching Sally, but they haven't charged her with anything yet.”
“And is it your opinion that quiet Sally killed her husband?” he asked bluntly. He tore at the rabbit with his fork, a tortured smile stretched across his face.
“No.” The word out there, she drew herself quickly back. “I don't know.”
“Â âNo,'Â ” the professor repeated in a perfect imitation of her voice. “Â âI don't know.' Which is it, Alexandra?”
“I haven't had time to observe them all yet.” She took a cautious bite. It was luxurious, but she refused to show Aldiss her pleasure. “But I will. They're staying in Dean Fisk'sâ”
“Fisk,” spat Aldiss. “Has the old man trotted out his mythicalmanuscript yet?” Aldiss laughed, but his eyes didn't leave her. Alex looked off into the shadows of the kitchen. “Give me something of substance.”
Alex looked at him through the candle's flame.Bastard. “I saw the house.”
The smile curled upward. He rested his fork on the plate with a gentletink,steepled his hands beneath his chin. “Go on.”
“You said before that you felt that the person who did this was someone who knew Michael.”
Aldiss nodded almost imperceptibly.
“I think you may have been right.”
“Of course I was,” he said. His hands moved. She watched his fingers dance from glass to knife to cloth and then back again. Glass, knife, cloth. His heart was racing, his mind whirling. She knew it. “You were describing Michael Tanner's house.”
But Alex didn't continue. She could feel the balance of power shifting ineluctably away from her, and she couldn't let that happen. Not again.
“Your turn, Professor,” she said, her gaze steady on him. “Were you in touch with Daniel Hayden before his death?”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Aldiss said. But it was too quick, too abrupt. “I am not interested in the past, Alexandra. I could fall silent right now. I could close myself like a book and end this lesson, and where would you turn then? To your hapless detective? To your conspiracy-theorist friends?”
She glared at him, heart thudding. Finally she nodded and said, “It was Dumant. Michael's house, the crime sceneâeverything was the same except the kitchen.”
Aldiss went still, looked up at her quizzically.
“There were dishes all over the floor. They had been broken, pulled from the table and strewn across the room. Shards of glass everywhere. The chairs had been toppled and there were marks across the walls.”
Aldiss thought. Then he said, “How many plates?”
The professor sighed. “An easy question, Alexandra. How many plates were there?”
She tried to remember the kitchen, the strewn glass. But it was futile. She could remember nothing but the library, the books, the awful silence of the placeâ
“I don't know,” she said shamefully. “I can't remember.”
“You will,” Aldiss said, his smile tightening. “You will dream of those rooms tonight, and you will remember. When you dream, make sure you pay attention. I am wondering if there weren't others in the house with Michael.”
Aldiss said nothing, took a deep drink of the wine. When he put down the glass his lips were stained a dark red.
“The books,” he said. “Tell me about them.”
“At first I thought they were random,” she said, “but when I looked closer I could see that there was an arrangement there. He was careful, precise. He wanted us to know that the murder was as much about his process as it was about Michael's death.”
“Randomness does not exist. Not with this man. His obsession with the Dumant murders will have created a situation for him of unsustainability. He is writing a kind of sequel, you see, and in any sequel the writer cannot reach the point where his art matches the original. It is an impossible task.”
“You mean he's going to go off the deep end?”
“I predict so, yes. He will rattle apart, because what he is doing is not his. It belongs to the real Dumant killer, the one that youâ”
“Yes,” she said, and looked quickly away.
“None of this belongs to him,” Aldiss repeated. “This is a man who will feel an incredible amount of inferiority. He will be angry. He will burn with anger, radiate with it. He is in someone else's playground now. Someone else's mind. He is a thief, and all thieves are caught eventually. ButÂ .Â .Â .”
“The damage will be done,” Aldiss said softly.
Alex sat, staring at the man. His smile pulled apart into an O, and a hand drifted to his face so slowly that she could follow it all the way across, over the tablecloth and almost through the licking candle flame and to his cheek, where it sat on the flat, dead skin, fingersspidering the mandible closed. She looked away as the man worked on himself.
“You're thinking about something,” Aldiss said finally. “Something I've saidâit doesn't fit with your theories of the crime?”
“No,” she said. “It's justÂ .Â .Â . Can I ask you a question, Professor?”
She saw him hesitate, the black hearts of his pupils crushed flat as he drew his gaze down on her. Then he said, his voice knife-sharp, “Only if you plan to be polite this time.”
