Cover image for The death of a constant lover : a Nick Hoffman mystery
Title:
The death of a constant lover : a Nick Hoffman mystery
Author:
Raphael, Lev.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Walker and Co., [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
276 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780802733269
Format :
Book

Available:*

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Call Number
Material Type
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Status
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Kenmore Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
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Summary

Summary

Mayhem on the campus: Is it murder . . . or a faculty meeting? At the State University of Michigan you can't always tell them apart as Nick Hoffman investigates the death of a professor's son.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Poor Nick Hoffman. He enjoys his work and lives in a luxuriously appointed home with his hunky lover, Stefan, who cooks yummy gourmet creations, even for lunch. But Nick has been in the spotlight of bad publicity for the ultraconservative Michigan university where he teaches composition and can't afford any more as he sweats over his upcoming tenure review. And wouldn't you know it, he is at the wrong place at the wrong time when a student is killed. He is no favorite of his review committee as it is, and his subsequent investigation earns him no bouquets in an academic setting rife with publish-or-perish one-upmanship and hostility. The crime-solving academic biographer gets in a convoluted chase as hate crimes threaten a neighboring interracial couple and suspicious fears escalate. Few writers can make readers laugh aloud in the middle of a grisly murder, but Raphael so elegantly skewers ivory-tower pretensions, petty politics, incompetencies, and hypocrisies that many will indeed laugh. A delight for Nick's confirmed and new fans alike. --Whitney Scott


Publisher's Weekly Review

If Nick Hoffman ever gets the tenure he craves at the State University of Michigan, the body count could be staggering. Raphael's latest is just the third in this bright series (after 1997's The Edith Wharton Murders), and already the campus is littered with corpses. Hoffman, who has just turned 40, teaches in the university's EAR (English, American Studies, Rhetoric) department and is very popular with his studentsÄalthough somewhat less so with his supervisors, who understandably view him as a crime magnet. Nick might not be as cool a crime solver as Kate Fansler, the Harvard prof star of Amanda Cross's brainy mysteries, but he's refreshingly open about his sexual preference (gay), his religion (Jewish) and his lack of reverence for the world of academia. (Talking about a campus crime wave, he says, "Assaults were up, bicycle thefts were up, and more flashers were reported in the library. As a bibliographer, I found that particularly depressing, because it was bound to give students the wrong idea about research.") When a vindictive student named Jesse Benevento is stabbed to death during a mini-riot, Hoffman and his novelist lover, Stefan Borowski, are plunged into a darkly amusing diversion involving French fiction (a novel by Benjamin Constant plays an important role) and professional and personal jealousies. This is sneaky, subversive funÄthe perfect read to cut a class for. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Amateur sleuth and college professor Nick Hoffman (The Edith Wharton Murders, St. Martin's, 1997) witnesses a sudden campus melee that results in the murder of a department head's son. His desire to investigate may prevent him from making tenure next year, especially if any further scandal attaches to him. And there's always his failure to have published anything recently. Departmental jealousies, campus violence and racism, and Nick's 15-year relationship with Stefan provide ample grist for the author's often witty insight and make his fictional town of "Michiganapolis" a very happening place. Recommended. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One It was Stefan's idea that I eat lunch now and then by the Administration Building bridge--despite the murder. Well, actually, it was because of the murder.     Two years ago, the body of my officemate Perry Cross had turned up in the Michigan River, snagged on some rocks right near the bridge. It wasn't a diving accident.     