Harry Hamish hung like a bat from the ceiling in his office. He unwound this way every afternoon. The idea was to go limp, empty his mind and let each muscle in his body slacken. He liked the anti-gravity boots. But try as he might to clear his head–and, truth be told, he wasted little energy in the effort – prurient thoughts, like night creatures, crept back in.
Shortly before Eli knocked on the door, Harry’s mind wandered to the new secretary in the administrative pool. Rebecca Wilson. Unlike students who shed their clothing in these late afternoon “bat dreams”, as he liked to call them, Rebecca was not young enough to be his daughter. Harry was a spry and healthy-looking forty-six. With bushy red hair a-crop his head, caterpillar mustache punctuating deceptively fierce close-set green eyes, and a well-developed upper body, he looked fully ten years younger. In recent months, though, Harry had come to acknowledge age did matter. He now cared more for experience. That was one reason he had left teaching for administrative work, if that’s what one could call what he did. Errand boy for Dean James Pritchard might be closer to the truth. Harry still had to admit there was nothing so breathtaking as an apple-cheeked young thing fairly bursting out of her t-shirt. But seasoning meant more at his age.
While Rebecca Wilson was no classic beauty, Susan Sarandon-like, there was something undeniably sexual about her. She possessed lovely, thick hair that dropped well below her shoulders, a full and sensuous mouth, and what looked to be firm, well-shaped breasts. For Harry, her sexual allure also resided in another simple fact. Unlike Tillamook State students, Rebecca owned a history. She was in her mid-30s now, a graduate of Bennington, a refugee from the New York publishing world, married and divorced, with a child half-grown. She had pursued and pitched careers and men alike, experienced extremes of joy and sadness, through the years growing both more cynical and more sophisticated, more thoughtful and more introverted, more serious and more flirtatious. What attracted Harry to Rebecca was the imprint upon her of life itself.
Harry swung in the breeze whispering through his window. It was a quiet afternoon. His official responsibilities ended at 1:00 every day. In theory, this left time in the afternoon for his research. But Harry had completed his monograph on police corruption in Mexico. He was dangling between projects, as it were, liberating him all the more openly to indulge non-professional interests. And so now he closed his eyes, and in his mind Rebecca had entered the room. Placing her pad and pen on his desk, removing her glasses, slipping from her sandals, her eyes not straying from his, drawing near to him, her face, her body only inches from his. Oh, Harry, she said, her mouth pouty and downcast, her voice a heavy whisper. You’ve been on my mind. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about you. Her fingers stroking his cheek, trailing through his hair, her parted lips brushing his mouth.
This was how Harry imagined Rebecca Wilson. And this might have been enough. But then he thought, what the hell, I have nothing else to do this afternoon. And so he imagined her some more, half-clothed now, straddling him on the blonde leather sofa in his office, sweat beading her shoulders, palms steaming as she fumbled, first with the buttons of his shirt, then with his pants. She was kissing him. Here, there, her mouth the ocean, wet and warm and salty, swallowing him, Harry drowning, her tongue a slippery sea creature, moving in and out of his mouth, his ear, sliding on his neck and chest and belly, romping and playing.
Harry imagined Rebecca’s breasts, too, loosed from their blouse, swaying above his chest, resting gently in the palms of his hands. He thought of his childhood, of the grass in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, cool and soft under his bare feet in the summer as he chased friends across the lawn, a water balloon in each hand ready for the tossing. He thought of that moment as his happiness and now Rebecca’s breasts floating in his palms, heavy and warm and distended, reminded him of that happiness.
Her mouth flared. She arched her neck, moaning. Her grip upon his shoulders tightened. She was riding him now, hard and heavy. She was lifting herself upon him, a smile of beatitude, there for him. She slipped down upon him, gasping at his immensity, his capacity to fill her up, to satisfy the depths of her need, of her hunger. They merged. Their flesh stilled. And then the rhythm began again, and yet again, building in pace and tempo, climbing toward the radical climax that would consume them both.
