Semester Fleece

I brushed my teeth, trying to scrub away fifteen-years of nicotine stains. I wondered why I bothered… why not let cavities eat away through my canines and molars leaving my gums in peace. With dentures, I could just pop in a new pair and have teeth that did not resemble corn. No more avoiding special toothpaste, white strips, and dental appointments. It’d certainly be better than this daily grudge.

I looked in the mirror, combing my hair to get it slightly frazzled. I ruffled through the drawer of glasses, finding an appropriate pair. Perfectly circular lenses, slightly grungy, and black framed. I checked my clothes again: slightly baggy long-sleeved plaid shirt mostly tucked into my jeans sans belt. I grabbed the leather suitcase. Should work well enough for a Friday.

On the way out of the apartment, a misplaced foot tapped the stack of pizza boxes, scattering them across the miniature kitchen. A curious ant walked out from under the stove, obviously disturbed by the soft clatters of cardboard. I told myself I’d clean it up later, knowing full-well that ‘later’ was a measurement of days and months. I bid farewell to the always-on television and the hum of electronics, and actually found my hand waving goodbye.

My drive was not long or torturous: living ten miles away from the university has rare advantages. I briefly wondered what would have happened if I had not been expelled, but my mind went numb from the radio’s drone.

As I stepped out of my car, I realized what a day it was. Straggly wisps of clouds were stuck in the blue air above, the wind cooled the sun’s beams with just the right touch of care, and hushed murmurs surrounded a slightly dented car and a very dented man in the road lying perpendicular between me and my destination. I imagined the man thought the white van had a competent and considerate driver who would stop for pedestrians because of the dozen signs saying exactly that. Poor, deluded man: you should never have relied on the good will of others when the others wield five-thousand pounds of metal and faded leather in motion.

I heard the ambulance, billowing softly, audible smoke depressing everything in its range. It let out a whining, dying squeal as it pulled up to the wrecks. I thought about waiting around to see if the man was dead, but I had obligations. I started for the next cross-walk.

I checked the cleanly written note that I transcribed the night before. “Noon – Lower Commons. Jake.” I checked my watch, and saw that I had a good ten minutes. I tried ambling, not walking too fast or too slow to raise any suspicion. Kids were already rollerblading all over the place, and one moron was actually talking on his cell phone as he glided past me. Christ. I wanted to trip him.


I found Jake sitting in the corner, as he said he would. He wore an oversized T-Shirt bearing an unrecognizable logo, and must have weighed a good two-twenty. He looked healthy though… probably into football. I sat down after seeing that everybody surrounding the table was involved in their own petty conversations.

“How much?” I asked.

“Two grand.”

Unexpectedly high. I pulled out the note and drew some dollar signs floating about. “Name?”

“Jake Brummit.”

“No, the prof.”

“Uh, Adams. Jonathon?” He fumbled through his backpack, and found the syllabus. “Yeah, Jonathon Adams.”

“Prof’s field of study?”

“Psych, I think.”

“Class and section?”

“Psych one-oh-one, intro to psychology. Uh, section… C.”

“That’s in a lecture-hall, right?”


“Ever talk to the prof at all, in class or out of class?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

“Good, this’ll work. Expected grade?”

He took a sip of his Sprite, and swished it through his teeth before swallowing. “I think I’m getting an F. This semester has been really bad, with my job and,”

“Desired grade?”

“I don’t really care, as long as I pass, so probably a C or something.”

“C it is. Shouldn’t raise any suspicions. You have the half now?”

He pulled a yellow envelope out of the backpack. “Yeah, twenty tens, forty twenties.”

I snatched it and popped it in my suitcase. “Good. Now, who referred you?”

“Emily Ross.”

The name triggered random facts: End of last semester. Blonde. Honors course. One thousand. Revenge. Plant. Em thought she could wipe her ass on a few pages of eight-and-a-half-by-eleven paper and turn it in to get an A. The prof dared to give her a generous B-. The class was small, and she was vocal, so changing the grade wasn’t an option. I planted random porn on the prof’s faculty computer, Photoshopped the dean’s face on a few of the images for good measure, and made sure that it would be noticed by the techs.

So, Jake was trustworthy. Em would not be the type of person to risk getting exposed.

I tapped my fingers on the table as I verified the office number and that the prof was gone. “Alright. I’ll change it today. Once you get your report card, leave another message within a week. Otherwise.”

I got up to leave, and he grabbed my wrist firmly. I instinctively tried to shake away, but he held on.

His voice was suddenly low, and hoarse. “If you”

“Yeah, and if you threaten me, you’ll be locked up on Kiddie Porn Row for twenty years. Mommy and Daddy would be so proud.”

He threw my wrist back at me and walked away.


A couple girls in shorts walked together, strangely not speaking, and a skateboard carried a guy to the parking lot. A Trogdor wrought of chalks and sweat sprawled on the concrete below, and I made certain to step on its flames. Right before the steps words were written: “Smile and breathe.” I continued to refrain from smiling, but I was half-tempted to stop breathing.

I walked in the building, wandered around the halls until I found the correct alcove of offices. I knew that I should have come back and did it later that night, when nobody would be around, but I was impatient. Plus, the season finale of Hope & Grace was on that night, and I refused to trust my TiVo for such a critical event.

I pulled out my pick and tension wrench, and after ten seconds of reactive metal movements, the office was open. I could feel my pulse tremble through my fingers, pulsating every moment.

