Christopher, Craig & Co.
Part 149: Monday, Monday, Can’t Trust That Day.
Monday morning’s class went exceedingly well. The students had prepared the reading and the discussion was flowing so freely I honestly hated to end the class. That seemed to be becoming more and more rare in higher education.
I had an interview scheduled at two o’clock with Brian and Andrew had texted and we’d decided to meet for coffee at three. All in all, the day was looking to be a great one.
Brian was ten minutes early, and I’m not sure I would have recognized him if he hadn’t been knocking on the office door. He was dressed in highly polished captoes, charcoal slacks, a button-down shirt, and a pretty green tie. His hair had been neatly styled with a part and his beard was also neatly trimmed. I wouldn’t have thought it the other night, but Brian was hot.
“I know I’m early; I hope that’s ok,” he said.
“Not a problem. Come on in.”
He handed me a resumé and stood a little awkwardly.
I gestured to the couches. “Have a seat.”
I sat across from him and perused his resumé. He had a customer service background and was also studying pre-law in college. “Brian, you look very professional today—”
He smiled nervously. “I’m sorry about how I looked the other night. I was always taught to dress for the job you want, but the last few weeks have been difficult—” He seemed to realize what he’d said and stopped himself.
I understood more than he knew. “I was going to add that you’re probably overdressed for the job here.” I smiled my warmest smile. “Here’s the thing. When Leatherman died I inherited the club. I’m not sure if you know this, but Leatherman lived upstairs and ran things hands on. Due to other professional commitments I won’t be able to do that, so I’m looking for help. Mike Taylor has agreed to be a manager. I need an assistant manager to work opposite shifts with him so there’s always somebody here to supervise who knows what he’s doing.”
Brian leaned forward. “I ran the front desk for the past two years.”
“I see that. I imagine leaving wasn’t your idea?”
He shook his head and shifted in his seat.
“It’s ok, Brian. I’m not concerned about what happened at the hotel. The past is the past. I’m still working out the details of how this is all going to go here, but I think your background would be an asset to the club. We can discuss salary if you’re interested in the position.”
Brian lit up. “I am! I definitely am.”
“Terrific. But there is one thing that concerns me. I know you’re a student. I believe education comes first. Will working here interfere with your academic success?”
“No,” he said. “I’ve made Dean’s List every semester but this one.”
“Magician’s Assistant,” I said. “Be a good Magician’s Assistant.”
Brian’s eyes slowly lost focus and shut and his hand fell off his thigh onto the leather couch.
“Brian, describe for me how you are really doing in your classes this semester.”
“I’ve fallen behind in almost all of them and I don’t know why. I have to bring my GPA up to qualify for the law schools I want to get into.”
“Brian, you will use the next two weeks to work on your reading and papers and assignments to get yourself on track. You will meet with each of your professors for extra help and to see what you may do to boost your grade. Do you understand?”
“Terrific. Waken on the count of 3. 1…2…3.”
Brian blinked a couple times and sat up straighter.
“So here’s what I can offer you, Brian,” I said. “Take the next two weeks off—with pay—and get caught up on your coursework. I’ll work out the details of the job and training etcetera, and then we’ll get you in here.”
“I’m sorry,” Brian said. “Did you say two weeks off with pay?”
I nodded. The club was profitable enough for me to do it, and I knew Brian was one of Richard’s victims. He deserved a break. “Yes.”
My cell phone suddenly rang in my pocket. “I’m sorry. I thought I had it on silent.” I pulled it out and saw it was Andrew. “Excuse me one minute.” I swiped the screen and said hello.
“Christopher, I was ready early, so I got to the Java Joint early. They’re closed on Mondays.”
I sighed. “I’m at the club. Why don’t you just come here, and we can figure out a plan B.”
“Or I could stop at Dunkin on the way there. What would you like?”
I gave him my coffee order and disconnected. Brian was watching me.
“I apologize for the interruption. I’m meeting a friend after this.”
Brian had been working in the kitchen and took me on a tour to point out a few things that he had noticed could be improved. Then I showed him the backstage area and how the security monitors worked.
He pointed to the dark screen at the lower left. “Is one of the cameras out of order?”
Brian nodded. “I’ve been down there,” he said.
“Well, now that I’m the owner you won’t have to go down there.”
He smiled broadly. “That’s a relief.”