* * *
The knock grew louder as the office door swung open. Harry’s eyelids lifted, enough to see Eli, leaning against the doorframe, taking it in, this grown man hanging from the ceiling like a hacked piece of slaughtered meat.
“Can I help you?” Harry growled, reluctantly emerging from his daydream.
Eli stepped into the room. “I’m Eli Wheeler,” he said. “We had an appointment? The secretary over there,” he pointed out the door toward Rebecca Wilson, “she said you were expecting me.”
Rebecca smiled through the doorway at Harry. He knew how he must look. Well, he thought, she just brightened his day. No reason not to return the favor. He swung his body back once, pumped his arms, and threw himself skyward toward the bar attached to the ceiling. Unhooking the boots, he lowered himself to the ground feet first. He pointed Eli toward the sofa.
“Welcome, young fellow. Have a seat. I was expecting you.” Harry had not been expecting Eli, though he knew that was his own fault, the consequence of his failure to check his schedule after lunch. He sat down, too, in an ergonomically correct, reclining leather desk chair, this chair resting behind the slab of burnished walnut he used for a desk. Pritchard hadn’t liked it when Harry moved the furniture over from his old office in the Political Science Department. It was not seemly, Pritchard had said. The office of a part-time associate dean at a state university should not resemble the office of the CEO of a private corporation. At a time when budgets were shrinking and politicians were looking for evidence of fiscal abuse. At a time when public support for higher education was at risk. But what was he supposed to say? Harry thought. This was his furniture, purchased with his money. Was he now required to burn it? To satisfy the sub-fuhrer instincts of this weasel now his boss? Thank god, he and Pritchard knew they both really reported to the same higher authority, Dame Mistress Chancellor Gamson-Clark. Harry preferred to think of her as Chancellor Gams, she of the long legs and short skirts, promoted from Chair of the Sociology Department to boost the school’s private endowment. Harry finished tying his shoes and tightening the knot in his tie. He glanced at Eli, shuffled some papers, and slipped into an official pose. The folder on Wheeler was right here on the desk. He might as well do some real work before the day ended. Perhaps it would impress Rebecca, to see him engaged in serious conversation with this young man.
Harry riffled through the file. “So. Eli Wheeler. Newly minted from Berkeley. Specialist in politics and history of antislavery movements in Europe and America. Hired to teach intellectual and cultural history in the Western Culture program here at Tillamook State. Everything looks to be in order. Have you settled into your office yet? Met your colleagues?”
Eli waved his hand. “Yeah, yeah, that’s all fine. Actually, I wanted to speak with you about a student. Shahid. Do you know a guy named Shahid?”
“That must be him. Short guy. Stocky. A little older than the average student. He only called himself Shahid.”
“I know him.” Harry stood and walked to the door. He pushed it shut. “What did he want with you?”
“He wanted to warn me away from the school. He said “Western Civilization” as we know it would be ending this year. He also said Tillamook State plans to ditch the Diversity Project and get rid of black students like him. He told me I should save my skin.”
“Where did you run into him?”
“In McIntyre. Yesterday afternoon. Some black kids flashed a gun at me. They spooked a police horse. The horse trampled my boxes. Shahid was hassling me about it.”
“So you believe Shahid’s claim, that he’s black?”
“I don’t know. He might be from the Middle East.”
“Well, young fellow, I’m new in this job, and not privy to all the information on students, but I’m sure you’re right. Shahid is from the Middle East. Or at least his parents are. I need to tell you something else, though. And this is between you and me.” Harry moved back to his desk. He passed one hand through his hair. “No matter where he’s from, I wouldn’t take his threat lightly. There was a young professor last year. A woman. Her name was Rochelle. Gwendolyn Rochelle. She was in her first year here, teaching in the Philosophy Department, and sometime around March she just disappeared. Poof. Into thin air.”
Eli sat higher on the sofa, remembering the letter he’d discovered in his office. “What are you saying? Where is she now? Is she alive?”
Harry smiled. The young man had a hyperactive mind. “No, no, no, she wasn’t killed.” Harry said. “She took off. She quit.”
“What does this have to do with Shahid?”
