Tee woke Dean Keaton up and he excused himself and stumbled back toward his office for a nip or three. I stood up, too.
“Where are you going?” Courtney asked.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I said. “Can I go to the bathroom?”
I had a sudden quick fantasy—me, as Michael Corleone in The Godfather coming back from the bathroom with a pistol and capping Tee and Courtney—shooting Courtney in the fucking throat. Hey—I guess I was maybe more mad than I realized. Angry, not annoyed. Cold. Oh well! I stood there for a moment, and when no one said anything, I moved toward the door.
I stopped by the podium. Hannah looked up.
“So, how’s it going?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m great!” Hannah said. If nothing else, she was always a cheerful, positive woman. “But how’re you doing?”
“I’m living my best life in the English Department,” I said. At the other end of the room, Courtney was watching me again. She whispered something to Tee.
“You’re going to be fine,” Hannah said.
Outside the conference room people were still sitting around the lounge. Deborah and Ted had been joined by a couple of rhetoric professors, Constance Olmanson and Olivier Nordstrom.
“Hang in there, Tom!” Constance yelled. Deborah glowered at her.
I was at the urinal doing my thing—leaning against the stall where Fred had killed himself—when Ted burst into the restroom. He stood back against the yellow tile wall, watching me.
I ignored him, finished, and pulled the flush handle. I asked, “Did you follow me in here?”
“I—uh.” Ted crossed his arms under his beard. “Yes—I did. We wanted to make sure you weren’t—destroying evidence.”
What a goof. A creepy and maybe dangerous goof, though. I said, “Oh, fuck you.”
“Don’t you curse at me.”
A self-righteous goof, as well.
I bent over the sink to wash my hands. I said, “I’ll say whatever the fuck I want, herpes-dick.”
Ted gasped. “What?”
“I called you herpes-dick,” I said. I turned and flicked sink-water at him and he flinched and backed into the corner of the bathroom. I said, “Herpes-dick.”
Ted puffed himself up like he was a tough guy. “You’d better not say things like that to me.”
“Ah, blow me,” I said. I stepped a bit closer and lowered my voice. “You didn’t think Devon told me what you were up to? You never thought I figured out what you were all up to? Huh? Yeah? Maybe you’ve got brain herpes, too.”
I pushed by him and left the room.
The Provost was missing from the lounge when I came back, but Olivier and Constance were still sitting there—Olivier gave me a cheerful smiling thumbs-up—and I went on into the conference room and found Deborah waiting for me, sitting massively at the table. I sat back down next to Earl.
“I guess we can begin,” Tee said.
“Let us pray,” Deborah said. She folded her hands and closed her eyes.
“Let’s fucking not pray,” I said.
Deborah opened her eyes and stared at me.
I was about fed up with the praying—like I was finally fed up with everything else around me, I was finally fed up with the praying.
Deborah squinted. “I said—Let us pray.”
“Yeah, and I said fuck it,” I said. Everybody in the room cringed. “This is a public university—you can’t compel us to pray here.”
“Yes, we can!” Courtney said. “It’s our right!”
“No establishment of religion,” I said.
“That is not in the constitution,” Deborah said.
“Establishment clause,” I said. “Doctor.”
I suddenly wondered—where did Deborah get her PhD, anyway? All I’d ever heard was that it was some bumfuck bible college. I wrote in my Potemkin notebook
Look up Deb’s CV
“That’s not the real constitution,” Courtney said.
The real constitution. For fuck’s sake. I looked over at Earl. “Where did you find these people?”
“Let her pray,” Earl said. “We have a lot more of this to put up with.”
“That’s how the fucking fascists win,” I said. “We let them get away with shit like this!”
Earl put his hand on my forearm. “Tom….”
I settled down. I noticed Hannah wasn’t smiling any more. Maybe I’d ruined any future chances with her—maybe she was some sort of Christian. Oh well.
“Let us pray,” Deborah said. She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath. “Arise, Lord, in your anger! Rise up against the rage of our enemies! Awake yourself to the judgment you have commanded! Amen.”