At the part of the shallow river where they had found Cross's body, artfully scattered boulders created a tiny rapids, and ducks gathered year-round to be fed by children and their parents. The sloping lawns on either side of the river were always full of contented-looking students when the weather was even remotely warm enough: reading, tanning, eating, dreaming. An inviting terrace lined with benches stretched along the south bank, down three wide granite steps from the walk paralleling the river.     All kinds of things showed up in the Michigan River: notebooks, beer cans, sneakers, condoms. But there'd never been a body before.     And even after two years, Cross's murder was still very much alive at SUM's verdant Michiganapolis campus. You could often see students stopped on the wide bridge with its rounded steel rails, pointing down to where they thought Cross's body had been found. Some leaned far over the rail as if pretending to plunge to a battered, wet death. It was ghoulish playacting that got uglier when they shrieked or laughed and made loud jokes or choking noises, then staggered away from the rail crying, "Help! Help!"     The murder hadn't done my career at the State University of Michigan any good, even though I wasn't the killer. Since I'd been involved in a scandalous death, I was perceived as having brought shades of Hard Copy to the hallowed halls of SUM, which meant bad publicity for my college, my department, and me. I knew I would have trouble getting tenure next year with that kind of baggage; as they say in politics, I was tainted. Even worse, I hadn't written a new book since I'd gotten to SUM four years earlier, so I wasn't considered productive enough.     But that wasn't my only problem. In some kind of weird delayed reaction to the murder, I had found myself dreaming about Cross's death more and more, and over the last two years I'd increasingly avoided the bridge and that general part of campus. I took roundabout detours that ate up my time.     When he found out, Stefan was immediately concerned.     "Nick, you can't be terrorized by the past."     "Are you kidding? Gibbon said that history was basically a list of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind. Sounds scary to me!"     He ignored that. "Go have lunch there--make it a regular thing."     I gulped. "Lunch? Why stop with lunch? How about breakfast at the Michiganapolis morgue?"     "It'll start with your staying away from the bridge, then you'll want to avoid your office, and then--"     "Wait a minute," I snapped. "Avoiding your office is what half the professors around here do, and you know it. That's not a sign of trauma, it's a sign of laziness. They hate their students and don't want to talk to them! There's no way that could ever happen to me."     Stefan relented a little. And since he looks like a stockier, shorter version of Ben Cross, who played the Jewish runner in Chariots of Fire , Stefan's relenting face is really something.     But I didn't let it distract me. "Come on--are you really afraid that I'll turn into Miss Havisham, withered and covered with dust, and go up in flames, just because I won't cross the Administration Building Bridge, or even come to it?"     Wisely, Stefan didn't answer. He did what quiet people do so well: He listened. Sometimes it's helpful, sometimes it's annoying. Right then I was annoyed.     "Hey--it was a complete shock for me, okay?" I said. "Corpses have no place on our campus. This isn't Rwanda--this is Michiganapolis."     He shrugged. "Et in Arcadia Ego."     "Latin? Isn't it bad enough you quote stuff at me in French , and that your accent is perfect?" I was very touchy about my French, since my parents were Belgian Jews, and they hadn't succeeded in raising me fully bilingual. To me, that would have meant being able to argue as well in French as in English, to gobble angrily way down in my throat the way my father did, those rare times he lost his temper.     Patiently, Stefan said, " Et in Arcadia Ego means death is in paradise, too."     "Jeez, Stefan, I know what it means--I saw Brideshead Revisited , remember that was me sitting next to you in the living room? Hey," I said, suddenly distracted. "Now we know why Lady Marchmain looked so miserable and pinched in that series. Claire Bloom was living with Philip Roth then! That would give anyone a case of the grims."     Stefan's grin faded after a moment, and it was my turn to Relent. "Okay, I won't put it off. I'll go have lunch at the Bridge of Death. And don't look at me like that! It's what students are calling the bridge. I didn't make that up."     