Harry shook his head, as if to dislodge an uncomfortable thought. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. Gwendolyn never gave a clear reason for leaving. But she was a Platonist, someone who valued balance and harmony, who strived in her life and in her teaching to inhabit realms of truth and beauty. Politics, anything that involved disagreement and conflict, deeply upset her. Shahid was in her class. A few weeks before she disappeared, he drew her into a debate on the influence of Egyptian culture in ancient Greece. He’s a smart guy. Very Afrocentric. And he baits teachers. He wouldn’t back down in Gwendolyn’s class. He humiliated her in front of scores of students. She cried in her office for hours afterward.”
Harry glanced out the window, as if she might walk by. Gwendolyn. He had dated her once. She had been a strange woman, alternately peppy and withdrawn, but Harry found her to be striking, pale and willowy, with a large, rubbery mouth and high cheekbones and green eyes. He would have gone to bed with her. She had declined his offer, though. He glanced down at his desk, pensively, then held up sheets of smudged newsprint. “You know what this is?”
“Sure,” Eli said. “It’s a Racing Form.”
“I play the horses,” Harry said. “Over at the Old Rose.”
Eli stared blankly at Harry.
“Rose City Racecourse.” Harry waved vaguely in the direction of the river. “It’s right across the Willamette next to Forest Park. So close. You can even walk across the railroad bridge down the hill. Will drop you right by the racetrack. But the Old Rose might as well be another world. Before World War II, Rose City was the Saratoga of the Northwest. Now it’s just another broken-down track sited by an industrial wasteland.” Harry smiled dreamily.
Eli told Harry his childhood friends had skipped school and driven to racetracks on the Jersey Shore, returning late in the day, aglow with tales of luck and larceny, small fortunes won and lost. He’d never gone with them.
Harry nodded. “I’m sure your friends all met bitter ends, too. But the horse track is a big part of my life. You might say it’s the other half of my identity.” He looked hard at Eli. “Most people have two sides, you know. The one they show the world and the one they won’t even show themselves.” He puffed his chest like an adder. “I’m a good horseplayer. I know what I’m doing. I make money. And keep no secrets from anyone. That’s how I stay whole. How do you do it?”
“I’m a runner,” Eli said, thinking that didn’t sound like much, but hoping up to now, at least, that it had been enough.
“Good for you,” Harry said. “The loneliness of the long-distance runner.”
He tapped the Racing Form with his index finger. “There’s a guy at the track. Name of Simon Short. He’s a tout. He writes a local column about horses to watch, horses primed for a big race. Every so often, Simon Short jumps a horse. He lubricates people for weeks ahead of time. Gets everyone juiced and drives down the odds. Sometimes the horse wins. More often it doesn’t. But when Simon Short touts a horse, he usually has his eye on another horse running in the same race. The odds on his tout go down. The odds on his private sweet thing go up. His nag romps, the tout runs up the track, and Simon Short cashes for several grand. It’s a good scam. He preys on the existential dread of horseplayers, their fear of standing alone and failing. They want that sure thing. He offers them illusions of security, of safety.” Harry placed the Form back on his desk. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Eli?”
Eli shook his head. He really didn’t.
“Students here call Shahid Little X,” Harry said. “He’s articulate and forceful. He speaks to fear, anxiety, and anger of minority students on campus, especially blacks. He satisfies their need for a prophet, someone to interpret their past and offer a vision of their future. That’s legitimate, I suppose. How else can people make sense of their present? It’s not different from what happens at the racetrack. People at the track, a lot of them are wounded, they’re vulnerable, helpless. They want a rock to cling to, a sense there’s an order to the universe, that outcomes to races aren’t random, even if randomness otherwise pervades their experience of life. So they listen, eagerly, when Simon Short spoons out his sweet nectar. Only problem is, I’ve seen too many of his sure things run up the track. Simon Short’s a false prophet. And so is Shahid. He’s angry. He’s cynical. There’s no true redemption in his vision of the world. Only the manipulation of human emotion, the exploitation of vulnerability and need.”