There was a knock at the door, so I crossed the office and answered it. Andrew Brooks was standing there, dressed in his usual preppy attire—wingtips, dark jeans, a button-down shirt with a sweater over it—with a huge smile on his face, his dimples showing, dark sunglasses over his eyes and a cardboard tray holding two coffees in one hand and a box of donuts in the other.
“Andrew! You look fabulous.”
“And I come bearing donuts.” He handed me the box and whipped his sunglasses off.
Brian walked toward the door. “I should probably get going.”
“Wait!” I said, louder than I’d intended. He and Andrew both turned toward me. “I’d like to introduce you two. Andrew, this is Brian Wolf. He’s a law student who is taking over as assistant manager at the club. This is Andrew Brooks. He’s in sales currently but is working to finish his degree.”
Brian extended his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Andrew juggled the tray of coffees to his left hand and shook. “You too.”
I saw the smile that passed between the two of them and made a snap decision. “Brian, maybe you could keep Andrew company for a few minutes? I have to just check on something…”
Brian nodded. “Sure. I’m not in a hurry.”
I strode to the door to the club proper and passed through it. The truth was I had nothing to check on and nothing to do, but Andrew had wanted to meet someone, and I knew Brian was single and gainfully employed. Maybe nothing would come of it. But maybe something would.
My cell rang and it was a number I didn’t recognize. I answered. “Hello?”
“Christopher?” an accented voice asked. “It’s Tom Marko from the Daily Herald.”
“How did you get this number?” I asked.
“You aren’t difficult to track down,” he said, not answering my question. “I finished my story, but before it’s published I wondered if you had any comment on the charges filed against Richard King or Craig Matthews.”
What? I forced my voice into my lower register. “Sorry, I have no comment.”
“Pity. But I hope you’ll check the website or pick up a copy of tomorrow’s paper. I’m quite proud of this story.”
“I’ll look for it. Have a good day,” I said in a tone that implied I hoped he wouldn’t as I disconnected. I punched Scott’s number and waited while the phone rang. If charges had been filed against Richard and Craig, why was I hearing about it through that snoopy reporter? And, better question, why wasn’t I hearing it from my partner the FBI agent?
Scott’s voicemail answered.
“Scott, I need to talk to you as soon as possible.” I ended the call and walked back to the office. Andrew and Brian were seated on the same couch and laughing about something.
“I’m sorry that took so long,”
“Don’t be!” Andrew said. “Brian and I were just discussing how it is we’ve never run into each other before.”
“Well,” I said, unable to resist playing matchmaker, “perhaps you two should make a plan so you run into each other again?”
Brian cocked an eyebrow at me, but I could see he was stifling a smile. “Chris just gave me some time off to catch up on my studies. I’m not sure I should be making plans to slack off already.”
“You have to eat, don’t you?” Andrew asked.
“How about tomorrow night we grab something for dinner? I don’t have class and I’m not at the store.”
Brian cut his eyes to me. I shrugged. “That’d be great.” The guys exchanged numbers and Brian said goodbye.
Andrew waited for the door to close before he let out a whistle. “If I’d known you had friends like Brian, I’d have told you I was lonely weeks ago!”
I chuckled. “If I’m being honest I don’t know Brian that well. But from what I’ve gathered he’s a nice guy with goals.” I picked up my coffee from the table and sat opposite Andrew.
“And he’s cute as hell,” Andrew said, opening the lid of the donut box.
I won’t detail our conversation here; suffice to say an afternoon of hanging out and gossiping with a friend was just what I needed. Before he left Andrew made me promise we’d do it again soon. And I made him promise to text me and let me know how dinner went.
It really had been a terrific afternoon, except for the call from that reporter. I was beginning to worry what was in the story he was so eager for me to read. And as time ticked by, I was also concerned that I hadn’t heard back from Scott. I hoped I was just being silly. But as I locked up the club and drove toward home, I had a sinking feeling my day was going to get worse.
To be continued in Part 150...
Christopher, Craig & Co.
Part 150: The Day Gets Worse.
After I got home, I texted Scott that I would be home for the night and that I needed to talk to him ASAP.
I then busied myself vacuuming and straightening up the house. I had to do something with all this nervous energy, and cleaning seemed like the least likely thing to get me into trouble.
My cell finally rang at a little before six.
“Hi. I’m on my way home.”
“Scott! That reporter—Tom Marko—called. Richard and Craig were charged? He was gloating that there’s going to be a big article in the paper tomorrow. I’ve been worrying about what it’s going to say. What’s going on?”
