by Tim Mead
"Professor Handley on line one, Captain."
Jake never called him at the office. Grant couldn't help wondering why he was doing so at that time.
"Hi, Jake. What's up?"
"Jim, I've got a big problem. Can I come see you? Or, if you'd rather, can you come here?"
"I can't talk about it on the phone. But I really need help."
"You're in your office?"
"I'll be right there."
After they'd hung up, Grant realized he'd never been to Jake's office.
"Do we have a campus directory for CSU?"
"See where Dr. Handley's office is."
A moment later Stonesifer said, "The directory doesn't give anything but a phone number, sir. But the History Department is in Moore Hall. I'm printing you out a campus map. And I'm pretty sure there'll be a building directory in the entry lobby."
Fifteen minutes later Grant parked illegally outside Moore Hall. He flipped down the sun visor with its Colby P.D. identification on it and went through the double doors. As Stonesifer had predicted, there was a wall-mounted glass-fronted case with the names of the faculty members whose offices were in that building. Handley was in 302.
It was a corner office, as it turned out. Jake's desk was at a diagonal, with his back to the V between the windows, facing two chairs for visitors. Cases full of books lined all of the available wall space. Jake stood as Grant entered. He came around the desk, shut the door, and hugged Grant.
"Jimmy, thanks for coming. I didn't know what else to do but call you."
Grant noticed how good Jake smelled, how good it felt to have him in his arms. But the usually happy, confident Jake was now obviously flustered.
"Whatever it is, we'll deal with it. Now, let's sit down and you can tell me what's going on."
"I'm being blackmailed by a student."
"He says if I don't change his mid-term grade, he's going to tell the Dean of Students that I came on to him."
"You think the Dean will believe him?"
"In situations where there aren't any witnesses, the student's almost always given the benefit of the doubt. And as the boy pointed out, since I'm gay, that makes things even worse. He said he was perfectly willing to ruin my career if I didn't change his grade." Jake was tapping his pen against his desk without seeming to be aware of what he was doing.
"Jake. Put the pen down. That's it. Now, take a deep breath. Good. Now take another. Try to relax."
Jake did as he was told and visibly became less tense.
"Now, what do you know about this boy?"
"He's a junior. Doing mediocre work, but I think he may be smarter than his grades would indicate. Says he's under a lot of pressure from his father to make good grades."
"Do you have any idea how he's doing in his other classes?"
"Not really. I think he's a history major, but this is the first class he's had with me. I could ask around."
"Do you think he's an underachiever, a party boy maybe?"
Jake thought about that for a minute or so. "As I said, he seems to have a certain crafty intelligence. I don't have the impression that he's much of a partier, but he may be doing something else with his time besides studying."
"I've just had an idea. What do you have on for the rest of the day?"
"I've had my last class. I'm supposed to be here for another 45 minutes for office hours."
"Okay. If you haven't heard from me by the end of your office hours, go on home. I'll call you sometime this evening."
Jake almost smiled. "Thanks, Jim. I feel a lot better knowing I have you on my side."
Grant did smile. "Always, professor." He stood. "Try not to worry. I'll be in touch."
He asked at the desk to see Farley Benzinger, the university's Registrar. When the clerk asked if he had an appointment, he showed her his badge.
"This is police business, Captain Grant?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it is."
"One moment, please."
One moment turned into ten minutes. The clerk finally came back and said, "Mr. Benzinger can see you now." She led him into a sterile office that had no books, no file cabinets. There was a large mahogany desk with two leather chairs facing it. A computer station sat at right angles to the desk. The man behind the desk, about Grant's age, balding, wearing a dark suit and glasses, stood when Grant was shown in.
"Captain Grant, I'm Farley Benzinger. What brings the Colby Police to my office today?"
"I'm investigating a case of blackmail involving one of your students, Mr. Benzinger. I'd like to see his latest transcript."
Benzinger smiled and shook his head. "I'm afraid we can't do that."
"Can't. It's against University policy. Student information is confidential. Only the student or his faculty advisor has access to that kind of information. You'd have to have his permission to look at his transcript. We don't even release that kind of information to students' parents. And believe you me, I take a lot of flak over that. But however much money parents may be paying out to send their children here, the kids are legally adults. And we have to protect their rights. Their privacy. So unless you have a warrant or a subpoena, I'm afraid I can't help you."