Bitterness tinged Harry’s words, as if he were mourning the loss of something precious in his life. He spun his chair and peered through the window glass toward the Willamette, the water royal blue and calm, clouds like spun cotton hanging above. An old Chris Craft, all mahogany, chrome, and leather, pulled a young woman on waterskies. She skipped cross the boat’s wake, taking Harry with her toward the farther shore.
* * *
Growing up the son of a university professor, Eli learned early to sense college campus atmospherics. From his father, he knew the pristine surface of academic life belied underlying turbulence. He understood self-regarding, prudent professors sought a sunny clime in favored, well-funded departments, or located safe harbors in minor, niche programs. If young and inexperienced, they found a patron. If older and well-established, they built an empire. Above all, they avoided storm centers. They insulated themselves from disciplines mired in controversy, politically divided, lacking an independent power base, or otherwise vulnerable to outside pressures, from rival departments, from students, from standing committees, and especially from administrators. “Stay away from anyone wearing a suit and tie, Eli,” Tobias would say. “They’ll gnaw off your balls. Make you just like them.”
Eli knew all this. He knew, too, that Tobias’s own self-proclaimed virtuosity in the pit of academic politics had not prevented him from being disciplined by the administration at Princeton, not once, but twice, both times for verbal assaults on the president of the university, a former colleague in the history department whom Tobias had scorned for abandoning the great vocation to serve an unbridled personal ambition. But Eli had learned to do as his father said, not as his father did, and for him, one of the most attractive features of the Western Culture program at Tillamook State was the evident solidarity of the faculty in the program and the security of the niche it occupied within the thicket of disciplines, departments, and institutes at the school.
After the encounter with Shahid, Eli had gone first to visit John Jergensen, the long-time head of Western Culture. Jergensen, a pudgy Swede, had been through the mill in recent years. His program had risen out of obscurity during the incipient stages of the diversity wars fought on college campuses in the late 1980s. It had risen from almost nothing, a little four-person craft, serving the ill-defined needs of Tillamook State’s core curriculum with a medley of courses on subjects as varied as The Gothic Moment in European Civilization and The Nun in the Nightgown: French Enlightenment High and Low. Jergensen himself had carved a home for himself in the field of Kierkegaard studies, having published a short book on Fear and Trembling, and the program everywhere carried the imprint of his interest in religion and philosophy.
When the advent of the Diversity Project spawned a new generation of student protest movements, he vigorously defended his program against the standard charge that western civilization rested upon twin abutments of racism and sexism. From Jergensen’s perspective, campus malcontents cared nothing for the truth on this matter. Their interest in the curriculum was merely as an instrument for serving the therapeutic needs of marginal others. “Marginal Others,” Jergensen would snort, bilious and bereaved at the same time. “One cannot judge history in this simple-minded way. I will not allow it. I will not pander to this perverse need, to salve the wounds of so-called culture victims. I will not participate in celebrations of victimhood.”
True to his word, Jergensen did not retreat. The firmness of his stand frankly surprised the militants. He was in other respects a decent man and they had underestimated him. They were surprised and annoyed that he, the head of Tillamook State’s little program, should resist their demands for reform when heavyweights at real schools like Stanford had collapsed like wet cardboard. So they occupied his office and disturbed his classes and he said, “Fine, you can have the fucking office and you can have the fucking classroom. I don’t need them to teach.” And he led his students to his own home, where for two weeks he taught all of his classes, in his living room, with his students wedged in like soldiers on a troop train, dripping wet from the nonstop deluge of rain outside, with the other students protesting on the street, the ink streaking on their signs and placards, the reporters first shoving microphones in their faces, and then, when Jergensen dismissed class, sprinting to the front door to ram their microphones in his face.
That winter, Newsweek ran an article on Tillamook State, in which they featured the unveiling of the Diversity Project along with sidebars on Chancellor Gamson-Clark, the working-class white students of Tillamook State, and their new black and Latino and Native American counterparts. There was one on Jergensen, too, with a photo of him lecturing about Nietzsche from his living room. The Mouse that Roared, ran the headline of the article, which profiled the stubborn resistance to student demands of Jergensen and his little program.