“Did you ever hear of anyone being murdered while playing the Procedure?”
The vein in Aldiss's forehead jumped. He considered the question before he spoke. “It was played in different ways on different campuses,” he said at last. “We each had our own set of rules.”
“And Benjamin Locke. What were his rules?”
Aldiss opened his mouth to speak but stopped himself. Then, his voice smooth and measured, he said, “I don't want to talk about this right now.”
She nodded, her eyes passing over him and into the hallway. There was a room there, its closed door setting off alarms inside her.
“Where is she?” Alex asked.
“You mean fair Daphne,” the professor said. “Safe. She has her own life, her own friends.” He stood and walked across the kitchen, passing through a knife blade of moonlight. He was not wearing shoes, and his bare feet smacked against the gnarled linoleum. When he passed behind the table he stopped, hovered above Alex. He was inches away from her now.
“Talk to me about Dumant,” she said with her back still to him. “About what happened there.”
“Is this a crisis of conscience, Alexandra? Do you not believe in your own findings during the night class? Do you doubt my innocence after all this time?”
“I believe in what we did in Iowa,” she said, her voice faltering. “I believeÂ .Â .Â .”In you,she wanted to say.
“The person who committed those crimes is dead,” Aldiss continued. “You remember what happened. You were there. What you and your boyfriend discovered while you were in Iowa was true. It was alltrue. It was the one thing you have done correctly and thoroughly since you have been under my charge. You helped me reclaim my life, and I will never forget that.”
She turned and faced him. “Why have you never spoken about it?”
Aldiss said nothing.
“You've never spoken about anything before,” she went on, gathering courage now. “About your previous life, the one before Dumant. Before Fallows and Locke andâ”
“Stop this!” Aldiss shouted, and Alex shrunk back. The smile held but his eyes brimmed with rage. Some of the wine had sloshed out of the flute and stained the crease of his hand. “I have no intention of talking to you about any of this. You are still my student, Alexandra. You will remember that you are beneath me in every way imaginable.”
The thought came to her like a flash:At least I don't prey on my students.
Aldiss's eyes lit up. He'd read the direction of her thoughts. “Yes,” he hissed. “Say it.Please.”
She didn't. She refused to give him the pleasure.
The man moved out into the living room and sat down on the couch. He had thrown a yellow sheet over an end-table lamp for ambiance, and he sat in its sickly glow, staring into the maze of shadows on the other side of the room.
“In Fallows,” he said softly, “there is a moment where the narrative turns. The scholars call it avolta, this moment where the novel becomes something else. InThe Coil,you remember, we go from a novel of manners into a character study of Ann Marie. We begin to see that she is not as powerful as she seemed at first, that she is a scared Iowa girl lost in the big, bad city. InThe Golden Silencethere are many voltas, sometimes multiple turns on a page. Remember that that book is full of trapdoors.”
Alex stared at the man. The feeling of being back in that basement classroom, of being a student again and waiting desperately for Aldiss to fill in the blanks, was palpable. “Professor,” she said. “Why are you telling me this?”
Aldiss looked at her. “It's about to turn, Alexandra.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is not about poor Michael Tanner and his broken dishes. This is about something else entirely. It's about something older than the night class or the Dumant killer or any of that. I thought at first that the man who is doing thisâI thought he was weak. To steal another's crime is not flattery; it is not literary at all, no matter how much our invisible man wants it to be so. It is destruction.” Aldiss took another sip of the wine, the final liquid in the cup spinning down toward his ruined mouth. “This man isn't continuing something. He's trying to finish it.”
Alex looked at him. She felt weak, suddenly. Dizzy. “I'm sorry, Professor,” she said. “Excuse me.”
She went out into the hallway and found the bathroom she had seen earlier. She stepped inside and closed the door, turned on the light, and looked at herself in the mirror. It was streaked glass, bone-gray with age. Alex leaned on the sink and took a cleansing breath, splashed cold water on her face.Finish it,she thought.FinishÂ .Â .Â .
Her cell phone vibrated in her pocket. She took it out and looked at the face. She had two texts. One was from Peter; she didn't open it. The other was from Dean Rice:
Report back to us when you are finished with him.
“Asshole,” she whispered to herself, turning off the water. When she returned to the living room, Aldiss was still sitting on the sofa. His face was flushed with drink and his hands were clasped in his lap. His shirt was open at the collar and she saw the puzzle tattoo in the delta of his throat and chest, just the topmost edge of it. He followed her with his eyes as she sat down.