Stefan was right, but it bothered me that he wasn't nearly as shaken by the murder as I was, even though I understood why. Stefan's parents were Holocaust survivors, and his glimpses of the horror they'd endured outweighed any tragedy that could enter our lives. My cousin Sharon, who lives in New York, had put it well: "Nick, Stefan expects the world to be horrible, but you have a comic vision of life. Murders don't fit." That was it exactly. I couldn't figure out how to make sense of the killing that had erupted so close to me, so I had avoided dealing with it, or tried to, by avoiding the bridge.     But that wasn't an option anymore, with Stefan herding me back to reality like the tireless sheepdog he could be.     I figured I could try eating lunch at the terrace by the bridge at least once every few weeks, when the weather permitted. You know, become my own Pavlov's dog by associating food with the bridge, though nobody would have to clean up after me. Stefan was right: How else was I going to overcome my phobia about what had once been my favorite spot on SUM's idyllic campus?     Unlike Stefan, who'd taken longer to appreciate SUM, I'd fallen in love at once with its spectacular, lush 6,000-acre campus, justly famous for its gardens, trees, and landscaping. No building on campus is over six stories, so the nineteenth-century Romanesque sandstone halls with turrets forming the original campus aren't overwhelmed or even mocked by the brooding, columned granite piles of the 1920s or the brick boxes of the 1950s with decorative turquoise panels above and below the windows.     And no matter how different the buildings, they're intimately connected in an appealing, inviting whole by the curving roads and walks twining through the vast array of trees, many of them a century old: glorious weeping willows, maples, oaks, blue spruce, and Scotch pine. There are also lush flowering cherries, apples, dogwoods, hawthorns, magnolias, and redbuds. In addition, the horticulture department maintains acres of lilac and forsythia, countless courtyard gardens, and dazzling ornamental beds of tulips, hyacinths, iris, gladioli, petunias.     At the center of campus, the ill-fated bridge is one of several wide concrete spans crossing the meandering, shallow Michigan River to connect the northern and southern parts of the university's gigantic Michiganapolis campus. The northern section, where SUM's oldest buildings crowd together, abuts one of the city's main shopping areas, the Mile. That street of shops and bars cordons off the campus from faculty and student neighborhoods farther north.     In the much larger southern part of SUM's campus, newer buildings are spread farther apart as if dropped by an absentminded giant, and separated by vast parking lots, fields, and experimental farms. SUM was founded in the mid-nineteenth century as an agricultural college of several small buildings (including my department's crumbling home, Parker Hall), mushrooming in the 1920s and again in the Eisenhower years to become one of the nation's largest schools. It currently housed close to 50,000 students, or "customers," as our idiotic new president liked to say and I suppose we were lucky he hadn't instituted drive-through classes yet.     Thousands of students crossed the bridge every day, many of them at lunchtime, but despite the crowds, I did not feel safe on my return, though I was trying to. There I was on the first warm day of spring in my fourth year at SUM, clutching my lunch in one hand in an SUM bookstore crimson-and-gray plastic bag, making my way from Parker Hall, trying not to feel flushed or nervous. I couldn't help wishing Stefan were there to remind me that my avoidance of the bridge didn't make sense. But since there were other things I preferred not to think about that day, going to the bridge was better than hiding under our bed at home.     And it was blessedly warm and sunny. Michiganapolis is one of the cloudiest cities in the country--because of its position between two Great Lakes, I think. So what might be picturesque winters with snow and crackling fires are often spoiled by the endless weeks of dense gray sky. It had been a typically dismal winter here, with layers and layers of cloud cover.     But spring was early and especially warm. Dangerously warm, longtime residents were saying knowingly. I didn't pay attention to their dire parentheses about the greenhouse effect. I was determined to enjoy the color, the warmth, the freedom.     On my way over to the bridge I ran into Betty and Bill Malatesta, the two brightest and friendliest graduate students in my department, English, American Studies, and Rhetoric (EAR). For as long as I'd been there, they had both been publishing articles, presenting conference papers, making themselves the stars of the Ph.D. program. They were cheerful, sexy, and attractive--a sort of intellectual Bogey and Bacall.     Today, as usual, they were dressed in funky black.     "Great day for strolling!" they chirped, almost in unison. Then Bill, who loved lightbulb jokes, asked me, "How many SUM administrators does it take to change a lightbulb?"     I shrugged.     "None! Because first they have to form a committee and write a report about reinventing the university that goes to another committee where nothing happens."     "Not bad," I said.     "How many women's studies majors? None, because they're suing the bulb for sexual harassment."     Before I could groan, he rushed on: "How many football coaches? None! Their strategy is defensive--make the bulb come to you !"     I laughed now, but the hilarity stopped when Bill said seriously, "I want to talk to you about one of the new TAs in the department. I'll come by during your office hours."     And without telling me who he was talking about, they said good-bye and moved on. What was that all about? Though tempted, I couldn't stand there all day wondering, so I continued toward the bridge.     I saw our college's dean, cruel-eyed Magnus Bullerschmidt, make his stately way across campus. He was tremendously fat, and the weight made him seem like a turbaned despot in a 1940s movie, ordering casual mayhem from his peacock throne.     As I walked farther along, I kept my eyes down, hoping trouble wouldn't find me, but suddenly I saw a grotesque flash of red. Blood red.     Getting closer to the bridge, I could see an open cardboard box of Holy Bibles with improbably garish and cheap-looking leatherette red covers. In the whirling dense crowd of students, those covers were like a fiery distress call--or a warning.     "They're back," I thought wearily. The preachers were back. I stopped where I was.     Every spring, SUM was hit by a blight of these thin and fevered preachers, who passed out Bibles at most of the campus crossroads and bridges, occasionally bursting into tirades as if they were singing waiters at a religious restaurant. The preachers were as dreary and startling as the enormous, strident crows that had become as common a spring sight on campus as the squirrels and raccoons.     Today the lurid box by the bridge was guarded by a meager-fleshed young man in a crumpled blue suit, his forehead a flaming relief map of pimples that made the red binding an even more unfortunate choice. As students and faculty passed, he stabbed Bibles at them with the spring of a malevolent troll. Though the day was cool, he looked hot and sweaty--fired up by his mission, no doubt. He must have been expecting some kind of martyrdom, since people like him were often heckled on campus, and sometimes threatened. Maybe he'd even been reading the letters in the student newspaper, where the presence of preachers on campus was attacked or defended in the kind of intemperate language the paper loved because it generated controversy.     The preachers descending on campus were strange and geeky clones: all of them in plain, unattractive suits and haircuts that made them look like rejects from the Lawrence Welk Show , each one with false thunder in his voice. Doling out their Holy Bibles, they sometimes hectored students to "Save yourself!" as if Michiganapolis were as steeped in moral degradation and evil as New York, Los Angeles--or Ann Arbor. Whenever I walked past them, I had an image of myself as trapped in some weird kind of carnival with barkers offering salvation instead of rides or teddy bears.     I didn't understand why they were even allowed on campus, but I guessed that university officials simply wanted to avoid an argument with the local religious right.     I stood and watched the action. Most students crossing by today's preacher on the Administration Building bridge bent away from him or darted past his outstretched hand, but some seemed pathetically eager to receive any kind of gift, and he blessed all of those. I could imagine their loneliness or confusion. Many students at SUM came from Michigan towns barely half the size of the university and felt hopelessly overwhelmed and disconnected (which was probably why the administration cut counseling services every year).     Two EAR colleagues passed me, locked in conversation: boring Carter Savery and grim, miserable Iris Bell. I'd never seen them together before--what could they possibly have in common? Iris was perpetually complaining about being underrecognized in EAR, and Carter was as blandly self-satisfied as Jabba the Hutt. Neither of them paid me any attention in the department.     