I could hear Scott blow out a breath. “I knew charges were coming. I’ve been out of the office most of the day. There’s been a new development. Marty Jones turned up today.”
“Turned up? What does that mean?”
“He’s alive and well—sort of. He’s apparently been wandering around with no idea who he is.”
“It’s the weirdest thing,” Scott said in a tone that made it sound like he didn’t believe it was weird at all. “He doesn’t have a mark on him, but he has no memory of any personal details.”
I squinched my eyes shut. “Fuck me. Edward’s drug?”
“That’s my guess. I have no proof of this, but my speculation is Richard was testing the drug on Marty to see what dosage he should use on you and me.”
“What happens to Marty?”
“No idea. He’s healthy. But like I said, he has no idea who he is. Do you think hypnosis would help?”
“I doubt it. It didn’t when Edwards injected him. All I could do was sort of work around the holes in his memory. I don’t know what that drug actually does, but I couldn’t access any of the missing information in his mind through anything I did.”
There was a pause, during which my phone beeped.
“I have another call.”
“That’s fine. Take it. I’ll be home in a few minutes. I love you.” Scott disconnected.
I switched over. “Hello?”
“Mr. Boldt? This is Linda Roy, Dean Carpenter’s assistant. The dean has asked me to schedule a meeting with you as soon as possible.”
“What is this regarding?”
“You haven’t seen the article in today’s Journal?”
“Well, Mr. Boldt, you might want to check the newspaper’s website. Are you available to meet this evening?”
“This evening? Yes, I suppose so. It’ll take me some time to change and get over there. How’s 7:30?”
I heard Linda cover the phone for a moment. “Jim—the dean—says not to worry about changing, just to get here as soon as possible.”
“Understood. I’ll be there soon.” I disconnected the phone. That was a lie; I didn’t understand what the emergency was. I sat at my desk, fired up my computer, and pulled up the Journal’s website. Splashed across the front of the page was the headline “GAY REVENGE PLOT” with out of date photos of Richard, Craig, Leatherman and myself.
I began reading...
“In a scandal sure to rock the SUNY campus, Craig Matthews was arrested today and charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment of another student whose name is currently being withheld by authorities.
“Richard King, CEO of King Enterprises, was also charged with assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, attempted murder, negligent homicide and manslaughter.
“The link between these two is Christopher Boldt, a professor at the university, and owner of local gay hotspot Leatherman’s, who is also the ex-lover of each of the men charged.”
I heard the front door open and looked up to see Scott looking grim.
“I just got a call that you’re in today’s paper.”
“I’m reading it now,” I said.
Scott stepped behind my chair and angled to read over my shoulder.
I skimmed the rest. Despite the inclusion of a few prurient adjectives, there was nothing untrue in the story. There were several things left out, however.
“This is bad. This is so bad,” I said.
Scott squeezed my shoulder. “It could be a lot worse. All it really says is that you dated each of them in the past.”
I stood up. “I have to go to the college. The dean’s office called just before you got here. He wants to see me. Now.”
Scott grimaced. “I’ll drive.”
We grabbed our coats and headed out the door. Scott made good time to the campus and found a parking spot near the administrative building. He climbed out of the car and met me on the sidewalk.
“I don’t think you should come up with me. Nobody here knows who you really are, and I don’t think taking another boyfriend in with me is going to help.”
Scott frowned. “I can’t tell him why I’m here without authorization.”
“I know. Do me a favor while I’m upstairs. Find out if there’s any way to keep Wade’s name out of the paper permanently?”
“I’ll see what I can do. Good luck.”
I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath. “Thanks.”
I entered the building and took the elevator up. I had no idea what I was facing here, so I had no real plan for how to handle it. I’m not a guy who does well without a plan usually. I walked down the hall into the reception area of the dean’s office. Linda was watching for my arrival.
“Mr. Boldt, you can go right in. The dean is waiting for you.”
“Terrific,” I said.
I pushed open the office door and saw Dean James Carpenter seated at his desk. His tie was loosened at his neck and his jacket was unbuttoned, but he looked very composed. He stood when I entered. The dean was a couple inches taller than I, with salt and pepper hair and bright blue eyes.
“Chris, thanks for coming down so quickly.” He shook my hand across the desk.
I didn’t think I had a choice. “Of course. What can I do for you?”
The dean gestured to the chair opposite his desk and I sat. “You’ve seen the paper?”
“You know I don’t care that you’re gay. That’s not what this is about. But this story is going to play out in lurid detail. The university thinks it’s best if you take a leave of absence.”