Jergensen actually supported the Diversity Project. He believed Tillamook State and other public institutions carried a responsibility to serve disadvantaged sectors of the population, and if that meant seeking them out from inner-city neighborhoods across the nation, well Jergensen had no quarrel with that either. But as he explained to the Newsweek reporter, the history of any great civilization subverted any simple set of moral judgments. To organize a curriculum around emotions of anger, envy, and resentment deprived students of the one great gift offered to them by the study of culture and civilization, a sense of their own participation within a grand, cosmic drama.
In this manner Jergensen addressed the issue, so forthrightly and eloquently that, in the eyes of most, he clearly won the day. Protesting students finally gave up and began looking for another cause. Jergensen could rest easy in the knowledge that the administration and most of the faculty backed him through the course of the controversy. Western Culture continued to offer the same menu of courses and, if anything, student interest in the program mounted in the aftermath of the protests. Jergensen also leveraged the attention into an additional faculty slot, the one filled by Eli specifically to focus on issues of “racial disharmony”. He had long admired Tobias’s scholarship, and in his view the younger Wheeler demonstrated the potential to produce work of equal, if not superior, quality. It was strange, he had to admit, that Eli, in his dissertation, would so directly attack the foundations of Tobias’s research. Jergensen was, however, not one to probe too deeply into the psychological foundations of intellectual development. There was no doubt about Eli himself being a first-rate scholar, and that was what mattered.
There it was, in a nutshell. Student reformers campaigned for the abolition of the Western Culture program. Short of that, they demanded a dramatic revision of the curriculum and a raft of minority faculty appointments. Instead, Tillamook State hired Eli, a pedigreed white male, whose arrival on campus clearly signified the shallowness, or at least the ambivalence, of support within the community for the Diversity Project. The ironies were not lost on anyone. Not on Harry Hamish. Not on Shahid. And not on Jergensen, who understood if the fortunes of minorities on campus, black students especially, continued to sink, Eli might be in for some rough going. He didn’t know what to do about it. The best he could hope for was any hostility Eli met would test and strengthen the young man’s character.
Understanding the situation as he did, Jergensen wanted to offer his younger colleague more than an attentive ear concerning the incident with Shahid. He knew Shahid, had even taught Shahid in his classes, although Shahid had not been much of a presence in the protests. He understood Shahid, though only a student, was not someone to trifle with. But this was the other issue. Jergensen had suffered more than most people realized in the defense of Western Culture. He was no longer young. His blood pressure had soared. He endured bouts of angina. In this sense, of course, protesting students had won. Jergensen wanted a few years of peace before retiring and so only nodded sympathetically while Eli told his story. He nodded sympathetically and then passed Eli on to the Dean’s office. He didn’t like Pritchard. No one did. But Pritchard would know well enough what advice to offer. And he certainly owned the authority to deal with Shahid.
* * *
So that was how Eli found himself sitting in the well-appointed office of Harry Hamish, having phoned Dean Pritchard’s office earlier in the day, still uncertain about the whole matter, secretly relieved when the secretary told him Dean Pritchard would be with the Chancellor for most of the afternoon. Associate Dean Hamish’s schedule was clear, though, she said. Associate Dean Hamish, Eli had thought. He might as well be Associate Dean Nebbish. Then Eli saw the guy hanging upside down from those boots, the two halves of his tie dripping in front of his face like drunken clock hands, and Eli wondered what fool this was. But now, sitting back on the sofa, admiring art on the walls, sculpture on the shelves and desk, originals all, Eli found himself musing about how Harry Hamish had framed this existence, almost entirely outside the margins of the standard mail-order dean persona. Eli wondered how, and why, Harry Hamish had obtained this appointment, and he thought about broaching the subject, though not for long.