“Are you afraid in that house with them, Alexandra?” he asked.
She lied. “No.”
“You should be. What I said this morningâI am even more sure of it now. The killer was part of the night class.” He paused, twisting the flute between his fingers. “Do you have a weapon?”
“No. Of course not.”
“You will need one. Just in case. I can get that for you.”
She shook her head softly. There were a million things roaring andcollapsing through her, but all she could think about was Keller. Keller, standing before those shelves, urging her to be careful.
“You're thinking of something, Alexandra,” Aldiss said. “Tell me.”
She gathered herself. “How do you know it was someone from the night class?”
Nothing. Silence spun out.
“How do you know? You must tell me how you know one of them murdered Michael, Professor. You can't just put me up in that house, make me observe them all like some fucking Judas without telling me!” Alex was on the edge now, pushing him as hard as she had ever pushed. She felt a burning in the pit of her stomach as hot as a red wire. It was desperation. “Something happened,” she continued. “Something went on between you and one of them to cause you to think this way of them. Was it Daniel, Professor? Is he the connection?”
Aldiss's eyes registered a hit, but again he said nothing.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “They're going to come for you, Professor.”
“They're going to come out here and destroy your books and papers, rip the place apart seam by seam. And Daphneâthey will find out what she knows. You will end your life the way you would have if you had never met meâcast in a net of suspicion, believed to be a murderer by most of your own colleagues. This, here, everything you've builtâit will become Rock Mountain all over again.”
He swung his gaze toward her, only one side of his face visible in the lamplight. The smile wavered. “I did not kill Michael Tanner.”
She waited a beat. Then: “If you know who didâ”
“I know. It was someone from the night class. That is all I can tell you.”
“Butwho?” she said, shrieking now, her hands thrown up in front of her. “Which one of them?”
The man was silent. The smile split apart, revealed teeth.
“Good night, Professor,” Alex relented. “And good luck.”
Then she was walking to the rental. The night was high and clear, the lake behind the house shining in the moonlight. She got in and started the car, felt the heat pour over her chilled face. For a moment she sat in the drive, cursing herself, pounding the steering wheel.Fuck fuck fuck, Alex! It was a simple thing, the easiest job in the world, and you wrecked it. Youâ
Something cracked against her passenger window.
Alex looked over, saw Aldiss's face at the glass. She rolled the window down.
“Here,” he said. “You forgot this on the kitchen table.”
The professor passed her the card he had given her earlier. Alex took it and slipped it between the covers of one of the books on Fallows she had brought on the trip with her but had yet to take out of the car. Then she rolled the window back up, reversed down the driveway, and drove out of Richard Aldiss's life for what she hoped was the very last time.18
It was just after eleven o'clock when she returned to the mansion. She found Christian Kane smoking outside. She walked up the drive, scanning the windows of the Victorian for Keller's room, wondering if he was still awake.
“How is the good professor?” Christian called as she approached. The writer's cigarette flared in the shadows.
“Adamant about his innocence,” she said.
“No heads in the closet, then?”
“I'm afraid not.” She nodded at his cigarette. “Bum one?”
He knocked a smoke out of the pack and handed it to her, lit it as she leaned close. She smelled liquor on him, wondered what they had all talked about while she was away.
Now the man watched her, his arms crossed to fend off the wind.
“If I told you something,” he said, “do you promise not to tell the rest of them?”
Alex regarded him. “Of course, Christian.”
“I plagiarized from Fallows.”
The man shifted, his breathing faster than it had been. Alex saw that he'd been wanting to tell someone for the longest time but didn'thave the courage. Now, back at his old college with one of his friends murdered, he'd brought himself to the confession.Maybe there's more there,Alex thought.
“Not word for word, nothing like that,” he said. “I simply stole his style, his rhythm. In my last novel,Barker in the Storm.I got stuck. Maybe I had this crazy notion that people would be playing the Procedure to my novels, I don't know. I was going with Michael every weekend to Burlington and Dumant, we were deep inside the Procedure. I was getting swept away by it, I was losing myself, Alex. My editor started calling me, asking when the next book would be ready. I kept telling him, âSoon. Soon. Soon.' Months turned into a year, and I almost lost everythingÂ .Â .Â .” Christian trailed off, looked away into the shadows as if he'd heard something. Alex followed his gaze but saw nothing but darkness, only the flickering spread of the college down below them. “One day I went into my library and I took downThe Golden Silence,started reading through it. And I thought to myself, âThis. This is it.' So I read a few passages and tried to emulate them. It was like stealing from Fallows. And it feltÂ .Â .Â . my God, Alex, it felt so good. I felt powerful again, like when I first started writing. It was magnificent.”
