College Court was not at the top of my go-to destinations list. I had a lot of enemies there. Or maybe I hoped I had a lot of enemies there. The line gets sort of blurry.
You have to remember: I wasn’t always the private eye you see before you. In the time before I dedicated myself to the noble pursuit of investigation, I was a teaching assistant in the English department. My life was in a bit of an upheaval. I was training Schlep to take over for me, fragile as he was after being pulled from his newspaper cocoon. He didn’t have a steady grasp of the finer points of paper grading.
Suffice it to say: There are a lot of earnest, smart people who hate my guts. Because some roustabout gave them Cs and Ds on their “Paradise Lost” essays in my name. And by this point, they must all be sophomores.
I didn’t feel like walking all the way to College Court, having already tromped up and down Mills Street. I caught a bus near Five Guys. Something about buses disconcerts me. I’d heard enough stories to curl a fly’s toenails: drunken brawls, strange manifestations of garden implements just left willy-nilly on the seats. I heard a rumor that someone was organizing dog fights on a free bus, cock fights on another.
Is this all untrue? Is it all too much? Do I have anything to fear? I have everything to fear.
But I rode the bus anyway. My feet were sore. I was getting very sleepy, and stayed sleepy as I boarded the 6 heading down State.
As we rode, I took the picture out of my pocket, holding the bull crane at all possible angles, under the lights. What did it all mean? Why had my old professor been holding this damn thing in his dead hand? Scraps did not sate the enigma; it cried out for more.
It was then and there I realized old Graham B.D. Rice was dead. Really dead. Irreversibly dead. And my imagination was so taken with the reality that I almost cried.
I never imagined this would happen. Sure, we had had our disagreements, but they were never truly serious. Even when I was investigating full-time, letting Schlep cover my teaching work, even as he glared at me from that hammock of his, I never detected a note of real contempt. Just notes of unforgivably paternal concern.
I needed to speak to him again, knowing I couldn’t. It was like trying to teach concrete Aramaic. But I was so taken with the idea that I did, in fact, speak with him…
When the bus stopped, and I descended to the street, I heard a phone ringing. It was a payphone. I, who had never answered a payphone, answered this payphone.
“I’ll warn you in advance, this is a collect call,” Rice said.
“Well, death isn’t cheap, Terry.”
“Well, on with it.”
“On with it? No need to be curt. Lest I show up in an ashen suit of armor to drive the point home.”
“Your tone is slipping, Herr Prof.”
“Well, death is loose.”
“Death is loose. Death isn’t cheap. Next you’ll tell me death is kind. Death is patient. Death is a purple kangaroo.”
“Damnit boy, I’m projecting my voice from the afterlife, the least you can do is drop the sardonicism.”
“Are you ready to hear what I have to say?”
“You’re in too deep.”
“Too deep in what? The bull crane business or the Tenny Bros. case? Or are they one in the same?”
“You’re too deep in shit. Now wake up!”
…I woke up. I had fallen asleep and ridden for over an hour. Someone must have mistaken me for a lost soul, because they left a Bible in the seat next to me, with a very nice note asking if my soul was saved. I kept the Bible and left the bus. I didn’t have anything to lose.
Look out for the next Terry Olivier installment, which hits newsstands in two weeks.