Two quick raps on the door preceded the entry of James Pritchard into Harry’s office, or perhaps more accurately, of James Pritchard’s famous white pompadour and strangely misshapen face. Eli was taken aback. He had heard from others that seeing Pritchard for the first time could be disturbing (poster boy for Night of the Living Dead, one colleague warned him), and for weeks, since his arrival in Portland, he had steeled himself to witness whatever unnamable thing it was that marked Pritchard. But no partial, exterior deformity defaced the man. He was strange-looking, yes. The strangeness was all-encompassing, though, and more the projection of an inward force, an inhabitation of his soul.
Eli groped for a marker, a referent from history. Pritchard’s was a face so roughhewn, so ugly, it was almost unhuman. Not quite Lincolnesque, this long, thin, sad face. It was Jacksonesque! He thought of Andrew Jackson, wraith-like astride his horse as he rode furiously across Florida during the Seminole War. And here was Pritchard, now standing in the doorway, now sliding ghost-like toward Eli, hand outstretched, a man, like Jackson, tall and gaunt, complexion sallow and unhealthy, body thin and emaciated. Eli imagined running, crab-like, past this embodiment of childhood fear, this specter of disease and death. But he did not run. He only rose and reached forward to grasp Pritchard’s hand, what there was of it. The man did not grip. There was no muscle, only skin wrapped loosely around tendon and bone.
“Eli Wheeler!” Pritchard said, his voice deep and resonant, testosterone-drenched, less brittle-seeming and cadaverous, though not for that reason less frightening, than the man himself. “I’ve been forewarned by Rebecca you are in here with Associate Dean Hamish. I hope you don’t mind my interruption. It’s rather important.”
“Not at all,” Eli said.
Harry, who did mind, waved Eli from the room, asking him to wait outside, saying he and Pritchard would just be a minute and there was still more he and Eli needed to discuss. But his manner was brusque, angry even, as if he wanted these things to be plain to Eli, that he did not fear Pritchard, was in no sense an underling of Pritchard’s, and was certainly not tied to Pritchard’s schedule.
Eli sat in the outer office. Harry and Pritchard argued. He could feel the heat in their words, though not make out the substance. Across the room, the door to Pritchard’s own office was open, disclosing a swarm of vegetation, exotic plants with broad fronds and bright flowers. Pritchard had flown the plants in from Brazil and Venezuela, Belize and the Everglades, and they grew now in his office with the assistance of heated lamps and special humidifiers. There was a story here, of course. Pritchard had been a tropical botanist, renowned for his studies of the rain forest and his work with pharmaceutical companies to develop herbal medicines, with a particular emphasis on the interaction between phytochemicals and the blood brain barrier. But then things went terribly awry.
In 1984, so the story went, Pritchard spent the summer in Belize, living in the jungle, studying the pollination of a rare type of epiphytic orchid for its molecular bypass properties, when a bushmaster bit his young wife, a former student. She ventured from their tent at night, at Pritchard’s request, and against her own wishes, to retrieve floral samples and equipment left at their research site. The snake was sleeping under an overturned pail at the site, and when his wife stooped to retrieve the pail, it bit deep into her shoulder. A horrible death, but worse, perhaps, to witness than to experience.
Stricken by grief, Pritchard took a leave of absence from school. He retreated to his Sauvie Island houseboat, drew blinds, locked doors, and received no visitors. Fourteen months passed before the man reemerged, hair now white and wispy, once-sturdy frame pencil-thin, face gaunt like a bitter wind. It was as if Pritchard’s spirit had laid waste to his own body, irradiating it, unnaturally, with wave upon wave of despair. Pritchard had always been a cunning man, an ambitious man. But in this period of descent and self-damnation, his cunning multiplied. His ambition curdled. Pritchard had evolved into something both more and less than his former self. He’d grown talons and a beak and mutated into a bird of prey.
Pritchard never returned to teaching and abandoned formal, peer-reviewed research. Instead, the condition for his re-tethering to Tillamook State the following year became his elevation to an administrative post. Pritchard wanted to be Dean of the University, though he settled at first for the subaltern position Harry presently held. His professional reputation, along with influence he wielded over older members of the faculty and sympathy his personal tragedy inspired, overcame the vaguely sinister aura he now projected.