Grant had known all this, but he'd thought it would be worth a try. He knew he had no chance of getting a warrant without risking forcing Sean Pittston to go ahead with his accusation of Jake.
Grant stood. "Okay, Mr. Benzinger. Thanks. I'll look into the warrant."
When he left the Administration Building, he pulled out his cell phone and called Jake at home.
"No, `fraid not yet. But I'm not finished, either. Will you be in your office tomorrow morning?
"I have classes at 9:00 and 11:00, but I'll be in the office between 10:00 and 11:00."
"I'll be there then. Meanwhile, try not to worry, okay?"
Jake heaved a big sigh. "I'll try not to. It helps that you're taking care of this."
After they'd hung up, Grant felt a bit guilty, worrying that he might not be able to "take care of it" without forcing the whole mess into the open. But he had an idea. There had to be more than one way to skin this particular cat.
The next morning, the two were having coffee in Jake's office.
"Do you have any way of getting a copy of Pittston's academic transcript?"
"Yeah, that shouldn't be any problem."
Jake reached into a drawer of his desk, rummaged around for a moment, and pulled out a stack of 3 x 5" cards held together by a red rubber band.
"What you got there?" Grant asked.
"These are cards I have my students fill out at the beginning of the semester."
"And you don't transfer the information to your computer?"
"No. Too much trouble."
Grant smiled. "Pretty low-tech, isn't it?"
"The computer is supposed to be an aid, not a pain in the ass."
"Okay, about Pittston's transcript?"
Jake removed the rubber band and shuffled through the cards. "Okay, here it is. Yes, he's a junior history major. His advisor is Stacy Montgomery. She should have a copy of the transcript through the end of last semester. Why?"
"And you can get her to let you see it?"
"Sure, no problem."
"Sheesh!" Grant said.
"Never mind. Do your transcripts show mid-term grades or only final grades?"
"Only final grades. Of course, if a final grade is changed, like from an Incomplete, the transcript would show it."
"Would the advisor have anything that would show if a mid-term grade had been changed?"
Suddenly the light dawned. "Oh," Jake said. "I see where you're going with this."
"So you need to get together with Dr. Montgomery, I think."
"Do you want me to be there?"
"No, I think this had better just be between Stacy and me. You might intimidate her. Or, more likely get her back up, since she can be pretty feisty where any kind of authority is concerned."
"Okay, tiger, go to it. I'll be in my office. Call me whatever happens, okay?"
Jake looked like a hound who'd caught the scent. He grinned. "Yeah. If that little bastard's done this before, we'll have him by the balls. I'll let you know."
Grant had walked Archie and was thinking about what to have for supper when his phone rang.
"Jimmy, it's Jake."
"I think so, but I'd like to show you what I've got. Would you mind if I came out there?"
"No, of course not." He was about to add that Jake's exile from casa Grant was self-imposed, but he decided not to.
"Have you started supper?"
"I'll bring something. Pizza okay?"
"Sure, whatever, just get your cute butt out here."
"This is to talk about Sean Pittston, right?"
"Oh, yeah, right."
As he uncorked a bottle of good chianti, Grant smiled. He was remembering the cheap stuff where the bottle was encased in a basket, the stuff they'd drunk when he was in college. He and several of his friends, both male and female, had at least one sitting around their rooms with a candle stuck in it. For years afterward, he'd disliked chianti. And then Albert had allowed that if you paid enough money for it, chianti could be almost as good as some of the modest French reds. Almost.
Albert had been fun. It was a shame . . .
Then he remembered that Jake was on his way and he forgot all about Albert. Jake's mood had seemed good, so he assumed the meeting with Professor Montgomery had been at least somewhat productive. It would be good to have Jake in the house once again, even though his visit was brought about by a potentially ugly situation.
Grant couldn't sit, so he paced, waiting for Jake to appear. Archie was lying with his head on his paws, his eyes following Grant's trips back and forth across the room. Then, finally, he jumped up and went to the door, tail wagging, before Grant heard anything. Sure enough, Jake's car was coming up the drive.