“Someone will find out,” Alex said. “The scholarsâthey catch those kinds of things.”
He smiled darkly. “I hope they do. I hope they find me out.” Again he looked into the fringe of trees, took one last drag on the cigarette, and flicked it into the brush. “And I hope I'm punished.”
* Â * Â *
Inside the house the crowd had dispersed. She found Frank Marsden and Lucy Wiggins by the fire, snuggled tight and talking in low voices. She went into the kitchen and drew a glass of water from the tap. Stood there drinking, listening to the silent old house and thinking of Aldiss. Of his persistence about one of her friends being guilty. Someone who was here.
Laughter, then. Coming from somewhere in the darkness.
“Hello?” Alex said. She waited.
Nothing at first. Then the laughter again, trilling and feminine. Alex stepped deeper into the room.
A man's voice. Familiar, but she couldn't place it. She took another step.
There was a door beyond the refrigerator. The laundry room, perhapsâshe had never explored this part of the dean's house. She took another step, then another. Finally she reached out and pushed the swinging door open and sawâ
Melissa Lee knelt before the nurse, Matthew Owen.
Embarrassment rushed through Alex, but she didn't turn. She stood for a moment, hidden in the darkness, the door cracked open. She saw Melissa's face in the man's lap. Saw Owen's head upturned, heard the low moan of his pleasure. When she looked down again she saw Melissa watching her, a kind of wicked amusement in the woman's eyes.
Not such a soccer mom after all,Alex thought. Quietly, she stepped back into the kitchen. Then she walked out into the great room, into the flushing heat of the fire, and ran right into Frank Marsden. He was drunk but solid, and she was nearly knocked to the floor.
“Alexandra,” he slurred. The fire's reflection burned in his eyes.
The man smiled and said, “Lock your door.”
“That's what they're saying on campus.” Frank got close to her, the liquor on his breath strong and thick. Some mad vision of revenge burned in his eyes. “Lock your doors tonight. Whoever did this to Michaelâthe guy's still out there.”
* Â * Â *
“Is that you, Alex?”
She was upstairs now, her heart pounding from what she had seen in the kitchen. At the sound of the voice Alex stopped midway down the corridor and looked into the dean's study. The room was mostly dark, lamplight streaming weakly across the old man's form. He sat in his wheelchair, the limp wig hanging askew on his head, his lipstick smeared and his breathing thick and wet. She waited for him to go on.
“Your eulogy tomorrow,” he said. “Do you have something planned?”
She didn't, but she was going to try to get her thoughts down in her room before sleep. That was how she always wrote her lectures: exhaustioncoming on, the conscious mind being peeled back and laid bare, inhibitions stripped away.
“I'll be ready,” she said.
“Good. Sally is broken, I think. There are police watching her every move. It's a horrible thing. She will need some relief, some proper remembrance of him.”
The dean shifted, pulled back out of the light. “And how was Richard tonight?”
“He didn't do this, Dean Fisk.”
“He told you that.”
“I know him. I know he's not capable.”Do you have a weapon? I can get that for you.
“We change,” the man said, and then he coughed harshly into his fist. When the spell was over he repeated, “We change. My falling-out with Richard was the genesis of it. When you finished the night class and he was released from prison, I began to see the man's capabilities. I started to see him for who he really is.”
“He isn't like this,” she said. “This isÂ .Â .Â . evil.”
“An overused word. I believe it is much more simple than that.”
“I believe Michael had found something. Discovered something. And his killer was forced to silence him. It is pure Shakespeare, to snuff the truth with the greatest silence. âTruth is truth, to the end of reckoning'âthe reckoning has come to Jasper, Alex. Michael had fallen upon the wrong secrets.”
“Secrets about Fallows?” she asked.
“More than likely, yes.”
“I know he'd been playing the Procedure again. With Christian.”
“Yes,” Fisk said, his blind eyes moving more quickly now. “As I said to you earlier, Matthew tells me that he sees them playing it on his walks across the east quad. The students. Rudimentary versions, mostly on weekends. Nothing complex enough for Michael to be interested in. But it is here on this campus. It has spread.”
She wondered about the significance of what the dean had just said. “What does it mean?”
“It means that Richard is perhaps more connected to this college than he is letting on. And that makes him a suspect.”