Within two years, by virtue of his relentless capacity for focused, purposive work and the hardliner’s willingness to bludgeon into line those he could not lure through side-pocket favors, Pritchard had not only displaced the Dean, he had amassed an enormous amount of personal power. Richelieu-like, his reach in some respects now exceeded that of the Chancellor. And there really was no doubt about his being a hardliner, especially when it came to curricular matters, concerning which he remained a fundamentalist. He considered the Diversity Project to be the pathetic toy of Gamson-Clark. He had only waived his initial objections to the program because he believed its inevitable demise would redound to his advantage. And the Diversity Project was indeed now in trouble, the consequence, he was sure, of having been unwieldy, overly ambitious, and oversold to begin with. With the assistance of key members of the Board of Trustees, Pritchard had begun to pressure the Chancellor to dismantle the program.
* * *
It was nearly 5:00. Rebecca Wilson turned off her computer and reached down to slip on her sandals. Eli wondered what Rebecca thought of Pritchard. And of Harry, for that matter. Somehow, she rose above it all. Academic pretensions. Academic politics. When Eli spoke to her on the phone about setting up an appointment with Pritchard, her manner had been amused, as if he were a prisoner come to the warden to complain about the food. Now she tossed her hair, pulled it back with her hand, and gathered it into a pony tail as she rose from her desk. She smiled at Eli. “Good night, Professor.”
Eli returned her smile, then looked away without speaking, his shyness rising like a ghost. The Holy Ghost, he thought. Keeping him pure. There had been Kelly, of course. At night he had pulled her to him and they had roamed silently across the sheets, bathed in a common sweat of need and desire. But she was gone now, and her absence had left him alone again with his shyness. Hints of that feral sense of sex as a mystery in his encounters with other women disturbed his equilibrium and made him feel unsafe.
The door to Harry’s office opened. Pritchard glided out, unperturbed, apparently, by the intensity of his meeting with Harry. He glanced at Eli. “Associate Dean Hamish will meet again with you.” Eli nodded. Pritchard slipped into the mist creeping from his office, but turned back toward Eli before shutting the door. “Come see me sometime, Eli. Let’s get to know each other better.”
“What was that all about?”
Harry tilted back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. After a moment, he sighed and swung his feet off the desk. “What was that all about? Leaf-Boy was telling me about his meeting with the Chancellor,” he said. “They talked about how he doesn’t want me here. He says I’m her guy. Her banana man. Here to spy on him. But you know what, Eli? I could give a shit what he thinks. Gamson-Clark did hire me. There’s nothing Pritchard can do about it, either. He can’t touch me, and that drives him crazy.”
“Why would they be meeting to talk about you?”
“They weren’t meeting to talk about me,” Harry said. “They were meeting to talk about the Diversity Project.”
Eli stared evenly at Harry. “He’s going to dump the black students here, isn’t he?”
Harry nodded. Shahid had been right, he said. Most of that afternoon’s meeting between Pritchard and the Chancellor concerned the fate of the Diversity Project. Pritchard wanted to phase out the program. Declare victory and withdraw the troops. But Gamson-Clark had staked her reputation at Tillamook State on its success. Everyone knew this. Pritchard’s plan was to throttle the program, get rid of the black students, especially, or at least make them swim on their own. Gamson-Clark had said over her dead body. So Harry was sure there would be a battle this year, and that it would be a street brawl. That was fine. He didn’t mind mixing it up. Like he’d said, Pritchard couldn’t touch him. But his concern at the moment was as the new professor in Western Culture, someone who taught courses with racial themes, Eli might get drawn into the crossfire.
“I can take care of myself,” Eli said.
“I’m sure you can,” Harry said. “But there’s more at stake in this battle than you might realize. Neither Gamson-Clark nor Pritchard, nor Shahid for that matter, are the sort to take prisoners. So I’m suggesting you watch your back. Teach your courses. Inspire and move your students. Have a good time. But remember, too, whom you can trust.” Harry’s thoughts drifting once again. “Maybe that was Gwendolyn’s mistake,” he said. “She wasn’t vigilant enough.”