"Now how'd you know not to bark?" he asked the dog. His only response was more enthusiastic tail wagging. Grant's tail wasn't wagging, but he was equally happy to see Jake. It had been too long since he'd been there. But hugging was impossible since Jake was carrying a pizza box.
"Here. Better put this in the oven to warm a little. I'll get out of my jacket and say hello to this wiggly beast."
>From the kitchen, Grant called out, "You want the red I've opened or something stronger?"
Then Grant could hear Jake talking to Archie.
He put the pizza in the oven, poured two glasses of the chianti and went back to the entryway. "If I lie down and wiggle will you scratch my belly?"
Jake laughed, took one of the glasses and followed Grant into the family room. When they got there he set the glass down and held out his arms. "Let's just start with a hug, okay?"
The hug was about to turn into a crotch grinding session when Grant remembered why Jake was there.
"So how'd things go with your colleague? I take it you saw her?"
Jake nodded, sat on the sofa, leaned forward, picked up his glass, took a sip, swallowed, and said, "I think it went pretty well."
Grant sat beside him, ignoring his wine for the moment, and waited. Archie came over and flopped down, practically lying on Jake's feet. Grant hadn't realized how much the dog liked Jake.
"At first I told Stacy that I was counseling Sean. She seemed all right with that until I asked to see his mid-term slips going all the way back to his freshman year."
"Wait a minute. Slips? Isn't all this on computer?"
Jake shook his head. "It may be in a computer somewhere in the Registrar's Office, but not anything that's accessible to lowly professors. Faculty members have an old-fashioned manila folder for each of their advisees. Mid-term grades and semester grades come through campus mail on slips of paper which we supposedly look at and then dutifully drop into the folder – so they'll be there when we're advising the student about schedules or yelling at them because they're not working up to potential, endangering a scholarship, or whatever."
"Okay, I think I get the picture. So what did you find?"
"Something very interesting." Jake took a sip of wine. "What is this?"
"Can't be. I don't like chianti, and this is nice."
"Can we postpone the oenology until later, professor, and get on with your report?"
"Oenology? You're the one who sounds like a professor." He grinned. "And I'm `reporting,' am I?"
"I'm glad you're able to tease about this. Last I heard your career was about to go down the crapper."
Jake took a deep breath. "It still could, I suppose, but maybe not. I know this highly-placed copper who may have underworld contacts that might take out the odious Pittston."
"Jake, come on. You're still teasing me."
"I'm sorry. I think I must be a little giddy."
"So tell me!"
"Okay. Twice last year, once each semester, one of Sean's mid-terms was raised by the instructor. In each case, it was raised at least a letter grade and then the course grade was even higher."
"Did you say he was a junior?"
"What about his freshman year?"
"He wasn't a student here. He transferred from Cranmer."
"Wonder if anything of the sort happened there?"
"Well, don't you think we should just start with the two occurrences last year, you know, talk to the professors involved?"
"You've got to do this quietly, so you can get the info you need before he finds out and tries to blow the whistle on you."
"Yeah, it would be better if we had it before he went to the Dean, wouldn't it?"
"Probably. So are you going to talk with the other two faculty members? And how much did you have to tell Dr. Montgomery?"
"I had to tell Stacy the whole story. She wasn't sure why I would need to know about changed grades just in order to work with him on an academic problem. But she said she wasn't surprised, that Sean had always struck her as being a bit sneaky."
"I asked her what she meant, and she just shrugged. Said he had a habit of waiting until the semester had begun and then dropping and adding courses, a couple of times without getting her signature on the drop-add slip."
"Sounds to me like a kid who just doesn't like regimentation. But then, threatening you that way was something else. Do you want me to talk to the faculty members who changed his mid-terms last year?"
"Thanks for offering, but I think I should do it. It's better for your sake if you're not involved. Besides, some faculty members aren't too fond of guys in your profession, particularly if they're our age. They came through the sixties, with all those mindsets."
"I hear you. And if I went to them and started asking questions, it would eventually get back to Boros, and then there'd be hell to pay. Still, if you need me . . ."
Jake nodded and smiled. "Jim, I really appreciate your willingness to help. You're the one, after all, who guessed Sean had done this before."