I let them get a good distance ahead of me before I finally approached the bridge. I veered away from the young man and his box so that I wouldn't get a bloody-looking Bible thrust at me. And so that I wouldn't have to feel embarrassed by saying "No, thanks" or something equally inadequate to the occasion. When people ring my doorbell at home to share what they claim is the word of God, that's different: I always tell them I'm offended by their invasion of my privacy. It satisfies me to leave them nonplussed. But here at the bridge--an open, public place--I felt constrained. And I was a faculty member-- my nutty outbursts were supposed to be saved for departmental meetings.     Safely across, I took a seat on the edge of one of the wide steps of the terrace that was just west of the bridge. I wasn't teaching today, and it was dress-down Friday anyway, so I had jeans on and didn't have to worry about getting dirty.     The preachers gave me the creeps; they made me feel that we here at the university were nothing more than a bunch of campers huddled over a dwindling fire, trying to pretend the hungry wolves weren't just beyond the edge of light.     And their presence made me worry about SUM.     See, no one was really in charge at the university right then, so we were a little like a former Soviet republic, drifting while various power centers prepared themselves to compete for control. The provost had left after a sexual harassment scandal, and there was fierce competition on campus to fill the plum position, even though there was a pro forma national search going on. My own chair, Coral Greathouse, was a front-runner in this race.     There'd also been a shake-up on the Board of Trustees, and our moronic president, Webb Littleterry, was continuing to provide uninspired, uninvolved leadership. That wasn't surprising, since he was SUM's former football coach, and his election to the board had proven the scornful observation in some quarters that SUM wasn't much more than a football program with a university attached. If only it were a winning program....     I tried to relax into the day, tried to enjoy the life all around me here: toddlers waving and flapping at the ducks, gamely flinging bits of bread; students taking time off from classes to just sit and drink pop, chat, catch some rays; other students coming with more elaborate plans for picnics that included Frisbees, board games, and puppies. It was a combination park and town square, and if you stayed there long enough, you were bound to run into people you knew.     Juno Dromgoole, the rowdy visiting professor of Canadian studies, dashed across the bridge toward Parker Hall, her chic black leather briefcase clutched under one arm like a large purse. Headed in the other direction was Polly Flockhart, an annoying neighbor of ours who was a secretary in the History Department.     From the bridge now came what sounded like fierce quotations from Revelation or a Stephen King novel. I tried to block out the noise and the image of that angry pimpled face so that I could enjoy my thermos of Kenyan coffee and my smoked turkey breast on focaccia.     The shouting died down a little.     "Dr. Hoffman, hi! Want some company?"     I looked up and grinned at Angie Sandoval, a former student of mine now majoring in criminal justice. She had helped me enormously each time I'd been unavoidably involved in murder at SUM. Perry Cross's death was just the beginning: A year later murder stalked the Edith Wharton conference I had organized (under duress) at SUM. Buildings don't burn down around me or anything like that, but I'm not exactly the luckiest man on campus.     "Sure, Angie. Sit down." I moved over on my step and she joined me, pulled out a can of Vernor's, Michigan's own ginger ale, from her pink knapsack, and popped it open for a slug.     I owed a lot to Angie. She had clued me in to the importance of the county medical examiner in a criminal investigation, and she'd also explained that SUM's campus police weren't at all like security guards at a bank. They were real police, with all crimes at SUM under their jurisdiction, just as if it were a small town. And wasn't it?     Short, slim, apple-checked, with curly dark hair and a heart-shaped face, Angie was eager and bright and helpful. Whenever I'd run into her on campus this past year, I'd been surprised at how glad I was. Surprised, too, that I found myself thinking that if I had a daughter, I'd want her to be like Angie. I'd never before felt fatherly about any of my students. But then I'd also never been just over forty, either, and thus more than twice the age of most of my students.     I asked Angie about her classes, and we chatted about them, enjoying the partly sunny day as hundreds of lunchtime idlers eddied and flowed around us. Suddenly, there was renewed shouting on the bridge. A bicyclist speeding by was yelling at the preacher, "The Bible is bullshit!"     "You'll burn in hell!" the pimply young man roared. "Burn in hell!"     There were mocking cheers from students crossing the bridge, and a few catcalls.     Angie sighed and drank some more pop. I wasn't sure if she was religious or not, so I didn't say anything. I wasn't in the mood to be lectured about moral decay by someone barely out of her teens, no matter how pleasant her personality.     "I hate the way things have changed around here," she said. "Everybody's mega pissed off! Like, nonstop."     "You've got that right." Now it was my turn to sigh.     The murders I'd been mixed up in had been among faculty and were unusual, since faculty members are more given to character assassination than the real thing. But the student body at SUM had seen intolerance of all kinds become commonplace, and violence was no longer rare.     Angie and I chewed over the recent troubles on campus for a while.     A black student had been set upon by a handful of white students on a dark campus path at night. They beat and kicked him and called him "nigger." The rumor was that he'd been found facedown with his pants around his ankles and had either been raped or almost raped, but the student had vehemently denied it before taking a semester's leave.     The tiny office of the Muslim Students League at the Union had been broken into, trashed, and spray-painted with slogans like "Go Back to Iraq!" A car parked at Hillel, where Jewish students met, had been set on fire, and the gas tank exploded, causing thousands of dollars of damage to the building. Campus Young Republicans had received phoned death threats, as had members of SUM of US, SUM's queer student group. Assaults were up, bicycle thefts were up, and more thefts and flashers were reported in the library.     As a bibliographer, I found that particularly distressing, because it was bound to give students the wrong idea about research.     "It's like everybody's just waiting for a chance," Angie said, "to let go."    "Maybe it's a plan," I suggested.    "What?"     "Maybe we're the target of a hostile takeover by the University of Michigan--and they're doing everything they can to drive down the value of our stock."     Angie smiled dutifully but said, "I don't think this campus needs any help looking bad."     She was right, and I thought the atmosphere among students was even influencing faculty. My new officemate, Lucille Mochtar, a minority hire, was generating some ugly comments from other faculty members. Mochtar had been hired right out of Berkeley's graduate school at an amazing salary, without any publications. But she was part black, part Indonesian, and SUM pursued her with desperation and briefcases full of cash.     I liked Lucille immensely and was pleased that she and her husband had bought the house across the street from me and Stefan. But I knew that resentment against her was simmering, and I wondered how it would affect me and my chances for tenure, since we got along so well. I tended to think of everything in terms of my coming consideration for tenure--it was impossible not to.     "Mom and Dad want me to transfer," Angie was saying. "Even though I'm a junior! They think SUM's getting too dangerous."     "But you've been safe, right? Nothing's happened to you?"     Angie shrugged. "They weren't happy that I was doing that investigating with you last year. But I did get extra credit from one of my professors."     I smiled. "Well, I'm glad you helped me out. You were great."     Angie thanked me, then she blushed. "My parents think you're a bad influence, even though I took only one of your courses."     I shrugged. I could see nervous parents feeling that it was dangerous to know me, but the thought of not running into Angie on campus anymore made me sad.     "I understand how they feel. President Littleterry still blames me for those people getting murdered at the conference last year," I said. "Dean Bullerschmidt is pissed off, too, and my chair isn't happy either. The conference was supposed to make SUM look good--instead we got into all the newspapers, Time, Newsweek , for all the wrong reasons. Alumni donations plummeted."     Angie nodded sympathetically. "You should write a book about it or something," she suggested. "Then you could get rich, and it wouldn't matter if they liked you."     I wondered what kind of book I could write at this point. How to Ruin Your Academic Career? Just then someone behind us called, "Hi, Angie!" and we both turned. It was Jesse Benevento, a punked-out religious fanatic with dead-white hair who'd lectured me on sexual morality last year during office hours. His father was chairman of the History Department, which shared decrepit Parker Hall with EAR.     