“Hail Satan,” I said.
Hannah—yes!—laughed at that, and Earl chuckled and Sally smiled. My enemies were glaring at me again.
“Tom, this is very serious,” Tee said.
“Okay,” I said. “Bring it on.”
Deborah motioned to Hannah and the projection screen came down again. Hannah tapped on the keyboard a few times and went to the academic jobs wiki website, and the creative writing page—and, uh-oh.
They had me.
Hannah scrolled down the page to the SEKSU job ad, and then to my anonymous comment. I stared at it on the screen—I almost laughed. Well, maybe they had me. And maybe they didn’t know what they were getting.
Deborah asked, “Are you familiar with this?”
“Sure,” I said. “Courtney showed it to me.”
“Are you responsible for this?”
“What? No!” I leaned across the table toward Deborah. “Fuck no!”
“Well, the Computer Capos have traced what they call the eep number back to your office computer here in Reeb Hall.”
“No way!” I’m not a very good liar, but I am a pretty good actor—teaching is of course a form of performance. I could play incredulous—I could play astonished. “How is that even possible?”
“Because you wrote it,” Courtney said.
“No, I didn’t!” I said. “Look at that—” I pointed at the screen “—does that sound like me? I mean—actually, it sounds a lot like Devon….”
“Who was your--lover,” Deborah said.
The room was silent. Even Tee and Courtney looked kind of embarrassed. Finally, I said, “I don’t think language is transmitted that way….”
I could feel Old Earl beside me swelling up again. He said, "This is absurd—”
“I’m formally charging Dr. Holt,” Deborah said.
“Yes!” Courtney said.
“Charging?” Earl asked.
“With a violation—a serious violation—of the Board of Regents’ Social Media Policy.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I said.
“You’ll need to stop cursing,” Deborah said. “It’s very unprofessional.”
“Un-fucking professional?” I asked. Again going for astonished. “You’re sitting at this fucking table talking about fucking professionalism?”
“Dr. Holt,” Deborah said. “I find your attitude—incomprehensible. You are in very serious trouble.”
“No, he’s not,” Earl said. Mad now. He leaned forward. “This is a—a—a buffoonery! It’s stupid—the whole social media policy is insane and illegal. You move on Tom with this, and the ACLU will be after you, the AAUP will be after you, and you’ll be a laughingstock—and Tom will be a martyr!”
A martyr. I liked the sound of that. I said, “I choose fucking martyrdom.”
“Wait,” Tee said. She looked at Courtney and then around at Deborah and then back at me. “You’re denying that you wrote this—”
“Slander,” Courtney said.
“Hell, yeah, I’m denying!” I said.
“Then how did it come from your computer?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I shrugged big like a teenager. “Beats me. I leave my office door open a lot—like, when I go to the bathroom, or when I go down to your office to get yelled at. Anybody could have snuck in and done it.”
“You’re a liar,” Courtney said.
“Nancy could’ve snuck in and done it!” I said. Ha! I was—inspired.
Courtney sat back and yelled wordlessly. Argh!
“Yeah! Nancy’s office is right near mine! You don’t know she didn’t do it!”
“You’re a dirty liar,” Courtney said. “Nancy’s in the hospital because of you!”
“Hey,” I said. “I think you’re being kind of unprofessional, accusing me of shit like that….”
Deborah stirred, shifted. “Dr. Holt, I’ll be submitting a formal report to the Board of Regents.”
“Well, hurry the fuck up and submit it,” I said. “I want my martyrdom.”
It sounded better and better.
Deborah looked at me with hard beady Christian eyes. “I promise you—they will take action.”
I said, “Good!”
Deborah shook her head at me—disgusted, puzzled, whatever. “In the meantime, consider yourself on probation.”
“Wait—probation?” Earl asked. “The contract has no stipulation concerning probation for tenure-track faculty. Just what does probation mean?”
“It means anything I want it to mean,” Deborah said. She heaved herself to her feet and plodded out of the room.