"Well, remember that so far it's still only a guess. It all depends on what those two profs tell you."
"Yeah, so let's try to forget it and enjoy our supper."
Grant couldn't fully relax, knowing that Jake wasn't off the hook unless the two professors who'd changed Pittston's midterm grades admitted to being blackmailed to do so, but he managed to put that out of mind as he enjoyed Jake's being there once more. "It's a damn shame," he thought, `that it took something like that to get him back here.'
Later as they were in the family room before the fire with coffee, Grant found himself aroused, feeling a powerful urge to take his friend to bed. But Jake looked tired. `As well he might,' Grant thought. So when Jake stood and said he thought he should go home, Grant didn't argue.
"Call me tomorrow anytime, please, Jake. And if I can do anything . . ."
They were standing by the front door, Jake just having put on his winter jacket.
They hugged and kissed, the professor eagerly involved.
"Jim, I, well, you're, uh . . ."
Grant grinned. "That's what I like about you, professor, you're so articulate."
"Bitch. I'm trying to tell you how important you are to me, how much I need you in my life."
"Yeah, Jakey. Same here. Thanks for bringing the pizza. Now go! Get a good night's sleep. And let me know as soon as you have anything to tell me. Okay/"
Another kiss, this one more searching, and he was gone.
As he lay in bed sleepless, he hoped Jake was getting a good night's sleep. It was good there was a pattern, that the little Pittston shit had persuaded two other professors to change his mid-term grade and, ultimately, give him a final grade that was higher by far than the prof had originally submitted. But if the individuals involved wouldn't admit to being blackmailed, Jake was still in big trouble. Grant knew that most people, including his colleagues, would instinctively take the word of the complainant in a case like this. It's almost impossible to prove a negative, and despite what the law said, Jake would be presumed guilty if the kid went to the university or the civil authorities with his accusation.
After all those years in police work, Grant knew he should be able to be calm as he waited, at work, to hear from Jake. But he couldn't concentrate. At one point Stonesifer asked him if he was all right.
"Yes, I'm fine." Then, realizing how curt that sounded, he added, "But thanks for being concerned."
"Excuse me if I'm taking a liberty, Captain, but . . ."
"Yes?" Grant raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sorry, sir. Please forget I said anything."
"No, you've already said it. Now go ahead and finish it."
The young policeman, looking very good in his uniform, seemed uncomfortable.
"Well, sir you live alone, don't you?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but, yes, I do."
"It's just that, um, a guy's got to get his ashes hauled once in a while, you know?"
Grant's explosion of laughter obviously startled the younger man, who looked almost terrified.
"Ray, that wasn't a discreet thing to say to a superior officer. But I appreciate your concern. Now, I think you'd better get back to your desk."
Obviously glad to take what he could get, Stonesifer said, "Yes, sir. Sorry sir. I was just worried about you."
"Yeah, I know you were, thanks. Now, back to work."
He didn't hear anything from Jake at work that day nor after he got home that evening. He told himself that wasn't necessarily a bad sign, since Jake may have had trouble scheduling meetings – highly confidential meetings – with the two professors. But he worried nevertheless. He knew Jake Handley. Knew that gentle man would never force or coerce anyone to have sex with him. Would never, for that matter, put a student in an awkward or difficult situation. It just wasn't in Jake to be like that.
The call finally came the next evening.
"One out of two ain't bad, I suppose," Jake said. "Tom Biedermeier seemed grateful that I'd asked him about Pittston, wanted to tell me that Sean had threatened to go to admin and claim Tom had propositioned him if he didn't change the grade."
"Well, Jake, that pretty well takes care of it, doesn't it? You can confront Pittston with what you know. He's got to back down." He paused. "But what about the other one?"
"Casey Entwhistle sat there and denied anything of the sort happened. Jim, I know he was lying. He looked scared to death. I'm sure he's still afraid of what Sean might do. But he won't admit it."
Grant waited so long to respond that Jake said, "Are you still there?"
"Oh, yeah. I was just thinking. Seems to me you've got the kid by the balls. Two of you will affirm what he did. But it would be better if you could get what's his name, Entwhistle, to tell what happened between them."