Fisk slumped back in his wheelchair. His face was ashen and doughy, the bald scalp pink and irritated. Alex bid the dean good night and left the room. She no longer felt exhausted, even though it was getting late. Instead, her senses were sharp and her mind was calm, precise. She walked purposefully down the hallway and entered the library she'd been in hours earlier.
Once again she felt her way across the shelves in the weak light, searching for the modernists. Easily she retraced her steps to find Aldiss'sGhost, the marker she had given herself to find the secret space. She pulled it off the shelf andâ
The manuscript was gone.
She reached into the space and groped madly in the darkness, splayed her fingers across the dusty shelves. She ran her hands over the spines, pulling out book after book, her heart hammering and sticky sweat pooling beneath her arms.No,she thought.Please, no.
Anger. It all came out in that instant, the bitter, gnawing frustration. Michael's murder and the task Aldiss had given her and all the rest of it.
Keller,she thought.Goddamn him.
She spun on her heel and left the room. It was pitch-black in the hallway now, and for a moment she couldn't find her way. Her thoughts were still swimming, the fact of the manuscript being stolen blurring her vision and making her stumble into the tattered wall. So much darkness here.
A sound. A footstep behind her.
Alex turned and put her palms to the wall, bracing herself in fear.
“Hello?” she said into the shadows. “Keller, is that you?”
She listened, her pulse pounding in her jaw. Nothing.
She began to walk again but stopped. Something moved, the form of someone darting across the room at the end of the hall.
“Who is it?” she called. “I can't see anything. I can'tâ”
Again there was stillness.Damn it, Alex, you're creeping yourself out.
She backed again into the darkness, palm over palm against the curling wallpaper, until she found her room. Then she went inside and shut the door. Locked it.
For a moment she stood there, breathing, with her back to the door. Cursing herself for being here, for putting herself into this situation.
Then she went to the bed, opened an end-table drawer, and found a pen inside. There was her copy of Christian Kane'sBarker at Play,and she put the paperback on her knees and began to write in the margins of a page what she had learned so far.
Melissa Lee. Distance from campus: lives in downstate Vermont. Motive: unclear. Still using sex as she did as a studentâfor power, leverage?
Frank Marsden. Distance from campus: resides mostly in California. Motive: possible dislike/jealousy of Michael Tanner, just as in night class.
Sally Tanner. Distance from campus: lives here. Motive: possibly found something of interest on her husband, something incriminating (re: Fallows?).
Lewis Prine (hasn't arrived yet; remember to call again before sleep). Distance from campus: lives and works in upstate Vermont. Motive: connection with last existing Fallows manuscript. May be right about its existence and it being hidden in the Fisk mansion.
Christian Kane. Distance from campus: close. Motive: became involved with Michael Tanner while in the Procedure. Included a crime scene in one of his novels that matches the Dumant/Tanner scene. Seems overly willing to absolve himself from the situation.
Jacob Keller. Distance from campus: close. Motive:
She sat back and looked at what she had written. She wondered again if Aldiss was right about one of her old friends. Wondered if Keller could somehow be involved. Inexplicable, but stillÂ .Â .Â .
She went back to her notes:
Jacob Keller. Distance from campus: close. Motive: stole Fallows manuscript.
She put the pen down and looked at the six names. As she studied them a vision appeared: the crime scene photos she had seen earlier that morning. Michael's body, broken and destroyed, theâWhat had Keller said? Thebrutalityof it. The awfulness of it. And someone here, one of the people she had once trusted and studied with in the night class, might be to blame.
Almost at once exhaustion fell over her. She felt herself falling, tumbling softly downâ
Another sound from the hallway. Alex sat up in bed, her senses alive now. Readied.
She stared at the door. Heard it again: a scuffling noise, the sound of someone walking. Approaching.
“Whoâ” Alex began, but she was cut off by a knock.
She went to it and pulled it open a crack. “Yes?”
“Hey, it's me.” Keller.
“Tired,” she said.
“Yeah. Of course.” Disappointment in his voice. “Something came for you.”
“Here.” He handed her something through the crack. It was an envelope, thick and chunky, nothing on the outside butALEXANDRA SHIPLEYin a jagged, slashing hand. “There was a knock on the front door. We thought it was another reporter, so we didn't answer. When Christian went out to smoke, he found this on the porch.”
The man hesitated there at the door. She thought about letting him in, and then she remembered Peter, her boyfriend back in Cambridge. She remembered the missing manuscript.