Jesse nodded at me coldly, and he and Angie talked about some assignment they both had due. After registering that he now had a nose ring and pierced eyebrows, I tuned out. I didn't like him. Jesse had criticized me for making a casual reference to sex in one of my classes, and I still felt uncomfortable when I ran into him on campus. I'd often wondered if he'd complained to his father about me, and if his father had mentioned it, even casually, to Coral Greathouse. Though she'd never brought it up, it could have happened, and since I didn't have tenure, any prejudicial information could harm me, no matter how minor.     Even though campus was enormous, I ran into Jesse enough times to wish he would just disappear. I sipped my coffee very thoughtfully, trying to be detached from the conversation without being rude.     "Gotta bail," Jesse finally said. "Meeting a prof." He slowly moved off, heading up the path to the bridge, but his meeting couldn't have been urgent; I saw him stop to chat with a guy in an SUM tracksuit. I turned away.     Angie must have picked up my discomfort. "He's pretty intense," she said apologetically.     "Are you two dating?"     Eyes wide, she seemed too startled to laugh. "He's just a friend. Jesse doesn't date anyone--he's always saying you have to avoid the near occasion of sin. I think that's a quote from some pope."     "Saint Augustine."     She shrugged. "Whatever."     "Get out of here, asshole!" came a shout from the bridge. And the bridge was suddenly twice as crowded, swarming with students. I thought of army ants boiling over prey that couldn't escape the flood of terror.     From where Angie and I sat, I could make out some kind of scuffle. Flung up from the growling little knot at the center of this melee were shouts of "Stop it!" "Devil!" "Asshole!"     I turned to say something to Angie, but she was gone, and when I looked around in surprise, I saw her twenty feet away, hanging up one of SUM's emergency phones on its bright orange pole.     "I called nine-one-one," she said, rejoining me. Angie had told me last year that all 911 calls on campus went directly to the dispatcher for the campus police.     "Has that phone always been there?"     "Oh, yeah. I've taken night classes, and I know where every emergency phone is on campus."     Around us, students were on cell phones either calling the police or--more likely--describing the melee to their friends, imagining they were CNN reporters.     Just like a tornado, swiftly, darkly gathering fury into itself, the swirling, roiling mass of students on the bridge grew larger and more violent as people threw punches. Alarmed, I stood up and saw several students knocked down. It was all very confusing--I kept seeing fists fly toward chests, stomachs, and faces, and students being grabbed by their crimson-and-gray SUM sweatshirts or jackets and flung about. But in the reeling, cursing, grunting mob, I couldn't tell how many people were getting hurt--or how badly. Were students falling and being kicked, or was it simply that I couldn't make them out anymore as they whirled or struggled away?     "This is unreal," Angie breathed, standing very close to me as if I could protect her.     It was unreal, and hard to fathom. The seething, wild mass was almost bizarrely purposeful--as if enmeshed in some ancient, ugly ritual. I felt as distanced and confused as when I'd gone to SUM football games and had consistently failed, even with binoculars, to follow the ball from the line of scrimmage. Jesse was somehow in the middle of it all now--you couldn't miss that white hair.     "Jesse, no!" Angie shouted, mesmerized, but he couldn't have heard her.     At either end of the bridge, clots of students stood staring, pointing, gaping. Some had rushed into the fray, but now the rest just watched.     And then that cardboard box of blood-red Bibles came hurtling over the side of the bridge into the shallow Michigan river. It landed with a thudding splash, splitting open. Outraged ducks went flapping and flying out of the river and up the grassy banks.     Awash with water, the darkening box started to sink, its red-coated contents drifting into the current as if they'd been hatched and set free.     Everyone near the Administration Building bridge on both sides of the river was standing up now, pointing, stating, amazed. It was one thing to tear down the goalposts at a football game, or get drunk and knock over parking meters in town on a Saturday night and break store windows, but this kind of outburst was beyond the pale.     The preacher boy went berserk, flailing about him with the strength of a hooked shark fighting a deep-sea fisherman. So that's what someone looks like when he's apoplectic, I thought, astonished by the young man's livid, contorted face.     