“No,” I said.
Dean Carpenter looked surprised. “I don’t think you understand. This isn’t a request.”
“Yes, it is. A leave of absence implies it was my idea. And you know as well as I do the college has no grounds to terminate me.”
“You apparently were dating a student.”
“Oh, no. Craig and I dated before I accepted the position to take over Damian Edwards’ class. We broke up before Ryan O’Mara even offered me the behavioral studies course.”
The dean looked exasperated. “Think of how this will look, Chris.”
“I don’t care how it looks. If I leave the college under this cloud, I’ll never teach again. And I can prove the timeline of my relationship with Craig if I need to. So if the university’s lawyers want to come for me, they had better expect a fight. You may not have an issue with me being gay, Jim, but by the time I get the ACLU and the HRC and the campus GSA and any other group who will listen involved, this school’s reputation will be ruined.” I leaned forward in my chair and spoke slowly and clearly. “Because let me make one thing perfectly clear here. If I go down, I’m taking this entire place with me. And I will roast marshmallows over the fire that burns this campus to the ground.”
Jim looked stunned. The muscles of his jaw were working, but he didn’t speak.
“Are we finished here? I want to go home and polish my notes for my Wednesday lecture.”
Jim leaned back in his chair, resigned. “I didn’t expect this from you.”
“No, you expected me to show up here and be Miss Congeniality like I always am. But I like this job, and I’ve done nothing wrong. No matter what my exes have done, those charges are unrelated to the college. I’m going to finish the spring semester here. And Ryan has already offered me at least one class for fall, so I intend to still be here then. But if you try to force me out and hire someone below me seniority-wise, I will have my own lawyer contact the university.” I pointed at him. “You don’t get to ruin my career because of a salacious article in the local newspaper.”
“I don’t appreciate your tone.”
“My tone?” I said, my voice rising as I stood. “What am I? Sixteen? You called me in here to force me to quit. I’m not going anywhere.” I dropped my voice. “I don’t care if the college publicly backs me or has no comment. My record here is spotless, and my evaluations are glowing.”
The dean jumped to his feet. “You teach one class this semester. Is the scrutiny this will bring to you and the college worth it? You’re certain that none of your other personal or business affiliations will expose your involvement in any of these criminal activities?”
I frowned. I knew I had done several morally ambiguous things the past few years. I was pretty confident there was no admissible evidence of any crimes though. “All you care about is how this will look for the college. Craig is a registered student here; whether I work here or not isn’t keeping the school out of the paper.”
“We can expel Craig Matthews.”
I held up my hand. “I wouldn’t if I were you. He’s been charged, but he hasn’t been found guilty. If he’s exonerated and you expelled him, you’re opening the university up to a lawsuit.”
“That’s a big if, Chris.”
I shrugged. “As you yourself have pointed out, I know Craig. I don’t believe he’s guilty.”
The dean’s eyebrows drew together. “You don’t?”
I shook my head. I was trying to remind myself that Jim wasn’t my enemy—even if he had tried to push me out of my job. “That newspaper article only scratched the surface. I’ve been in contact with the police and the FBI and I’m not at liberty to discuss it.”
“You’re under investigation?”
“No.” I decided to tell him the truth. Somewhat. “I’m a victim. One of the attempted murders Richard is charged with is mine.”
I watched as the color literally drained from the dean’s face. He lowered himself into his chair. “He tried to kill you?”
“A week ago Friday. And I showed up and taught my class on Monday. So if that doesn’t show my dedication to this university, nothing will.”
Jim closed his eyes. I wondered if he was counting to ten. When he opened his eyes, he said, “I’ll talk to the lawyers.”
That surprised me. “Are we good?”
“I won’t pretend I’m happy about the spotlight this is going to shine on the school. But I can just imagine how a wrongful termination suit is going to look when it’s filed by an attempted murder victim.”
A smile was playing at my lips, but I knew better than to let it show. “You know, I’ve never been one to play the gay card or the victim card, Jim.”
The dean levelled his gaze at me. “But you’d make an exception.”
I grinned. “I never said that.”
Jim looked almost impressed. “You didn’t have to.” He shuffled a few papers on his desk. “Be sure you’re on time for your class on Wednesday. And if the press contacts you—”
“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t be speaking to the press.”
I offered my hand and he shook it.
“You realize your students will know about this by Wednesday.”
“I’ll handle it.”
The dean nodded. “See that you do.”