“Good night,” she said, and closed the door.
Alex took the envelope to her bed and opened it in the pale lamplight. Tipped its contents onto the bed: a book. It was a Fallows, a firstedition ofThe Golden Silence.She turned it around, saw the photograph of Charles Rutherford on the back.
What is this?
She opened the book and saw what was inside.
The pages had been cut out. The text had been carved into a precise shape, and an object had been placed inside the space that was left. It was a perfect fit, the gun falling out slowly into her hand when she turned the book upside down.
She had her weapon.The Class199419
When Alex arrived at the Fisk Library that Wednesday evening to finish her Fallows reading, she openedThe Coiland found a note inside. It had been written on a small strip of paper, no larger than a sliver of glass. It read,Find out about the Procedure.
Her backpackâhad she left it somewhere on campus? Mentally she retraced her steps that day: lunch at the Commons, 1:00 p.m. with Dr. Mew (Japanese Literature After the Bomb), afternoon study session in Lewis Prine's dorm room, back to her dorm to retrieve the Fallows. Someone had gotten to her book.
She looked around, paranoia tickling the back of her neck. There was a group of students leaning over a physics text two tables over. A lone reader in a lighted cubicle on the other side of the library. A few others drifting lazily through the stacks. Other than that the library was empty, quiet. She fingered the note.
Find out about the Procedure.
Alex had heard the term somewhere. Had Aldiss said it in one of his lectures? Had she read it somewhere? Again she scanned the library. A boy lifted his gaze to look at her. He was a floppy-haired sophomore, a Kappa Tau she'd danced with at a partyâshe glanced away. There was the loose feeling of something coming unraveled, a thread tipping froma spool. The Procedureâhad she seen it in a book? She stopped, her hands absently crinkling the note into brutal origami, her breath coming fast.A book,she thought.That's it.
She was up and moving, her backpack slung over her shoulder. Outside, into the biting cold, and over the lawn toward Philbrick. The day was ending, the trees shot through with bloodred sunlight. The old Alex would have stopped and observed this, maybe appreciated it. The silent quads, the way the snow diamond-sparkled on the ground. But this was the new Alex, the girl who'd been changed by the night class. By Aldiss. She pumped her legs harder, walking fast, wind striking her cheeks like a thousand needles. She entered the dorm, breathing in the blast of warmth, and took the elevator up to her room.
The book was exactly where she had hidden it.
Mind Puzzlesby Richard Aldiss. For a moment she stood in the empty room, thinking about how her life had changed because of this. One little volume, a collection of pages held together by cheap glue. A flimsy thingâand yet so powerful. So profound.
As she had done that night in the library two weeks ago, Alex searched the index. It was easy to find: there were over ten references. PROCEDURE, THE. She scanned the subentries and picked one: RULES, VARIATIONS OF. Her hands trembling, she turned to the page.
It was a game. That much was clear right away. Alex ran her eyes over the text, making sure her back was to the door in case her roommate returned. But this gameâit was unusual. It was only played by what Aldiss called “the enlightened,” those Fallows scholars adept enough with the texts to keep up. And there was something else; something about the tone Aldiss used to discuss the Procedure. A certain demure quality she had never seen in his other work. About this the professor had cared deeply. He wanted the reader to understand that this game, these pages, were important.
One section particularly struck her.
A game, yes, but the Procedure is not some innocent children's pastime. Half memory contest, half puzzle, the objective is this: to reenact scenes from Paul Fallows's novels as perfectly as one can. Thereare levels of complexityâfrom the true Masters to neophytes who are simply looking for a new experience on campusâbut the form and function of the Procedure is always the same. It is a method of deconstruction, a method of understanding the texts in a completely new way outside of a dusty lecture hall. Of tunneling inside the pages themselves.
There was a photograph accompanying the section of text. It showed a group of students on a campus, their '80s fashion clearly evident, talking to one another. There was something about their faces, about their stance and their manner of dress, that struck Alex right away.They're acting,she thought.It's like they're in a production. A play of some sort.
She continued reading. She read about the variations of the game, how it had been invented (at Yale, perhaps by Benjamin Lockeâthough this was disputed), its rules and objectives. “Some believe you cannot understand Fallows,” Aldiss wrote, “unless you learn how to play the Procedure. That you cannot truly know the two existing novels unless you become enlightened in the game. And if one does not know the novels, if one does not fully understand them, then how is one to even begin his search for Paul Fallows?”