He leapt at the rail, trying to climb over and jump after his Bibles to rescue them. Several burly frat boys yanked him back, but it wasn't easy, because he was so unexpectedly strong, and because other students were pummeling them in what was beginning to look like a drunken spring break brawl in Florida. I felt horribly rooted to my spot as the crowd grew thicker and more frenzied on and near the bridge.     "Let him jump!" a girl called out from the crowd.     Around me there was appalling laughter from some students, tongue clucking, and cynical comments about the whole thing just being "a stunt."     Suddenly I heard the yowl of a campus patrol car. Students fled like startled, angry crows as the black-and-white car veered off a road and screeched to a halt on a wide path to the bridge. Its doors flew open, and two campus police emerged with the goofy speed of circus clowns popping out of a Volkswagen Bug.     They waded into the mob with their batons swinging, and I winced each time one of them came down, feeling utterly helpless.     Then there was a shrill, agonized scream, followed by unearthly silence.     Angie and I raced for the bridge. Had a student been badly injured by a campus cop? Maybe it was more shock than pain. Pushing to the edge of the crowd of what now looked like hundreds, I could make out a small cleared circle in which the two cops were leaning over a prostrate, bloody-faced body.     It was Jesse Benevento. Blood pooled out from underneath his head in a terrible slick halo, and his face was almost as white as his hair. I felt a wave of fear.     "Trampled," I thought. How horrible. A backpack lay open at his side, spilling notebooks, pens, CDs, and paperbacks out onto the unyielding concrete. One of them was a blood-spattered slim Penguin paperback of an old French novel I'd never read, Adolphe , by Benjamin Constant. The cover bore the portrait of a dark-haired young man whose enigmatic smile leered up incongruously at me from the midst of carnage.     I closed my eyes to steady myself, feeling a rush of shame as strong as nausea. I'd been musing over how much I disliked Jesse just a few minutes earlier, and now he was hurt. And all I could picture was the terrible scandal about to hit the university. Religious frenzy--riot--department chair's son gravely injured.     "What is it?" Angie cried. "What happened? I can't see ." I could hear Angie in the crowd struggling to get closer, and she popped up right behind me. I was blocking her view.     In the circle, the young preacher was on his knees near Jesse's body, arms wrapped around himself as tightly as if he was afraid he might burst apart. Head down, sobbing, he rocked back and forth. He was moaning, "Oh my Lord Jesus Oh my Lord Jesus Oh my Lord Jesus."     Angie squeezed around me. "No!" she cried.     "Call an ambulance!" someone shouted. But from the stolid, angry looks on both cops' faces, and the stillness of Jesse Benevento's body, I realized it was too late for that.     Angie stared at the body. "Jesse," she breathed, disbelieving. She turned sharply away from the tableau of death, looking up at me, face frozen with surprise.     What could I say? As I moved woodenly from the scene, with Angie trailing after me, I couldn't help wondering how Stefan would react when I told him that trying to have lunch at the bridge didn't seem to be the best way of helping me deal with my phobia.     Angie and I edged through the crowd back to the bench where I'd dropped my thermos in the confusion. The coffee had spilled out, staining the concrete just as Jesse's blood had darkened the bridge. I was loath to even touch it, but I forced myself to pick up the thermos, screwing the top back on and slipping it into the plastic SUM bookstore bag I'd carried it in.     Angie scooped up her pink knapsack, hugging it to her chest as if it were a teddy bear that could heal the fatigue and outrage of a tearful bedtime. Her face was as stricken as I imagined my own was. "I knew something like this would happen," she said through tears.     I nodded--hadn't we just been talking about violence on campus? But that's not what Angie meant, because with a start of terror, she said, "I knew Jesse was going to get himself killed." And before I could ask what she was talking about, she dashed off up the wide steps away from me, into the crowds that had gathered.     And I couldn't chase after her, because I had to head back to Parker Hall for a meeting with Coral Greathouse about my future at SUM. Copyright © 1999 Lev Raphael. All rights reserved.

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