"Of course it would. But he absolutely stonewalled. Must be scared shitless."
"Okay. Maybe it's time for the fuzz to step in. Unofficially, of course."
"I dunno, Jim. What are you thinking of doing?"
"I'm gonna club him with a rubber hose, of course."
Jake's bark of laughter was a welcome sound.
Grant smiled. "Maybe I can persuade him without resorting to violence. Where's his office? Do you know his schedule, or his office hours?"
Jake gave Grant the information he'd requested and wished him luck.
The next afternoon Grant stood outside the door of office 276 of the building in which Jake worked while Casey Entwhistle talked with a student. When the young woman left, Grant stepped inside. He showed the professor his police ID.
Entwhistle appeared to be nervous, but he attempted a grin.
"Captain Grant. What brings you here? A captain! It's obviously not about unpaid parking tickets."
"No, professor, it isn't. It's about Sean Pittston and his grades in your course."
"Oh, that again?" Entwhistle said with some degree of petulance. "I told Jake Handley yesterday that it was all quite legitimate. I don't know what he's going on about."
"You don't? Dr. Handley didn't explain to you why he was asking?"
The professor clasped his hands together on his desk. Clasped them so tightly his knuckles turned white.
"Well, he may have said something about it."
"About being blackmailed."
"And that doesn't concern you, that a colleague is being blackmailed by a student."
"Well, it's only his side of things."
"And you know Pittston well enough to believe he'd be telling the truth?"
Entwhistle looked at the blotter on his desk. Grant wondered why, in these days of ballpoint pens, why anyone needed a desk blotter.
"Well, Captain Grant, Handley is gay. And . . ."
"Well, you know."
"No, I'm sorry, I don't know. Would you tell me, please, what you're thinking?"
Enthwistle was looking positively green. He swallowed, and then said, "As a gay man he may very well have offered to trade a higher grade for what's called sexual favors these days. Mightn't he?"
"He'd be no more likely to do that than a straight man, professor, as you should know, if you're at all informed about these matters."
Grant knew very well that he had no official standing in all of this. But Entwhistle was lying. He knew that in his gut. And he couldn't help disliking the man.
"I'm sorry, Captain, uh, Grant, but I can't tell you any more. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do before my next class."
"Dr. Entwhistle. It is doctor, isn't it?"
"Not technically. I'm ABD."
Grant knew what that meant, but he said, "ABD? I haven't heard of that degree."
"What it means, sir, is that I've completed all the course work for the doctorate. But my dissertation has taken longer than I expected. I'm hoping to get back to work on it this summer."
"I see. Well, as I was saying, professor, if you changed Pittston's grade, you must have some records to show why. If we were to come in with a subpoena, you could show why you raised his mid-term grade in your course, I suppose. And you have something to justify the final grade you awarded him in the course."
"Well, no. That is, I, uh . . ."
"Final exams are returned to the students if they want them back. And after a certain amount of time if they aren't claimed, I throw them out."
"So you changed the young man's mid-term grade from a C minus to a B plus and he earned an A minus for the course?"
Entwhistle adjusted his bow tie. "Yes."
"With all respect, professor, I think that's a crock of shit."
"See here, Captain, you can't just come in here and . . ."
"But I just did. Now, tell me, why are you lying to me? Do you want to have to explain that to the DA, to explain it before a grand jury, or perhaps even in court?"
"No! Of course not!" the man squeaked. "But that isn't going to happen, is it?"
"If Pittston goes ahead with his threat against Dr. Handley, it very well could. And you'd have to be involved. And Dr. Handley isn't the only professor in this department who changed a grade for Pittston. But that person is more than willing to explain to the academic dean or even the district attorney what really happened. So, look where that puts you. Other professors were coerced to change the kid's grades, but in your case it was legitimate. But you have nothing to back up your claim that it was? Do you really want to go forward with that argument?"
"No, of course not!" He took a deep breath and expelled it. "The bastard threatened to go to the dean if I didn't change his grade and swear that I'd asked him for unlimited blow jobs. I couldn't have him doing that! So I gave in. Without my degree I would have a truly terrible time trying to get another job, especially if word got around that I'd come on to a student. I've been terrified ever since that he'd accuse me even though I did what he wanted."