Once in side, I turned the doorknob while shutting the door, closing it silently, and locked it. The office was cluttered: frames with a smiling wife and two young girls were all around, an audience for any mutterings Adams would say under his breathe. Papers were stacked on top of the monitor, with a few in a motionless slide to the inner depths of the back of the desk. A few books were in a fallen stack in the bookshelf, and I spotted a copy of the DSM IV.

I made some mental notes: the mouse was slightly tilted towards the monitor, the keyboard was straight in front of it, the chair was tilted towards the door, and the computer and monitor were both off.

I sat at the desk, turned on the monitor computer, and popped open the suitcase. I shoved the yellow envelope in a separate pocket, and pulled out the red CD. I plopped it in the computer before it had a chance to start normally, and it began loading from my disk. No traces.

In twenty seconds, my menu popped up, and my fingers tapped the ingrained sequence. Ten keystrokes and I located the grading spreadsheet. My heart shuddered in place. I tweaked a few numbers for Jake Brummit: 79 on the exam 1, 72 on exam 2, and a plain 75 on the final. Averaged out to a C, I saved, popped out my CD, turned off the computer and monitor. I was done.

Invisible roaches burrowed into my neck, and my bones were paralyzed. A muscle in my calf began twitching. I heard the sound of fumbling keys outside the door, creating an unmelodic clatter.

There was no reachable window in this office, no air vent to crawl through. I scratched at an invisible ant climbing on my scalp above my left ear. My upper-lip tingled.

I silently thanked Jake for making me feel alive.

I heard the key slide precariously into the doorknob, and saw it turn. A man in his forties or fifties walked in, hair starting to gray, with jeans and a university sweatshirt on. His suitcase was hard leather. I sat still, very still. My lungs collapsed mid-breath, and my fingers started trembling in a ripple up my arms. He didn’t see me yet. I was right there, but he seemed intently focused on something else, and assumed that nobody was sitting in his chair. I was invisible for the moment. I had a choice: push or convince.

“Hello there, Professor Adams,” I said. I stood up and extended my hand.

I watched as his muscles attempted to leap out of his body. He dropped his suitcase. I thought he would have worn glasses. He glanced around the office, adjusting to the dim light, and took my hand for a handshake.

“I’m with Computer & Technology Support. We found a virus on your computer that was trying to spread out on the network, and I was sent by to clean it up. I just finished.”

His eyes narrowed.

I decided to keep talking. “Uh, I was told that you were gone for the day.”

He stared at me, unwaveringly. He didn’t glance at anything else in the room. “Conference was cancelled. Can I see your badge?”

I searched through my pockets, and mocking surprise, I said “Um, I forgot it back at the maintenance room. It’s Friday, you know?” I stifled a laugh.

Adams blinked slowly, and he still blocked the doorway. I felt sweat begin to condense on my forehead.

I picked up my suitcase. “If you don’t mind, I’ll be going now.”

“How did you get in here?”

“Maintenance gave me a key.”

His nostrils flared, nose-hairs poked out. “I changed the locks last weekend.”

My mind was full of questions, but I knew that I was cornered. I should have pushed.

I saw him clench his fists. “Who in the hell are you?”

“Listen, Adams. If you don’t let me go without any trouble, you’re done. Imagine the techs finding mountains of evidence of child porn on your computer, in your network logs, everywhere. What’ll happen then? No job, no friends, no kids, no life. Let me go.”

Bluffing was a fine art. I hadn’t planted any child porn. It was far too dangerous with the feds trying to make headlines every few months. But it usually made a good threat.

He stood there, physically shaking in place. Veins formed round hills on his forehead. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“You know Sergeant Rick Lane? From a month ago? It was all over the news, I know you saw it. Hey, looky what I did.”

Taking credit for something I didn’t do was always a risk, as the guy might have read more newspaper articles than I did. I could always say that the newspaper got that part wrong, but I didn’t want to even have him question me.

I saw his fist come towards my nose in slow motion. My mind raced through a thousand thoughts: Looks like a fairly meaty fist he has there. Ooh, a ring. I bet that will hurt. He’s actually going to hit me. I haven’t played blackjack in a while.

My knees gave out. I knelt to the ground, fists on the carpet. My nose felt sticky. I heard him say syllables, which seemed like they should form words. I wiped my nose with my sleeve, and a sharp pain blew my synapses open to raw reality. I heard a drawer open. Somehow he had walked over me, and was rummaging through a drawer. The door was still open. My suitcase was at my side. My hand grasped and my feet leaped. I ran. I ran out the building, each thump of my heart powering another unsteady lunge.


At my apartment, the steady hum welcomed me back. I threw off my bloodied shirt somewhere before the bathroom. I tried dousing my face with cold water, but that made my nose feel like it was going to burst and splatter mucus and cartilage across the faux-marble counter. Warm water was tolerable. I wished I had health insurance. My hands shook as they poured a tube of Neosporin over my nose and covered it with small bandages.

I sat down on the couch next to the broken VCRs. I lit a cigarette and took a deep drawl. I glanced at the clock. It was almost six. My cigarette had left a shaky trail of ashes on the couch, and was barely smoldering. I didn’t remember sleeping. I found myself in the kitchen. I re-stacked the pizza boxes and found a mop-thing under the sink, and filled a bucket with hot water and soap. The ever-present television said something about a top story from the university, but the syllables of the live reporter refused to form words of understanding.

The ants would not be happy.

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