"Thanks, professor. Now, you do understand that he's tried to pull this on at least three of you, don't you?"
"And since both of the others are willing to go to the dean, I hope you'll see your way clear to go with them, so all three of you won't have to live under the shadow of this threat any longer. And to get the boy the help he needs, as well."
"Help? I hope they castrate him."
Trying not to grin, Grant said, "You'd probably better not mention that."
Entwhistle pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and began to mop his forehead.
"Yes, er, no. Of course not. But if Dr. Handley and this other person are willing to go to the dean, I'll go with them."
Grant stood and held out his hand. "Great. Thanks for your cooperation. Dr. Handley or I will be in touch soon."
"You know, Captain, uh, Grant, I'm relieved that this is over. Thank you."
"Glad to be of help, professor."
Grant took the stairs to the third floor two at a time. He found Jake waiting in his office.
"So, tell me, what happened?"
Jake closed his office door and hugged Grant.
"Oh, Jim, thanks for your help in all of this. I don't know what I would have done without you."
"You'd have managed anyway. I'm just glad I could help out. Now let's go to dinner to celebrate."
"To dinner? As in in public?"
As they ate, Grant asked, "How are you going to handle this?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are you going to your Vice President for Academic Affairs or to the police? What Pittston did was blackmail, and that's a pretty severe crime."
"Oh! I hadn't thought of that. I suppose I'd better check with Tom Biedermeier and that dufus Entwhistle and see what they want to do."
"You three may want to go to the dean first and then see what he thinks. Blackmail's a pretty serious crime. If Pittston's charged with that and fights it, you guys will be appearing in court."
"I don't think I want that, and I doubt the other two would, either. Besides, as I told you, I suspect he's under a lot of pressure from his father. Maybe we should find out what that's all about before we go too much further."
"It doesn't surprise me that you'd feel that way, Jake."
When Grant arrived at the office the next morning, he'd barely gotten his topcoat off when Stonesifer came in with his coffee.
"So you and Dr. Jake Handley are friends, sir?"
Cautious, Grant said, "Uh huh. Why do you ask?"
"Um. I just heard the professor may have found himself a boyfriend."
"Yes, sir. Word is he was at Nelly's the other night with a guy his age who was all dressed in black. They seemed to be flirting with each other."
"You shouldn't stoop to that kind of gossip, Ray. Now, I'm sure you have things to do."
Stonesifer gulped. "Oh, yessir, I sure do!"
Grant was still wondering about Jake's mysterious friend in black when his phone rang. It was Stonesifer.
`Chief Boros wants to see you, Captain. ASAP."
"Tell his PA I'm on my way."
"You wanted to see me, Chief?" Grant still had to remind himself that Al Boros, whom he'd worked with for nearly 30 years, was no longer Al, but Chief Boros.
"Yeah. Have a seat." He paused for Grant to sit. "Now, I'm not gonna beat around the bush. What's this I hear about you trying to look at confidential records at the University?"
"How'd you know about that?"
"I'm asking the questions, Captain, but Farley Benzinger and I are poker buddies. He told me."
"Sorry, Chief. A faculty member was being blackmailed by a student, and since we're friends, I promised I'd look into it for him."
"Blackmail? I haven't heard about anything like that."
"Well, the parties involved are working within the University system at the moment. They haven't decided yet whether to make it a police matter."
"As I recall, you aren't really an active detective any more."
"There's nothing in the job description that says I can't do some investigating. Don't tell me in all the time you had the job you didn't do a little investigating once in a while."
"Why didn't you tell me what you were up to?"
"I was just making some discreet inquiries."
"Actually, you were using your credentials inappropriately to get information for this friend, right?"
"I never claimed to be anything I'm not."
"You are no longer an investigator, Grant. So acting like you are is inappropriate."
"Technically, I suppose you're right."
"Who is this friend you were trying to help?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes, goddammit, it matters. I'm asking you!"
"It was Dr. Handley, in the History Department."
Grant bristled. "What does that mean?"
"Everyone knows he's one of the faculty fairies. And he's your friend? Tell me, Grant, are you a fairy, too?"
To Be Continued
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